The amazing kookaburra

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by Chris Faille and Danny Snell
written for ages 7-10 | recommended
published in 2013 | Working Title Press | 32 pages

The illustrator Danny Snell writes that this book is “For all the birds that I tried to save as a child.” Many children have a natural kindness and tendency to want to help a sick or injured animal, and this picture book picks up on the caring, nurturing aspect of pet-keeping.

A cat brings a baby kookaburra into the family's lounge room. The family feed the baby bird every four hours, and watch as it grows. The story ends beautifully as Jeremy returns to his natural environment, finding companions who may be his brother and sister. Endpapers give details about the lifespan, habits and facts to encourage curiosity about Australia's amazing native bird, the kookaburra.

Beautiful, charming illustrations in acrylic on board give the story its beauty and appeal. Children will recognise the understated humour which adds another ‘story’ to the words. Jeremy enjoys learning to fly and even sits determinedly, a small figure on a large recliner chair, in… click here to read whole article and make comments



Too much information for children

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Better Nate than Ever
by Tim Federle
written for ages 9-12 | not recommended
published in 2013 | Simon & Schuster | 304 pages

Nate, 13, really wants to be an actor. This is only one of the reasons no one seems to like him. Well, no one except his best friend Libby, who also loves acting. His alcoholic mother seems too wrapped-up in Nate's athletic older brother, Anthony. His father thinks Nate is a wimp. The kids at school pick on him because he is overweight, and they think he is homosexual. Nate has not actually decided what his sexual orientation is, but still resents the name-calling.

Thus, when Nate decides to run away to New York City to audition for the part of Eliot in "E.T.: the Musical", he thinks he is leaving all his problems behind. Armed with a cell phone, his mother's ATM card and hours of Libby's coaching, Nate figures he can make it in the Big Apple. If not, he will enjoy the greatest city in the world before returning to Jankburg, PA and his miserable life.

What… click here to read whole article and make comments



Witness to murder

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Smith: the Story of a Pickpocket
by Leon Garfield
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2013 (1967) | New York Review Children's Collection | 216 pages

Twelve-year-old Smith has little ambition in life. His two sisters, Miss Bridget and Miss Fanny, eke out a meager living for the threesome altering clothes the hangman acquires from his "clients" at the local prison. Nimble fingers must be a family trait, for Smith does his part to supplement their salary with contributions from the pockets of his fellow Londoners. He knows the streets and alleys of the city like the palm of his hand, and his swift, furtive ways have kept him out of trouble - so far.

Smith is more child than criminal, however. He steals to survive. Thus, he is aghast when he witnesses the murder of one of his own victims at the hands of two men in brown. How could the document he stole be so valuable as to be worth killing an elderly gentleman to obtain? The two men in brown and their peg-legged employer must know. Smith, on the other hand, does not,… click here to read whole article and make comments



A story of friendship and personal tragedy

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by Esther Ehrlich
written for ages 13-16published in 2014 | Wendy Lamb Books | 336 pages

This is the type of story that, when you reach the end, you wish there were more, yet are relieved it is finished! Many have commented that it is the saddest story they have ever read. Others say there is something broodingly painful in it. It is a story that affects readers and is not easily forgotten.

The story is about 11-year-old "Chirp" Orenstein, a Jewish girl from Cape Cod. Her nickname, Chirp, comes from her hobby of bird watching. Much of the story contains happy moments about Chirp's mother before she gets sick or memories of her afterwards. There is cooking, dancing, trips and laughing. The daughters, Naomi (Chirp) and Rachel, 11 and 13 years, dance together in bikinis, happy, young and vibrant with enthusiasm for all that is life. The writing is descriptive and beautiful, almost poetic at times. Everything revolves around the wonderful mother and her encouragement of her daughters.

However, darkness clouds their horizon. Chirp's mother… click here to read whole article and make comments



Teen romance turns science fiction thriller

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The Starseed Series: Anna
by Meghan Riley
written for ages 15-18 | recommended
published in 2013 | CreateSpace | 374 pages

Anna never thought the handsome and popular captain of the football team, Steve, would ever end up in her physics class. She just did not think he was so academically oriented. When she completely humiliates herself by running into him in the hall and accidentally leaving with his physics notebook and take-home midterm, she decides she'll never impress him. Feeling guilty about preventing him from completing his assignment, she decides, unfortunately with no compunction whatsoever, that she should do it for him. Not only is Steve grateful for the assist, but he asks Anna to tutor him. Could life be more perfect?

Well, actually, yes. Anna's life is more complicated than that of the average high school senior. After her father died in the war in Afghanistan, her mother nearly had a nervous breakdown. Anna does her best not to upset the delicate balance at home, keeping an eye on her mother as well as her video game-addicted younger brother,… click here to read whole article and make comments



Eric Carle gets personal

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by Eric Carle
written for ages 2-7 | acceptable
published in 2013 | Philomel | 32 pages

Eric Carle fans may be a little disappointed in his latest picture book.  While his illustrations capture the reader’s attention with colors that express, with simple strokes, both images and feelings, the theme of Friends may be more than the average pre-schooler can understand.  Reminiscing about a long lost friend from his own pre-school days, Carle describes a close relationship, a sense of loss when the friend moves away and an emotional reunion that leads to marriage. His inclusion of an actual photo of his friend and himself may pull at the heartstrings of adults.  Children, however, may have a hard time relating to this book.

Jennifer Minicus is a mother and teacher living in Ridgewood, NJ.

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Exiles from Troy discover the New World

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The Kingdom of Patria
by Daniel McInerny
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2012 | Trojan Tub Entertainment

When Oliver Stoop's father is promoted to president of his company, the Republic of Staplers, he decides the family must move to the country where they can have privacy and room enough to build his dream "castle". At age eleven, Oliver does not mind leaving his friends and school behind; he still has his collection of The Chronicles of Odysseus Murgatroyd, Adventurer that he can read in his tent in the middle of their mobile home while construction gets under way.

Living in the middle of nowhere seems the ideal situation for Mr. Stoop's plans, but Oliver is not so sure. He notices people in the nearby woods, and the Stoops quickly find themselves embroiled in a conflict with a clandestine group of settlers. They claim that they have a treaty, signed by Thomas Jefferson, granting them a small portion of the now State of Indiana for their Kingdom of Patria. The Patrians have maintained a lifestyle that resembles… click here to read whole article and make comments



An enduring appeal

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Horrid Henry Shows Who's Boss
by Francesca Simon
written for ages 7-10 | highly recommended
published in 2010 | Orion Children's Books | 208 pages

Twenty years ago, in 1994, the very first Horrid Henry book hit the shelves. Since then, this amazing little character has sold over fifteen million copies. Author Francesca Simon aptly sums up the reasons for the enduring appeal of Horrid Henry:

    “I often describe the Horrid Henry books as westerns for kids. Henry is an outlaw, who behaves dreadfully, yet often triumphs. Just as adults like reading about people who go against convention, so kids get a thrill from a child who always acts on impulse and never worries about the consequences. Henry is pure ego, while Perfect Peter is an exaggerated version of the impeccably behaved child parents think they want.

There are a variety of Horrid Henry stories, many of which are coming out this year to coincide with the twenty year anniversary. Your library, bookshop or e-reader will have plentiful copies. Children can also find fun activities, jokes and "how to draw" Horrid Henry… click here to read whole article and make comments



Can a twelve year old save the day?

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The Secret History of Tom Trueheart
by Ian Beck
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2007 | Greenwillow | 352 pages

Tom has always admired his six older brothers who have followed in their father's footsteps as adventurers. They are handsome and brave and courageously complete the tales the Story Bureau begins for them in the Land of Stories. Not quite twelve, Tom must remain at home with his mother, but he does not mind. Deep down, he fears the dangers his brothers face as they develop these stories. He knows, however, that on his next birthday he will begin his training as an adventurer and hopes he will have the daring required to be a true hero.

When Tom's twelfth birthday arrives, his brothers fail to return home to celebrate. His assignment from the Story Bureau is still delivered, and Tom learns that his brothers' absence is no coincidence. Someone has tampered with the stories his brothers were meant to live out. Now Tom must find them and put the Land of Stories back on track.

Young readers will enjoy… click here to read whole article and make comments



There’s no friend like a sister

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The Exiles at Home
by Hilary McKay
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2007 (1993) | Margaret K. McElderry Books | 208 pages

In this sequel to The Exiles, 13-year-old Ruth Conroy, hiding in the school library when she's feeling ill, rashly fills in a form to sponsor an African schoolboy, writing her age in such a way that it looks like she's eighteen. She uses her Christmas money from Big Grandma, but that leaves the girls £10 a month to find for the rest of the year. Their schemes are both funny and heartfelt, and involve an elderly couple for whom Naomi, age 11, does gardening work without charging. When they finally get desperate, they turn to Big Grandma for help.

Like Hilary McKay's other families, the Conroys are funny, loving and completely believable. McKay captures perfectly the age-gap between the children in a family, the resentment between sisters when one or other is shut out from events, and the fierce solidarity and increasingly desperate determination to overcome external obstacles. No one could possibly claim that Ruth, Naomi, Rachel(8) and… click here to read whole article and make comments


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Reading Matters is MercatorNet’s blog about children’s literature. Our goal is to enable parents and educators to find quality books for young people. For an explanation of our evaluation system, click here. We welcome reader input and new reviewers. We love comments on the book reviews. Write to us at

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