TUESDAY, 27 MAY 2014

A good read-aloud

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Shadow Chasers
by Elly MacKay
written for ages 2-7 | recommended
published in 2014 | Running Press Kids | 32 pages

A short bedtime story with illustrations created by paper diorama. Golden light reminiscent of a glowing sunset infuses the pages of this book. Light wraps itself around corners creating an edge of mystery and adventure as the children chase the shadows. Shadows are sometimes long and thin, appearing here and there hidden and windswept.

The story goes that three children chase various animal and plant shadows through a forest. As evening approaches the children become tired; settings turn purple and darker; a warm house beckons. The children go to sleep with the thought of awaiting the morning light when they can meet their own shadows once again.

A good story to read aloud to young children for bedtime or to nurture the imagination and sense of play. It features a subject close to children's imagination: shadows.

A former children's librarian, Jane Fagan is currently a full-time mother of two.

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MONDAY, 19 MAY 2014

The worst thing about summer vacation

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written for all ages | highly recommended

As the US heads into Memorial Day Weekend, children around the country begin to count the days until summer vacation. The excitement is somewhat dampened, however, by the distribution of summer assignments, in particular the summer reading list. I thought students would appreciate classics that are humorous and fun, so here are a few books that should make readers laugh:

Ages 7-8

Mr. Bliss by J.R.R. Tolkien: Written and illustrated for his children, this short story proves that even a literary giant can be silly sometimes.

James and the Giant Peach by Raold Dahl: a transatlantic flight and a lesson about insects rolled into one.

Ages 9-10

The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber: a clever spoof on "happily ever after".

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit: be careful what you wish for - it might come true!

Ages 11-12

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene duBois: a twist on the eruption of Krakatoa.

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FRIDAY, 16 MAY 2014

Nine-year-old girl solves crime

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Pyllis Wong and the Forgotten Secrets of Mr. Okyoto
by Geoffrey McSkimming
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2013 (2012) | Allen and Unwin | 280 pages

The story of a young girl of nine who likes doing magic tricks, has many friends, a small dog called Daisy and lives in an apartment with her father, Harvey Wong. But Phyllis Wong is more than this. She becomes a brilliant sleuth who helps the Chief Inspector solve some baffling robberies. One of the twin blue Wren bookends - rare and priceless pieces of pottery done by the very esteemed reclusive potter Gladys Reyscombe - has been stolen and replaced with a fake. This has mysteriously happened under the very eyes of the shop-keeper who has no explanation. And a precious Duckworth diamond has been stolen from the museum. Replay of CCT security videos reveals to detectives a seemingly illogical situation: the precious jewelry seems to just disappear before their very eyes, with no ropes and no interference to the video of any kind.

This book captured my interest from the very first pages and managed to keep me… click here to read whole article and make comments


TUESDAY, 13 MAY 2014

Newbery runner-up bewitches readers

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Splendors and Glooms
by Laura Amy Schlitz
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2014 (2012) | Candlewick Press | 400 pages

Neither Lizzie Rose nor Parsefall really likes working for the cruel Grisini. Orphaned a year ago, Lizzie Rose remembers well the happy family life she shared with her parents. She tries to recapture that with Parsefall, treating him as a younger brother. Parsefall has lived longer with the puppeteer, who "rescued" him from the workhouse, and has learned to fear the man. The children know that the alternative is to live on the street, so they make the best of a bad situation. Lizzie Rose strives to maintain her personal dignity and moral uprightness; Parsefall struggles to win Grisini's approval.

When Grisini gives a puppet show at the Wintermute home for Clara Wintermute's birthday, Clara and Lizzi Rose quickly become friends. Parsefall sees an opportunity to "pick-up" some valuables with which he can endear himself to his master. The morning after the party, however, more is missing from the Wintermute home than a few personal items. Clara herself is gone,… click here to read whole article and make comments


FRIDAY, 9 MAY 2014

Adventure and allegory

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The Door Within
by Wayne Thomas Batson
written for ages 11-14 | acceptable
published in 2013 (2005) | Thomas Nelson | 368 pages

Aidan Thomas is a young teenager who resents his family's move across the country until he comes across a set of scrolls in his grandfather's basement. They tell a story in which he mysteriously becomes embroiled, travelling to The Realm to join the elite warriors of King Eliam. Aidan has to undergo intensive training as a warrior and to prove his worth on the journey, helped by Gwenne, a girl of about his age who's already an accomplished warrior.

If you're coming along for a swords-and-sorcery tale with young heroes and gripping battles, then this may leave you satisified. On the other hand, you may just find the Christian elements somewhat overwhelming, and in contrast the slight creakiness of the writing somewhat underwhelming.

King Eliam is betrayed by an honoured friend and gives his life for his people. Aidan's parents and his grandfather recognise this as The Story, a bestselling book which many own but which few have read. Aidan… click here to read whole article and make comments



Queens are people too

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Me, the Queen and Christopher
by Giles Andreae
written for ages 7-10 | recommended
published in 2012 | Orchard | 96 pages

An easy first reader this book has two qualities in abundance: humanity and humour. The author has drawn each character in a very real way without sentimentality or superficiality. Characters appear very ordinary especially the Queen who dances the Boogie, makes tea with tea bags and eats baked beans on toast.

Freya is seven years old and receives a letter telling her that she has been randomly chosen out of all the school children of Britain for that year to be the personal guest of the Queen. She will spend one day with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Young girls will enjoy seeing what the Queen is really like and imagining how it could be them spending a day with her.

Their day spent together is an eye opener for Freya. All goes well and towards the end of the day the Queen hears about Freya's little brother Christopher who is wheelchair bound. Despite her lofty position, the Queen looks… click here to read whole article and make comments


FRIDAY, 2 MAY 2014

Simplicity is hard to find

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by John Burningham
written for ages 2-7 | recommended
published in 2014 (2013) | Candlewick Press | 32 pages

A simple bedtime book about "boy" and "girl" who make a picnic. Simplicity in picture books is a valuable and sometimes hard to find commodity these days. Small children see things in terms of black and white, simple and straightforward, and that is why I like this book. It would lend itself well to a read-aloud session with a small group because it is simple and has large enough illustrations.

The scene becomes amusing when pig, sheep and duck join in, dressed in smart casual. Lovely dappled colors and splotched ink effects give a light summery feel to the book. Drama, that necessary ingredient in successful read-aloud stories is present when bull romps into the double page spread. A hide-and-seek element is then introduced as the characters all seek to hide from the bull. Opportunities for reader interaction are plentiful as we are prompted to find various elements in the illustrations. This "Can you find...?" element offers reassuring repetition for… click here to read whole article and make comments



Got a problem?

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Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things
by Cynthia Voigt
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2013 | Knopf Books for Young Readers | 400 pages

Max Starling's father and mother love acting. They even turn a simple breakfast into a theatrical scene as they assume roles and await cues. For the most part, Max humors them. He may sometimes grow impatient with their dramatics, but his world revolves around his beloved parents. Thus, when they are invited to go on an acting tour of India, he is excited to learn that he will be able to accompany them, helping with sets, props and other minor tasks.

Max arrives at the dock to meet Mr. and Mrs. Starling on the Flower of Kashmir nearly an hour before the ship's scheduled departure. The harbormaster tells him that no such ship has been berthed at this port, but gives Max a mysterious note from his father. Max heads to his grandmother's house in utter confusion. How could his parents leave him? Why doesn't his father's message seem genuine? Max and Grammie suspect foul play, but decide not to… click here to read whole article and make comments



An author the NY Times called a genius

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The Year of Billy Miller
by Kevin Henkes
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2013 | Greenwillow Books | 240 pages

Billy overhears his mother worrying about a fall Billy had, and how it may cause him to forget things or not be able to cope with his grade 2 level work at school. Boys this age have big ears and take to heart things said about them! How this is resolved makes for an interesting story.

How does a typical grade two boy find the words to compose a poem for school, and how does he choose between a "haiku", "limerick" or "acrostic"? Billy's first effort is amusing but falls short. How does a quiet boy tell his father he doesn't want to call him "Papa" anymore? The other boys might think he's babyish, but Billy's father takes the news a lot better than Billy expected. With a father-son discussion, he gently shows Billy that he will always be his papa, even if Billy no longer uses the word.

The book is divided into four chapters each highlighting a special… click here to read whole article and make comments



A lost opportunity

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Just Ella
by Margaret Peterson Haddix
written for ages 11-14 | not recommended
published in 2007 (1999) | Simon Pulse | 240 pages

Margaret Peterson Haddix clearly wants to impress young girls with a sense of what really matters in relationships in her version of "happily ever after". Unfortunately, her message gets lost in this poorly constructed novel. (Cinder) Ella finds Prince Charming irresistible, until she arrives at the castle. Smothered by protocol and superficiality, Ella discovers that love cannot survive if physical attraction is the only basis of a commitment. She tries to break off the engagement, but the royal family will not permit such an embarrassing rejection to be made public. Ella's resourcefulness saves her in the end, but not before her lack of personal virtue becomes evident.

Unlike characters in Haddix's other books, all personages in this fable are caricatures. Prince Charming is exceptionally handsome and unbelievably dumb. He is incapable of any independent thought and does not realize that he is constantly manipulated by the castle staff. Ella, however, does not represent a model heroine either. She herself… 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 jennifer.minicus@mercatornet.com.

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