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



The boys of summer

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On Green Diamonds: Pursuing a Dream
by Tom Tatum
| acceptable
published in 2014 | Xlibris | 328 pages

Written in the style of an autobiography, this novel follows a young fictitious baseball player from childhood to the major leagues. The story is told by another "baseball legend", Gabe "Fireball" Nelson who retires after winning a Cy Young Award, hoping to fade into oblivion. He succeeds until he meets a young widow, Sarah, and her eight-year-old son, Tyler. Tyler is reticent until Gabe offers to teach him to play ball. Thus begins a lifelong friendship between them that eventually launches Gabe back into the limelight.

Gabe coaches Tyler from Little League through his college years. More importantly, he becomes a father figure and role model for the young man. Gabe's lessons extend beyond sports, touching on everything from dating to the spiritual life. Gabe's advice is grounded in traditional values, and Tyler takes to them quite well. In fact, the ease with which he learns life's lessons and grows in virtues seems unrealistic, while Gabe's delivery is, at times,… click here to read whole article and make comments



Angels among us

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The Ether: Vero Rising
by Laurice E. Molinari
written for ages 11-14 | acceptable
published in 2014 | Zonderkidz | 368 pages

Vero Leland has always wanted to fly. While many children are satisfied jumping off the arm of the living room couch, Vero's desire to soar has taken him places no parent wants to see a child, such as the house roof. Vero's advanced intelligence and perception also mark him as somewhat different. Still, his mother denies that Vero is anything but a normal pre-teen. She knows better.

After Vero turns twelve, his life starts to change in unexpected ways. He begins seeing things and sprouting wings from his back. Eventually he meets Uriel, who not only informs Vero that he is a guardian angel, but takes him to The Ether, a training ground for guardian angels. Slowly, Vero realizes that the reason he never truly fit in on Earth is because he never really belonged there. He and his fellow fledgling angels had been sent to live on Earth until they were old enough to begin their training. Now they… click here to read whole article and make comments



Imaginative book for mature readers to be released this month

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Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle
by George Hagen
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2014 | Schwartz & Wade | 384 pages

There is an incredible amount of action packed within this children's book! A little less busyness may have added to the story's dramatic effect instead of making it seem rather a long read three-quarters of the way through. However the story is imaginative and intriguing, and something stands out as a little different in style and creativity from many current children's books.

Twelve-year-old Gabriel sets out on a quest to find his missing father. There are themes of the struggle between good and evil, bullies, honesty and dishonesty, the superficiality of appearances, kindness, an abusive parent, an overprotecting parent, magic, friendship, family and learning to trust. Trust is the virtue that is shown to overcome many obstacles in life. At times, the main character Gabriel does seem a bit unbelievable in his naieve and trusting outlook as though he has no inner voice of anticipation of danger.

A caution that some parts are quite horrific, particularly the opening which sets… click here to read whole article and make comments



The downside to cloning

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Escape from Genopolis
by T.E. Berry-Hart
written for ages 13-16 | acceptable
published in 2007 | Scholastic | 416 pages

Usha and Arlo meet in the gladiatorial Circus, she as a recaptured slave who must fight for her life, he as a Natural who's been raised among citizens and who is now trying to return to the Regions outside the city to find his family. With others who are caught up in their escape, they flee to the inhospitable regions outside Genopolis but find danger there as well.

This is a fairly conventional story of a near future where society is divided after a natural apocalypse. The Citizens of Genopolis are the result of genetic manipulation to remove fear and pain, the better to cope with the hazards life brings. The Gemini are clones, either for slavery or as spare body parts for the elderly rich. The Naturals live outside the city in the wilderness Regions and are despised by the Citizens. They have a tribal lifestyle and give birth naturally. They retain the emotions which the Citizens… click here to read whole article and make comments



Popular series has this reviewer yawning

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Midnight (The Warrior Series)
by Erin Hunter
written for ages 9-12 | acceptable
published in 2005 | HarperCollins | 336 pages

As one of a large group of feral cats, Brambleclaw maintains strong ties to the other members of the Thunderclan. He has trained long and hard to become a warrior, ready to defend his clan and hunt for food to sustain it. For reasons unknown to him, Brambleclaw is haunted by strange dreams sent from the StarClan, a group of mysterious supernatural cats. He suspects that he has received a special mission essential to his clan's survival, but dares not reveal this to anyone, not even the leader of the Thunderclan cats, Firestar.

Following instructions from his dreams, Brambleclaw learns that he must fulfill this mission with the help of cats from other clans. Although the warrior code forbids it, he sets out with five other cats to discover what danger threatens the cats of the forest and what they can do to save themselves. On their journey, these felines encounter the world of men. Working together, they succeed in… click here to read whole article and make comments


MONDAY, 28 JULY 2014

The grass is always greener on the other side of the moat

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The Castle Corona
by Sharon Creech
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2013 (2007) | HarperCollins | 352 pages

Pia and Enzio have spent their short life dreaming of escaping from their cruel mater Pangini. If only they could be a princess and a prince living in a castle. Then their worries would vanish. Their hopes soar when they find a pouch that clearly contains something taken from the Castle Corona. They know they should return it, but surely there is no harm in holding onto the pouch for just a little while?

Meanwhile, the members of the royal family at the castle have concerns of their own. King Guido feels the weight of ruling his kingdom. Prince Gianni, heir to the throne, is more inclined to write poetry than to govern. Princess Fabrizia suffers from the boredom of a truly spoiled little girl. Young Prince Vito desperately needs an outlet for his competitive spirit. And, finally, Queen Gabriella searches for a purpose in her life beyond the superficial, comfortable existence of a noblewoman.

None of these characters expect… click here to read whole article and make comments


MONDAY, 21 JULY 2014

Official advice from doctors: read to your kids!

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Earlier this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced that its members are going to be encouraged to promote reading aloud to children during well-visits. Studies show that infants and toddlers whose parents read to them enter school better prepared to read themselves.

Listening to books, according to the AAP, develops language and other intellectual skills. With the support of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and donations from Scholastic Books, the nonprofit group Reach Out and Read has been donating books to pediatricians for distribution to low-income families. According to a national survey, parents living below the federal poverty level are much less likely to read to their children. Naturally, as someone who critiques children's literature, I was curious to know which books the organization is promoting. I could not find a comprehensive list on their site.

When I speak… click here to read whole article and make comments


SUNDAY, 20 JULY 2014

Tunnel fever

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by William Mayne
written for ages 13-16 | acceptable
published in 1995 (1965) | Hodder Children's Books | 208 pages

David and Keith are schoolboys who meet a drummer boy on the hillside for whom an hour-long journey down a tunnel has taken three hundred years. He is carrying a mysterious candle which he leaves behind when he returns into the tunnel. David is mesmerised by the candle, and he and Keith see strange things around which others eventually notice: giants on the hillside, extinct wild boar, and King Arthur's army. Then David disappears, presumed dead. Keith realises he must bring him back.

David is a moderate rationalist, applying some spurious reasoning about prayer being telepathy. Apart from that, you've only got the usual standing- stones-and-giants stuff to get through. The writing is very atmospheric and portrays the two boys very well, but shows its age (30 years) and appears a little dated perhaps because of it: David translates the Odes of Horace to calm his mind; the boys wear (presumably uniform) ties while walking on the hillsides. From the… 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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