Children facing starvation

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The Garbage King
by Elizabeth Laird
written for ages 13-16 | recommended
published in 2003 | Barron's Educational Series | 336 pages

Mamo, a poor orphan, and Dani, a runaway, form an unexpected alliance while each is sleeping on the streets, and together they join a gang of streetboys, begging but not stealing. They each offer different talents to the group, which has a strict code of sharing whatever they get hold of. Mamo becomes the Garbage King, expert at finding treasures on rubbish heaps; Dani writes stories which the others sell for a few coins. Each becomes more and more accustomed to this way of life until Dani's father finds him. Tiggist, Mamo's older sister, becomes both an assistant in Mrs Faridah's shop and a nursemaid to her daughter Yasmin. However, this causes Mrs Faridah to become jealous of her, so when a local lad shows an interest in her and promises to marry her once he has established himself with an electronics shop she accepts enthusiastically.

The story manages to blend the harsh situation of those forced to live and… click here to read whole article and make comments



Dystopia with a conscience

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by Joel Ohman
written for ages 13-16 | recommended with reservations
published in 2014 | CreateSpace | 226 pages

Charley has resented the System ever since his Down Syndrome brother was taken away. Anyone with a score lower than 100 is removed by the regime that rules Meritropolis and thrown outside the city walls. No one survives outside the walls. The predatorial creatures that have developed after “the Event” are too powerful and hungry. Unfortunately the only way to ensure that the city's population does not go hungry is to limit its size. With his exceptionally high score for intelligence and strength, Charley is confident that he can infiltrate the government and avenge his brother's death. Charley soon learns, however, that he is not the only person trying to beat the System, and that the other subversives have their own agenda.

A fairly typical dystopian novel, Meritropolis presents a desperate society willing to sacrifice its soul to survive. Government mandated euthanasia and forced abortion keep its citizens in constant fear. To avoid retribution, otherwise honorable people remain silent in… click here to read whole article and make comments



Never trust a dictator

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by Avi
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2005 (1995) | HarperCollins | 176 pages

Poppy and her mouse family have always lived in fear of the predators of Dinwood Forest. Fortunately, Mr. Ocax, self-proclaimed owl-ruler of the woods, protects them on condition they seek his permission to leave the abandoned farmhouse they call home. When Poppy and her friend Ragweed venture out on their own, Poppy learns that Mr. Ocax is not the benevolent patron the mice think he is. He consumes Ragweed and chases Poppy home, leading the young rodent to question his sincerity.

Poppy's indiscretion brings hard-ship to her growing family. Her father asks the owl if he can relocate his progeny to a larger building nearby. Mr. Ocax denies the request, citing Poppy's impertinence as the reason. Poppy suspects that there is more to the owl's response, convinced that he has deceived the credulous mice in order to shore-up his control of the forest.

Young fans of animal stories will consume this relatively short and simple first installment of the Tales… click here to read whole article and make comments



Do athletes make good dancers?

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Fish Feet
by Veronica Bennett
written for ages 13-16 | recommended
published in 2002 | Walker Books Ltd | 237 pages

Erik Shaw is a 15-year-old footballer, ballet dancer and keen student. His ambition is to audition for the Royal Ballet School. When his regular teacher is taken ill, Erik discovers that the sister (Ruth Pacey) of his best friend (Richard Pacey), also learns ballet, and he joins her class at the same time deepening in his friendship with her as he finds himself distanced from his football-playing mates since he's sacrificed his place on the team to prepare for the audition.

This book came out after Billy Elliott, and one is tempted to see it as a bandwagon-jumper. But while the basic idea is the same, the setting and characters are different and the story stands on its own feet quite well. The story is one of an ordinary young man trying to succeed in his unconventional ambition, and who has to make some hard choices along the way concerning his other activities and the girl to whom he… click here to read whole article and make comments



Authors are noticing Reading Matters

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The Quest for Clodnus's Collectibles
by Daniel McInerny
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2014 | Trojan Tub Entertainment | 76 pages

Last month Reading Matters honored some of its favorite authors with awards for exceptional books. One of those writers promptly responded to a request for a sequel with yet another entertaining story. Daniel McInerny's newly published novella takes readers back to the Kingdom of Patria for an update from their beloved hero, Oliver Stoop.

Fans will recall that Oliver's quirky Aunt Hazel was the immediate object of Sir Armory's admiration when the Stoop Family found itself at odds with the Kingdom. Oliver, with the help of his friends Princess Rose and Prince Farnsworth, negotiates peace between the warring "nations", paving the way for the proper courtship of the young couple. Unfortunately, Hazel's future mother-in-law has other plans for Sir Armory. A challenge from a rival suitor sends the Kingdom into a frenzy, and Oliver, ever loyal to family and king, must once again use his sleuthing skills to resolve the conflict.

Daniel McInerny's witty Patria tales should… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Good Reading Guide’s Favourite Books of 2014

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written for all ages | recommended


The Leaves Are Falling
The Leaves Are Falling
by Lucy Beckett (2014) Patient and poignant World War II historical fiction that enriches as it stirs. It treats tragedy with sensitivity and remains uplifting; its characters are intriguing and well-shaped.

Voyage to Alpha Centauri by Michael O'Brien (2013) Lengthy and rewarding, this is exploration narrative, dystopian thriller and speculative fiction all in one. Awe-inspiring and spine-tingling, it evokes Lewis’s Perelandra trilogy, as well as Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (2013) A murder mystery centred upon numerous, painstakingly drawn characters, worth reading beyond the first challenging fifty or so pages. Remaining civil even where disagreeable, it offers fascinating dialogues and is an enriching and at times enchanting read.

Luigi's Freedom Ride by Alan Murray (2014) Moving biographical fiction that uses cycling as a metaphor for life, exploring hope and endurance in… click here to read whole article and make comments



Your not-to-be-missed Christmas list of kids’ books

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written for all ages | highly recommended

After reading dozens of books in the past year, we have decided to highlight the most memorable titles we encountered in 2014. Some are newly released, others old favorites, but all of them worthwhile. Links to our original reviews are provided when possible. We hope you and your children enjoy them as much as we did. For a complete list of our recommendations, please see the links in the right-hand column under “our picks”.

Inspirational Story of the Year

Jane's choice: The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leysen- A true story about a boy who acted on instinct to be with his mother while in the Nazi camps.

Jennifer's choice: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang - A simple yet profound tale of parental love and acceptance.

Ideal Read-Aloud Picture Book

Jane's choice: The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric… click here to read whole article and make comments



A book that became a TV show

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Feather Boy
by Nicky Singer
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2003 (2002) | Yearling | 272 pages

Robert Nobel, class pariah, becomes involved with the elderly and dying Edith Sorrel who persuades him to overcome his fears and to go to the top of Chance House, a derelict building nearby, and to make her a coat of feathers so that she - like the Firebird in the legend - might sing again.

Robert sees in these requests something which is up to him to do and which he believes might save Mrs Sorrel from the cancer which is eating her up. This purpose gives him strength to overcome Niker's jibes, to live up to Kate's expectations, and to come to terms with his own reality. This first-person narrative by the 12-year-old boy, self-explaining but insightful, draws you inside his motives for carrying out the wishes of a dying woman, a series of actions which force him to overcome his own fears and limitations. Although Robert is the class Victim, and Niker the Kingpin, the situation is… click here to read whole article and make comments



A perfect book for boys who love sports but may not like to read

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The Contract
by Derek Jeter, with Paul Mantell
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2014 | Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books | 176 pages

Young Derek, like so many eight-year-old boys, dreams of playing shortstop for the New York Yankees. He has talent and the will power to work hard, but his parents know that any goal requires perseverance. They encourage Derek to pursue this ambition while asking him to sign a contract with them. The contract makes playing baseball contingent on good behavior and study habits and offers rewards like attending major-league baseball games. Derek agrees, trusting in his parents' wisdom and guidance.

Derek faces many challenges that year. Distractions in class, a coach who clearly favors his son over the other boys on their baseball team and classmates who consider his dream out of reach. In spite of all this, Derek pursues his goal with enthusiasm. He remains humble when he succeeds, redoubles his efforts when he falls short and consistently remains loyal to family and friends.

Based on Derek Jeter's childhood experience, The Contract demonstrates how integrity and hard… click here to read whole article and make comments



Fables from the forest

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Seedlings: Fables from the Forest
by CD Baker
written for ages 7-10 | acceptable
published in 2013 | CreateSpace | 58 pages

A series fables in which the author uses trees to teach lessons about virtues and relationships.  Each story is followed by questions to help the reader reflect on the moral of the tale as well as on his own life.

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

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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 our picks for
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 our standards
highly recommended: you must read this!
recommended: age-appropriate and entertaining
acceptable: not outstanding but not problematic
some reservations: contains potentially problematic scenes or concepts
not recommended: not appropriate for intended readers

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