The Time Pirate

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The Time Pirate
by Ted Bell
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2010 | St. Martin's Griffin | 464 pages

In this sequel to Nick of Time, the reader follows Nick McIver as he continues to defend England and the Channel Islands against the invading Nazis. Meanwhile, Nick's sworn enemy, the pirate Billy Blood, has plans to control the Seven Seas. They each possess one of Leonardo daVinci's time machines which enable them to move freely through time and space. Nick and his sister Kate discover Blood's plans to capture Admiral de Grasse's fleet, laden with booty, as it travels through the Florida Keys to Virginia in the year 1781. This would tighten Blood's grip on the world's navies as well as prevent de Grasse from bringing the necessary reinforcements to Washington's Continental Army at Yorktown. If Washington loses that battle, the colonies will likely lose their war for independence. Europe desperately needs the help of the United States to defeat Hitler in WWII, but can Nick really betray his country in the eighteenth century to save it in the… click here to read whole article and make comments


SUNDAY, 12 JUNE 2011

The House of the Scorpion

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The House of the Scorpion
by Nancy Farmer
written for ages 13-16 | not recommended
published in 2004 (2002) | Atheneum | 400 pages

Matt, a child clone of an artificially ancient rich drug baron, has to come to terms with the way the world sees him as he grows up and discovers the truth behind his way of life. In that world, clones are grown to provide spare organs for the very rich to live a very long life; menial workers are chemically treated to make them "eejits", capable only of following simple orders with no thought of their own; and the drug barons rule the world.

No great surprises in the vocabulary, construction or characterisation. A few of the characters have more depth than you initially give them credit for, but most are playing out their expected role. The single biggest issue in a book which rings warning bells about the possibilities of the near future. In Matt's world, rich people have clones birthed in cows, given an injection at birth which leaves them mindless and fit only for… click here to read whole article and make comments



I, Juan de Pareja

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I, Juan de Pareja
by Elizabeth Borton De Trevino
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2008 (1965) | Square Fish | 192 pages

Juan is born into slavery in Seville, Spain in the early 1600s, and after the death of his mother, when he is just five years old, he becomes the pageboy of a wealthy Spanish lady, Emilia. Upon her death, during one of many plagues to sweep through Spain, Juan is inherited by Emilia's nephew, the painter Diego Velazquez.

Juan is an honourable and loyal slave who grows to deeply love his master. He works for him as a canvas-stretcher and paint grinder and becomes his good companion. However, his passion for painting - something which was illegal for slaves in Spain - leads him to deceive his master, and he secretly steals paints and makes his own artistic studies in his room. Juan accompanies Velazquez and his family when King Philip IV of Spain requests they move into his court, and assists the painter in his many portraits of the King and his family. He also accompanies… click here to read whole article and make comments



Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon

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My Father's Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon, The Dragons of Blueland
by Ruth Stiles Gannett
written for ages 7-10 | highly recommended
published in 1997 (1948) | Random House

I never read this clever trilogy as a child, but thoroughly enjoyed reading them as an adult. True classics, they should appeal to the imagination of younger children. The narrator of the books tells the story of how his father Elmer rescued and befriended a baby dragon using his wits and the contents of his desk drawer. Their travels require resourcefulness as they make some narrow escapes, help other animals and share tangerines. The author's realistic, modern writing style makes these adventures seem almost believable. They are tame enough to be read to pre-school age children, while their illustrations help beginning readers decode tough words.

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

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His Dark Materials Series

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The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass
by Philip Pullman
written for ages 13-16 | not recommended
published in 2007 (1995) | Knopf Books for Young Readers

For a while, scientists have posited the existence of something called Dark Matter: an invisible unknown substance which makes up a large percentage of the universe and which causes cosmic equations to balance. Philip Pullman in His Dark Materials takes this idea a step further, and reaches the conclusion that there is nothing truly immaterial in the universe: all beings, including the angels, are formed from this Dark Matter or Dust, which therefore ties everything together. This includes the highest angel, which men call God and who is, in Pullman's creation, a tyrant and oppressor.

The first book in this trilogy is called Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in America), the second is The Subtle Knife, and the third The Amber Spyglass. The plot of the books traces the journeys of two children, Lyra and Will. Will is from our own world, Lyra from a parallel one which seems to represent the author's conception of a… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Wonder of Charlie Anne

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The Wonder of Charlie Anne
by Kimberly Newton Fusco
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2010 | Knopf Books for Young Readers | 272 pages

Losing a parent is one of the most stressful events a child can experience. Charlotte (Charlie) Anne feels she is losing both of hers. After her mother's death during childbirth, her father cannot make ends meet. His cousin, Mirabel, arrives to bring law and order to the household and her father heads north to build roads with FDR's New Deal program. No one resents the situation more than Charlie Anne. Her oldest brother Thomas goes with their father to earn money. Ivy, next in line, does not appear to be maturing, now that she has reached her teens. That leaves Charlie Anne to carry the bulk of the chores and look after little Peter and Birdie. Her one consolation consists in speaking with her mother, whose grave is on their land, near the river. Charlie Anne keeps her mother informed about the family, and, because she is a good listener, Charlie Anne can hear the gentle voice of her mother… click here to read whole article and make comments


SUNDAY, 29 MAY 2011

Trash: a great read for teens and young adults

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by Andy Mulligan
written for ages 13-16 | highly recommended
published in 2010 | David Fickling Books | 224 pages

What an amazing book! A relatively short and easy read, but one that's powerful in its simplicity.

Three dumpsite boys live by sifting rubbish and looking for things to sell. One day they discover a deadly secret which they must decipher and try to fathom, and which they must risk their lives to keep hidden from the police.

Mulligan's writing is crystal clear: each voice is unique, telling the story as it happens from a different of point of view, giving credibility and depth and setting a fast pace.

It is a confronting tale of the corruption of power and the implications of this on the poorest of the poor, yet for all the gravity and unpleasantness of the content, the relative refinement with which it is told makes it more like a clear and realistic history lesson. There is nothing gratuitous, and even the infrequent strong word feels mild next to the… click here to read whole article and make comments


FRIDAY, 27 MAY 2011

Here Lies Arthur

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Here Lies Arthur
by Philip Reeve
written for ages 13-16 | recommended with reservations
published in 2010 (2007) | Scholastic | 352 pages

Gwyna, a young girl escaping from raiders, is rescued by Merlin from a river. She helps him to deceive the impressionable warriors into believing in a Lady of the Lake, guardian of a mystical sword she bequeathes to Arthur. To avoid suspicion, she then dresses as a boy and joins Arthur's camp as a distant relation and apprentice of Merlin. Later, when that disguise is impossible, she reverts to a female role until needing to make her escape after Merlin's death.

An interesting revisionist take on the Arthurian stories. I say "revisionist" as though there were an accepted historical canon. That said, stories of Arthur tend to fall into two categories: the romantic variety, verging on the fairy tale; and the more prosaic variety, styling Arthur as a more-or-less dignified post-Roman war leader struggling to unite warring British tribes against the Saxon invaders. Some authors, such as Rosemary Sutcliff have written the story both ways. This book… click here to read whole article and make comments



A Sick Day for Amos McGee

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A Sick Day for Amos McGee
by Philip C. Stead
written for ages 2-7 | recommended
published in 2010 | Roaring Brook Press | 32 pages

Everyone gets sick sometimes, even zookeepers. Amos McGee is special, though. He knows each of the animals at his zoo very well and has a knack for being a good friend. Although he has much work to do, he always finds time to spend with them according to each ones needs and personality. When he finds himself under the weather, the zoo animals do what any good friend would: they go to visit Amos at home and cheer him up.

Young children will love the kindly face of Amos McGee as well as the expressive looks of the animals in Erin Stead's illustrations. Her subtle colors complement Amos' gentle demeanor. This Caldecott winner is perfect for reading with sick children or at bedtime.

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

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SUNDAY, 22 MAY 2011

Scorpia Rising (Alex Rider #9)

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Scorpia Rising (Alex Rider #9)
by Anthony Horowitz
written for ages 13-16 | acceptable
published in 2011 | Philomel Books | 402 pages

It's finally here: the last Alex Rider. An author faces a lot of pressure writing the last book of a popular series. And up to now, Horowitz has done well to tell the same story in so many different ways.

What impressed me with this series was that woven in between all the killing and running was interesting information about world issues that would otherwise be relegated to the realm of adults: refugees and the criminals who exploit them; medical research and the noble and corrupt interests that drive it; political spin and those who dare to expose it...

I was disappointed that there wasn't as much of this in the last, it was more action and suspense, and of course, a competition between the evil characters in just how evil they could be.

Another difference was that though previous instalments brought hardship to Alex's loved ones it was usually at some distance from the reader, we weren't deeply involved… 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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