Benjamin and the Paradise Project

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Benjamin and the Paradise Project
by Kevin Aldrich
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2009 | CreateSpace | 258 pages

Ben has never understood why he was not quite like everybody else. He is smaller than average and sometimes needs an inhaler to breath, but what really puzzles him is that he never feels like he fits in. Typical eleven year old? Perhaps. But in a country ruled by the mysterious "Ebony" leader Lumen in which social and political indoctrination is the primary objective of school, not even an unassuming middle school boy can afford to be different.

Ben has two havens from which he gains the strength to deal with social difficulties: his family life and ice surfing. His parents have always supported him and taught him many things no longer taught in school, like English. English was outlawed after a racial war in which Lumen and his army overthrew the oppressive, ruling "dilute" class. His fellow ice surfers have a bond that supercedes any and all convention, and they accept Ben unconditionally. When Ben discovers that his mother… click here to read whole article and make comments



Jimmy Coates Series

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Jimmy Coates, Killer
by Joe Craig
written for ages 11-14 | recommended with reservations
published in 2005 | Harpercollins Childs | 304 pages

Jimmy Coates is an ordinary 11-year-old, fighting with his sister, grumbling over his homework, until some people turn up at his house and try to take him away. He escapes from them with astonishing ease and goes on the run, performing astonishing feats in a bid to outrun them. He eventually discovers the truth about himself: that he is "only 38% human"; the rest is technology which is to fit him to be an assassin.

The author obviously wants to ring a few alarm bells with this series. A near-future Britain where one Prime Minister has total power and has stamped out any opposition by instituting Neo-Democracy: no-one votes on anything unless the Prime Minister himself wishes it. Meanwhile, the Secret Service is genetically engineering super-assassins, to be brought up as normal children until the age of 18 and then to turn killer. Only sometimes, things start happening too soon...

The first half of the story is… click here to read whole article and make comments



Get Into the Classics Series

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The Wee Musketeers
by Robert Bresloff
written for ages 9-12 | acceptable
published in 2010 | Hungry Goat Press | 200 pages

What did eleven year old boys on vacation do before TV and video games? They used their imagination. At least that is what Bobby, Keith and Fritzy do while pretending to be the three musketeers, reenacting the books Bobby's grandfather (Grandpa Max) has been reading to them. Keith's father thinks the boys are wasting their summer. (Perhaps he would prefer to pay hundreds of dollars to have them play adult supervised games in an indoor sports complex.) The boys enjoy the stories and their "adventures" just the same. Little do they know, those adventures are about to become real. When they read a passage aloud, they are transported through time and space. They suddenly find themselves in 17th century Paris fighting the cardinals guards alongside of d'Artagnan. This is no game, however, and the boys now must fight for their lives as well as the integrity of Dumas' original storyline.

Bresloff's first of the Get Into the Classics Series retells… click here to read whole article and make comments



11 Birthdays: realism with a fantasy twist

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11 Birthdays
by Wendy Mass
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2009 | Scholastic Press | 267 pages

It's Amanda's 11th birthday and she is super excited - after all, 11 is so different to 10. But from the start everything goes wrong. The worst of all is that she and her best friend Leo, with whom she's shared every birthday, are on the outs and this will be the first birthday they won't spend together.

When Amanda turns in for the night she is glad to have her birthday behind her and wakes up happy for a new day. Or is it? Her birthday seems to be repeating itself. What is going on?! And how can she fix it? Only time, friendship and a little luck will tell.

Wendy Mass writes highly enjoyable realistic fiction with a fantasy twist. The characters are well developed and the 11-year-old friendships and dramas are true to life.

There's a great message about the need to resolve disagreements and heal grudges - even among 11-year-olds -… click here to read whole article and make comments



Journey to the River Sea

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Journey to the River Sea
by Eva Ibbotsen
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2003 (2001) | Puffin | 304 pages

Maia is an orphan who goes with her new governess to live with her nearest relatives in Brazil in the city of Manaus on the Amazon River, a city made rich by the local rubber plantations. On the way she meets Clovis, boy actor of a failing theatre company, who wants nothing more than to return to England. The relatives Maia is to stay with are good-for-nothings: the father, a poor businessman, spends money on his grotesque hobby of collecting eyes; the mother wages fanatic war against the insects that plague the house; the twin daughters, Maia's age, are spiteful and greedy. Finally, Maia meets Finn, the son of the dead naturalist Bernard Taverner and his wife, a native of the Amazon. Finn is being sought by detectives from England who want him to come to England to fulfill his role as heir of a noble house; he wants nothing more than to stay as a naturalist in the… click here to read whole article and make comments



Banner in the Sky

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Banner in the Sky
by James Ramsey Ullman
written for ages 11-14 | highly recommended
published in 1988 (1954) | Harper Teen | 288 pages

Every sixteen year old has a dream. For Rudi Matt, it is to climb to the summit of the Citadel, the formidable mountain on which his father froze to death fifteen years prior, trying to save a fellow mountain climber. Unfortunately, Rudi's widowed mother has other plans. She believes that managing a hotel in their little Swiss village is a much safer profession than that of a mountain climbing guide. Rudi feared his dream would die amidst the dirty dishes he washes in the restaurant of the Beau Site Hotel. Then, while playing hooky from work, he saved the life of the renowned climber Captain John Winter. Now he has the chance to prove to his family, and himself, that he has the skill and the heart for mountaineering that his father possessed.

This classic "rite of passage" story about a young adolescent has much to say about manhood. While Rudi disobeys his mother's wishes in exploring… click here to read whole article and make comments



Princess Ben (short for Benevolence)

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Princess Ben
by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2008 | Houghton Mifflin | 344 pages

While aimed at 10-14 year-olds I defy older readers not to enjoy this book.

A cheery but spoilt princess loses her parents to suspected assassins, and she comes under the care of her tyrannical aunt, the Queen Regent, who reluctantly endeavours to prepare her for queenship.

Murdock's talent for intelligently humorous expression shines in her descriptions of Benevolence's sly observations and continual misadventures.

Yet the self-pitying and indulgent princess begins to show signs of maturing, realising that courtesy towards others influences the way they treat her. She discovers a golden mean between overindulgence in food and vain concern for appearance, and even learns to appreciate table manners once she's witnessed certain boorish soldiers at their meal... Thankfully, the one thing she does hold on to is her sense of humour.

There is just one reference made by the soldiers about women which makes the book inappropriate for even younger readers, though… click here to read whole article and make comments


SUNDAY, 31 JULY 2011

Inventing Elliot

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Inventing Elliot
by Graham Gardner
written for ages 13-16 | recommended with reservations
published in 2005 (2003) | Speak | 192 pages

Thirteen-year-old Elliot Sutton is picked on and bullied at school, so when his family moves to a new house in a different area, he wants to make a fresh start at his new school. He spends his savings on a more fashionable image and succeeds in avoiding the attentions of the bullies.

In this school an elite group called The Guardians organise a reign of terror without the teachers' knowledge. Elliot is so successful in his new guise that he is asked by The Guardians to become one of them. At the same time, he is drawn to Ben, one of the boys who is always being picked on, and to Louise, an intelligent and friendly girl who draws him out of himself. He has to balance these different lives, keeping them apart, and ultimately to decide where his priority lies.

Elliot's character and the description of school bullying are quite real: the helplessness felt… click here to read whole article and make comments



In Search of the Perfect Picture Book

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Recently my family rented last summer's hit Despicable Me. It is one of those delightful movies that even adults can enjoy because it contains a measure of adult humor. My husband's favorite scene is the one in which Gru, villain and adoptive father, reads a bedtime story (Three Sleepy Kittens) to his three new daughters. Disgusted with the triteness of the text, Gru exclaims, "This is literature? A two year old could have written this!" Now, there is not a parent alive who cannot relate to that sentiment.

Literature, like beer and goat cheese, is an acquired taste. So why not start early? There are many worthwhile picture books that offer opportunities to teach young children new vocabulary as well as virtues and life lessons. They also contain attractive illustrations that can often be a launching pad for discussion. Above all, however, a good picture book is one which an adult can read, without skipping any words, hundreds of timesclick here to read whole article and make comments


MONDAY, 25 JULY 2011

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows
written for ages 18 + | recommended
published in 2008 | The Dial Press | 274 pages

A witty journalist has entertained a World War II depressed nation with her humorous column in the national newspaper. Post-war, she's tired of entertaining and seeks inspiration for a more meaningful composition.

She stumbles across ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society', an unconventional book club which was hastily invented by several inhabitants of the German-occupied island to excuse a breach of curfew.

The neighbours had hardly known one another, but now their regular meetings lead them to discover a love for books and the discussions they can inspire, expanding their personal interests and deepening friendships.

The book is written as a collection of letters, and the author's skill uses them to paint a perfect picture. Perhaps the appeal is in the small, idyllic town setting, or in the nostalgic beauty of the art of letter writing. Or perhaps it's the refreshing presentation of relationships where flashy glamour is contrasted with 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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