FRIDAY, 15 JULY 2011

The King’s Head

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The King's Head
by Susan Price
written for ages 9-12 | acceptable
published in 2001 | Chivers Press | 217 pages


Brother Dominic and his fellow monks are scouring the battlefield looking for survivors to tend to when he comes across a head, detached from its body but still talking. It is the head of Egil Grimmsen, storyteller to the vanquished King Penda. Grimmsen refused the king one last story on the night before the battle and now must stay alive until the story is told. The victorious King Edgar is suspicious and sends the head away, where it travels to Brother Dominic's monastery and then to the house of Thane Redwald and finally back to court with Redwald's daughter Osyth. Each time, the head tells a story, funny or heroic or pointed, according to the audience.

Putting aside the fantasy of the talking head, the book is a framework for a few folk stories, all of which are worth reading in their different ways, although none is sparkling. The language used is occasionally quite earthy and vulgar.… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

WEDNESDAY, 13 JULY 2011

The FitzOsbornes in Exile

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The FitzOsbornes in Exile
by Michelle Cooper
written for ages 15-18 | not recommended
published in 2011 | Knopf Books | 464 pages


When we last saw the FitzOsborne clan, they had just made a narrow escape from their island kingdom in A Brief History of Montmaray. Our narrator Sophie is continuing her journal from England. She has taken up residence on her Aunt Charlotte's estate, along with her brother Toby, now king of Montmaray; her younger sister/tomboy Henry; her stunning and independently minded cousin Veronica; and Simon, who, unbeknownst to Aunt Charlotte, is the illegitimate son of Veronica's father and therefore, "one of the family".

Like any good aunt, Charlotte is determined to find suitable husbands for her princess nieces as well as a queen for Toby. Sophie, Veronica and Toby thus find themselves thrust into the world of Britain's high society. Although Sophie enjoys the stylish parties, she quickly finds that members of the nobility are not all noble. Surrounded by superficiality, Sophie finds herself longing to return to Montmaray, now under the control of Nazi invaders.… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

THURSDAY, 7 JULY 2011

Jack Black and the Ship of Thieves

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Jack Black and the Ship of Thieves
by Carol Hughes
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2006 (1997) | Yearling | 229 pages


Jack Black discovers a plot to wreck his father's airship but is swept overboard before he can warn anyone. Rescued by a passing ship, he must try to persuade the oddly reluctant captain and his mixed bag crew to help him warn his father, helped by Beryl Faversham the adventurous aviatrix and hindered by Gadfly who has only his own ends in mind.

A surprising throwback: an adventure story set in a determinedly undetermined time and place and peopled with traditional types with no apparent deference to modern sensibilities. It's an era when to be a captain in the airship fleet is to be envied. An era when solo aviators (and aviatrixes) are heroes whom young lads like Jack worship from afar. An era when Russian engineers create mechanised warships which run amok and when the dastardly do everything to plot against the virtuous short of actually twirling moustaches.

The characters engage, and while several… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

WEDNESDAY, 6 JULY 2011

The Father Brown Reader

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The Father Brown Reader
by G.K. Chesterton (adapted by Nancy Carpentier Brown)
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2007 | Hillside Education | 147 pages


Fr. Brown is the most unlikely of detectives in these adaptations of Chesterton's mystery books. Four of the mysteries in the Fr. Brown series are included in this reader: The Blue Cross, The Strange Feet, The Flying Stars and The Absence of Mr. Glass.

Fr. Brown's perception and quick wits assist him as he outsmarts the clever criminals who evade local authorities. While I usually do not appreciate children's versions of adult literature, I could not help but be amused by this humble priest who has a knack for details and for understanding human nature. Its short and suspenseful chapters make this a great book for reluctant readers.

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

click here to read whole article and make comments

 

SATURDAY, 2 JULY 2011

The Brothers Lionheart

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The Brothers Lionheart
by Astrid Lindgren
written for ages 9-12 | not recommended
published in 2004 | Purple House Press | 231 pages


A disappointing read from the author of Pippy Longstockings, The Brothers Lionheart tells the story of Karl and Jonathan Lion, their deaths and subsequent adventures in the land of Nangiyala. The style and vocabulary were good for a children's book, and the relationship between the two brothers was certainly heart-wrenching. All in all 90% of the plot was great, however the ending felt unsubtle and hastily contrived. It also illustrated questionable ideas concerning life and death.

After defeating a dark and evil dragon, Jonathan reveals to his little brother that he has been injured in the battle and will soon be completely paralyzed. He says that he would rather die than live without moving, and the two decide to jump off a cliff so that they may die together and enter into another realm that is better than Nangiyala. Bearing in mind that the two boys died in "our world" in the first quarter of the book,… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

FRIDAY, 1 JULY 2011

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

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The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
by Kate DiCamillo
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2009 (2006) | Candlewick Press | 228 pages


Although Edward, a toy rabbit, travels far and wide in this beautifully illustrated book, his true journey is that of his "soul". Adored by his ten-year-old owner Abilene, Edward is so full of himself that he has no room in his heart for anyone else. When he is lost during a family vacation, however, he has time for reflection. After spending months at the bottom of the ocean, some fishermen find him in their net. Edward then passes from one owner to the next, living with hobos, an elderly couple and a fatally ill child.

Slowly Edward learns to listen to others and to appreciate them for who they are. Little by little his heart expands and understands what it means to really love. This book teaches in a unique way how difficult but worthwhile a conversion of heart can be. It is ideal for reading aloud and discussing, even with younger children.

Jennifer Minicus… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

MONDAY, 27 JUNE 2011

Hush, Hush

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Hush, Hush
by Becca Fitzpatrick
written for ages 15-18 | not recommended
published in 2009 | Simon & Schuster | 400 pages


Nora Grey, sixteen, finds herself partnered for the Sex Education course in Biology with the dark and unknown Patch. He seems to be able to tell her a lot about herself, making her uncomfortable in the process. Repelled at first by his turning up wherever she goes, Nora finds herself unable to keep away from him, drawn by his personality and, later, his physique. Physical attacks on several people appear to be connected to a campaign against Nora. More disturbing for Nora herself is the fact that while she sees the clear evidence of damage to a car and to her house, when she brings someone else to see it, the damage has disappeared. Finally, a clean-looking all-American lad and his oddball companion who befriend Nora and her best friend Sky appear to be implicated in the suicide of a girl at the school from which they have just transferred.

This book appears to belong to a Twilight-meets-angel supernatural romance… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

THURSDAY, 23 JUNE 2011

Understood Betsy

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Understood Betsy
by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2008 (1917) | Tutis Digital Publishing | 116 pages


From the time she was orphaned at six months of age, Elizabeth Ann has lived with her widowed Great-aunt Harriet and single Aunt Frances. In their small city apartment, these two ladies have tried for nine years to raise Elizabeth Ann "by the book". Indeed Frances has read many parenting books and discovered that Elizabeth Ann is the most sensitive, impressionable and emotional child to ever live. She hardly lets the child out of her sight, and as a result Elizabeth Ann can do nothing for herself. Then, one day, Aunt Harriet takes ill, and Elizabeth Ann is sent to live with the dreaded country cousins, the Putneys. Frightened beyond all telling, Elizabeth rides the train to Vermont and discovers who she really was.

Betsy (as her Vermont cousins call her) learns that the universe does not revolve around her. Aunt Abigail, Uncle Henry and Cousin Ann treat her as a capable young woman who must contribute… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

WEDNESDAY, 22 JUNE 2011

Birthmarked: a brilliant new dystopian series

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Birthmarked
by Caragh M. O'Brien
written for ages 15-18 | highly recommended
published in 2010 | Roaring Brook Press | 362 pages


I cannot wait for the sequel! I thought this would be a heavy read, but I was so wrong. It is everything a gripping dystopian should be, but has wonderful characters who grow through adversity and whose experiences afford powerful insights into what is most important in life.

A dark future world is divided between those who live inside the wall, and those - like sixteen year old Gaia Stone - who live outside. Gaia was trained as a midwife by her mother, and it's now her job to "advance" a quota of infants from poverty into the walled Enclave. Gaia has always been an obedient citizen, but when events reveal new information about the Enclave Gaia is determined to find out the truth and protect those she loves.

Gaia had a wonderful upbringing; her parents' depth and wisdom nourished her character so that she was ready to face difficulties with courage and selflessness. I loved the… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

SUNDAY, 19 JUNE 2011

The House on Falling Star Hill

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The House on Falling Star Hill
by Michael Molloy
written for ages 11-14 | acceptable
published in 2004 | The Chicken House | 384 pages


Tim, a timid boy, follows Sarre, a would-be Chanter, into the world of Tallis where huge birds and animals are the means of transport, and where an evil Duke is trying to take over the kingdom. To make matters worse, an unpredictable wind brings spores which are fatal to humans and birds. Tim and Sarre, helped at first by cheerful scavengers called Teggers, team up with a group of roving merchants and minstrels called Gurneys. Helped by the traveller and warrior Hunter, the children hatch a plan to save the kingdom.

Really, the worst thing that can be said about this book is that it's a charming and entertaining adventure in an imaginatively-populated fantasy land. It's a shame that one can't be much more enthusiastic than that. The impression one's left with is that the author's not really committed to his story and his characters, and so neither are we. Certainly there are colourful characters - 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 jennifer.minicus@mercatornet.com.


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