The Dante Club

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The Dante Club
by Matthew Pearl
written for ages 18 + | highly recommended
published in 2006 (2004) | Ballantine Books | 464 pages

When a string of Boston murders mimic the punishments described in Dante's Inferno, it is up to literary legends Longfellow, Holmes and Lowell to find the culprit and save lives, including their own.

The Dante Club is, without a doubt, the most clever novel I have read in a year. The author has achieved a seamless weave of history, literature, mystery and suspense by utilizing two important talents. First of all, Pearl has researched his setting and his characters well. Secondly, he has collated his findings and painted a picture with words that show a good deal of literary knowledge as well as his own craftsmanship. The result is an intelligent and enriching novel that not only explores the lives of real characters both accurately and realistically but also grips the reader through humor and suspense.

The only warning I would have for readers is that while very limited violence takes place 'on the page' the fates of victims are… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Adventures of Mark Twain by Huckleberry Finn

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The Adventures of Mark Twain by Huckleberry Finn
by Robert Burleigh
written for ages 7-10 | recommended
published in 2011 | Atheneum | 48 pages

A highly unconventional and entertaining picture book told by a well-known fictional character: Huckleberry Finn. It is now he who writes about his author's life, Mark Twain.

"Everyone knows the story of the raft on the Mississippi and that ol' whitewashed fence, but now it’s time for youngins everywhere to get right acquainted with the man behind the pen. Mr. Mark Twain! An interesting character, he was... even if he did sometimes get all gussied up in linen suits and even if he did make it rich and live in a house with so many tiers and gazebos that it looked like a weddin’ cake. All that’s a little too proper and hog tied for our narrator, Huckleberry Finn, but no one is more right for the job of telling this picture book biography than Huck himself. (We’re so glad he would oblige.) And, he’ll tell you one thing—that Mr. Twain was a piece a work! Famous for his sense of humor… click here to read whole article and make comments



Maximum Ride Series

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The Angel Experiment, School's Out Forever, Saving the World
by James Patterson
written for ages 13-16 | acceptable
published in 2011 (2005) | Little, Brown and Company

Max and the Flock, children with wings, have run away from the School, the lab complex where they spent the first part of their lives locked in cages and experimented on. After four years, their hiding place has been discovered, and Angel, the youngest, is captured. The others must get her back and find answers to their own questions along the way.

Be warned: the subject matter of this series is quite distasteful at times. However, it's not gratuitous or voyeuristic, and in fact represents a warning to advocates of therapeutic cloning that the human beings they create are just that: human beings, and not objects for experimentation. As far as the scientists at the School are concerned, Max and the others are merely the successful survivors of genetic experiments on children in the womb and later. The failures are left to die, sometimes horrifically mutated or deformed. And when Angel is recaptured, all they want to do is run… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

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The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
by Jacqueline Kelly
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2009 | Henry Holt | 338 pages

**As of 1/20/12 I have revised this review in order to clarify some of the issues raised in it, CC.

Calpurnia Tate is eleven years old and lives in Texas in the year 1899. Her interest in observing nature brings her to the attention of her cantankerous grandfather, who is an avid naturalist. Grandfather lends Calpurnia his copy of Darwin’s ‘The Origin of the Species’, and the two of them explore and study and document nature specimens like professionals.

Darwin’s writings are mainly used to fuel Calpurnia’s interest in nature and her investigation into how things work, but are not explored in depth. Evolution itself is only mentioned in the title of the book, which could spark an interest in young readers in finding out more about it. I am not an expert on this topic, but as I understand it evolution is neither a proved nor a disproved theory, and is compatible with Christianity as long as there is… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Land

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The Land
by Mildred D.Taylor
written for ages 15-18 | highly recommended
published in 2003 (2001) | Speak | 400 pages

Paul-Edward Logan loves his family and has always assumed he would live on his father's land his whole life. He has a close relationship with his three brothers, Hammond, George and Robert. In fact, when the son (Mitchell) of Mr. Logan's former slave (and current horse trainer) beats Paul, his brothers defend him. This does not put a stop to the abuse, however, because Mitchell hates Paul. It seems that before the war, Mr. Logan fell in love with one of his slaves (Deborah) and fathered two children with her while his wife was still alive. That would be Paul and his sister Cassie.

Although Paul's father treats all of his children the same, he knows the rest of society does not respect Paul and Cassie the way he has taught his other sons to do. As Paul reaches adolescence, he learns that he will have the same privileges and opportunities his brothers will have. Paul begins to resent both… click here to read whole article and make comments



Map of Nowhere

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Map of Nowhere
by Gillian Cross
written for ages 13-16 | not recommended
published in 2001 | Oxford Childrens | 192 pages

Nick Miller (mid-teenage) is forced by his older brother's motorcycle gang - which he secretly wishes to join - to become friendly with Joseph Fisher, whose family run a small shop out on the fens. Nick suspects (accurately) that the gang wants to rob the shop, and is using him to gain information about the security. He joins in a role-playing game run by Joseph and his older sister Ruth, but eventually turns against them and helps the gang to raid and fire the shop.

The sub-plot is that the Fishers are a hard-up family with four children: two teenagers and two toddlers. They are of some (unspecified) Christian persuasion and are seen to be scrupulously honest (as well as vegetarian). It is his perception of their "super-piousness" that turns Nick against them, preferring his more "normal" schoolfriends who like poker, smoking and dirty pictures. The final moral dilemma for both Nick and Joseph occurs because the gang pour petrol… click here to read whole article and make comments




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by Wendy Mass
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2010 | Scholastic Press | 304 pages

I didn't expect to enjoy this book so much! It's even better than the first in the series, 11 Birthdays. It had me laughing with tears in my eyes - growing up was just like this. And what a great thread running through the story, not forced or preachy but so wise.

Young Rory Swenson has been waiting to turn twelve her whole life. She can pierce her ears when she's twelve. She can go to the mall with her friends when she's twelve. She can babysit little Timmy next door when she's twelve. She can get a cell phone when she's twelve. She can even ride in the front passenger-side seat when she's twelve. And now that day has finally arrived.

And what follows is simply hillarious. There are a few wincing moments - Rory is always managing to injure herself and you really feel her pain - so it's not for a squeamish young reader. And while Rory has a… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Queen’s Thief Series

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The Thief
by Megan Whalen Turner
written for ages 11-14 | highly recommended
published in 2005 | Greenwillow Books | 304 pages

Gen is a thief and proud of it and this lands him in prison. Now the only way out is to prove once and for all that what he has bragged is true; that he can steal anything.

This review will be as brief as possible. To write more would simply give the game away. There are some marvels that should be experienced first-hand, like this book. Usually, when I describe a plot as unpredictable, I take into account the expectations of the target audience. With The Thief however, I can truly say that I believe no one could see the ending coming. If you can, without peeking, then I take my hat off to you.

The Thief is easily the most inventive novel for this age group that I have read in a year. Turner, who was rightfully recommended to publishers by Diana Wynne Jones, is an accomplished writer with astounding imagination. She combines the epochs of Ancient Greece… click here to read whole article and make comments



Small Acts of Amazing Courage

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Small Acts of Amazing Courage
by Gloria Whelan
written for ages 13-16 | highly recommended
published in 2011 | Simon & Schuster | 224 pages

Here is an extraordinary little book that draws you to its warm-hearted characters and introduces you to a part of history that called for great changes, which were achieved through 'small acts of amazing courage'. It is a delight and an eye-opener at the same time.

It settles you with a colonial family living in India in 1919, immediately after World War I, at the time when Ghandi was beginning his peaceful demonstrations to free Indians from British rule.

Rosalind is the fifteen year old daughter of a British Army General and his wife who have been stationed in India her whole life. Rosalind loves the people, the colour and the excitement of her adoptive country, and though her father would have her properly educated in British ways she can't help but absorb India's vibrancy.

The young Lieutenant Max Nelson was studying at Cambridge when he joined the war and served under Rosalind's father. Max's parents live… click here to read whole article and make comments



Great Grandfather’s House

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Great Grandfather's House
by Rumer Godden
written for ages 7-10 | recommended
published in 1993 | Greenwillow | 76 pages

Keiko is a spoiled little girl who throws a fit when she learns she must go to live with her great grandparents for a few months while her parents are away. Separated from city life and her toys, she learns to appreciate the simplicity of the Japanese countryside and to love the wisdom of her elders. The book's exquisite illustrations make the reader feel that he/she is in Japan with Keiko.

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

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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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