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



The Casson Family Series

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The Casson Family Series
by Hilary McKay
written for ages 9-12 | recommended with reservations
published in 2011 (2003) | Margaret K. McElderry

The Casson family copes with everyday life, their friends, and each other. Each of them has challenges to face,and each of the books focuses on life from the point of view of one of the family members, with the exception of Caddy Ever After which has each of them in turn telling their story via a diary narrative.

There are five books in the series so far. Saffy's Angel (SA) introduces the family and explains that Saffy was adopted when her mother died. Indigo's Star (IS) is set a couple of years later and takes place as Indigo returns to school after a serious illness. Permanent Rose (PR) introduces David who's determined to befriend Indigo. The penultimate book, Caddy Ever After (CAE,) in which the Cassons describe various small interrelated challenges each must overcome. And the recently published Rose Forever.

With the slight caveat that broken families are normal, if never really condoned, I recommend… click here to read whole article and make comments



Nancy and Plum

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Nancy and Plum
by Betty MacDonald
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2010 (1952) | Knopf Books | 240 pages

Betty MacDonald's sweet story about two orphaned sisters should appeal to young girls today. When Nancy and Plum lost their parents, their bachelor uncle sent them to a boarding school where he thought they would be well cared for. Little did he know that the directress of the school, Mrs. Monday, was a greedy and abusive woman who took an immediate dislike to spunky Plum.

Although mild-mannered Nancy does her best to keep her sister out of trouble, Plum's sense of justice and adventure consistently get them both sent to bed without dinner. Their charm and optimism win them the affection of their peers and teachers, however. When they decide to escape from the school, the sisters receive the help of friends and strangers alike.

In this traditional and heart-warming story, MacDonald develops her plot and characters at an appropriate level for her intended audience. Her lively and detailed descriptions of the scenery and action… click here to read whole article and make comments


SUNDAY, 17 JULY 2011

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
by Jamie Ford
written for ages 18 + | recommended
published in 2009 | Ballantine Books | 290 pages

The opening pages of Jamie Ford's stunning debut novel are like watching the progress of a delicate Chinese watercolour painting. Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has discovered the belongings of Japanese families hidden below, left when they were sent to internment camps during World War II.

The story goes back and forth between the 1940s and the 1980s to weave an intricate tale of friendship and young love between Henry, a young Chinese-American from a family that holds bitterly to longstanding prejudices, and Keiko, a young Japanese-American whose family were caught up in the anti-Japanese America of World War II.

Forty years after they were separated, Henry still wonders whether he made the right choice.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring… click here to read whole article and make comments


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



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



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



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.

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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



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


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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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