FRIDAY, 29 JUNE 2012

Video Review: Holiday Reading for Teens and Young Adults

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written for ages 15-18 | recommended
published in 1859-2012

My inbox is full of summer reading recommendations, which is scant consolation for the icy wind that froze my bones this morning, or for the fact that it’s now dark at 5pm, signalling to most people in my half of the hemisphere that winter has well and truly set in. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help noticing that I’d have a few different books on my summer reading list… if my summer weren’t six months away.

Everyone has their own taste when it comes to a favourite read, and you won’t need my help pulling a beloved old friend from the shelf. But if you’re feeling adventurous, you might wish to consult a list of recommended summer reads. Some believe summer should be used to explore serious works without the pressure of needing to ‘write them up’, others make their list out of whatever is popular, others still have a list so long it’s hard to find a book they haven’t included.

We’ve used the following ‘summer reads’ criteria to make… click here to read whole article and make comments



Peter Raven: Under Fire

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Peter Raven: Under Fire
by Michael Molloy
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2007 (2005) | Scholastic | 512 pages

The year is 1800 as 13-year-old Peter Raven sails as midshipman aboard the Torrone, only to be hurt in a sea battle off France. When he sails again to the Caribbean, the ship is attacked by pirates, and he is set adrift to save himself. Meanwhile Lucy Cosgrove (18), a young American heiress is drawing attention in Paris by her beauty and her skill as a sharpshooter. The head of French Navla Intelligence, General Ancre, has been tasked by Napoleon with persuading the notorious pirate Count Vallon to part with his gold in return for newly-colonised land in the United States.

There's action, there's romance, there's an insanely villainous count with an island fortress in the Caribbean, naval battles, shipboard camaraderie, and family ties. All this within a recognisable historical framework peopled with three-dimensional characters. The plot takes in several countries and nationalities and it's refreshing that the author gives every one a fair chance. Early on, Peter is warned… click here to read whole article and make comments


SUNDAY, 24 JUNE 2012

Mildred D. Taylor’s Short Stories

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The Gold Cadillac and Mississippi Bridge
by Mildred D. Taylor
written for ages 7-10 | recommended
| Puffin

Mildred Taylor has written several books based on family stories about life among African Americans prior to the civil rights movement. While many readers are familiar with her series about the Logan family, (e.g. The Land, Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry,...), they may not know about some of her short stories.

In Mississippi Bridge, ten-year-old Jeremy Simms finds himself caught between his racist father and the Blacks he tries to befriend in this short story about life in Mississippi in the 1930's. Jeremy cannot make sense out of the disturbing discrimination he witnesses and has great difficulty gaining the trust of the young African Americans in his town. He finds himself working together with one of them, however, when tragedy occurs.

In The Gold Cadillac, an African American family drives from Ohio to Mississippi in their new Cadillac and faces much prejudice in the 1950's. Both of these books illustrate racism in a way that young children can… click here to read whole article and make comments


MONDAY, 18 JUNE 2012

The Pendragon Series

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The Merchant of Death, The Lost City of Faar, The Never War
by D.J. MacHale
written for ages 11-14 | recommended with reservations
published in 2010 (2003) | Aladdin

Bobby Pendragon (14) has just kissed his girlfriend (Courtney) for the first time when his Uncle Press turns up and demands that he accompany him on a mission of vital importance which takes them through a portal to another world. Uncle Press is captured and Bobby must save him and the local low-tech population from the bullying, armour-wearing Bedoowan. In the sequel, Bobby and Uncle Press follow Saint Dane to Cloral, a world covered completely by water, to prevent him from pushing as many worlds as he can to the point of chaos. In the third book, Bobby finds Saint Dane manipulating things in 1937 New York, and must work out what link there is between a New York gangster, the Nazi Party, the Hindenburg Airship disaster and Saint Dane's plan for total chaos. To find out more about events to come, he and his companion Gunny travel to 3rd Earth, 3000 years in the future, where a powerful computer… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Winged Watchman

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The Winged Watchman
by Hilda van Stockum
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 1997 (1962) | Bethlehem Books | 191 pages

The Winged Watchman takes place in Holland during the years of 1944 and 1945 when the sufferings of the Dutch people had grown desperate after four years of Nazi occupation. Like the best of historical fiction, The Winged Watchman tells an engaging story while effortlessly immersing the reader in the life of its characters. Middle school readers will learn about Holland - a land that lies close to the sea - and the importance of its system of dikes and polders and windmills. They are let in on the secrets of brave resistance fighters with their disguises, risks, and underground communications. They will commiserate with and come to understand the yearning of ten year old Joris Verhagen and his fourteen year old brother, Dirk Jan, to help and to fight.

The Germans take the best of everything - men, crops, pets -- inflicting misery at every turn.  Neighbors become spies for the enemy and friends are carted away to prison… click here to read whole article and make comments



Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms

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Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms
by Lissa Evans
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2012 | Sterling | 272 pages

Ten-year-old Stuart Horten fully expects his summer to be duller than dull. Moving to Beeton at the end of the school year means that he will have no friends and therefore nothing to do. His mother works at the hospital all day, and his crossword puzzle writing father spends his days with his nose buried in books. To make matters worse, the identical triplets next door, April, May and June, have a knack for annoying him with their nosey questions. Desperate to escape their stalking, Stuart ducks into an old phone booth. To his surprise, the phone rings: it is the Beeton Public Library with a book for Mr. Horten. How did they know he was in the phone booth? How did the phone ring with a severed receiver cord?!

Stuart has never believed in magic, but now he is beginning to think that his great-uncle Tony Horten, magician extraordinaire, had a plan to send him on an exciting adventure.… click here to read whole article and make comments


SUNDAY, 10 JUNE 2012

The Penderwicks

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The Penderwicks
by Jeanne Birdsall
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2007 (2005) | Yearling | 272 pages

The four Penderwick sisters befriend Jeffrey when staying in a cottage in the grounds of his mother's house. Skye jeopardises their friendship with her tactlessness; Rosalind finds herself with a crush on Cagney the gardener; Jane wraps herself up in the imaginary world of her fictional heroine; and Batty disgraces the family by letting out Cagney's rabbits just at the wrong time.

If a Norman Rockwell picture were translated into text, I think it would look something like this story of four motherless daughters, their gentle botanist father, their new boy friend and his unsympathetic mother. Throw into the mix a first teenage crush, a new boyfriend for the unsympathetic mother, a plot to ship the boy friend off to a military academy and a garden competition which goes horribly wrong. The result is a charming story with amusing moments, heartwarming moments, embarrassing moments and just family moments.

If you're looking for grittiness or the more sordid side of reality,… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Invisible Detective Series

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The Paranormal Puppet Show
by Justin Richards
written for ages 9-12 | acceptable
published in 2007 (2003) | Simon & Schuster | 272 pages

In the 1930s, Arthur Drake and his detective agency (made up of his street gang friends) become involved with Professor Bessemer's sinister waxworks when he takes over the warehouse they use as a base. Arthur is particularly attracted by the Professor's crippled ward Liza, but the children have to turn for help when they discover that the waxworks are the basis for a plot to take over the country.

Undemanding and slightly unconvincing. The 1930's kids provide a mixture of realistic backgrounds - abusive parents, semitic bullying, the stirrings of adolescent attraction - and unrealistic acceptance of the lifelike waxworks which turn into killing machines. It's rather like seeing a sanitised Terminator appear in the middle of a Secret Seven book. The adults play the same sort of roles that their Enid Blyton counterparts play, too.

The device of a modern-day Arthur Drake discovering a diary left by his 1930's counterpart doesn't seem to lead anywhere and gives the appearance… click here to read whole article and make comments



Gone Away Lake

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Gone Away Lake
by Elizabeth Enright
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2000 (1957) | Sandpiper | 272 pages

Portia and Foster Blake always enjoy their summer vacations in the country with their cousin Julian. This summer, however, proves more exciting than usual. While six year old Foster plays with a neighbor, eleven year old Portia and twelve year old Julian discover a seemingly abandoned resort community. They soon make the acquaintance of Mrs. Cheever and her brother Mr. Payton, who spent their summers in the now dilapidated homes surrounding a dried-up lake. Their elderly friends teach them many things about life in the past as well as the treasures that nature holds.

Enright's descriptions bring to life the scenery and characters of her delightfully innocent story. The reader truly feels present in each chapter. The friendship that develops between the older brother and sister and younger cousins defies all generation gap stereotypes. Even the most modern of preteens should appreciate the joys of summer and outdoor adventure that the young people in this book experience.

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


TUESDAY, 29 MAY 2012

Caddy’s World

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Caddy's World
by Hilary McKay
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2011 | Hodder | 256 pages

Cadmium, at 12, is the oldest of the Casson children. Next comes her adopted sister Saffron, who's 8, followed by Indigo who's 6, and Permanent Rose, born as the story begins. Bill, their stylish father, works as an artist out of a London studio while Eve, their scatty mother, looks after the family and does some painting to bring in money.

Caddy grows up quickly as her family focuses on her dangerously ill baby sister while her friends start to pull apart while trying to keep together. Eve goes into hospital unexpectedly and Bill comes home to look after the children while Rose, their new sister, struggles to stay alive. At the same time, Caddy's friends are starting to take different directions. Ruby has been offered a scholarship to a private school, but is terrified of losing the support of the quartet of friends. Beth is concerned that the pony her parents bought is costing too much and that she… 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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