Leaving Emma

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Leaving Emma
by Nancy Steele Brokaw
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 1999 | Clarion Books | 144 pages

Emma's best and only real friend Tem is moving away at the same time as Emma's dad is spending several months abroad for his job, leaving Emma disconsolate and unsure how she's going to get on. To complicate matters further, her mother decides to spend some time with her father while he's abroad and asks Great Aunt Grace to look after Emma. At first Emma is horrified, but then each of them learns how to get on with the other. Finally, Emma discovers a new set of friends as she makes the school play.

The story is told from Emma's point of view, as a first-person narrative and transmits all her thoughts and worries, delights and feelings without confusing the reader. In a down-to-earth way it addresses, through Emma's feelings and reactions, all the difficulties she's going through. To some extent it could be regarded as bibliotherapy, helping children in similar situations, but even as a story it stands up… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Power of Six (Lorien Legacies #2)

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The Power of Six
by Pittacus Lore (James Frey, Jobie Hughes)
written for ages 13-16 | acceptable
published in 2011 | Harper Collins | 406 pages

The second installment of the blockbuster Lorien Legacies series is just a little tighter and more evenly paced than the first, making it is easy to read without feeling challenged in any way. There is plenty of action, lots of dialogue, and since the characters now have movie-star faces it is easy to visualise the scenes.

But it feels too perfect. Every time an inconsistency appears it is immediately explained into the context, as though one in the authorial team said 'ah, but what about...', and then the others brainstormed until they came up with the most credible answer. Everything is fixed - at least on the surface - too conveniently, and this dampens the quality of the storytelling. It's a bit like fast food: you eat it up quickly but might regret the stomach ache later.

The romance is similar to Number Four: again not as omni-present as it is in Twilight but just as superficial. There is one… click here to read whole article and make comments




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by Eoin Colfer
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2009 (2008) | Hyperion Books | 416 pages

Conor Broekhart was born to fly. He spends his days dreaming of flight as he fences with his tutor and explores the castle of the Saltee Islands with his friend Isabella. Then Conor is brought tragically back down to earth when he discovers a plot to overthrow the king. Now he must grow up quickly if he wants to save his friend, his family and his country.

It is strange that Airman has received markedly less publicity than Colfer's Artemis Fowl series. In my opinion, Airman surpasses Artemis Fowl in many aspects, from language to character development. Conor does not remain a stereotypical hero. Instead, he gradually grows into a young man who is both human and admirable. It is also clear that Colfer knows his setting well. Though the Saltee Islands have been uninhabited for a little more than a hundred years, the author brings the islands to vivid and richly historical life. Colfer weaves betrayal, conspiracy, family and… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Dagger Quick

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The Dagger Quick
by Brian Eames
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2011 | Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books | 336 pages

Twelve-year-old Kitto Wheale is no stranger to hardship. Born with a club leg, he has been the unwilling recipient of the abuse, disdain and pity of nearly everyone in his hometown of Falmouth, England. His father Frederick has determined that Kitto will become a cooper like himself: a respectable and steady profession. Kitto finds this decision unfair, for he longs to be a sailor. Just the same, as his uncle tells him, "Fair describes a good woman, Kitto. Not life."

And who is this mysterious uncle who materializes one evening at the Wheale shop? None other than the pirate Captain William Quick. His appearance disturbs Frederick Wheale, and Kitto soon learns why. Both Frederick and William have a past that Frederick would like to forget, and William cannot escape. Captain Quick's arrival in Falmouth throws Kitto and his family into grave danger. After spending his childhood longing for adventure, Kitto regrets the loss of security that life on the high… click here to read whole article and make comments



Toby Alone

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Toby Alone
by Timothee de Fombelle
written for ages 11-14 | highly recommended
published in 2009 | Candlewick | 400 pages

Toby Lolness is one and a half millimetres tall and on the run. His father, a brilliant scientist, has made a discovery that threatens the evil plans of Joe Mitch. Toby must now stay free in order to save his parents, his people and the tree which is their world.

A satisfyingly original story, told partly in flashbacks, Toby Alone combines an addictive and fast paced adventure with learning, as the world of the Tree subtly mirrors our own. The author successfully weaves politics, love, family and a deep knowledge of the human condition into the character driven plot. Each character, from Toby's father Sim Lolness to the potentially tyrannical Leo Blue, has a background and a well developed personality that is essential to the progression of the narrative. The result is a cast of characters who are in no way stereotypical; characters that each have the ability to teach the readers something about the way human beings tick.

Toby… click here to read whole article and make comments



Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night

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Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night
by Joyce Sidman (illustrator, Rich Allen)
written for ages 7-10 | highly recommended
published in 2010 | Houghton Mifflin Books for Children | 32 pages

A perfect "read aloud" book, Dark Emperor presents a series of poems about nocturnal animals and explanations of those animals' actual living habits. Sidman's poetry is varied in terms of style and language use. Yet each poem brings to life the sights, sounds and smells of a forest at nighttime. The complementary scientific descriptions and glossary clarify the poems, and this combination lends itself well to teaching children about wildlife. Allen's detailed drawings capture the look and feel of nature after dark. Be sure to look for the red eft on nearly every page.

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Kit’s Wilderness

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Kit's Wilderness
by David Almond
written for ages 13-16 | recommended with reservations
published in 2009 (1999) | Delacorte Books for Young Readers | 240 pages

Thirteen year old Kit Watson has moved back to his ancestral town of Stoneygate, an old mining town in northern England. His grandmother is dead, and Kit's parents want his grandfather's last years to be happy. The grandfather was born and raised in Stoneygate and had worked in the old mines of the town. It is the only place where he feels at home and he wants to die there.

Kit being a "new kid" struggles to make friends at a school where he does not know anybody. He manages to make friends with a gang of misfits whose leader is the frightening John Askew. Kit is encouraged to attend nocturnal meetings in the seemingly haunted mines of the town. At first he is reluctant and afraid, but he eventually succumbs to the peer pressure and the natural allure of the mines. In the mine they smoke cigarettes and play the terrifying game of death. As the story unfolds frightening… click here to read whole article and make comments



Wisdom’s Kiss: a book for brave readers

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Wisdom's Kiss
by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
written for ages 11-14 | recommended with reservations
published in 2011 | Houghton Mifflin Books for Children | 314 pages

Wisdom's Kiss is even more unconventional than Catherine Gilbert Murdock's other books, and I would highly recommend it for brave readers. The storytelling is unusual with each character narrating their part in 2-3 page chapters, alternating between the script of a stage play, letters from one character to another, diary entries and heirloom stories passed on to a younger generation.

The characters are distinct and their voices recognizable, but the brevity of the chapters prevents the character development from progressing very far. The storyline is like nothing I have ever come across. As we found with Princess Ben, this fairytale is highly unconventional and readers will need to cope with a little heartbreak before it finds a resolution.

Murdoch explained her motive for the unexpected plot twists as wanting to help young readers understand that they probably won't discover their true love by the age of 16. This is a wonderful improvement to the overly… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Search for WondLa

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The Search for WondLa
by Tony DiTerlizzi
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2010 | Simon & Schuster | 496 pages

Eva Nine has spent all her life living in an underground sanctuary. She dreams of going to the surface and trains every day for life in the real world, practicing survival skills using holographs. Muthr, the robot who cares for Eva, insists she is not ready. Ready or not, Eva is forced to emerge above ground when a hunter invades her home. Thus begins Eva's adventures on a planet that should have been Earth.

Eva hopes to find other humans who, in theory, live in other underground sanctuaries. Instead, she discovers many curious beings whose ancestors traveled to her planet years ago. Stalked by a monster that collects specimens for display in a museum, Eva must rely not only on the skills Muthr taught her, but her own ingenuity and intuition. With the help of creatures that sense Eva's innocence, she eventually uncovers the secret behind the existence of her world.

Science fiction lovers will… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy

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Johnny and the Dead
by Terry Pratchett
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2007 (1993) | HarperCollins | 224 pages

Johnny Maxwell can see the dead people in the graveyard who stress that they are not ghosts. A big company has bought the graveyard for redevelopment, and Johnny and the dead attempt to prevent it. At the end, the dead discover their potential to travel outside the graveyard and leave, and the corporation is thwarted by the Blackbury Volunteers, led by Johnny.

This is a humorous story written for younger readers, and lacking Pratchett's habitual cynicism and mockery for the most part. There are some very funny lines, ("It's worse than that: I'm dead, Jim."), and situations as the dead come to terms with technology. The author avoids the theological, and the story is just an amusing version of the local-kids-fight-city-developers story. The parts dealing with Tommy Atkins, last of the Great War Blackbury Pals Battalion, are quite touching and lead Johnny to an appreciation of what people have done who are now dead and gone.

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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