The Highwayman’s Footsteps

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The Highwayman's Footsteps
by Nicola Morgan
written for ages 13-16 | highly recommended
published in 2007 | Candlewick | 368 pages

Inspired by the famous poem by Alfred Noyes, The Highwayman's Footsteps traces the adventures of William, a young runaway and his friend Bess, a highwayman's daughter. 18th century England is a context of national turmoil. Against this backdrop, the pair must determine the boundaries between right and wrong as they try to make a difference.

Morgan is certainly true to her inspiration and uses rich and vivid poetic language in order to bring the time and place of her tale to epic life. Words are carefully chosen and strong metaphors are used. Much of the book, if not historically accurate, is based on true circumstances. So reading The Highwayman's Footsteps is a great way to gain some background knowledge on the period, especially for younger readers. At the same time there is plenty of action and suspense to keep readers interested.

Bess and William each have weaknesses that they need to overcome and fears that they need to face.… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Cat’s Pajamas

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The Cat's Pajamas
by Wallace Edwards
written for ages 7-10 | recommended
published in 2010 | Kids Can Press | 32 pages

When taken literally, idioms can be quite humorous. Wallace Edwards beautiful and lifelike illustrations cleverly present various expressions of the English language and provides a wonderful tool for introducing the concept of figurative language to young readers.

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

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The Lantern Bearers

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The Lantern Bearers
by Rosemary Sutcliff
written for ages 13-16 | highly recommended
published in 2010 (1959) | Square Fish | 240 pages

A young Roman decurion, unwilling to leave Britain with the last of the Legions, lights the beacon of Rutupiae one last time. It is an act of desperate defiance, a symbol of the struggle of the light of late-Roman civilisation against the dark of the Saxon invaders surging in on every spring tide. Years later, celebrating the fragile peace wrought by a victory against the Saxon alliance, the same man looks out through the branches of a tree in the courtyard and sees the stars of Orion's belt caught as though "fragile, triumphant blossom all along the boughs" of a damson tree.

Between these two images of light are years of darkness for Aquila: his family massacred, his enslavement and escape, his revenge overturned, battles with fickle allies against an outnumbering enemy, a political marriage. But also a loyal comradeship with the other warriors allied to the cause of Ambrosius, heroism in battle, the warming of love in his marriage,… click here to read whole article and make comments



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


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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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