MONDAY, 19 SEPTEMBER 2011

Airman

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Airman
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


 

FRIDAY, 16 SEPTEMBER 2011

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


 

TUESDAY, 13 SEPTEMBER 2011

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


 

FRIDAY, 9 SEPTEMBER 2011

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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WEDNESDAY, 7 SEPTEMBER 2011

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


 

TUESDAY, 30 AUGUST 2011

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


 

MONDAY, 29 AUGUST 2011

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


 

FRIDAY, 26 AUGUST 2011

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


 

MONDAY, 22 AUGUST 2011

Life After Harry Potter

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I have a confession to make. I never read the entire Harry Potter Series. I only read the first book. I know: I review children's literature. How could I not read the biggest series to hit publishing since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press? Well, as risky as this may be to admit, I didn't really like it.

No, it wasn't the whole magic and witch thing. Or the violence and "dark" themes. It just didn't grab me. There were clever scenes, like the one with the Sorting Hat that assigned new students to their respective houses and the Quidditch games. Still, on or about page six I felt I was reading the book after seeing the movie, which I hadn't. The outcome of the plot seemed obvious, the characters were all stereotypes, even the dialogue sounded like a movie script. I don't usually react that way to children's books. I hoped the sequels were more… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

WEDNESDAY, 17 AUGUST 2011

The Children of Crow Cove Series

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The Crow-Girl, Eidi, Tink
by Bodil Bredsdorff
written for ages 9-12 | not recommended
published in 2011 (1993) | Farrar, Straus and Giroux


I don't usually mind dreary stories, but I had a hard time keeping track of which man fathered which children in this series. I'm a visual person; I should have kept a chart. But first, let's look at the plot.

"Myna" (also known as Crow-Girl) was orphaned at a young age and raised by her grandparents. Once both of them have passed on, she leaves the poor hut in which they lived and is soon taken in by a couple that mistreats her. Following the lead of the local crows she escapes and finds other people also in dire conditions: Doup, whose grief-stricken widower father Frid chases the two of them away; then Foula and her daughter Eidi who have left Foula's husband, the alcoholic, abusive Burd. The four set off to Myna's former home and on the way meet Rossan the shepherd, who takes them in. Although Foula would like to stay with Rossan, he appears… 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 jennifer.minicus@mercatornet.com.


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