Mission Telemark

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Mission Telemark
by Amanda Mitchison
written for ages 11-14 | not recommended
published in 2010 | Walker | 272 pages

Four youngsters are sent into wartime Norway to destroy a Nazi heavy water plant, preventing the Germans from developing nuclear weaponry. Parachuted into a desolate and remote part of Norway in midwinter they have to survive with little shelter in blizzard conditions before entering the plant, detonating explosives, and escaping to Sweden 400km away.

The author, a British journalist, has clearly done her homework. She acknowledges assistance from all manner of people for helping her to set the Scandinavian scene. There are references to SOE training and survival techniques, Norwegian and Swedish geography and culture, ways to track the fauna of the Scandinavian forests by their tracks in the snow, and the setup of shelter huts in the high Norwegian mountains. Plus explanations of Heavy Water, the dangers of frostbite, and the nature of collaborators in wartime Norway. Wherever else the book fails, it doesn't fail in its educational value. It even has pull-out facsimiles of the training guides the… click here to read whole article and make comments



Summer of the Monkeys

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Summer of the Monkeys
by Wilson Rawls
written for ages 11-14 | highly recommended
published in 1998 (1976) | Yearling | 288 pages

Farm life in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains is never easy, but fourteen year old Jay Berry Lee has many reasons to be happy. He loves helping his father on the farm, wandering along the river bottoms with his dog Rowdy and visiting his grandfather at his general store. He does not even mind the teasing of his twin sister Daisy. Indeed, life seems actually quite peaceful for the Lee family, in spite of Daisy's crippled leg. Peaceful, that is, until 30 monkeys escape from a traveling circus into the forest surrounding the Lee's farm.

Although Mrs. Lee would like her son to leave well enough alone, Jay Berry is determined to find those monkeys and earn the reward for returning them. Then he'll have enough money to buy a pony and a rifle. With his grandfather's help and the assistance of Rowdy, Jay Berry concocts a series of schemes to outwit the animals. Unfortunately, those monkeys are more… click here to read whole article and make comments



Video Review 1: Don’t Judge These Books By Their Covers

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written for all ages | recommended

Everybody does it, but sometimes it just doesn't help to judge a book by its cover. Check out these books to see why.

Video courtesy of 

Clare Cannon is the editor of and the manager of Portico Books in Sydney.

click here to read whole article and make comments



The House of Special Purpose

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The House of Special Purpose
by John Boyne
written for ages 18 + | not recommended
published in 2011 (2009) | Anchor Canada | 432 pages

I am a fan of John Boyne's books for younger readers, and this was the first adult book of his that I had read. I hate to say this, but it was a disappointment. With such a talented author and such an interesting history from which to work, I was expecting more.

This is the tale of Georgy Jachmenev and his life as it was under, with and after the Romanovs. While it is arguable that the characters face their lives with grace, bravery, loyalty and eventually, love, they have little hope and much of their lives revolve around themselves. The romance was less real and more descriptive, sacrificing depth for emotion and passion. I will admit that I found the plot structure was very clever. However, the threads it drew together could have reached a more satisfying and meaningful end. Many points were begun but never fully developed or finished. The 'revelation' at the end of the book was… click here to read whole article and make comments



Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh

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Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh
by Robert C. O'Brien
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 1986 (1971) | Aladdin | 240 pages

Widowed fieldmouse Mrs. Frisby turns to the rats for help when her family's house is threatened, only to find them abnormally intelligent and with technology. They reveal that they knew her dead husband and they help her and her family before they leave the farm for a new life free of the technology they feel they depend on too much.

On the surface this is a child-friendly story in which a widowed fieldmouse seeks the help of her friends and neighbours when her family's house is threatened by the farmer's plough. When she helps a young crow escape the cat, he rewards her by helping out on several occasions, in particular taking her to see the owl who suggests a solution and points her towards the rats, who carry out the owl's idea. On the way, Mrs. F. overhears a plan to smoke out the rats, which she passes on, making sure that they escape in time. A neat quid… click here to read whole article and make comments



Dead End in Norvelt

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Dead End in Norvelt
by Jack Gantos
written for ages 11-14 | not recommended
published in 2011 | Farrar, Straus and Giroux | 352 pages

When Jack Gantos is grounded for the summer, he thinks he is in for the worst three months of his life. That changes, however, when Miss Volker, town medical examiner and obituary writer, enlists his help in typing articles for the local paper. Apparently, when Eleanor Roosevelt founded their small town of Norvelt, PA, Miss Volker promised the First Lady that she would see all its original inhabitants to their graves. Miss Volker intends to keep that promise, but she is not getting any younger herself. As luck would have it, these old timers are dropping dead one by one as the summer progresses. Is it just a convenient coincidence-or is there something sinister in the town of Norvelt?

Jack Gantos' autobiographical story brings humor to the difficult topic of death. The reader cannot help but chuckle at Miss Volker's obituaries into which she injects historical facts, her own political views and even sarcasm. Unfortunately, what starts out as the… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Little Refugee

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The Little Refugee
by Anh Do
written for ages 2-7 | highly recommended
published in 2011 | Allen and Unwin | 32 pages

This little picture book biography is about an extraordinary person. To read it is to discover a joy that has the power to overcome hardship.

Successful comedian Anh Do nearly didn't make it to Australia. His entire family came close to losing their lives as they escaped from war-torn Vietnam in an overcrowded boat. Anh’s life in Australia also started off badly as he was a small boy who didn’t speak English. But he never stopped smiling and went on to achieve his dreams.

Anh's story shows how it is possible to hope against all odds, and that with the help of a loving family, good can be attained from any hardship. Adults too will not be able to read it without shedding a tear, but they must also read The Happiest Refugee: A Memoir to get the full story. What an incredible person.

Clare Cannon is the editor of and the manager of Portico Books in… click here to read whole article and make comments



Big Red

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Big Red
by Jim Kjelgaard
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2011 (1945) | Holiday House | 254 pages

Danny has lived in the woods of the Wintapi and hunted with his father for as long as he can remember. His knowledge of the region and its animals enables him to help the wealthy Mr. Haggin track his lost cattle. When Mr. Haggin asks Danny to train his prize winning dog Red, Danny is elated. Even if he could never afford to own such a dog, he knows he will certainly enjoy working with him. Danny soon discovers, however, that Red is the only dog smart enough and brave enough to track Old Majesty, the bear that has been raiding the region's ranches. How can he keep a born hunting dog from following its instincts just to keep his appearance pristine for dog shows?

Kjelgaard's classic story is sure to enchant readers. Danny and Red become best friends, understanding each other as only a boy and his dog can. In the process of training Red, Danny learns what it… click here to read whole article and make comments



A Waltz for Matilda

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A Waltz for Matilda
by Jackie French
written for ages 15-18 | highly recommended
published in 2010 | HarperCollins Australia | 496 pages

I really loved this book. It covers so many poignant things about the history of my country (we celebrated Australia Day a few weeks ago), and it’s well told with wonderful characters that you really get to know. They are real characters, each one independently taking the story where they will, you never feel that there’s an overbearing author pushing everyone about. 

Jackie French is renowned for highly readable historical fiction with an Australian flavour, and this novel explores Australia’s early years as an emerging nation, around 1900 ( young!). It centres around twelve-year-old Matilda O’Halloran, who in 1894 leaves the city slums to go and find her father who is making his living on the land. It’s a time of unrest: drought and desperation have strained the relations between workers and landowners, the poor and the wealthy, and Matilda’s own father is wanted by the troopers. 

French has taken inspiration from the well-known poem by A… click here to read whole article and make comments



Alex Rider Series

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Alex Rider Series
by Anthony Horowitz
written for ages 11-14 | acceptable
published in 2008 | Puffin

Upon his uncle's death, Alex Rider discovers that his only living relative led a double life and may have been training Alex to follow in his footsteps. The series focuses on Alex's life as an unwilling yet effective secret agent in the employ of MI6. A friend of mine, upon reading my review of the Cherub Series, suggested that I may have been a little too harsh in my mention of Alex Rider. After due consideration, I now have to admit that she was right. Alex Rider, with all its weaknesses, is better than I thought it would be.

The main reason for my change of mind is the main character: Alex Rider. Unlike many boys his age, Alex does not want to be a spy. This is because he grasps the consequences and parameters of the occupation including the killing, violence, fear and risk. Despite a lack of positive role models, Alex is also more upright than his employers… 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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