The Good Reading Guide’s Favourite Books of 2014

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written for all ages | recommended


The Leaves Are Falling
The Leaves Are Falling
by Lucy Beckett (2014) Patient and poignant World War II historical fiction that enriches as it stirs. It treats tragedy with sensitivity and remains uplifting; its characters are intriguing and well-shaped.

Voyage to Alpha Centauri by Michael O'Brien (2013) Lengthy and rewarding, this is exploration narrative, dystopian thriller and speculative fiction all in one. Awe-inspiring and spine-tingling, it evokes Lewis’s Perelandra trilogy, as well as Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (2013) A murder mystery centred upon numerous, painstakingly drawn characters, worth reading beyond the first challenging fifty or so pages. Remaining civil even where disagreeable, it offers fascinating dialogues and is an enriching and at times enchanting read.

Luigi's Freedom Ride by Alan Murray (2014) Moving biographical fiction that uses cycling as a metaphor for life, exploring hope and endurance in… click here to read whole article and make comments



Your not-to-be-missed Christmas list of kids’ books

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written for all ages | highly recommended

After reading dozens of books in the past year, we have decided to highlight the most memorable titles we encountered in 2014. Some are newly released, others old favorites, but all of them worthwhile. Links to our original reviews are provided when possible. We hope you and your children enjoy them as much as we did. For a complete list of our recommendations, please see the links in the right-hand column under “our picks”.

Inspirational Story of the Year

Jane's choice: The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leysen- A true story about a boy who acted on instinct to be with his mother while in the Nazi camps.

Jennifer's choice: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang - A simple yet profound tale of parental love and acceptance.

Ideal Read-Aloud Picture Book

Jane's choice: The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric… click here to read whole article and make comments



A book that became a TV show

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Feather Boy
by Nicky Singer
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2003 (2002) | Yearling | 272 pages

Robert Nobel, class pariah, becomes involved with the elderly and dying Edith Sorrel who persuades him to overcome his fears and to go to the top of Chance House, a derelict building nearby, and to make her a coat of feathers so that she - like the Firebird in the legend - might sing again.

Robert sees in these requests something which is up to him to do and which he believes might save Mrs Sorrel from the cancer which is eating her up. This purpose gives him strength to overcome Niker's jibes, to live up to Kate's expectations, and to come to terms with his own reality. This first-person narrative by the 12-year-old boy, self-explaining but insightful, draws you inside his motives for carrying out the wishes of a dying woman, a series of actions which force him to overcome his own fears and limitations. Although Robert is the class Victim, and Niker the Kingpin, the situation is… click here to read whole article and make comments



A perfect book for boys who love sports but may not like to read

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The Contract
by Derek Jeter, with Paul Mantell
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2014 | Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books | 176 pages

Young Derek, like so many eight-year-old boys, dreams of playing shortstop for the New York Yankees. He has talent and the will power to work hard, but his parents know that any goal requires perseverance. They encourage Derek to pursue this ambition while asking him to sign a contract with them. The contract makes playing baseball contingent on good behavior and study habits and offers rewards like attending major-league baseball games. Derek agrees, trusting in his parents' wisdom and guidance.

Derek faces many challenges that year. Distractions in class, a coach who clearly favors his son over the other boys on their baseball team and classmates who consider his dream out of reach. In spite of all this, Derek pursues his goal with enthusiasm. He remains humble when he succeeds, redoubles his efforts when he falls short and consistently remains loyal to family and friends.

Based on Derek Jeter's childhood experience, The Contract demonstrates how integrity and hard… click here to read whole article and make comments



Fables from the forest

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Seedlings: Fables from the Forest
by CD Baker
written for ages 7-10 | acceptable
published in 2013 | CreateSpace | 58 pages

A series fables in which the author uses trees to teach lessons about virtues and relationships.  Each story is followed by questions to help the reader reflect on the moral of the tale as well as on his own life.

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

click here to read whole article and make comments



Baby gryphon hatches from blue stone

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Edric the Hatchling Gryphon
by Eric K. Williams
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2014 | FriesenPress | 72 pages

Very few people know anything about gryphons, the mythological creatures that are half eagle and half lion. Aerek had certainly never seen one when he happened upon a beautiful and mysteriously warm blue stone while walking through the woods. After his friend Miss Beecie helped him research the unusual rock, they concluded that it must be a gryphon egg. Thus they were not surprised when just such a creature hatched from the stone.

Edric, as Aerek decided to name him, quickly bonded with this human companions. As he grew, Edric displayed all the characteristics of a typical gryphon: courage, loyalty and above all, a love for gold. He accompanied Aerek and Beecie everywhere, which proved to be a blessing. His strength and daring saved them on more than one occasion. He even helped Aerek and his fellow soldiers defeat an invading group of Cyclops, displaying a nobleness of spirit that only a very special gryphon could possibly possess.

This first… click here to read whole article and make comments



An audition for life

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Far Out
by Rachel Billington
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2002 | Hodder Children's Books | 160 pages

Ruby and Slate separately see an unusual card on the noticeboard advertising an Audition for Life. When they attend the audition in a torn-down Salvation Army hall, bringing their pets as required, they alone are selected by the flamboyant and mysterious Frederick, April and Cherie, to take ship from Pier 225 to travel to The Island. With the orphaned Nadine and St Ives and Ruby's best friend Lee, who stows away, they travel to the island with other children who seem strangely unreal. This island is to be the stage on which each of them will develop and display his or her talents in an audition for life.

The story is gentle. The main characters are probably 10 or 11 years old: old enough to worry about toe-rings and mobile phone styles but young enough not to care when someone has to take her jeans off to get rid of spiders. Such tragedy as there is - Ruby's father's desertion,… click here to read whole article and make comments



A book from one of our subscribers

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What Should My Child Read?
by Susan Moore
published in 2012 (1992) | Five Senses Publication | 224 pages

This third edition of Susan Moore's guide to literature for children ages 5-15 contains a wealth of information about a wide variety of books for young people. In her preface, Moore explains not only the organization of her book, but also delineates recent trends in this area. Her analysis of prevalent themes in children's literature can help parents and educators think more deeply about the implications of many modern popular books. Moore's professional background also enables her to evaluate the literary style of current authors.

Moore discusses primarily two categories of literature:  realism and fantasy in this "user-friendly" reference. In a single paragraph, she summarizes the plot, gives a brief character analysis, describes the author's writing style and raises any concerns about the book's contents. I have not read all of the books Moore includes and did see some titles that I personally would not be comfortable recommending (e.g., The Midwife’s Apprentice, Shiloh). That said, busy parents may… click here to read whole article and make comments



Optimism and humor

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by Louis Sachar
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2000 (1998) | Yearling | 272 pages

Stanley Yelnats, overweight and coming from a family which seems to have been dogged by misfortune, is optimistic even though he is sent to a harsh young offenders' camp in the desert when he is wrongly convicted of stealing a pair of shoes. He finds his place among the other boys and offers to help one of them, nicknamed Zero, who is illiterate. In parallel, we learn about the history of Stanley's family and that they half-jokingly attribute their run of bad luck to a curse on one of their Latvian ancestors. When Zero attacks a sadistic camp guard and runs away, Stanley goes to find him, and together they survive in the desert, unwittingly coming across places and things which have a place in Stanley's family history. Finally, they make their way back to the camp where a lawyer has turned up to free Stanley and who unmasks the unjust behaviour of those running the camp.

This book is… click here to read whole article and make comments



A battle with a dragon

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St. George and the Dragon
by Michael Lotti
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2014 | CreateSpace | 162 pages

While little is known for certain about the martyr St. George, he is always portrayed slaying a dragon. This image is the inspiration for Michael Lotti's story of the conversion of a Roman soldier originally named Marcellus. Marcellus has a reputation for being a courageous and just tribune of the Empire's army, loyal to Rome and family. Upon returning to his father's estate to prepare for his wedding, Marcellus discovers that many of his neighbors, including his fiancée, have joined a cult that worships a dragon living in a nearby cave. In spite of an instinctive aversion to the creature, Marcellus visits it and finds the serpent's influence irresistible.

Equally compelling, however, are the Christians that Marcellus' father harbors on his land, among them the family's most trusted slave, Pasikrates, and Agathon, a travelling bishop. Marcellus is torn between the hypnotizing power of the dragon and the gentle wisdom and brotherly love of the Christians. He must decide if he… 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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highly recommended: you must read this!
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acceptable: not outstanding but not problematic
some reservations: contains potentially problematic scenes or concepts
not recommended: not appropriate for intended readers

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