The 2013 Newbery Medal Winner

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The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate
written for ages 9-12 | not recommended
published in 2012 | HarperCollins | 301 pages

Applegate has crafted a warm-hearted story about Ivan, a kind gorilla, and his caged friends at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. It is narrated from Ivan's perspective, and the simple, well-spaced sentences, grouped under episodic themes, convey a literary voice that forms a perfect mental picture of how you might imagine a gorilla's thoughts to run.

As an emotive story it is acutely effective. As well as identifying us with Ivan's own perspective, his thoughts have a gently melancholic tone that beg our sympathy.

"Some animals live privately, unwatched, but that is not my life. My life is flashing lights and pointing fingers and uninvited visitors." (19)
"Mostly I think about what is, not what could be. I've learned not to get my hopes up." (24)
"He looks lonely," they say." (25)

In this poignantly simple tone, the harsh treatment of animals resounds all the more.

"We were clinging to our mother, my sister and I,… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Brotherband Chronicles

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The Outcasts
by John Flanagan
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2012 (2011) | Puffin | 464 pages

Hal is the half-blood son of a warrior father who's died and a foreign mother who runs an Inn to make ends meet. He's more slightly built than the other Skandian lads but is intelligent and skilled at making things. Hal is left leading the third of the year's brotherbands: all those not chosen for the other two bands. His natural leadership and ability to think gives his otherwise mismatched comrades a fighting chance against the more obviously gifted members of the other two teams. With his ingenuity and his bandmates' various skills, they consistently do as well as, if not better than, the other teams. All the while, Hal is taking advice from his father's old comrade Thorn, in the art of fighting so he'll be able to hold his own against his enemy the bully Tursgud.

Well you can't but recommend a book like this. It's fairly oozing with virtues and values. While there are a couple of… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Sterkarm Handshake

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The Sterkarm Handshake
by Susan Price
written for ages 13-16 | not recommended
published in 2000 (1998) | HarperCollins | 448 pages

The Time Tube allows people from the 21st century to travel to the 16th to negotiate deals which will bring now unknown produce from an unpolluted world. However, the people running the show in the 21st seriously underestimate the peoples of the 16th. Only Andrea, a researcher living and working among them, understands how they think. She is influenced by her love for Per, son of a Sterkarm clan leader.

This book just stops short of being a military thriller, with slightly gory - almost voyeuristic - descriptions of unsuspecting men about to be killed in more-or-less pleasant ways. What it does do well, is to provide a searching look at the modern attitude to the people who previously lived where we now do. The medieval Scots are simple but neither naive nor unintelligent; they are emotional and sentimental but not a soft touch; they stick fast to what they see as the demands of their society when it comes… click here to read whole article and make comments




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by Tim Bowler
written for ages 13-16 | recommended with reservations
published in 2003 (2002) | Oxford Children's | 336 pages

Fourteen-year-old Luke Stanton's father, Matthew, was a brilliant pianist, a gift his son has inherited. Luke does not cope well with his father's death, though, and gets involved with a gang of boys who cause trouble and steal around their village. When he reluctantly breaks into an old lady's house to steal a box, he is caught by her and has to agree to come back and play the piano for her blind and handicapped granddaughter. He undergoes internal conflicts over his relationship with his mother, his acceptance of his gift of music, the need to keep secret his involvement with the gang and with the old lady and her granddaughter, and above all his strange ability to hear the music of the world, to sense things much more deeply than most people, another gift which his father also had.

This novel runs on several levels: on the one level, it is the story of a gifted boy and his… click here to read whole article and make comments



Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

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Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
by Grace Lin
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2011 (2009) | Little, Brown Books for Young Readers | 304 pages

Young Minli's family has always struggled to survive, but she does not mind. Days of hard labor to produce just enough rice for her parents and herself are always followed by evenings of her father's legends about dragons and other magical creatures. Minli's mother, however, takes life much more seriously. Although she reluctantly humors Minli's father, she remains dissatisfied with their lot.

Minli's optimistic innocence finally gets the better of her when a goldfish man comes to their village. He claims his goldfish will bring her family good luck, so Minli buys a fish with one of her two small coins-the only money the family has. Prompted by her mother's disapproval, Minli decides to dump the goldfish in a nearby river, but soon discovers that the fish can talk. Its advice sends Minli on an adventure that will indeed bring good fortune to her family-but not in the manner that Minli expects.

Grace Lin's captivating story weaves together Minli's travels,… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Star of Kazan

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The Star of Kazan
by Eva Ibbotson
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2006 (2004) | Puffin | 416 pages

Annika, 12, was found by Sigrid and Ellie on a walking trip, and brought up by them, until Frau Edeltraut comes along and reveals that she is Annika's mother. Annika leaves her Vienna friends and her life behind and travels to the Edeltraut estate, Spittal, where she discovers that the family is impoverished but that her arrival is expected to bring good fortune with it.

Eva Ibbotson's usual style brings with it quirky but charming characters, a simple and happy heroine and her friends, and mildly comical wrongdoers who ultimately receive their just deserts. There is a comic-book simplicity to the story, but thanks to her technique of letting us see inside the decisions which characters make, the author brings some life to all but the most incidental of roles.

Annika's character manages to be charmingly virtuous without losing its realism. Brought up simply in the kitchen of a well-to-do house, the girl is happy and helpful and expects no… click here to read whole article and make comments


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!
recommended: age-appropriate and entertaining
acceptable: not outstanding but not problematic
some reservations: contains potentially problematic scenes or concepts
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