The Stravaganza Series

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City of Stars
by Mary Hoffman
written for ages 13-16 | not recommended
published in 2003 | Bloomsbury Publishing | 356 pages

Georgia is a horse-keen 14-year-old whose mother has recently taken up with Ralph and his 16-year-old son Russell. Russell delights in probing Georgia's insecurities and taunting her about them. Georgia finds solace in horse-riding and the friendship of the owner of a curio shop where she buys a winged horse which transports her at night to the Talia of 400 years ago. She finds herself in Palio where the great horse race of the city's year is about to take place. The race itself is always the occasion for double-dealing and trickery, but in addition, the Duke di Chimici sees it as an opportunity to gain control of Bellezza, currently ruled by the young Duchess Ariana.

Russell, Georgia's older step-brother is well-portrayed as a nasty piece of work, needling away at Georgia behind her parents' backs. Their respective parents have only just started living together and their desire to see things work out make them unsympathetic to Georgia's claims against… click here to read whole article and make comments



Cam Jansen Mysteries

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by David Adler
written for ages 7-10 | highly recommended

Cam Jansen and the Secret Service Mystery

Cam and her schoolmates watch as an important political figure and candidate for president, Governer Zellner, arrives for the inauguration of the school's new library. The visit goes smoothly ... until the children hear a "bang!" Sounds like a gun shot come from the back of the library! Everyone, including the governor, hits the ground until the situation is deemed safe.

Cam immediately gets to work with her imaginative mind to reconfigure the scene. She helps the adults figure out that there were no gunshots but that something else of great value went missing during the scare. Once again, she proves to be wiser than some of her adult superiors despite their attempts to dismiss her, but, in the end, both adults and children are grateful for her ability to quickly solve the mystery. Young readers will look forward to finding out the cause of the startling noise as well as the thief… click here to read whole article and make comments



My childhood correspondence with Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Writing about Laura Ingalls Wilder is, for me, like writing about an intimate friend, although we never met.

We started corresponding in 1943 when I was nine years old, and she was in her seventies, though I didn't know it. My family lived in Washington D.C. at that time and Grannie discovered her books in the local library. She read The Long Winter to me and my younger sister and brother, Brigid and Randal. She was very moved herself and as she closed the book wondered how the Ingalls family had been able to manage during those blizzard months (for example, what did they do for a toilet?). "Why don't you write and ask her?" she said. It was a momentous thing to do! I took great pains in writing that letter and to my delight and the awe of the rest of the family she answered me. The letter was handwritten on paper headed with flowers. About the toilet,… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Stamp Collector

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The Stamp Collector
by Jennifer Lanthier
written for ages 11-14 | highly recommended
published in 2012 | Fitzhenry & Whiteside | 32 pages

Inspired by actual events, The Stamp Collector tells the story of two boys. As children, they have different interests: one likes to collect stamps, the other to read and write stories. As adults, their lives cross paths in prison: one as a guard, the other as an inmate. Their avocations help them each to dream and not lose hope. Eventually the stamp collector must choose between the safety of submitting to an unjust system and the risk of speaking against it. That decision has the potential to change his world.

Jennifer Lanthier's first picture book provides a simple, yet profound insight into the power of the written word. Her story demonstrates the fragile nature of freedom--and the importance of confronting injustice despite the dangers involved. Readers' hearts will be touched by the suffering and courage of her two characters. Francois Thisdale's illustrations capture both the darkness of their plight as well as the light of hope that permeates this story.

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Time Stops For No Mouse

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Time Stops For No Mouse
by Michael Hoeye
written for ages 7-10 | recommended
published in 2007 (2002) | Puffin | 272 pages

Hermux Tantamoq is a watchmaker living a quiet and comfortable existence until an attractive and dashing lady fails to return for her repaired watch. Tantamoq goes to her house in time to see her taken away and discovers a plot involving unscrupulous commercial and scientific interests after the formula for eternal youth.

There's nothing terribly original in this book: a bachelor who finds a taste for adventure, the congenial small town atmosphere, animals as main characters, the fountain of youth and of course the pairing of the unscrupulous scientist and the power-mad businesswoman.

Having said that, the book stays afloat nicely on the characterisation of the principals, each quirky but reassuring, the high-class atmosphere of friendship and, albeit in a fairly small way, the plot. With one particular exception, everyone's pretty much what they seem, and the technique of employing animals as main characters has the effect of allowing a certain simplification of adult life while letting the author indulge… click here to read whole article and make comments



Bright Island

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Bright Island
by Mabel L. Robinson
written for ages 13-16 | recommended
published in 2012 (1937) | Yearling | 288 pages

For 16-year-old Thankful Curtis, Bright Island contains everything a young girl needs: sunshine, the beach, farmland and family. Even her late grandfather remains part of her beloved home off the coast of Maine. When her four sisters-in-law conspire to enroll her in school on the mainland, Thankful balks. Her mother has taught her well; why does she need school? Her father explains that Gramp left money for Thankful's education, so off she goes.

Adjusting to town life and the drama of adolescent relationships proves more challenging than any of Thankful's classes. Gossip, social cliques and the intrigue of teen romance compound her homesickness. Pride triumphs in the end, though, and Thankful decides to show that she is up to the task.

Young teens will discover that they have much in common with the youth in Mabel Robinson's 1938 Newbery Honor book. A typical 16-year-old, Thankful experiences many of the social pressures that adolescents face today and demonstrates how to maintain… click here to read whole article and make comments




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by Charlie Fletcher
written for ages 11-14 | recommended with reservations
published in 2008 (2006) | Hyperion Books | 480 pages

Twelve-year-olds George and Edie become aware of a war in London between the Spits, statues of humans, and the Taints, statues of everything else, including gargoyles, dragons and minotaurs. They are, of course, on the side of the Spits. They are shepherded by the sturdy Gunner, helped along by Dr Johnson and the rather sneaky Black Friar, and confused by the Sphinxes who are of mixed allegiance.

It is from the Gunner that we learn of statues and their makers. The statues are the children of their makers, taking their names in the same way that a human does. The Gunner gives a moving description of how Jagger, a sculptor-turned-soldier, made statues around London after the Great War which represented the way in which wives and children wanted to remember their loved ones fallen in battle. The issue of a creator God is skirted throughout but some discussion may be appropriate if this is an issue.

The main thread of… click here to read whole article and make comments



Navigating Early

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Navigating Early
by Clare Vanderpool
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2013 | Delacorte Books for Young Readers | 320 pages

Jack Baker is lost. Well, not really. However, after the sudden death of his mother and the move from Kansas to Maine with his naval captain father, Jack certainly feels lost. While Captain Baker is stationed at a local shipyard, Jack must attend Morton Hill Academy, a boarding school for boys. Accustomed to wheat fields and farmland, Jack finds adjusting to life by the sea challenging. All of his classmates are first rate sailors, including Early Auden, a mysterious boy who rarely comes to class and has a unique way of looking at the most ordinary things.

A bit of a recluse, Early has highly refined observation skills and an extremely underdeveloped sense of tact. Jack soon discovers, however, that Early is loyal, accepting and forgiving. When they accidentally are left alone at school during vacation, Early welcomes Jack's companionship on his adventure along the Appalachian Trail to track a great black bear. The challenges of living outdoors and the… 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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