No pet is more loyal than a dog

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written for ages 7-10 | recommended
published in 2014

Rags: Hero Dog of WWI by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Petra Brown; Sleeping Bear Press

A scrappy puppy proves his courage and loyalty in this book about a real dog that “fought” with the United States forces in France during WWI. Homeless, Rags is found by Private James Donovan in Paris. The two become inseparable. Rags carries messages, warns soldiers of incoming shells and even learns to salute. Donovan, for his part, cares for his pet going so far as to make a gas mask for the dog. The soft, earthy tones of the illustrations gently present battle scenes to young readers while conveying the affection between the soldiers and their mascot. Parents may want to preview the book because of its touching conclusion.

Trigger and the Baby Pheasant by Amy Mayer, illustrated by Dindo Contento; Tate Publishing

A short, but simple story about an intelligent and energetic pup who saves a clutch of pheasant chicks. Trigger’s… click here to read whole article and make comments



An unexpected hero

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Hero on a Bicycle
by Shirley Hughes
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2013 (2012) | Candlewick | 224 pages

Paolo and Constanza's mother Rosemary Crivelli agrees to take in some fugitive Allied servicemen risking reprisals by the local Gestapo. Their father is away helping the Resistance and the youngsters must play their part in the business, deceiving the Germans and helping the servicemen get away.

Shirley Hughes is most famous for the My Naughty Little Sister series although she has written and illustrated many other books over the years. This one, as the author notes in a preface, is based on real-life events recounted to her not long after the war by a family similar to the Crivellis.

It's a boldly-drawn look through a keyhole into the events of a few days in a little village in Nazi-controlled Italy. A pair of Allied servicemen take shelter with Rosemary, who was born English before she married her Italian husband. There is very real danger of the usual wartime sort. But also very real people facing up to it with… click here to read whole article and make comments



Banished to Siberia

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The Impossible Journey
by Gloria Whelan
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2003 (2004) | HarperCollins | 256 pages

Thirteen-year-old Marya has no recollection of life in St. Petersburg before Lenin came to power. Her parents, however, have told her many stories of their aristocratic life before the Russian Revolution. Now they are considered enemies of the people, simply because of their family origins. Papa may no longer teach at university, and they weigh carefully what they say in public. Despite these precautions, one night policemen come and arrest Marya's parents, leaving her and her seven-year-old brother, Georgi, to fend for themselves.

With nowhere to go, the children move into a neighbor's apartment. Mr. and Mrs. Zotov are not very hospitable in spite of the fact that they have taken nearly all of the valuables from Marya's apartment. Marya visits the local prison and learns that her mother is being sent to Siberia and her father to a work camp. Determined to reunite her family, Marya and Georgi make the bold decision to walk to Siberia to find their… click here to read whole article and make comments



Poetry takes the Newbery

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written for ages 11-14 | acceptable
published in 2014

The Crossover (Newbery winner) by Kwame Alexander, HMH Books for Young Readers

In this thoroughly non-traditional Newbery, a middle-school aged basketball player raps the story of his life with his twin brother Jordan, former basketball star father and vice-principal mother. Josh Bell, known as Filthy McNasty, recounts his exploits on the court in what appears to be poetry, but reads like prose, sometimes rhyming, sometimes not. The reading level is less than challenging, but the book provides an example of healthy family life. Josh and Jordan live with two parents who clearly love each other and are not afraid to hold their adolescent boys to high standards. Josh struggles with studies and a bout of normal rebellion when Jordan starts to spend all his time with his new girlfriend. While from a literary point of view the book is a wash, with little character or plot development, the relationships it portrays are valuable.

Brown Girl Dreaming (Newbery Honor)… click here to read whole article and make comments



Demons in London

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The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray
by Chris Wooding
written for ages 13-16 | recommended with reservations
published in 2005 (2001) | Point | 304 pages

The Prussian bombardment of London at the end of the 19th century left it demoralised and easy prey to demons of various sorts, known as wych-kind, leading certain men and women to become wych-hunters. Now twenty years later an unexplained series of horrific murders seems to be connected with a black magic group called The Fraternity which is seeking to release the Dark Gods. Thaniel and Cathaline are wych-hunters who find Alaizabel Cray partly and unwittingly possessed by a wych who is key to the Fraternity's plans. She must help them to stop those plans from succeeding.

The story draws you along for the most part, but it makes everything fairly easy to understand. You're even told pretty much whodunnit by the time you're half way through. There is very little which is indelicate or untoward: the hero, while taken with the heroine, is the soul of Edwardian propriety towards her. There are a couple of scenes which dwell a… click here to read whole article and make comments



The man behind the award

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Randolph Caldecott's Picture Books
by Randolph Caldecott
written for ages 2-7 | highly recommended
published in 2007 | Huntington Library Press | 236 pages

In 1937, the American Library Association created the Caldecott Medal for outstanding work in children's picture books. While many people are familiar with the award, few know anything about the man for whom it was named. Randolph Caldecott, distinguished for his illustrations in the second half of the nineteenth century, actually began drawing for weekly and monthly publications. He often embellished personal letters with sketches as well, to the delight of his family and friends. He eventually was employed to illustrate children's books and published two each Christmas from 1878 until his death in 1886. Although not quite 40 years of age at his demise, Caldecott's work influenced the likes of Beatrix Potter

This particular compilation, produced from copies of rare books in the Huntington Library collection, presents nine nursery rhymes: The House that Jack Built, The Diverting History of John Gilpin, Sing a Song of Sixpence, The Three Jovial Huntsmen, The Farmer’s Boy, The Queen of… click here to read whole article and make comments



It’s not obtuse to deduce there’s a new Dr Seuss on the loose

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Fans of children’s author Dr Seuss – the pen name of Theodor Seuss Geisel – were excited to learn that a new book is on the way. Titled What Pet Should I Get?, the book will be released in July and will feature the same brother and sister pair as his 1960 classic One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. This time the children are deciding on a pet based on its looks.

More than 20 years after Dr. Seuss’s death in 1991, a box filled with text and sketches was discovered in 2013 when his widow, Audrey Geisel, was cleaning out his office. Cathy Goldsmith, Seuss’s former art director, believes that What Pet Should I Get? was written between 1958 and 1962.

Seuss was a successful author and illustrator, founding the immediately profitable Beginner Books division of Random House in 1958. By the time… click here to read whole article and make comments



Baseball and poetry

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The Aurora County All-Stars
by Deborah Wiles
written for ages 9-12 | acceptable
published in 2009 (2007) | HMH Books for Young Readers | 256 pages

House Jackson has never admitted to the other boys on his baseball team why he cannot come to practice until 6 pm. They would not understand how a 12-year-old could spend his afternoons reading to the cranky, old, bed-ridden Mr. Boyd. House himself did not understand why he was asked to do it. When Mr. Boyd breaths his last, House has an unexpected sense of loss that he has not felt since his mother died.

Fortunately, House has the big upcoming baseball game to keep his mind occupied. He and his teammates are determined to beat their rivals until they realize that their mothers have committed them to perform in the Aurora County Birthday Pageant scheduled at the same time as the game. They cannot imagine a greater travesty of justice and go head-to-head with Finesse, the young girl organizing the pageant. Neither side is willing to compromise, least of all the mothers. Now House needs to find a solution… click here to read whole article and make comments



Troubled marriages make for troubled youth

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The Great Harlequin Grim
by Gareth Thompson
written for ages 13-16 | recommended with reservations
published in 2007 (2006) | Red Fox | 384 pages

Glenn Jackson (13) has to adjust as he is uprooted from his home in Burnley to a village in Cumbria, but his mother refuses to come without explaining why, and he finds it difficult to fit into the village community. So he takes to the hillsides roundabout to exercise his talent for art. And there he meets Harvey Quinn, a giantesque simpleton who hardly knows his own name and who believes he is hiding from unknown pursuers. Unable to do much else, Glenn brings him food while keeping his presence a secret from the locals, especially from “Father” Charlie, a reliigious minister turned farmer who struts around with a shotgun.

Meanwhile Glenn attempts to fit in at school with difficulty, not helped by the local gossip mill's version of his family's situation - about which he is himself not really quite sure - and his dad's ability to misjudge the kind of humour which a pub will appreciate. Glenn does… click here to read whole article and make comments



Kidnapped by slave traders

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by Donna Jo Napoli
written for ages 15-18 | acceptable
published in 2014 | Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books | 384 pages

Eight-year-old Brigid is a spunky Irish princess. She has no intention of being sold into slavery by the Russians who kidnapped her and her fifteen-year-old sister, Melkorka. She and her sister decide to jump ship and swim to the shore, but for reasons Brigid never learns, Melkorka stays on board. Now the young princess must fend for herself in an unknown land. Although frightened, her determination to find her sister and return to Ireland compels her to fight for survival.

Brigid takes refuge in a barn. After witnessing a young woman secretly give birth and abandon her baby, Brigid saves the child and seeks help at the farmer's dwelling. The local family begrudgingly takes in Brigid and the baby, and she lives there for three years. Amid protests, Brigid, now known as Alfhild, and the baby's mother leave with a traveling storyteller, whom the older girl weds. Alfhild lives with the couple until a local boy discovers she is Irish.… 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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