There is no place like home

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Starry River of the Sky
by Grace Lin
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2014 (2012) | Little, Brown Books for Young Readers | 320 pages

Rendi had no idea how difficult running away from home would be. Tired and hungry, he finds himself employed as a chore boy at an inn in the Village of Clear Sky. Even though he has a bed and enough to eat, he sleeps fitfully. The moon has gone missing, and the night is filled with a strange, mournful crying that no one else seems to hear.

When Master Chao, owner of the inn, first hires him, Rendi is resentful. He has nothing but scowls for everyone, especially Master Chao's young daughter Peiyi. Then the lovely and mysterious Madame Chang arrives, and his attitude slowly begins to change. Madame Chang has an inexplicable presence that emanates peace. She tells fascinating tales of ancient times and seems to understand what lies in everyone's heart. When she encourages Rendi to tell stories of his own, the boy finds he cannot help but share something of his past. The contempt he originally felt… click here to read whole article and make comments



Bedtime proves challenging for older siblings

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Go to Sleep, Jessie
by Libby Gleeson, Freya Blackwood, illustrator
written for ages 2-7 | recommended
published in 2015 (2014) | Hardie Grant Books | 32 pages

Jessie stands and pulls at the rails of her cot, staring at the bedroom door and crying. She will not go to sleep. Big sister, herself not more than 8 years old, shares a bedroom with Jessie and is finding it more than a little noisy! The tension escalates as, no matter what, Jessie will not stop wailing. Dad tries taking Jessie out for a drive, Mum tries changing her nappy, big sister plays music and gives her T-Bear - but still the crying continues.

This story is slightly different in that it reverses the usual "bedtime shenanigans" and tells it from the point of view of the baby and big sister. Mum and Dad offer support in the background while big sister and Jessie are the focus. This is the genius of this simple picture book. Every young child who has a baby in the house or has been with a crying baby, has a little empathy for the… click here to read whole article and make comments



Gripping WWII novel wins awards

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All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr
written for ages 15-18 | highly recommended
published in 2014 | Scribner | 530 pages

Marie-Laure LeBlanc often visits the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris where her father works as the principal locksmith. Although she lost her eyesight at age six, she knows the museum and its staff well. Perhaps the most intriguing object in the institution is a priceless diamond, said to be cursed, that is locked behind a series of small doors. No one at the museum is permitted even to open the doors to look at it until the Nazis occupy France. Then, in order to prevent the stone falling into enemy hands, the museum director sends four trusted employees out of the city, each carrying a stone that may be the famed diamond or simply a copy. In this way, Marie-Laure and her father find themselves trying desperately to leave the capital, with thousands of other Parisians, and make their way to St. Malo where Mr. LeBlanc’s Uncle Etienne resides. Etienne, a troubled veteran of the Great War, lives in… click here to read whole article and make comments



Revenge-seeking ghosts steal ship from museum

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Seven Dead Pirates
by Linda Bailey
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2015 | Tundra Books | 304 pages

Lewis Dearborn is “terminally shy”.  Perhaps it is because he is an only child; perhaps because his parents, particularly his mother, are exceptionally over-protective. Whatever the reason, Lewis has one true friend: his 101-year-old great-grandfather. Lewis cannot help but feel honored when Great-Granddad’s last words are addressed to him: “Libertalia. You!” What could it mean?

Lewis refuses to believe his mother, who assures him that it is simply the rant of a senile old man. Mrs. Dearborn is more convinced than ever that her grandfather was off his rocker when his will is finally read. She is to inherit everything as long as her family lives in his dilapidated beachfront house for at least six months. (Actually, she will inherit everything but his ship in a bottle. That goes to Lewis.) Lewis does not mind. When they arrive, Mrs. Binchy, the housekeeper, gives Lewis the key to the tower where his bottle awaits. Lewis immediately falls in love with the… click here to read whole article and make comments



Five reasons why you should read aloud to your kids and pick their favorite book

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As parents know all too well, children love to re-read their favourite books over and over again. While this may feel painfully repetitive to adults, there is something in the text that is bringing children back time after time. Children benefit greatly from re-reading as they learn the rhyming or predictable pattern of the text – rather than spending that time trying to understand what the book’s about. Research shows that repeated reading of favourite books can boost vocabulary by up to 40%. But this is only truly beneficial when the text is read aloud.

Research shows that when preschool children are frequently read to, their brain areas supporting comprehension and mental imagery are highly engaged. Studies show that this helps with the development of reading skills, such as word recognition, when they start to learn to read. By assisting our children to develop these skills, we’re ensuring that… click here to read whole article and make comments



Not all popular books are worthwhile

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Serafina and the Black Cloak
by Robert Beatty
written for ages 9-12 | not recommended
published in 2015 | Disney-Hyperion | 304 pages

Serafina has spent the twelve years of her life hiding in the basement of the Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate in Ashville, North Carolina. She realizes that she and her father are not supposed to be living there even though he works at the estate as a maintenance man. Still, she cannot help but wonder if he is not a little ashamed of her.  She is different.  She only has four toes on each foot, sees exceptionally well at night and has a talent for catching rats.

She might have spent her entire life in obscurity. One night, however, she discovers an evil, mysterious visitor in the estate: a dark, powerful man in a cloak who absorbs children. The entire Vanderbilt household - family, servants and guests alike - are thrown into a frenzied panic searching for the youngsters. Although her father warns her not to get involved, Serafina feels an obligation to help the children she sees disappearing. She ventures out… click here to read whole article and make comments



Author captures the essence of the ANZAC legend

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Meet the ANZACs
by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Max Berry
written for ages 7-10 | highly recommended
published in 2014 | Random House Australia | 32 pages

How refreshing to find an author like Claire Saxby who has gained an understanding of the ANZAC legend through her use of primary sources (that is, original soldiers diaries, letters, newspapers and footage from the time) in researching for her book, Meet the ANZACs. Primary sources are of great importance to authors and historians in research and have enabled Saxby to show the true motivations of the Anzac soldiers.

Claire introduces her book by showing original footage (see below) of recruitment film courtesy of the Australian war memorial. Drawings by Norman Lindsay are also featured in the film. It is fascinating to have a look, and gives the flavour and mood of 1914.

Meet the ANZACs opens to a single, clear statement on what ANZAC stands for (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) also stating unequivocally that the ANZAC name is now a symbol of bravery and mateship. Then there is a typical Australian country scene… click here to read whole article and make comments



Best books for girls ages 10-12

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written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended


A parent who runs a local book club asked me if I could put together a great list of books for girls. There is such a range of reading abilities and maturity found in girls transitioning to the teenage years. Some tend to be only interested in adventure (try Brian Jacques’ Salamandastron), while others are right into romance (try The Shadow of the Bear by Regina Doman). For this reason I have put together a list including quite a mixture of themes.

I have done my best to tack on virtues to each book, since this is often looked for in book clubs. These tags do not describe all the virtues contained in the story, but they do alight to the character and theme of the book.

Finally, I recommend the books on this list, but not every book written by the authors. AVI, for example, has a couple children’s… click here to read whole article and make comments



Kindness comes in many shapes and sizes

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Sidewalk Flowers
by JonArno Lawson, author; Sydney Smith, illustrator
written for ages 2-7 | highly recommended
published in 2015 | Groundwood Books | 32 pages

This thoroughly delightful picture book demonstrates the value of small acts of kindness. Detailed black and white illustrations slowly give way to color as a young girl in red walks through the city hand-in-hand with her father. Distracted, he talks on his cell phone, but she is quite observant. She notices flowers growing in the cracks of sidewalks and walls and picks them while her father absentmindedly waits for her. She leaves her little bouquets with people and animals. By the end of the story, the little girl has spread flowers, color and happiness to everyone she encounters.

A former teacher, Jennifer Minicus is a full-time wife and mother living in Ridgewood, NJ.

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Boy beats boredom with a balloon

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Sebastian and the Balloon
by Philip C. Stead
written for ages 2-7 | recommended
published in 2014 | Roaring Brook Press | 40 pages

No child is a stranger to boredom. Sebastian, however, takes matters into his own hands. Tired of staring at the dull houses on his street, he decides to construct a balloon out of his grandmother's afghans and quilts. He loads "all the things he would ever need" into the box attached to the balloon and flies away to meet new friends. A belligerent bear who enjoys pickle sandwiches, a penitent stork, three elderly sisters and a small bird become his companions in the overflowing box. Stead's characters display an array of emotions as they travel and work together. He uses color to highlight the mood of each scene.

A former teacher, Jennifer Minicus is a full-time wife and mother living in Ridgewood, NJ.

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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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