Farm girl rescues sister from dragon

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The Perilous Princess Plot
by Sarah Courtauld
written for ages 7-10 | recommended with reservations
published in 2015 | Feiwel & Friends | 192 pages

Eliza and Lavender, two sisters who live on their grandmother's farm, could not be more different. Practical and industrious Eliza resents lazy Lavender who dreams and sings instead of doing her chores.

Determined to be rescued by a prince, Lavender runs away, only to be abducted by the dastardly Mordmont who seeks a princess's ransom. Lavender is not, however, a princess. With no ransom forthcoming, dependable Eliza must rescue her. Not an easy task when this flighty sibling truly wants to believe Prince Charming is on his way.

Sarah Courtauld's first book in her Buckle and Squash series teaches family loyalty and hard work. Her writing is simple and makes the reader an unseen character in the story. Unfortunately, her humor is often crass and even includes one jab at the Pope. Somehow bathroom jokes seem out of place in a book aimed at young girls. Parents who hope to instill an elevated tone in their own little princess may… click here to read whole article and make comments



Rain keeps the Big Bad Wolf indoors

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Once Upon a Rainy Day
by Edouard Manceau
written for ages 2-7 | highly recommended
published in 2015 | Owlkids Books | 40 pages

This twist on the Big Bad Wolf tale inspires young readers to use their imagination. Mr. Warbler, "the keeper of this story" begins each sunny day by waking up the wolf so that he can try to capture and eat Oscar the pig.

Today, however, it is raining, so the conflict between the Wolf, Oscar and all of Oscar's friends is purely hypothetical. On a sunny day, Oscar would enlist the help of Amadeus the hare, Niles the squirrel and Popof the bear. In this tale's telling, readers see only the setting for the plot and must envision story as it unfolds in each picture.

The illustrations themselves are actually quite engaging. Bright, colorful shapes are combined to create houses, trees and other plants. With simple dots, circles and lines, Manceau gives texture to his drawings. Each image lends itself to a discussion as to how the action takes place on each page, leaving much room for creativity on the… click here to read whole article and make comments



Everyone needs a friend

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Be a Friend
by Salina Yoon
written for ages 2-7 | highly recommended
published in 2016 | Bloomsbury | 40 pages

Young Dennis marches to the beat of a different drummer. While the other children play at typical games, Dennis prefers to be a mime. His genius, however, leaves him lonely. None of his peers seem to understand him until he discovers a friend whose imagination is as vivid as his own.

Salina Yoon will touch the heart of anyone who has ever felt overlooked. Dennis has great talent and learns that sometimes it takes others a while to see things from his point of view.

Yoon’s illustrations are as gentle as her story. Muted colors form a placid background for Dennis’s black and white costume and the red lines that define his movements. This lovely story teaches children to be true to themselves and not to be afraid to share their unique gifts.

A former teacher, Jennifer Minicus is currently a full-time wife and mother.

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Octopus terrifies villagers

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by Wylde Scott
written for ages 7-10 | recommended
published in 2015 | Wylde Press | 184 pages

More than anything Bobby wants to be one of Blackbeard's Boys. Unfortunately, Mario and his lackeys are determined to exclude him. They do not think he can survive the swim to Dead Bone Island, the rite of passage for membership in the group. When he does, Mario realizes he must up the ante.

He tells Bobby he must steal something from a local fisherman’s ship. Although he knows it is wrong and that his father would never approve, Bobby heads to Captain Bonicelli's boat under cover of darkness. He easily pinches a picture from the Captain's quarters, knocking over a lamp as he leaves. Bobby manages to escape capture, as does a young octopus named Walter. Their chance encounter challenges Bobby to once again risk capture to help Walter rescue something from that same ship.

Wylde Scott's fairy tale adventure will captivate young readers. They will commiserate with Bobby's desire to be accepted by his peers and see the consequences… click here to read whole article and make comments



True love waits

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The Princess and the Kiss: A Story of God's Gift of Purity
by Jennie Bishop
written for ages 7-10 | highly recommended
published in 2000 | Warner Press | 32 pages

When a princess is born to a king and queen, they decide to give their daughter a precious gift from God: her first kiss. While she is just a child, they keep it for her in a special room under a brilliant glass dome, for this is a very valuable possession.

When the princess comes of age, her parents present it to her. They advise her to be wise in her decision as to whom she should give it. It is so beautiful the princess is not sure she can ever part with it.

Many young men visit the castle to seek the princess's hand in marriage. One is handsome and proud, another romantic, a third rich. So many suitors, and yet the princess knows she must await a young man worthy of her precious gift.

This simple, lovely picture book exemplifies the value of purity and humility in terms that even very young readers can understand. Preston McDaniels' elegant… click here to read whole article and make comments



This book was a terrible disappointment

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
written for ages 11-14 | not recommended
published in 2007 | Little, Brown Books for Young Readers | 240 pages

I knew before I finished the first chapter of this book that I would not recommend it. Ordinarily when this happens, I finish the book in order to give a thorough, detailed and reasoned evaluation. This time, however, I just could not force myself to continue reading this “award winner”, which appears on many recommended lists. It was that bad.

I was drawn to Alexie’s book because it promised to be a profound “coming of age, persevere against all odds” story about a young Native American with extreme physical disabilities who confronts and overcomes racism. I was sorely disappointed.

I would have overlooked the poor writing style and crass language. The author told his semi-autobiographical tale in the first person, and the protagonist who speaks sounds like a teenage boy so I was not expecting Shakespeare. Just the same, the author’s continual use of hyperbole wore thin quickly.  Take, for example, a small portion of Junior’s description of his congenital… click here to read whole article and make comments



A young adult novel with a message of hope

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by A.J. Cattapan
written for ages 13-16 | recommended
published in 2015 | Vinspire Publishing LLC | 200 pages

Angelhood by A.J. Cattapan is a YA novel, but it will appeal to adults as well. Parents, this YA novel is completely safe to share with your kids in middle school and up. It’s a powerful and compassionate look at suicide as seen through the eyes of a teenager who does the unthinkable. In this story, “purgatory” means that a person becomes the guardian angel for someone else contemplating the same fate. Purgatory ends when the ultimate choice for life or death is made.

A.J. Cattapan has written a powerful story with terrific characters. I was carried away by Nanette’s battle to keep her charge from giving in to the darkness and evil that tried to surround her.

Suicide is a difficult and dark subject but the author has written a story based on hope, not darkness–and that’s what distinguishes this book from the plethora of depressing YA novels on the same subject.

Barb Szyszkiewicz is the editor of franciscanmom.comclick here to read whole article and make comments



Young girl wants to fit in with her peers

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The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present
by Libby Gleeson, Freya Blackwood, illustrator
written for ages 7-10 | highly recommended
published in 2014 | Allen and Unwin | 64 pages

Freya Blackwood's illustrations compliment Australian author Libby Gleeson's two lovely Australian mini-stories in the one book which will appeal to young beginner readers and especially to young girls ages 4-9.

The subjects may be thought of as trite - a desire for a necklace, and secondly wanting to give Mum a present all from her, not others. But these two subjects seem to capture the beautiful and yet fickle nature of young girls who appreciate beautiful items and who also have a close relationship with their mothers.

Cleo is going to a friend's birthday party and she is not happy with the dress Mum has selected for her to wear.

Blackwood's illustrations add a lot to this story - for example,Cleo's downtrodden mouth is drawn with a masterfully simple stroke of pen to reveal the dissatisfaction with her dress.

At the party, Cleo finds many other girls have beautiful necklaces, and she quickly feels the need to own one of her own… click here to read whole article and make comments



What happens to lost socks?

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Milo Speck, Accidental Agent
by Linda Urban
written for ages 7-10 | acceptable
published in 2015 | HMH Books for Young Readers | 272 pages

Life has never been the same for Milo since his mother disappeared. Aside from missing her and not knowing what happened to her, the worst part of his life is dealing with the nanny that his father's company sent to help out. Actually, it is Milo who does most of the helping. How many boys his age know how to do laundry? He doesn't know it, but the laundry is about to get a little more interesting.

The nanny, known as Grandmother, expects all the socks sorted perfectly. Milo finds one unusually large, yellow sock in the dryer and is puzzled. Whose is it and where is the other one? Milo checks the dryer and suddenly finds himself sucked into another world inhabited by ogres. Although he wants to believe he is dreaming, the smell and sound of hungry ogres is all too real. Desperate to return home, Milo pits his brain against their brawn.  When he discovers that his… click here to read whole article and make comments



Bullied teen finds an unexpected friend

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Roland West, Loner
by Theresa Linden
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2015 | Linden Publishing | 318 pages

Roland West is a ninth-grader who lives in a castle deep in the woods. Before this year, he'd never attended a brick-and-mortar school. Before this year, he was only bullied by his twin older brothers, one of whom is pretty much a psychopath. His dad is an archaeologist who travels frequently. His mom died when he was a young child. Roland is shy, wary of making friends, and wants to avoid gossip, so he finds himself bullied at school as well as at home.

Peter Brandt lives on the other side of the forest from Roland. His parents own a bed & breakfast, his younger brother has autism and is always getting into his stuff, and he's just inherited an antique box (without the key) from his grandfather. When Peter stumbles upon the dungeon in Roland's basement where Roland was locked up by his brothers, the two stumble into a mystery with a Communion-of-Saints twist that's complicated by a creepy… 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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