FRIDAY, 22 MAY 2015

A determined young patriot saves West Point

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Sophia's War: A Tale of the Revolution
by Avi
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2012 | Beach Lane Books | 336 pages


Young Sophia Calderwood and her mother return to the city of New York hoping not only to find their house but also Sophia's older brother William safe and sound. They are disappointed on both counts. Their home has been ransacked, either by British soldiers or looters, and William is nowhere to be found. They know he joined General Washington's army, but have had no news of him for quite some time. Compounding their fears is the reminder of a terrible scene they witnessed in the city: the hanging of Nathan Hale as a spy and traitor. A patriot herself, Sophia is both horrified and angered by the incident.

Sophia's outrage is soon fed by the humiliation her family must endure when a British officer is billeted to their home. Her parents warn the twelve-year-old that this man cannot know that her brother is fighting with the patriot army. The charming and handsome John André arrives, however, and Sophia has trouble… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

FRIDAY, 15 MAY 2015

Children defend the sanctity of human life

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Hitler's Angel
by William Osborne
written for ages 13-16 | recommended with reservations
published in 2012 | Chicken House | 336 pages


In 1940 two German-speaking teenagers who have escaped the Nazis and are now living in England are parachuted into Germany to retrieve a young girl who is believed to be an important bargaining piece in the war between the powers. They take her out of the convent where she is staying but are forced off their planned route and are pursued closely by Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler's ruthless head of security, and his men. While they travel they discuss Angelika's fate and agree that she should not be handed over to the British as a mere pawn in the game of war.

Otto and Leni (the names by which they go throughout the book until the very last page) are selected by the British as being German-speaking active teenagers with some initiative. The relationship between Otto and Leni is credible and straightforward. Thrown together unexpectedly with no knowledge of each other's background, they form a prickly alliance at first. Each leads… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

TUESDAY, 12 MAY 2015

The imagination provides a convenient means of transportation

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Journey/Quest
by Aaron Becker
written for ages 2-7 | highly recommended
published in 2014 (2013) | Candlewick | 40 pages


I always find picture books without text intriguing, and Aaron Becker's Journey and Quest are no exceptions. In each of them, a young girl and, eventually, the boy she befriends travel to distant lands using magical markers. The brightly colored objects they draw stand out amidst muted images of castles, flying machines, hostile soldiers, and flora. Their imagination enables them to draw objects that help them overcome obstacles and escape capture. Becker’s detailed illustrations provide much to discover and the potential to create a new story at each reading.

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

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TUESDAY, 5 MAY 2015

Parents lose boy overseas

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Hiding Out
by Elizabeth Laird
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 1994 (1993) | Mammoth | 208 pages


The Castles and the Fletchers are driving back through France to Calais and stop for a picnic. They leave in a hurry in their two cars, and Peter Castle is left behind. The parents have traffic problems and get different ferries so they don't realise their mistake until they reach England. Peter, meanwhile, decides to make a go of being stranded, finding things he can eat, lighting a fire and trapping fish, avoiding the local farmers. His father returns to France and mobilises the police who eventually find him.

The point-of-view shifts between the characters to create a nice balance of tensions, heightened by the communication problems of different languages. Peter faces up to his situation, and deals with his fears, mostly by recalling the advice or example of his father and grandfather. There is a subplot of the friendship between Mr. Castle and Mrs. Fletcher whose husband has just run off with his secretary, but this is suitably resolved… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

FRIDAY, 1 MAY 2015

Affirmation empowers

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The Last Dragon
by Silvana de Mari, translated by Shaun Whiteside
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2007 (2004) | Miramax Books | 368 pages


Yorsh was only a little elf when his mother went to the place “from which you didn't come back”. Now that his grandmother has sent him away before the rains flood their home, he must leave his village and find drier ground. Too young to be on his own, Yorsh hopes to find shelter before he encounters any humans. As luck would have it, he meets Sajra,a young woman with a compassionate heart who takes pity on the child and takes him under her wing. Soon they are befriended by a hunter named Monser. Thus begins the adventures of the last elf.

Every journey has its risks, but for Sajra and Monser the greatest is the danger of being caught with an elf. Humans believe that the elves are responsible for the irregular weather patterns that have destroyed their crops for years. Sajra and Monser quickly learn that not only do elves not possess the power to control the weather,… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

MONDAY, 27 APRIL 2015

Boy travels through time to find parents

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The History Keepers: the Storm Begins
by Damian Dibben
written for ages 11-14 | acceptable
published in 2012 (2011) | Corgi Childrens | 496 pages


Jake Djones is caught up in the work of the Bureau of History Keepers when his parents, who have secretly worked for them all these years, disappear while on a mission. He joins forces with other youngsters who work for the Bureau, and together they travel back through time, working to foil a world-destroying plot by their vicious archenemy Zeldt. On the way, Jake finds his parents and learns more about the history of the others. Meanwhile, back at the Bureau, a traitor is unmasked who has been feeding information to the enemy. But someone else has an undetected secret.

The very least you can say about this book is that there's nothing offensive in it. If you have more or less a taste for time-travelling heroics mixed with a modicum of intrigue and double-dealing and a smattering of very mild romantic interaction, you'll probably be entertained. There's adventure and there's historical interest and there's an insanely villainous archenemy (archenemy… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

WEDNESDAY, 22 APRIL 2015

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


 

FRIDAY, 17 APRIL 2015

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


 

MONDAY, 13 APRIL 2015

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


 

THURSDAY, 2 APRIL 2015

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


 

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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 jennifer.minicus@mercatornet.com.


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