About Melissa Bacon
Melissa Bacon is a local writer and blogger; a voracious reader; the organizer of multiple book clubs for kids, tweens, and teens; and (most importantly) "a crazy reader who is the mother of a crazy reader." In short, she's the perfect person to write book reviews and recommendations for CALS kids and their parents. In her reviews, we're sure you'll find the perfect introduction to new books and reading adventures or a wonderful reminder to revisit beloved characters and places.
Please note: Some of these essays are republished from Melissa's blog, It's Worth Reading, while some content is produced originally for the CALS website.
Reviews & Recommendations
The Hardy Boys Series
by Franklin W. Dixon
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I was wandering around the stacks at Fletcher Library Monday and string of bright blue book spines jumped out at me. Upon closer examination, I realized they were the Hardy Boys series. I must tell you I am not sure I ever read a Hardy Boys novel, but my husband loved them as a kid. His other favorite was Encyclopedia Brown, another great series of mystery books for kids. With the Hardy Boys located, I went searching for the Nancy Drew books. This is a girl I knew and loved well as a child. I didn’t know the author’s name – originally Caroline Keene as it turns out – and so I just walked the stacks looking for other collections of common spines until I found her. Along the way I also found Hank the Cow Dog, which might be the best mystery fit for a young kiddo.
Now, as an adult I have outgrown most mysteries. I am excited about the new Dan Brown book, Inferno, but as a rule, when I make time to read for pleasure, you will find my nose in a historical fiction book. My husband on the other hand is a dedicated mystery reader. He just loves a legal thriller. If they had been available to him as a child, I am sure he would have loved the Theodore Boone books written by John Grisham. Who know, maybe I should suggest he read one now.
The Name of this Book is Secret
by Pseudonymous Bosch
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Summer is coming, and I am aware that it can be hard to get kids thinking about reading. The library is offering their summer programs and many schools will have summer reading lists. If you are opting out of these, you might consider introducing a series to your kiddo.
One series I would recommend begins with The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch. It is written with 3rd-7th grade readers in mind, and a mysterious narrator spends a good bit of time engaging the readers as a part of the story, an additional character you might say.
"Warning! Do not read beyond this page. (turn page)
Good. Now I know I can trust you. You’re curious. You’re brave. And you’re not afraid to lead a life of crime. But let’s get something straight: if, despite my warning, you insist on reading this book, you can’t hold me responsible for the consequences.”
When Cass, a survivalist, and Max Ernst, a lover of logic, find a symphony of smells in an old box in Cass’s grandfather’s antique store, they stumble onto a mystery. A magician who died years before left behind a diary that hints at a life of immorality, and as you might guess, many not-so-kind people would do just about anything to get their hands on the diary and to reason out its secrets.
The story is filled with word games and anagrams, and it features a mysterious narrator. The story wraps up a bit but leaves a few unanswered questions to encourage the reader to seek out the next book. The series includes:
• The Name of This Book is Secret
• If You are Reading this It is too Late
• This Book is not Good for You
• This isn’t What it Looks Like
• You have to Stop This.
The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster
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As May marches on, my mind keeps wandering to thoughts of summer reading. My son has decided to try reading some of the books that are on my "must read" list for kids. He hasn't decided which ones, yet. I suspect they will be the ones he is able to easily find as he browses the shelves of Fletcher Library. It is my hope that he will stumble upon the Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster on one of our visits. He read it a few years ago, but I think now that he is older, he will really connect with Milo, a bored boy with a never-ending list of questions.
For today's kid who usually has the statement, "I'm bored" on the tip of his tongue, this novel is a must read. Lounging away his days, Milo is looking for something to excite his life. Magically, a tollbooth reveals itself in his living room. The card attached says something like, "To Milo, the kid who has plenty of time." With the help of a traveling mate, a dog named Tock, Milo makes his way through the tollbooth to a land of fantasy. This world is rich in numbers and words. Upon meeting the king, Milo is sent on a quest to save the two princesses.
The language in this book is creative and cunning. The rhythm is contagious, and the characters are worth knowing. It makes a great read-a-loud book, but you might want to read ahead so you don’t get tongue tied. If you are reading it with an older child, you might want to check out the annotated copy. It has a lot of great additional information about the story, author, and illustrator.
Number the Stars
by Lois Lowry
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After we took a seat in the Teen Fiction tent at the National Book festival, we didn't move for 3 hours. Lois Lowry was on deck for the afternoon, and I was anxious to hear how this author got her ideas and how she arranged her writing life. She told us that she worked alone, with little if any feedback about her work, until it was complete. She explained that she was happy to tell any story that had meaning to her, whether it was science fiction, realistic fiction or historical fiction. The stories always started when she asked herself, "What if…?" During the Q&A portion of her talk, she was asked, "Which novel do you think is your greatest accomplishment?" She responded, "My greatest accomplishment is not one of my novels, but my children."
I first read Lowry in the early 90's when the book The Giver was published. It is an award winning science fiction novel used regularly in middle schools. Lois Lowry was at the festival promoting the novel Son, which is the story of the baby Gabe from The Giver. If I had to recommend one of her novels, I would suggest starting with Number the Stars. This is probably because my favorite genre is historical fiction. Even so, this is one story of hope that we all should know about.
Number the Stars is a story of the western front of WWII as told by a 10 year old girl. It recounts the true events surrounding the Danish Resistance efforts to smuggle almost the entire Jewish population out of their country before they could be herded onto the trains that would take them east to the concentration camps. Like many tales of history told through the eyes of a child, the actions are boiled down to the simplest elements. Innocence shows the way as we are reminded of the terror of war. The heroic actions of this nation remind us all that pride and decency can't be stamped out if hope is still alive.
There are many novels for both children and adults that focus on this period in our world's history. This story of hope can be an easier way to begin telling our young readers about these events. The horror of the time is made clear, but it is balanced by the determination of a free people. What are your favorite books about this time in history?
Three Times Lucky
by Shelia Turnage
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I have been giving the theme of books a lot of thought lately. We spent the last semester in book clubs considering setting and the plan for next year is theme. The better these kids get at reading, the more I have to bring my A game. We will concentrate on some of the universal themes found in books, and then see if any apply to the books we have read. One such theme is "where do I belong and who do I belong to." Because young readers are new to a social life this theme is found often in the books written for them. I would add that this theme is a constant in books, all books. I am not sure many of us are completely sure were we fit all of the time. Curling up with one of these stories always feels like snuggling with a warm blanket and a cup of tea. I picked up the book, Three Times Lucky by Shelia Turnage, because it received a few awards and I am sure glad I did. It jumps straight into the theme of fitting in and doesn't stop until its main character, Mo, finally lands.
The plot is fast paced, the sentences and chapters short and the language appealing and simple. Here are a few of my favorite lines:
"That's another thing about a small town: Everybody knows everybody's schedule. We spin around each other like planets around an invisible sun."
"As I watched them together, my earth found its axis and my stars found their sky."
This sweet tale about love, family and friends, is quietly hidden in high adventure worthy of any 8-12 year old reader. Check it out and enjoy! I know I did.
by A.A. Milne
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Today, I found myself alone in my house on a rainy afternoon. As I sat down to contemplate what books would be worth discussing today, Christopher Robin, dressed in raincoat and hat, moved into my mind and refused to budge. Now, I realize that many of you know Pooh, Christopher Robin and the rest of the gang, but do you remember the details of the original story's chapters? The more I focused on Christopher, outfitted for the rain, the more the wheels of my memory set to work and finally, I was delighted to remember the boy and the bear floating down the creek in an up turned umbrella on their way to save Piglet.
With this memory in tact, I headed to the bookshelf. From it, I pulled my childhood copy of Winnie-the-Pooh and began to read; both book and story are treasures to me. I smiled as I reconnected to the love shared between all of A.A. Milne's characters. My heart sang as the memories of time spent with my son, sitting on my lap as we rediscovered Pooh day after day, came rushing back to me.
So, for today, no matter how old your reader is, or the kind of weather you are having, I challenge you to step carefully into Christopher Robin's umbrella and help he and Pooh rescue Piglet. I think we just might read aloud chapter nine of Winnie-the-Pooh, "In which Piglet is entirely surrounded by water," tonight. Hopefully it will act as a time machine and transport us back to our days of snuggling and reading.
by Elizabeth Enright
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So I was with a group of parents lately and we were discussing a book called The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler. It has an interesting take on how to improve time together as a family and I would say it is worth reading. One of the chapters turns its lens to the concept of allowance. Now after my husband and I both read the book, the information found in this chapter didn’t stand out as something to immediately adopt into our lives. Honestly, I never really understood allowances. I would guess this is because I never got one myself. But, every time the subject of allowance comes up I think of the book The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright.
It is an amusing tale of the four Melendys children. When we meet the four children, in this the first of the series novel, they have decided to pool their allowance money, a dime each if I am remembering correctly, and let each child have it just one Saturday a month. Now that the children have been endowed with 40 cents rather than a dime, they embark on unexpected adventures without worrying about the cost.
First published in 1941, this novel describes a time in American that is long gone. Being prone to nostalgia, I must admit I adore this family. I long for a time when all you could hope for could be sought and paid for with 4 dimes. I envy the freedom of the children, especially Oliver age six, to roam around the big city alone and fearless. And, I loved talking about that time in our history, as my son made his way through the book for the first time.
If you have a child who excels at reading, this book may be appealing to you. Enright's use of language is beautiful and the content innocent compared to the novels written today. Like the Great Brain books, The Saturdays will challenge a young capable reader while keeping the content simple enough that they can navigate it on their own.
The Night Fairy
by Laura Amy Schlitz
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One great way to find a new book to read is to look up an author you like and see if her other publications appeal to you. Last week, I recommended Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz. This week, I am sticking with her and recommending The Night Fairy. I cannot tell you how often my third and fourth grade readers ask for a book about fairies. Most of the fairies written about these days seem to be young, cool, great-dressed girls finding their way in and out of trouble. I must say I prefer the fairies of old that spent their time wreaking havoc on humans, like Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream or the feisty Tinkerbell.
In The Night Fairy, Laura Amy Schlitz gives us a strong, fierce and capable young fairy, Flory, doing whatever it takes to survive. She lives deeply in nature, which is what I think of when I think of the world of fairies. This witty and self-centered fairy is made to grow from the inside out when her wings are injured by a bat.
A bat you might ask? Yes, a bat! You see, Flory is a night fairy and has a silver shadow. I just love the idea of a silver shadow. After she sustains her injuries, she finds a home in a garden in a small bird house. It is from this perch that Flory will begin making the friends that will inevitably help her grow into the fairy she is meant to be.
What age is the best age for this book? I would say 7-10. But, I would remind you that children have the most success with independent reading if they know most of the words on the page. As a rule, if there is one word per page or less that they don’t know, the book is a good fit for independent reading. As you start to approach missing five words on the page, consider making the book one you share by reading it aloud or supervised reading.
Splendors and Glooms
by Laura Amy Schlitz
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The Newbery Awards for 2013 were announced in January. The John Newbery Medal is given by the American Library Association (ALA) for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature and the winner is…
• The One and Only Ivan, written by Katherine Applegate
Three Newbery Honor Books also were named:
• Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz
• Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World's Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin
• Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage
Now, I just checked the catalog and, as you might guess, there is a waiting list for the winner, but the Honor Books are all available right now. You can even find Splendors and Glooms and Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World's Most Dangerous Weapon in the Digital Library.
I have not read Three Times Lucky, but am glad that it is now on my radar, because of the ALA. You can be sure I will be checking it out soon and seeing where it might fit into my book club reading lists. I have read Splendors and Glooms and what I am going to call Bomb to save space.
I was captivated by Splendors and Glooms. The blurbs call it a "gothic thriller that would please Dickens" and I would agree. The story revolves around a puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, and a young audience member, Clara Wintermute. Clara is the only daughter of a wealthy man, who falls in love with the puppets and their realistic form. Because of her love of the show, her father hires Gaspare to entertain the guests at Clara's birthday party. Sadly, Clara vanishes the night of the party and as you might have guessed the puppeteer becomes a suspect in the kidnapping. From here the story unfolds at a skipping pace, with plenty of dark humor to keep you interested and a just little bit scared.
Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World's Most Dangerous Weapon is a non-fiction story of the creation of the atomic bomb. The times were frightening and the stakes high, so the book is riveting. If you have a reader who is interested in history and more specifically WWII you will want to check this book out.
Surviving the Applewhites
by Stephanie Tolan
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These days, it seems like every newly published book for middle readers (4th-6th grade) I pick up is fantasy and in first person. I must admit, I long for the days of Ramona Quimby, from Beverely Cleary's Ramona series and Peter Hatcher, of Judy Blume's Fudge books. These wildly funny, realistic fiction novels shed light on the lives of young people in the way fantasy just can't. The mishaps that bring on the laughter and the tears are the same stunts our children are up to, and I think, for a newly capable reader, easier to interpret and identify with.
I recently read Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Tolan. It was published in 2003, after my time. And, my son is as obsessed as his peers with fantasy, so it never found its way to my house until now. I have to say it was a hoot. I can see why it won Newbery honors and made its way onto the New York Times bestseller list.
We are first introduced to Jake Semple, a kid who has used up all his chances. He has been kicked out of every school he has ever attended. He was even blamed for burning one of them down. Because his parents are in jail, he recently moved to North Carolina to live with his grandfather for a fresh start, but in just a few short weeks is expelled from yet another school.
As a last effort, Jake's grandfather approaches the Appleswhites for help. The Applewhites are a family of artists who have created an Academy in their home to educate their four children. They all work independently and pursue their own interests. Once they decide, in a family meeting, to take on Jake, he is paired with the third daughter, to learn the ropes.
I must say, this story is not only funny, but has an inspirational theme: that we all have a gift, if only we can find the courage to employ it. If you and your reader are looking for a break from fantasy, you should give this story a try.
by Donald J. Sobol
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I must have mystery on the mind. Most of my book club kids love suspense and the conflict it creates, making this genre ideal. If I had to recommend a place to begin for a young reader, I think it would be Encyclopedia Brown. Though they were available when I was a child, I waited until I could read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys to pick up mystery. My husband, however, remembers them fondly. He would not claim to be a dedicated reader, so I consider this high praise.
The chapters are short and there are a few illustrations. And, there is a mystery about almost every topic. The mysteries can be solved by the reader by finding the logical or factual inconsistency placed somewhere within the text. Readers can check their own abilities in deduction with the "Answers" section in the back of the book.
There are over 30 books available. If your reader comes to love the genre, these little books will prepare them for the longer mysteries available as their reading abilities improve.
by Nancy Pearl
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The winter weather, with its cold, sunless skies, finds us reading up a storm. When my son and I discover that we have made it through the stack of books on our bedside table, we begin searching for new titles. Friends, Goodreads and blogs like mine are one place to look, but there are other places you can look.
One of my trusted sources is the book, Book Crush, by Nancy Pearl. An experienced librarian, Nancy has created a list of over 1000 books for kids and teens. The book makes recommendations based on topics, interests, and other themes. My favorite part of the book is that it reaches back in time and reminds us of books that deserve attention. The library has many copies to check out and it is on the reference shelf at the main branch. So, if you get to the library and draw a blank, pick up this helpmate and take a chance.
The other resources I wanted to mention here are the ones find under the other tab on this page. These data bases, including Novelist, can help you find a book for any reader. I like Novelist because it lets you ask for books that are like a title you know you love. You will need you library card number to login. Once into the system, you will find a tutorial on the right hand side. After your lesson, search away. You can use almost anything to begin a search.
To keep your reader engaged, start the search with an area of interest. What kind of games does she play? What kind of television is he addicted to? What are the apps she won’t put down? If your son loves archery, I assure you there are nonfiction and fiction publications that will fit the bill. There are books about every subject. Picking one with your child’s interest in mind improves the chances of them sticking with the book. Both of these tools will let you search on the subject and help you make a perfect match.
Mark Twain: Young Writer
by Miriam Mason
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Most nights, my son and I like to curl up together on the sofa or in his bed and read to each other. We go chapter for chapter for about a half an hour. We are both in the middle of books of our own lately so we have been sharing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Each chapter or two spells out a day in the life of Tom, and we never finish without a belly laugh.
While we were reading, my son was reminded of the biography of Mark Twain he read as a new reader. He leapt up and retrieved a stack of red, white, and blue paper backs from the bottom of his book shelves. The spines displayed names like Walt Disney, Mark Twain, Eleanor Roosevelt, Wilbur and Orville Wright, and Teddy Roosevelt. When he was new to reading, he was a sucker for non-fiction. He made his way through all of the Childhood of Famous Americans books available at the library and then we began to buy our own to fill in the gaps. His current collection contains the books I was too embarrassed to check out again, explaining to him that we needed to give another child a chance with the book.
I think these books appeal to young readers, because they are the stories of childhood. And, if you have a reader who is less than thrilled to read fiction, like I did, these real adventures of America's heroes just might hit the mark. Whether your kiddo is a fan of sports, science, exploration or history, there will be someone for your child to get to know.
Here is a sample of the books available at CALS:
- Coretta Scott King »
- Fredrick Douglass »
- Jesse Owens »
- Milton Hershey »
- Jackie Robinson »
- Dr. Seuss »
- Laura Ingalls Wilder »
- Amelia Earhart »
- John Glenn »
- Harry Houdini »
by Rachel Hartman
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I am not sure if I've mentioned it, but I think of myself as an oval peg. I have lived in this town most of my life and know just about everyone, or I know someone who knows them. But, just because I know them doesn't mean I "fit in." I suppose that is one reason I love to read. I meet new people everyday and not one of them ever judges me! When I read a summary of this book, Seraphina, it had immediate appeal, because the reviewer was selling it as "a great dragon" fantasy, about a girl who was trying to live in two different worlds. This is something with which I am familiar.
Seraphina, our hero, lives in the castle as the Mistress of Music. She lives in a land where there has been 40 years of peace between dragons and humans. During these forty years humans have become somewhat more comfortable with dragons, because they can assume human form. Seraphina is close to both humans and dragons. Seraphina has a secret. Slowly throughout the course of the book the secret is revealed, first to the reader and then to the other major characters, one by one. We are asked to accept Seraphina in spite of her secret. The major characters are, too. And, in the end, not only did I accept her, I found myself loving her, because of her secret.
My son, just finished the novel himself. And as we were discussing it, I was reminded that this is how change comes about. First, we fall in love, or like, with the person. Next, we learn about their "flaws." Finally, we soften or change our view on the matter because not having the person in our lives any more is not an option. What a wonderful theme for the making of a better world filled with understanding.
by Ray Bradbury
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Lately, I have been thinking about books about books. I was also faced with the list of books so many of you are waiting for right now. Rick Riordan is still a regular, but so are the dystopian set novels that young people can’t seem to get enough of these days. So, if you are waiting for The Hunger Games, The Giver, or Divergent, I would like to suggest you turn your young reader's attention to "an oldie but a goodie," Fahrenheit 451.
So, what does Fahrenheit 451 have to do with books? It is the temperature at which a book burns. Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, firemen start fires. They burn books and the houses that contain them. The people depend on television for their information and books are on the brink of extinction. This is the only life Guy has ever known and he likes his job. He enjoys the late night runs that result in the flames that dance high and hot as they burn. He has also grown accustomed to his bland life spent with his wife, Mildred, and their television "family." One day he meets a young girl named Clarisse. She introduces him to the idea of a present lived without fear and a future that includes getting information from books and thinking for yourself.
Because of dramatic events, Guy is forced to consider living his life differently. This is a novel that tells his story. Written by Ray Bradbury, the great writer of science fiction, Fahrenheit 451 is one of the forerunners to the novels our children are now so eager to read. I completely recommend it. As a matter of fact, I would recommend any book by Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, or H.G. Wells for a kid interested in dystopian novels.
Live Writing: Breathing Life into Your Words
by Ralph Fletcher
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Finding nonfiction that is accessible, useful and interesting for middle readers can be a challenge. The nonfiction publishers seem to focus entirely on books for early readers about animals, jobs and vehicles or books for adults. I guess they assume that middle readers get enough nonfiction in text books. Unfortunately, text books are dry and dull! Kids would rather put a pencil in their eyes than read a text book.
So, how do we get our kids to read about the subjects they are studying in school during their independent reading time? One way is to invest in or check out the lovely books published by DK Publishing. The magazine format with full color imagery is enticing to even the most reluctant readers. If you are looking for books concerning science, history and/or social science, this is definitely a place to look. Some examples of this in the CALS collection are:
• Civil War, by John Stanchak
• Dorling Kindersley Animal Encyclopedia
• Dorling Kindersley Visual Timeline of Transportation, by Anthony Wilson
Just recently I was delighted to pick up and read the book Live Writing by Ralph Fletcher. Fletcher is an author who has had success publishing novels for middle school readers. Lately, he has turned his attention to helping young writers hone their craft. This book has a narrative style and is written to a young writer. Fletcher tells would-be writers that they need a tool box of talents to progress in their writing. It is filled with examples of work by 6th, 7th and 8th graders and the work of professional authors your reader is sure to recognize. My son is currently in the sixth grade and learning to be a more capable writer himself. He enjoyed the book and is after me to find more nonfiction like this for him. I asked him what he liked best about the book and he replied, "It was like we were just having a simple conversation."
by Veronica Roth
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Divergent falls into the fiction genre called dystopian. This genre is defined by books that are set in a time or place where the conditions of life are extremely bad, because of things like deprivation, oppression, or terror. In my day there were two greats, Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, though I think we just called them science fiction. I must say that as a teenager I loved these books as much as I do today. Reading 1984 was really strange for me as I read it in the year 1984 as a junior in high school. Between George Orwell and Prince I was sure that my life would be a short or very strange one.
Some of the novels in this category are difficult for me because they lack even a thread of hope. However, the main character in Divergent, Beatrice Prior, reminds us that if we are true to ourselves we can find hope, even if it is only a flicker. In Beatrice's world, a futuristic Chicago where Lake Michigan is now a swamp, at the age of 16, children are put through a simulation that is meant to highlight their gifts. With this information, the children must choose the faction, or group, that they will live and work with for the rest of their lives. As with most choices, this comes with its share of good and bad. If the child chooses the faction of their childhood, they will continue with life as normal. If, however, they choose a new faction, they may never see their family again.
I fear, I cannot tell you much more about the novel, because it is filled with twists and turns that will keep you on your toes. I would hate to give anything away. I can say that you will never guess what is going to happen as you turn the pages and that you will definitely be invested in the choices Beatrice makes for her future. FYI…the next book in the series, Insurgent, is now available, so you will not have to wait to find out what will happen to Beatrice next.
There is one other thing I wanted to mention about this book. It is available through the downloadable library as an audiobook. That’s right, you can check out the book or you can download the audiobook for listening. I must admit that having someone read to me is a great luxury, so when I can, I indulge in an audiobook. I listened to this novel on a road trip over the holidays!
by Pam Munoz Ryan
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Today, I was discussing the merits of books versus an e-reader with a friend and I kept finding myself defending the book. There are many reasons I love a paper book, not the least of which being that I can loan one at will to anyone who will accept it. I have long admired the craft of bookmaking. I have even taken a class or two to learn the basics. And, though many of the paperback books published today will likely end up in a landfill, there are a few whose publishers take the time to make the book edition worth owning.
One such example is The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan. The hardback edition is unique in size and contains many marvelous drawings by Peter Sis. My favorite part of the physical publication is that it is printed with green ink. This ink color pays homage to the subject of the book, Pablo Neruda. The Nobel Prize winning poet wrote with green ink.
This biography explores the childhood of Neftali Reyes, who would one day grow into the man we know as Pablo Neruda. In Neftali, we meet a particularly sensitive and curious child, who sees the world through extraordinary eyes. As an example, early on we find Neftali on a train on a rainy day. With the window open and the rain hitting his face, he questions, "Who spoons the water from the clouds to the snowcap to the river and feeds it to the hungry ocean?" This thought is interrupted by the screech of a whistle and Neftali's authoritarian father demanding that he, "Stop that incessant daydreaming."
Through this work of poetry and sometimes fiction we get to look into the past of this remarkable poet. We learn that his dreaming never ceased. We also come to understand that this boy's future was made smoother by his stepmother and uncle, despite the cruelty of the father.
As usual, Pam Munoz Ryan writes with feeling and candor, making for an additive novel. It is recommended for children between the ages of 10-14. I would also suggest taking a look at some of Neruda's poetry. He wrote a lot on love, but he also wrote Odes to Opposites and Odes to Common Things. Perhaps, with some knowledge of the poet’s childhood, your reader will take an interest in his ideas.
The Squire's Tale
by Gerald Morris
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The waiting list for Rick Riordan remains as long as ever. If your reader is a fan of myths, awaiting a notice that their hold is now available at the library, perhaps you could share The Squire's Tale by Gerald Morris with them for now. This novel gives us a new and original look at the legends of King Arthur.
When we first meet the main character, a 14 year old orphan named Terrance, he is living in a secluded cabin in the wood. Through a series of unexpected events, he finds himself on a quest with Sir Gawain, the Green Knight. Terence becomes Gawain's squire and leaves his life behind for one of adventure in King Arthur's court. In no time Terence is plunged into the exciting world of kings, wizards, knights, wars, magic spells, dwarfs, damsels in distress, and enchanters. Once away from his familiar surroundings, Terrance begins to notice his has "talents." These talents, and the trail of people he meets on his quest with Gawain, set him on a course to learn about his parentage.
The book is witty and its characters charming. It is part of a series, so your reader, if they enjoy this first tale, will have many other stories to explore.
The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman
by Meg Wolitzer
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I lead 15 book clubs, for children 3rd -8th grades, here in Little Rock. A couple of weeks ago, a 4th grade teacher asked if I had read The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman. She had recently picked it up and was thinking about using it for a read-a-loud. I told her, “I have not, but if you loan it to me, I will put it on the top of my must read stack.” Yesterday, it jumped into my hands and I did not put it down until I had completed it.
My first reaction is to say that it is a cross between A View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg and Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. The novel introduces us to 3 extraordinary 12 year-olds from different parts of the United States, all preparing for the Youth Scrabble Tournament. Though they seem to have little in common, Wolitzer’s capable writing reminds us that most of us have more in common than we think. Each of the children discovers something about themselves, and they are forever changed by their pursuit to become the greatest youth Scrabble player.
As a lover of words, the book has additional appeal. Because the plot revolves around Scrabble, we learn all sorts of tricks: two letter words, bingo, bingo-bango, bingo-bango-bongo and anagrams. The anagrams are fantastic and something I, a terrible speller and Scrabble player, had never thought to apply to the game. The word play got me thinking about great words and that is always a thrill to me.
I would not only recommend this book to my colleague, but I would recommend it to you as well. It will appeal to 3rd -7th grade kids. Consider it a read-a-loud at the younger age and a great independent reader at the high end.
Hunger Games- Book or Movie?
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I love books, but do have a few favorite screen adaptations – Little Women with Katherine Hepburn, The Prince of Tides and Wuthering Heights among them. When it comes to my son, I long ago created a rule that he needed to read the book before he saw the movie. This started because of Harry Potter, but has generally served us well. That is, until the Hunger Games was released into theaters this spring.
Dystopian literature isn't his thing. I am sure I have mentioned he consumes fantasy and historical fiction at an alarming rate, but rarely has he picked up a dystopian novel. At 11 he prefers his villains to be obvious and the plots and settings to be other worldly. As a result, he never even asked to read the Hunger Games. But when the movie came out, he was desperate to see it with the rest of his friends. I broke my rule. I let him see the film. I answered all of his questions, as I had read the entire series. Seeing the movie did not make him want to read the book. And this is why I made my rule in the first place.
And now what do I think of the books. Suzanne Collins is a great writer. The themes are complex and skillfully constructed, but may be difficult and alarming, particularly for the youngest of readers. The book is targeted to "Older Readers" but, I realize that once something is popular it is hard to hold kids back, especially if they are begging to read. Parents have asked if they should let their child read the book. And my advice to these children's parents, and any other, is that you should read it first yourself. You know your kid. Reading the novels will help ascertain your child's readiness and equip you to answer any questions they might have.
One other note: If you read the first book you should read them all: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. Together they have a very powerful message about human's ability to survive.
8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel / by 1Dog = Chaos
by Vivian Vande Velde
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I visited the Fletcher Library today with a list of wants. One thing I was looking for was a funny book for early readers. The title and cover of this early chapter book, 8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel/ by 1Dog= CHAOS by Vivian Vande Velde, hooked me. So, I picked it up and read the first line: “Being a squirrel is the best thing in the world.” That did it for me. I love squirrels and am always pleased when one finds its way into the lead role of a story.
Twitch, the squirrel, lived up to my idea of these spunky little creatures. As far as I am concerned, his thoughts and actions are completely authentic and horribly funny. In the story, Twitch runs into an elementary school to find shelter from a mad dog that is chasing him. He seeks aid from the classroom pets who have become his friends over the year. The dog is tenacious and his friends are loyal, creating a laugh out loud adventure.
This book should be shared aloud. If you have time, read through the book first, so that you can do the voices and actions justice. There is great physical humor. Being prepared as a reader will dramatically improve your listener’s experience. If you have an early reader in your household, encourage them to give the book a try, after you have read it together.
A Friend is Someone Who Likes You
by Joan Walsh Anglund
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My multiple lives were bound to collide at some point. Moment One – I have an assignment in my writing class to bring a Non-Fiction picture book to class. We are preparing to create our own for our first project. Moment Two – I received a handwritten note from my roommate at the Arkansas Women Blogger Conference. In it, she expressed her thanks for the ride to the mountains and for the fun we shared. I was reminded of how great it is to have close friends that love you just because. Add them together and you get this lovely little book by Joan Walsh Anglund, A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You.
Written in 1958 this little primer about friendship is a must on every child's book shelf. The prose lets the reader know that everyone has the friends they need. It launched Joan Walsh Anglund's career. She went on to write and illustrate more than 120 books, which have been translated into 17 languages. The titles include fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Another of my favorites is Childhood is a Time of Innocence. Each of these books contains her signature children whose faces only had two eyes.
Not only did we have the books when I was a child, but I had a small doll that looked just like Anglund's characters. She still guards my books and reminds me that everyone has at least one friend. "Where did you find yours?"
Take Your Kids to the Library
Today I want to make a huge recommendation. Get in a regular habit of taking your kids to the library. The books and activities there will change their lives. Here is how it began to change mine.
"Gather your books, put them in your book bag, and lace up your shoes," were the explicit directions spoken by my mother on the days the book mobile would park at the intersection of Cantrell and University. I cannot remember the day of the week the book mobile visited. My memories live in my senses. My heart races as I remember my hurried actions of seeking out the five books from the previous week, fearing my mom would change her mind. My hands searched for the cold and bumpy raised numbers on the metal strip contained within my library card. The card, my secret key to finding friends, was primarily card stock, but had a simple sliver of metal with my library number punched into it, a little like the numbers at the bottom of my credit card.
The car ride was short. We parked in front of the grocery store and quickly unloaded from the back seat of my mother’s blue Volkswagen Beetle. I approached the bus on my own and always found myself welcomed by the bus’ wide open doors. Ascending the steps, I began my mantra, “Please let them be here, please let them be here!” My best friends lived in just a few books and, if I was lucky, they would be ready to accompany me home for a week of fun.
These friends included Ping, from The Story about Ping by Marjorie Flack, and Harry, who lived on the pages of Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion. I might also be able to include The Fire Cat by Esther Averill, if he was tempted to curl up in my bag. Finally, if it was a perfect trip, Babar and his quiet bride Celeste would regally inquire, "May we come home with you for tea? I am sure we could persuade the Old Lady to come along." And, with that, one of the many books written by Jean de Brunhoff would find its way onto my stack.
I searched diligently for all of my friends, who had missed the last week’s adventure, and carefully escort them to the librarian. I cannot say if it was a man or woman. I don’t remember if she was young or old. I was distracted by my desire to correctly prepare my friends for the journey home. Securing the passage home was a grand ritual and the steps for departure were always the same: carefully carry the books to the counter, hand them lovingly to the librarian, so she would know they were my friends, and give her my library card.
With this, my work was done. The librarian would continue our silent conversation by inserting my card into her
"checking out" machine. Once inserted it would mark the card found in the book's pocket with my library number. The best part of the process was hearing the punch, as my mark was added to the record of each friend's travels, found on the ticket safely stored in the inside cover. Finally, she would lay the book's card onto her stack and put a generic card in its place. This card would tell me when my companions were due back home. With this action, they were all free to accompany me home and visit my world as I escaped into theirs.
The procedures have change a bit, but the result is the same. Through the library doors you and your children will find millions of lands to visit and countless friendship to foster. Check out the hours of your branch library and let the journey begin.
While You're Waiting…Rick Riordan
Rick Riordan has had great success retelling the myths of Greece. Even today, in my 3rd grade book club meeting, two of the boys were lobbying for one of his titles to be our chosen book for our next meeting. If you have tried to check out one of his novels from your local library, you may have found yourself at the bottom of a request list. Today, I would like to make a few suggestions for check out, while you wait for your turn with your favorite Rick Riordan.
Lost in Labyrinth
by Patrice Kindl
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This capable and talented story teller is retelling the tale of the myth of the maze and the Minotaur. Though the story does stray a bit from the traditional telling, it is unique in its attempt to combine the actual archaeological details with the tale of old. In it, fourteen-year-old Princess Xenodice tries to prevent the death of her half-brother, the Minotaur, at the hands of the Athenian prince, Theseus, who is aided by Icarus, Daedalus, and her sister Ariadne. It is a thrilling new look at the myth.
by Edith Hamilton
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If you have a reader interested in discovering the roots of the stories created by Riordan, you could always choose to check out Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. It is a standard reference in classrooms all over the country.
Odysseus in the Serpent Maze
by Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris
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Finally, you could encourage your young readers to check out the young heroes series by Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris. The list of titles includes: Jason and the Gorgon's Blood, Hippolyta and the Curse of the Amazons, and Odysseus in the Serpent Maze.
by Natalie Babbitt
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One of the true luxuries of this life is sitting still and listening as someone reads a great book aloud to you. Though this happens less and less for me, I have found a substitute, the audio book. Though I rarely allow myself the pleasure of sitting while I listen, it is still a joy to hear rather than read words on occasion. Because I don't typically give the audio book my full attention, I use them for rereading books. Last night I "heard", as my son would say, the conclusion of Tuck Everlasting. This classic by Natalie Babbitt was as wonderful as I remember. Better still, I was able to check out the audio book from my local library. This is a win-win situation in my life; getting a great book for free.
My fifth grade book clubs have chosen to read Tuck Everlasting for the November book club meeting. I know they chose it, in part, because it has been made into a movie. I have not seen the movie, but based on our conversions over the years, whether or not the movie is any good, they believe if a book has been made into a movie, the book must be good. If I were to suggest just one Natalie Babbitt novel for them the read, it would be Searching for Delicious, but Tuck Everlasting does not disappoint.
In the late 1800's, a young girl Winnie feels trapped by her life. With no friends, but a curious toad, and no freedom, she decides she must leave home so that she can make a difference in the world. Losing her courage by the next morning, she decides to simply follow her new friend the toad into the woods. There, she discovers a beautiful older boy who captivates her. She is frozen to her spot as she watches every move of the boy. All is quiet as she watches him drink from a spring, until he suggests she come out of hiding. Startled, Winnie approaches him. They talk for a bit, until a sudden chaos breaks out. In the excitement, Winnie is taken by the boy and his family. Now she is leaving home, despite her change in plan.
The family means no harm to the girl; they only fear for her and her community and take her to explain about the spring. The story of the spring, the Tuck family and the man in the yellow suit, is both believable and unbelievable. The tale unfolds with excitement and intrigue. It reveals the true nature of all its characters by its end. It ultimately tells of stunning loyalty and love.
To search an archive of Melissa Bacon's reviews and recommendations, visit her blog, It's Worth Reading.