Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wonderstruck -- Brian Selznick

Don't be daunted by the size. It's mostly pictures.

Wonderstruck is made up of two seemingly unrelated stories; Ben's in the written portion, and a mystery girl's in the pictures. The way the two stories come together is truly fascinating, and with all the clues to find, it was one of the most interactive books I've ever read. That being said, the writing, while good, was not extraordinary. Without the added charm of the pictures, this would be a much slower and less entertaining read. I found the plot threads came together a little too easily and perfectly, but the end is charming nevertheless.

Even if it starts out a bit slow, this is book worth reading to the end.

Estimated Reading Level: 4th grade
Grade: A

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Uprising -- Margaret Peterson Haddix

Beautiful and empowering.

This story follows three young women living during the era of woman's suffrage and worker strikes. Although I don't normally like books split between multiple narrators, Haddix has managed to create characters who are unique from each other without becoming caricatures. I did occasionally have to check the beginning of a chapter to remind myself who was talking, but it wasn't enough of a distraction to take away from the story. The writing is vivid and emotionally charged, and the plot is utterly engrossing.

There are some dark passages here that may be more difficult for young readers, but they are entirely worth it.

Estimated Reading Level: 6th grade
Grade: A

Monday, October 3, 2011

Bunnicula -- Deborah and James Howe

The cover made this look like such a fun story, but . . .

I can see the appeal of this storyline--the juxtaposition of a cute bunny and his Dracula-like powers is certainly interesting. The writing, however, is immature, boring, and unnecessarily simplified. The characters are flat and life-less. There is no suspense, no tension, and no twists or surprises whatsoever, and the end was predictable and anti-climatic. Even with a few humorous lines in the dialogue, this book is painfully underwhelming.

Just because a book is short and meant for children doesn't mean it has to be poorly written. There are so many better books in the world. If you want cute horror, read Eva Ibbotson or Roald Dahl*. If you want talking animals, read C.S. Lewis or Brian Jacques. You can always find something better than Bunnicula.

*Edit: Ibbotson and Dahl don't technically write horror, so I'm on the search for a good children's horror book.

Estimated Reading Level: 3rd grade
Grade: D-

Friday, September 30, 2011

Philip Hall Likes Me. I Reckon Maybe. -- Bette Greene

An entertaining but vague book.

Technically, this is a good story. Beth is a feisty, lovable character, and readers will ache and cheer for her as she experiences all of childhood's challenges. The dialogue is a fairly authentic and vivid southern accent, and the writing flows smoothly. Though fun and easy to read, the story lacks suspense and never seems to have a point. Since this book is made up mostly of smaller chunks of stories, it could be a useful tool in English classes for teaching anecdotes.

It won't change your life, but Greene's novella might just put a smile on your face.

Estimated Reading Level: 4th Grade
Grade: B + 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fly by Night -- Frances Hardinge

A conspiracy!

Mosca can read, a dangerous skill to have, and must struggle to discover which side she will choose in realm that is fractured and violent. Herdinge's writing style has a dry, quirky humor that, while entertaining and incredibly sophisticated, does sometimes slow down the pacing. There is, however, plenty of action, and the intrigue and suspense is enough to keep her audience reading. The end leaves readers a new philosophy to think about without shoving it down their throats.

Because of the complexity of this novel (and some very large words), it is probably better for older readers.

Estimated Reading Level: 6th grade +
Grade: A

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Book of a Thousand Days -- Shannon Hale


When Dashti pledges the oath to be a lady's handmaiden, she didn't realize it meant being locked in a tower for seven years and taking a journey that would change the world. Hale's characters are amazingly deep and complex--each of them has their own agenda, motivation, fears, and hopes. There are few writers with such fully fleshed-out characters. The writing style is lyrical, but not overwhelmingly so, and it never loses the freshness of Dashti's voice.

This is a longer novel with an intricate plot-line and may be more difficult for younger readers.

Estimated Reading Level: 6th grade
Grade: A

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cirque Du Freak: A Living Nightmare -- Darren Shan

This is the baby brother of horror novels.

Darren's life becomes a nightmare after he and his friend sneak out to watch a freak show. Shan's writing is graphic but sub-par. There is quite a bit of bloodshed, but I found it predictable and weak. In fact, everything in this story is either predictable or entirely disconnected from the way the plot was progressing. Some readers might find the imagery frightening, but for most of us, it will be a much needed break from the mind-numbing mediocrity of the rest of the novel. The characters are static and unbelievable and not worth rooting for. It was readable. Barely.

If you like horror, go ahead and try this out, but I wouldn't invest much hope in it.

Estimated Reading Level: 5th grade
Grade: C-