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-

Everything on a Waffle -- Polly Horvath

This is how to write a book from the point of view of a child. Bravo!

When Primrose's parents are lost at sea, everyone but her is convinced that they're dead. The story is full of hope, recipes, and startlingly profound insights into why people act the way they do. Harvath's writing is sharp and clever, with just the right mix of humor, wit, and sincerity. Her characters are absolutely wonderful. I loved each and every one of them. And the ending? Perfection.

Read this book. You'll thank me.

Estimated Reading Level: 4th grade
Grade: A+

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Case of the Missing Marquess -- Nancy Springer

Nicely done, Springer.

This is the journey of a young girl learning to become her own person in a time when women were not allowed to be independent. The book declares itself "An Enola Holmes Mystery," but turns out to be more of an adventure with just a touch of mystery. The balance of the two works together well to create an exciting and entertaining story. Sherlock Holmes makes an appearance, and is a good example on how to use a famous character without overshadowing your own.

Original, fun, and clever. I recommend it.

Estimated Reading Level: 5th grade
Grade: B+

Monday, September 12, 2011

That Was Then, This Is Now -- S. E. Hinton

A classic. A very depressing classic.

Bryon, the poor kid growing up in a place where fighting is a hobby, is forced through terrible life changes that make him question himself and the brother he always looked up to. Hinton creates voices for her characters that are unbelievably raw and honest, and her writing, though breaking every grammar rule possible, is excellent. The plot and pacing work together perfectly to create the best emotional involvement in the reader. The end was as dramatic as it was traumatic. It wasn't my favorite kind of story, but I can't deny its merit.

Because of the more mature mindset and lifestyle of the characters--drugs, alcohol, muggings, gun-fights--this is probably best for older readers.

Estimated Reading Level: 7th grade
Grade: A

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering Mrs. Rossi -- Amy Hest

This book was . . . cute, I suppose. I wasn't very fond of it.

Hest tries very hard to capture the voice of an eight year old, but children are usually more eloquent than writers expect them to be, and she fails miserably in her attempt. The main character, Annie, is a brat, and while I sympathize with the loss of her mother, I found it very hard to like her. The supporting characters and the natural naivety of Annie were the only things that made it worthwhile.

Younger readers might enjoy this story.

Estimated Reading Level: 3rd grade
Grade: C

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg -- Rodman Philbrick

I liked this story. Philbrick has some real talent.

Homer is a fun character to follow with a very unique voice, and his journey to find and save his brother from the war is full of surprises. Set in the time of the Civil War, there are a few racial slurs in this book, and although the "n-word" is never used, this might be something parents want to discuss with their children. Over the course of the book, Homer sees and learns things that change him from a boy to a young man, and the change is a fascinating thing to watch.

If you like adventure, this is an excellent book to try.

Estimated Reading Level: 5th grade +
Grade: A+

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dial-a-Ghost -- Eva Ibbotson

I love Ibbotson, but I forgot just how gruesome her imagery can be. Her style reminds me of Roald Dahl's--quirky, delightful, and, in the best possible sense, a tad bit morbid.

This off-the-wall story follows the sweet, polite Wilkinson ghost family, the evil, vengeful Shriekers spook couple, and the humans who adopt them. It is endlessly entertaining. My one complaint with Ibbotson is that she has a nasty habit of switching from characters' regular names to their nicknames and back again without warning. Even so, the characters themselves are brilliantly written and easy enough to distinguish from one another.

This is a terrific book with plenty of twists, humor, and a wonderful ending. It's perfect for a reader looking for an exciting, but not too scary, story.

Estimated Reading Level: 5th grade
Grade: B+

Monday, September 5, 2011

Among the Hidden -- Margaret Peterson Haddix

Haddix did a wonderful job taking a dark plot and writing it for young audiences.

She has created a believable world where having more than two children is illegal, and those few who are born are forced into hiding. The characters are well developed, the dialogue is convincing, and the pacing is perfect. The narration, however, was distant and lacked emotional involvement.

If you're looking for a book with suspense appropriate for younger children, this is a great one to try.

Estimated Reading level: 5th grade
Grade: B+

every soul a star -- Wendy Mass

This book ended up better than it started out to be.

The first few chapters dragged on a bit, as if Mass was trying too hard to define the voices of her narrators. Luckily, the idea of her vastly different characters (Ally, Bree, and Jack) coming together to view an eclipse is just interesting enough to keep the readers curious. Once the pace picks up, it becomes a well written, fascinating story, and if the readers pay enough attention, they might just learn some interesting scientific jargon.

Because the characters go through some surprisingly deep and complex changes, this is a slightly heavier read than expected, but nothing a young reader won't be able to handle.

Estimated Reading Level: 6th - 7th grade
Grade: B

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Horns & Wrinkles -- Joseph Helgerson

A delightful story.

Claire--the quick-witted child we all wish we had been--embarks on a journey through the magic infested river to save her bully cousin from the spell of a troll. Helgerson adds just the right amount of whimsy here without losing the tension of the adventure, and the chapters, though short, flow together smoothly. While the end is easy to predict, there are just enough twists to keep readers doubting.

Any child with a fanciful imagination will love this, and not even the bullies of the classroom will balk at its lesson of redemption and second chances.

Estimated reading level: 5th grade
Grade: B+

Thursday, September 1, 2011

getting near to baby -- Audrey Couloumbis

Couloumbis has created something achingly poetic and haunting in this book.

Not only does she employ solid, believable narrative and poignant characters, but also one of the best examples of a frame story I've seen. English teachers will love it.

I warn you, however, it does deal with mature subjects--the death of a younger sibling and the mourning process that follows--but does so in such a sweet and gentle voice that readers are completely captivated. Although heart-wrenching at times, this is a story of redemption, healing, and love. If they're mature enough, I highly recommend it for younger readers.

Estimated Reading Level: 5th grade +
Grade: A