The Lightning Thief
2006 Disney Hyperion Books
ISBN – 9780786838653
Genre – Fantasy
Age – Middle School, High School
Percy has bounced from boarding school to boarding school, getting kicked out every year for bad behavior. He has always noticed strange things around him, but recently they are getting stranger. Like when he uncaps a pen that turns into a sword and kills his math teacher. He then overhears his best friend and another teacher talking about strange creatures. After he leaves his latest boarding school, while traveling with his mother, they are attacked by a minotaur who makes his mother disappear. He soon learns that he is a half-blood and the son of a Greek God. He also finds out that the powerful lightning bolt of Zeus has been stolen. In order to set his life (and the weather) back to normal he must embark on a quest to find it and return it to Zeus.
I know I am a little behind, and everyone has probably already read this one, so I finally got around to it! I really enjoyed it, the plot was good, and fun, the pace was right, the characters although fantastical were quite believable in their attitudes. There was jealousy and bullying, kindness and cruelty, and all of the other behaviors commonly found in kids aged 11-15. Percy was great. I like that he wasn’t touted as ”Super Kid USA.” He is not perfect, he isn’t a whiz kid in school, and he isn’t really athletic or popular. The way in which Riordan was able to intertwine old myths with new fiction was creative and entertaining. I loved reading about all of the interesting and non-human creatures such as Grover, his half-goat best friend!
Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
Illustrated by K.G. Campbell
2013 Candlewick Press
ISBN – 9780763660406
Genre – Adventure, Humor
Age – Elementary School
Flora is a cynic who loves her superhero comics. So when she witness her neighbor accidentally vacuuming a squirrel in the yard, she jumps into action! When she saves the squirrel she learns that he has super powers. Although she is very happy to have a new super hero squirrel, her mom does not share in her excitement. After each attempt her mother makes to banish the squirrel, she must find a way to save them, and maybe, just maybe the squirrel can find a way to save her as well.
Flora and Ulysses was a super fun read. It was hilarious and unexpected, and the pictures added to my laughter! Flora is not your average young girl, and she doesn’t fit into any particular mold. But she is fun, and kind, and creative. Despite her cynicism she is a good role model for young girls. There are other characters in the book that are not quite as kind as she is, however, the really help to highlight how amazing Flora can be. The book is light-hearted and just plain fun to read. Children’s books can often be very deep and heavy, and it is good to offset that kind of book with something like Flora and Ulysses, it reminds young readers, and even your older ones, how much fun you can have with a book.
The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel
2013 Knopf Books for Young Readers
ISBN – The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel
Genre – Historical Fiction
Age – Middle School
Eel is riddled with more issues than any young boy should have. He is an orphan, and his awful step father is trying to find him amd his brother in order to make them beg on the streets for him. He must constantly watch his back and work to hide and protect his younger brother. He works multiple jobs just to keep them afloat. During all of this ”The Blue Death” breaks out in his neighborhood in London, and many people he knows become sick or worse. Everyone is convinced that this plague is spread by poisonous air, but Dr. Snow thinks differently. Dr. Snow regularly employs Eel to take care of his plethora of animals, but now he has a new task for him. Together they attempt to gather evidence that the sickness may be spread by a different method. Hopefully they prove it before many more people perish!
I heart plague historical fiction! This may be a bit morbid of me, but I just find the social and scientific aspects of these situations to be fascinating. The characters are great. Eel is a very responsible young kid, who takes care of his responsibilities admirably. Despite all of the hardships he must juggle, he still has the time and energy to be compassionate towards others in more dire situations. Although this book is a work of fiction, it does an incredible job of sticking closely to the truth of the time. At the end of the book there is additional information about the timeline as well as specific people involved in the story. I really think that Hopkinson did a wonderful job of depicting the hysteria, and various other reactions to Cholera.
2013 Candlewick Press
ISBN - 9780763655341
Genre – Historical Fiction
Age – Middle School
Nuclear war seems imminent in the summer of 1962. Everyone is talking about it, but Scott’s dad goes one step further, he builds a bomb shelter for his family. His family soon becomes the joke of the neighborhood. Everyone is convinced that Scott’s family is paranoid. That is until a nuclear bomb is actually dropped. Scott’s dad has only stocked the shelter with supplies for his family for two weeks. As the family races to their shelter in the middle of the night, they must fight off all of the neighbors that want in as well, but a few make through the doors. Now they must all fight to survive in a too small space, with not enough food, air, or water. People tend to show their true colors in the most stressful of situations, and this is no exception.
So I have been trying to gather my thoughts on this book for a while now, and I have written several reviews and deleted all of them. I really liked this book, and I can’t figure out why. It is not highly plot driven, it is not a book that you can’t put down, and it is not incredibly suspenseful or action packed. It is however, and incredibly personal account of an extremely frightening situation. The relationships and interactions that take place in the story, are honest, they are simple and complicated all at the same time. Parts of the book are difficult to read, in an emotional sense. The families in the story are faced with a very hard situation and are forced to make tough decisions, decisions that I would hope I would be strong enough to avoid. I think one of the important lessons in this book, is to not judge others that are in a situation that you know nothing about. This book is well written, emotional, and terrifying. I hope I never have to live through anything like it.
Fortunately, the Milk
Illustrated by Skottie Young
2013 Harper Collins
ISBN – 9780062224071
Genre – Fantasy
Age – Elementary
When the kids realize that they have no milk for their morning cereal, dad must go to the store to buy some, but he takes an awful long time. He finally returns to the kids questions about what to him so long. He explains that he went to the store, bought the milk and then…he saw a flying saucer, which spurred an adventure including dinosaurs, pirates, time travel, and more. Throughout his adventure, he is very careful to hold on to the milk. We all know that dad and the milk make it home safely, the surprise it what happens in between!
As with most of Neil Gaiman’s books, it is full of imagination, humor, and adventure. Although the book may seem to take some pretty strange left turns, it all makes sense in the end (well, sort of.) I loved the fun characters and worlds that Gaiman built in such a short and simple book. The illustrations match the tone of the book, and add to the whimsy as well. This age group has always been really hard for me to actually enjoy, so I was very pleased by this book.
Gandhi: A March to the Sea
Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
2013 Amazon Children’s Publishing
ISBN – 9781477816448
Genre – Picture Book, Nonfiction, Poetry
Age – Early Elementary, Elementary
In 1930, Gandhi decided to protest England’s rule over India. England declared that the people of India were not allowed to use the salt from the sea, they had to purchase salt from the British and pay the exorbitant taxes on salt. Gandhi only practiced nonviolent protests and this picture book in verse tells the story of his twenty four day march to the sea and its lasting effects.
I liked this book for a few different reasons. I absolutely love the idea of nonfiction picture books. It is not always easy to pull off, but this one works. Although I am not a huge fan of poetry and books in verse, I liked this one. I find that they are often too dramatic. The story of Gandhi’s march is a dramatic one, and the format and tone of this poetry is fitting. Now for the best part, the illustrations! Holy Cow! They look so real, but not quite like a photograph. It really makes the book magical. The lines, details, light, and shadows are completely realistic. I like that the backgrounds are just that, they fade to the back, yet they are still beautiful. Each page really has a focus and they compliment the text, the history, and the nature of the story. I think this is a great book for kids in elementary school. Not only does it use a more uncommon format, but it teaches a great life lesson, and history.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
2012 Antheneum Books for Young Readers
ISBN – 9781442457027
Genre – Picture Book
Age – All Ages
Mr. Morris Lessmore loved books, stories, and words. Each day he wrote the story of his life in his book. One day a devastating storm blew everything around and mixed everything up, including the words of his story, the words of his life. He didn’t know what to do so he wandered. Then while looking up he saw a lady being pulled through the sky by a flock of books. She saw that he wanted to fly and sent him a good story. This story took him away to a magical library in a magical land of magical books in which he began to rewrite his story. He lived his life day after day writing and sharing books and stories with others.
There are honestly no words to describe this book. I say it is for all ages because anyone who has a love for books, stories, words, and a fulfilled life will love this book. Do not be surprised to feel tears in your eyes as you read and look at the pictures. Speaking of the pictures, they just add to the magical feeling of this book. They are realistic, yet not. There is an immense depth in each illustration. The colors are vibrant without being bright. Mr. Lessmore feels real to me. Its not that he looks real, but considering his expressions and body positions and mannerisms, he just feels real. I don’t want to say too much especially about the ending, because I don’t want to skew anyone’s ideas or opinions. I will say that once you read the book, which you must, go on YouTube and check out the 15 minute short film that is based on the book. It won an Academy Award for a short film.
Orson Scott Card
ISBN – 9780765317384
Genre – Science Fiction
Age – Middle School, High School, Adult
In a world where each family can only have two children, Ender is a “Third.” Each child is tested to see if they qualify to attend battle school. Here they train to join the army that must kill an alien army that attacked humans many years before. At six years old, Ender is the most promising candidate that the military leaders have identified to lead the human army to a victory. He trains by playing war games and simulated battles. As his training goes on, Ender is thrown into more harsh and desperate situations in battle as well as his personal life. Is Ender really the savior that humans have been waiting for? Can he help protect humans from an alien invasion and impending war?
This is definitely a classic for a reason. I really appreciate that it has such wide appeal. I have seen an eleven year old enjoy it as much as a fifty year old. Honestly, I can’t believe I waited so long to read it. This book has it all, adventure, conflict, heartbreak, friendship, action, and surprise. The entire time I was reading it, I had to remind myself of how old Ender and his friends are. They live in a world and are thrust into a situation in which they are forced to mature unbelievably early, yet they take it in stride. Card has created scenarios in such detail that I became so immersed that I forgot I was reading a work of fiction. I laughed, I teared up, and my jaw dropped all within a few pages. If you haven’t read it yet, you should probably add it to the list.
Vivian Vande Velde
2008 Marshal Cavendish
ISBN – 9780761455158
Genre – Fantasy
Age – Middle School
Isabelle comes to consciousness running through the woods with a pack of dogs chasing her. She can’t remember who she is or where she comes from. One family comes forward and claims that she is their daughter who was stolen six years ago by the evil witch who lives in the forest. Their other daughter, an infant, was stolen the day before as well. After this the villagers storm her cottage and burn it down, possibly with the witch and their baby inside of it. Does Isabelle belong to this family? Does she have anything to do with the evil witch?
Stolen was a good book for late elementary and middle school kids. The story was just complex enough, without being complicated. It had mystery and suspense involved, but is not confusing. The characters have intrigue and depth. Honestly, I just didn’t connect to the story. It just didn’t have enough depth or content for me, but I think that mainly has to do with not being its intended audience. Tween books have never been my favorite.
Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio
1996 Albert Whitman and Company
ISBN – 9780807574577
Genre – Biography
Age – Elementary School, Middle School
Peg was the only girl in her small Midwestern town to get polio. She was an ordinary 12 year old girl, who was excited about her school’s homecoming parade and the coming summer. Then one day her muscles began to twitch and pulse, and she came down with a fever. A doctor quickly diagnosed her with polio and she moved to a specialized hospital. However, her condition continued to worsen, as her breathing became shallow and labored. She found out that she had a very acute form of polio. She was then transferred to a hospital that could accommodate her possible needs for a respirator, or an iron lung as it was called in the 1940′s. This book follows her struggles and victories while living with this debilitating disease.
Peg Kehret is an experienced children’s writer. Aside from this book, she has published over 30 books for children over many years. She is able to really capture the way she felt emotionally, and physically in way that elementary aged kids can understand. This is particularly important when explaining a disease that has not been prevalent in many years. Pictures are included of herself, her friends, family, and even the “iron lung,” which will help kids visualize certain aspects of her story. This is a quick yet intense read that will tug at many emotions inside of the reader. Laughter and tears in the same page is not unusual.