In the dystopian future, there is no more war, disease, or poverty. There are no choices, either – in 12-year old Jonas’s community, spouses are assigned to one another, children are assigned to families, and children’s milestones are pre-selected and celebrated once a year. At age seven, they receive jackets that button in the front. At the age of nine, they receive bicycles. At the age of 12, they attend the Ceremony of Twelve, where they are assigned their careers. Jonas, who has been experiencing feelings that has made him feel different from his peers, is assigned to be the Receiver of Memory – the sole repository for the collective memories of the community. He begins to work with the outgoing Receiver, now called The Giver, to receive the memories and learns disturbing truths through both the memories and the truths he begins to see in his daily life in the village.
Mack MacAvoy is a medium kid – medium in height and build, medium in looks, medium in grades – he’s so ordinary that his own parents don’t really notice him most of the time. That all changes when Grimluk, an ancient man dressed in an old black robe, appears in his school hallway and announces that he is one of the Magnifica, a group of 12 children who will have to save the world from the ancient evil of the Pale Queen. In no time at all, Mack and his bully protector Stefan are swept off to locate the other 11 Magnifica, but it won’t be easy – the Pale Queen’s daughter, Eriskigal, and the monsters at her command, will stop at nothing to destroy them before they even begin.
The Magnificent 12 is a fun adventure series with good character development and interaction; the story moves at a pace that will keep readers’ interest. The chapters alternate between Grimluk’s story, providing an establishing backstory, and Mack’s story, laying the groundwork for the future books in the series. There are villains, monsters, and prophecies galore and with both male and female characters, boys and girls alike should find this a good read. International locales lend a James Bond-type feel to the adventure.
Eleven year-old Allie Jo lives with her mother and father at The Meriwether, a Florida hotel that they help manage. She doesn’t have many friends, and the mean girls at school call her a “hotel rat”. The summer of 1987 changes things for Allie Jo, though – she meets Chase, a fourteen year-old guest traveling with his journalist dad and who’s working through some issues of his own, and they both meet Tara, a mysterious girl who appears one day and says she’s run away. As Allie Jo and Chase learn more about Tara, they’re split as to what they believe – is she a troubled teen, or is her fantastic story true?
A fantasy substory taking place within a realistic fiction plot, The Summer of Moonlight Secrets is great fun with a few big issues going on – there is some minor bullying, the issue of an absentee mom, and a runaway whose stories all intertwine here. Ms. Haworth’s story is evenly paced with well-developed characters. Chapters are narrated in each of the three main characters’ voices, so the reader truly gets a glimpse into each character’s mind and point of view in addition to how each perceives the others. The big reveal is also a pleasant surprise, as Ms. Haworth almost leads to reader to one conclusion to reveal another, more interesting one. Overall, an enjoyable read about friendship that will make readers feel good when they’re done – and leave them with some interesting things to consider.
Danette Haworth’s website offers information about all of her books, her biography, and contact information.
Based on the humorous Norse tale about the theft of Thor’s hammer, Bruce Coville fleshes the story out with other pieces of Norse mythology to give readers this amusing story of cross-dressing gods, talking goats, and dopey giants.
Told by Thor’s goat boy Thialfi, Thor’s Wedding Daybegins with Thor discovering his mighty hammer, Mjolnir, missing. His trickster brother Loki discovers that their enemies, the giants, have somehow gotten hold of the hammer and refuse to give it back unless their sister, Freya, marries Thrym, king of the giants and Thor’s enemy. Freya refuses, and Loki concocts a scheme to dress Thor up as Freya and get his hammer back. Loki agrees to accompany Thor as a bridesmaid and Thialfi must dress up to be Thor’s goat girl. While in the company of the giants, Thialfi discovers that their plan goes far deeper than just handing Mjolnir back to “Freya” after the wedding, and he finds himself in the position of saving Asgard.
Did you ever wonder what Captain Hook was like as a teenager, before he became Peter Pan’s nemesis? If so, this may be the book for you. Hook Screenwriter J.V. Hart adds to the Peter Pan mythology by giving readers the story of 15-year old James “Jas” Matthews’ eventful stint at the prestigious Eton College.
The bastard of a British lord and an unidentified mother and raised by a Shakespearean actress, James arrives at Eton with the odds against him. Colleger Arthur Darling targets him for bullying, but James is no shrinking violet. He defiantly pushes back against the bullies and in doing so empowers the other young Oppidans. He befriends fellow student “Jolly” Roger Davies and rises to the top of his class, aggravating Darling all the way. Dreaming of a place where he can be free that he calls “Neverland”, he plots the creation of his future. He also adopts a poisonous spider he names Electra, captures the heart of a Sultana and challenges Darling to a duel. Escaping Eton, James destroys all records of his existence in a fire; his father answers this by sending him out to sea – and that’s where the adventures really begin.
Hart was inspired to write this story based on Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie’s Eton speech, “Hook at Eton” and sprinkles homages to Barrie and Peter Pan throughout the book. A Series of Unfortunate Events illustrator Brett Helquist’s artwork is on display here at the chapter heads and some illustrations throughout the book.
My main problem with Capt. Hook is this – there is a lot of story to be contained in these pages and I found the pacing off at some points, the storytelling lags and at others, speeds by. On two occasions, Hart begins wrapping up the story rather than just that portion of the story, which threw me off as a reader. Jas himself is a well-drawn character and it was interesting to see him drawn as an antihero; I would be interested in seeing what led him to make the jump from the noncomformist antihero to the villain he ultimately becomes.
This book was suggested for ages 10 and up, but the violence, language and overall density of the material suggests a more mature reader – 12 and up – should pick this up and be his or her own judge.
Chasing Lincoln’s Killer is the story of the plot to kill President Abraham Lincoln, the assassination and ensuing manhunt for John Wilkes Booth and his fellow conspirators. Author James L. Swanson based this YA version on his previous book, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer (William Morrrow, 2006).
A lifelong Lincoln aficionado who shares the 16th President’s birthday, the author wanted to bring his story to a younger audience. He never dumbs down the narrative to reach this audience; rather, he makes it more accessible by featuring over 70 photos of artifacts, newspapers and photos taken from various archives; he summarizes trial manuscripts and interviews, and moves the events along at a pace that younger, less patient readers will enjoy and stick with.
Scholastic’s website offers free teaching resources to use with the book including an audio book excerpt, video interview with the author, and printable Wanted! poster for Booth.
Manhunt received an Edgar Award for the best true crime book of the year in 2007; Chasing Lincoln’s Killer has received recognition as a Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Best Book for Young Adults. Mr. Swanson holds a seat on the advisory council of the Ford’s Theatre Society. He has collected books and artifacts on President Lincoln since he was 10 years old and has written a photographic history, Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution.
The first book in the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series, The Lightning Thief introduces readers to Percy Jackson, demigod son of Poseidon, and his friends at Camp Half-Blood.
Percy, a sixth grader who’s been kicked out of several schools, suffers from dyslexia and ADHD; he’s never met his real father; and his mother, whom he adores, is married to a jerk who verbally abuses Percy and his mother. When monsters start coming after Percy and he discovers that his best friend isn’t exactly what he seems, his mother helps him escape to Camp Half-Blood in Long Island, where he finds out the missing information about his past and a great deal more. The Greek gods exist, and they have a lot of children populating the earth; Camp Half-Blood is a safe haven for them. Because he is the son Poseidon, of one of the “Big Three” – Zeus, Poseidon and Hades – he is hunted even more than the children of the other gods and goddess. He also learns that someone has stolen Zeus’ master lightning bolt and Zeus think it’s him.
My Brother Sam is Dead is a look at the Revolutionary War that readers don’t normally get: like the Civil War, this war divided families. We also see a side of the American soldiers that we don’t usually hear about in History class – “our” soldiers weren’t always acting like the good guys, especially to their own countrymen if they weren’t supporters of the cause.
We hear about the Tories and they are demonized. We laugh at stories of them being tarred and feathered, but what My Brother Sam brings home is that Tories were the same Americans that the Revolutionaries were, but they just believed in a different ideal. To the Tories, there was no reason to split with Mother England, who provided for them and protected them. Taxes were a fact of life. Quartering soldiers was a fact of life. To rebel was treason and it was just wrong. When looking at the acts of the Revolutionaries – stealing from, kidnapping and murdering fellow Americans who were Tories – it is difficult to say anyone involved was 100 percent right or wrong. We learn that the Revolution was a black and white issue; My Brother Sam goes beyond that thinking and shows readers that the War was made up of many, many shades of grey.
Tim Meeker is the son of a Connecticut tavern owner whose older brother, Sam, joins the Revolutionary Army under Benedict Arnold while away at college. The relationship between Sam and their father appears to have been conflicted to begin with, as both are stubborn men with strong opinions, and this act leads to a schism within the family that leaves Tim wondering who’s right and who’s wrong Torn between his love for his brother and his love and loyalty to his family, he finds himself stuck in the middle of a far larger conflict when he’s asked to keep secrets about Sam and when his battalion is in the area. Tim sees firsthand the brutality of the American soldiers to his Tory neighbors and he sees the cruelty of the British soldiers. Is there a right or wrong?
My Brother Sam is Dead won the 1975 Newbery Honor and was nominated for a National Book Award that same year. It has also been designated as an ALA Notable Children’s book and was the twelfth most frequently challenged book from 1990-2000 (ALA).
The History of Redding website has extensive information about the novel; Redding, Connecticut is the setting for the story. A 2005 Scholastic edition of the book has an AfterWords bonus feature which includes an interview with the authors, where they compare their story to fellow Newbery winner and Revolutionary War story Johnny Tremain, and discuss parallels between their work, written after the VietNam conflict, and Johnny Tremain, written after World War II.
Alex Morningside is a 10 1/2 year old girl who’s often mistaken for a boy; she wears her hair short and is something of a tomboy. Orphaned at a young age, she lives with her uncle in their home above his doorknob shop. When Mr. Underwood, a new teacher, shows up in her sixth grade classroom at the prestigious Wigpowder-Steele Academy, Alex finds herself finally liking school. Mr. Underwood has a good sense of humor and is fun to talk with.
Mr. Underwood also has a family secret – he’s the descendant of a famous pirate family. When he’s kidnapped by a rival pirate family over a long-secret buried treasure, Alex is the only one who can help him. She goes on a journey that will take her through strange places, where she meets equally strange people and one Extremely Ginormous Octopus.
The Dhillon sisters – Amber, Jazz, and Geena – are perfect. They are perfect students, perfectly dressed, and perfectly popular. Their teachers always look to them for help with their classmates and for the right answers, and the girls never disappoint. The girls keep their act airtight so no one will sense the pain they are in from losing their mother the year before. The sisters will not even talk about her at home for fear of letting loose all the emotions they have bottled up.
Escaping his grief through work, their father is rarely home and when he is, rarely speaks to them other than to indulge them in nearly everything they ask. When he announces that their Auntie is coming from India to live with them and take care of the girls, they are furious – they certainly do not need anyone to babysit them! When Auntie arrives and starts interfering in their lives – especially when their father starts saying no to new clothes, sneakers and pierced ears – they decide she’s got to go. Marrying her off would be the best way to benefit everyone, but who to choose, and how to do it?
The book is ‘tween chick lit; it is an easy read with little emotional depth or character examination. The ending is predictable but satisfying, and leaves the family’s story open to a sequel. In fact, the book is the first in a 4-book series. Ms. Dhami provides a glimpse into Indian culture which has doubtlessly introduced many girls to a new culture in our increasingly diverse society.
Narinder Dhami has also written the popular film Bend it Like Beckham. Her website offers links to her books, author facts, and a link to Amber’s blog, where the Bindi Babes narrator keeps readers up on the latest gossip. Random House provides a teachers guide complete with discussion questions and links for further reading on diversity.