Summer of the Woods
Written by Steven Smith
Illustrations by Melissa Rose
Published by MyBoys3 Press on May 11, 2013
Genre/Topics: Adventure, Mystery
Ages 7-10, 154 pages
Two brothers, eight-year-old Sam and ten-year-old Derek, recently moved to Virginia at the start of summer. They are excited and anxious to explore their new backyard, which happens to be the woods. Their parents trust them to explore the woods alone and the summer they won’t forget begins. Sam discovers an old, worn down coin in the creek and pockets it. After showing their dad the coin and talking with the neighbors they discover that there was a rare coin collection stolen from a local museum. Derek and Sam believe they can discover where the coin collection now hides. However, they don’t often know what to expect within the dark woods and mysteries behind the coin collection. What dangers await the brothers in the woods? Will Sam and Derek discover the old coin collection?
I really enjoyed Summer of the Woods. The story was well written with good descriptions. I could really visualize the brothers’ quest into the woods. It reminded me of the film, The Goonies. The brothers are young explorers who are determined that there is more within the woods. Besides showing their dad the coin, the treasure hunt remains a secret between the two. This is Steven Smith’s first book and I’m excited to read what he writes next. I recommend Summer of the Woods for a fun adventure read.
Written and Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on February 12, 2013
Genre/Topics: Robots, Adventure, Humor
Ages: 4+, 40 pages
Doug is a robot who is plugged in each day by his parents to become the smartest robot. All the information about the city is downloaded into Doug, but then he notices a pigeon outside the window. Doug decides to unplug and ventures into the city. He learns more about the city than the information that was downloaded, such as garbage cans smell, flowers grow out of sidewalks, and fire engine sirens are loud. However, there was one thing that Doug never downloaded. A boy in the park asked Doug if he wanted to play, but he knew nothing about playing. Soon Doug and the boy play hide and seek and other games in the park. Doug made his first friend. He went home to his robot parents who still thought Doug was the smartest robot.
I thought Doug Unplugged was a very cute and humorous book. We’re all fully aware how much time children (and adults) spend on computers and electric devices. Sometimes they don’t even know how to experience the real world. I also enjoyed Doug Unplugged, because the people and robots are bright colors so there’s no race. Go ahead and unplug yourself from all devices and explore the world!
The Trumpet of the Swan
Written by E.B. White
Illustrated by Edward Frascino
Published by HarperCollins Publishers in 1970
Genre/Topics: Animals, Friendship
Ages: 6+, 210 pages
Louis is a Trumpet Swan, however he was born without a voice. His father and mother are concerned, because without a voice he will have difficulty finding a mate in the Spring. Louis is also worried because he doesn’t want to be different from his siblings. Louis’ father takes a risk and steals a trumpet from a music shop, so that Louis will now have a voice. The problem is that his father is in debt from stealing a trumpet and smashing the shop. Louis is grateful for the trumpet, but knows he must help his father repay the debt. As a young swan, Louis met Sam Beaver who is a kind boy and loves animals. Sam takes Louis to school and helps him learn to read and write. With Sam’s help Louis gets paying jobs to play his trumpet and becomes quite famous to repay his father. More importantly, Louis now has a voice and can woo the swan he loves. Although Louis was born different he is determined to be his best and never gives up his dreams.
E.B. White is most famous for Charlotte’s Web, so The Trumpet of the Swan may get overlooked. The Trumpet of the Swan is a sweet book with many powerful messages. There is a fantasy element, since the animals have human-like characteristics and people communicate with Louis however it can still be used as a tool for discussion. Some possible discussions may include being different, never give up, love what you do, friendship, and animal care.
Written by Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Published in 1982
Genre/Topics: Humor, Fantasy
Ages: 6+, 212 pages
Most people don’t even think giants exist and those that do are usually very afraid of them. However, the Big Friendly Giant or the BFG doesn’t want to hurt anyone. Sophie is an orphan who first meets the BFG while looking out her window at night. The BFG notices and reaches through her window to take her away, since nobody would believe her if she said she saw a giant. Soon Sophie realizes that the BFG is friendly and has no plans to eat her, instead he was out at night putting dreams with his long trumpet into children’s ears. It’s not always pleasant, because the BFG is the smallest among other giants who desire to eat human beans every night. When the large and revolting giants are out eating human beans, the BFG captures dreams and stores thousands into jars. Sophie learns where the giants plan to find their next meal and the BFG and her form a plan to stop them before it’s too late.
The BFG has all the standard humor, fun, and zany words that are unique to Roald Dahl. So far I haven’t been disappointed by one of his books. I’m sure you’ll wish you also knew a giant, well at least a friendly one.
Written by Edward Bloor
Published by Sandpiper in 1997
Genre/Topics: Realistic Fiction, Sports, School
Twelve-year-old Paul and his family recently moved to Tangerine, Florida. Paul is legally blind, but can still see with his glasses. In fact, Paul feels that he can see and sense things that others around him cannot see. However, nobody seems to listen to him. Strange events occur in Tangerine, Florida, such as constant lightning and fires. His mom’s mainly concerned with the odd town situations. His father only focuses on his high school brother’s goal of becoming the next great football player. Paul finally finds his ‘groove’ when he joins the middle school soccer team, although even then it takes time for him to really fit in. Tangerine is entirely written from Paul’s perspective in journal entry format.
I enjoyed Tangerine, but I felt it was rushed at the end and there were loose ties. My book edition included questions in the back. I think Tangerine would be useful for great discussion in the classroom. It’s listed on Amazon as ages 10+ and others state Tangerine as a Young Adult book. I think the book’s length and sensitive topics at times may lead to a Young Adult, but Tangerine could be read by middle school age readers.
Written by R.J. Palacio
Published by Knopf on February 14, 2012
Genre/Topics: Realistic Fiction, Peer Relations
Three Word Review: Heartwarming, Compassion, Thought-Provoking
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that held him back from attending school due to numerous surgeries. However, now Auggie is a ten-year-old boy who is about to attend school for the first time. He desires to be ordinary and not be constantly stared at or judged by his face. Auggie knows exactly why people turn their head or gasp when they see him for the first time. His favorite day is Halloween when he can wear a different ‘mask’ and blend in. School is filled with the typical middle school drama, but Auggie has even more difficulty as classmates tease, bully, and ignore him. Auggie makes friends with a few who see the true Auggie. Wonder changes perspectives between different individuals who come into Auggie’s life, but it is mainly from his viewpoint. Hopefully, Wonder will make you look past outward appearances to see the real individual. I stated that this book is for ages 10+, but everyone can enjoy the book and take its message. In fact, it’s my city library’s Tacoma Reads Together book for 2013 for all ages. I plan to attend an author book talk hosted by the library.
Because of Mr. Terupt
Written by Rob Buyea
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on October 6, 2010
Genre/Topics: Realistic Fiction, School, Peer Relations
Ages: 8+, 288 pages
Mr. Terupt is the new fifth grade teacher at Snow Hill Elementary School. The book takes the perspective of seven unique classmates in Mr. Terupt’s class. Jessica is the smart new girl; Alexia is your bully or friend; Peter is the troublemaker; Luke is the class brain; Danielle lacks confidence; Anna has a difficult home life; and Jeffrey dislikes school. Each student has his or her own problems and joys about everyday events and classroom situations told from their perspective. Mr. Terupt is a fresh and new teacher who connects with each student. He tries new things and lets the students think for themselves. Until the awful day when an accident occurs that changes everyone.
I really enjoyed Because of Mr. Terupt. We’ve all had that one special teacher that made a difference in our life. (Hopefully, more than one teacher.) The teacher that made us feel special or we tried something new and exciting for the first time. The students in Mr. Terupt’s class changed because of him. It almost made me cry. It’s a heartfelt book that can spark conversation. I recommend this book.
Jack Calhoun and the Perfect Baseball: A Boy’s Baseball Adventure during the Civil War
Written by P.A. Kernan
Published August 8, 2012
Genre/Topics: Historical, Adventure, Sports
Ages: 8+, 100 pages
Jack Calhoun is a typical 10-year-old boy who lives in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, during the early 1860s. Baseball is Jack’s passion. Jack and his friends simply played casual ‘townball’ until a Confederate solider explained the official rules of baseball. Jack’s days are not always filled with fun baseball games. The Civil War has begun and Jack faces bullies on a daily basis from ‘Scrat the Rat’ and his gang. Jack’s father is a Quaker who doesn’t believe that war is the right choice, so he goes away into the mountains. Before Pa leaves he gives Jack a homemade hog skin baseball that Jack treasures and always keeps with him. Now Jack must be strong with his Ma and younger siblings on the farm. While Pa is away Jack deals with the Home Guard who visit each house to demand all capable men fight against the Yankees and confrontations with his bullies. Jack even plans a humorous revenge on the bullies. Finally, Pa returns when the Exemption Act is passed which allows individuals with religious beliefs against fighting to avoid being in service. Jack’s life is somewhat back to normal with his Pa back and fewer bully situations. Baseball is always in Jack’s heart through all his hardships.
I thought Jack Calhoun and the Perfect Baseball was wholesome, humorous at times, and educational without being boring. Children won’t realize that they’re actually learning about the daily life during the Civil War, instead they’ll gain pleasure as they read about baseball and typical bully pranks. This book can be used to spark children’s interest while teaching about the Civil War.
Visit the author’s Goodreads blog and on Smashwords.
Among the Free (Shadow Children #7)
Written by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers on April 25, 2006
Genre/Topics: Science Fiction, Adventure, Dystopia, Political
Ages: 10+, 208 pages
Among the Free is the final book in the Shadow Children series. At first I thought the title itself was a spoiler, since it states that individuals are ‘free’. However, the title isn’t at all a spoiler. In this previous books of the Shadow Children series, the reader gains insight into the hardships of third children remaining hidden and who exactly to trust when actions take place. Also, there are different lead characters to gain perspectives. I was very pleased that Luke was the focus character just as it started in book one, Among the Hidden. It was as though the series came in full circle. In Among the Free, Luke is still in the Population Police as he attempts to remain out of sight however they select him for a group activity where he closely works with the Population Police. Events occur when Luke defies orders and runs away from the Population Police. Eventually, Luke stumbles into a village where he soon learns that the Population Police are no longer in power and everyone is free. Luke is skeptical and doesn’t believe the freedom that he views on television, so he travels to the headquarters himself. He indeed does find individuals rejoicing and chanting about freedom. However, conflict and disagreements occur when individuals cannot decide how to reform the government. There is chaos when individuals overuse their new freedom. Are the individuals truly free from the Population Police? What do people desire in their government? Is it possible for citizens to even agree?
I thought Among the Free‘s main plot tackles major political issues. It shows how citizens react to drastic government changes. This book can be used in social studies classrooms while teaching about real life situations in the news with government power conflicts. Unlike the previous books, there’s really no violence in Among the Free. The plot is quite complex and younger ages may not fully understand.
When I first read the Shadow Children series I wasn’t expecting to write a review for each book. I enjoyed the new story idea and how the characters handled their situations. I’m actually surprised that Amazon lists this series ages eight and up, because the concepts are complex and there is some violence in the books. However, age isn’t a defining factor for whether a book is appropriate for a child. I suggest to read this series.
Among the Enemy (Shadow Children #6)
Written by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Published by Aladdin on May 17, 2005
Genre/Topics: Science Fiction, Adventure, Dystopia
Ages: 10+, 240 pages
In this sixth installment in the Shadow Children series, Matthias from Among the Betrayed (book #3) is the main character. The book begins when the Population Police awaken children at school and take them away where they will work for their country. Matthias, along with his friends Percy and Alia, stay together and attempt to escape. Events occur that causes them to be free from the Population Police, however Percy and Alia are now injured. Matthias witnesses a fight between the Population Police and rebels. Without realizing it, Matthias rescues a Population Police officer who takes Matthias under his wing back to headquarters. Matthias is now in the middle of the place he fears most where he enlists to become a Population Police officer himself. While at headquarters, Matthias discovers that there are hidden individuals secretly planning against the Population Police. Matthias must decide who to trust and how to act in such a threatening environment that without careful steps may lead to disaster.
I enjoyed Among the Enemy, but yet again I was slightly disappointed that there was a new lead character. I really had to refresh my memory, since Matthias was only mentioned in book #3. However, I understand that the Shadow Children series is different from other series, because the problem evolves around an entire society not just one character. The reader gains a new perspective as we learn how different individuals handle the problems. Although, I prefer to follow events through a few constant characters throughout the series. I now have only one book to read in the Shadow Children series.
Written by Ingrid Lee
Published by Scholastic Inc. on October 1, 2011
Genre/Topics: Realistic Fiction, Animal Rescue, Family Relations
Age: 10+, 176 pages
Billy Reddick found an injured and dirty cat alone on the streets. He took the cat home, although his dad hates cats. Since Billy’s dad hates cats he kept the cat hidden in his messy room. His parents constantly fought and the cat gave Billy some comfort as he talked to the cat and provided care. The whole town disliked cats, because many stray cats wandered the streets at night. The town citizens became upset and discussed ideas about how to remove the cats. There were disagreements, since the town was divided with many ideas. Some citizens wanted to kill off cats whereas others wanted to safety rescue the cats. Billy was caught in the middle with family tensions, a secret cat he owns, and the town’s discussions.
Cat Found hooked my interest right from the first pages. The book described how the cat became injured and it truly broke my heart. Amazon listed this book for ages eight and up, but the subject was sensitive with some sad moments. Depending upon the child’s maturity the book could be read with younger ages. The author wrote a similar book, Dog Lost.
Among the Brave (Shadow Children #5)
Written by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Published by Aladdin on April 27, 2004
Genre/Topics: Adventure, Science Fiction, Dystopia
Ages: 10+, 240 pages
*Warning potential spoilers for previous Shadow Children books. *
The tragic end of Among the Barons (book #4) left Luke and his friends with more questions about who to trust and uncertainty about their futures. Luke escaped death when his friend, Trey, safely rescued him from harm. Trey is also a third child who remained hidden until he attended Hendricks School. He never considered himself brave or heroic. However, after his dramatic rescue to save Luke all his friends now view him with increased control and bravery. Trey doesn’t at all feel brave, instead he feels as though he was just lucky in a dangerous situation. After Trey’s friends left him alone at the Talbot’s house his goal is to remain hidden. Soon Trey has the courage to walk to the neighbor’s house that is also Luke’s home. Trey discovers Mark, Luke’s older brother, who is determined to find Luke. Mark and Trey begin an adventure to find and rescue Luke, although it’s hardly an easy task. They find themselves at the Population Police headquarters where Trey impersonates an officer. Even though Trey is at the center of individuals he has feared his entire life, Trey still doesn’t believe that he is brave. What exactly makes a person brave? Does Trey have what it takes to rescue others?
Among the Brave was similar to Among the Betrayed (book #3), because Luke isn’t the main character. Trey is mentioned in previous books, but the reader learns more about the character. I have mixed feelings about this aspect in the Shadow Children series. I enjoy developing a relationship with the lead character and additional characters mixed into the plot. However, the Shadow Children series highlights different individuals each effected by Population Police and laws. So although I don’t feel a strong connection with each character, I still enjoy learning about each individual’s struggles. I enjoyed looking at new aspects to what defines bravery, because Trey’s bravery may not have been the bold ‘standard’ yet events let his characteristics shine.
Among the Barons (Shadow Children #4)
Written by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Published by Aladdin June 1, 2003
Genre/Topics: Adventure, Dystopia, Science Fiction
Ages: 10+, 208 pages
For the first twelve years of Luke’s life he had always been Luke, until he received the fake I.D. and he became Lee Grant. Soon Luke adjusted to being Lee at Hendricks School for Boys. He never fully wanted to declare himself as Lee, however he was able to no longer remain hidden. Suddenly, Lee’s younger brother, Smits Grant, desires to also attend Hendricks. Luke doesn’t understand why Smits wants to attend the same school, because Smits understands that Lee died. The Grants are barons who are rich and powerful and receive anything they desire. Smits finally attends Hendricks with his personal bodyguard and demands special accommodation, such as his own room and different food from the other students. Luke’s not sure if Smits can keep the secret that Lee has in fact died. Luke must now live in more lies as he pretends to be Smits brother. Can he trust Smits and his bodyguard?
I enjoyed Among the Barons just as much as the other Shadow Children books. This book becomes complex with more characters and new perspectives. Luke’s character evolved as he’s been out of the shadows for a few months. There were story plots that surprised me just as the previous books.
Among the Betrayed (Shadow Children #3)
Written by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Published by Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing on June 1, 2002
Genre/Topics: Dystopia, Adventure, Science Fiction
Ages: 10+, 160 pages
This is the third book in the Shadow Children series and it takes a turn from the previous books. In the first two books, Luke is the central character, but in Among the Betrayed, Nina Idi is the main focus. Nina attended a girl’s school similar to the boy’s school. At the end of book two, Among the Impostors, Nina and Jason were arrested as traitors for falsely turning in third children to the Population Police. Now Nina is in prison and must state exactly what occurred or she faces death. However, the prison guard makes a deal for her to betray other imprisoned third children to learn more information about them. When she meets the children she discovers that they are much younger than her. Nina isn’t sure who to trust and whether she should betray the others.
I enjoyed Among the Betrayed, but I was slightly disappointed that Luke wasn’t the main character. However, I think the series’ theme is complex and additional character perspectives add to the plot. Personally, I thought the book was slow at times. Nina’s prison time is descriptive and harsh at times, so I suggest age ten and up. I’m ready to read book four. (I love when I don’t have to wait for the next book to be published.)