Friday, December 14, 2007

The Mother Daughter Book Club

By Reviewer Shawna
Title: The Mother-Daughter Book Club
Author: Heather Vogel Frederick
Primary Audience/age group: 9-12
Genre: Fiction
# Of pages: 236
Year of Release: 2007
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 4

Check out another review of the book at Amy's Cup of Tea

Description: Four completely different pre-teen girls are brought together through their moms’ idea of creating a mother daughter book club. Emma, named after a Jane Austin character, is an aspiring writer. Jess is the shy best friend of Emma who lives on an organic farm with her dad. Cassidy is the new kid and the daughter of a supermodel but had rather play sports than be seen in this club. And Megan is popular and wealthy and hangs around with a cruel group of girls called the Fab Four. Their first assignment is to read Little Women, but they aren’t sure whether they’ll be able to survive the first meeting without killing each other.

Review: From a mother’s point of view, I really felt the message of the book was about making it a priority to continue a relationship with your daughter throughout the adolescent and teenage years. I loved that the setting of the book was Concord, Massachusetts, a city that is full of American History as well as the home of the writer of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott. Author Heather Frederick grew up there down the road from the Alcott house. She has included a lot of history about Miss Alcott as well as the historical events that took place in the town. My biggest grievance is that the book was written in first person present tense. I do not prefer this style of writing, but I enjoyed the author switching between each of the four girls point of views in each chapter. I also felt it was almost a younger, more innocent version of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Positive: The idea of creating a Mother Daughter Book Club was wonderful in that it encourages building better relationships with the daughters. Even though the club starts off with fighting and back-biting, the girls and moms eventually learn how to accept each other and become good friends.

Spiritual Elements: none

Violence: Cassidy lures the members of the Fab Four to a cemetery on Halloween with the help of Jess, Emma, and some other boys. They hide behind graves and scare the other girls. Cassidy does this as vengeance for the Fab Four treating Emma and Jess cruelly, and she feels really good about herself for doing so. Cassidy does get caught and is grounded for a month. She doesn’t tell on the other two girls.

Language: No explicit language. There were several mentions of the words stupid and sucking up and some name-calling like lamebrain and moron.

Sexual Content: Jess’s mom, who is staring on a soap opera, kisses another man in a television scene. Jess watches the show just to see her mom but is a little disturbed by seeing that.

Other: One of the Fab Fours mother’s who opposes the book club because she wasn’t invited is repeatedly ridiculed behind her back. They crack jokes about her weight. Even the parents join in with the jokes by the end of the book.

Cassidy’s dad dies before the book begins, and she and her mother and sister are dealing with grief. Cassidy and her mom have a tense relationship. Cassidy repeatedly talks back to her mother and tries out for the boys hockey team in disguise without her mother’s approval.

The ridicule of three of the book club members by the Fab Four is cruel. Megan, member of the club and Fab Four, participates with the ridiculing at first. They call the other girls names like Goat Girl and Hawthorne the Heifer for Jess and Emma. They say that Jess’ mom and dad will get a divorce since her mom went to New York to pursue an acting career. This is a huge fear for Jess especially since her mom isn’t very available to her.

Rating: 4 for some disregard of parental authority, mild sexual situations such as kissing, and mild violence

Recommendation: I like the fact that the book encourages good relationships between mothers and daughters. I would make this the focus of the book and might consider looking into a real mother daughter book club.

I did have a few concerns with the book. I didn’t like the cruelness of the Fab Four members toward the other girls although I know this does happen to a lot of children. I didn’t approve of the ridiculing of one of the Fab Fours’ mothers. I felt like the parents in the book were condoning the ridicule because the character was rude and self-serving. Cassidy’s disrespectfulness toward her mother was also a concern, but their relationship did improve by the end. I would talk with my child about how to stand up for one self without stooping to hurtful teasing behind another’s back and about being respectful of authority.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Mistmantle Chronicles: The Urchin of the Riding Stars

Title: Mistmantle Chronicles, The: Urchin of the Riding Stars - Book #1 (Mistmantle Chronicles)Author: M. I. McAllister
CBA or ABA? ABA (American Book Association)
Primary Audience/age group: 9 – 12 yrs. Old
Genre: Fantasy/Action
# Of pages: 228
Year of Release: 2005
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 3
Rating: 3.5 of 5
Recommend? Yes, see below

Description: from Publishers Weekly
The first book in the Mistmantle Chronicles introduces a mystical, medieval island and its anthropomorphic woodland denizens. The hedgehog King Brushen rules the island of Mistmantle and his squirrel, otter, mole and hedgehog subjects. The mists that surround the island give it its name, and also hide it from outsiders-except for one pregnant squirrel who finds her way to its shores in time to give birth to a child of prophecy ("He will bring down a powerful ruler") before she dies. Crispin, a squirrel who serves as one of the king's Captains, discovers the baby on the shore and names him Urchin. The young squirrel is thrilled when Crispin, "[his] hero," later asks Urchin to be his page. But Urchin's joy is short-lived when the king's young son is murdered, and-by an arcane system of drawing lots-Crispin is determined to be the murderer. Urchin, the otter Padra (his new master) and other loyal subjects strive to uncover the conspirators set on overthrowing King Brushen. " `And, Urchin,' Padra added quietly, `whatever those sharp squirrel ears pick up, be careful of repeating anything.... I know Crispin was innocent and so do you.... But there is danger in high places on this island.' " Urchin and his young friends make friendly, virtuous heroes, and younger readers may well look forward to their future adventures. Ages 8-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Review: I found The Urchin of the Riding Stars to be an exciting read. It was a bit heavy on description, but I think it was necessary to give a mental picture of the island and the characters. I was drawn in to the life on the mysterious island and enjoyed getting to know the characters. Urchin appeals to the underdog in us all. If your child enjoyed the Redwall series, they will like this too. Following are events/circumstances in the book that I believe may be cause for concern to some parents:

This book had a clear good versus bad story line. The heroes make the right choices in the face of tough circumstances. There are great lessons in loyalty, character, and standing up for what is good and right.

Spiritual Elements:
The good guy, Urchin is a child of “prophecy”. He has been born to save the village from an evil king. At one point they “cast lots” to determine who murdered one of the characters.

One of the bad guys in the story orders all weak/deformed animals born to be “culled” (killed). A few fights or battle scenes, but nothing gory.

No Bad Language

Sexual Content:

The bad guys drug the good guys with wine in place of water.

Recommend: I will allow my 12 year old to read this book. I felt like the story was a clear, classic good against evil plot. I would suggest the book be read by 10 and up. I wish the references to wine weren’t included and will discuss that with myson.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Spiderwick Chronicles

Title: The Spiderwick Chronicles (Boxed Set): The Field Guide; The Seeing Stone; Lucinda's Secret; The Ironwood Tree; The Wrath of Mulgrath
Author: Holly Black
CBA or ABA? ABA (American Book Association)
Primary Audience/age group: 9 – 12 yrs. Old
Genre: Fantasy/Action
# Of pages: Just over 100 each book
Year of Release: 2003 (book 1)
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 5
Rating: 2 of 5
Recommend? Not really.

Description: It all started with a mysterious letter left at a tiny bookstore for authors Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. Its closing lines: "We just want people to know about this. The stuff that has happened to us could happen to anyone." Little could they imagine the remarkable adventure that awaited them as they followed Jared, Simon, and Mallory Grace and a strange old book into a world filled with elves, goblins, dwarfs, trolls, and a fantastical menagerie of other creatures. The oddest part is in entering that world, they didn't leave this one!

Review: So far, I have only read books 1 and 2. For some children these books will be too scary. The books were entertaining and easy to read. But some of the parts were too gross. I talked to my eldest, who has read the whole series and he wasn’t phased or upset by the gruesome parts – but I know my 10 year old daughter would not be able to read this series without getting nightmares. Following are events/circumstances in the book that I believe may be cause for concern to some parents:

Positive: Simple, short, easy to read.

Spiritual Elements: Don’t recall any references to religion.

Violence: Many events are quite suspenseful and some are too gory. Many would not appreciate the part where cats were roasted and eaten by goblins, and in a future book I read that a cow was chained down while baby dragons nurse from her with sharp teeth until she’s bloody.

Language: No Bad Language

Sexual Content: None

Other: None

Recommend: After only reading 2 of the series I would have to say I would not recommend this series. It is just too gross and gory. The goblins and trolls are scary, mean, and spiteful. My eldest did read the series and enjoyed it, but had I read it first I would have denied his request to read it, and pointed him in a better direction.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed

By Reviewer ShawnaTitle: The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed
Author: Heather Vogel Frederick
CBA or ABA? ABA (American Book Association)
Primary Audience/age group: 9 – 12 yrs. Old
Genre: Historical Adventure
# Of pages: 213
Year of Release: 2002
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 2
Rating: 3 (see below)

Description: After the passing of their mother, thirteen year old Patience Goodspeed and her younger brother Tad are uprooted from their Nantucket home life in order to join their father, Captain Isaiah Goodspeed, on his whaling ship, the Morning Star. Patience reluctance to embrace this lifestyle slowly turns to enthusiasm as the bond between she and her father grows. But when mutiny threatens the lives of her father and brother, Patience must gather the courage to save them and as well as herself.

Review: This story was a unique blend of fiction and history about living aboard a whaling ship in the late 1800s. The author did well with her research about the time period and even included a glossary of terms from the era. I thought it was going to be a little more adventurous but the pace did not pick up until the last third of the book. Although it’s not my favorite pre-teen book, it does have a good message about restoring relationships between parents and their children.

Positive: The story begins with the rocky relationship between Patience and her father but ends with a good message about forgiveness and the importance of family. At first, Isaiah is unable to express his love of his children to them, and Patience is in desperate need of his acceptance. But, he soon reveals his heart to her and expresses his admiration of her mathematical skills by allowing her to learn how to navigate the ship, which comes in handy when she needs to rescue her father and brother.

Spiritual Elements: There are a few instances where the “fates” are mentioned and an example being Patience thinking “how cruel the fates to take Mama.” There is also mention of the children taking a Bible on board for study as well as them being instructed to learn the story of Noah. A passage out of Psalms is quoted at the funeral of one of the shipmates. A favorite aunt writes a letter in which she prays that “the good Lord keeps them safe.” Isaiah Goodspeed gives thanks to the Almighty when the lives of himself and other crew members are spared during a whaling incident. The book ends with Patience writing a prayer to God for clear skies and good weather.

Violence: The story takes place on a whaling ship where whales are hunted for their blubber. The killing of the whales and the retrieval of the blubber and oil is described in some detail with a couple mentions of blood and the cutting up of the animals. In one instance the men are described as looking like demons with their faces and clothes covered with soot and blood.

Some legends are told about a whale attacking a ship and the crew surviving on “the flesh of their companions.” Another story is mentioned where some crew members take over a ship and murder the captain and three mates.

Tad, Patience’s six year old brother, is hung overboard with a rope around his waist by two villainous crew members, Binyon and Todd, and dunked repeatedly. No harm physical harm comes to him though.

During a violent storm at sea, a sailor is thrown overboard and is unable to be rescued. They hold a funeral for him afterward. An injured whale attacks two whaling boats, smashing one in two and flipping the other. Several crew members are injured but not killed.

The ship is taken over by the same two characters and a third man named Bridgewater, who use guns and a cutting spade to threaten the others. They separate Captain Isaiah and Tad from Patience by deserting them along with other crew members on an island. Patience dreams of retribution by wanting to hang Bridgewater, feed him to the sharks, or send him straight to the devil. Spoiler Warning: She and the other crew members concoct a scheme to drug Bridgewater to take back the ship. One crew member, Chips, injures himself on purpose to aid with the plan. They poison the biscuits to temporarily put Bridgewater to sleep. The remaining original crew on the ship use force to overpower the three traitors. Then, Patience suggests they teach Binyon and Todd a lesson by hanging them overboard the same way they did her brother.

Language: There was mention of some of the crew “cussing,” but no expletives were used. There were several times where Patience and Tad call the villainous crew members names, example Bunion and Toad for Binyon and Todd.

Sexual Content: none

Other: At their first encounter, Patience describes Binyon and Todd as smelling like they had been “pickled in a vat of rum.” After Binyon and Todd hang Tad overboard, they are caught and apologize. Patience promises not to tell her father what they did, but soon regrets this.

Rating: 3 for moderate violence. See here for full rating scale.

Recommendation: This book would be more appropriate for older pre-teens (11 -12) but maybe not for those children who are particularly squeamish. The book was a bit violent as far as describing the typical life of a sailor on a whaleboat. But, it remained true to the historical context of that type of lifestyle. I did not like the fact Patience sought to take vengeance on the three traitors. I think I would discuss the importance of forgiveness with my child.