Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Wrinkle in Time

By Reviewer Amy Jane
Title: A Wrinkle in Time
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Primary Audience/age group: 9+
Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy
# Of pages: 211 (varies by publisher)
Publisher: Many (Newbery editions)
Year of Release:1962
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 4 or 5, depending how you count
Rating: 4
Recommend? Yes, but know your child. Not for the sensitive type.

Description: Jr. Higher Meg and her 5-year-old brother travel to a distant planet to rescue their father, and may need rescuing themselves.

Review: I can understand why this made a Newbery in ’62. It was probably ground-breaking in concept and presentation. Some elements are disturbing because they’re designed to be, not because they’re gory or on a watch-list.

Rating: 4. For intensity and a scene of apparent torture (both relatively mild, but I felt they should be noted).

Positive: Parental figures and family bonds are valued. Family members take care of each other and risk their own safety for the others. The “gifts” given to the children to accomplish their goals are most of all acknowledgment and assurance in who they are and what they already have—reassuring the young people they’re different for a purpose and not just flukes.

Spiritual Elements: The bible is quoted several times. A 5-year-old asks for Genesis as his bedtime story, and Jesus Christ is mentioned by name. My main disappointment was that Jesus was listed among a collection of human “lights” fighting the darkness (evil), and his inclusion could be taken as a suggestion he was no greater than (e.g.) Leonardo Da Vinci and other gifted or influential individuals.

Violence: Meg gets in a fight with someone and comes home with a black eye. A child not conforming to the community rhythm later appears to be electrocuted with every bounce of his ball as he learns to conform

Language: I don’t remember any

Sexual Content: One kiss that will be interpreted according to the innocence of the reader

Other: Meg gets angry with her long-absent father for not being everything she hoped

Recommendation: It is not dangerous, and could provoke some interesting discussions, especially about different sorts of intelligence and ways of seeing. I found this book very disturbing as a child, and not the best example of good writing as an adult. Still, it’s a Newbery and a landmark in its own way, so I think it’s at least worth a single read.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Paint the Wind

By Reviewer Dianne
Title: Paint The Wind
Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
Primary Audience/age group: 9-12
Genre: Realistic Fiction
# Of pages: 325 (including glossary)
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Year of Release: 2007
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 5 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: (From the Book Jacket) A puzzling photograph, a box filled with faded toy horses and a single fractured memory are all that Maya has left of her mother. IN Grandmother’s house in California, she lives like a captive, tethered by Grandmother’s rules: no talk of her mother, no friends, no foolishness of any kind. . .until a shocking event changes everything.
A world away, in the rugged Wyoming wilderness, a wild mustang called Artemisia runs free, belonging only to the stars. In a land where mountain lions and wranglers pose an ever present threat, she must vigilantly protect her new foal. . .until a devastating act separates them from their band.
Like a braided rein, Maya’s and Artemisia’s lives will ultimately intertwine. Together, they hold the key to each other’s survival.

Review: This is a great book for lovers of horse stories. Maya has suffered through two devastating changes in her short life. An accident claimed the lives of her parents when she was only five and she was sent to live with her paternal grandmother. Grandmother’s strict rules and over protectiveness made Maya a nervous and fearful child. At age eleven she went to Wyoming to live with her mother’s family after her grandmother passed away. The two places could not have been more different and adjustments were difficult. May inherited her mother’s love of horses and becomes entranced with a wild mare that had once been her mother’s horse. She gains the trust of this horse at a critical time. . .a time that would have been disastrous for Maya had the horse not responded.

Rating: 5

Positive: Maya forms a friendship with a cousin whom she detests from the first day she meets him. After much teasing, arguing and hostility, they grow to care about each other (with the intervention off a great aunt). Maya learns to trust others and becomes confident in her own abilities.

Spiritual Elements: None

Violence: A mountain lion kills Artemisia’s foal, but there is no description of the attack.

Language: None

Sexual Content: None

Other: At first, Maya tells lies and makes up wild stories about her background. She often does things that cause her grandmother to dismiss housekeepers by making it appear they are not following orders.

Recommendation: I would recommend Paint The Wind, though I was put off a bit by the quality and magnitude of the lies that Maya tells. As Maya becomes more sure of her acceptance into the family, she becomes truthful. Horse lovers will enjoy this book. It is completely appropriate for the recommended age group.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Book Giveaway!

Well, we're all rested up after the Ultimate Blog Party - and ready to give away another teen book. This month the giveaway will be for the review copy of Beyond the Reflection's Edge (Echoes from the Edge) by Bryan Davis. You can read a review here, and get more info on the book here.
The drawing will be held on Monday, April 27th around Noon! If you become a "FOLLOWER" of this blog (to become a follower, scroll down to the bottom of this blog and on the right hand side you'll see a place to sign up) - you'll earn 5 extra entries! Good Luck, and Happy Reading! Leave a comment to enter - and if you'd like, tell us what book you or your teen is reading now!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

11 Birthdays

By Reviewer Dianne
Title: 11 Birthdays
Author: Wendy Mass
Primary Audience/age group: 9 - 12
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy
# Of pages: 267
Publisher: Scholastic
Year of Release: 2009
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 5
Recommend? Yes

Description: Amanda and Leo have known each other forever. Really. They were born on the same day, in the same hospital, and have celebrated every birthday together since...until this year. Their eleventh birthday will be different. After a falling out on their tenth birthday and unkind words that couldn’t be retrieved, they have not spoken for a whole year. Neither was looking forward to celebrating without the other. At the end of the day Amanda fell into bed relieved that it was over, only to wake up the next day to find her birthday repeating itself...over and over.

Review: This book was fun to read...imagine the dilemma of repeating a day over and over until you got it right! Amanda and Leo are the only ones aware of their predicament, and try to correct the situation by taking different actions each day, noting the consequences of their actions. This book delves into some of the emotions and problems facing middle schoolers – teasing, best friends, jealous classmates, older sisters. Amanda and Leo find solutions and are likable characters who learn the value of friendship.

Rating: 5

Positive: Amanda and Leo realize how much they miss each other and are willing to put hard feelings aside to renew their friendship. They become aware of the consequences of their actions and come to the conclusion that being kind and helpful is much more satisfying than being self centered.

Spiritual Elements: None Рaside from the one suggestion to try a séance to see if they could get some information they were seeking. They decided against that idea.

Violence: None

Language: None

Sexual Content: None – It was nice to read a book where a boy and a girl could be just friends with no romantic involvement.

Recommendation: Yes. This is a lighthearted fantasy that still will give young teens (and pre-teens) something to think about. Fun to read!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Raising Dragons

By Teen Reviewer Sarah
Title: Raising Dragons (Dragons in Our Midst, Book 1)
Author: Bryan Davis
Primary Audience/age group: 12+
Genre: Christian Fantasy
# Of pages: 371
Publisher: Living Ink Books
Year of Release: 2004
Part of a Series? Yes, 1st of 4 in the Dragons in our Midst Series
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: (from book)
When Billy Bannister discovers a long-kept secret he feels betrayed, alien, lost. As danger closes in he must learn to battle with weapons of steel and spirit while relying on a power he doesn’t understand, a power that helps him learn to trust again.
Bonnie Silver, an orphan, tries to find a home, someone to love her, even though she feels like a freak because of a body feature that she calls a deformity. But this unusual feature becomes a life-saving attribute as she discovers that her love for others and her faith in a creator hold the answers she’s looking for.
...A boy learns of his dragon past; a girl has known of hers for years. They combine their faith, courage, and love to overcome evil, a slayer who seeks to bring an end to dragon heritage, forever.

Review: It took a while for me to get into this book but in the end I was engrossed in Billy's and Bonnie's fight against evil. The author's writing can be a bit slow but he does a great job of portraying dragons in men without making it corny or weird. People of all ages will enjoy this modern-day tale of knights, dragons, and fair maidens.

Rating: 4 for mild violence and action scenes

Positive: The relationship between Billy and Bonnie is completely pure, like between a close brother and sister. Billy grows protective of Bonnie as he sees how lonely she is.

Spiritual Elements: As Bonnie struggles with loneliness and her “deformity”, she finds strength in her faith in God. Near the end of the book Billy begins to recognize a God-sized void within himself. (to be continued in the sequels, I'm sure...)

Violence: There are several violent scenes but the author never goes in detail. I don't think it's anything that would cause concern, but rated this book “4 for violence” just to be safe.

Language: None

Sexual Content: None

Other: The kids at school make fun of Billy and Bonnie. The slayer calls Bonnie a Demon Witch.

Recommendation: I applaud Bryan Davis for this clean, wholesome book - welcome in today's fiction! My younger brother grabbed this as soon as I was done and just about inhaled it. Anyone who enjoys Arthurian legends or liked DragonSpell by Donita K. Paul would love this book. I recommend this for ages 10 and up.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Canned

By Reviewer PJ Librarian
Title: Canned
Author: Alex Shearer
Primary Audience/age group: Ages 9 – 12* (see Review)
Genre: Adventure/Mystery
# Of pages: 240
Publisher: Scholastic
Year of Release: 2008
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes but with reservations

Description: Fergal Bamfield doesn't collect stamps like normal kids. He's an oddball (his mother prefers to call him "clever"), and his collection is as strange as everything else about him. Fergal Bamfield collects tin cans.

Then one day he finds a can without a label. What could be in it? Peaches, soup, perhaps revolting spam? But instead it's something gruesome: a human finger. Then Fergal finds another can, this time containing a one-word message, HELP! Now Fergal and his friend Charlotte are knee-deep in an adventure, and they're about to learn something horrible: Everybody has an expiration date.

Review: Fergol and Charlotte are two misfits trying to fit in. Because their parents believe them to be a little strange they don’t listen to them. Their concern over the situation gets them into trouble. The kids do break their parents rules which gets them into a dangerous situation. Their parents realize that because they didn’t listen to their children they also responsible for some the situation. The materials are inappropriate for the age level it is written.

Rating: 3

Positive: The kids really do learn a lesson. The parents learn to protect their children, while the kids realize that the rules in place are because they care.

Spiritual Elements: Friendship and devotion. As friends they are willing to put their lives on the line for each other. This is not a Christian book. This book is too gruesome for under middle school aged kids.

Violence: Children have been kidnapped and are being used as child labor. The people mistreat the children with long work hours, poor living conditions, and dangerous working conditions. Dismembered parts were found in a can, speculation of death by factory machinery.

Language: None

Sexual Content: None

Recommendation: I recommend this book only for mature middle school and up age students.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Princess Academy

By reviewer Greta Marlow
Title: Princess Academy
Author: Shannon Hale
Primary Audience/age group: 10+
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure (sort of?)
# Of pages: 314
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Year of Release: 2005
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 5 (View Scale)
Recommend: Yes

Description: (from book cover) “High on the slopes of rocky Mount Eskel, Miri’s family pounds a living from the stone of the mountain itself. But Miri’s life will change forever when word comes that her small village is the home of the future princess. All eligible girls must attend a makeshift academy to prepare for royal life. At the school, Miri finds herself confronting bitter competition among the girls and her own conflicted desires to be chosen. Yet when danger comes to the academy, it is Miri, named for a tiny mountain flower, who must find a way to save her classmates – and the future of their beloved village.”

Review: Small and useless – that’s how Miri has felt all her life. While everyone else her age is working alongside their parents in the mountain quarry, her father refuses to let her do anything but tend the goats. That all changes when Miri, along with all the other village girls, goes to the princess academy. At the academy, Miri learns many things. Some of it is in the academy curriculum, such as Commerce and Diplomacy. But some of it is about her own culture, such as the mysterious quarry-speech. And some of it is about herself. Throughout the story, Miri is torn by a desire to stay on the mountain with her family and the desire to be the top student in the academy and to be chosen by the prince as his bride. The end of the book has excitement and a couple of surprises, but everything works out to a satisfying conclusion.

Rating: 5

Recommend: Yes

Positive: Miri is a sweet person. She tries to make others feel better and to help them laugh. She also works hard at the academy without giving in to the pettiness some of the other girls show as the competition to be academy princess grows. She is resourceful and willing to take risks to make things better, but always in a positive way. At the story’s climax, she is the one who saves the girls in the academy from terrible danger.

Spiritual Elements: There are a few mentions of the “creator gods” of the mountain culture, and the lowlander priests are the ones who decree the academy should be set up because of their oracle that the next princess will come from the mountain. The mountain also seems to have a spirit that supports the village. However, religion is not a major element in the story.

Violence: A gang of bandits takes over the academy and holds the girls hostage, hoping to get ransom money from the prince. They are cruel to the girls, and Miri, especially, is in danger of being killed by the vile leader of the gang. I thought the way the bandits treat the girls might disturb sensitive kids; my 10-year-old daughter didn’t seem bothered by it, so maybe I over-reacted!

Language: I don’t recall any offensive language.

Sexual Content: The story has a sweet romance between Miri and a mountain boy she’s grown up with, Peder. The only sexual element at all is Miri’s awareness of when she is touching Peder – like holding his hand, or almost touching his leg with hers while they are sitting side by side. Nothing offensive.

Other: Miri has always felt rejected by her father, but she comes to find out why he is so distant and that he truly loves her. One of the things I enjoyed about the book is the way Miri puts to use the things she learns at the academy. There was one scene I really liked where she and the other girls exercise the principles of Diplomacy to negotiate better treatment by the school tutor. Speaking of the tutor, she is harsh and Miri is sometimes rebellious toward her treatment of the girls. There is also one scene in which Miri cheats by using quarry-speech to help another girl answer questions on the exam that determines whether the girl will get to go to the grand ball. That scene raises a question parents could discuss with their child: “Is it acceptable to do a wrong thing if the situation is unfair and the consequences for someone other than yourself are good?”

Rating: 5

Recommendation: I liked the book, but more importantly, my daughter liked the book. I think Miri is a good role model for young girls – she’s smart and caring and brave, and while she is tempted by the pretty princess dress and the chance to marry the prince, she realizes what is really important and makes an unselfish decision at the end.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Book Thief


By Reviewer: Amy Jane
Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Primary Audience/age group: Older YA
Genre: Historical fiction
# Of pages: 550
Publisher: Knopf
Year of Release: 2005
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 2 for Language and war-time violence
Recommend? Yes, if you’re ready for what you’re getting into

Description: The story of a foster girl in WWII Germany, as narrated by the persona of Death. She steals books as she finds them, learning their words then sharing them with others as she tries simply to live through a difficult chapter in history with her soul intact.

Review: Very powerful, as might be guessed from the subject matter. The first-person narration by someone outside the story can be distracting at times but I felt it was a useful tool to keep the intensity of the situation from becoming completely overwhelming.

Rating: 2, primarily for language. Some intense action and (as may be expected by his presence) death.

Positive: The relationship between Liesel and her foster-father is simply beautiful. He helps her through her nightmares, teaches her to read when he barely knows more than she, and he provides the ballast of the household through all the unpredictable storming of his wife.

Liesel’s foster father also accepts the huge risk of housing a Jew, and Liesel’s patchwork family pulls together to get him healthy and keep him safe. She outgrows her fear, (eventually and in a way), forming her own bond with their hidden visitor that causes her to close her mind to anti-Jewish propaganda and do what she can to help the chain gangs that pass through town.

Spiritual Elements:
While the treatment of death is not contrary to scripture (he is not an enemy to be feared), the hazy, vaguely positive association with “being ready” doesn’t match the Bible’s view of eternity.

Violence: Varied. Deaths involving explosions, an air raid, and other war-related happenings. All compassionately rendered from a slight distance. I appreciated the “warning” of the narrator several times that certain characters weren’t making it to the end. By the time the death(s) occurred I’d braced myself a bit for them.

Milder stuff (relatively speaking) includes fights between children and the treatment of those the Third Reich disfavors.

Language: Constantly hard. All of your standardly-bleeped 4-letter words (and their German equivalents). They are used so frequently I began seeing them as the characters used them: mere filler; meant to convey more, but used so often they become necessary to maintain the common level of earnestness.

Sexual Content:
The girl’s neighbor is constantly asking for a kiss [spoiler] but she never gives him one till the bomb kills him. Some stuff might be implied between the older children of the gang, but it didn’t jump out at me.

Other: The main characters join a sort of street gang that engages primarily in stealing. Some characters are bullied.

Recommendation: I recommend this book for 17+ and especially for parents. It is very well-written and does a good job of humanizing the situation of the German population in the mist of the war that demonized a country. Showing the terrified courage of the citizens while under something very like oppression themselves, the book provides a nice balance to the images of German soldiers doing what they did so efficiently. If you can get past the language it’ll provide good talking points about individual choices in the midst of a prevailing culture.