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Books for readers (8 and up), or to read to your children

Once in a while, requests for books appropriate for really young kids to read, but challenging, come in. Following are books my daughters read and enjoyed before sixth grade or so. YMMV...

Featured non-fiction

  • King of the Wind
    Newbery award-winning story of Sham, the father of the modern thoroughbred, and the slave boy who believed in him. Gently written, but the facts of the tale are harrowing. The boy, his horse and his cat are regularly tossed out on the street by uncaring adults. I won't share the ending, but we found the boy's fate disturbing as well.
  • Owls in the Family
    by Farley Mowat
    A boy's adventures with two adopted owls: one orphaned and one abused.
  • Linnea in Monet's Garden
    by Cristina Bjork
    (This is technically fiction, but the fiction provides lots of information about Monet and about how an artist lives and works.) Young girl visits the places Monet lived and learns about how he translated his life into his paintings.

Featured fiction

  • Surviving the Applewhites
    by Stephanie S. Tolan
    Joyous, involving story about a family of stereotypically gifted but stereotypically self-involved Artistes and the stereotypically Troubled Youth who benefits by becoming swept up in their passionate pursuit of Art. Stephanie Tolan takes wonderful advantage of the fact that we all know the Sound of Music so well we can hear the music in our heads, and those stereotypical personality types move the story along efficiently and with great humor. The characters themselves know they are stereotypical; and their self-awareness is one of the things that saves them and the story.
    We particularly LOVED the way butterflies weave the various plot elements together.
    Excellent portrayal of the joys of homeschooling.
  • Dear Mr. Henshaw
    by Beverly Cleary
    A boy who aspires to become a writer learns about being a writer by writing to one.
    My ten year old daughter felt somewhat cheated by the author's technique of presenting all the letters to Mr. Henshaw and none of the letters from him. I, on the other hand, think Cleary moves the plot along quite nicely in this way. When, in the middle of the book, the correspondence shifts to being in a diary rather than an exchange of letters, my daughter responded much more positively.
    Anyway, we both got into the story of Leigh Botts, son of a newly-divorced trucker and a catering assistant.
    Wishing all those aspiring writers out there their own Mr. Henshaw!
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the book is pretty good), but the audio recording of the BBC Radio production is our favorite
    by Douglas Adams
    Once you read this, the number 42 will take on a whole new meaning for you. Boy is it sad that Douglas Adams is no longer with us.
  • Summerland
    by Michael Chabon
    Very long tribute to the magical powers of baseball to heal divisions between people and damage to the Earth. Intense enough so that my daughter, who is not exceptionally interested in baseball, kept having to check back with me to reassure herself that the story really would end in a satisfactory way (happily, that is). But also kept her intensely interested, and it gave her a new -- awe for -- the concept of the "Coyote".
  • The Midwife's Apprentice
    by Karen Cushman
  • The Wheel on the School
    by Meindert DeJong (Author), Maurice Sendak (Illustrator)
    The children of a Dutch fishing village try various strategies in order to find a wheel that they can put on the roof of their schoolhouse so they can attract storks that will bring them luck. Winner, 1955 Newbery Medal
  • The Twenty-One Balloons
    by William Pene du Bois
  • Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
    Written in 1916, it's the story of an orphan girl who adjusts to life on a Vermont farm.
  • Island of the Aunts
    by Eva Ibbotson
    Much less cutesy than Which Witch.
  • Pippi Longstocking
    by Astrid Ericsson Lindgren, Louis S. Glanzman (Illustrator), Florence Lamborn (Translator)
    Can't believe that my daughter was 9 years old before I remembered to remind her to read Pippi Longstocking. And then, she saw the cover and almost refused. So, cover the cover with its broadly comic, ugly picture of Pippi and just start them reading. My daughter was hooked the moment Pippi started explaining about how everyone in Egypt walks backwards all the time.
  • Anastasia Krupnik
    by Lois Lowry
    Life and loves of a ten year old aspiring poetess. Slighter than later Lois Lowry, but interesting to our nine year old.
  • Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
    I was not sure whether to be shocked or amazed at the outrage my daughter expressed when she realized that Menolly was forbidden to sing just because she was not a male. Guess gender bias has not held my daughter back as of yet. On the other hand, she LOVES this book.
  • Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey
    "Like Harry Potter, but better," says my daughter. "And, it's about a GIRL (Menolly by name) who goes to school to get better at something she's good at."
  • Dragondrums
    by Anne McCaffrey
    Menolly's friend Piemur (a boy) comes of age (confronts bullying and anti-intellectualism). Not as compelling as the previous two in the series, and beware the love scene at around page 238.
  • Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel
    A precocious bat and his adventures during a war between the bats and the birds. Kind of bleak and inconsistent -- the owls are allowed to kill birds but the bats aren't? But my 8 year old gets out of bed early on weekend mornings to keep on reading.
  • Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread
  • The Mirror of Merlin
    Fourth in a series about the childhood of Merlin. The bally mag is just a hoot.
  • A Single Shard
    by Linda Sue Park
    An orphan in 12th century Korea finds his calling as a celadon pottery maker. The hard lives of the people and the technology required to create this art are celebrated in this gentle book.
  • The Queen's Nose
    by Dick King-Smith
    Don't you always wonder why the person who gets the wishes doesn't just wish for extra wishes as the FIRST wish? Yes, Robin William's genii did rule that out in his statement of pre-conditions as announced to Aladin, but most other wish-granters don't bother. This is an involving contemporary account of a girl who is granted seven, more or less.
  • The Egypt Game,
    by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
    Realistic adventures of some children who think hard about their make-believe. The plot does involve a series of child murders, but these are not described in any detail.
  • Adam of the Road
    by Elizabeth Gray Vining
    Eleven year old boy walks the roads of medieval England searching for his father and his dog.
  • Dealing With Dragons
    by Patricia C. Wrede
    Highly politically correct fractured fairy tale about a princess who fashions a full life for herself even though she doesn't conform to the fairy tale standards for princesses. My daughter was very amused at the way the author alludes to fairy tale conventions and plots.
  • The Sword in the Stone
    by T.H. White
    My daughter recommends this version because of the gorgeous illustrations by Dennis Nolan
    A lovely, anachronism-intensive story of the childhood of King Arthur. After the first appearance of an anachronism -- is it the mention of "Red Indians" near page 5?, my daughter leapt upon other chronological inconsistencies. And, well, those last words -- daughter just roared with amusement. Any version of this book is recommended, but if you can, try to find this one and take a look at page 96, "'I could be a hawk in Hob's mews,' said the Wart stoutly." Soooo cute!
  • Mairelon the Magician
    by Patricia Wrede
    "Not as good as the Dealing With Dragons books," says my 9-year old. "But I love all the long words the author uses." (We read the first few chapters with the Oxford English Dictionary open on our laps, magnifying glass poised in our hands.) "And," my daughter continues, "I really, really like the way the characters use magic in the world she's built." The plot in this one is just a little too complicated for anyone to follow. But we are already searching for a copy of the sequel. In fact, dd is determined to work her way through every book Wrede has ever written.
  • Gone-Away Lake
    by Elizabeth Enright
    Newbery Award winning novel. Kind of spooky adventure in which almost nothing happens, but in an involving sort of way.

All book reviews for readers in this age group


jjj here I am in searchForBooksByAge conceptAge = 3 vocabAge = 3

140 books met your specifications:

TitleAuthorConceptual difficulty ageVocabulary difficulty ageGenreYear of publication

SummerlandMichael ChabonChildren 5 and underChildren 8 and upFantasy2002
 Very long tribute to the magical powers of baseball to heal divisions between people and damage to the Earth. Intense enough so that my daughter who is not exceptionally interested in baseball kept having to check back with me to reassure herself that the story really would end in a satisfactory way (happily, that is). It also kept her intensely interested, and it gave her a new -- awe for -- the concept of the "Coyote".  
  In context....

Dark Dreamweaver, The (Chronicles of Remin)Nick RuthChildren 5 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2007
 This is a COOL book. It is a story about a boy named David who meets a wizard cursed into the life cycle of a monarch butterfly. David has to help reverse the curse to save the little wizard's world, the dreamland of Remin.

There are many neat, zany characters who jump in to help throughout their long journey, which leads deep into the depths and mysterious places of this new world.


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  In context....

Molly Moon's Incredible Book of HypnotismGeorgia ByngChildren 5 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2003
 "Why don't they make books like THIS one into movies?," my 12 year old exclaimed. I was listening to this book on tape and dear daughter, who had read the book a few years earlier, was lured into listening.

Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism like Molly Moon's Hypnotic Time Travel Adventure, which we read a while back, narrates the story of Molly Moon, an orphan, and her best friend Rocky.
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  In context....

Ginger PyeEleanor EstesLearning to readChildren 8 and upfiction1952
 A brother and sister pick a dog, earn the money to buy him, raise him, and search for him for months when he is stolen.

Newbery Winner, 1952

My then-11 year-old guessed who the "Man In the Yellow Hat" was long, long before the siblings discovered the culprit. And, in fact, she became quite frustrated with the young protagonists as they searched for their dog in such a disorganized fashion.

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Adam of the RoadElizabeth Gray ViningChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, historical, medieval1942
 Eleven year old boy walks the roads of medieval England searching for his father and his dog. Newbery award winner
  In context....

Anastasia AgainLois LowryChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1979
 Anastasia is now 12, has a 2 year old, precocious brother, and has moved to the suburbs.
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Anastasia KrupnikLois LowryChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1979
 "Mom," my daughter said to me, in response to a very bad joke I told her. "Anastasia Krupnik is funny. Anastasia Again is funny too. That joke was not."
Life and loves of a ten year old aspiring poetess.

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Black and Blue MagicZilpha Keatly SnyderChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1966
 Twelve-year old boy learns to use and appreciate his gifts.
A soothsayer once told Harry that his was "... a rare gift, and his magic will be of a special kind."
Now, many years later, it is summer in San Francisco. It's possible that Harry has heard that same voice intone the words "The air is absolutely heavy with possibilities." Or maybe he dreamed them.
Because he performed a good deed, twelve-year old Harry (interesting name, isn't it? -- my daughter thought so!) receives a gift. As such gifts often do, this one is bestowed with limitations. Harry must never be caught displaying the gift "publicly" lest the giver of the gift be harmed.

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Boggart, TheSusan CooperChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction 
 After reading The Dark Is Rising, I never would have imagined that Susan Cooper was capable of writing a book in which all characters are not either entirely good or entirely evil. And yet, here we meet the Boggart, an Old Thing, whose purpose in the world is to play tricks on people. He never intentionally harms anyone, but he almost always acts impulsively and many of his actions result in chaos at best.

Accidentally exiled from his castle in Scotland, the poor Boggart discovers peanut butter and that playing around with electricity and streetcars in modern-day Toronto can lead to dire (unintended) consequences.

Even the gifts the Boggart bestows on his hosts, ten-year old computer nerd Jessup and his twelve-year old sister, Emily, cause terrific problems.


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  In context....

Bull RunPaul FleischmanChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1993
 A review by a 10 year old reader...

Bull Run is written weirdly. There are sixteen people's stories of the first battle of the civil war. The story switches from one person to the next for the whole book.


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Cart and CwidderDiana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction 
 There are just a few authors that my 12 year old and I trust implicitly.

After having raced through umpteen of her novels, we may have placed Diana Wynne Jones in that category. Sure, The Magicians of Caprona was kind of stupid.... But if you locked us in a library, with a short deadline in which to emerge with a book we were willing to read, it might very well be one by Diana Wynne Jones.

Cart and Cwidder is a light-weight but enjoyable and typical Diana Wynne Jones offering. There is the standard DWJ mother -- self-involved and mostly oblivious to even the most obvious danger to her children. There are the children whose future depends on their learning to take advantage of their gifts, innate and physical. In this case, the gifts are their ability to entertain, spin tales, and play the musical instruments left to them by their murdered father.
  In context....

Charlotte's WebE.B. WhiteChildren 8 and upChildren 5 and upfiction1952
 Updated Sept. 11, 2006:

My then-10 year old daughter fixed her eyes on me, eyes that implied that she'd just realized that a Truth had been withheld from her, and she was going to get to the bottom of it.

"So, Mom," she said, "It seems as if what a fiction book is about is not really what it's about. Is it?"

"Hmmm," I answered. "What you mean is that a story is not just about its plot. Sometimes, often, in fact, a story has a message and the message is conveyed by the plot, but also by the author's choices of words. The message is sometimes called the theme of the book. It's what the author wants you to learn from reading the book. It's why authors go to all the trouble of writing books."

Which brings us to Charlotte's Web. Charlotte's Web has long been a favorite of mine and my daughter enjoyed listening to it for a year or two when she was very young. But when dear daughter (dd) was around four, her best friend was diagnosed with a disease that was, at the time, almost always fatal. We happened at the time to be listening to the audio book version of Charlotte's Web as read by the author, E.B. White. So, there we are in the car, listening, and dd asks, "Is L. going to die?" I turn the tape player off and answer that I don't know. Dd says "I don't like Charlotte's Web. And what did Cinderella's mother die of?"

I explain that in those times long ago, nearly everyone was more likely to die but that women of childbearing age were particularly at risk. Dd asked, "So, are you going to die? Am I going to die?" ....

For years after that conversation, dd did not willingly read or listen to Charlotte's Web. I believe that this is because, more than any other children's book that I have read, Charlotte's Web is about death as a normal consequence of living. And, no, I'm not saying that children/people never die in books, but they die romantically as in At the Back Of the North Wind or they die unexpectedly young at the hands of Evil Doers or they die off-screen, like Cinderella's mother. (Dd's friend lives and thrives, thank goodness.)

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Cheaper By the DozenFrank B. GilbrethChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upnon-fiction1948
 
Skipping grades in school was part of Dad's master plan. There was no need, he said, for his children to be held back by a school system geared for children of simply average parents.

Dad made periodic surprise visits to our schools to find out if and when we were ready to skip. Because of his home-training program -- spelling games, geography quizzes, and the arithmetic and languages -- we sometimes were prepared to skip.

... The standard reward for skipping was a new bicycle.
My 12 year old loved almost everything about this true story about how a couple of pioneering efficiency experts raised their 12 children. Except the ending.

Although I tried to warn her about the ending by pointing out some of the foreshadowing and emphasizing that this is a true story, she was pretty much devastated by it.


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Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 1: Charmed Life / The Lives of Christopher Chant, The Diana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1988
 The books in this set are:
  • The Lives of Christopher Chant
  • Charmed Life
We actually read them in reverse order, and recommend that you do as well.

Charmed Life is the story of Cat and Gwendolen, brother and sister orphaned when their parents were drowned. Gwendolen seems to be a talented magician. And Cat -- well, not so much. Both are adopted, for reasons Cat finds difficult to understand, by a very powerful sorcerer, the Chrestomanci.

The Lives of Christopher Chant tells the exciting story of how Christopher Chant (barely) survived to become the Chrestomanci.

Both stories explore the problems of gifted children who are made to feel inferior because they are special.


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  In context....

Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 2, Book 1: The Magicians of Caprona Diana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2001
 The books in this set are:
  • Magicians of Caprona
  • Witch Week
After reading Volume 1 of the Chronicles of Chrestomanci -- Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant -- we were very eager to read the second volume.

But the first book in this volume, The Magicians of Caprona, a Chrestomanci-universe-based story with many similarities to Romeo and Juliet was a real disappointment.


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  In context....

Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 6: Conrad's Fate Diana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2005
 Either Diana Wynne Jones must have had a truly rocky relationship with her uncle, and found that her mother did not protect her from him, or else she's just got a thing against uncles. In any case, evil uncles are major drivers of plots in Jones' intriguing set of worlds, as Conrad Tesdinic, the 12 yr. old narrator of this book, learns. Conrad's uncle is every bit as evil in his own ways as Christopher Chant's (who becomes the Chrestomanci in Diana Wynne Jones' universe) was to him.

A 16 yr. old Christopher Chant and his future wife, Millie, play supporting roles in this, the eventful, but not frenetic story of how Conrad avoids the terrible fate his uncle attempts to foist upon him and instead finds himself a mentor.


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  In context....

Cottonmouth Club, TheLance MarcumChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2005
 Because The Cottonmouth Club is written in the first person, you know from the start that Mitch Valentine does not actually succeed in killing himself, no matter what stupid thing he gets dared into by his misguided friends and foolish choices.

And yet, here is another "boy book" in which a boy wreaks near-disaster time and time again because of his own willfulness and yet seems unable to stop himself from succumbing to peer pressure.


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Dark Is Rising, TheSusan CooperChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1999
 "I'm more patient with books that are pretty much just pure plot than you are," my 12 yr. old tells me.

Perhaps that's why she liked The Dark Is Rising more than I did.

The contest in The Dark Is Rising is simply good vs. evil. No one who is evil at the beginning of the book recants. No one who is (truly) good goes bad. In addition to the other gifts Will Stanton, seventh son of a seventh son, inherits comes the ability to tell, almost upon meeting someone, whether they are with the Light or with the Dark.
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  In context....

David and the PhoenixEdward OrmondroydChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1981
 My young daughter liked the ending, in which the phoenix does what phoenixes do. The friend who extolled this book to her also warned her that she found the ending horrifying.

Dealing With DragonsPatricia C. WredeChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, dragons, fairy tale1990
 Highly politically correct fractured fairy tale about a princess who fashions a full life for herself even though she doesn't conform to the fairy tale standards for princesses.
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  In context....

Dear Mr. HenshawBeverly ClearyChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1983
 A boy who aspires to become a writer learns about being a writer by writing to one.
My ten year old daughter felt somewhat cheated by the author's technique of presenting all the letters to Mr. Henshaw and none of the letters from him. I, on the other hand, think Cleary moves the plot along quite nicely in this way. When, in the middle of the book, the correspondence shifts to being in a diary rather than an exchange of letters, my daughter responded much more positively.

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Dragon RiderCornelia FunkeChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2004
 Lovely, gentle story about a community of fantastical creatures and a few humans who adventure together to discover a place in which to build a new life together.

One of the many delights:
The brownie named Sorrel lives to eat mushrooms. But when she doesn't like someone and calls him or her names, Sorrel uses the names of poisonous mushrooms as epithets. SO CUTE!!!


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DragonflyAlice McLerranChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2000
 Smoothly told tale of a group of people who band together to raise a dragon. Confronts the reality of "scientists who would intervene" without making them out to be evil.
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DragonhavenRobin McKinleyChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2007
 This book was very slow for a long time in the beginning, but good. It is from the perspective of a teenage boy who lives in our world, which, it seems, has dragons in it. A protected species, of course. I know that sounds very cheezy, but it is well put together, and a fun, quick read (except the beginning).
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  In context....

DragonsingerAnne McCaffreyChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, dragons1977
 "Like Harry Potter, but better," says my daughter. "And, it's about a GIRL (Menolly by name) who goes to school to get better at something she's good at."
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  In context....

DragonsongAnne McCaffreyChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, dragons1976
 I was not sure whether to be shocked or amazed at the outrage my daughter expressed when she realized that Menolly was forbidden to sing just because she was not a male. Guess gender bias has not held my daughter back as of yet. On the other hand, she LOVES this book.
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  In context....

Ear, The Eye, And The Arm, TheNancy FarmerChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1994
 In this Newbery Honor Book set in Zimbabwe in the year 2194, three siblings hurdle through a science fiction-y Africa and learn that even the most magical humans are not always honorable and even the most wicked exploiters can sometimes come through for you, but that family is family.
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EastEdith PattouChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, myth2003
 When my daughter chose to read East, we did not know it was based on the story collection called East of the Sun, West of the Moon (EOTSWOTM) and we had not read any of the Norwegian fairy tales in that beautiful collection.

We loved East, which describes in great detail, the life of Rose (called Karen in EOTSWOTM), who, like Beauty in Beauty and the Beast, comes to love the beast (in this case a white bear) who forces her to leave her home and loved ones.


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East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Twenty-One Norwegian Folk Tales Ingri & Edgar Parin d'AulaireChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, fairy tales1939
 Beautifully illustrated, interesting collection of Norwegian folk tales.
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  In context....

Edge Chronicles, ThePaul StewartChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2004
 The Edge Chronicles is an interesting series for advanced young readers.

They are for-real chapter books set in a very odd post-apocalyptic time/place, but they include very interesting pen drawings on nearly every page. The only downside to them is that there is a great deal of violence and death throughout, including deaths of very prominent characters.


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  In context....

Egypt GameZilpha Keatly SnyderChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, magic1967
 Realistic adventures of some children who think hard about their make-believe. The plot does involve a series of child murders, but these are not described in any detail.
  In context....

EragonChristopher PaoliniChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2003
 Involving dungeons and dragons style story, with dragons of the Anne McCaffery model. (You know, the inhabitant of the egg becomes impressed on a single special human. They grow up together and have adventures.)
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Freak the MightyRodman PhilbrickChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1993
 When I was young and feeling lonely, isolated, ridiculed by my fellow students, my father, one of those hugely gifted people who thrives with little interaction with other people because he is constantly obsessed by projects of his own, would suggest that I reach out to "other lonely children" and make friends with them. I never really found that forging alliances with other "outcasts" made me feel better when those in the "In Group" made fun of my clothes, hair, etc. Freak the Mighty is one of those novels in which the alliance of the weak prevails.

And, Sad Ending Alert. The foreshadowing is quite subtle, so it might come as a shock to young readers.


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From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. FrankweilerE.L. KonigsburgChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1964
 A girl and her brother run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. A how-to, although I suspect kids would not be able to get away with this in this day and age.
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Gone-Away LakeElizabeth EnrightChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1957
 Newbury Award winning novel. Kind of spooky adventure in which almost nothing happens but in an involving sort of way.
  In context....

Hat Full of Sky, ATerry PratchettChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2005
 A Hat Full of Sky is the sequel to the Wee Free Men. It is about an eleven-year old girl named Tiffany Aching, who is training to be a witch, and the Nac-Mac-Feegle (Wee Free Men), who are fairies (but do NOT call them that unless you want to be seriously injured).

Tiffany is a very unusual witch, because she's from the Chalk Land. In fact, Tiffany is actually the ONLY official witch of the Chalk. She is also the Hag of the Chalk Land, which means that it is her job to protect the Chalk. (She tells it what it is; it tells her what she is.)

When something evil comes to the Chalk, Tiffany has to make it go away.

-- Fizzy, age 11


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Hidden Treasure of Glaston, TheEleanor M. JewettChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, historical1946
 Gentle tale of Hugh, whose family is caught up terrible violence, and who is sheltered and healed in the monastery at Glastonbury during the reign of Henry II of England.
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  In context....

HootCarl HiaasenChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2002
 Smoothly written story of a young man whose family relocates to Florida. He becomes involved with two other teens attempting to save a colony of burrowing owls whose nesting area is threatened by hard-hearted developers.

My then-10 year old loved this story so much that she insisted we go see the movie as a family. Which turned into a nine hour ordeal, long story, but the movie was/is not playing in many places. The book is much, much better than the movie. Perhaps that's not saying much, though ...


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Howl's Moving CastleDiana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2001
 A cheerful, easy to read, but very complicated, backwards fairy tale, in which the protagonist is the oldest of three stepsisters. Nearly every character in this story, major and minor, wears at least one or two disguises. In some cases, the disguise is of his or her own choosing, but not always.
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  In context....

I, RobotIsaac AsimovChildren 8 and upChildren 12 and upScience fiction1950
 One of the milestones of science fiction. The three rules of robotics are still relevant today.

In Search Of MockingbirdLoretta EllsworthChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2007
 This is a book about a girl who spends three days on a bus to visit Harper Lee, the author of "To Kill A Mockingbird". Her mom died when she was a baby, and Erin, who is exactly sixteen, just wants to know her mother before her father re-marries.

When she discovers that Mockingbird was her mother's favorite book, (it's her favorite too), Erin decides to make a pilgrimage from her home in Minnesota to Lee's in Alabama on a Greyhound bus.

On her journey, Erin meets many interesting people who cheer her on and help her to discover herself.

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Invention of Hugo Cabret, TheBrian SelznickChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2007
 At the advanced age of 12, and although my precocious reader loves reading chapter books, she still misses having pictures in her books.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret solves this problem. A Dickensian fairy tale, told in words and beautiful, complicated charcoal drawings, Hugo Cabret tells the story of the rediscovery of a silent film director and a young boy in Paris of the early 1930s.


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Island of the Aunts (note: this book is also called Monster Mission)Eva IbbotsonChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, magic2000
 Much less cutesy than Which Witch. In-depth descriptions of the care and feeding of many interesting mythological creatures.
  In context....

Johnny TremainEsther ForbesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1943
 I read Johnny Tremain with my class. It is a good book about a boy named Johnny Tremain. He is living in the time of the revolutionary war. In the book Johnny learns many things. This book has a sad ending. I like it because it is interesting plus it has a lot of true historical facts. Fizzy, age 9

Journey To the Centre of the EarthJules VerneChildren 8 and upChildren 12 and upfiction1864
 A perfect novel for science geeks of all ages.

Brilliant geologist and his apprentice/nephew discover, de-crypt, and then, with their imperturbable guide Hans, follow the directions in a Renaissance manuscript that describes how they can travel to the center of the Earth.

My 12 year old warns that the "old-fashioned" language might be off-putting to some, but that the story is so involving that it pulls you along. For young readers, you might want to start by reading the story aloud, or listening to the audio book.

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  In context....

Jungle Book, TheRudyard KiplingChildren 8 and upSophisticated readersfiction1894
 "At this point, reading pretty much any book is very easy for me. So what's important to me is how the book is written and what it's about," my 11 year old said to me recently.

"Then what about The Jungle Book? Did you find that easy to read?"

"Well, no, actually. It was very hard. But beautiful."

Rudyard Kipling's century-old story may be the perfect book for advanced but very young readers to tackle. The plot is involving, the characters -- people and animals -- think and act like individuals you might have met. But what's truly captivating about the book is the language Kipling uses.

My daughter's only misgiving about the book: It's clear that Kipling does not hold monkeys in high regard. Unlike people who do not even know of the Law of the Jungle, monkeys know of the Law, but refuse to submit to it. Monkeys are dear daughter's favorite animals. She will need to write her own book, in which they state their reasons for their recalcitrance.

In terms of the monkeys and the plot in general, it turns out that Disney's animated movie, Jungle Book, stays pretty close to the original book. And it's got some wonderful music and voices as well. Too bad I won't be recommending anything Disney for the next year or so.

Anyway, this book is better than any movie.

The hardcover to which this review links also includes the stirring story of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, a very brave little mongoose.

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King of the WindMarguerite HenryChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upnon-fiction: animals1948
 Newbery award-winning story of Sham, the father of the modern thoroughbred, and the slave boy who believed in him.
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Last Olympian, The (Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book 5)Rick RiordanChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2009
 A great ending to a great series, which is about a kid named Percy who discovers he's the son of Poseidon (the ancient Greek sea god) and that all of the "mythology" he learned in school is real.
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Lightning Thief, TheRick RiordanChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2005
 Learning that he's the son of a Greek god clarifies some things for contemporary 12 year old Percy.

High concept, but not as stirring in its execution as I'd expected.


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Linnea in Monet's GardenCristina BjorkChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, historical/art1987
 Young girl visits the places Monet lived and learns about how he translated his life into his paintings.
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Mairelon the MagicianPatricia C. WredeChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, magic1991
 My daughter says, "I really, really like the way the characters use magic in the world the author has built."
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Maniac MageeJerry SpinelliChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1990
 Modern day tall tale, beautifully written by Jerry Spinelli, whose Stargirl we also loved.

Maniac's athletic gifts and personal fortitude give him entree behind the window curtains of many homes in his small Pennsylvania town, where he is privileged to share meals and experiences with old and young, black and white, humans and zoo animals.

Maniac re-pays the kindness of strangers by helping to bridge, although not heal, the town's racial divide.

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Merlin Conspiracy, TheDiana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2003
 Once, one of my daughters was interviewed for an article about gifted children. "Sheesh," she sighed when she got off the phone. "People don't realize that just because a person is smart, that doesn't mean that she knows everything. We still need to learn things and learn how to do things."

Diana Wynne Jones is one author who understands that many children have the potential to be great wizards, but they need guidance or they can go wrong. And although they are able to teach themselves many things, in order to reach their full potential, they often crave time with mentors.

In The Merlin Conspiracy, we meet three potentially great wizards. Roddy and Grundo are children of the royal court of Blest. Roddy is the daughter and granddaughter of wizards; her grandfather in particular is dauntingly illustrious. Grundo is the scion of a single (evil) mother. Roddy babies Grundo because of his learning disabilities; could it be that she coddles him too much? In another universe, Nick Mallory longs to learn from Romanov, a wizard who was hired to kill him, but who decided to let him go. But everything Nick does seems to harm Romanov rather than ingratiate him. The Merlin Conspiracy is the story of how all three get to know each other and find ways of getting educated about their worlds in an organized way.
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Mirror of MerlinT. A. BarronChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upKing Arthur1999
 Fourth in a series about the childhood of Merlin. The bally mag is just a hoot.
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Mister Monday (Book 1 of the Keys to the Kingdom Series)Garth NixChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2003
 Creepy, kind of random horror story, featuring an asthmatic protagonist.
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Molly Moon's Hypnotic Time Travel Adventure (Book 3)Georgia ByngChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2005
 We had not read the first two books of this series when we read this one, and that was not a problem. Apparently, earlier in the series, Molly Moon escapes from the dreary orphanage in which she is confined by becoming a master hypnotist and defeating her uncle, who is an evil madman.

In this episode, Molly must learn to travel through time so she can rescue her beloved dog, Petula, her friends Forest and Rocky, and her earlier selves, all of whom have been kidnapped from the present to India in the 1870s.

The plot is twisty and interesting and Molly is a wonderful role model for gifted children. She has obviously had to work hard to learn to be a great hypnotist in previous books. Now that Molly is possibly the best hypnotist in the world, there are still other challenging skills she needs to work hard to learn. Skills that some adults around her have mastered and other adults are just adequate at doing. Time-travel for one.

Another endearing trait that Molly has is that she is very aware both of her great abilities and of her shortcomings. The all-knowing narrator of the book takes especial care to let us know what Molly is thinking when she masters her self-doubts, carefully thinks through her options, and then puts her all into implementing whatever solution she thinks will work best.


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More Adventures of the Great BrainJohn D. FitzgeraldChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upbiographical1969
 Second volume in the first person series of one of three Catholic brothers growing up in turn of the century Mormon Utah.
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My Side of the MountainJean Craighead GeorgeChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1959
 reviewed by Jennifer Dees

I've just finished reading one of my old favorites to my daughter, and it occurs to me that it's a very good book for homeschooled kids. The book is "My Side of the Mountain", by Jean Craighead George (1959). I vividly remember that I cherished this book at about 8 or 9 years old, little pioneer girl that I was. We lived "out in the country", with woods bordering our 10 acres, and I spent many a happy hour out in the woods, in my own world, imagining myself an adventurer from some time past, probably as a male protagonist (they had all the fun; the feminist revolution hadn't hit our small town yet).

My daughter's well into chapter books but this one's a little long and deep for her, but when I saw it in the library I couldn't wait. I read a lot to her when I can find a break in her own reading. I knew this was one we would enjoy together, and we did.


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Nine Lives of Aristotle, TheDick King-SmithChildren 8 and upLearning to readfiction2003
 Cat barrels through eight of his nine lives and finally settles down.
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Nobody's PrincessEsther FriesnerChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2007
 Kinda cute... the princess doesn't want to be girly, but wants to learn to fight and hunt and other things that only boys are allowed to do. The book is about Helen of Sparta before she was queen or beautiful.
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Number Devil, TheAndrew RichChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upeducational fiction1997
 I absolutely love the book, Andrew Rich, a young reader, tells us, "I absolutely love the book, The Number Devil : A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Rotraut Susanne Berner (Illustrator), Michael Henry Heim (Translator). I'm learning so much from it. It starts out easy, but then it's really big and new and hard!!!"

There's also a DVD:

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Ogre Downstairs, The Diana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1991
 A magical chemistry set unites the five children in a newly-blended family, and, eventually, helps three of them learn to respect and trust their new father, who is big and loud enough to be an ogre.
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Owls in the FamilyFarley MowatChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upbiographical1961
 A boy's adventures with two adopted owls: one orphaned and one abused.

Pearl, TheJohn SteinbeckChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1947
 A review by a 10 year old reader...

WARNING: Plot spoilers in the long description.

The Pearl is a very sad book. Too sad for me. It shows you what greed can do to people. Which in Kino's case causes a lot of death and misery. I didn't like The Pearl very much.


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People of Sparks, The (Books of Ember) Jeanne DuprauChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction 
 This is a story about a city of people who escaped underground while humans basically destroyed themselves with war... In the prequel the people from the underground city of Ember emerge into what seems like an empty world of sunlight. But in this book, they find a village that attempts to adopt them. In the end there is almost another war, because some of the people are just cruel.
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Peter and the StarcatchersDave BarryChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2004
 This great book may seem a little silly at first while you read it, but it's an exciting story anyway. In fact both my parents and my uncle liked it just as much as I did.

It starts as an orphan boy, Peter, (who doesn't know his last name or even how old he is), and his four friends: James, Thomas, Prentiss, and Tubby Ted are in an old smelly wagon cart on their way to a ship called the Neverland, being shipped into their adventures.

On the Neverland Peter meets a girl named Molly, (who he thinks is VERY pretty) who needs his help protecting the magical trunk the Neverland has on board. Peter doesn't hesitate in saying yes. During their voyage, they are being followed by the wickedest pirate on the seven seas, Black Stache, who is after their ship and its mysterious cargo.

In this prequel to Peter Pan, you discover how the pirates, the mermaids, the flying, the croc, and all the other puzzles of Peter Pan came to be (according to Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson).

I liked this book very much, and I feel that it does a good job of explaining how Peter Pan became Peter Pan. This book could appeal to anyone from 8 years old to full grown adults, especially if they like the story of Peter Pan.

--Fizzy, age 12


Pilgrim At Tinker CreekAnnie DillardChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upnon-fiction1974
 I have always been squeamish.

And yet, Annie Dillard's beautiful yet clear-eyed vignettes about the resplendence and horrors of the natural world captivate me.


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Pinhoe Egg, The: A Chrestomanci Book Diana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2006
 In this, the latest episode in the life of Cat Chant, Cat has truly settled in to preparing for his future. The story reveals that he has come far in his apprenticeship to Christopher Chant, (the current Chrestomanci -- Chief Enchanter) and his family.

Cat has learned how to learn from a very gifted nine-lived enchanter who is (obviously) very talented, but possibly not as talented as Cat is. Throughout the book, Cat works on identifying skills Chrestomanci has that Cat still needs to learn, on when to solve problems on his own and when to call for help, and on how and when to intervene in the lives of the less gifted inhabitants of the universes he is destined to govern.

Like the plots of many other stories in the Chrestomanci series, the plot of this novel explores the problems of a gifted child (in this case a girl) who is made to feel inferior because she is special.

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Pippi LongstockingAstrid Ericsson LindgrenChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1950
 My daughter was hooked the moment Pippi started explaining about how everyone in Egypt walks backwards all the time.
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Princess AcademyShannon HaleChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, science fiction2005
 Nifty re-thinking of the Cinderella story.
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Prophet of Yonwood, The (Books of Ember) Jeanne DuprauChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2006
 Very preachy and had a LOT of people blindly following orders, which bothered me. The book was written as if the reader was like five, which also bothered me.
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Queen's NoseDick King-SmithChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, magic1983
 Involving contemporary account of a girl who is granted seven! wishes, more or less.
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SilverwingKenneth OppelChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1997
 A precocious bat and his adventures during a war between the bats and the birds.
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Single Shard, A Linda Sue ParkChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, other cultures2001
 An orphan in 12th century Korea finds his calling as a celadon pottery maker. The hard lives of the people and the technology required to create this art are celebrated in this gentle book. Newbery Medal winner.
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Song of the GargoyleZilpha Keatly SnyderChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1991
 Working class fairy tale
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Surviving the ApplewhitesStephanie S. TolanChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2002
 Joyous, involving story about a family of stereotypically gifted but stereotypically self-involved Artistes and the stereotypically Troubled Youth who benefits by becoming swept up in their passionate pursuit of Art.
Stephanie Tolan takes wonderful advantage of the fact that we all know the Sound of Music so well we can hear the music in our heads, and those stereotypical personality types move the story along efficiently and with great humor. The characters themselves know they are stereotypical; and their self-awareness is one of the things that saves them and the story. Not a great book, but one we are very glad to have read.
We particularly LOVED the way butterflies weave the various plot elements together.
Excellent portrayal of the joys of homeschooling.

-- Emily Berk
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Tarantula in My Purse and 172 Other Wild Pets, TheJean Craighead GeorgeChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upnon-fiction1996
 The perfect book for the young reader who wants to adopt every stray creature he or she sees.

In this non-fiction collection, Jean Craighead Geoge, author of My Side of the Mountain, describes the many wild animals she and members of her family have adopted over many years, their adventures and how they fared in captivity, and (for most), how they came to be released.


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Thief Lord, TheCornelia FunkeChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2002
 This interestingly imagined story describes how a group of children and a pair of carefully chosen adults build a community in the magical city of Venice.
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Twenty-One Balloons, TheWilliam Pene du BoisChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upScience fiction1947
 Technologist/balloonist discovers an island on which a group of very special folks have isolated themselves.

Winner, 1948 Newbery Medal


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Understood BetsyDorothy Canfield FisherChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, historical1916
 Written in 1916, it's the story of an orphan girl who adjusts to life on a Vermont farm.
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Velvet Room, TheZilpha Keatly SnyderChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, history1965
 Gentle but involving story about young girl whose family has lost its farm, but not its love, principles, or dignity, in California in the Great Depression. One of the notable and wonderful things about this novel is that most of the adults, and most of the children, consistently act in honorable and thoughtful ways. The plot is driven principally by the harsh circumstances of the times.
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View From SaturdayE.L. KonigsburgChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1996
 Motley group of gifted kids learn about each other and to work together to win a contest, aided by an inspiring teacher.
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Warm Place, TheNancy FarmerChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1996
 Gentle tale of a young giraffe who is stolen away from her home and marshals a multi-species group of friends to help her find her way home.

As in other Nancy Farmer stories, many of the bad guys in this tale are space aliens.


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Wee Free Men, TheTerry PratchettChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2003
 The Wee Free Men is a very enjoyable book about a nine year old girl named Tiffany Aching and her unexpected friends, the Nac Mac Feegle. I liked this book VERY much and it was fun to read. It is wacky in a normal way.

Tiffany lives on a farm peacefully if not a bit bored-ly until she meets the Feegles, and together they have to save the day.


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Wheel on the School, TheMeindert DeJongChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upFiction1955
 The children of a Dutch fishing village try various strategies in order to find a wheel that they can put on the roof of their schoolhouse so they can attract storks that will bring them luck. Winner, 1955 Newbery Medal
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Wild RobertDiana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2003
 A girl whose family manages a historic castle in England summons a witch, Robert, who was buried 350 years earlier. Although Robert's behavior is impulsive and assertive, he usually has reasons for enchantments.
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WintersmithTerry PratchettChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2006
 Sometimes a precocious person uses her gifts in a way that have dire consequences. Whether or not the harm was intentional, that person should take responsibility for the problems she creates and try to resolve them.

Early in this tale, Tiffany Aching, a very mature and gifted if reluctant witch, makes the awful mistake of arousing the romantic attention of the Wintersmith (God of Winter), and nearly simultaneously but through no fault of her own, loses her teacher and home.

Wintersmith is the story of how Tiffany:
  • Rectifies (with the "help" of her silly blue friends the Nac Mac Feegle and her not-quite-as-silly boy?friend, Roland) the wrong she's done,
  • Learns to fit back into her home, and
  • Comes to appreciate, understand, and learn from other mentors.


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Witch WeekDiana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2001
 Many of the stories in Wynne Jone's Chrestomanci series explore the problems of gifted children who are made to feel inferior or taken advantage of because they are special. This happens to the protagonists of The Lives of Christopher Chant and Charmed Life, for example.

But in the society evoked in Witch Week, anyone identified as a witch is burned at the stake. Which puts the students at the Larwood House School, all of whom are orphaned because of a family connection to witchcraft, in a desperate position. Many of them know they are witches. And although it's exhiliarating to know that one has great power, they know from experience that the penalty for getting caught, or worse, being turned in by one's peers, is death by fire.

Spoilers below...












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With Every Drop of BloodJames and Christopher CollierChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1997
 A review by a 10 year old reader...

I liked With Every Drop of Blood, but it was sad. I never have understood how people thought they were better, and smarter, and deserved a better life than black people just because they looked different.

There were two main characters: Johnny and Cush. Johnny is a white kid whose dad got killed in the civil war. When his dad died he left Johnny, his mom and his two younger siblings Sam and Sarah alone. They needed food and money (and Johnny wanted to revenge his dad's death) so Johnny went teamstering food in a wagon for the rebel soldiers.


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Wright 3, TheBlue BalliettChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2006
 My teacher gave me Wright 3 because I liked its prequel, Chasing Vermeer sooo much. I read The Wright Three in a day -- It is one of those books where you can't stop reading because no matter where you are in the book, you're always at a spot where it's too exciting to stop. (I remember when we were reading Chasing Vermeer in class and my teacher had to confiscate my friend's book because she was too far ahead and wouldn't stop reading.)

Wright 3 is about three kids named Calder, Petra, and Tommy. Petra and Tommy at first don't like each-other but are both friends with Calder. They have to work together to save the Robie House, a historical house in their neighborhood that has lots of secrets.


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Al Capone Does My ShirtsGennifer CholdenkoChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, autism2004
 Some books are of their times. This book takes place at Alcatraz prison in the 1930s but is very much a reflection of contemporary culture.

The first-person narrator is a boy whose family moves to Alcatraz so that his sister may apply to a school for autistic children near San Francisco.

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Criss CrossLynne Rae PerkinsChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2005
 Newbury-award winning novel. Each chapters unfolds from within the consciousness of a different young person in a group of young teens. It certainly is -- interesting.

One thing that's weird, though. Is that when you are always INSIDE the brains of the characters, it's hard to always keep track of what's actually happening to whom and/or whose brain you are inhabiting, even if it says so right at the beginning of the chapter. Not to mention that, once the novel is over, you still have no idea what the characters look like.


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Deep WizardryDiane DuaneChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1985
 My daughter and I read A Wizard Abroad first (the fourth book in the So You Want To Be A Wizard series), and then we read So You Want To Be A Wizard, the first book in the series.

Both stress the responsibilities and hazards of having great power. Both climax in a to-the-death battle between Good and Evil. And So You Want ..., much to the dismay of my daughter, proclaims the theme that self-sacrifice to the death is deemed a worthy and necessary outcome in certain extenuating circumstances. And that it might happen to a friend of yours. Perhaps because you need them to make that sacrifice. This is not a theme that my daughter much likes.


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DogsbodyDiana Wynne JonesChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1975
 There are just a few authors that my 12 year old and I trust implicitly.

After having raced through umpteen of her novels, we may have placed Diana Wynne Jones in that category. Sure, The Magicians of Caprona was kind of stupid.... But if you locked us in a library, with a short deadline in which to emerge with a book we were willing to read, it might very well be one by Diana Wynne Jones.

Dogsbody pre-dates the Chrestomanci stories; it's a bit more science fiction than Jones' usual fantasy. The characters and plot -- Cinderella meets Puss (or, in this case, Dog) in Boots -- are very appealing.

The story is told mostly from the point of view of a high Illuminancy, Sirius, who, because he lost his temper and (apparently) killed someone, is exiled to Earth in the body of a new-born puppy. As Sirius learns how to survive as a dog, while solving the mystery of how he was framed, we also learn a bit about the Troubles in Northern Ireland and about how controling our impulses can help us get what we need/want.
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Dr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeRobert Louis StevensonChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upFiction1886
 Okay, this is a BIT of a spoiler, but I knew this when I read the book, and it was just as exciting:

This book is about a man who discovers how to switch from his evil self to his good one, purposefully. It is Gothic (creepy and mysterious), and very exciting.

It is only about 100 pages long, and so the suspense is kept up through the entire book until the end. Stevenson's language is very chilling. This quote gives you a great sense of the style that the whole story is written in: [they heard a] "dismal screech, as of mere animal terror."

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Dragon's MilkSusan FletcherChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1989
 I enjoyed reading Dragon's Milk. It's about a girl who is different from everybody else in her little town. Kaeldra has to get milk from a dragon so that her foster-sister won't die. And that's how Kaeldra's adventure starts.

I was upset with the end of the book because it was sad but I'm still going to read the other books in the series.

-- Fizzy, age 11


DragondrumsAnne McCaffreyChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, dragons1979
 Menolly's friend Piemur (a boy) comes of age (confronts bullying and anti-intellectualism).
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Elegant Universe, The: Superstrings, hidden dimensions and the quest for the ultimate theoryBrian GreeneChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upNon-fiction1999
 After reading Greene's descriptions of the theory of relativity and why objects in motion get heavier and time slows down, we actually thought we understood it, for a fleeting moment, at least.
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elsewhereGabrielle ZevinChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2005
 Poor Liz Hall, she is killed in a hit-and-run car crash when she is only 15, and when she wakes up, she's on a ship traveling to Elsewhere, the world after death.

On the ship she meets the 6 year old captain who explains that once you die you go to Elsewhere and live backwards until you're a baby, then you sail back to Earth to begin a new life.

Also on the ship, Liz meets a dead superstar and another girl named Thandi who's around Liz's age, with whom she becomes friends. Everyone else on the ship is an old person.

At first in Elsewhere, Liz is angry and upset that her life had to end when she wasn't even 16 yet. She never got to fall in love or learn to drive, or anything!

But as her backwards life progresses, Liz meets a boy named Owen Welles, and she starts to feel like she could enjoy her not-life.

This book is not adventure-packed like some books, but it is in the mind of a girl, and with her you go through all her problems, like a boyfriend, a dog, sadness, happiness, and other things that a teenager girl would go through.

I enjoyed this book very much, because you really get to know the characters and the thoughts of Liz sound like what she'd actually think. This is a new version of what happens after life that I've never heard before, and I think that it's very interesting.

Before my parents let me read this they were worried that it would be too scary for me, Liz being dead and all, but it isn't like that at all. The book is somewhat sad and dreary in the beginning but it's not like it would give nightmares or something bad like that. This book really put new thoughts in my mind, new thoughts that weren't bad.

I recommend this book for maybe 6th or 7th graders and up, even though I read it at a somewhat younger age.

--Fizzy, age 12

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Eyes of the Dragon, TheStephen KingChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1987
 According to the blurb, Stephen King wrote this book because his 14 yr. old daughter could not read his other books.

I got this book because I'm not a fan of horror, but wanted a chance to read a book by Stephen King.

It is not a book I'd recommend to a child; I found it CREEPY, perhaps not in a horror-ish way, but creepy nevertheless.


Flight of the Dragon KynSusan FletcherChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1997
 I liked Flight of the Dragon Kyn better than Dragon's Milk because it is not as depressing. There is some tragic violence in this pre-quel, though.

Flight of the Dragon Kyn tells the story of a girl named Kara who can call birds down. The people in her village don't like her or her gift; When she was very little she came down with a deadly sickness and they left her in a cave for dead. When she came back to them, her eyes had turned from blue to green.

Some villagers claimed that a dragon gave her its milk and that that's why she had changed.

When Kara gets older, she is taken away to call down dragons for the king. Kara realizes that she and her gifts are being used to commit great evil. What is she to do  -- Fizzy, age 11

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FlippedWendelin Van DraanenChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction 
 This is a cool book because we get to see the same turn of events from two very different perspectives. It is about two neighbors, a girl and a boy, who switch off hating each other and being in love.
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Girl Named Disaster, ANancy FarmerChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1996
 1997 Newbery Honor book. First person account of how a gifted Mozambiquen girl orphan survives and forges families -- with baboons, scientists, and her own kin -- for herself during a harrowing trip through the South African wilderness. Nhamo, the girl, must use all that she knows -- which foods to eat, what happens when the seasons change; how to consult/appease her spirit guardians -- to survive on her own on her long trek.

A lovely, interesting, intense survival story.


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GossamerLois LowryChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2006
 Delicate story about how the community of ideas and the community of people can cooperate to save a ravaged young life.
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Great Brain, The John D. FitzgeraldChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upbiographical1967
 First person story of one of three Catholic brothers growing up in turn of the century Mormon Utah.
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Harriet the SpyLouise FitzhughChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upFiction, girl heroine1964
 My daughter initially resisted reading this book because the movie made such an awful impression on her. But she really enjoyed this story of a girl who "wants to know EVERYTHING" and gets into deep trouble for writing down what she knows.
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Higher Power of Lucky,TheSusan PatronChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upFiction2006
 As a lover of fairy tales, it was probably impossible for me not to love reading this sophisticated story, simply told, which pretty much turns every fairy tale convention on end:
  • When my younger daughter was around 3, she was obsessed with learning how Cinderella's mother had died. In this story, we learn within the first few pages that our heroine's mother died when she was struck by lightening.
  • In many fairy tales, the heroine's name has to do with her physical appearance. In this story, the heroine's name has to do with her fate.
  • Most fairy tales abound in generalities and their language is very simple, even bland. Some groups are pushing to ban this Newbery Award winner because the word "scrotum" appears on its first page.
  • In many fairy tales, the stepmother serves as villain. In this story, the heroine's father's first wife comes to Lucky's rescue -- she raises her after her "real" mother has died.
  • In many fairy tales, the protagonist leaves home to seek his (it IS usually his) fortune. In this story, Lucky runs away from home, only to realize that she belongs with her stepmother.
And yet, The Higher Power of Lucky is a fairy tale, albeit a new-fangled one.

A good one as well.
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Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyDouglas AdamsChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upScience fiction1980
 The book is pretty good but the audio recording of the BBC Radio production is our favorite. Once you read this the number 42 will take on a whole new meaning for you. Boy is it sad that Douglas Adams is no longer with us.
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Invention of Air, TheSteven JohnsonChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upNon-fiction2008
 A lovely biography of Joseph Priestley, a scientist, theologian, and political thinker.

In these days when we are trying, finally, to get the politics out of science, this book argues that the reverse, having scientists care about politics is deeply ingrained in the fabric of the United States and Britain. Not that kings and princes always wish it so.

Note to sensitive readers: Priestley's experiments often involved the use of live animals and plants, some of which died in the absence of oxygen.


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Just EllaMargaret Peterson Haddix and Rene MilotChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1999
 Just Ella explains what happened to Cinder-Ella after her first happily ever after. She finds out that Prince Charming is not what she wants, but she has to find a way out of marrying him.

Ella doesn't like the palace either, it's too stuffy, but she does manage to make some good friends who end up saving her from a life of for ever just looking pretty and sewing all day long.

I liked this book; it was a don't-put-down-'til-you've- read-it-all book (To me, at least).

--Fizzy, age 11



Last Dragon, TheSilvana De MariChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, fairy tale2006
 A beautiful and gentle but very sad fairy tale for children about xenophobia, ethnic cleansing, forced communal farming, vegetarianism (and its limitations), witch hunts, forgiveness, sacrifice, and the difference between selfishness and self preservation. My very sensitive 12 yr. old loved this story and encouraged me to listen to it on audio CD.

The story is so intense that if Trish Connolly, the reader, were not so compelling, there were many points at which I would have stopped. No way I could read this story -- I'd have been crying too hard.

The Last Dragon is the story of Yorsh, a young elf who is taken in by two humans when all the other elves have been exterminated by the humans of Daligar. (The elves, as everyone knows, were responsible for all evil and misfortune in the world, including the terrible rainy weather and resulting floods. After all, there must always be someone to blame.) The humans who shelter Yorsh despite the peril to their lives learn to love and appreciate his special gifts. And Yorsh comes to know that not all humans are murderers and thieves.


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Love, StargirlJerry SpinelliChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2007
 It had been one of those errand-intensive Saturdays. On the way home after much driving, with groceries in the car, my 13 yr. old said, in a studiously casual way, "Hey Mom, you know the sequel to Stargirl is out." One of the pathetic things about us is that we forget our own phone numbers, but know by heart the precise coordinates of every bookstore and/or library in our current vicinity (where ever in the world that might be) and their hours. We checked Love, Stargirl out of the library within 15 minutes.

If you have a gifted child, particularly a girl, who is about to enter high school, or who is already in high school, and who has not already read Jerry Spinelli's amazing novel about the glory and the pain of being orders of magnitude different from one's peers, go now and read Stargirl. And then hand it to the child.

Love, Stargirl, which takes the form of a letter that Stargirl writes to the boyfriend who was insufficiently tolerant of her uniqueness, is not really a sequel that can be fully appreciated unless one has already read Stargirl. In her letter, Stargirl describes the process by which she rediscovers her joy in creatively reaching out to others.
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Me and My Little Brain John D. FitzgeraldChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upbiographical1967
 First person story of one of three Catholic brothers growing up in turn of the century Mormon Utah.

Warning: Each book in this series veers broadly from (usually) a very cheerful first few chapters, in which the happy life of the narrator's family is depicted to subsequent harrowing chapters in which death, danger, and/or permanent dismemberment often occurs. The books usually resolve relatively pleasantly, but my daughter had difficulty sleeping after reading some chapters. (Although she always insists on getting the next book in the series.)


  In context....

Millicent Min, Girl GeniusLisa YeeChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2003
 A must-read for gifted girls, especially those in middle school or grade-skipped into high school.

Eleven-year old Millicent Min will be a senior in high school in the fall, but at the beginning of the summer we read about, she is teacher's pet in a community college poetry class and students ranging in age from high school age through college take advantage of her as a tutor but don't treat her as a friend. "Sooo sad!", my 10 year old sighs, empathetically.

Lisa Yee claims to not have skipped five grades in school, but she certainly understands what many of the issues that might confront a sensitive, gifted, 11-year old high school senior might be.

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Mozart SeasonVirginia Euwer WolffChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, girl heroine1991
 The Mozart Season is the story, told in the first person, of a young girl who comes to understand, deeply understand, the depths of good and evil in the world. This coming-of-age novel describes the process by which Allegra comes to cherish the eccentricities of her grandmother, (who is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor), her mother's brilliant best friend (who lost her child and her equanimity in a dreadful accident), a street person (Mr. Trouble, who lost his brain to lead poisoning and his quality of life to an indifferent system), and Mozart's Fourth Concerto.
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NationTerry PratchettChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2008
 My daughter has been censoring my reading lately. She refuses outright to allow me to read certain books, like Brisingr, the third book in the Eragon series and Inkdeath, the third book in the Inkheart series.

As for Nation.... "You won't like this book," my daughter said as she handed it to me. She meant that SHE did not like this book. "I usually would give every Terry Pratchett book I read a 10 out of 10. I give this one a 6, maybe. He is usually at least amusing, even when he is grim. This one is mostly just grim though."

My assessment is more generous than my daughter's. Nation is intense. And contains significantly more mayhem, death, and destruction than most Pratchett stories, for adults or children. And rage at the universe. Along with Pratchett's customary skewering of the silliness of every society and religion he happens across. With, perhaps, a little more bitterness than usual.

I could not put Nation down. And as I parsed each angry word, I thought that if I were Terry Pratchett, brilliant author of unforgettable stories, and I had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, well I would be raging at the Universe as well.


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Proud Taste for Scarlet and MiniverE.L. KonigsburgChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, historical1973
 Eleanor of Aquitaine and some of her friends hang out in heaven and discuss Eleanor's life and loves.
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Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! (London Stage Revival)Rogers and Hammerstein  Children 12 and upChildren 8 and upmusical1999
 X-Men have been, and remain, our favorite super-heroes. We watch the movies; have not gotten into the comic books. Have recently also enjoyed Hellboy. Some of us really admire The Incredibles (but some of us do not).

We must write our homage to X-Men someday. After all, this is a group that thinks that hiding out in a school for the gifted will somehow shield its members from bullies. A creative, if foolish, concept.

Plus, they have both Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman. And very cool superpowers. And great special effects.

We are waiting with great anticipation for the release of the latest X-Men movie, Wolverine. Although, judging from the previews, it's probably going to be depressing as anything. And meanwhile, since we love and admire Hugh Jackman (have started watching Australia), and we love and admire musicals, we sat down and watched this production of Oklahoma.

Plot spoiler alert: plot spoilers follow below...
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RulesCynthia LordChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, autism2006
 In Al Capone Does My Shirts, the first-person narrator is a boy whose family moves to Alcatraz so that his sister may apply to a school for autistic children near San Francisco.

In this less anachronistic modern-day Newbery Honor Book, the first-person narrator, Catherine writes down rules for her autistic brother, David, although she's learned from experience that he routinely ignores them.

Written by the mother of two children, one of whom is autistic, the plot, written with the help of Lord's non-autistic daughter, clearly demonstrates how much the parents of the autistic child demand from the one who does not suffer from that disease.

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Sea of Trolls, TheNancy FarmerChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2004
 Nearly-Christian, Saxon apprentice-wizard boy is abducted by Vikings and learns that even Berserkers (who live to create mayhem) are human and that ancient gods are to be respected and, often, feared, even if one does not worship them.
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So You Want to Be a WizardDiane DuaneChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1983
 My younger daughter and I have been lucky in that we have often failed to start at the beginning of a series, and when we have, it has often worked out well for us.

We read A Wizard Abroad a while back, enjoyed it, and were advised to start at the beginning of the series. If we had started at the beginning of the series -- hmm -- well, we might not have continued.

Like A Wizard Abroad, So You Want To Be A Wizard stresses the responsibilities and hazards of having great power. And like Abroad, it climaxes in a to-the-death battle between Good and Evil. Unlike Abroad, but not unlike the third book in the series Deep Wizardry, and much to the consternation of my daughter, self-sacrifice to the death is deemed a worthy and necessary outcome in certain extenuating circumstances.
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Songcatcher, TheSharyn McCrumbChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, historical2002
 The book is actually the history of a song, rather than a story about a person who catches songs. And/or it's the story of how a song gets caught.
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StargirlJerry SpinelliChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2000
 An amazing fiction book that confronts the issue of a gifted child trying to fit in. My 10 yo and I loved this VERY sad but VERY funny and VERY true novel. We read it to each other this summer, alternating chapters, and every time my older daughter caught us, she'd hang out and listen.
Stargirl is a brilliant and highly eccentric high school girl. The novel is written in the narrative voice of the boy who loves Stargirl with and for all her eccentricities and yet despite himself wants her to fit in at school so he can fit in too.

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StowawayKaren HesseChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, historical2000
 "Read this book," my 12 yr. old ordered me. "I'm pretty sure you'll like it. I liked it a lot."

And I did indeed like it a lot. And, I learned a lot about sea voyaging in the late 1700's too.

Hesse based her tale on fact -- there was really a young boy named Nick Young who "appeared" on the roster of Captain Cook's ship Endeavour quite a few months after the ship had left England, but before it had put into any port. Hesse guessed that he had been a stowaway and was discovered once it was too late to put him ashore.

Nick's story is told in the form of his journal entries for the entire voyage, each of which provides a date, a latitude and longitude (in measurements of Capt. Cook's time, which means that if a reader were to want to follow Nick's journey on a globe, one would have to do a little math), and an approximate location in words.

In Hesse's imagination, but perhaps this is truly how it happened, once Nick is free to show himself, he makes himself useful as assistant to the ship's physician, writing tutor, and friend to the Goat and the dogs and many of the sailors.
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Sword in the Stone, TheT.H. WhiteChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, King Arthur1938
 Lovely anachronism-rich story of the childhood of King Arthur.
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Thirteen Orphans, Breaking the WallJane LindskoldChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2009
 Very cool idea for a plot. Although this book is pretty long, I finished it in two or three days (despite the need to do other, more useful, things).

The story is about the twelve signs of the Chinese Zodiac, with a person who represents each animal. A girl named Brenda discovers early in the book that she is the future Rat, and she has to help regain the memories of her father and other "animals" whose memories of their identities have been stolen. Brenda is forced into a battle she hadn't been aware of until just weeks before, and although only a "Rat-ling", she must help the twelve and the grandson of the original emperor.


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Through Wolf's EyesJane LindskoldChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2002
 This is a book about a girl who was brought up by wolves, before being "rescued" by "civilized" people. The catch is that they think she is next in line to the throne of an ailing king. As her new friends try to teach her manners and human customs, a war is breaking out, and traitors work against everyone but themselves.
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Tree By Leaf Cynthia VoigtChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1988
 A gloomy book about the effects of war and weather on real bodies and minds. And about how a child can come to feel responsible for the acts of man and nature.
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Truckers (Bromeliad Trilogy: Book 1)Terry PratchettChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1990
 "What a GREAT ending!", sighed my 12 yr. old daughter, when she finished reading this book. "And it's by Terry Pratchett, so the sequel will be great too."

In this a tale of city cousins (members of a race of small and short-lived creatures called Nomes who consider the Arnold Bros. Department Store, est. 1905 to be their universe) visited by their country cousins (also Nomes, but ones who lived Outside before visiting the store), gentle fun is poked at organized religion, sexism, and rigid inability to think in general.

When the city Nomes finally realize that Final Clearance. All Sales Final! means that their universe, or at least, Arnold Bros. (est. 1905), is ending, they must work with their visitors to save themselves.
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True BelieverVirginia Euwer WolffChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, girl heroine2001
 Virginia Euwer Wolff impresses me with her ability to capture and express the needs, wants, temptations, fears, motivations, and ways of life of her fictional heroines.

True Believer is the second first-person fiction I've read by Wolff; the first was The Mozart Season, another great favorite of mine. Like The Mozart Season, True Believer is told in the voice of an entirely believable girl.

But unlike Allegra Shapiro, heroine of The Mozart Season, LaVaughn, narrator of True Believer, has so many worries in the present day that she cannot dwell on her past or the past of her family. LaVaughn describes her day-to-day life in the inner-city projects, a life so relentlessly hard that keeping her eye on her future becomes nearly impossible sometimes, in free verse so compelling that it reads like prose.


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Tuck EverlastingNatalie BabbittChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction 
 This is a beautifully written book about a family of people who never age and never die.

From the perspective of 10-year-old Winnie, Babbitt shows us many details rich with color and motion that Winnie notices at first only through the bars of her fence. As she strays out of her yard for the first time, she comes to know the Tucks, who enchant her (as well as us).


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Twelve Angry MenReginald RoseChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1954
 I think this play is amazing. It focuses on twelve men on jury duty who are deciding whether a teenager is guilty of killing his father. The jurors must unanimously rule "guilty" or "there is a reasonable doubt." All of the jurors are white, fairly privileged.
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Where I'd Like To BeFrances O'Roark DowellChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2003
 A group of children abandoned to a group home and an apparently Asperger's-spectrum, intellectually gifted child, are united by a love of architecture, or building, at least, scrap-booking, and the stories told by an overly-imaginative housemate.

Not hard to read, although the stories of how the children came to live in the home are sad.


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Wizard Abroad, ADiane DuaneChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction 
 Fourteen year-old wizard Nita's parents are worried about her "relationship" with her wizarding partner (a boy), so they ship her off to Ireland, where she gets into much more harrowing situations (and a romantic one as well) than those she might have experienced if she'd just stayed put in the USA.

My daughter and I loved the way the tiny Bard Cat interacts with her less gifted human allies. The seeming contradiction between the way wizards look -- ordinary -- and what they have to do -- extraordinary -- might be heartening to a child who feels that his or her specialness is not reflected in appearance or circumstances. And, the cameo appearances by Celtic mythological beings are fun.

The discussions of Nita's romantic thoughts (nothing graphic, but probably not of great interest to younger children) and the responsibilities that go along with great power, and the excitement, mayhem, and death that inextricably mix with battle might make this book appealing to adolescent readers, rather than to younger readers.

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Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart (Wolf, Book 2)Jane LindskoldChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2003
 My daughter will read nearly any book that is put in front of her, and she knows just about intuitively when one is "good" or not. In other words, we are entirely in sympathy with, for example, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker, in which he explains that there are really only a few stories to be told and the important thing is to tell the tale creatively and well.

On the other hand, my daughter and I have noticed that in many young adult book series, nearly every book in the series uses, not only the same basic plot, but also the exact same plot elements in the exact same order. This is truly frustrating, because, once we've caught on to this failing, basically, not only do we know exactly how each book will end, but we also know pretty much what the twists and turns will be before the end. This is even more frustrating when the characters are as interesting and unique as they are in Jane Lindskold's Wolf Series. And, even worse, Lindskold's plot twists seem to always include a planned rape, described, not too graphically, but at length, and then a protracted and bloody battle.

So, what can we now say about Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart, the sequel to Through Wolf's Eyes, which we raced through just a while ago?
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At the Back of the North WindGeorge MacDonaldSophisticated readersChildren 8 and upfiction, fairy tale1871
 A child flirts with Death.
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Big Wave, ThePearl S. BuckSophisticated readersChildren 8 and upfiction1947
 Two Japanese boys survive a tidal wave.

Living as we do near the coast, I was surprised that it took my ten year old more than a week to react to the recent devastating tsunamis.

Last night, finally, she began to take the tsunamis very personally. "We live at the top of a high hill," she said. "So I'm not worried about what would happen if I were here and the tsunami hit. But, my school is much closer to sea level. What would we do if the tsunami hit when we were at school?"

Run uphill, I told her. Run fast. What else should I have said?

Today, I paid a visit to my daughter's school. I asked them whether they would be notified if a tsunami were detected. I asked what the procedures would be in case that sort of a warning is issued. I suggested that everyone at the school get together to discuss what the plan would be.


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MessengerLois LowrySophisticated readersChildren 8 and upfiction; dystopian2004
 Sequel to Lowry's Gathering Blue, and, some might consider this the third in the dystopian trilogy that started well with, and has coursed relentlessly downhill from, The Giver. The plot is highly derivative of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, The Birthmark, with some unpleasant touches and Christian symbolism similar to Zilpha Keatly Snyder's Until the Celebration, but entirely lacks the beauty of the Below the Root books.
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Missing MayCynthia RylantSophisticated readersChildren 8 and upfiction1993
 This short, poetic novel, which won the Newbery Medal in 1993, gently but persuasively puts forth the theory that it's worthwhile to learn from experience and from others, even others who may not seem very impressive from the get-go. It is not difficult to read, is pretty short and the text is pretty large.
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Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, TheAnn BrasharesSophisticated readersChildren 8 and upfiction2001
 A magical pair of pants, pants that are equally flattering on each in the Sisterhood, remind a group of four young women of their bond. And the pants also very creatively tether the four separate plot lines together.

Very well written chic lit.


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