Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Flackett, J. (Director), Levin, Mark. (Director), Bell, A.E. (Producer). (2008).  Nim’s Island. [Motion picture]. United States: 20th Century Fox.Genre: AdventureInterest Level: 3-6Subjects: Islands, Survival, Sea Lions, Iguanas, Sa Turtles, Fathers and daughters, Friendship, Authors, ImaginationLanguage: EnglishSubtitles: English, SpanishRated: PGRunning Time: 96 minutes

Flackett, J. (Director), Levin, Mark. (Director), Bell, A.E. (Producer). (2008). Nim’s Island. [Motion picture]. United States: 20th Century Fox.
Genre: Adventure
Interest Level: 3-6
Subjects: Islands, Survival, Sea Lions, Iguanas, Sa Turtles, Fathers and daughters, Friendship, Authors, Imagination
Language: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Rated: PG
Running Time: 96 minutes

“Everything I know about the world I learned from my friends. Anything else I need to know I just open a book.” Nim Rusoe

Nim is an 11-year-old funny, energetic, adventurous, and self-sufficient little girl with a vivid imagination. Nim’s father, Jack Rusoe, relocates the two of them to a remote and secret island in the South Pacific after the death of his wife Emily, an oceanographer who died at sea. Jack is a marine biologist who writes articles for National Geographic. He spends his days in search of oceanic discoveries while Nim enjoys her adventures with her friends; Selkie, the sea-lion, a giant lizard, Fred, Galileo the pelican, and a sea turtle she names Chicca. Nim, an avid reader of adventure novels, lives out her fantasies based on the tales of the hero in her favorite books by novelist Alex Rover. Nim visualizes the author as a courageous and larger than life hero, much like the main character in the books. Nim emulates this adventurer in her day-to-day island activities along with her friends, often holding imaginative conversations with him when needing a boost of courage. Nim’s father sets out one day on a scientific boat trip in search of a new species of plankton he plans to call protozoa nim. He intends to take Nim along, but she tells him that she must stay behind to look after the hatching of Chicca’s eggs so she can protect them from dying. He agrees to this since he will only be gone for two nights and they will be able to communicate using the satellite phone.

While her father is away, Nim, reads an email her father receives from Alex Rover, the author, inquiring about an island volcano she’d read about in one of Jack’s National Geographic articles. She is in search of an exciting ending to her most recent novel, and believes this to be an interesting possibility. Unlike the heroic character she writes about, however, Alexandra “Alex” Rover is a neurotic and agoraphobic petite woman, afraid of everything! Alexandra hasn’t been able to leave her apartment in San Francisco in almost five months. An email exchange follows, between Alexandra and Nim, with Nim first pretending she is her father’s assistant. After three days without her father returning from his trip at sea, Nim tells Alex that she is really an 11 year old girl alone on an island, worried that her father may be in grave danger, or worse yet, dead. Nim is unaware that Jack has encountered a monsoon, that has left him shipwrecked, trying to repair the boat in order to get back. Nim goes on to tell Alex that she is also suffering from a huge cut on her leg that has begun to infect, and she implores Alex Rover to come help her. Alexandra, struggling with her agoraphobia, argues with the main character of her novels, who she also engages in conversations with. She tries to convince him, and herself, that she can’t possibly rescue Nim if she can’t even leave her own apartment! “Be the hero of your own life’s story,” he tells her, “trust is the secret to adventure,” and so she sets out to rescue Nim. Her journey to the South Pacific ends in disaster by the time she reaches the remote island, and upon meeting the little girl, leaves Nim devastated by the truth, that the hero who had come to rescue her, is the very one who needs saving the most. Together, Nim and Alexandra discover they are braver than they knew they could be, and also discover that it’s more important to be the hero of someone else’s story than the hero of your own.

Nim’s Island is a delightfully touching, action-adventure movie based off of Wendy Orr’s book with the same title. Nim’s Island tells a story of courage and hope, and of overcoming one’s fears through the adventures of the story’s main characters. Nim Rusoe is played by Abigail Breslin, Gerard Butler plays both Nim’s father, Jack Rusoe, and Alexandra’s main character in her books, Alex Rover. And, Jodie Foster plays Alexandra Rover. This movie is a feel good tale to be enjoyed by all ages and genders alike filled with humor, an enjoyable cast, and beautiful island scenery. If other are curious what else is in store for Nim, they may want to read the book Nim’s Island and the sequel Nim at Sea. Other movies with characters finding their own strengths and courage with some aspect of fantasy or even the unexplained may enjoy Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium about a magical toy store, or the supposed truth behind the Loch Ness Monster in The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep.

Rowling, J.K.  (1998).  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  New York, NY: Scholastic.ALA Notable Children’s BookInterest Level: 5-8Reading Level: 5.3Genre: FantasySubjects: Harry Potter, Hogwarts, Wizards, Witches, Schools, England, Fantasy, Friends, Death, Teachers, MagicHarry Potter:1 – The Sorcerer’s Stone2 – The Chamber of Secrets3 – The Prisoner of Azkaban4 – The Goblet of Fire5 – The Order of the Phoenix6 – The Half-Blood Prince7 – The Deathly Hallows

Rowling, J.K. (1998). Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York, NY: Scholastic.
ALA Notable Children’s Book
Interest Level: 5-8
Reading Level: 5.3
Genre: Fantasy
Subjects: Harry Potter, Hogwarts, Wizards, Witches, Schools, England, Fantasy, Friends, Death, Teachers, Magic
Harry Potter:
1 – The Sorcerer’s Stone
2 – The Chamber of Secrets
3 – The Prisoner of Azkaban
4 – The Goblet of Fire
5 – The Order of the Phoenix
6 – The Half-Blood Prince
7 – The Deathly Hallows

“Sunshine, daisies, butter mellow, Turn this stupid, fat rat yellow.” – Ron

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first book in a series about an 11-year-old boy wizard named Harry Potter. His world contains people unaware about magic called Muggles and a hidden society of magic. As an infant, Harry was left with his mother’s sister and her family, Harry grows up not knowing about magic, the world of his parents, and is treated horribly by his relatives. He is teased by his cousin Dudley, called names by his Aunt Petunia, and is forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs by his Uncle Vernon. Yet, all is about to change as Harry receives an invitation on his eleventh birthday to attend Hogwarts, a famous school of magic, and the remainder of the book covers the attendance of his first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

From the start of his journey, Harry is continually amazed by the new and unusual things he sees and learns, particularly the fact that he is a natural flying on a broom. Even more, as he continues to meet these magical people, he discovers new friends and family he never had. As part of his new world, Harry has to deal with its evil elements. There are those who hate the non-magical Muggles. One of the most notorious and recent was Lord Voldemort, the wizard who murdered Harry’s parents and tried to kill Harry as an infant. In fact, this led to Harry being famous in the magical world, where he is known as “The Boy who Lived”, and, Lord Voldemort has not been heard of since the murder of Harry’s parents.

During the first school year, Harry Potter is curious about an item being hidden at Hogwarts, the Sorcerer’s Stone. Along with his new best friends, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger, they discover the location of the Sorcerer’s Stone with additional hints slipped by the school’s keeper of grounds, Hagrid. It is here that Harry battles an ally of Lord Voldemort, Professor Quirrell and even has a confrontation with the evil wizard himself. Lord Voldemort as everyone anticipated was dead has actually living off of the essence of unicorn blood. And as the first book (first year of school at Hogwarts) concludes, Harry has cemented wonderful relationships with friends and mentors (the headmaster Professor Dumbledore and the head of the Gryffindor House, Professor McGonagall), and is already excited for his second term (book two: The Chamber of Secrets).

The Harry Potter series, beginning with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone contains as much magic capturing the interest of the readers as magic within Hogwarts. J.K. Rowling has created a set of characters that you want to follow on their journey, as you cheer for them, laugh along with them, share in their wonder and magical lessons, and even experience their fright. J.K Rowling created characters in which readers of any age will easily be able to identify with whether they are Muggles or magical folk, and the settings are described in fluid detail that imagining such places comes with ease. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone also created into a film that helped popularize the series even further. Most fans of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone most likely will/have enjoyed reading Percy Jackson & The Olympians by Rick Riordan, The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, the newer series The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce, His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman, The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann, Children of the Red King by Jenny Nimmo, and Books of Beginning by John Stephens.

Ryan, P.M.  (2000).  Esperanza Rising.  New York, NY: Scholastic.2002 Pura Belpre Author Award2001 ALA Notable Children’s BookInterest Level: 5-8Reading Level: 6.2Genre: Realistic Fiction, Historical FictionSubjects: Mexican Americans, Agricultural laborers, California, Family, Migrants

Ryan, P.M. (2000). Esperanza Rising. New York, NY: Scholastic.
2002 Pura Belpre Author Award
2001 ALA Notable Children’s Book
Interest Level: 5-8
Reading Level: 6.2
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction
Subjects: Mexican Americans, Agricultural laborers, California, Family, Migrants

“Did you know that when you lie down on the land, you can feel it breathe?” – Papa

Thirteen year old Esperanza Ortega leaves her ranch home in Aquascalientes, Mexico and life of luxury after her Papa dies in a fire set by her two uncles so they can have the land and hopefully one will marry Esperanza’s mother. For Esperanza, her mother, and her Abuelita (grandmother) this is not a life any of them desire. Esperanza and her mother are able to escpae as migrants to the United States in the cover of night, but unfortunately must leave Abuelita behind. When they arrive in Arden, Califonria during the great depression of the 1930’s, they make due with residence with Miguel, the son of a previous worker for Esperanza’s Papa. Esperanza thrown from luxury to now a life of poverty and manual labor her adjustments aren’t easy, but she learns to take care of the house chores and the two babies. When Esperanza’s mother falls ill with Central Valley Fever, Esperanza begins working the farms to pay for her mother’s medical bills and saving money to help bring her Abuelita to California. Miguel, a family friend steals Esperanza’s money to go to Mexico and bring Esperanza’s Abuelita to the United States to help lift the spirits of Esperanza’s sick mother. As hope was restored to Esperanza and her mother, Esperanza learns that wealth is not only determined by material goods, but family, friends, health, home, and gratitude.

Esperanza Rising offers historical and cultural events for readers to learn and experience as they follow along with the daily experience of Mexican immigrant farm workers in the San Joaquin Valley in California with the dreams of a better life than previously in Mexico, and the inequalities of living conditions between Okies (migrant workers from Oklahoma) and the Mexicans were astonishing, such as the Okies having hot water and bathrooms in their housing and a swimming pool in their camp. The discriminations faced by Mexicans are shocking to read as Esperanza first experienced them, such as when Isabel was not awarded the Queen of May because she was not white. In the story the reader learns about the “voluntary” deportation of Mexicans regardless if United States citizens or not during the early 1900’s and Esperanza Rising is a wonderful book to read in conjunction with teaching these historical events.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan has a very beautiful message regarding family values as well as non-family showing empathy for others and can teach the idea of how racial stereotypes can occur in many forms and cause great suffering. Reading personal stories, which may often occur in fiction format, can emotionally affect the reader as Esperanza Rising successfully does by providing the reader with insight to the pains of individuals from diverse cultures. Other similar realistic fiction titles for tween include Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

Collins, S.  (2008).  The hunger games.  New York, NY: Scholastic Press.2009 ALA Notable Children’s Book Interest Level: YAThe Hunger Games Trilogy:1 - The Hunger Games2 - Catching Fire3 - Mockingjay

Collins, S. (2008). The hunger games. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.
2009 ALA Notable Children’s Book
Interest Level: YA
The Hunger Games Trilogy:
1 – The Hunger Games
2 – Catching Fire
3 – Mockingjay

“May the odds be ever in your favor!”

Suzanne Collins begins The Hunger Games by introducing the reader to Panem, a dystopian society divided into 12 districts in the ruins of what was once North America. Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl, will learn that her actions alone can ignite change for a better future. She is from District 12, one of the poorer districts where food is scarce.  We learn that Katniss has had a hard life after her father died when she was 11-years-old in a mining accident and her mother was unable to cope leaving Katniss to fend for the family.  She taught herself to hunt illegally outside of the limits of District 12, how to barter her catch for food and goods with other traders at the Hob, and to inevitably keep her and her sister alive.

Each year, Panem has an event called “The Reaping” in every District. The Reaping is for The Hunger Games. Every district picks two tributes, a boy and a girl by lottery that will literally fight for their lives.  For the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss steps up and volunteers after her sister, Primrose’s name is drawn.  Peeta Mallark is also chosen, the boy that once gave her bread for her family when they were starving. The two tributes of District 12 are sent to the capital of Panem, a plush luxurious place with as much food as one could eat. There they train for the upcoming games in which they learn to hone the skills they were born with.  For Katniss it’s hunting with a crossbow in which her skill and accuracy are unmatched.  For Peeta it’s his strength and ability to camouflage himself.

Katniss’ partnership during the games with fellow tribute Rue reminds Katniss of Primrose and fuels a desire to protect her.  When Rue dies it breaks Katniss heart and Katniss tries her best to honor Rue.  That honoring of District 11’s tribute sparked anger and discontent over the games.  The connection between Katniss and Rue may have helped start the rebellion that begins later in The Hunger Games Trilogy. The star-crossed lover story was cooked up by Haymitch, but to Katniss’ surprise she finds that Peeta’s feelings are true but not mutual. And, at the end of the games, rather than killing one another, Katniss and Peeta choose to consume poisonous berries so that the Game Makers will fail, resulting in the 74th Hunger Games without a victor.  Because there must always be a victor, the two are allowed to live. Many believed their actions as an act of defiance, particularly President Snow who could foreshadow an upcoming rebellion as a result.

Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy is immensely likeable. They were hard to read at times due to the violence but the story offers highly likeable characters in which readers will find themselves able to relate to one or more characters keeping them feverishly reading the series.  Suzanne Collins successfully conveys Katniss’ sadness over her losses and her inherent strength to climb back out of her pain to cope with the next bad thing.  Katniss does not live a life of illusion. She recognizes the ugliness in her world, her desire for change, but also her acceptance that this may be all she ever knows. Readers will learn a lesson that’s not metaphorical, or even the most inspirational, but what a reader may take from The Hunger Games is that making the best of a bad situation and finding a way to cope may be life’s only choice at times. And, even if the characters lack hope, the story is so compelling that the desire for success of these characters will have most readers believing they somehow can offer their strength and courage to aid Katniss and Peeta. The Hunger Games, and the entire trilogy offers a highly suspenseful and philosophical action-adventure with elements of romance in these YA novels that tweens will be eager to read. Other books that tweens may also enjoy that are set in dystopian futures and are specified as tween literature include, Among the Betrayed (Shadow Children #3) by Margaret Peterson Haddix, The City of Ember (Book of Ember #1) by Jeanne DuPrau, and The Unwanteds (The Unwanteds #1) by Lisa McMann.

unwanteds

McMann, L. (2011). The Unwanteds. New York, NY: Alladin.
Interest Level: 3-6
Reading Level: 5.4
Genre: Dystopian Fantasy
Subjects: Creative ability, Magic, Brothers, Twins, Fantasy, Social problems, Self-confidence
The Unwanteds:
1 – The Unwanteds
2 – Island of Silene
3 – ?

“The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter.” – Kirkus Reviews

Identical twins Alex and Aaron, on their 13th birthday, like all citizens in Quill are sorted into their classes at the annual “purge” as either a Unwanted, Wanted, or Necessary. The Wanteds become politicians who are given an education, the Necessaries live in poverty and are uneducated, and the Unwanteds are artistic individuals like Alex Stowe who was caught drawing in the dirt with a stick. It’s uncommon for twins to be sorted as opposites, but in the case of these two, Alex, an artistic type is deemed an Unwanted, and his brother Aaron, politically focused is a Wanted. Alex, like all the Unwanteds is sent to the “great lake of boiling oil” to meet his death, or so that’s the fate of all the Unwanteds as the citizens of Quill believe it to be. But, rather, the Unwanteds are transported to Artime’, a world created by Mr. Today, a safe haven in which they can nurture their artistic gifts and become magical warriors at a school filled with odd and quirky teachers and strange creatures. Artime’s existence is threatened due the bond Alex has for his brother Aaron, though not mutual, and as war unfolds the battle lines are drawn between creativity and that of strength and intelligence, Quill and Artime’, and brother against brother.

Who would not be excited thinking of a dystopian adventure fantasy in which a society is divided and the worlds in many ways mirror two highly popular books series? Quill the equivalent of Panem in The Hunger Games, and Artime the equivalent of Hogwarts in Harry Potter. Paint brushes used in place of wands and death at a young age not due to killing games set up like a reality TV show but rather sentenced to the Death Farm. The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann presents a highly descriptive and imaginative new series that fans of Harry Potter and The Hungers Games will be eager to read. This is a story about acceptance, a lesson worthy of being told for readers of any age. The second book, Island of Silence is as exciting and quickly paced as the first in the series. Other novels that may be similarly enjoyed include Children of the Red King (aka Charlie Bone) series by Jenny Nimmo, Percy Jackson & The Olympians by Rick Riordan, The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer, Books of Beginning by John Stephens, and The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann.

Yee, L. (2003). Millicent Min, girl genius. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books.
Interest Level: 3-6
Reading Level: 5.7
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Subjects: Gifted children, friendship, Chinese Americans, Diaries, School, Volleyball.

The smarter you are the harder it can be.

Millie learned to read when she was only three years old and by the time she entered kindergarten she was kicked out because she was too smart. She started high school when she was only 10-years-old, managed to skip another grade and will be graduating high school next school year. Currently, Millie is only 11-years-old, literally a genius, or that’s what the tests say. She can excel beyond that of even current college students but totally clueless when it comes to a social life.

Millie is often left out, not for any logical reason she can comprehend but rather she’s disliked for breaking and setting new grading curves that every other student older than her must meet. Because of it, almost no one wants her as a friend. She’s ecstatic when a student at the local community college becomes her friend for the sole reason to use Millie to do her psychology homework. How will Millie ever fit in? All is about to change when her mother decides it’s time for her to do something her own age. Her mom signs her up for volleyball camp where she meets Emily who is new to town. Being a little overweight Emily knows what being different can be like. Millie who wants to give being “normal” a try, realizes she has to pretend to be someone she’s not. And, when she has to tutor Stanford Wong who doesn’t want anyone to know he’s being tutored by Millie, and both Emily and Stanford start liking one another everything becomes all the more complicated. Emily misunderstands when she sees the two at the library during one study session. Emily believes Stanford is tutoring Millie. This actually helps Millie keep up her disguise of not being a genius and Stanford for once is viewed as smart and likes it. Through ups and downs, normal Emily and genius Millie learn that BFF’s is possible.

This is a fun, quirky and heartwarming story that anyone who’s ever felt smarter than the average person may be able to easily relate to. But also, anyone for whatever reason has been labeled as a social outcast will be able to identify with. Millicent Min, Girl Genius is an excellent book for tweens. It’s a good book that teaches the importance of trust, honesty, and empathy as you read how everything gets more and more complicated between Stanford, Millie, and Emily. If you like Millicent Min, Girl Genius then you may also want to read other Lisa Yee books such as; So Totally Emily Ebers and Stanford Wong Flunks Out Big Time. All three of these Lisa Yee books can be read in any order as each book individually tells the events of the summer from the point of view of either Millie, Emily, or Stanford. You may also enjoy reading Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan, Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass, and The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng.

Paulsen, G. (1987). Hatchet. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
1995 ALA Notable Children’s Book
1988 Newbery Honor
Interest Level: 5-8
Reading Level: 6.0
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Subject: Survival, Divorce, Wilderness, Canada
Brian’s Saga:
1 – Hatchet
2 – The River
3 – Brian’s Winter
4 – Brian’s Hun

“And the last thought he had that morning as he closed his eyes was: I hope the tornado hit the moose.”

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is about a Brian Robeson, a 13-year-old boy that’s trying mostly to cope with his parent’s divorce, and the reason for the divorce, he saw his mother kissing another man, something neither parent is aware that he knows. Now that his parents are divorced he is being sent by plane to northern Canada for his first mandated visitation. Before he departs, his mother gives him a hatchet that she thinks will be a handy tool in the wilderness. The hatchet, when the time arises will serve as a symbol of his maturity into manhood.

As he travels in a plane with cargo and the only other person, the pilot he is left with ample time to think about his life’s sorrows unit captain has a heart attack and Brian with no help from air traffic control must crash land the plane into a lake somewhere in the Canadian wilderness. While in shock for the first day or two, he is starving, in pain, and highly hopefully he will be rescued shortly. As time goes on and a rescue seems unrealistic, he learns to fend for himself through trial and error. He eats berries that make him sick, and then finds raspberries with a bear nearby. He accidently injures himself trying to protect his food from porcupine that his trespassed into his rocky camp. Thankfully from all of the nature/survival shows he watched on television, Brian is able to light a fire using his hatchet against the stones. Now warm, full with berries he adventures out to try fishing. He enjoys his fish and attempts hunting birds but soon after is attacked by a moose, severally injuring him and almost simultaneously a treacherous storm destroys his shelter. Once again Brian is feeling broken and discouraged. The following day after the storm, Brian is able to see more of the plane has resurfaced and goes to claim whatever emergency supplies that may aid him.  And as he once again tries to reestablish himself with shelter and food for survival in the wilderness a plane lands on the lake, and Brian in utter disbelief continues his daily routine not understanding he is finally being rescued after spending fifty-four days in the wilderness, learning to survive with only the aid of his hatched given to him by his mother..

Hatchet will easily appeal to both boy and girls, even though the protagonist is a boy. Topics of parents divorcing, custody, ruminating thoughts, helplessness, and internal strength to survive are not gender specific. It’s a story about survival, making the best of a situation no bad it seems, finding hope even if it’s the smallest of things or memories from our past. Gary Paulsen has written a coming of age story with the wilderness as the backdrop. Readers will be on the edges of their seats wondering how Brian will manage?, will he survive?, can he figure out how to hunt for food?, will he make a fire?, and, will he ever be rescued? Paulsen describes the wilderness where Brian has crashed and his shelter with immense detail so the story and the reader’s experience is all the more realistic. It will be hard to feel sorry for Brian as he encounters difficulties but also the reader will want to cheer him on as he starts to piece together ways to improve his daily life. Those that enjoyed Hatchet may also enjoy reading the other Brian’s Saga books (The River, Brian’s Winter, Brian’s Hunt) as well as wilderness survival stories such as; My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, Call it Courage by Armstrong Sperry, and Incident at Hawk’s Hill by Allan W. Eckert.