Avi.  (1990).  The true confessions of Charlotte Doyle.  New York, NY: Avon.1991 Newbery Honor1991 ALA Notable Children’s Book1991 Library of Congress 100 Books for ChildrenALA Notable Children’s BookInterest Level: 5-8Reading Level: 5.3Genre: Historical FictionSubjects: Murder, Sea Travel, Action and Adventure, Gender, Liverpool (UK), Rhode Island (USA), Atlantic Ocean

Avi. (1990). The true confessions of Charlotte Doyle. New York, NY: Avon.
1991 Newbery Honor
1991 ALA Notable Children’s Book
Interest Level: 5-8
Reading Level: 5.3
Genre: Historical Fiction
Subjects: Murder, Sea Travel, Action and Adventure, Gender, Liverpool (UK), Rhode Island (USA), Atlantic Ocean, Pirates

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is a sweet, suspenseful, and action packed adventure story from beginning to end with more than enough surprising twists and outcomes keeping readers eager to know what comes next. Charlotte is a strong female role model that many girls may dream to be like, and the story and main character offers a sense of empowerment and reassurance that anyone can overcome any obstacle they face. Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is truly a delight and an inspiration for all of those that read it, tween girls and boys alike. A book where anything and everything you wouldn’t expect to happen does. Charlotte serves as a symbol of independence and freedom that any tween or young adult can look up to, and learn from her assumptions and mistakes. And, the message that doing what is right isn’t always the easiest of options is important to teach our youth of today and every generation so as to adapt to an ever changing world.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle not only serves as an exciting action-adventure story well suited for tweens but also a historical fiction story that provides ample classroom curriculum options for social studies and language arts. Due to the novel’s historically accurate details of life during a specific time period using actual historical figures, places, and events with fictional ones, this novel provides readers with an understanding of the historical past in a way facts will not suffice. This is similar in idea to many realistic fiction novels that can help educate students with other ethnicity/cultures, such as the novel Esperanza Rising.

Curriculum options for social studies include possible lessons about the historical setting within the book including societal customs, prejudices to those of African descent as a result of slavery and how such discrimination and cruelty lead to the Civil Rights movement and can expand to the topic of bullying, and even gender roles and Women’s Rights. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle also offers ample US Constitutional, Bill of Rights, and Amendments discussions such as criminal proceedings related to the Fifth-Eighth Amendments, the abolition of slavery in the Thirteenth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment for civil rights, and the Nineteenth Amendment for women’s rights.

In the language arts curriculum this books offers challenging vocabulary appropriate to the time in which the story is set, and may need further explanation for some readers. Example words include: abominations, adversity, apparition, atonement, audacity, brawny, commerce, congenial, conspiracy, copiously, decorum, docile, gesticulate, impertinence, implacable, mutely, mutiny, perplexity, pinion, prophecy, quell, renounce, reprieve, scrutiny, shrewdly, slanderous, transpire, and vigilant. This novel may also encourage students to journal as was the idea behind how the story in The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle was told by the main character, or may be designed as a creative writing project in which students journal the events of their winter or spring break and rewrite it into an autobiographical paper.

How many tweens today would rather do as they want and not as they’re told to do? Though 13-year-old Charlotte Doyle initially displays that doing what is expected of her as what is “right”, she inevitably chooses that social customs commonly distinguished by wealth, gender, and ethnicity are “wrong”, or at least wrong for her. And, in a day and age where vampires, pirates, and zombies are revered as attractive, how would a story with a girl that chooses to sacrifice her social status to become a pirate be anything less than popular? Though Avi’s story is much older than Walt Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, there is a similarity between Charlotte Doyle and Elizabeth Swan to easily entice those of the tween ages to want to read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.

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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.

Paterson, K. (1977). Bridge to Terabithia. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
1978 Newbery Medal
1978 ALA Notable Children’s Book
Interest Level: 5-8
Reading Level: 5.0
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Subjects: Friendship, Death, Virginia (USA), Schools, Imagination, Family

Bridge to Terabithia is about Jess, a fifth grade boy dealing with strong feelings of loneliness until he meets Leslie Burke and quickly become best friends. Leslie helps him cope with a school bully and together they turn their vast backyard into an imaginary kingdom called Terabithia.  The only way of entering Terabithia is by swinging across an old rope to the other side of a creek.  Jess and Leslie appoint themselves both king and queen of Terabithia.  Together, they use their imaginations to fight imaginary foes and escape from the stresses and fears of life. One Saturday his art teacher (Miss Edmunds) calls and offers to take him to see an art gallery, and having a crush on her, he eagerly goes. While he is gone, Leslie goes to Terabithia on her own resulting in tragic consequences.  When Jess gets home he finds Leslie has died from the rope breaking, he painfully has to cope with the loss.  In the end Jess builds a safe bridge to Terabitha as both a way of honoring Leslie and creating a safe way for his younger sister May Bell to enter the imaginary kingdom as a “princess”.

Jesse Arrons is a typical 10 year old boy. His parents do not have a lot of money and he has a crush on his art teacher, and he loves to draw. He struggles with being the only boy out of five children, and his youngest sister May Belle irritates him to no end.  Jess is moody and at times you feel his frustration at not being able to cope with his strong emotions. Leslie Burke is the new girl in town. She’s smart, outgoing wealthy and is Jess’s best friend.  May Bell Arrons, Jess’ younger sister, looks up to her big brother, however he doesn’t give her the time of day until one day he does and brings her to Terabithia.

Bridge to Terabithia is wonderful story which examples the importance of mental escapism especially during transitional times, and so the youth can process the harshness of the world.  It depicts some of the conflicting things tweens cope with, such as bullying, grief, loneliness, not fitting in, and companionship. The imagery is beautiful and the relationships are inspiring as together they encourage the other’s strengths and assist one another even with complicated issues and lifelong lessons appropriate not only to the characters but the audience in which Katherine Paterson intended. Some may even view it as a matured version of Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Those who enjoy reading Bridge to Terabithia may also like Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt in which the character finds his escape in the local library, or an online forum in The Revealers by Doug Wilhelm.

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.

Reilly, P.R. (2002). Pictures of Hollis Wooods. Wendy Lamb Books.
2003 ALA Notable Children’s Book
2003 Newbery Honor Book
Interest Level: 5-8
Reading Level: 6.4
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Subjects: Family life, Orphans, Artist, Foster home care, Old age, New York (state), Love

“If someone looks into your eyes, I read in a book one time, he’ll see right into your soul. I didn’t want anyone to see into my soul.” – Hollis Woods

Pictures of Hollis Woods is a story of the power of love, and the way it changes forever the life of twelve year old Hollis Woods, an orphan, and abandoned as a baby. Feeling deeply unwanted and unloved, Hollis is moved from one foster home to another, fueling the ever growing anger inside of her. Unable to bond or connect with any of the foster families she has been placed with, Hollis runs away from most of them before they have a chance to request she be removed.  Hollis is eventually placed with a real family; a father, the Old Man, Izzy, the mother, and a boy named Steven. The Regan’s grow to love Hollis and want to adopt her, but after a tragic accident injures both Hollis and Steven, she runs away again, feeling guilty and responsible for what happened. She vows never to return, convincing herself that they didn’t really want her after all.

Hollis’  heart is softened, when she is placed with an elderly retired art teacher, Josie, and her cat Henry. It is here that Hollis learns to give of herself, and to find an appreciation in her talent of drawing, opening up to give love and be loved as she helps Josie who suffers from memory loss, in her day to day living. Hollis’ social worker, Mrs. Mustard, realizes Josie’s problem and prepares to place Hollis in a different foster home yet again. To prevent being removed from Josie’s care, leaving Josie alone, Hollis decides to run away and take Josie with her. They run to the Regan’s summer home, currently boarded up for the winter. Here the two of them spend Christmas together, sharing homemade gifts and love. And, alerted by social services, the Regan’s know just where to find Hollis; the one place she called home. .. In the end, love wins, for all!

This story, while written as a tween novel, and is rich with emotion and experiences many can relate to. Feelings of insecurity, loneliness, self-doubt, anger, and hurt, are emotions we can all identify with, just as feelings of love and the need to belong are. Pictures of Hollis Woods is a treasure with the turn of each page, a story you won’t want to end. The lessons of love woven through the pages of this book, much like Hollis’ drawings of her memories, will remain with the reader forever. Those who enjoyed the books Wild Things by Clay Carmichael, or The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron will find Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff an inspirational and memorable novel.

Scott, M. (2007). The alchemyst. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.
Interest Level: YA
Reading Level: 6.4
Genre: Fantasy
Subjects: Nicholas Flamel, John Dee, Alchemists, Magic, Supernatural, Brothers and sisters, Twins, San Francisco (Calif.), Occult, Paranormal.
The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel:
1 – The Alchemyst
2- The Magician
3 – The Sorceress
4 – The Necromancer
5 – The Warlock
6 – The Enchantress

He holds the secret that can end the world

The story begins in The Alchemyst with an attack on a bookstore in San Francisco by Dr. John Dee and there gollums, creatures he created.  They steal the Book of Mage from the store, which was being protected by Nicolas Flamel, the alchemist.  During this battle for the book, Josh, an employee in the store, holds on to the last two pages of the book, which he tears out keeps in his procession.  These pages are critical for the intent of Dee and his employer, the Dark Guardian Morrigan.  During this, Flamel’s wife is taken hostage by Dee and his being held in ransom for those last pages.  Sophie, Josh’s twin sister, is also there when this occurs. Flamel takes the twins to see Scathach, a second generation Elder, for her assistance to rescue Perenelle. They are again attacked by Dee and his gollums, and escape once again. They go to Marin County and see Hektate, an Elder who lives in an alternate realm from the one the twins are familiar with.  Her powers are rooted in a giant tree that she lives in, that is filled with many rooms.  She takes them in, and shows Sophie her aura, the root of her powers.  In the Book of Mage, it is talked about twins, one with gold and one with a silver aura that will have great power and influence on events of the future.  Before she has time to bring Josh’s aura out, her realm is attacked, by Morrigan and her forces, including Dee.  Her tree is destroyed, and with it, she dies.  Flamel, Scathach, and the twins escape, and drive to Ojai, where they go to see the Witch of Endor.  The Witch is one of a few that can awaken Josh’s aura and teach both he and Sophie how to use their powers.  Before that can happen, Dee finds them and awakens all the dead in the area with is necromancer skills.  They go after Flamel and group, but they escape to Paris via a leygate, a means to travel immediately from one location to another.  They escape in time, and leave the Witch to destroy the dead and survive the attack.

Nicolas Flamel, is also known as Nick Fleming, a bookstore owner who, unbeknownst to the student that works for him, is an alchemist and immortal, born in France in 1330.  Flamel is the keeper of the Book of Mage.  His immortality comes from a spell in the book that needs to be done each month to maintain immortality.  Nicolas has become a master alchemist, able to turn metals to gold and other such changes. Perenelle Flamel, Nicolas’ wife, is also immortal, who is captured by the evil forces of the story and held captive.  She has the power to communicate with ghosts and other spirits.  She also has studied more of the magic of the book, and is very adept at those arts. Josh and Sophie, twins that become a part of the story as Josh works for Nick in his bookstore and Sophie works with Perenelle in the coffee shop across the street.  When the first confrontation with the evil forces begins, Josh and Sophie are swept up into the battle and later discover that they may be the twins spoken of in the Book of Mage.

Dr. John Dee, also an immortal, desires the Book of Mage for himself and those he works for.  He can create creatures such as gollums, creatures of mud and slime, and is a practiced necromancer, one that can raise the dead.  Scathach, also known as Scatty is known in mythology as the Warrior Maid, the King Maker, the Daemon Slayer, she is a second generation Elder, a being older than man.  She is asked by Nicolas, to assist in the rescue of his wife, Perenelle. Morrigan, a first generation Dark Elder, very powerful, who has hired Dee to work for her in gaining the Book of Mage, which would allow her to control humankind.  She was once known as the Crow Goddess and the Goddess of Death and Destruction.  She is able to summon birds and flying animals to do her bidding. Hektate: Also a first generation Elder, but not from the Dark side.  She has a kingdom in an alternate realm, in the center of which is a tree that sustains her.  At the start of the day, she is a very young girl; as the day wears on, she ages, until at night, she is an old woman.  Her powers are great and she awakens the magic, the aura, in Sophie but does not have time to do so in Josh, before attacked by Morrigan and Dr. Dee. The Witch of Endor, a witch, living in Ojai, California, who the group goes to for hiding and she provides a gate for them to escape to, to Paris, Nicholas’ birthplace.

This is the first book in the Secrets of Immortal Nicholas Flamel series (The Magician, The Sorceress, The Necromancer, The Warlock, The Enchantress).  It is well written, entrancing and draws the reader in.  After finishing, most readers will immediately want to get the second book of the series due to the first intense cliffhanging conclusion.  And, as the character Perenelle states at the end of the book, “On the contrary, it is now only just beginning.” Those who have read novels by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson & The Olympians or Kane Chronicles), Philip Kerr’s Children of the Lamp series, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series will most likely enjoy this slightly more mature tale as Michael Scott combines modernism with various aspects of mythology and legends throughout the span of time. This is an amazingly enthralling story, filled with mythological gods, vampires, werewolves, and even the elixir of life.  The Alchemyst is a fabulous read, as is the entire Secret of Immortal Nicholas Flamel series.