Sarah, Plain and Tall

Author: Patricia MacLachlan

Age Range: 8-10

Interest Range: 8-10

Genre: Historical Fiction

Plot: Anna and Caleb’s mother passed away years ago, shortly after Caleb was born. Their house is no longer full of singing, and their father is tired of raising a family on his own. One day he announces that he as been writing to a woman from Maine who is going to come and visit them. She may even stay and be their new mother. Sarah introduces herself to the children through letters, and describes herself as plain and tall. When she shows up, the children are excited at the prospect of such a kind and interesting lady becoming a part of their family. But as much as Sarah enjoys the children and her new life in the frontier, she also misses home: her brother, her aunts, and most of all the ocean. Will Sarah decide to stay in the prairie? Or will she miss the sea so much that she must return home again?

Review: Such a sweet book to touch on the ideas of a deceased mother and what used to happen in families in the time of the American Frontier. Mail-order brides are certainly not something that we think of often today, but at that point in history it was not uncommon for people to place advertisements for wives to join existing families out west. Told from the point of view of the children, this story is sweet and you cannot help but wish for Sarah to decide to stay with them. A great book to show how stepmothers can easily become a loving part of a family that needs to fill a void- not to replace the mother completely, but to help usher in a new time for everyone involved. Also a great story for those who are interested in the American West during the time of expansion.

Themes: Changes at Home, Building New Relationships, Death, Loss, Loneliness

Additional Info:

Awards: Newbery Medal Winner in 1986, Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction 1986, Golden Kite Award 1986 (for excellence in children’s literature)

Main Characters:

Anna: The oldest of two children who have recently lost their mother. She is intelligent, and sometimes cross with her younger brother who she sometimes blames for her mother’s early death (which happened post-childbirth). Anna desperately wants Sarah to decide to stay with them and be their new mother, but remains distant and worried that she will miss her home too much and leave them.

Caleb: The younger of the family’s children, who is now a few years old (maybe 5 or 6?) and loves to hear the story of his birth and stories about their mother. He is inquisitive and sometimes rude and difficult. He also very much wants Sarah to decide to stay- so much that he cries when she leaves for town for the day because he is convinced that he as been bad and she will buy a ticket to go back to Maine.

Jacob Witting: After years of raising two children on his own, Jacob is tired and wants to pursue having another wife. He decides to place an advertisement, describing the family and their situation, and eventually hears from Sarah. The two of them seem to get along very well and are kind to each other.

Sarah: A woman from Maine, who never married. Her brother had recently married and the family house was now being run by his new wife. Sarah desired a change and that is why she answered Jacob’s advertisement. Although she misses the sea most of all, she adjusts to life on the prairie relatively easily.

Bibliographic Info:

MacLachlan. P. (1985). Sarah, Plain and Tall. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

Tagline:

Mother has been gone for years and Papa is tired of raising two children on his own. Will Sarah be everything the family is hoping for?

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Movie Review: Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer

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Directed by: John Schultz

MPAA Rating: PG

Interest Range: 8-10

Genre: Comedy

Plot: Judy Moody had the perfect plan for making the summer after third grade their best one yet- a competition for who could complete the most thrilling dares, the goal being 100 thrill points and proving their summer was full of exciting and memorable happenings. But then two of her closest friends are leaving for the summer, one for circus camp and the other to the rainforests of Borneo. And if that wasn’t enough, Judy’s parents have to leave town to help out their extended family so their yearly trip to Grandma’s house isn’t happening. Instead, Aunt Opal is coming to stay and Judy will be stuck at home with her annoying younger brother, Stink, and her most boring friend, Frank. Judy changes her plan and emails her friends to tell them the thrills are now a race, and the first to 100 points wins- but how will she ever compete with learning to saw people in half and hanging out with monkeys?

Review: This movie was cute, and certainly points to something kids this age are worried about. Summer is supposed to be full of fun and exciting things that you can then brag about to your friends when you head back to school. Often there is nothing more dismal than looking ahead to a summer full of nothing. But Judy shows us how just a normal summer at home, where you think nothing is happening at all, can actually be full of quite a few thrills. It’s just what you make of it. Judy seems to be portrayed as a pretty honest 8 or 9 year old, she wants adventure and is often frustrated with her family and disappointed by her friends. She has her own sense of style, and her best friend is a boy. She’s not annoying to watch, and doesn’t seem to be some kind of caricature of a tween, although she’s definitely not going through anything too personal in this story. Ultimately, this movie made me want to take a closer look at the Judy Moody series of books. I wonder how well they adapted the main character to the screen.

Themes: Changes at Home, Building New Relationships, Humor

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Judy Moody: The title character, Judy has just gotten out of the third grade. Her friends have abandoned her for more exciting summers and Judy is left at home wondering what to do. On a few separate occasions, she decides to give up and spend the rest of the summer in her bedroom because NOTHING exciting ever happens to her. But eventually, she realizes it’s all what you make of it and she decides to turn her summer around.

Stink Moody: Judy’s little brother, who is currently obsessed with Bigfoot. The rumor of Bigfoot in the area has gotten Stink all riled up and he is convinced that he will capture the beast this summer. He’s even joined a Bigfoot Believers club.

Aunt Opal: Judy’s aunt, who they haven’t seen in many years, is in town and charged with taking care of the kids while their parents  are gone. Aunt Opal describes herself as a guerrilla artist and teaches Judy the importance of enjoying the moment and making something out of what you have in front of you. She also seems to be followed by small disasters.

Frank: Judy’s one friend who has remained in town this summer. Unfortunately, Frank is probably the least brave of the 4-member Toad Pee club and not the best match for Judy’s thrill-seeking adventures.

Bibliographic Info:

Schultz, J.(Director), Luther, B. S. (Producer), Magness, G. (Producer), & Siegel-Magness, S. (Producer). (2011). Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer [Motion picture]. United States: Smokewood Entertainment.

Tagline:

“Be careful what you wish for.”

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

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Directed by: Gary Ross

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Interest Range: 10-adult

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian

Plot: Katniss has volunteered for the yearly government-enforced fight to the death, called the Hunger Games, to save her younger sister from certain death. She is now headed for a brief life of luxury in the Capital while training and world-building for the game are happening, before she is let loose with 23 other Tributes who will fight until only one remains. The Hunger Games are an establishment that the government has put in place to remind their people of the uprising the Districts once attempted. They are a way for the establishment to assert itself over its people every year, and make sure they acknowledge the power that is held over the people of the 12 Districts. But Katniss is special, she has a very clear reason to survive and is willing to do almost anything to get home- and the president has noticed her rebellious streak. Her life will never be the same.

Review: Since these books now appeal to such a wide audience, I was curious to see how they handled the movie. With such a violent and dark topic as a fight to the death among teenages treated as a garrish reality television show, this very easily could have been a R-rated movie. But they did a really good job of making it the least violent possible. Rarely do you see blood- and the most that is seen is from wounds like Katniss’s burn and Peeta’s cut. The most violent scenes are distorted, or sound is removed, so the viewer has an extra degree of separation from the action. Katniss and Peeta’s love story is not graphic, and at times isn’t even obvious (I watched this film with someone who had never read the books and often had to fill him in on the motives of each of the characters). I really do believe that children younger than 13 could watch this film and be ok. I think like with much dystopian writing, much of the more disturbing deeper message will go over kids’ heads due to lack of world experience. And if questions are asked, hopefully a parent will not shy away from having that conversation.

Themes: Dystopia, Inner Strength, Overcoming Challenges, Building New Relationships

Additional Info:

First in a film trilogy based on the books by Suzanne Collins. She was also involved in the writing for this film’s screenplay.

Main Characters:

Katniss Everdeen: A 16-year-old girl who is determined to survive the Hunger Games and get back to her family. She has very mixed up feelings regarding her hunting partner, Gale, and now Peeta, who has become her partner in the Hunger Games. Publicly, Peeta and Katniss are pretending to have feelings for each other, but by the end it’s unclear if everyone is still pretending- or if Peeta ever was.

Peeta Melark: The baker’s son, also from District 12. He is Katniss’s male counterpart in the Hunger Games, but obviously not as skilled at survival. He has been in love with Katniss since they were small children, and decides to make that public and play it up for popularity and the help and support of sponsors during the games.

Haymitch: District 12’s only past winner, he is given the task of mentoring all of their Tributes. Since they’ve never had another winner, one could see how this might be a very depressing task. But this year, he sees promise in Katniss and the possibility of a star-crossed lovers storyline. He manages to come out of his drunken haze to help win sponsors for the two Tributes and keep them alive.

Gale: Katniss’s hunting partner back home. Although they’ve never spoken of feelings for each other, it becomes clear that Katniss’s heart seems to lie with him. He’s promised to take care of her sister and mother while she is away.

Bibliographic Info:

Ross, G. (Director), Jacobson, N. (Producer), & Kilik, J. (Producer). (2012). The Hunger Games [Motion picture]. United States: Lionsgate, Color Force.

Tagline:

“The World Will Be Watching”

Discussion: Light vs. Dark Trend in Fantasy Literature

It seems to me that a common trend throughout Science Fiction and Fantasy literature is the war between the Light and the Dark, or  Good vs. Evil. No matter what world the story takes place in, or what species or race the characters are, the discussion of good and bad is something that is constantly stressed in stories in our society. It has been for as long as we’ve had stories: religious parables and myths, fairy tales, today’s science fiction all share this theme. It comes as no surprise to me that it would also be prevalent in fiction for middle grade readers. The idea of there being good in the world as well as evil is a lesson we’ve been trying to teach to our youth throughout history. A warning, almost, to try and make sure that we instill morals in our children so that they can be positive contributors to our societies.

The Tale of Despereaux delivers this same message, this time using mice and rats and the physical difference of light and darkness. In the world that DiCamillo has created, mice are creatures of the world of the light and are only sent to the dungeon (a world of complete darkness) when they are being exiled from their own society. They are sent there to die a terrible death by the hand of the rats, who are creatures of that darkness and despised by humans as creatures of disease and ugliness and death. It was, in fact, a rat who had unintentionally caused the death of the humans’ queen, who was frightened to death by the accidental appearance of a rat in her soup- a rat who had left the darkness of the dungeon for the light of the world above only to be shunned and sent back to the dark world from which he came. He had wanted to witness beauty and goodness, and leave the evil that the other rats held in their hearts behind, but because of the prejudice of the humans in the castle was forced to go back. While in that darkness, his plan for revenge was conceived and developed and put into action. A plan to steal away the Princess Pea from the world of light and make her remain in the darkness of the dungeon forever as punishment for sending that rat, Chiaroscuro, back to his home and showing him that humans would never accept rats in the world of beauty and light.

But then DiCamillo takes a turn. In the end, she allows the rats to partake of the world of the light. Princess Pea, moved by Despereaux’s devotion and gift of forgiveness, extends a sort of olive branch to the rats inviting them out of the darkness to partake in the beauty and enjoyment of the world of light for a taste of soup. Princess Pea’s invitation serves to showcase the idea that even when people are born in or come from that world of darkness we should still give them the chance to experience light and beauty and good, not shun them from it and ban them to their darkness and sadness and potentially evil ways. This reminds me of countless parables from new testament Christian texts (as well as many other religions’ writings and teachings): ideas of “love your neighbor” and forgiveness and being good to your fellow man. It’s no secret that humans do have an aversion to rats. Throughout history they’ve carried diseases that have been very detrimental to our societies (the plague in medieval times, etc.), and the word itself has quite the negative connotation. But mice can be cute. Especially very tiny ones with giant ears who can read and fall in love with princesses. I think that DiCamillo’s use of mice and rats, two very closely related animals that are thought of very differently, to show prejudice and good vs. evil was interesting and something on a level that children in this age group could latch onto and learn from.

Movie Review: Despicable Me

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Directors: Chris Renaud & Pierre Coffin

MPAA Rating: PG

Interest Range: 8-14

Genre: Humor, Science Fiction

Plot: Gru has a plan to become the most renowned super-villain of all time: he wants to steal the moon. But he just can’t seem to get funding from the bank for his project. They’ve told him he needs to prove his abilities by acquiring an existing shrink ray, currently held by another villain, Vector, who was made famous by his successful theft of the Great Pyramid of Giza. But Vector’s fortress is impenetrable- or is it? Vector seems to have a weakness for cookies sold by the local orphanage, and Gru begins to hatch a new plan. He will adopt some orphans of his own to help him acquire the shrink ray. Little does he know that the orphans have plans of their own. They want a family, and they’re going to do their best to get Gru to let them stick around. But can a super villain really be won over by three young girls? Especially girls who like unicorns, the color pink, and take ballet?

Review: This movie was hilarious and heartwarming, all at once. I found myself tearing up multiple times, only to be laughing again moments later. Gru certainly has only evil intentions at the beginning of the film, and one can’t help but feel bad for the girls he has chosen to involve in his plan. But despite his desire to be unlikeable and villainous, the girls seem to see through his tough exterior almost instantly and set about trying to make a real dad out of him. The few flashbacks we see of Gru throughout his life, constantly being turned down and passed over by those from whom he would seek approval makes you really feel bad for the man and his memory of these times is ultimately what breaks him down and makes him human again. Filled with lots of humor to keep kids laughing along the way, this movie is not only fun but moving too. Great for all ages.

Themes: Changes at Home, Homelessness, Light vs. Dark/Good vs. Evil,

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Gru: A man who wants nothing more than to pull off the biggest heist in history, bringing him super-villain level fame. Gru wants to steal a shrink ray so that he can then shrink and steal the moon. We learn throughout the course of the movie that even as a child Gru wanted to visit the moon, but no one thought he was capable. It was this constant lack of respect that drove him to desire to steal the moon for himself.

Vector: A younger, up-and-coming super-villain, made famous by his successful theft of the Great Pyramid of Giza. He is the current holder of a working shrink ray, which Gru needs to make his plan a reality.

Agnes, Edith, and Margo: The three young orphan girls that Gru decides to adopt as part of his plan to steal the shrink ray. Vector once let them into his fortress to buy the cookies they were selling, and Gru hopes to use the girls to get into the fortress himself. Once that part of the plan is complete, Gru plans to send the girls back to the orphanage- or leave them at an amusement park.

Bibliographic Info:

Coffin, P. (Director), Renaud, C. (Director), Cohen, J. (Producer), Healy, J. (Producer), & Meledandri, C. (Producer). (2010). Despicable Me [Motion picture]. United States: Illumination Entertainment.

Tagline:

Can a super-villain ever be a super dad?

The Tale of Despereaux

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Author: Kate DiCamillo

Age Range: 7-12 (Kirkus Reviews)

Interest Range: 7-12

Genre: Fantasy

Plot: This is the story of a very tiny mouse who was a disappointment to his family. He was smaller than he should have been, and terrible at everything a mouse should be good at. He was strange, and the other mice did not understand his ways. But Despereaux was special: he could read! And his ability introduced him to the importance of story, and the idea of knights and princesses and duty and honor. So when he finally met a real life princess, it makes perfect sense that he fell in love with the human girl and knew he would do everything it took to honor her. This is also the story of how other people wished to take revenge on the princess, and ultimately how Despereaux was tested to see how far his love for the princess could carry him. Will a tiny little mouse be able to brave the dungeon and ultimately save the princess from her terrible fate?

Review: This book was incredibly sweet. I loved the approach, telling the story from each of the main characters’ points of view  (Despereaux, Chiaroscuro, and Miggery Sow) and allowing you to see each of their personal pasts before telling you how they all three were wound together. I also enjoyed the sense of humor and repeating tendency to directly address the reader and invite them to make the story more personal (check your dictionary for definitions, relate the story to your own experience, etc.). The main character might be a mouse, but he is very much humanized and I think very easy for children to relate to. It is common to feel like you don’t fit in with your family, to feel different from your own kind and sometimes not realize that those differences are alright (even good), and can be used to your advantage or as strengths. And the emphasis of the importance and value of “story” and “light” is ultimately uplifting and encouraging.

Themes: Being Different, Light vs. Dark, Coming of Age, Prejudice (species, in this case)

Additional Info:

Awards: Newbery Medal Winner in 2004

Adaptations: This book was made into an animated film in 2008.

Main Characters:

Despereaux: A mouse, smaller than normal and very different form all of the other mice in the castle. After letting himself be seen by the King and even be touched by the Princess Pea, Despereaux is turned in by his own brother and father and exiled to the dungeon by the Council of Mice (basically a death sentence). But when meeting the princess, Despereaux fell in love with her and will fight to get back to the light and keep her safe from harm.

Chiaroscuro: A rat, born in darkness but desiring a life filled with light. When he finally gets to experience it, he is shunned and sent back to the darkness where he begins to plot his revenge on the Princess. He is forever obsessed with the brilliance and beauty of the light, and ultimately will try to capture the Princess and teach her a lesson.

Miggery Sow: An unlucky girl who was sold into slavery by her father after her own mother’s death. Miggery is often beaten, to the point of losing her hearing. Unfortunately, she is also not very smart and quite lazy. After seeing the Princess Pea on her seventh birthday, her only wish is to also be a princess.  Instead, she ends up working in the castle and is eventually tricked into helping Chiaroscuro take his revenge on the Princess Pea.

Princess Pea: The Princess of the castle, still dealing with the passing of her mother. Princess Pea is fond of Despereaux and becomes angry with her father for not allowing her to befriend the mouse. She becomes the object of Despereaux’s affection, Miggery Sow’s dreams, and Chiaroscuro’s revenge.

Bibliographic Info:

DiCamillo, K. (2003). The Tale of Despereaux. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

Tagline:

Despereaux is a very different mouse. But often being different just means you’re destined for adventure.

Video Game Review: Lego Harry Potter Years 1-7

Ages: E10+ (Everyone 10 and older)

Harry Potter is such a loved franchise, I was not at all surprised to see someone take it on in both the physical world of Lego toys and the popular video game franchise that Lego now incorporates into their product lines. Watching the beloved characters come to life in those little blocky shapes and act out the story line we all know so well with only grunts and gestures is incredibly amusing in its own right, let alone getting to manipulate them through the levels. I appreciated the fact that the player actually has to acquire each new spell and ability by attending classes and going through activities to help you practice the new skill. By interspersing actual game play levels with classroom tutorials the player is able to feel good about the new spells and abilities before having to actually use them where it counts.

As with all of the Lego video games, there is so much built into the game that a player could take months to get through it all. Once you play through the Story Mode and unlock as much as you possibly can (each level has the four sub-goals of collecting a certain number of “coins”, finding the three hidden characters, locating all four parts of the Hogwarts Crest, and freeing the Student in Peril), you can go back and re-play each level as many times and with any different character you like (and have unlocked and bought) to try and achieve all of the possible goals and gain the desired Red and Gold Bricks. The Red Bricks give you extra useful and fun things to do each level (allowing your spells to work faster, giving all of the characters funny disguises to wear or turning all of their wands into carrots), while the Gold Bricks are more of an end-goal. Once all of the achievements for each level have been met, the player will have collected all of the Gold Bricks and is able to put them all together in Diagon Alley (technically in the basement of Gringots) to construct a final surprise. To be completely honest, I’m not sure what it is yet since I haven’t had the time to play through everything enough to achieve all of the goals. I hope to someday find out.

The people who make the Lego video games decided to break the Harry Potter saga into two separate stories. I think this was wise. The only problem I have with it is that they decided to tweak and change certain aspects between the two games, probably as advancements were made with software and in an attempt to make the overall experience better for the player the second time around (the original Xbox version of Years 1-4 had some glitches that made it impossible to advance past a certain part in the game on  your first attempt through), but I appreciate consistency when two games are so obviously linked. I wish that the Diagon Alley section had been the same for both games, instead of just different enough to throw me off. I had a really hard time finding where to purchase all of the unlocked characters in Years 5-7.

The available online walk-throughs continue to be a major help for me with this Lego game (as with all of the others). Some people might be ashamed to admit that a game designed for children can sometimes be too complex or confusing for them, but I certainly am not. Not being the most avid of gamers, and not having a lot of free-time available for video games these days, I often go to the walk-throughs to help me get past very specific puzzles or find well-hidden important elements. And I am amazed (but not surprised) when watching gamers much younger than myself walk through these games and puzzles like they are no challenge whatsoever. Another aspect of the Lego games that I enjoy is the inability to die. Sure, your little character can be hit only four times before being blown apart into tiny bricks, but then he just reforms where he was previously standing. Having lost coins, certainly, but they even give you a chance to quickly run around and gather up much of what was lost in the first few seconds after you regenerate. Not being forced to start over every time something bad happens or you fail to complete a task makes this game encouraging and less frustrating for younger players (and older players alike).

Lovers of the Harry Potter franchise who are missing the books, enjoyers of Legos, and those who love puzzle games will all enjoy these two Harry Potter video games. Even if they do get frustrating sometimes, there is enough present in each of these games for players of all levels and varying interests, and help is always available in online communities.

Ramona Quimby, Age 8

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Author: Beverly Cleary

Age Range: 7-9

Interest Range: 7-9

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Plot: Ramona is starting the third grade, but that’s not the only new thing going on in her family. Her sister is now in Junior High, her dad is going back to school to become a teacher, and now her mother is working full-time to support them all. Things have definitely changed in the Quimby household. Ramona likes the third grade. She doesn’t let Yard Ape get the best of her, she gets to read great books during Sustained Silent Reading, and she really likes her teacher- or at least she did until she overheard Mrs. Whaley telling the secretary that Ramona was a show-off and a nuisance. What did Ramona do? Getting egg on her face at lunch wasn’t her fault, and neither was getting sick in class…but she did squeak her new shoes really loudly one day. Could that have been it? Things were already tense at home, and now Ramona’s feeling uncertain in school. Will she be able to play nice with her babysitter’s kids? Will her mother lose her job and her father have to drop out of school? And will she ever be able to make a book report interesting without being a show-off?

Review: This was a sweet little book. Ramona has a lot going on around her and definitely deals well with all of it. She has her uncertainties about what her parents are going through, and knows her responsibilities within the family even though she might not be happy about them. But overall she just wants to do well in school, not annoy her teacher, and be of help where she can at home. I was worried that the book might be a bit dated since it came out in the early 1980s, but the only thing that seemed out of place was the reference to a cigarette machine. That one small detail aside, this book could easily still be enjoyed by second and third graders today. I feel like it might even be more relevant today since many parents are going back to school and having to juggle that with family life. That idea could be confusing for a child, and reading a story about another family going through the same thing could alleviate some pressure.

Themes: Changes at Home, New School, Economic Hardship

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Ramona Quimby: Ramona is 8 and entering the 3rd grade. She is smart and loves to draw like her father, and she hates having to be nice to Willa Jean (the babysitter’s annoying granddaughter) but knows that that’s her job in the Quimby family. Ramona enjoys getting small presents from her dad and likes doing well in school.

Beezus (Beatrice) Quimby: Ramona’s older sister who is in the 8th grade and going to Junior High this year. Beezus and Ramona seem to have  a pretty good relationship, and we witness her 8th grade experiences through the bits and pieces that Ramona picks up: being invited to a party with girls and boys, going to sleepovers with friends.

Mr. Quimby: After tiring of his job as a supermarket checkout clerk, the Quimbys have saved enough money for Mr. Quimby to go back to school. He’s studying to become and art teacher.

Mrs. Quimby: The girls’ mother, who is now working full time to cover expenses while Mr. Quimby is taking classes and working a part-time job.

Bibliographic Info:

Cleary, B. (1981). Ramona Quimby, Age 8. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

Tagline:

The third-grade is full of exciting things to learn: cursive and book reports and fruit flies are keeping Ramona busy. But why does Ramona’s teacher all of a sudden think she’s a show-off and a nuisance? She’s just trying to do a good job and fit in at a new school!

The Fairy Ring or Elsie and Frances Fool the World

Author: Mary Losure

Age Range: 10-14 (Kirkus)

Interest Range: 10-14

Genre: Non-fiction, History/Biography

Plot: Frances and Elsie lived in England during World War I. The two young girls would often play in the beck behind Elsie’s house, a wooded area with a stream and waterfall, where they would both often see “little green men” wandering about while they were playing. In an outburst, Frances told her mother about the fairies and from then on was teased by her family. One day Elsie had the idea to prove them wrong, and take a picture of the fairies. But her fairies were actually painted drawings, and the girls pulled off a photo convincing enough to eventually make them the center of much attention. Even the famous writer of Sherlock Holmes detective stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, wanted to believe that the girls’ photos were real. This is the story of two young girls who managed to fool a lot of people, and held on to their secret until they were grandmothers themselves.

Review: I had heard about the photos before reading this book, and was glad to finally hear the entire story. Elsie and Frances were two pretty remarkable young girls in their ability to keep a secret, but pretty normal in every other way. It was definitely an interesting look at how far people will push an idea when they really want it to be  reality. The girls’ creativity and ability to manipulate a relatively new technology really captured the hearts and minds of many people, some very prominent and known for their powers of deduction. I think that when viewed from this angle, their story is very relevant in today’s world of constantly changing technological advancements. In the age of photoshop and the Internet, people are constantly manipulating images to try and prove a point or idea. This story might be a fun way to show how that can sometimes actually work, emphasizing the importance of further research and checking sources before believing in fantastic stories.

Themes: Changes at Home, Lies, Tough Issues (war-time life, dropping out of school)

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Elsie: A school dropout with artistic abilities. It was Elsie who drew and painted the fairies, devised the plan, and took the photos, all at the age of 15. Those who believed her photos the most were harsh critics of her other artwork and said that there was no way she could have fabricated the fairies because she had no artistic talent. This criticism hurt her deeply, and she could not refute it unless she told the truth and destroyed the story.

Frances: A young girl of 9 when the story begins, Frances has come with her mother and father to England from South Africa to stay with her Aunt and Uncle and cousin while her father goes off to fight in the war. Frances is the first to see the little green men, and poses for Elsie’s photos to go along with the story and provide proof to stop the teasing from family members.

Aunt Polly and Uncle Arthur: Elsie’s parents and the owner of the house and land where the family was living at the time (Cottingly, Yorkshire, England). It was Uncle Arthur’s camera that Elsie used to take the first photos.

Bibliographic Info:

Losure, M. (2012). The Fairy Ring or Elsie and Frances Fool the World. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

Tagline:

How do you tell when to stop telling a lie?

The Sisters Grimm

Author: Michael Buckley

Age Range: 10-12 (Kirkus)

Interest Range: 8-12

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery

Plot: Sabrina and Daphne are pros at breaking out of foster homes. Ever since their parents disappeared, they’ve been escaping from each bad situation and getting back to the orphanage as quick as possible. But this time it’s different. This time, the woman they’re going to be living with claims to be their real grandmother. But that can’t be true, because Sabrina and Daphne have known for years that their grandmother is dead. That’s what their parents said. And this lady also seems to believe that fairy tales are real. Not only real, but that she’s surrounded by them. Granny Relda believes that the town of Ferry Port Landing is crawling with fairy tales, and that it is her job to sort out all of these Everafters’ mysteries. Is she really their grandmother? Will she be able to help the girls find their parents? And just WHAT is going on with all these fairy tale reminiscent characters? Is anyone in this town sane?

Review: Being a huge fan of fairy tales, I absolutely loved this book and the others in the series that I have read so far (at this point I’m on #4). Sabrina and Daphne are two very different girls, and both very set in their ways. Sabrina is skeptical, often so much that it can blind her to the truth. Daphne is trusting, and wants very much to settle into this amazing new existence that she has found. As the books progress, they begin to deal with the issue of prejudice. Sabrina believes that all of the Everafters are horrible and not to be trusted. This often comes back to bite her and is a big part of the third book. I’m curious to see how this plays out over the course of the series. They also deal a lot with the idea of right and wrong with respect to the use of magic, which is interesting since magic is such a popular topic in much middle grade fiction right now. Lovers of fairy tales will have more fun with this series than those who are not as familiar with folklore. Many references will go over readers’ heads if they don’t already have a working knowledge of the best known fairy tale stories.

Themes: Changes at Home, Homelessness, Building New Relationships,

Additional Info:

Series Info: This is book 1 in a 9-book series, which has been completely published at this writing.

Main Characters:

Sabrina Grimm: The older of the two sisters, Sabrina is focused on finding their parents and interested in nothing else. She refuses to believe that this new woman is their grandmother and cannot believe that she would be silly enough to believe that fairy tales are real.

Daphne Grimm: Daphne wants very much to believe that Granny Relda is really their relative and that Ferry Port Landing is really full of Everafters. She delves into the detective work and wants very much to take on the family job of keeping the Everafters in line.

Granny Relda: The mother of the girls’ father, she really is their grandmother. Relda wants to convince the girls to believe her and have them help her with her detective work. She is slightly odd, but who wouldn’t be when they’ve spent their life surrounded by real-life fairy tales? She also wants to find her son and his wife, but is taking a more careful approach, which is not enough for Sabrina.

Bibliographic Info:

Buckley, M. (2007). The Fairy-Tale Detectives. New York: Amulet Books.

Tagline:

The Grimm sisters are about to realize that their family history is not as simple as they thought. When faced with real-life fairy tales, what would you do?