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: 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?

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?

The Red Pyramid

Author: Rick Riordan

Age Range: 10-18 (Kirkus)

Interest Range: 10-14

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

Plot: Carter and Sadie have grown up as practically strangers. When their mother died, their father continued traveling the world and studying Egyptian history with Carter in tow while Sadie stayed with their grandparents in England. On Christmas eve, the only time of the year when the three of them are together, their father manages to let lose an ancient Egyptian god who wants him dead. Carter and Sadie are amazed to find that the Egyptian gods are not only real, but after their own family. And now, with the disappearance of their dad they have to learn to work together for the first time in their lives if they have any hope of saving him. As their adventure advances, the brother and sister realize their own powers and unlock the history of their family that goes all the way back to the time of the pharaohs. Can they learn to work together in time to save their dad and the world as we know it?

Review: Riordan seems to have cornered the niche of Greek and Egyptian mythology at the middle grade level. His writing moves quickly, and he throws in lots of history and facts about the different gods and the history and culture of these regions. It’s easy to see why readers enjoy his multiple series, but I can also see how they might get old quickly. Since I have a love for mythology, these books appeal to me and my excitement at seeing young kids excited about reading in this genre. These books could be a good starting place for teaching mythology: a fast paced story to draw them into the topic, and then other materials could be introduced for more depth with different myths or gods.

Themes: Changes at Home, Building New Relationships, Magic, Coming of Age

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Carter Kane: 14 years old, and often called “Wikipedia brain” by his sister, Carter is smart. He also happens to be a very strong magician, although he doesn’t know it at the beginning of this story. Carter’s main concern is finding and saving their father. Of note: Carter (and Sadie) have parents of two different races. His father was black and his mother was white. Carter’s skin color makes this fact much more obvious than his sister’s. People often don’t understand them to be related.

Sadie Kane: 12 years old, Sadie was born and raised for most of her life in Los Angeles but has been living with her grandparents for the past few years in England. She does not see her father often, and does not get along well with her brother because of a fight at her sixth birthday party.

Muffin/Bast: The cat that Sadie’s father gave to her when he lost custody of her, Muffin is actually the goddess Bast in housecat form. She eventually makes her presence known and helps Carter and Sadie in their adventures.

Bibliographic Info:

Riordan, R. (2010). The Red Pyramid. New York: Hyperion Books.

Tagline:

What if one day you found out that your dad was an Egyptian magician? What if all of a sudden you were one too?

Movie Review: Coraline

Written and Directed by: Henry Selick

MPAA Rating: PG

Interest Range: 10-adult

Genre: Fantasy, Horror

Plot: Coraline’s family has recently moved to a new house. It’s boring, and always raining, and Coraline’s parents are prone to ignore her while they both work from home. Her only form of entertainment is exploring- and watching out for Wybie, the grandson of the landlord who has taken to following Coraline around. One day Wybie drops off a surprise for Coraline, a doll he found in his Grandmother’s house that looks just like her: blue hair, yellow raincoat and boots, the only difference is a pair of button eyes. Coraline carries the doll around with her out of boredom, but assures everyone that she’s far too old to play with dolls…and then she finds the door. In the daytime, the tiny secret door opens onto nothing but a bricked up wall, but at night it’s a gateway into a whole separate world just like this one but better. Coraline’s other mother and father adore her and cook her delicious food and give her all of their attention, but now they want her to stay with them. Forever. Coraline must decide which world she wants to live in before it goes too far.

Review: I remember being struck by this movie when I saw it in the theater. It was done in 3D, and seamlessly so. Upon entering the other world, everything seemed to become interactive and beautiful, helping the viewer understand why this world was so much more appealing to a bored 11-year-old girl. It loses some of that when viewed in only 3D, but the story is still intense. While the book features a lot of Coraline’s inner struggles and monologues, allowing for the story to be mainly about her journey with bravery, the movie cannot do that. So the writer created Wybie, an odd little boy who stalks Coraline and eventually becomes her friend after helping to save her from the Belle Dame. Now, having read the book and seen the movie in close succession, I definitely appreciate the book more. But I can see how the movie would hook some children in a way the book could not. The design of the movie also creates some images that could be rather disturbing for some children, whereas the book leaves more to be interpreted in your own imagination. I included two different promotional images for the film in this post that show the juxtaposition of this film. I think that younger children will be interested in this because of the animation aspect, but may be scared off by the intensity of the underlying message and the last 30 minutes. Maybe this film is a good introduction to scary movies?

Themes: Changes at Home, Importance of Family, Building New Relationships

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Coraline Jones: An 11-year-old girl who wants to stand out. She enjoys exploring, asking questions, and looking different from everyone else. When she discovers the door and the other world, Coraline is tired of being ignored. She gladly accepts the gifts and warmth of her other family, but quickly realizes the danger she’s placed herself in.

Wybie: The grandson of the Pink Palace’s landlord, and roughly the same age as Coraline. He’s not quite used to having other kids around, since his grandmother usually doesn’t allow for tenants with children. But Coraline intrigues both him and the feral cat he keeps as a kind of pet, so he follows her to keep an eye on her.

The Belle Dame: Coraline’s other mother. A being that exists by feeding off of the lives of young children. She creates fantastic worlds to lure them into loving her, then ensnares them and uses their life up to maintain her power. She then traps the ghosts in her world, never to be released again.

Bibliographic Info:

Selick, H.(Producer and Director), & Jennings, C. (Producer). (2009). Coraline [Motion picture]. United States: Laika, Pandemonium.

Tagline:

“Be careful what you wish for.”

Dark Lord: The Early Years

 

Author: Jamie Thomson

Age Range: 9-14 (Kirkus reviews)

Interest Range: 9-14

Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Humor

Plot: Dirk Lloyd has been hit by a car and lapsed into some kind of amnesia- at least that’s what he was told after waking up in a supermarket parking lot and being rushed to a hospital. But Dirk knows exactly who he is: The Dark Lord from the Iron Tower of Despair at the Gates of Doom, from the Dark Lands. The white wizard has sent him here to earth and trapped him in the body of a 12-year-old boy because it was the only way to defeat him, and now no one believes him. The child psychologists think he’s created some elaborate fantasy to deal with a traumatic event- they even try hypnotizing him to find out the real story! But after months of living in a foster home and learning how to navigate the seventh grade as a puny human boy, Dirk isn’t changing his tune. But he is managing to learn how to show affection and gain ::gasp:: friends instead of minions. Is Dirk faking, or is he really from another world, full of orcs and goblins?

Review: I loved this book! Between the humor and the references to movies and role playing games, there were very well done discussions on bullying, going to therapy, navigating inter-group relations at school, dealing with the powerless feeling of being a kid. It’s hard to be the nerd, especially when you’re so lost in your world that you can’t help but let it come out sometimes. Dirk lets his flag fly high, and gains friends in the process. His closest friends end up spanning three very different groups: a goth girl, a very normal boy, and the most attractive and popular jock in the seventh grade. His unwillingness to back down in the face of bullies is inspiring, and his interactions with the child psychologists are frustrating and (I would imagine) pretty spot-on for most kids. This book might appeal to a very different kind of kid- or at the very least let those who are always focused on the good guys take a walk on the dark side. Like Dirk always says “Why is it always for goodness’ sake? Why can’t it be for evil’s sake? For evil’s sake!”

Themes: Bullying, Illness, Changes at Home, Building New Relationships

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Dirk Lloyd: The Dark Lord, or so he believes. The adults are trying to tell him he’s been hit by a car and just cannot remember his real name, parents, or anything about his past. But Dirk is convinced he was fighting a war in his home, the Dark Lands, and was banished by a white wizard. Now he’s been placed in a foster home and must start attending school like any other normal kid. But Dirk is anything but normal, and his teachers and fellow students don’t quite know what to think.

Christopher Purejoie: The son of Dirk’s new foster parents. Chris and Dirk eventually manage to become friends. Chris even earns the title “Mouth of Dirk” for his wonderful ability to act as translator between Dirk and his surroundings.

Susan Black: Upon first meeting her, Dirk mistakes Sooz for a vampire- even addressing her loudly as “Child of the Night” and disrupting class. But Sooz is a goth, not a vampire, and really likes Dirk. I mean, really likes him. She even decides to take the heat when the three of them (Sooz, Dirk, and Chris) get in some major trouble.

Sal Malik: The most popular jock in the seventh grade. His interests lie mostly in Baseball and Soccer, and Dirk only manages to earn his friendship when he displays his strength in tactics. Soon the two are meeting secretly to come up with plans on how to crush the competition. Dirk even promises Sal the position of Lord High Overseer of the Armies of Darkness, due to his physical prowess.

All three sidekicks are certain that Dirk is crazy and just coming up with stories. They know he believes every word he says, but none of them actually thinks he’s telling the truth.

Bibliographic Info:

Thomson, J. (2012). Dark Lord: The Early Years. New York: Walker Publishing Company, Inc.

Tagline:

Dirk Lloyd is from another plane of existence, but for now he’s trapped on Earth in the body of a puny 12-year-old boy. How’s a real Dark Lord supposed to take over anything when his magic stops working and he’s reduced to a child?

The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate

 

Author: Scott Nash

Age Range: 10-12 (Kirkus reviews)

Interest Range: 9-12

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure Story

Plot: Welcome to the world of avian pirates! The fearsome Captain Blue Jay has been leading his air ship, the Grosbeak, and crew on a very successful run of pillaging and plundering. But everything changes when he decides to keep an egg that they’ve found as a prize for his collection. The presence of the egg throws the crew into disarray- loyal Junco, the navigator,  has been leaving her post to try and hatch it! She convinces Jay that this egg is truly special and will bring them adventure, so the entire crew is enlisted to keep the egg safe. When the egg finally hatches, they find the Junco was right- this adventure will be like nothing they’ve ever dreamed. Along the way, learn a few new pirate songs and let the Jolly Robin fly!

Review: This book was definitely great for pirate lovers. A true pirate story all the way, complete with legends , and sword fights, and death, but made more kid-friendly because the characters are all birds (and a few other animals). This story will capture the mind of any child fascinated by pirates or birds, and the author has done a great job of describing details like how their ship flies through the air. Pirate-obsessed younger readers with strong abilities will enjoy this story too, and won’t need much help from parents to get through it. A unique option for the reader who wants nothing but adventure, this might help them bridge the gap into the fantasy world.

Themes: Coming of Age, Changes at Home, Bullying, Loss, Death

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Blue Jay: The captain of the Grosbeak, and infamous pirate. There are many legends about his ferocity, but those who know him best know otherwise. He’s survived six mutinies, and piloted multiple ships, but this next adventure will go down in the books as his biggest achievement yet.

Junco: The navigator for the Grosbeak. It is her instinct that tells them the new egg is important and should be hatched. More loyal than any other shipmate, everyone is surprised by her crazed behavior surrounding the egg. Junco becomes a kind of surrogate mother to the hatchling.

Gabriel: The hatchling, who turns out to be a gosling. Blue Jay refers to him often as a godling, since in their world geese are often thought of as gods.

Bibliographic Info:

Nash, S. (2012). The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

Tagline:

Pirates can sail the high seas, why not the high skies? Join Captain Blue Jay and his crew on the greatest adventure a bunch of pirate birds has ever seen!