For sixth grader Anna Wang, life is presenting her with some serious and exciting challenges. She’s learning her way around middle school, trying to make new friends and accepting her adopted baby sister Kaylee. In The Year of the Fortune Cookie by Andrea Cheng, Anna’s also been offered the chance of a lifetime. Her family’s friends, the Sylvesters, have invited Anna and her mom to travel to China. Being a Chinese-American and having a basic understanding of the language, Anna realizes that this trip is a way to connect with her Chinese relatives, see the orphanage where her sister used to live, and improve her language skills. Unfortunately, Anna’s mom cannot get time off from work to accompany her so she has to travel by herself.
This third installment in the Anna Wang series gives the young heroine some real-life issues to deal with in a thought-provoking way. While Anna has never even travelled out of state by herself before, the chance visit to China is one that she cannot turn down, even though it takes a lot of inner strength and courage for her to go. Cheng effectively portrays how Anna, being one of a small number of Asian-American students in her home town, is suddenly thrust into a culture where she no longer sees herself as a minority. Yet, while the Chinese people do not stare at Anna as an outsider, she comes to realize that she is not just Chinese or just American but both. Cheng also nicely integrates some simple Chinese words and symbols throughout the story so young readers can learn something about the language.
Aileen was supposed to become a wise woman like her Aunt Beck, but then she messed up her initiation and spends the following morning in one of those depressions that sucks the joy right out of eating. So maybe it's just as well that she and her aunt are summoned to the castle and sent off on a quest to reopen the sealed land of Logre, which vanished behind a wall not long after Aileen was born. Things go wrong. When Aunt Beck gets herself cursed out of her own stubbornness, it's up to Aileen to take over and deal with all the problems — both large and small — that crop up.
When Diana Wynne Jones died in 2011, we lost one of the great fantasy and children's writers of the past century. There's a sense, not just of magic and quests, but of people who actually have to live in a world where curses might mean that every meal has to be spoon-fed, and where the horse isn't a gallant steed but a donkey that gets the cart stuck in the mud sometimes. There's true love, the refutation of childhood crushes and a gentle understanding that people sometimes make the wrong choices when they're alone. It doesn't take center stage, but there's a lot that an older reader will get that a child won't.
What makes a Diana Wynne Jones story is the understanding that as wonderful as magic is, it doesn't solve problems. Magic is merely an extension of the personality of the people who use it. Character, not power, decides the fate of Aileen and her companions.
The Islands of Chaldea was completed by Diana Wynne Jones's sister, Ursula Jones, an acclaimed novelist and actress.
Harry Hammer, a hammerhead shark, has created his list of the top five coolest sharks in existence. Of course, number one is the great white with their rows of pointy sharp teeth. Number two is the fast swimming blue shark. The stripy and scary tiger shark clocks in at number three, and number four is the ginormous whale shark. Finally, to round out the top five cool sharks, there's the bull shark, who can swim in rivers as well as the sea. So what could be cool about a goofy-looking hammerhead shark? That’s the question on Harry’s mind in the first book of Davy Ocean’s new series, Shark School: Deep Sea Disaster.
When Harry’s class goes on a field trip to a shipwreck for a group project, their sea turtle teacher has given them strict instruction to not go into the wreck because it’s too dangerous. However, Harry’s group ignores their teacher’s instructions and enters the rusty old ship anyway. Things turn bad and the students become trapped in the collapsing wreck. Can Harry use his special hammerhead sensory powers to find a way out and prove that he’s just as cool as all the other sharks in the sea?
In the second installment, Shark School: Lights! Camera! Hammerhead!, we follow Harry and his friends as they try to find something entertaining to do during school vacation. When the “leggy air-breathers” arrive to make a new movie, Harry hatches a plan to become famous, just like his hero Gregor the Gnasher. But Harry’s not the only shark with aspirations for stardom. Will Harry be able to nab a starring role in the film? Or will Rick Reef steal the show?
These fast-paced, action-filled, underwater adventures are sure to please first chapter readers. From dealing with bullies to embracing your own uniqueness, kids will be able to identify with the situations faced by Harry and his friends. As an added bonus you can enjoy some “Shark Bites,” fascinating facts about the animals that live in the ocean.
Once upon a time there was a little girl named Princess Pink. Yes, her first name was Princess and her last name was Pink. Princess enjoyed mud puddles, monster trucks and giant bugs. She absolutely, positively hated the color pink. One night, after her mother tucked her in bed and turned off the light, Princess noticed that her tummy was grumbling. She tiptoed to the kitchen to find a snack, but instead of finding some tasty green-bean casserole, Princess opened the refrigerator door and fell into the land of fake-believe. Accompanied by Mother Moose and a green-haired girl named Moldylocks, Princess set off on a crazy-cakes adventure in Moldylocks and the Three Beards, written and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones.
Moldylocks took the still hungry Princess to the weird looking house of the Three Beards. Once there, the two girls tried the three Beards’ chairs and tasted the three different bowls of chili. They also tested out all three of the Beards’ beds, finding one to be just right to jump on and play Cowboy Caveman. Suddenly, the Three Beards returned home and were not happy to find that someone had been sitting in their chairs, eating their chili and jumping on their beds!
Did Moldylocks and Princess escape the three angry Beards? Or did they end up ingredients in the next batch of chili? And what exactly is a tunacorn? If your child has recently transitioned into first chapter books and likes zany, action-packed stories with unusual characters and colorful illustrations on every page, then this book is perfect. Parents will also enjoy the reading comprehension questions on the last page that will help you discuss the wonderful world of fake-believe with your kids. This book is an excellent pick for summer reading fun!
To commemorate the centennial of the outbreak of World War I this summer, many new books have been and will continue to be released. They range from new analyses of battles, biographies of personalities of the era and wide-ranging assessments of how the ‘War to End All Wars’ set the history of the 20th and 21st century and its continuing conflicts in motion. A furry character study for young readers comes in Ann Bausum’s Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I’s Bravest Dog. As the United States was at last pulled into the war in 1917, a stray, brindle-colored Boston Bull Terrier wandered onto a soldiers’ training ground at Yale University. The soldiers all took a liking to this sweet, short-tailed dog, but none more than enlisted man James Conroy.
Training complete (for both men and dog), the soldiers were sent to sea, and Conroy smuggled the pup onto the ship bound for France. Now considered a mascot, Stubby had been taught to stand on his rear legs and lift his right paw to salute high-ranking officers. This endeared Stubby to all he met, including women of the French resistance, who sewed him a natty uniform. The dog turned out to be a valiant and useful addition to the men in the trenches, as he aided with rat removal, alerted the men to enemies approaching and was even temporarily wounded in action while helping to discover landmines. Bausum illustrates the history of the four-legged hero with plenty of period photographs from the Conroy family collection and other ephemera of the WWI era. Her impeccable research is outlined in endnotes and an extensive bibliography. She also tells of this famous dog in Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation, written for adult readers. This title covers even more of Stubby’s exploits during and after the war. Both books are published by National Geographic, and are excellent avenues into this period. They will be enjoyed by dog lovers as well as by history buffs.
Walter Dean Myers, author of more than 100 books for children and teens, passed away on July 1st at the age of 76. Myers wrote with depth and authenticity. His novels included realistic characters, and he didn’t avoid difficult topics. In his Michael L. Printz Award-winning novel Monster, Myers delves into the world of a 16-year-old boy on trial for murder. His novel Fallen Angels is about a Harlem teen who enlists in the Army and spends a year on active duty on the front lines of the Vietnam War.
Throughout his distinguished career, Myers earned many prestigious awards for his work including two Newbery Honors, three National Book Award nominations and six Coretta Scott King Awards. He was also awarded the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, as well as the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults. In 2012, Myers was named the Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.
A lifelong champion of diversity in children’s literature, Myers passionately addressed the issue in an essay in The New York Times, writing, “Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?” The essay ended simply, “There is work to be done.” That work will be done in his memory as his legacy is carried on through his writing.
Koji Miyamoto’s 13th birthday is quickly tarnished by the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a half-Japanese American during World War II, Koji’s life dramatically changes on that fateful day. Gaijin: American Prisoner of War is a graphic novel by Matt Faulkner which describes this ugly period in American history in heartbreaking detail.
Koji’s day begins innocently enough as he listens to the Lone Ranger on the radio while helping his mother with the dishes. When the attack is announced, he and his mother have to look up Pearl Harbor in the atlas. Koji immediately wonders if his Japanese father could have been flying one of the attack planes. His father had returned to Japan the summer before to take care of a sick family member. After a night of bad dreams, Koji heads to school only to discover he is persona non grata everywhere — at school, on the streetcar and on the street. As the government increases restriction on Japanese Americans, Koji’s innocence is lost forever when he is sent to a “relocation camp.” Outside of the camp he is ostracized for being half-Japanese, inside he is tormented for being half-white.
Faulkner’s novel is a powerful piece of historical fiction told graphically. Koji’s journey to adulthood under terrible conditions is beautifully detailed in color as he deals with discrimination, tough choices and growing up. Faulkner also neatly teaches the reader about a dark piece of American history, when over 110,000 Americans were made prisoners of war in their own country.
For more information on the subject, Faulkner has created a website - www.gaijinamericanprisonerofwar.com.
It has happened to most of us at some point. You’re reading a book on a plane or on the beach. Suddenly, there is a heartbreaking plot twist or a beloved character dies. You try to fight it, but it’s a lost cause. You’re crying in public, and it’s not pretty. These sad stories highlight the deep emotional power that books have over us.
• Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls is one of the first books that made many of us cry. This novel about the friendship between a boy and his two hunting dogs is a modern classic.
• Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is an unforgettable story about a girl named Liesel living in Nazi Germany. The novel was recently adapted into a movie, but this is a book that you simply must read.
• Me Before You by Jojo Moyes follows Louisa Clark, a young woman who takes on a job as a caretaker for Will Traynor, who is a quadriplegic. The two of them quickly grow close, but Will’s plans for his assisted suicide loom ahead of them in this tragic, romantic tale.
• Ian McEwan’s Atonement is an elegant exploration of guilt and forgiveness. During the summer of 1935, 13-year-old Briony accuses the family maid’s son Robbie of sexually assaulting her cousin. The consequences of her testimony haunt her for the rest of her life.
• Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia is a beloved childhood favorite for many readers. Despite their differences, Jess and Leslie become inseparable friends. When tragedy strikes, Jess must use the lessons that their friendship taught him to heal.
• Set in a post-apocalyptic America, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is the story of a father and son who walk through the desolation, depending only on each other while they try to make their way to the coast.
• Gail Caldwell’s Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship will make you want to call your best friend. In this poignant memoir, Caldwell chronicles her friendship with her best friend Caroline Knapp from their first meeting through Knapp’s death of lung cancer at age 42.
Ten-year-old Jack Foster has never been the center of his parents’ universe. Spending much of the year at boarding school, Jack’s infrequent trips home to smog-choked Victorian London are fraught with awkwardness, boredom and his own guilty anticipation of returning to school.
So when on one visit home Jack spies Mr. Havelock, his mother’s mysterious new spiritualist, opening a door where no earthly door should be, he jumps at the chance for adventure and follows...
...into a magical world that so closely mimics our own, the line between what is mechanical, what is magical and what is alive has long been blurred. Here the air is thick with smoke, and many residents are obliged to wear goggles and nostril grills to shield them from the noxious atmosphere. Whole, flesh-and-blood children are rare and prized by Londinium’s ruler: the Lady. Now, the Lady requires a new, perfect son and she’s set her sights on Jack.
As keen as he was for adventure, Jack isn’t so sure he’s ready to be adopted, and the Lady’s previous son, Mr. Havelock (aka Sir Lorcan), isn’t happy about being replaced. This new world is not without friends though, including Beth, a wind-up doll with an attitude, and Dr. Snailwater, the scientist who created her. If Jack wants to escape back to his own world, he’ll need the help of his new friends and that of the Gearwing, a powerful, mythical creature that no one has seen in years.
Emma Trevayne paints an atmospheric and eerily entrancing landscape in Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times, her middle-grade steampunk debut. Boasting excellent world building, characteristic of the steampunk genre, gorgeous cover art and an independent protagonist with amusing supporting characters, Flights is best suited for younger middle-grade readers.
For all the narrative merit displayed in much of the story, Flights does suffer from some underdeveloped and ultimately unresolved plot devices. Among these weaker elements are the obscure motivations of the Lady in continually craving perfect, eternal sons in the first place, as well as the underdeveloped mythos of the Gearwing itself. As a standalone novel these flaws are prominent, however, in the larger context of a series (should Ms. Trevayne continue to expand Jack’s horizons) these shortcomings might be camouflaged.
As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the unspeakable murders of three young civil rights volunteers, two books introduce to young readers what happened in Mississippi in June of 1964 – and the legacy of that Freedom Summer. Susan Goldman Rubin takes a timeline approach in her middle grade book Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Each chapter is titled with a time, such as “June 21, 1964, Afternoon,” the last time any of the three victims were seen alive. Pulling no punches, Rubin outlines the devastating reality of the ingrained racist attitudes among many of the people of Neshoba County, Mississippi, at that time, while making plain that those feelings extended to the all-white law enforcement authorities which aided and abetted in the killings. Maps, interviews and reproductions of photos and newspaper clippings all bring to light the horror of the situation that played out over the course of that summer.
Don Mitchell’s The Freedom Summer Murders covers similar territory but in a slightly different way, and for a teen audience. Chapters introduce us to the victims individually as each of the young men – James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner – receives his due. Interviews with their families, friends and other volunteers in Mississippi that summer help bring a better focus to who they were and why they felt so strongly for this cause. Additionally, Mitchell’s book fully examines the legacy of the summer and how their martyrdom ignited nationwide awareness, shock and fury. He includes the protracted legal battles and eventual reconciliation efforts that have helped move Mississippi and the state forward from this dark episode even to this day.