By Margaret Peterson Haddix
Published by Simon & Schuster
Copyright © 2010
Another Dare-ing adventure through time with JB, Katherine, and Jonah. Our time traveling trio will try to solve the history mystery of the Roanoke Colony.
Jonah and Katherine are set to take Andrea back in time to merge with her tracer and do what needs to be done to repair the timeline. Their destination is coastal North Carolina around the end of the 16th century where, and when, the Roanoke colony suddenly disappeared. There seems to be a change in the travel plans though when an unknown stranger causes a problem with the elucidator and they don’t get dropped where they should on the timeline. Not only that, but they lose the elucidator and they have no contact with JB. Does he even know where they are? Jonah, Katherine, and Andrea are going to have to figure out how to fix time on their own if they are to have any hope of escape.
Haddix has found a way to mix science fiction and social studies education together in a neat package with “The Missing” series. Many kids aren’t that interested in history itself, but what happens if you time travel and get dropped into the middle of history? Now that is interesting! I commend Haddix because she researches her history well and feeds the story pertinent information about it as needed to move story along. Nowhere does she add a history lesson for the sake of a history lesson. Kids would sniff this out in a heartbeat. Social Studies education is sorely lacking in American primary education today, and I applaud anyone who can include it in the creation of entertainment.
From a pure enjoyment stand point, children 8 years old and up will enjoy this series. They will love the time travel plot where it takes a couple of kids to save time. They will also enjoy its main characters. Haddix does a good job of writing the sibling interaction between Jonah and Katherine so children with brothers or sisters will really feel it. The author also helps the tone of her plot by not making the book too humorous. Part of the fun of time travel sci-fi is the childlike belief that it is just within reach of the realm of possibility, even though we know it isn’t. Too many laughs would probably keep pushing the story out of that realm.
For me personally, I loved the first book but I couldn’t latch on to the second and third wholeheartedly. This third book at 360 pages just moves too slowly for me with all the questions of what the characters should and shouldn’t do and explanations of time and tracer movement. What keeps me going in this series is the history. I was interested in knowing how the author explained the Roanoke Colony’s disappearance, and I was quite pleased with that. I understand, however, how all the explanations help young readers to wrap their mind around the story and take it seriously. I would definitely recommend using this book in conjunction with language arts to bring more attention to history in our classrooms. Stories like this just might grab a child’s attention and make them want to learn on their own.
By Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Copyright © 1980
What happens when 2 of the meanest old people come up against 4 young boys, 4 monkeys, 1 roly-poly bird from Africa, and hundreds of European birds? They get outwitted.
Mr. and Mrs. Twit are old, mean, and ugly. Mr. Twit has a long, unkempt, food littered beard and Mrs. Twit has a screwed up face and a glass eye that always stares in the wrong direction. These two used to be decent looking people but years of bad thinking has made them look as ugly as their thoughts. Mr. and Mrs. Twit love to torture each other with mean spirited practical jokes. They like to catch unsuspecting birds and make bird pie. And they like to train monkeys to perform upside down. All of this meanness is going to catch up with the Twits when the birds conspire with the monkeys to give the Twits what they deserve.
Giving mean and obnoxious people consequences of their actions is what Roald Dahl Does best. In “The Twits” Dahl gives us two people who are laughably mean. The practical jokes that they play on each other pretty old fashioned and low-tech by today’s standards, but still very funny. That said, however, the retaliation of the monkey’s and birds was in general predictable, so the first half of the book was more enjoyable than the last half.
After reading this and many other Roald Dahl books, I have to say that to me his writing style seems very giddy. It is not always pleasant to read because bits and pieces are always added, and sometimes you never do realize why they are there. I think this is what makes his stories enjoyable for children though, because when they read his books, they read as if a child was telling the story. That, I believe, is a hard thing to accomplish, and that is why he remains one of the most loved children’s authors of all time.
By Roald Dahl
Illustrations by Quentin Blake
Published by Farrar • Straus • Giroux
Copyright © 1982
The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) is just another example of Roald Dahl’s childlike imagination combining with his social awareness, making for a moralistic tale that children can’t help but like.
Sophie lives in an orphanage. It is not a very nice place to live because the supervisors are very strict and love to punish children. One night Sophie could not sleep, and even though she knew she could be punished she got out of bed and tiptoed to the window where the moonlight was beaming through. When she looked out the window the homes and streets all around were quiet and there was nothing moving about. Soon however, she noticed a large shadowy figure looking into people homes. As he got closer to the orphanage Sophie went quickly back to her bed. But soon the large creature was at the orphanage and he reached in, grabbed Sophie, and ran speedily away.
Sophie was fortunate however, she had been kidnapped by the BFG. Had it been any other Giant she would have been eaten on the spot, but the BFG did not like to eat people. He merely skulked around so that he could blow good dreams into children’s rooms. The BFG had to kidnap Sophie because she had seen him, and she certainly would have told everyone what she had seen first thing in the morning, and then they would have tried to capture him.
The BFG had problems enough back in Giantland without worrying about being caught by people. In Giantland the BFG was actually a runt; the other giants were twice his size. They were mean, cruel, and people eaters. They took every opportunity they could to bully the poor BFG, and every night they would run off to various countries and eat unsuspecting people. But now that Sophie was living with the BFG in Giantland this would have to stop.
In the BFG Roald Dahl tells the enjoyable story of an orphaned girl and a friendly and funny talking giant who become friends and find away to stop the mean giants. The funny made up words and names in this book are pure Dahl. While it is written from Sophie’s viewpoint, it is the BFG who steals the show because he is so silly and lovable. What I really enjoyed about this book was the lesson behind the story. While each creature has its own morality (rules for what is right or wrong) humans are the only ones that think it is okay to purposefully hurt others of their own kind. Giants would certainly never do this. Even though the other giants treat the BFG badly they would never kill him. This isn’t my favorite Dahl book, but it is one of my favorite morals. And this is a book that children 7 and up would likely enjoy.
2008 Puffin edition shown above.
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
Copyright © 1978
Dahl has taken us for a spin into the jungle with “The Enormous Crocodile.” Who doesn’t love a story about a big, bad monster who wants to eat children?
The Enormous Crocodile is hungry. Now, he could stay in the river with the other crocodiles and eat fish, but the Enormous Crocodile is ornery and mean and he has a hankering for children. Of course he knows that children aren’t going to just walk up to him and offer themselves for lunch, so he decides that he has to trick the children. Oh, the Enormous Crocodile thinks that he is exceedingly cunning and he does come up with some interesting ways to lure children into clutches, but he doesn’t count on other animals thwarting his plans.
Dahl has written a charming story that reminds everyone of two things: 1) be kind to others or they might just ruin your lunch plans, and 2) it is probably not a good idea to eat children anyway. The Enormous Crocodile is one of Dahl’s shorter stories written for a slightly younger audience than his usual fare (ages 6 and up) but enjoyable enough for older children like myself. The story might be a little scary for very little children, but the silliness of Dahl’s writings and Blakes illustrations, in addition to the fact that no child was eaten in the production of this story, offsets this nicely and should be enjoyed by all but the most sensitive child. This is a great book that I plan on reading to my son soon.
1996 Puffin Paperback Shown
By Roald Dahl
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
Copyright © 1961
“James and the Giant Peach” is a story, as it were, of a young boy and a little magic that turned him into a real hero to his new and rather unlikely friends.
James was happy boy with loving parents, but one day his parents die and he is sent off to live with his Aunts. Now if such an unfortunate thing as losing your parents must happen, you would be glad to have loving relatives to take you in. Unfortunately for James, his Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker were anything but loving. For the last three years they have made him work all day and called him horrid names.
However, one day a weird old man comes by and gives him some “tiny green things” that are full of magic. He also gives James instructions on how to use these magic things, but all does not work out the way James had planned. James trips and drops his “tiny green things” and they escape into the ground, but all is not lost because this is how he ends up as the captain of a giant peach, filled with new friends, just ripe for a journey.
Once again, Roald Dahl worked his magic and created a fantastical story of a poor young man up against hard and impossible circumstances who comes out on top with the help of the fantastic. What I love about Dahl’s protagonists is that even though they are what some might consider the poor and wretched, they are not bitter. They are inherently good. When poor James is stuck with his Aunts he isn’t concerned with the fact that they don’t give him much materially; he is upset because he wants other children to play with. Dahl has a way of showing us what is really important in life – family, love, and integrity. James Henry Trotter is certainly on a par with Charlie Bucket. (Great book for children 8 and up.)
2007 Puffin Edition Shown
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
Copyright © 1972
“Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator” picks up where “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” left of, but if “’Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is Dahl at his best…” then “Charlie and the great Glass Elevator is Dahl at his worst. However, children will still love the silliness of it all.
Charlie, Grandpa Joe, and Willy Wonka have picked pushed the remainder of the Bucket clan into the great glass elevator in order to take them back to the factory which Charlie will now help Mr. Wonka run. However, things go terribly wrong and instead of going back to the Factory they end up in space and under siege by the Vermicious Knids. When they finally make it back to the Chocolate Factory Grandpa George, Grandma Georgina, and Grandma Josephine all get a taste of Wonka-Vite and Vita-Wonk with (nearly) dire consequences.
The best way to describe “…the Great Glass Elevator” is clumsy and inane. The Big differences between “Chocolate Factory” and “…Glass Elevator” is that former is silly with a point and congruent within itself, and the latter is pointlessly silly and seems full of discrepancies. In “…Chocolate Factory” there was a clearly developed plot and moral in amongst all that silliness, but in “…Glass Elevator” I have no idea why it went the way it did. And even though this is supposed to be a sequel, I could be wrong but there seems to be a discrepancy in the age of the grandparents. In addition the story often doesn’t seem to jive with itself. Of course there is always the giant possibility that I was so utterly bored with this book that I didn’t catch everything.
Needless to say, young children, for whom this book was intended, will probably enjoy the silly imagination of this story, but adults like me probably won’t like it so much. I think I probably wanted more chocolate factory and less space nonsense.
Newer paperback version by penguin
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
Copyright © 1964
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is Dahl at his best, magic and social skewering all at once. But, I wonder if anyone will notice anymore.
Charlie Bucket lived with his mom and dad and four grandparents in a little shack on the edge of town. They were very poor because the only job Charlie’s dad could get was in a toothpaste factory as a cap-screwer, and a toothpaste cap-screwer doesn’t make enough to support six people. This being the case they all had very little to eat. Nonetheless, they were all happy that they had each other and they loved each other very much. Charlie was a growing boy though, and he was so very hungry. Of all the things he liked to eat, he liked chocolate the most.
Willy Wonka loved chocolate too. As a matter of fact he opened a factory in which he created the most wonderful and scrumptious candy and confections. However, spies infiltrated his factory and stole the recipes for his creations, so he fired all his workers and brought in new workers who lived in the factory. Nobody ever went in the factory and nobody ever came out, that is until the day that Willy Wonka invited five lucky children and their parents to visit his factory. The rest is, shall we say, literary history.
“Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” is a classic of Children’s literature. Dahl’s unmatchable imagination is on display in this children’s novel. A chocolate factory operated by a wacky food inventor and a bunch of little people, candies that never shrink, gum that turns you into a blueberry, ice cream that never melts, and glass elevators that move in every direction including up and out. And if we think that Dahl’s skewering of bad parents who spoil their kids with characters like Augustus Gloop and Veruca Salt, etc., was apropos in the 1960’s when he wrote the story just think of how much more it fits today’s society. Dahl’s work is timeless and well worth the read if you are age 8 or age 98.
By Stuart Gibbs
Published by Harper
Copyright © 2011
Meet the Three Musketeers before they were the Musketeers in this thrilling middle ages, middle school adventure.
Greg Rich comes from, well, a rich family. Over the years, however, they have squandered their wealth until it has come to the point that Greg’s parents have to sell the family estate. Fortunately for them there is someone who is more than willing to take everything off of their hands. Michael Dinicoeur, a representative of the Louvre in Paris, France, buys everything from the Rich estate and flies the family to France to deliver their many antiquities. But something just doesn’t seem right to Greg and as they hand over the last item he soon learns that his gut is right. He and his family are thrust back in time and his parents are captured. If he is going to save them and the world he is going to have to find Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan to help him.
“The Last Musketeer” is a fabulous romp back in time. It is full of action, adventure, and history. There is sword play (though I wish there was more), cannon fire, doppelgangers, secret missions, and narrow escapes. Gibbs also does well in describing what Paris of 1615 looks and smells like. He doesn’t glamorize it as some movies and books do. It’s really quite gross, which makes it perfect for boys age 10 and up. Really though, any youth (boy or girl) with an interest in historical fiction, especially the Musketeers, will like this book.
Edited by Jon Scieszka
Published by Walden Pond Press
Copyright © 2011
Writer Jon Scieszka is devoted to getting guys to read more. That is why he started www.guysread.com a web based literacy program whose mission is to “help boys become self-motivated, lifelong readers.” To further that initiative he has begun the Guys Read Library of Great Reading.
The second book in the Guys Read Library is entitled “Thriller.” It contains 10 stories by M.T. Anderson, Patrick Carman, Gennifer Choldenko, Matt De La Pena, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Bruce Hale, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Anthony Horowitz, Walter Dean Myers and James Patterson all well know children’s and young adult authors in the Thriller genre. In addition Brett Helquist lends his illustrative genius at the beginning of each story. This volume features stories of detection, piracy, bullies, mutants, and the supernatural. One thing that they have in common is smart and courageous boys who often do what is right even under scary or confusing circumstances.
I really liked quite a few of the stories in this book, but my favorite had to be “Nate Macavoy, Monter Hunter” by Bruce Hale. It is the story of Nate and Jeremy who are aspiring monster hunters. Jeremy has gone missing, but his mom isn’t worried. She thinks that his father has taken him, but Nate believes differently based on some texts Jeremy sent the night before. So, Nate embarks on a quest to find Jeremy and whatever monster took him. I love stories about Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, or the Moth Man so this tale is right up my alley.
On the down side 3 out of the 10 stories in this book are ghost stories (which I don’t care for), but otherwise the stories are well written and mildly suspenseful; on occasion they are even slightly funny. Short stories are a great way to get boys to read because one story can usually be read in one sitting and the story moves quickly right towards the resolution, which provides some instant gratification. This is a great book for boys (or girls) ages 9 and up. Be sure to share this with your reluctant readers today.