Category Archives: Families

The Missing Book 3: Sabotage

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.

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Filed under Action, Adventure, Families, Fantasy, Historical, Junior Fiction, Love/Romance, Mystery, Native American, Science Fiction

My Life in Pink & Green

By Lisa Greenwald
Published by Amulet Books
Copyright © 2009
Who knew that the words makeover and green went so well together? “My Life in Pink & Green” shows us that you are never too young to look good and save the planet, at least in a small way.
 
Young Connecticut tween Lucy Desberg loves her family’s pharmacy and she loves the makeup and beauty products they sell there. But Lucy’s life isn’t all lip gloss and nail polish; the pharmacy and her family are struggling to make ends meet. It looks like they are going to lose their house and their business if things don’t change. Lucy isn’t sure what she can possible do to help until two fortuitous events happen. One, she helps the most popular girl in school with a major hair dilemma, and two, she joins Earth Club with her best friend Sunny. Soon she realizes that the way to save the pharmacy is to go “Pink & Green,” or in other words, focusing on beauty and environmentalism. The only problem is her mother, and grandmother, don’t take her ideas seriously, so Lucy is going to have to make them take her seriously.
 
“My life in Pink & Green” is a great story that relates how even young people can be proactive and ambitious and maybe even play a small role in saving the world. It is great to read a young female protagonist that knows what she wants and knows what she needs to do. It is also great that even though Lucy and Sunny do have crushes that boys are not the thrust behind their plans. Having a first crush is just a secondary theme and plot line.
 
Lisa Greenwald has written a story with realistic people and places, and realistic problems. Now, do I believe that the solution to the story’s problem is realistic? No, as an adult it seems just a little far out on the limb for me, but not utterly impossible. I also think that Lucy acts and talks more like a sixteen year old than a twelve year old, but what do I know, I’ve never been a 12 year old girl.  Those things being said I liked Lucy’s story. Whether farfetched or not, it is encouraging youths, especially young girls, to make a difference, to have ambitions, and to shop locally. This is a must read for tween and teen girls everywhere.

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Filed under Elementary/Middle School, Environmental, Families, Friendship, High School, Junior Fiction, Love/Romance, Single Parents

The Moon Over High Street

By Natalie Babbitt
Published by Michael Di Capua Books
Copyright © 2012
 
Renowned children’s author Natalie Babbitt has given us a simple yet charming story about being true to yourself even when someone offers you the world to change.
 
Twelve year old Joe Casimir lives inWillowickwith his Grandmother, and he is going to spend a few weeks this summer with his Aunt Myra down in the Southwestern corner of the state in a town called midville. He isn’t sure if he is going to have a good time being away from his friends, but that thought disappears when he meets Beatrice, the girl next door who just happens to be the same age.
 
While Beatrice is showing Joe around town she takes him up to High Street which is where all the rich people live. By chance Joe and Beatrice meet the richest man in town, Mr. Boulderwall, who turns out to be pretty nice. It isn’t long till Joe’s summer is turned upside down, because Mr. Boulderwall is going to make him an offer that will leave him set for life. Joe isn’t sure what to do and he is hoping that someone else will know. Somehow the answer to his dilemma seems to be hung from the moon.
 
“The Moon Over High Street” is simple tale in that it isn’t complicated with a multitude of characters, complex historical backdrops, or magic and fantasy. Babbitt just sets up a nice realistic fiction story, for children 10 years old and up, about a young boy fromOhioin the early 1960’s with a tough decision to make.
 
What I enjoyed about this book was that while Joe’s life must have had some sadness, the sadness isn’t the focus. In addition, the choice Joe needs to make isn’t a dire life or death, good or bad, kind of choice, but a “what do I want my life to be” kind of choice. At 12 years old Joe is forced to give serious thought to what he wants to be when he grows up, as compared to what Mr. Boulderwall wants him to be and what he thinks might be more helpful to his grandmother. Lastly, I love books with lessons and this one has a good one. Money is necessary, but is it the most important thing? This is a lesson that all people, not just children, need to learn.

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Filed under Coming of Age, Families, Junior Fiction, Loss/Death

Danny the Champion of the World

By Roald Dahl

Illustrated by Quentin Blake

Published by Puffin

Copyright © 1975

Champion of the world? Well, maybe the champion of a small town and a patch of forest full of birds. But, it’s good clean fun nonetheless; at least if you are old enough to know better.

Danny lives with his dad (William) in a little caravan behind a filling (gas) station and garage.  It isn’t the most beautiful home in the world but it is warm and snug. William loves Danny very much. He has taken care of him by himself ever since his wife died. William protects Danny and teaches him everything he knows. One of the things he teaches Danny is about poaching pheasants, and this is going to make Danny the champion of the world.

While, in my opinion, some of the characters are a little flat or unnecessary (e.g. Danny’s school teachers) and the chapter that ties in the story of the BFG was a little pointless, I still thought this was a good example of Roald Dahl giving us a little champion with a big heart. (With that in mind click here for a blog post about Dahl’s stories and rural class structure in Post-WWII England. I thought it was very interesting.)

I have some hesitations in recommending this for very young children because the moral is a bit skewed. A father and son love each other immensely (good). The dad teaches his son a skill (good). They fight against the oppression of a self-important, upper class, jerk (good). They bond (good) by working together (good) to steal from the aforementioned upper class jerk (bad). My mother always taught me that two wrongs don’t make a right, and that it is never okay to steal. These are two things that I still believe in.

That being said the audience for which this is intended, kids age 7 and up, should already be grasping principles of right and wrong and will understand that it is a work of fiction. Besides that, there are so many pointless and horrible books out there that I don’t believe this one can do much damage. “Danny the Champion of the World” has a really likeable main character, some mild adventure, and a bad guy getting what’s coming to him. How could any child or adult not like a story like that?

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Filed under Families, Junior Fiction, Nature/Animals, Single Parents

James and the Giant Peach

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.)

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Filed under Adventure, Families, Fantasy, Friendship, Junior Fiction

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

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.

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Filed under Adventure, Families, Fantasy, Junior Fiction, Science Fiction

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

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.

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Filed under Families, Fantasy, Junior Fiction