Category Archives: Families

Tall Story

By Candy Gourlay

Published by David Fickling Books

Copyright © 2010


Not your typical tall tale, but “Tall Story” delivers on the tall in a giant way. Michael Jordan eat your heart out.

Bernardo and Andi are brother and sister, but they haven’t seen each other in 10 years. The reason for this is that Bernardo lives with his Aunt and Uncle in the Philippines, and Andi lives with her mom and dad (Bernardo’s step dad) in London. Bernardo has been waiting for the day that the British government will tell him that it is okay to come and live with his mom in London, while Andi grows up on the other side of the world hoping this long lost brother will come home soon and will like basketball as much as she does.


As Bernardo gets older his wish to go to London gets much more difficult. A strange chain of events has cast him in the role of the local savior, and he worries that if he leaves it will bring doom to his friends and family in the town of San Andres. The sheer weight of this is often too much for Bernardo. Only when he finally gets to London will this weight be lifted for good.


Written from the viewpoint of both Bernardo and Andi, Candy Gourlay has written a story with so many levels that I almost don’t know how to describe this book. While reading it I sometimes lost focus on what the story was about or what the author was really trying to say. Is it about family relationships, miracles, legends, basketball, illness, being different, or etc. There is just so much going on I couldn’t really get a clear message from the story.


That being said the story did hold my attention and was generally enjoyable. I think the thing that I like most about “Tall Story” is that while it is full of sadness Bernardo seems to have such a positive attitude, at least when he isn’t blaming himself for the way things turn out.  There are the death of a mate, a child being left behind, the struggle to be reunited, bullies, sickness, and earthquakes all in one story. There is so much to be depressed about and yet Bernardo comes off as relatively happy, even if conflicted. This book is set in the Philippines and the United Kingdom, and the main characters are big on basketball. This book is definitely worth a read for kids 10 and up who are interested in basketball or foreign countries.


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Filed under Communities, Cultural, Families, Junior Fiction, Multicultural, Myths & Legends, Sports

The Last Musketeer

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.

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

The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman

By Meg Wolitzer

Published by Dutton Children’s Books

Copyright © 2011

I enjoy playing Scrabble®, but I never would have thought that they actually held Scrabble tournaments. I also didn’t think that I would ever be reading a novel about Scrabble, never mind being completely sucked in by it, but Meg Wolitzer has done just that.

Duncan Dorfman and his mom have moved fromMichiganback toDrilling Falls,PAwhere his mom is originally from. She lost her job inMichiganand her Aunt Djuna has invited them to come stay with her, and has lined up a job for her at Thrifty Mike’s Warehouse. Soon after he arrives at his new school, as is so common with new kids, he becomes the target of the resident jerks.Duncanjust can’t take it anymore, so he decides to show them his power. This gets him and automatic invitation to the Scrabble team.

April Blunt lives inPortland,Oregonwith her sports crazy family. All of her siblings are large and athletic, while she is small and brainy. Her family just can’t understand her enjoyment of Scrabble, and she can’t understand why they don’t see her chosen game as real sport; a sport of the mind.

Nate Saviano is a skater boy fromNew York City. All he wants to do is ride his skateboard, listen to his music, and go to public school like a regular kid. His dad, Larry, has decided that he wants him to be homeschooled so that he can spend every waking hour training him to win the Youth Scrabble Tournament; the same tournament which haunts him to this day, because he lost there so many years ago.

These three, and their partners, will come together for a competitive and fun filled weekend inYakamee,Floridafor the National Youth Scrabble Tournament. They all have different reason for wanting to win, but no matter what happens their lives will change forever after this event.

In this book Meg Wolitzer emphasizes the need to be honest in all of our dealings, because it will inevitably come back to haunt us somehow. In that vein, one of the few things I would change about this book is that Meg doesn’t go all the way in makingDuncancome clean about his dealings. All in all though, she really does emphasize honesty. I also appreciated how she highlighted the theme of acceptance. Each of our three main characters, and even some peripheral characters, are seeking acceptance in some way from family, schoolmates, or tournament acquaintances. It really carries a subdued anti-bullying message which is so important today.

In the way of criticism – In the beginning the author seems to be telling separate stories that seem a bit disconnected, even when you realize that they are bound to culminate in these characters meeting at the Scrabble tournament. She does meld them together fairly well though. I also feel that there are places in the book that the author builds the reader up for conflict that never really comes to fruition. However, Wolitzer did such a good job of creating hanging questions and of accumulating likeable and less-than-likeable characters that nearly anyone could relate to, that it kept me wanting to know their answers and outcomes.

Wolitzer has written a very engaging book for children ages 10 and up. If it were merely about Scrabble it would bore me out of my mind. However, she has really written us a book about family, friendship, honesty, and acceptance that everyone should enjoy. If you are a diehard Scrabble Gamer you love this book all the more for its description of game scenarios and its useful Scrabble word lists.

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Filed under Elementary/Middle School, Families, Friendship, Games/Hobbies, Junior Fiction, Single Parents

Eight Keys

By Suzanne LaFleur

Published by Wendy Lamb Books

Copyright © 2011

Elise and Franklin like to play out in Uncle Hugh’s workshop in the barn.  The Workshop is downstairs. The second floor is off limits and it has eight doors; all of them locked. One day just after the start of the new school year Elise notices a key hanging in the barn with her name on it.

Elise is moving from elementary school up to middle school and she is finding the adjustment to be difficult. She is getting more homework, less teacher support, and more attention for all the wrong reasons. Much of the unwanted attention is coming from her locker partner, Amanda, who is a generally unhappy girl that seems to enjoy yelling, name calling, and lunch squashing.

Elise feels that part of her problems are brought on by her childhood friend Franklin whose innocent nature gets him and her pegged as babies, and therefore easy targets, by Amanda and her friends.  In addition, a new baby moves into her house, and Elise is having trouble getting used to not being the center of her Aunt and Uncles attention.

How is Elise going to deal with all of these changes in her life? After reading a letter written by her dad before he died she begins to think that answer lies behind those eight locked doors in the barn.

Suzanne LaFleur has written about middle school life, as well as troubles with friends and identity so realistically that it will be easy for many youths to relate to it. In addition the puzzle that is left behind by Elise’s father for her to discover adds a touch of mystery and surprise that heightens the anticipation for each chapter. Reality fiction at its best, this coming of age story is accessible to children (9 and up) and yet has emotional impact that even adults can appreciate.

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Filed under Coming of Age, Elementary/Middle School, Families, Food, Friendship, Junior Fiction, Loss/Death


Okay For Now

By Gary D. Schmidt

Published by Clarion Books

Copyright © 2011

Doug’s father has lost his job again and he has an offer of a job in a paper mill in a little town in upstate New York called Marysville. Doug isn’t really enthused about moving away from the city and his favorite team the New York Yankees, but it is no use to complain because his father will probably yell at him and pop him in the mouth. Things are going okay for Doug he makes a few friends, learns he has a talent he didn’t know he had, and even gets a job of his own. But if there is anything that Doug knows it is that when things are going too good something bad is bound mess it up. His brother and his dad seem more than willing to oblige and make things worse for Doug. Doug’s father has no problem stealing from his own son, and his brother, who has a habit of making the wrong impression, gets a reputation that unfairly attaches itself to Doug. Can Doug find a way to deal with his dad, and prove everyone in town wrong?

“Okay For Now” is complex tale of survival and betterment. Set in 1968 against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the Apollo space missions, and of course Doug’s beloved baseball player Doug Pepitone playing for the Yankees, Doug not only has to learn to Navigate a new town with new people but he has to navigate his home life with an abusive father and brother and the return of his oldest brother who comes home from Vietnam with life altering injuries. To cope with this Doug throws himself into his job of delivering groceries, learning to draw from the works of John James Audubon, and ultimately taking up his mission to make a special book whole again. In addition to all of this “Okay For Now” tells a tale of how important it is not judge people or places by their appearance, relations, sex, career, or etc. because often the conclusion that we come to are the furthest thing from the truth.

I found this book to be a moving and occasionally funny book of survival, recovery, redemption, and so much more. As I’m reading this book I’m thinking how badly I want Doug’s father to get what’s coming to him, however Gary Schmidt even finds a way to weave some redemption in there for him giving Doug hope for life to improve. This was one of those stories that once I got started I just had know how every thing would be resolved. I finished it in a day; it was that good. I highly recommend this book for children ages 10 and up.

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Filed under Art, Coming of Age, Communities, Elementary/Middle School, Families, Friendship, Historical, Junior Fiction, Loss/Death, Love/Romance, Nature/Animals

Freak the Mighty (Must Read)

By Rodman Philbrick

Published by Scholastic

Copyright © 1993

Max is big and dumb at least that’s what he thinks of himself. He hates school, he has no friends, and he is always picked on. But things are going to change when he gets new neighbors Gwen and her son Kevin. Kevin has a disease that has caused him to remain small, but he is the smartest and most fearless person that Max has ever met. Max and Kevin form a tight friendship that will help them both cope with their personal struggles.

“Freak the Mighty” is a moving book about two teens with different disabilities and abilities that complement each other. Max has a learning disability and emotional scars from the death of his mother; while he is physically imposing the reader can tell that he is quite obviously gentle and kind. Kevin on the other hand has a genetic disorder that causes among other things a small stature, abnormal spine curvature and heart, lung, and liver problems, however Kevin is extremely smart and inventive. These two have obvious physical and mental differences, but such things don’t stop either one from helping the other and forming a friendship that Max will never forget. And when Max needs help the most it will be Kevin who comes to his rescue.

This book will quickly move to the top of my favorite books list. There are no superheroes, faries, vampires, or mutants. This is just a beautiful story set in reality that shows how friendship and imagination can help people endure life’s struggles. I highly recommend this book for youths age 10 and up and for all adults.

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Filed under Coming of Age, Elementary/Middle School, Families, Friendship, High School, Junior Fiction, Loss/Death, Myths & Legends

The Star Maker

Laurence Yep

Published by Harper Books

Copyright © 2011

Artie is the youngest in his family and one of his older cousins gets great pleasure in picking on him. During one such occasion Artie lets his pride, and his mouth, get the best of him and he promises to get everyone firecrackers for Chinese New Year. The only problem is that he doesn’t have any money, and when he gets money he usually spends it too quickly. Fortunately for him his Uncle Chester steps in and promises to help him. Uncle Chester is a nice guy, everyone around town likes Chester, but Chester isn’t very good with money either. Before New Year Chester falls on tough times with some bad bets and it doesn’t look like he is going to be able to help Artie. Artie is more worried about his uncle than he is about his fireworks.

As usual, Yep’s story takes us inside the Chinese American life informing us on Chinese Culture, lore, and history while telling an enjoyable story.  While I don’t think this is his best effort (I was a big fan of Dragon Road) this is a nice multicultural story for children ages 8 and up that focuses not just on culture, but on such topics as not gambling, not letting your mouth get you in trouble, learning not to pick on others, along with other topics.

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Filed under Communities, Cultural, Families, Historical, Junior Fiction, Love/Romance, Multicultural