Monday, May 30, 2011
Saturday, May 1, 2010
* book reviews for ages 9-18. We are the only reviewer of children’s books to use a criteria based upon accepted definitions of good character. Reading books whose main characters learn from their mistakes and demonstrate good choices assist in forming the same in the mind of the child. Such books support character education and citizenship initiatives in your school, and family values in your home. They can be useful tools in discussion groups too. As you compile your summer reading list for your children or students, encourage the child towards these books. Although we review books that often do not meet our criteria (and so have not been posted on our website), we do have several reviews for great books in each age group to upload in the near future. So please keep checking for new reviews!
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* Over 400 items in our bookstore have been hand selected with extra information given when helpful. We keep in mind how these books can be used: family book clubs, friends reading marathons, and as tools for connecting all subjects in the classroom/homeschool curriculum. For example, our Laura Ingalls Wilder store has versions of her books for all age groups, including biographies for each reading level, and a cookbook. This can be particularly useful for families reading together or homeschooling, allowing all members of the family to read versions of the books appropriate for their age and ability.
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010
The 39 Clues: The Emperor’s Code
Korman, Gordon. (2010) The 39 Clues: The Emperor’s Code. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc. ISBN: 978-0-545-06048-6. Recommended age level: 9-12. See criteria review and parent/teacher activities at www.litland.com
As the race to find the 39 Clues builds to its explosive finish, Amy and Dan must explore an ancient culture and steal a Clue guarded by thousands of the world's best-trained soldiers. It's the most dangerous Clue search yet. As their enemies crowd in, Amy and Dan find themselves separated for the first time ever. The choice lies before them – find the next Clue, or find their way back to each other.
One thing about this series...no matter who the author, you can count on a little humor to lighten up the adventure! Book 8 starts off with comments like Dan’s lament “There’s an international conspiracy to bore me.” And while other books have bad guys chasing good guys, does the good guy almost get made into a lollipop?
Amy and Dan are understandably having to adjust to finding out that they belong to the Madrigal family, renowned evil-doers. Then finding that their parent’s aliases in Africa had criminal reputations was crushing. But deep inside remained hope, the hope that they, their parents, and their beloved grandmother were really the good guys. Any other series might have the characters longing to be evil with its false sense of power and control. This is an example of how good overshadows evil continuously throughout the story.
Ingenuity continues to prevail as Dan can quickly size up his desperate circumstances and innovate a way out of them. Not to be forgotten, Amy demonstrates her amazing intelligence when finding and interpreting clues. We are reminded again that, while perceived as underdogs by their cousins, these kids are superior because they have the truly important strengths: family love and support, hope, and good hearts that force them to figure out the best way out of any situation.
Ultimately Book 8 is all about loyalty. The news of Amy and Dan’s heritage threatens to break apart what’s left of their family. Their strong bonds with one another are contrasted by giving us peeks into how the Janus branch (Jonah Wizard family) treats one another.
Similar to when Amy was fooled by Ian Kabra into liking him, Dan is duped by Jonah Wizard into thinking they are working together. Ultimately Wizard does choose family relations with Dan over the 39 clues search, demonstrating again how this younger generation differs from the older members at the head of each clan.
This leads, then, to our final thought: the underlying theme of being true to oneself. Over and over again we hear self-talk where characters lament of how the search for the 39 clues---to be the most powerful person in the world---makes a person “less than human”. After doubting their own ability to be good and humane, Amy realizes they do not have to be evil just because they are Madrigals. “...we can change our destiny...”. Thus Hope, the fuel of humanity, drives them towards success again. An excellent portrayal of good character presented in an exciting adventure...highly recommend for readers of all ages!
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
So what do we think? Tuck Everlasting
Babbitt, Natalie. (1975) Tuck Everlasting. Thorndike Press/Square Fish, Scholastic Inc. ISBN 10: 0312369816; reviewed ISBN 0-7862-5181-6. Publisher reading level grades 5-6. Litland.com age recommendation 10-14. See full review at http://www.litland.com/
Publisher description: Time drags by for Winnie Foster, an eleven-year-old girl who lives in a house bordering the woods owned by her family. Winnie spends her summer days under the watchful eye of her grandmother. Most of the time it's too hot to be out in the sun, and when Winnie does actually venture outside, she never goes beyond the fence of the yard. But one morning she sneaks away into the woods and there she sees a young man drinking from a mysterious spring of water he uncovers at the base of tree. The young man, Jesse Tuck, discovers Winnie watching him. So he kidnaps her.
This is a fabulous story. Mae and Angus Tuck, along with sons Miles and Jesse, have a problem; they accidentally became immortal. But they don’t want to be. Angus Tuck dreams of what it is like to go to Heaven, and teaches Winnie about the wheel of life which his family has “stepped off”. While at first the Tucks may seem to be the ‘bad guys” as they kidnap Winnie, we see the truly bad person is the man in the yellow jacket who manipulates people and information to paint a false picture of the situation. Then using this to his advantage, he coerces the Fosters into making a decisions to give up part of their local legacy. The author goes beyond just the unjust act itself (manipulation of the Fosters) to letting us know its true consequences: chipping away at the family heritage.
There is a scene near the end where Mae Tuck shoots the man in the yellow jacket. Rather than unnecessary detail of the shot’s physical impact, Babbitt stays focused on the meaning and consequences of the action itself. In doing so, she strengthens the moment rather than depleting it.
Her writing style is rich with nary a word wasted. The reader is left feeling love and care for all of the earth’s creatures, compassion for the Tucks, and respect for others who don’t understand but are well meaning. We can picture in our minds the toad, the heat wave, early morning fishing, and the heaving of the galloping horse.
This is also a story of a girl coming of age in 1880. A time in history when children were still allowed to be children and, yet, once a teen they take on adult responsibilities quickly. For the first time, Winnie has her own life experiences that are not shared by her family, and so she is learning how to deal with that feeling of loving and hating independence at the same time; having a secret you can’t share with those who love you even though it isn’t a bad secret; having to use adult wisdom at a young age. It is an interesting way to look at childhood, that of having shared experiences contrasted with those that a person experiences independent from their family, and the reader can feel the confused emotions thanks to the author’s excellent work. When with the Tucks, Winnie enjoyed having them as her own friends that she didn’t share with her family. Now that they needed help, it was an uncertain state of mind in which to be.
All of this is held within the context of the Tuck’s view of themselves. Although voiced by son Miles, it is clear the entire family sees that they should make a difference in the world. The domino and ripple effects of the actions by one single person are known and felt. Winnie chooses to make a difference in the world. She realizes she must make small mistakes to accomplish the larger mission of protecting the world from the curse held in the spring’s water. As in the old poem quoted in the book:
This is an excellent book for families to read together. It is appropriate for all ages, although of most interest to readers in 5th-8th grades. Choosing this story for your family reading hour or book club will give you much to talk through, and grow together as a family. It would also be an excellent teacher choice for in-class reading. In either the home or school settings, this book would be useful in an integrated curriculum using literature to learn about American history in the 19th century. Talking about books such as Tuck Everlasting is an important part of understanding and growing in our own value system, while also giving concrete examples for good behaviour to emulate. We cannot say enough about this great book!