Category Archives: Ages 7-9

The Magician’s Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia), 1955

I published this post on my self-hosted blog last spring. Since the first five Narnia books are on this blog, I wanted to put this one here, too.

the magician's nephewI’m nearly done working my way through the Chronicles of Narnia with my son. This is the sixth and second-to-last book in the series. Oddly enough, it tells of Narnia’s beginnings. Yes, for this one we jump back about two generations before the Pevensie children were born. At this time there lived in London a boy named Digory and his neighbor, Polly. Digory’s mother is deathly ill, so they came to live with his aunt and uncle. Uncle Andrew, unfortunately, was a horrible man—arrogant, selfish, and cruel. He had absolutely no business dabbling in magic.

Digory and Polly soon find themselves in the dying world of Charn, where Digory disturbs a great evil and awakens a sorceress. Later, when the children find themselves in the brand new world of Narnia, during that splendid first morning when Aslan sings the land and creatures awake, they bring the witch with them. It is a Genesis story. An Eden, complete perfection sullied by mankind’s error. But Aslan promises to bear the worst of the cost on himself.

As always, Aslan’s presence is rich and beautiful. He works a protection over all of Narnia that will last for many hundreds of years—accomplished through the hands of man. He is the lordly, noble hero of the series, but not all admire him. He terrifies Uncle Diggory.

“He has made himself unable to hear my voice,” Aslan tells the children. “If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings. Oh Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves from all that might do you good!”

Yet for others, for the London cabbie and his wife (and their horse), who entered Narnia accidentally, and for the two children, their lives are forever changed by their encounter with the Lion and his beautiful land. Though Digory and Polly must return to our world (they do appear in other books, but I won’t spoil that surprise), the cabbie and his wife become the first great King and Queen and the ancestors of all humans in Narnia. We’re even treated to the story behind the lamp-post in Lantern Waste.

All in all, The Magician’s Nephew is another great adventure and a necessary precursor to books one through five. Here we find the beginning of the threads that will tie up the entire series in a neat package in the next and final book.

Tomato and Pea: A Bad Idea, by Erik Weibel, 2013

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I believe it was back in early 2011 when I first met Erik Weibel. I had been blogging for a few months but had struggled to give my blog a cohesive direction. That was back when I thought publishers would knock down my door if I posted a few samples of my writing online. I had also just received a Kindle for Christmas, which opened up a whole world of self-publishing for my middle grade novels. As I got my start as an indie, it seemed a natural fit to feature children’s literature on my blog.

About that time, I was delighted to receive a comment from an eager 9-year-old who loved to read and had just started a review blog of his own. I had no idea what a wonderful friendship that contact would lead to! I was impressed with Erik right away. He’s an advanced reader, and he writes with a clear, natural, easy-to-read style. His reviews are balanced, and he handles a range of literature, often suggesting books for different ages, reading levels, or interests. He interacts with his blog audience with grace, humor, and respect—never talking down to kids or appearing uncomfortable with adults. He’s been a great encouragement to my boys (one the same age, one younger, and both low readers) and never misses a chance to respond positively to their often stumbling homeschool blog posts.

About a year ago, I was delighted to learn that Erik was working on a book. I’ve since had the privilege of participating in the process, and today I can announce to the world for the first time that Erik Weible, age 11, is a published author! My review follows, but my post is only the first in a blog tour that will be ongoing for the next couple weeks. I’d encourage you to check out tour headquarters on Erik’s blog, This Kid Reviews Books. And now, on to my review…

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As a teacher, I’ve read many stories written by children. As much as I like to encourage young authors, their creations can be tedious to wade through. That is NOT the case with 11-year-old Erik’s new book, The Adventures of Tomato and Pea: A Bad Idea. Yes, the plot involves superhero vegetables (they’re Smidges, actually), which aren’t usually my fare, but it’s written so well, so professionally that I’m not just celebrating this release as a teacher, I’m celebrating as a fellow author.

Tomato is the great crime-stopper from Oarg. He’s a planet-wide superhero who single-handedly stopped an alien invasion. Now one of his own, a villain named Wintergreen, is seeking to eliminate him and conquer the world. Their misadventures, thanks to some of Wintergreen’s bumbling cronies, crash land them on an unknown planet—EAR-TH. Will Tomato be able to stop Wintergreen? Will he be able to save his friends? Will he be able to return them home?

Tomato and Pea will delight a second through sixth grade audience. There’s a big adventure going on here that involves cool techy gadgets like jetpacks, super charged StunGun 5000s, Enemy-Neutralizer ray pistols, and Chameleon Cloaks, not to mention the complex control panel of a spaceship named the SS Poofy (my kids LOVED that name). But what delighted me most was the artistry with which Erik related his story. Consider the following:

Light moments can make any book more fun, and this one is sprinkled with plenty of dry humor. For example, as they’re about to crash land, Tomato asks, “Where are we going down?” “Somewhere called O-HI-O,” I said. “O-HI-O sounds friendly.”

Erik also gives his characters very distinct personalities. Pea is an over-packer who’s ready for any situation. His gear—including a tuba—often sparks a smile and comes in handy in prickly situations. Poppy Lobster is a trivia lover who often spouts off random facts when nobody’s really in the mood to listen to them. (He’s also banned from the reference section of the library.) And Skew isn’t a very good crime-fighting agent, but “he could make a stew out of a carrot, some rubber bands and a cardboard box and everyone would stand in line for it.”

This young author also has a handle on creative word pictures. Here’s a description of Sergeant Marsh (whose name is also well-chosen) by way of example: “Marsh was round like a ball that was starting to lose its air. Marsh’s color made him look like a big mud-pie.” Or this description of Pye: “His shape reminded Wintergreen of a crayon that was overused.” Are you starting to get the idea that this 11-year-old doesn’t really write like an 11-year-old?

Now take in this larger sample of Erik’s detail and smooth writing style (and humor again): The electrical systems failed and everything went black. The ship shot through the air, bounced off of a boulder, shot through tree tops, skidded across several rooftops and crashed into the chimney stack on a building. The lower section of the ship was lost in the impact. Fortunately the upper section, containing the control room, was not severely damaged in the landing.After a few minutes a faint glow appeared in a corner of the control room. “I knew these would come in handy,” I (Pea, the over-packer) said happily as I passed out glow sticks to the others.

Eleven-year-old Erik plans to eventually take over the world. (Actually, I think he was ten in this pic.) Right now he's a bit too young, so he is spending time as a sixth grade student, book review blogger and hopeful writer.

Eleven-year-old Erik plans to eventually take over the world. (Actually, I think he was ten in this pic.) Right now he’s a bit too young, so he is spending time as a sixth grade student, book review blogger and hopeful writer.

And finally, Tomato and Pea resonates with some very positive themes like cooperation, friendship, trust, perseverance, second chances, and never leaving anyone—not even an enemy—behind. I’ll grant that not all adults will want to read through this space adventure, but I guarantee that the ones who do will be impressed. And I’m certain that other kids are going to eat this one up. Who knows what they like better than one of them? Two thumbs way up!

Read my son’s review at his Story Boys blog.

Want to snag a copy?

The Big Bank Burglary (St. Viper’s School for Super Villains), by Kim Donovan, 2013, Book Review

MMGM is a weekly meme hosted by middle grade author, Shannon Messenger. (Finally! A meme that fits perfectly with my content!)

the big bank burglary

This is the second in Kim Donovan’s St. Viper’s series, and it’s just as fun as the first one. The school hidden within the volcano is back, and the lessons to train young villains in World Domination continue. This time, the Syndicate of Supreme Evil is bent on control of all the world’s banks. The Big Bank Robbery is to be a school project for the baddest of the scholars, and Demon wants in. The problem is, ever since Copycat transferred to St. Viper’s, Demon can’t seem to stop messing up. Demon’s popularity has tanked, and even some of his friends abandon him for the new guy.

The Big Bank Burglary is chucked full of more kid-pleasing detail. A giant food fight involving snake flesh pizza and cowpat curry; super villains with names like Lady Lava, Flying Phantom, Monsieur Magnifique, and Doctor Dynamite; cool technie gadgets like the EVIL (Electronic Villain’s Intelligence Log), and enough high-flying action to satisfy every kid’s craving.

But St. Viper’s isn’t pure evil. Even though we’re rooting for the bad guys (all in good fun, of course), at the end of the adventure, we celebrate some noble traits. Like the loyalty Demon’s friends display. And when Demon’s arch nemesis is in his hands, he lets him go to fight another day. In fact, “he was looking forward to lots of battles…” He found purpose, silly as it might be. And finally, in a hilarious twist, we find that even Dr. Super Villain finds he needs love and acceptance.

Funny, action-packed, well-edited, and containing absolutely no objectionable content, this one rates highly for the younger middle graders. Recommended for ages 7-9.

The Big Bank Burglary is also available on Smashwords.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Chronicles of Narnia, book three), by C.S. Lewis, 1952

dawn treaderMMGM is a weekly meme hosted by middle grade author, Shannon Messenger

Lewis does a great job creating different adventures within the Narnian series. Of all the installments, books one and two are probably the most alike. After that, characters begin to shift, settings change, and the plots vary widely. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, only the two youngest Pevensie children, Lucy and Edmund, make it back to the magical land. They reunite with Prince Caspian and bring with them their reluctant (and beastly) cousin, Eustace. And in this adventure, they embark on a voyage to the Very End of the World in the utter East.

Eustace, in my opinion, becomes the central character in this book, because he is the one who undergoes an astounding change. The others have already been proven worthy of their nobility in adventures past, but Eustace comes in a selfish, spoilt brat. When he wanders off from the others on one of the many islands they visit, he stumbles onto a dying dragon and shelters in its lair. Then follows the most symbolic event of the book: “Sleeping in a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.” It is only after Aslan cuts him free of his dragon skin that his personality begins to change for the better. It is something he could not accomplish without divine help.

As in the rest of the series, Christian allegory abounds. In fact, when Lucy and Edmund learn they are not to return to Narnia, they mourn that they will never see Aslan again. He assures them they will. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little while, you will know me better there.” One of my favorite things about the series is digging out these hidden meanings. And I love that these beloved characters pass on lessons of faith to my kids.

Yet the voyage is riveting enough to please any kid. Who wouldn’t want to set of on an old-fashioned sailing ship to explore uncharted waters? The children have all sorts of adventures. They’re sold as slaves, meet invisible adversaries, narrowly escape death in a pool that changes everything to gold. They meet former stars (as in heavenly bodies) in human form and solve a seven-year mystery. And at the very end, valiant Reepicheep, my favorite character, sails over the edge of the world just after they catch a glimpse of Aslan’s country beyond.

Interestingly enough, I liked the movie even better than the book. That doesn’t happen often. The writers stayed very true to the spirit of the book, and while the written version lags just a bit in the final chapters, the movie does not. But on the whole, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader holds its own in the  Narnian series. I highly recommend it.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia, book one), by C.S. Lewis, 1950

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This spring I’m making my, golly, eighth or ninth journey through Narnia, but this time I’m taking along my son. We’re going to end the homeschool year by reading the entire series. He’s watched the movie before, but he’d never experienced the written version. It was a hit. We finished The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in five big gulps because neither of us wanted to stick to the allotted time frame. I have to say, there is a depth and a beauty in the prose that the movie just can’t capture.

This classic is so well known I hardly feel a plot summary is necessary, but I’ll write one anyway. The four Pevensie siblings, Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter, have been sent to the countryside to avoid the bombing of London during WWII and land in a huge old home owned by a peculiar old professor. There they find within a wardrobe a magical world that is being held captive by an evil witch. The whole land awaits the coming of two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve, as spoken in prophecy, and the great lion, Aslan, who will free them from the witch’s rule. But Edward betrays the others, and the Deep Magic written into Narnia at the beginning of time requires a traitor’s blood. Aslan must make the ultimate sacrifice to save him and save Narnia.

As a child, I loved the fairy tale elements of this story: the talking animals, the children who rule as kings and queens, the medieval quality, the mythical creatures, the great lovable lion. But as I grew, I discovered layer upon layer of richness within its pages. Humans are set up as good rulers over animals and nature; evil choices demand a high cost; forgiveness is granted even at great personal expense; good and evil are constantly at war; and my favorite, we are given a beautiful picture of a fierce, just, loving, involved, good, and untame deity—Aslan, son of the Emperor over the Sea. It doesn’t take a genius to see all that these elements have Christian parallels. Lewis’ story really isn’t all that original after all; he tells the same one set forth in the Bible. He was, after all, one of the greatest theologians of modern times. I’m not typically a fan of allegory, but this story is so strong, so beautiful, so engaging that I love it anyway. In this case, perhaps I even love it more because of it.

It seems I find something new every time I read it. This time I noticed that when the Professor argues logic to determine if Lucy is telling the truth, he uses almost word for word the arguments Lewis uses about Christ: “There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

But whether you’re a Christian or not, this tale is magical and timeless, as are all the stories of Narnia. It is one of my favorite places to visit. I’m so excited to be making the trip yet again—and taking one of my favorite people with me. Watch for my reviews.

  • Prince Caspian
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  • The Silver Chair
  • The Horse and his Boy
  • The Magician’s Nephew
  • The Last Battle

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Horton Halfpott or the Feindish Mystery of Smugwick Manor or The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset, by Tom Angleberger, 2011, Book Review

horton halfpott

If I might add yet another subheading to the title of this most unusual book, it would be “or  Whimsical Wit and Lyrical Nonsense,” because those happen to be the two most notable assets of this particular scrap of literature. The story is sort of a whodunit with very stylized characters and a not entirely predictable plot. It’s also a rather meaningless tale with a lot of random details and very little takeaway value aside from entertainment. But it is the very precise placement of well-picked words that make this story noteworthy. It’s rather nonsensical, but it’s whimsical, it’s witty, and it’s lyrical. And that makes the entire thing rather fun.

Everything started one morning when M’Lady Luggertuck ordered her corset loosened—an Unprecedented Marvel. The whole house sensed the Loosening, from the lowliest kitchen boy to the good lady’s son, and the deeds that followed were most unusual. They included thievery, a costume ball, a kidnapping by Shipless Pirates, and the beginnings of true love (on which it’s been decided we shall not dwell). We’re also treated to one young man’s honor, the loyalty of true friends, justice granted, and one young lady’s ability to judge wisely between suitors. All told, a very satisfactory and smile-inducing read.

I’d recommend Horton Halfpott for ages eight and up.

Rules, by Cynthia Lord, 2006, Book Review

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This was part of my goal to read every Newbery book (this one took honors), and I finished it in one sitting. I started it the last evening of 2012 and enjoyed it enough to forego watching the ball drop. I turned the last page in the earliest hours of 2013. I knew this book had won wide acclaim, but had no idea what it was about. Turns out it shares a similar theme with Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine.

Catherine is a normal twelve-year-old girl who would like a normal life, but having a younger brother with autism means nothing is normal. David blurts out odd phrases at inopportune times. He opens cupboard doors at other people’s houses and hunts for their cellars to make sure the door is closed. He embarrasses Catherine and makes a simple thing like inviting the new neighbor girl over not so simple at all. He must be taught the social graces that the rest of us so naturally assume. So Catherine takes it upon herself to help him by creating a list of rules.

Chew with your mouth closed.

Say “thank you” when someone gives you a present (even if you don’t like it).

If the bathroom door is closed, knock (especially if Catherine has a friend over)!

No toys in the fish tank.

A character like David can easily alienate a reader with no basis to relate, but David actually became my favorite. He evokes a great deal of sympathy with a few cute quirks. For instance, every time he puts a toy in the fish tank, he burst into Catherine’s room and tells her, “No toys in the fish tank!” (See, he hates to be wet, and he needs her to take it out.) And every time Catherine’s guinea pigs squeal, he covers his ears and yells, “Quiet pigs!” And my favorite, my absolute favorite quirk is that whenever he can’t find the words he needs, he quotes Frog and Toad, a classic easy reader written by Arnold Lobel.

“‘“What are you laughing at, Frog?”’” David asks, worried lines cutting his forehead.

I touch the tiny frog stamp on his hand and show him mine. “‘“I’m laughing at you, Toad,” said Frog, “because you do look funny in your bathing suit.”’”

David smiles. “‘“Of course I do,” said Toad. Then he picked up his clothes and went home.”’

I feel like I got to know David, and I loved him. But the story focuses on Catherine and her changing emotion from anger and embarrassment to acceptance. And she does this with the help of Jason, a wheelchair-bound boy she befriends who can’t talk. The person under the handicap, she realizes, is a person worthy of love and respect. Rules is a moving, well-written story any way you look at it, one I’d highly recommend.

The Princess and Curdie, George MacDonald, 1883, Book Review

MMGM is a weekly meme hosted by middle grade author, Shannon Messenger. (Finally! A meme that fits perfectly with my content!)

princess and curdie

If you have never read The Princess and the Goblin, I’d recommend starting with my review of that book. This is the sequel, and nearly as good as the first.

George MacDonald wrote in the Victorian era, when books created specifically for children were a new phenomenon. Most sought to dictate morality to children. Lewis Carroll, however, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and a friend and contemporary of MacDonald, is credited with writing for pure entertainment. MacDonald beautifully combines fun and morality, rather like C.S. Lewis does in Narnia. (In fact, Lewis cites MacDonald as a powerful influence.) The result is rich storytelling complete with moral fiber, a combination I love.

After his adventures rescuing Princess Irene from the goblins and gaining the trust of the king in book one, Curdie returns to being a silver miner with his father. But after a year or two, his parents notice he is less and less the son they hoped for. “As he grew…he was getting rather stupid…he believed less and less in things he had never seen.” Not long after, he has his own encounter with Irene’s Great-Great-Grandmother, a magical, fairy godmother-type figure representative of God. She assigns him the task of overthrowing the evil plot to dethrone the good king. To do so, he is given the magical ability to discern a man’s true nature. Curdie comes away from the encounter a changed man and displays great strength of character as he carries out his duties.

This book draws very clear distinctions between good and evil, selfishness and selflessness, right and wrong, truth and lies. It celebrates honor, friendship, loyalty, and the fortitude to do what’s right despite what others may say. It also explores trust, judgment, rewards, and true beauty. It never becomes preachy, as so many Victorian stories are, but there are elements of faith beneath the surface of the plot, much like in Narnia.

I did like The Princess and the Goblin a bit better. That story better disguises the moral points MacDonald is trying to impart. The first half of this book deals primarily with Curdie and his development. It doesn’t drag, really, but I was eager to see the princess again. She doesn’t enter the story until the second half, when Curdie’s quest gets rolling. But I really liked the new character of Lina. And I always enjoy MacDonald’s ability to paint settings and personalities so clearly. It has the same fairy tale feel of book one that young children can relate to so well. Though it is somewhat antiquated, the language is still easy enough for them to understand. I would recommend it as a read-aloud, however. A free Kindle version is available on Amazon.

The Riotous Rocket Ship Robbery (St. Viper’s School for Super Villains, book one), by Kim Donovan, 2011, Book Review

MMGM is a weekly meme hosted by middle grade author, Shannon Messenger. (Finally! A meme that fits perfectly with my content!)

st. viper's

This book is funny, perfect for young readers, and truly unique. It’s all about raising up villains, not heroes. But don’t worry, it’s written with a full measure of humor that keeps the tone lighthearted and silly.

St. Viper’s is a secret boarding school set within the cone of a volcano where hopeful young villains study subjects such as “World Domination” and “Sinister Science.” Together, the team of wicked teachers works to create “an elite team—a Syndicate of Supreme Evil, heh-heh—a force of unforgettable fear, ho-ho—a team of terrifying tricksters, har-har—to TAKE OVER THE WORLD.” Yet in the midst of one such mad moment of instruction, Dr. Super Evil takes a call from his mother and quietly assures her he’s wearing a clean vest and fresh pants.

Into this silly world of supreme evil, Demon (who bursts into flame when he’s in a rage) and a few of his First Year friends end up on the wrong side of Senior super, Chill, and his assortment of terrible cronies. A bully with super powers is a fearsome thing, especially in a school that encourages villainous behavior. Along with worries about his own survival, Demon fears he’ll never be able to live up to his father’s reputation, and he’s concerned that his friend Stretch–a girl–is showing him up. But in a display of supernatural plot twists and tongue-in-cheek humor, Ms. Donovan manages a satisfying ending in which “the best baddie wins.”

Yes, this book has young readers cheering for the “wrong side,” but it does so in such an ironic, witty way that I didn’t see any harm in it, just a lot of good-natured fun. It flips the traditional super hero story on its head and leaves kids laughing all the way to the back cover. It’s also clean (thanks, Ms. Donovan!), professionally edited, and appropriate for seven- to nine-year-old readers. I give St Viper’s my wholehearted recommendation.

Papa’s Latkes, by Michelle Edwards, illustrated by Stacey Schuett, 2004, book review

papa's latkesHappy Hanukkah, everyone!

No, we’re not Jewish, but my family likes to celebrate Hanukkah. And this is one of the picture books I like to read every year. It doesn’t really explain the meaning behind the holiday, so it’s not a great teaching tool, but it’s flavored with hope and family, two of the holiday’s most important  ingredients.

Within, Salma’s and Dora’s mother has died, and the girls are having a difficult time anticipating this first Hanukkah without her. Papa steps in and, with the girls recalling all the preparations Mama used to take, prepares for the first night of the eight day celebration. His latkes (traditional potato pancakes), however, aren’t quite the same as Mama’s.

This book is gorgeously illustrated, and it so beautifully shows the tradition surrounding this ancient festival. But it also portrays the heartache of missing a loved one and the hope of remembering her. Papa, with his twinkling eyes and his sly humor, is a wonderful character, filling in as Mama and Papa and holding the family together with love. He’s not perfect, but he’s so likable and solid.

I don’t review many pictures books, and I don’t commonly use a rating system, but Papa’s Latkes is an easy five star.

A few years ago, my kids and I studied and celebrated all the Jewish feasts for homeschool. If you’re curious, you can find posts about each of them on my other blog under Holidays->Jewish. I’ve pulled out a few that relate to Hanukkah:

Latke Recipe

What is Hanukkah?

Studying Hanukkah

Hanukkah Resources