Tag Archives: kids books

Henry and the Clubhouse, by Beverly Cleary, 1962, Book Review

Henry and the Clubhouse is my favorite Henry Huggins book yet. Of course, Henry overlaps with the Ramona series. She’s his pesky little neighbor. And in this book, the two of them certainly clash!

Henry obtained a paper route in the last book. In this installment, his after-school job is funding his building project–a clubhouse that he and his two best friends are building in his backyard. Male friends, because of the “no girls allowed” rule. Yet, Henry feels badly for Beezus, who isn’t so bad as girls go, and whose feelings have been hurt. Enter Ramona who locks Henry in his own clubhouse and won’t let him out until he teaches her the secret boys-only password! And she causes no end of trouble on his paper route. Even Henry’s best ideas to get rid of her backfire. But if it weren’t for Ramona, Henry wouldn’t have gotten his name in the paper…

I love the innocence of Cleary’s books. They’re perfect read-alouds for six- to nine-year olds. The simple thrills of childhood, like building a clubhouse and sleeping in it in your very own sleeping bag, are just as fun for young kids now as they were in the last century. And the books are full of positive messages. Consider this clip from the final chapter:

“‘Henry, I’m proud of you!” said Mr. Huggins. “I don’t care how much snow there is. I’m going right out and buy half a dozen papers so we can send copies of this (article) to your relatives.’

‘Gee, thanks, Dad,” said Henry modestly. He had waited a long time to hear his father say he was proud of him.

‘I’ll admit that when you took on the route and then got mixed up in building a clubhouse, I didn’t think you could handle it, but you’ve done a good job,’ said Mr. Huggins.

Henry was pleased and at the same time a little embarrassed by this praise from his father.”

There you have it. Responsibility, pride in one’s work, friends, family and a kid-pleasing story. Is there any wonder why I love these books?

Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula, by Elise Stokes, 2010, Book Review

cassidyjonesfrontI met Elise Stokes recently in a forum post discussing clean content in children’s literature. I was intrigued enough by our conversation to order her book, Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula. I’m glad I did! Not only are its pages free of objectionable content, they contain all the ingredients required for a superb adventure. The story is well-written, compelling, and exactly the sort of teen read my daughter loves.

Cassidy Jones doesn’t stand out in a crowd. She isn’t popular, nor is she a bully. She can’t climb a rope in PE to save her life, and she has an allergy to sports equipment in general. In the sea that is Queen Anne High School, she has “adopted the strategy of being a sardine. A sardine wasn’t exciting, but it was safe.” She’s the very last person you’d ever suspect of having mutant genes and super powers.

But the morning after an accident in the lab of a famous scientist, Cassidy finds that her senses, emotions, reflexes, memory and strength have all been amplified. She’s been turned into a finely-tuned weapon, but one as unstable as hydrogen in a smoker’s lounge.

As Cassidy learns to control her new strengths, the scientist suddenly disappears. Distrustful of the police, Cassidy teams up with Emery, the scientist’s brilliant teenage son, to locate her and bring her safely home. After all, the woman is the only one who can help Cassidy now. But Emery warns her that enhanced abilities place her in grave danger. The ones who kidnapped his mother would stop at nothing to control Cassidy and use her powers for their own evil purposes.

And then someone even closer to Cassidy disappears.

Ms. Stokes employs a very solid writing style. It’s not particularly beautiful or witty, but it flows along as strong and easy as a Mississippi current. It’s a natural base for the hard-hitting, fast-moving action that zips above it like a powerboat, tugging us along in its wake till the final pages. Pages that, I must say, compel me into the sequel. I mean, who is the strange new character at the end? Who has the item missing from the lab? And what, I want to know, does this mean for Cassidy’s future?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First I need to let you know that Ms. Stokes has crafted Cassidy Jones in such a way that even guys will enjoy getting in on this adventure. Don’t let the girly name in the title throw you, fellas. The book isn’t girly. It reads like a comic book, with a gaudy, insane villain, unlikely heroes, and high-powered action sequences. Numerous references to well-known characters like Clark Kent and Wolverine back up this comic book illusion, as does Cassidy’s little brother’s fetish with all things superhero. And it’s clean! I highly recommend this one.

The sequel, Cassidy Jones and Vulcan’s Gift will be released this fall.  Watch for the date on Ms. Stokes’ website.

Tomorrow – interview with author Elise Stokes.

Newbery Honor Books, 2000-2010, Book List – Where to find print editions and Kindle downloads

In a continuing effort to highlight excellence, here is a list of books that won high honors in the annual contest for the Newbery Medal, the greatest award given for children’s literature.  Title links connect to paperback editions (some hardcover).  Kindle editions are available where noted.  If the Kindle notation is not a hyperlink, downloads are available through the title link.  As I read them, I’ll also link to book reviews on this blog.












Newbery Award Winners, Book List – where to find print editions and ebook downloads

The Newbery Medal is the highest honor given to an American children’s novel.  It is awarded yearly by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association (ALA).  In other words, any book stamped with this medallion would be an excellent choice, as would with the yearly runners-up marked with a Newbery Honor medal.  The first award dates back to 1922.

I have read widely among the Newbery winners and honor books, and I highly recommend them as examples of the highest quality children’s literature.  If you are searching for a great story for yourself or your child, this is an easy place to start.  For the convenience of my readers, I have compiled a list of the winners, starting with the most recent, and linked them to print editions on Amazon.  I’ve noted when a title is available on Kindle.  (If the Kindle notation isn’t a hyperlink, you can access the Kindle version from the book title hyperlink.)  And if a review of the book exists on this blog, I have linked to that also.  Slowly, I will be adding more reviews.

My favorites from earlier years:

Night of the Full Moon, by Gloria Whelan, Book Review

If you haven’t become acquainted with the work of Gloria Whelan, you are missing out on a rare treat. She writes with a gentle beauty that makes reading feel effortless. Truly, every sentence is crafted so carefully, so vividly, that I float right through them. And she applies imagery as an artist applies color, adding depth and fullness to every scene. Her pages nearly breath.

Like myself, Ms. Whelan is a native of Michigan, and I especially appreciate her stories that take place within our state. Such is the case with Night Of The Full Moon. In 1840, large numbers of Potawatomi Indians from Michigan and Indiana were rounded up and moved to Kansas so white men might take their land. This is their story. It contains scenes of heartache and despair, but Ms. Whelan treads gently. She leaves her readers wondering how such a tragedy could have ever been sanctioned.

Night Of The Full Moonis only 62 pages of large type, easily understandable and appropriate for the youngest grades. I would guess third graders might read it independently, yet it still appealed greatly to my sixth-grader. I just read it to her, and to my third-grader, in two twenty-minute segments as part of our state history curriculum, but it’s of such high quality that we also made a literatary study out of it. Unfortunately, I did not know it is the second in a trilogy until we finished. The first book is the award-winning Next Spring An Oriole, and the last is Shadow Of The WolfThey are next on our reading list. If they are anything like Full Moon, this series is truly a Michigan treasure.

Frindle, by Andrew Clements, Book Review

thumbnailNick wasn’t a bad kid. He just got these ideas. Bright ideas. Fun ideas. Ideas that sometimes got out of hand. So when Nick decided to call a pen a frindle, he should have known that all of Westfield wouldn’t be able to contain the after effects.

Frindle, by Andrew Clements, is a delightful, quick read; only 105 pages of large type. Clements uses matter-of-fact narration and an anecdotal style to deliver a hilarious battle of wits between Nick and Dangerous Grangerous, fifth grade language arts teacher at Westfield Elementary. Consider the following excerpt: “Mrs. Granger kept a full set of thirty dictionaries on a shelf at the back of the room. But her pride and joy was one of those huge dictionaries with every word in the universe in it, the kind of book it takes two kids to carry. It sat on its own little table at the front of her classroom, sort of like the altar at the front of a church.” This is humor kids will love!

I’d estimate the reading level as advanced third to fourth grade, based on the length, vocab, and uncomplicated sentences structures. But it will appeal to fifth and sixth graders as well. It was a bit on the lower side of the middle-grade novels I usually focus on, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. If you need a little light reading, give Frindle a try.

Grumpy Badger’s Christmas, by Paul Bright, illus. by Jane Chapman, Book Review

613U71JyMzL__SL500_AA300_My literary interests don’t usually extend to picture books, but every now and again one tickles my fancy. Such is the case with Grumpy Badger’s Christmas. Deep in the forest, all the animals are decorating for the holidays, but Grumpy Badger just wants to be left alone. He checks and rechecks his spring provisions and settles into a cozy bed. But three visitors interupt his nap, and a community crisis finally changes his attitude.

The story elements shadow Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. We have Scrooge in the form of Grumpy Badger, three nighttime visitors, a needy public and a final reformation. It’s cute, predictable, and satisfying; appealing qualities for young readers.

It is the pictures, however, that won me over. Jane Chapman creates the most becoming forest scenes, with textured, snowy backgrounds and adorable animals who look as if they might jump right off the page and offer their hand in greeting. She brings to life a forest community in such detail that I find myself wistfully longing to become a part of it. The kid in me wants to join the festivities in the clearing and explore the quaint dwellings. I’d love to peek into Badger’s snug little tree home and perhaps share one of his goodies over a cup of tea. The characters are so beautiful, so animated, that I’m quite certain I could become good friends with each of them.

My son must have felt the same way, because this Christmas, I’ve had to read this library book to him no less than fifteen times. And I-an adult-have enjoyed every reading. That’s a pretty sure sign of a great book.

True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by AVI, Book Review

charlotte doyleIn any list of children’s writers, AVI should undoubtedly rank near the top. He has an amazing talent for weaving together intricate plots and creating such page-turning intrigue that I can hardly bear to put his work down. He also writes with a clean simplicity that I greatly admire. His prose is beautifully precise, and he pulls a reader to the next thought so naturally, so efficiently, that a sixth-grader finds he can move swiftly through two hundred pages.

 The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle was published in 1990, but it has remained my favorite of AVI’s many titles (though I have not read them all – yet). Within, young Charlotte has the misfortune of traveling unchaperoned on the Seahawk , a nineteenth century sailing ship with mutiny simmering among its crew. Her strong sense of justice embroils her in the drama, and she falls afoul of despicable Captain Jaggery. This leads to her being accused–and found guilty–of murder.

I love the extreme transformation of Charlotte, from a timid, pampered child to a hard-working member of the crew. She captures a reader’s whole sympathy as she’s able to maintain an endearing personality despite dire circumstances. And Captain Jaggery, with his deception, hatred and rage, is an equally engaging character. A perfect foil to Charlotte’s charm. The conflict they create, coupled with superior plot twists, throws AVI’s story into four-wheel drive. Truly, it’s best to start this one on a Saturday just in case, like me, find you must read it through in one sitting.

I whole-heartedly recommend anything AVI writes, but this is especially true of Charlotte Doyle. Ages 10+

The Golden Goblet, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, Book Review

golden gobletPublished in 1961 and receiving Newberry honors the next year, The Golden Goblet is still a worthy read decades later. Within, young Ranofer wants nothing more than to become a goldsmith in ancient Egypt, but after his father’s death, he goes to live with his horrible half-brother, Gebu, who apprentices him as a stonecutter. After finding an exquisite goblet hidden among Gebu’s clothing, Ranofer is convinced his brother has been robbing tombs in the great Valley of the Kings. But how can he prove it without getting himself killed?

Ranofer is a captivating character. Surrounded by wicked men, he keeps his integrity. Among devestating circumstances, he maintains hope. And as he struggles to reshape his life to realize his dreams, this bewildered boy matures into a thoughtful, courageous young man who is willing to risk his life for what he believes is right. And as he does, he is befriended by two companions, young Heqet and the Ancient, who demonstrate true loyalty and friendship.

Not only are Ranofer, his friends and Gebu fascinating, their surroundings are beautifully depicted. Ms. McGraw paints for her readers a stunning portrait of the land, its culture and its religion. The Golden Goblet would be a valuable companion for a social studies unit on Egypt. It would be equally valuable in any children’s literature class, as she writes with rare artistry. Her prose is fluent and poetic, and she makes effective use of a variety of literary devices. She’s a master of dialogue. And her choice of word pictures, in particular, are wonderfully rich and period-appropriate. For me, this richness is the book’s greatest strength.

While The Golden Goblet successfully held my interest, and it ends with a spine-tingling conclusion, it took a great many slow pages to develop in the middle. Not every reader would stick it out. But in my opinion, it’s worth pushing through. Ms. McGraw has made ancient Egypt come to life and given to us a delightfully innocent, lovable, unforgettable character named Ranofer who, in my favorite scene of the book, is asked by the queen what he would most like in the world and asks for… a donkey! Recommended for ages 10+.

Deltora Quest Series, by Emily Rodda, Book Review

deltora questMy daughter and I have been fighting all week, and I’m thrilled! You see, I picked up the first of an eight-volume series called Deltora Quest from the library to fill her reading quota for this last week of school. Not only did she read the first one through in a day, she requested the other seven, and she told me I had to read them! Since this is coming from a mostly obligatory reader, I agreed, letting her fill the role of teacher for a while. I’m on my fifth book, when I can beat her to it, and I’ll give my recommendation to any of you who enjoy children’s literature.

Deltora Quest is not what I would call high-quality literature. The writing is nominal, with little or no poetic beauty to it, the characters are flat, and the whole pretense is cliche and predictable. So why am I reading it? Because the author, Emily Rodda, has written an exciting adventure with lots and lots of action.

Book One starts out in the ancient city of Del, where the Shadow Lord has taken control. The magic belt that has protected the kingdom for ages has been stolen, and each of its seven gems taken to different parts of the kingdom where they are held by dangerous guardians. Sixteen-year-old Lief, along with his friend Jasmine and a former palace guard named Barda, have set out to recapture each talisman and reassemble the belt so the Shadow Lord might be ousted from the land. As they embark on their quest, the companions get into all sorts of scrapes. Each book focuses on a different gem at a different location.

Deltora Quest will appeal to the same crowd of third through sixth graders who enjoy RL Stein’s Goosebumps series and the Michigan and American Chillers by Jonathan Rand, but they are better written. While all these books build anticipation at the end of each chapter, only Deltora Quest offers the substancial plot sequences promised by these cliffhangers. The action builds on itself, with bits and pieces, clues and foreshadowing, taken from all over the book and tied into a logical, exciting conclusion.

While I prefer more beautiful prose, characters who grow and change, and metaphors that drive a story into deeper levels, Lief’s journey is exciting. Ms. Rodda has written a book that appeals to kids. She has my daughter devouring her stories. So I say, kuddos to her!

level: Middle Reader (ages 8-12)