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Childrens Book Reviews

Holly’s Top Books for 2009

Last year was a terrific year for great books and I’ve listed my top favorites of the many books I reviewed during the year.  All of these would be great to read aloud and all but the first two books are geared for ages 9 and up. The first two books are geared for ages 7 and up.

The Dunderheads, by Paul Fleischman, and illustrated by David Roberts, is more of a picture book than a fiction book which also makes it a good quick read. Miss Breakbone just made a very big mistake by calling her students “dunderheads”. The class dislikes this “mean” teacher when she takes away a student’s special cat figurine.  What they do to teach their teacher a lesson is hilarious and begs to be read aloud.

Mudshark, by Gary Paulson, is a delightful, funny and quick read with only 83 pages that will envelop the reader making you smile from the first page to the last.  Mudshark is a twelve-year-old who is valued by his classmates for his perfect recall abilities. When erasers suddenly go missing, Mudshark is on the trail and the discovery will be a pleasant surprise to all.

Savvy, by Ingrid Law, has Mibs about to have her special 13th birthday. Her magical ability will begin on her birthday. But then her father is in a car accident and near death. Will her magical ability be able to save her father? The alliteration of beautiful language fills each page like a loquacious well of water, buoyant with similes and metaphors that seem to slip off the tongue. Savvy is a book to savor!

Adventurers Wanted: Slathbog’s Gold, by M. L. Forman, begins when 15-year-old Alex enters a bookstore and notices an unusual sign in the window: “Adventurers Wanted”.   And so he is about to enter into a guaranteed adventure as he and his new found friends seek the treasure of a dragon.

Hannah’s Winter, by Kierin Meehan, is about 12-year-old Hannah who has recently arrived in Japan and is staying with a Japanese family. It’s beautifully written and full of metaphors and descriptions of Japanese culture. The mystery weaves fantasy so well throughout that you’ll become mystified into believing the many possibilities.

The Calder Game, by Blue Balliett, and illustrated by Helquist, is a sophisticated mystery blended with art, math and suspense. Calder Pillay is thrilled to go to England and soon discovers a sculpture on display. Without warning, both he and the sculpture go missing. However, there are many red herrings and hidden clues along the way, even in some of the illustrations.

The Last Olympian, by Rick Riordan, is the fifth and last installment in the Olympian series. A huge battle is about to take place against the Titans and Percy, who is part human and part Greek God, must prevail.  While in the midst of the conflict, Percy suddenly realizes that he may be facing something worse – his own fate.

Burn My Heart, by Beverley Naidoo, is a historical fiction set in Kenya in the early 1950’s. The difficulty between the British families that settled on land originally owned by the Kikuyus is brought to light. But the real story showcases a friendship that crosses over color of skin and bigotry when an 11-year-old son of a white landowner enjoys the companionship of a 13-year-old Kikuyus.

Truce, by Jim Murphy, is a true account about a miracle that occurred one Christmas eve during World War I. Murphy begins this fascinating event with a quote from Sir Winston Churchill, given to his wife, which embodies the essence of why not to have war. “What would happen, I wonder, if the armies suddenly and simultaneously went on strike and said some other method must be found of settling the dispute?” This book is full of facts, photographs, drawings and maps. The miracle that takes place will renew your belief in mankind.

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, by James L. Swanson, is a true-life account of the events leading up to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, as well as what happened to the group of assassins, led by John Wilkes Booth. There are many photos, newspaper articles, maps, posters and flyers found throughout, as well as an interesting epilogue at the back of the book.

Science Fair, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, has eighth-grader Toby, and his geeky friends, about to uncover a plot involving the science fair that goes way beyond the deceitful student competitors. There’s much humor and excitement throughout this story.

Tales From Outer Suburbia, by Shaun Tan, has 15 illustrated stories that include an alien ending up in a neighbor’s yard and becoming part of the household and a water buffalo who sits on a vacant lot and offers directions for kids seeking help.  Each story is so unique that it would be a great introduction into creative writing.

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, has sixth-grader Miranda living in New York City and learning to deal with friends and school issues. Her life seems complicated and confusing due to notes that mysteriously appear from some unknown person.  And, to compound the mystery – these notes tell about the future. However, the book is much more than a fantastical mystery.  The character and setting development is exceptional.

The 39 Clues is a series of mysteries with different outstanding authors. Each story involves the same two protagonists as they search for the end of a treasure hunt. Book number 8 is set to publish in April.  There are cards included that go along with the clues.

The Winter Room, by Gary Paulsen, is told through the eyes of a young boy as he retells stories his old Norwegian uncles shared with him. The book is beautifully written, with images portrayed of the season and of living in an era a century ago.

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