Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked and The Hamlet Chronicles, now treats us to a brand new story about a rogue tooth fairy called What-the-Dickens. Orphaned at birth, this skibberee bumbles his way through his first days of life and tries to find out where he fits in. He'd really like to become the pet of McCavity, a cat who unfortunately lacks a soft spot for winged creatures. He knows he doesn't want to be adopted by the bird who sings off-key. But when he meets Pepper, a tooth fairy on a mission, he thinks he must be on to something.
But skibbereen are suspicious sorts, and Pepper's colony isn't receptive to this stranger. Can he learn enough about their ways and prove himself worthy of belonging to their ranks?
The tale of What-the Dickens is a story-within-a-story and is told by Gage, an older cousin who has come to stay with three children during a natural disaster that cuts them off from power, food, and civilization. Their story runs parallel with the events in What-the-Dickens' life, and eventually intersects in a satisfying twist.
The writing in this book is truly delightful. As I read to Ben, we stopped often to appreciate Maguire's work—amazing descriptions, clever wordplay, ironic coincidences, etc. It was a teensy bit challenging as a read-aloud, only because of the frequent passages of dialog that don't indicate the change in speaker. It's no problem when you're seeing the pages, but a little trickier if you're only hearing it. However, in the hands of a skilled artist, I imagine that this would be a fantastic audiobook!
What-the-Dickens is wonderful modern-day fairy tale. Don't expect to get carried away by the plot, but instead enjoy the humor, the interesting characters, and the unique look at the world of a tooth fairy.
This is a great book. The plot moves along quickly, making for an easy read. The characters are charming and unforgettable—children and tooth fairies alike. Though easy to read, this novel is very exciting. I would recommend this to both young and old readers.
When Timothy Malt finds a stray dog outside his home in suburban London, he has no idea of the adventures in store for him. It all begins with a simple enough task: locate the dog's owners and conduct a canine reunion. According to his tag, the dog is named Grk and lives at an English address which turns out to be the Stanislavian Embassy. But when Tim and his family show up to return the dog, they stumble upon international turmoil as the ambassador and his family (who happen to be Grk's owners) have just been deported back to Stanislavia amidst a military coup.
Tim's parents are content to leave Grk at a local dog pound so that his owners can eventually catch up with him or he can be adopted by a new family. But Tim knows what can happen at the pound, and he also knows Grk is a special dog that no one would ever leave behind by choice. He's determined to find Grk's family, and his mission leads him on a solo international voyage full of danger and intrigue.
A Dog Called Grk is almost purely plot and reads much like an action movie. In fact, a web search on the title revealed an entry by the same name on IMDb. This book would be a great choice for a reader who likes to keep things moving without getting sidetracked by character development, setting descriptions, etc. Be aware that there is some violence, probably along the same lines as a book like Artemis Fowl.
This book might not have been the best choice for Ben and I to read together. It takes us a while to get through a book since our time for reading aloud is limited. I think he would have gulped this down in a few days if he was on his own. He seemed to like it more than me, but sometimes that's just part of sharing books with your child—taking pleasure from their enjoyment of the story. We laughed together quite a bit as we read, however, and that's always a sweet experience.
I didn't appreciate the author misusing God's name in this book, so I edited those parts on the fly as I read them to Ben. I wonder if that's more acceptable in books that are published in England. Regardless, it seemed like an unnecessary distraction.
This was a very fast-paced and good book. I especially liked how the author tied in references to typical dog behavior in the novel, adding hilarity to an otherwise action-packed story. This book also touches a bit on politics. I recommend this book to any fans of action.
In the 18th century, a twelve-year-old boy named Matt helps his father establish a new family homestead in the Maine wilderness. When his father leaves to collect the rest of the family, Matt is left to fend for himself while protecting the house and land. They expect the journey should take about six weeks.
As modern-day parents, Brian and I have only recently become comfortable leaving our 12-year-old at home for a few hours at a time. I can't imagine heading out for an interstate trip—on horseback—no cell phones, or any phones for that matter—for a month and a half! But one of the reasons I love historical juvenile fiction is that it continues to show us just how much kids are able to do on their own.
And Matt manages things beautifully, not only taking care of himself but also preparing for the winter ahead. He cooks meals over the open fire, cuts wood, tends to the garden, and catches fish and small game to eat. He makes his share of small mistakes (as we all do when tending house for the first time) and recovers from each one fairly well...until he decides to try and get some honey from a bee hive in a nearby tree. Matt is attacked mercilessly by the swarming bees, and would not have survived without the help of an Indian chief and his grandson, Attean.
To thank them for their help, Matt tries to give the Indian chief one of two books in the house: Robinson Crusoe. Though the chief can't decipher the black marks on the pages, he understands the power of the written word and asks Matt to teach his grandson, Attean, to read. In exchange, they will bring Matt food while he recovers.
The relationship between Matt and Attean is a prickly arrangement grudgingly honored by both sides. But as the boys continue to meet each day, they develop a respect for each other which gradually deepens into friendship. Matt learns valuable skills from Attean and is very slowly accepted into his tribe. When winter draws near with no sign of Matt's family, he finds himself faced with a gut-wrenching decision: should he join the tribe as they move west or remain at the homestead in hopes that his family will return?
The Sign of the Beaver is a masterful mix of survival, friendship, history, and culture. This Newbery-Honor winner definitely deserves a place on your family's reading list, and it would be the perfect book to spark an interest in Robinson Crusoe.
It's 1894 and a pioneering young scientist named Emmaline is working on creating a flying machine. The only problem is...she's intensely afraid of being in the air. She needs an assistant, and that's where Robert "Rubberbones" Burns comes in.
So begins The Strictest School in the World: Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, a Rubber Boy and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly Broken. Set in an English village, the story follows the efforts of Emmaline and Robert, as aided by her indulgent Aunt Lucy and their butler, Lal Singh.
The group spends a summertime happily engaged in their aviation endeavors until Emmaline's distant parents send her away to St. Grimelda's School for Young Ladies, which happens to be The Strictest School in the World. It doesn't take long for Emmaline to experience the horrors that occur behind its towering stone walls and decide that she must find a way out. Many students have come to the same conclusion, but not one has ever escaped successfully. But with Emmaline's knowledge of flying machines and her cohorts on the outside who are willing to assist in her getaway, will she have what it takes to break free?
This is a thoroughly fun book and a perfect candidate for a multi-age family read-aloud. It's enjoyable on so many levels, featuring lovable and brave characters, a simple story, and humor throughout. The author takes advantage of every opportunity to play with the book, from the "reviews" on the back cover written by characters in the book, and the prehistoric pet pterodactyls kept by the school to maintain order with the students, to the names of the characters like Miss Sumfiddle, the mathematics instructor, and Miss Venividivici, the frightening Latin teacher.
The Strictest School in the World is a lighthearted book that's wonderfully suited for the end of the school year when most of our students are dreaming of their own impending freedom. And it looks like the adventures continue with a followup all ready and waiting for us: The Faceless Fiend: Being the Tale of a Criminal Mastermind, His Masked Minions and a Princess with a Butter Knife.
The Thing About Georgie is that he is a dwarf. And in Georgie's mind, that affects everything about his life—the clothes he wears, the way he turns on lights, the activities he joins, even the friends he has...and doesn't. And just about the time Georgie has figured out how to navigate his world, it gets turned upside-down. His parents announce that they are having another baby (who will probably be taller than Georgie very soon), he has a big fight with his best friend, and for a group project, he gets paired with his least favorite person in school.
Georgie feels pretty much on his own in the midst of his misery, and can't figure out how to clean up any of these messes. But when he finds help from an unexpected source, he starts to see that everything he thought he had figured out might have caused some of his problems in the first place.
For a book that's primarily about relationships, The Thing About Georgie still has an underlying what's-going-to-happen-next vibe that kept us zooming through it. I love it when a book can teach us something without ever feeling like a "And That's One to Grow On" PSA. Lisa Graff steers plenty clear of that preachy pitfall, while showing us what happens when we get through life based on a very narrow definition of ourselves: we limit the delightful surprises we might discover about who we are and who we can become.
My favorite part about this book is how the author keeps the story flowing with an exciting plot and interesting characters. She also reveals an unexpected twist about who narrates certain portions of the book. But my favorite thing about Lisa Graff is that she is helping me out big time with a school assignment by answering interview questions for a career project. Thanks, Ms. Graff!
Mysterious letters delivered in the middle of the night. Secret codes. Pentominoes. An art history scandal. Recurring patterns...or are they coincidences?
A smart, richly layered mystery, Chasing Vermeer weaves in an impressive measure of culture and history as the story unfolds. Sixth-graders Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay find themselves in a unique position to track down a Vermeer painting that has been stolen en route to their home town of Chicago. Clues pop up in unexpected places and it's up to them to decipher their meaning. The story and illustrations are crafted in such a way that invites us to join in the sleuthing, which makes it an even more satisfying reading experience.
Chasing Vermeer happens to be the current pick for Al's Book Club for Kids on the Today Show website, where you'll find a book excerpt, illustrations, and a Q&A with the author. Scholastic also has some cool Chasing Vermeer activities on their site, including a pentominoes puzzle.
Chasing Vermeer is one of the books that convinced me to start dedicating my personal reading efforts to juvenile fiction again (even though I'm not so juvenile anymore). I loved everything about it, and the characters Petra and Calder have lingered with me in a way that I almost forget I don't really know them. I can't wait to see what Blue Balliett has in store for us this May with The Calder Game!