These reading suggestions are organized by difficulty level.
Fast, Fun, and Not Too Hard...
Eleven Planets: A New View of the Solar System
Mary’s Violet Eyes Make John Stay Up Nights Painting. That’s how I learned the planets—there were nine of them, and Pluto was the last and the smallest. Now, in many circles, Pluto has been demoted—a thing about which many children are very angry.
This book proposes that there should be eleven planets, and the new mnemonic ought to be “My Very Exciting Magic Carpet Just Sailed Under Nine Palace Elephants.” Come and meet the new planets!
Jack Plank Tells Tales
At the beginning of the story, Jack the pirate is laid off—he’s never been very good at plundering, and he isn’t blood-thirsty enough to be a really effective pirate. Jack is forced to look for a new career, but nothing really suits him until the end of the book, when he realizes that the best job for him is right under his nose. This is funny, kind-hearted, and magical.
A Visitor for Bear
A most endearing picture book. Bear wants to be LEFT ALONE; Mouse wants to be friends. Bear does everything he can to rid himself of the intruder, but the mouse sees through Bear’s defenses to the lonely soul underneath.
This neat little book is a treasure-trove of brain-teasers, recipes, things to make, comics, magic acts and parlor tricks.
Into the Forest
When a little boy is sent to take a cake to his grandmother, he passes through a forest full of fairytale dangers. Keep an eye on the pictures—the words tell only part of the story.
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book?
Herb’s the kind of kid who’s tough on books—his books are full of crumbs and inked-in mustaches and empty spaces where he cut out the pictures. In short, Herb’s a grangerizer –perish the thought! When Herb falls inside a book of fairy tales, he finds out how dangerous it is to treat books badly. A riot.
Lost and Found
Ray and Jay are the Grayson twins: always together, always seen as two halves of a whole. This changes when they move to a new town, and there’s a mistake in their school paperwork—the school thinks that there is only one Grayson boy. Since the twins are identical, they trade off going to school—discovering for the first time what it’s like to fly solo. This is a fast and funny read.
Young Pele: Soccer’s First Star
An inspiring story of the childhood struggles and triumphs of Edson do Nascimento, who grew up to become “Pele”.
The Legend of Spud Murphy
Will has four brothers, and the house is chaos: “The flusher on our toilet snaps off about once every three months.” His parents are at the end of their wits. They decide that the two oldest boys need to get out of the house and do something educational. That’s bad enough, but in this particular case, “educational” means visiting the public library. The library is the hunting ground for Spud Murphy, a cruel and vicious librarian. Murphy disciplines noisy children by clobbering them with raw potatoes. Can Will survive Spud Murphy?
Sometimes you want an old-fashioned book; something with noble children fighting against poverty and bad luck; something with a mystery and a happy ending. This abridged version of Mary Maples Dodge’s book fills the bill—it’s handsomely illustrated, fast-paced, and satisfying.
The Lemonade War
Second grader Jessie Treski is clever with numbers, but slow at understanding people. Her fourthgrade brother Evan is skilled at making friends, but not so quick at math. At the beginning of the story, Evan learns that his sister is going to skip a grade—his smart-aleck, socially clueless sister is going to be in his class at school.
Evan is a good brother, but he is horrified, and he’s also furious, and he feels he needs to prove that he’s just as smart as his little sister. When the two of them decide to sell lemonade, it becomes a contest: who can earn the most money? In no time at all, Evan and Jessie are fighting tooth and nail.
This is a funny, truthful and sometimes painful book about the tangled relationship between siblings.
Phineas L. MacGuire Erupts
Dowell, Frances O’Roark
Phineas likes the idea of being a scientist. He can make a film canister explode by filling it with Alka-Selzer, and he’s very interested in the mold in his mother’s refrigerator. But Phineas is having a tough time. His best friend has moved away, and he has to do his science project with a kid he hates, Max R.
This book is funny and fast paced.
Leaving the Nest
The baby jay wants to fly. The child wants to ride her new bicycle. The kitten is curious about life beyond the screen door. And the baby squirrel wants to leave her nest in the hollow tree. The four stories mesh together, making a picture book rich with laughter and excitement.
Wally and Cheyenne are two orphans that nobody wants. Cheyenne is always sneezing, because she’s allergic to absolutely everything. Wally has terribly stinky feet. When two sisters appear at the orphanage and offer to adopt them, Wally fears the worst. (Cheyenne, who takes a sunny view of life, hopes that things will turn out well for them.)
But things don’t turn out well. I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot here, but the Mandible sisters are truly terrifying. Also, Wally and Cheyenne have to deal with zombies and giant slugs.
This is a series of fast-paced adventure stories with plenty of humor. Highly addictive. Series.
Guiberson, Brenda Z.
All right, here’s the obligatory Polar Bear Book. You can’t read too many bear books, and this one is a stunner, with fabulous illustrations by Gennady Spirin. It’s non-fiction, but written like a story, following the lives of a mother bear and her cubs through the seasons. Beguiling and educational—how can you go wrong?
Henry and the Kite Dragon
Hall, Bruce Edward & Low, William
Henry’s friend, Mr. Chin, makes the best kites in Chinatown, but every time he flies a new one, the Italian kids in the neighborhood destroy it. Mr. Chin is patient about this, but one day Henry and his friends decide they’ve had enough. This inspiring book is based on a true story from the 1920’s.
You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You
Hoberman, Mary Ann
Mary Ann Hoberman has written three books with this title, all in rhyme. These are terrific books to be enjoyed with siblings or friends. Series.
Babymouse: Queen of the World
This graphic novel (or comic book) is about a mouse with a wild imagination. In “Queen of the World”, Babymouse is dying to be as popular as Felicia Furrypaws. Unfortunately, Felicia thinks that Babymouse is downright babyish, and Babymouse’s longing to be invited to Felicia’s slumber party is doomed from the start. Series.
This is a glowing jewel of a book. It explores the topic of color in animals—how color serves as camouflage, advertisement, signal, and threat. Though the book is in picture-book format, there are enough details and facts to hold your attention for hours.
We Can’t All be Rattlesnakes
I can’t believe I fell in love with the main character of this book: a gopher snake who is kidnapped and imprisoned by a rather nasty little boy. The snake—who narrates the story with elegance and dry humor—develops friendships with her fellow prisoners, including a mouse named “Breakfast.” I read it in one sitting.
The Magical Monkey King
This book of Chinese folk tales is centered around Monkey, the trickster. Monkey’s sassy manners always get him in trouble. Luckily, his quick wits help him to get out of it.
Where is the Cake?
Khing, T. T.
A wordless picture book that rewards careful study. This book contains several stories—you can pore over it for an hour and not see all there is to see.
The Red Book
Another wordless adventure story. When a little girl finds a red book on a snowy day, she begins a magical journey to a tropical island.
This is a handsome book full of puzzles for the eye and mind. What would a bicycle be like with square wheels? How would you cuddle a doll that changes into an ogre? What is hidden in the spookylooking forest? Don’t rush this book—look carefully at every picture. You’ll be rewarded with a little vacation from everyday life.
One Beetle Too Many
This picture book biography of Charles Darwin is filled with lively details. For example, when young Charles was collecting beetles, he had captured two when a third crawled out of the bark of a tree. Lacking a third hand to hold the third beetle, he popped it into his mouth, and ran for his collecting bottle. (Yuck! But it just shows what a passionate collector he was, even as a boy.) I’m not too wild about the pictures in this book, though they are detailed, informative, and colorful. But the text is superb—funny, thoughtful, exciting. It gives a fantastic overview of Darwin’s life and ideas.
Precious and the Boo Hag
When Precious has to stay home with a stomachache, her brother warns her about the “Boo Hag”, a nasty creature with no manners and an even nastier habit of threatening little girls. Again and again, the Boo Hag tries to trick Precious into opening the door. Suspenseful and funny.
If You Decide to go to the Moon
This book places you right in the middle of the journey. The writer is so skillful that you feel like a real star-trekker. Steven Kellogg’s splendid pictures help to convey both the barren majesty of the moon and the energetic life of our sunlit earth. This book is terrific if you love science. It’s good even if you don’t. Highly recommended.
How Oliver Olson Changed the World
Oliver’s parents are crazy about him—which is not always easy. They won’t let Oliver ride his bike on the street (dangerous) and they do his homework for him—which sounds great, but isn’t, because Oliver has to be present the whole time, and his parents fuss over every detail. When Oliver gets involved with a science project about the solar system, he sees his chance. If he works with another kid, he’ll escape his parents’ supervision—and he might even figure out a way to get Pluto reinstated as a planet. This book will amuse kids, and help parents to laugh at themselves.
Captain Raptor and the Moon Mystery
Dinosaurs in space suits—it doesn’t get much better than this! When a mysterious flash of light appears in the sky, Captain Raptor sets off to learn if his planet is in danger. The adventure moves from the sky to the bottom of an ocean (giant squids!), plus a Close Encounter with two-legged aliens. Gorgeous pictures and lots of fun. Sequel.
“I have not had so good of a week.” Thus begins Clementine, the funniest children’s book I’ve read in years. Clementine is basically a good person, but trouble follows her wherever she goes. The story begins with trouble over her best friend’s hair, which “was not my fault and anyway she looks okay without it.” This book is irresistible. It’s perfect for readers who are ready to move on from Junie B. Jones, but older readers should grab a copy just for laughs. Series.
The subtitle of this book is Fabulous Lives of the Creepy, the Revolting , and the Undead. Isn’t that enough to make you read it? The pictures are black and white; they might be scarier in color. But the writing is perfect—funny, informal, and full of creepy thrills.
Look What I Did With a Leaf!
A lot of “nature craft” books show projects that are just plain ugly. This original art book shows how to make elegant leaf collages. The materials—leaves, cardboard, glue and plastic wrap—are readily available, and the results are striking.
It Was A Dark and Silly Night
This is part of the “Little Lit” series—a group of books that team up famous authors and famous cartoonists. Many children, especially beginning readers, adore the comic book format, and this collection focuses on the scary and the silly. Who can resist? Series.
Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants
Jack’s a bad boy. Everyone agrees on that. But Jack is also quick-witted and it’s a good thing, because seven deadly giants are attacking his village, and it’s up to Jack to defeat them. The Giants are all different—each one is based on one of the classic “deadly sins”: laziness, anger, pride, greed, gluttony, et cetera. This is fast-paced and funny.
United Tweets of America
This is a tour of the United States, seen through its State birds. It has luscious illustrations, fun trivia, and lots of jokes, puns, and cartoons. Goof off and improve your mind—what combination could be better?
Three Good Deeds
Vande Velde, Vivian
Howard never suspected that the old woman was really a witch. She was old and she was ugly, and that was reason enough to make fun of her. However, the old woman was a witch, and she changed Howard into a goose. The only way he could turn back into a boy again was by performing three good deeds.
Howard soon found out that being a goose was no picnic. The other geese didn’t like him, and he lived in constant fear of being roasted and laid out on a platter. What’s more, he found that he couldn’t get back to his own shape by performing just any good deed—he had to do his good deeds without thinking about himself.
A Little Harder (But Still Fun)
Tell Me a Picture
This book is like a museum—it first offers a selection of not-too-famous famous paintings, and then asks you questions about what you’ve seen, what you’ve noticed, what you like. A good book for friends to look at together.
I can’t resist biographies of heroes--people who are larger-than-life. I’m even willing to read about athletes, if they’re interesting enough.
Muhammed Ali definitely falls into this category of larger-than-life heroes. He was a boxer, a braggart, and a champion of peace. He entertained people with wacky jokes and magic tricks. He won matches that everyone was sure he couldn’t win. Even when he could only move slowly and stiffly, he could still bring an audience to its feet. This biography celebrates him with words and pictures.
The Greatest Skating Race
Whenever the canals freeze all over the Netherlands, the Dutch hold a skating marathon called the Elfstedentoch. It is Piet’s ambition to skate in the Elfstedentoch one day. Even though he’s only ten, he’s prepared himself by mapping the layout of the canals. When the German soldiers occupy the Netherlands, Piet’s knowledge becomes a matter of life and death.
James is a rather lonely little boy. His mother has recently remarried and she’s caught up with her new family. But James has a friend: Marvin, the beetle that lives inside his house. When Marvin decides to surprise James with a pen and ink drawing, he (Marvin) discovers he has an amazing talent for art. As for James, he is delighted to have a beetle for his friend.
But Marvin’s unexpected talent leads both Marvin and James into danger. A masterpiece by Albrecht Durer is about to be stolen—and Marvin is supposed to create a copy that will trick the thief into revealing himself.
This is a beautifully made little book. The mystery is clear and suspenseful, and the story is told with humor and heart.
The Hero and the Minotaur
King Minos keeps a monster in his maze. Every year, seven young maidens and seven young men provide its food. Theseus, the son of a king, decides to end these sacrifices. In order to do so, he must find his way through the king’s labyrinth and kill the monster.
Robert Byrd’s pictures add to the tension and splendor of this classic tale.
Jump! From the Life of Michael Jordan
This picture-book biography shows the boyhood of a great athlete. As a child, Michael Jordan was known as “Rabbit”--he had ears that stuck out and he couldn’t keep still. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t beat his brother Larry at games. An inspiring story of how determination and practice can win the day.
Annie loves to run, and she’s very good at it. At school, everyone nags her to join a team, but she can’t get interested in being a champion. This family story is written in unrhymed verse, which makes the pages flip over quickly. Fast readers will devour it in a single sitting, caught up in the dramas and triumphs of ordinary life.
How to Train your Dragon
Hiccup Horrendous Haddock is a Viking, the storybook kind of Viking that stamps around in a horned helmet. It’s Hiccup’s duty to be as big and fat and bloodthirsty as he can. Unfortunately, Hiccup is a runt of a Viking, with more brains than brawn. As part of his entry into manhood, Hiccup has to creep into a cave full of sleeping dragons so that he can capture a nestling for himself. It just figures that Hiccup’s dragon is as measly and runtish as he is.
This book is full of gross humor and slapstick, but it really works. Hiccup is such an appealing hero that you’re on his side from the beginning. Sequels.
Here’s a good book for the person who wants to sort out griffins, harpies, and phoenixes. I am often asked for books about “magical creatures” and this one fills the bill perfectly—each creature rates a large and colorful illustration and a full page of informative text.
This is a study of buildings from the most ancient past to the future. It has delightful color pictures, and sidebars chock-full of information. You could breeze through this book in a few minutes and learn a little, or you could pore over it and learn a lot. The format is inviting and the text is wonderfully clear.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Edward Tulane is a china rabbit. Abilene, the little girl who owns him, loves him dearly, but Edward’s heart is as cold as china. A mysterious old woman warns Edward that without love, there is no living happily ever after, but Edward pays no attention to her warning.
Then Edward’s adventures begin. On an ocean voyage, he falls overboard, ending up at the bottom of the sea.
This story begins with a cozy, once-upon-a-time feeling, but has many unexpected twists and turns. Sometimes it’s frightening, sometimes it’s sad enough to make you cry. Unforgettable.
Pippo the Fool
This funny, frisky book tells the true story of how Filippo Brunelleschi developed the dome for the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Pippo is a crusty, sympathetic character, and the pictures are full of fascinating detail.
A Room with a Zoo
Julie wants a dog, but her parents say no, a dog is too much trouble. Eventually they agree that Julie can get a cat from the animal shelter, but the cat turns out to be the kind of cat that is afraid of everyone and hates being petted, and Julie’s heart is broken. So eventually, the parents agree that Julie can have a hamster and maybe some fish, but the fish eat each other…Julie’s parents feel sorry for Julie when the fish turn cannibalistic, so they agree to let her have a turtle…
This book is a riot. For one thing, Julie’s animals do all the inconvenient things that pets do in real life. For another thing, Julie and her parents act like real children and real parents—they are likable people, but they get really bent out of shape when things go wrong. Highly recommended.
Pictures of Hollis Woods
Giff, Patricia Reilly
Hollis is a foster child, longing for a real home. One of the first things we learn about her is that she recently ran away from a family she loved. This book is really two stories: the story of Hollis’ new home with an aging artist, and a series of flashbacks, in which we learn why she left behind a family that wanted her. Sad, mysterious, and satisfying.
The Truth About Poop
Goodman, Susan E.
Of course this book sounds gross, but in fact it’s extremely interesting. Did you know, for example, that Egyptian tombs provided dead pharaohs with a rest room they could use before heading to the afterlife? Or that crocodile poop has been used as a cure for dandruff? This book has surprises on every page.
All the Lovely Bad Ones
Hahn, Mary Downing
Mary Downing Hahn can always be trusted to tell a good ghost story. This one is about two troublemakers, Travis and Corey, who decide to impersonate ghosts at their grandmother’s country inn. Unfortunately, their shenanigans wake up the real ghosts at Fox Hill Inn—and the real ghosts prove to be violent, furious, and difficult to dislodge.
The World’s Greatest Elephant
Modoc and Bram (Bram is the boy and Modoc is the elephant) are born at the very same hour. They grow up together and Bram wants nothing more than to stay with Modoc forever. But when the circus passes into the hands of a new owner, Bram seems likely to lose his friend forever. This is supposed to be a true story. Bram and Modoc are threatened by shipwreck, fire and cruelty, but their love for each other remains constant.
This thrilling book keeps a tight hold on your heart.
Martha never knew Olive. Olive came to Martha’s school in February, and was hit by a car in July. After Olive’s death, Martha found out that Olive liked her very much. The discovery changed her life.
The summer after Olive’s death was a powerful one for Martha. She found out she wanted to be a writer; she experienced her first heartbreak; she almost drowned; she had the best day of her life and the worst. She grew in depth and wisdom.
This is one of the best growing-up stories I’ve ever read. Some books about “growing up” are preachy; others are full of gross or corny humor, some have no respect for the children who are coming of age. This one’s different.
Alex Ryder was suspicious when his uncle died in a car accident, and he was right to be suspicious. Alex’s uncle was a secret agent—and in fact, he was training Alex to follow in his footsteps, though Alex didn’t realize it at the time. And Alex does follow his uncle’s career. In no time at all, he’s up to his neck in trouble—about to be crushed to death in a dump, hanging from the ledges of tall buildings, being attacked by a giant jellyfish…
This book is fast-paced and action-packed. Series.
The Star of Kazan
This cozy, suspenseful story has everything: a foundling who longs to find her long-lost mother, an aging actress with a trunkful of (fake) jewels, a girl’s school that treats its children like prisoners, Lipazzan horses, a beach-combing dog, gypsies…not to mention danger, betrayal and true friendship. Highly recommended.
A Foot In the Mouth: Poems to Speak, Sing and Shout
This is a great book of poems to perform aloud. There are poems for two voices, tongue twisters, bilingual poems—everything from soup to nuts. One of the things I like about this collection is that it’s different—it has some classics in it, but there are many new poems that are waiting breathlessly for children to bring them to life. Go for it!
Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat
Emmy is baffled. Her parents recently inherited a fortune, and it seems to have changed them for the worse—for the first time in Emmy’s life, her parents have no time for her. Her governess, the pretty and deadly Miss Barmy, tells Emmy that if she excels in school, her parents will notice her—but in fact, nobody notices Emmy. Her classmates don’t even seem to realize she’s in the room with them. She can’t make friends—people seem to forget she’s around.
But Emmy’s life is about to change. The classroom rat bites her, and all at once Emmy is able to talk to him. The rat is a fantastic character: witty, sarcastic, self-pitying, and grandiose. He introduces Emmy to a shop where rodents have extraordinary powers—and Emmy begins to understand what’s gone wrong with her world.
This book is humorous, suspenseful, and enchanting. Series.
The Man Who Made Time Travel
Before the invention of accurate clocks, ships were often wrecked simply because their captains got lost. Once they were out of sight of land, sailors had no way of figuring out where they were. In 1714, Great Britain offered 20,000 pounds (about twelve million dollars by today’s standards) to anyone who could invent a way to measure longitude—the north-south lines that can be found on any map or globe.
This slim, splendidly illustrated book explains how John Harrison, a carpenter, rose to the challenge.
“When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of the island because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he’d caused it.” Mibs’ brother Fish causes powerful storms when he feels strong emotion—that’s his “savvy” or magical power. All of the members of the Beaumont family have a “savvy”—some kind of magical gift that turns up on their thirteenth birthday.
At the beginning of the story, Mibs doesn’t know what her savvy will be. As it happens, her birthday coincides with her father being injured in a terrible car crash. Mibs begins to hope that her savvy will be a healing one—that she will be able to awaken her father the way the Prince woke Sleeping Beauty.
This story involves a bus journey with a crew of stowaways, strangers that become friends, a little bit of teenage romance, and some very odd forms of magic.
Ellie’s mother, Doris Day Dingham, is tormented by her desire to be a star. She spends so much time trying to drum up a career that Ellie has taken over most of the household chores. To make matters worse, Ellie’s mother wears super-tight, glittery clothes, even on visits to Ellie’s classroom. At school, Ellie and her friends are outcasts. They are shunned and tormented almost every day.
This sounds like a sad book—and it’s true, parts of it are heartbreaking. But don’t let that stop you from reading it. Ellie is such a strong and decent young woman that I spent more time admiring her than I spent feeling sorry for her. Funny, suspenseful, and triumphant.
Walter the Giant Storyteller’s Book of Giant Stories
Mayes, Walter M.
When Walter the Giant is shipwrecked, he finds himself on an island inhabited by little people. They are convinced he’s big trouble, so they tie him up. When Walter protests, they point out how many wicked giants there are in fiction. Walter persuades them to listen to his stories—all of which are meant to show that it’s the little guys who are big trouble, and the giants who are the good guys.
This is a funny, sassy book of folklore.
The Casson children are all named after colors in a paint box: Cadmium, Indigo, and Permanent Rose. Saffy feels so much a part of the family that it isn’t until she’s eight years old that she realizes that her name isn’t on the paint chart. When she asks why, Mrs. Casson reminds her that she is an adopted child. Afterward, Saffy feels different; she no longer feels she belongs. She begins to wonder about her past. Eventually wondering is not enough. In order to return to the country where she was born, she stows away in a friend’s car and heads for Italy.
This sounds like a soulful family story and it is. It is also riotously funny. The Cassons are an irresistible family. Series.
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
Please don’t pass by this book because it’s “history”. It’s a series of fascinating baseball stories, illustrated with gorgeous color paintings by Kadir Nelson. The text is anything but dry—it’s written as if an eyewitness were speaking to you on the back porch. This book is full of glorious victories, amazing statistics, and larger-than-life personalities.
Mutiny on the Bounty
This is a picture book version of the historic events surrounding the Mutiny. O’Brien’s dramatic paintings highlight the contrast between the harsh existence aboard ship and the joyous life in Tahiti. The text provides necessary background information and fascinating details. Good for rereading as well as reading.
Park, Linda Sue
Kevin knows that if someone breaks into the house, he’s supposed to call 911—but what if the intruder is a legendary prince from long-ago Korea? Kevin calls the prince “Archer” because he’s a wizard with a bow. Archer’s Quest—which soon becomes Kevin’s—is to find the tiger that will take him back to his own time and place.
How Angel Peterson Got His Name
…and other outrageous tales about extreme sports. This skinny book is a collection of anecdotes about the kind of daredevil things teenagers do before they get any sense. I especially enjoyed reading about the idiot who wanted to outwrestle a bear.
The Little Gentleman
This is an old-fashioned story in the best sense of the world. When a neighbor, Mr. Franklin, breaks his leg, he confides his secret to Bet: he has been hiding a friendship with a talking mole. Unfortunately, before the accident, he made the mistake of using a word that the mole found offensive, and the mole considers the friendship over.
Bet seeks out the mole, and finds him enchanting. But, in fact, that’s the wrong word. The mole is enchanted, and the power of speech that makes him irresistible is something he wants to lose. The mole wants to be a real mole, an animal, once again. Bet is afraid she can’t help him. And she’s not sure she wants to lose her talking friend…
The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, The Bard
This is a wordless book for a sophisticated child. The boy enters an abandoned theatre in pursuit of a soccer ball and finds himself in an adventure involving William Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth. Fun to pore over—each page harbors a wealth of detail.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Hugo lives between the walls of a train station. His father, who tended the station’s clocks, was on the trail of a fascinating mystery—he wanted to fix a mechanical man, a sort of clockwork robot. The mechanical man was able to draw and write letters. After the death of Hugo’s father, Hugo makes up his mind to complete his father’s work. He’s convinced that if he does, his father will somehow be able to communicate with him through the mechanical man.
This is a new and different kind of book. Brian Selznick has chosen to tell his mystery story through pictures as well as text. The result is a story that unfolds like a movie. Intriguing and stunningly beautiful.
Tree of Life
This is another one of those picture-book-looking books that is really for older children and adults. Tree of Life is about one of the greatest scientists of all time, Charles Darwin. This book gives the reader a chance to follow the genius around the world, look over his shoulder at his notebooks, and learn how he came to his theory of evolution. In just forty-four splendidly drawn pages, the reader will encounter hundreds of details about Darwin’s life and work.
Life brands Zinkoff a loser—but Zinkoff himself is full of joy. Though he generally throws up on the soccer ball, he loves soccer—though his inappropriate laughter makes his teachers sigh, Zinkoff loves school. This story is for the odd duck in everybody. Funny, wise, and inspiring.
“It’s dark and gloomy, and it smells like dead sheep, but when Zeus says go to Hell, I go.” Thus begins Stephanie Spinner’s retelling of Greek Mythology from the point of view of the great god Hermes.
This book has a light-hearted, humorous tone that is a delight. It also has plenty of suspense, and some oddly tender moments.
The White Giraffe
St. John, Lauren
When Martine’s parents are killed in a fire, Martine is sent to live in Africa with a grandmother she didn’t know she had. Martine finds her grandmother unpleasantly cold, and the new school she attends is a horror, but the land of South Africa enchants her with its beauty. She is also intrigued by the legend of a white giraffe that lives on the nearby wildlife preserve.
One memorable night Martine discovers that the white giraffe is real.
This is a magical story with a fascinating setting.
Bella at Midnight
Though Bella is a knight’s daughter, she grows up as the blacksmith’s child, and forms a close friendship with Prince Julian. Later, Julian betrays her, ignoring her in front of his aristocratic friends. Even worse, Bella is forced to leave her home with the blacksmith’s family in order to live with her nasty father and equally nasty stepmother.
This is—but oh, so cunningly disguised!--a version of the Cinderella story, but Bella is not a spineless victim, and Julian is not a perfect prince. If you love fairy tales, but are ready for a longer story, a more complex plot, and well-rounded characters, you will swoon over Bella at Midnight.
The Bee-Man of Orn
The merry old Bee-Man is quite happy as he is, raising bees and living off honey, until a sorcerer comes to town and tells him that he is not in his true shape. Someone has changed him into a beekeeper. The beekeeper makes up his mind that he had better find out what his true shape is, and sets off on a journey that will bring him face to face with a languid young man, a dragon, and a baby. This is a reissue of a Victorian fairy tale. The language is dense, the story delicious, and the pictures are sumptuous.
Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree
Emma Jean is a very unusual girl. She lives in her own little world, a world where everything makes sense and people behave logically. One day she finds a fellow student crying in the school lavatory, and promises to help her. Colleen—who is kind-hearted and very emotional—is upset because she’s afraid she’s losing her dearest friend. Emma Jean promises to help.
It’s hard to explain why this is such a fun book. Partly it’s because Emma Jean is such a mastermind. She doesn’t understand people’s feelings very well, but she comes up with a solution to Colleen’s problem that is devilishly clever. It’s also a fun book because it changes point of view frequently—one moment we’re with Emma-Jean, who is so sensible that she makes you laugh, and the next moment we’re with Colleen, who is so sweet that she lives in a constant state of guilt and anxiety. Sequel.
Wilson, N. D.
This is a great adventure story. Tom is disgusted because his mother is dating a man he cannot respect. In an attempt to find a temporary escape, he makes a raft from a piece of Styrofoam, and glides down the nearby river. Unfortunately, the ride is soporific, and Tom doesn’t wake up until he’s an underground cave with a dog, some dead bodies, and buried treasure.
This award-winning book traces an African-American family through many generations. It begins with a child sold into slavery, losing her mother forever—but taking two needles and thread with her. Later the child stitches “stars and moons and roads” making the first of many quilts. In time, the quilts become a “show way”—a map that helps enslaved people find their way north to freedom.
Woodson’s book doesn’t end there. The story continues through the 19th and 20th centuries and down into the present, when the writer Woodson stitches “stars and moons and roads” and tells her daughter the story of her ancestors.
Woodson’s spare, poetic text is accompanied by glowing pictures by Hudson Talbott.
Harder and a Little Sophisticated…
Anderson, Laurie Halse
When Mary Finch died, her thirteen-year-old slave Isabel, expected to be set free. Instead, she and her sister Ruth were sold to the Lockharts, a cruel family in New York State. It is 1776, and the colonists are fighting for their freedom. Both Colonists and Loyalists support slavery.
Isabel’s life is a hard one. Shortly after arriving at the Lockharts, her sister Ruth is sold away from her. Another slave, a man named Curzon, offers Isabel her freedom—and the chance to find Ruth--if she will spy for the Patriots.
This is one of those rare historical novels that combine impeccable research with a spellbinding story.
Swords: An Artist’s Devotion
This large and elegant volume addresses the history of swords. The illustrations are splendid, and the text contains fascinating information about the craft of sword-making in different times and cultures.
Burnts, Loree Griffin
Every now and then a cargo ship loses its cargo. If the cargo is buoyant—like a ship full of sneakers or Legos or rubber ducks—the floating trash can help scientists understand the movement of the oceans—which means people are better able to fight against oil spills and other environmental disasters.
This book surprised me, because I would never have thought a spilled cargo of rubber ducks could be useful—and I never would have thought that I could get interested in ocean currents. But I did get interested—and you might, too.
Molly is an English girl who lives in 21st century America. Sam was a powder monkey aboard the 19th century battleship, Victory. This suspenseful story shuttles between them, climaxing with the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
This is an unusually fine book. If you like military history and adventure, you will lap this up. If you don’t, you may still like this book, because the characters are sympathetic and the writing is superb.
Cornish, D. M.
If you’re tired of fantasy books that remind you—too much—of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, the “Monster Blood Tattoo” books may be up your alley. D. M. Cornish is an Australian writer, and his world has the flavor of the Australian outback.
Rossamund (he’s a boy with a girl’s name) is discontented at the orphanage where he lived. He longs to be a sailor, or to do battle with the monsters that live just beyond the borders of his world. Naturally, he gets his chance because this is that kind of book: brimful of monsters, surprises, and adventures. Series.
Elijah of Buxton
Curtis, Christopher Paul
Elijah lives in Buxton, Canada, a settlement for runaway slaves. Buxton is a kind of haven: the people who live there have gardens and solid homes, education, dignity and freedom. Elijah is a “fra-gile” boy—that is, he’s sensitive—and both his sensitivity and his sense of mischief get him into trouble. His real quest begins when a thief steals money from one of his friends, who was saving that money to buy back his wife and children.
This is a magnificent book—heartbreaking in some patches and downright silly in others. Highly recommended.
The Loud Silence of Francine Green
Francine lives in fear of getting in trouble. She’s a mouse of a child—until she becomes close friends with Sophie Bowman, a forthright, argumentative girl who’s not afraid to question authority. Sophie encourages Francine to think—about Communism, about the atom bomb, about McCarthyism— but thinking makes Francine uncomfortable. At some point, she knows she’s going to have to choose between safety and loyalty, silence and revolt.
The Trouble Begins At Eight
Mark Twain was a legend in his own time, and this biography conveys that by mixing humor, myth, and fact. The book begins, “Mark Twain was born fully grown, with a cheap cigar clamped between his teeth.” A dazzlingly funny and inventive tribute to Twain’s genius.
The Graveyard Book
In the first harrowing scene of this book, Bod (short for Nobody) becomes the sole survivor of his family. A man with a knife enters his house, and kills everyone but the little boy, who likes to crawl out of his crib at night. Unaware that he is being stalked, Bod wanders into a nearby graveyard—he is small enough to squeeze between the iron bars of the fence—and the ghostly inhabitants agree to adopt and protect him.
This book is spooky in all the right ways. There are ghosts and ghouls and a werewolf and a witch. There’s gothic atmosphere as thick as frosting on a birthday cake. But the story is also warmhearted and oddly cozy—the creatures who live in the graveyard are trustworthy, good protectors for the vulnerable Bod. This book won the 2009 Newbery Medal.
World of Unbelievable Brilliance: Giraffes! Giraffes!
This gets the Weird Book Award of the year. It presents itself as a natural history of giraffes, explaining that giraffes came from Neptune on a conveyer belt. The book is full of idiosyncratic “facts”—it is mind-boggling and hilarious. The Haggis-On-Whey team of Doris and Benny has also written books on human anatomy and sea creatures. Series.
I just said that Giraffes! Giraffes! got the weird book award, but I lied. Garmann’s Summer is probably weirder. On the face of it, it’s about a little boy who is afraid to start school, but it’s also about time and mortality. It sounds depressing, but there’s something very intriguing about this book. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it will stay with you once you’ve read it. This book won the 2007 Bologna Ragazzi Award.
Moon’s father hated the government, so Moon grew up in the woods, living under the roots of a tree, and shooting animals for food. When Moon’s father died, Moon falls into the hands of the state. He ends up in a boy’s reform school, but it takes him only a few days before he figures out how to escape.
He brings a busload of boys with him, but only two of them are brave enough to join him, living off the land and keeping a safe distance from a nasty policeman.
I loved this book. You have to admire Moon, because he’s so good at coping—but you worry about him, because he’s surrounded by adults who want to pen him up. There’s enough adventure for two books in Alabama Moon, but it’s not just an adventure story-- the characters are strong and the writing is splendid.
The Wednesday Wars
Holling Hoodhood is neither Jewish nor Catholic—which means that he is the only child in school one afternoon a week, when the Jewish children are at Hebrew School and the Catholic children are in Catechism classes. To his dismay, Holling is forced to attend special classes with a teacher who hates him and who teaches him—Holling is appalled—Shakespeare.
This is one funny book. The teacher, Mrs. Baker, is convincingly cranky, but has a few tricks up her sleeve and Holling is one of those kids who attracts trouble like a dog attracts fleas.
Heroes of the Valley
This is a first rate fantasy adventure—exciting, engrossing and original. Halli is on the surface an unheroic figure—he is short and stocky and homely. Worse still, he’s a practical joker and can’t keep his mouth shut.
Halli is haunted by his family’s heroic past. He longs for the days of his ancestor Svein, who was a warlord and a great slayer of trolls—but whether Svein was really a hero, or whether trolls really exist, are open questions.
I loved Halli. He is at all times brave, imaginative, and funny, and in spite of all the trouble he causes, he never loses the reader’s sympathy. Highly recommended.
This is a wordless book that is definitely not for little children. It’s about an immigrant who comes to the United States, where everything is strange. What’s so brilliant about this book is that Shaun Tan shows you just how bewildering this new world is—he fills the pages of the book with peculiar animals, mysterious machines, and weird landscapes. Little by little, the mysteries are solved—both by the observant reader and the character in the story. This is a book that really has to be LOOKED AT and solved—it’s not something you flick through. But it is beautiful, magical, and very strange.
Someone Named Eva
I almost hesitate to recommend this book, because it gave me nightmares. The heroine, Milada, is Czech. When the Nazis take over her village, they spare Milada’s life, because she is fair-haired and blue-eyed—an Aryan girl worthy to become the mother of German children. Milada is therefore taken away and brainwashed: forced to forget her name, her past, and her identity. But though it is dangerous for Milada to hold onto anything from her past life, there is a part of her that wants to remember.
This book is extraordinarily suspenseful.
There’s a strange new boy in Frannie’s class—a weird white boy who accepts bullying calmly, without seeming frightened or angry. His behavior is so unusual that the other kids start to call him “the Jesus boy”, and Frannie begins to wonder if there really is something miraculous about him. This is a mysterious little book, very engrossing and a little bit sad.