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Book Reviews

Star Wars: Jedi Apprentice Series

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Author: Dave Wolverston
Genre: Science Fiction
4th grade and up

“This series tells how Obi Won Kenobi learns to become a Jedi knight. He struggles with anger during his Jedi training. He wants to become a Jedi but struggles and fails often. This series follows the movies but explains more deeply the Jedi Training and adventures. I really like this series!”
– Joseph, age 12 –

Maniac Magee

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Author: Jonathon Spinelli
Genre: Realistic Fiction
5th grade and up

“Maniac Magee is about a boy who is suddenly orphaned and his life turns upside down. He decides to run and try to survive on the open streets. He earned the name “maniac” by attempting crazy stunts. Even though he faced his own struggles, he always took the opportunity to help others, regardless of their race or what part of town they lived in. I recommend this book.”
– Stephen, age 12 –

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

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Author: Jonathon Auxier
Genre: Fantasy
4th grade and up

“Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes is a story of an orphan boy trying to find a new life. Through the many twists and turns, Peter Nimble finds himself lost in a desert fighting to save his country. Peter turns out to be an unlikely hero who conquers his fear with an unquenchable appetite for adventure. I heartily recommend this book.”
– Joseph, age 12 –

Book Review

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Looking for some thrilling adventures? Check out a few of our family favorites! These Adventure chapter books can be read independently by older elementary children but are excellent read-alouds for kindergarten to adult.

Adventure Chapter books (series)
#1 The Wilderking series
By Jonathon Rogers

The Bark of the Bog Owl
(The Wilderking Trilogy #1)
By Jonathon Rogers
Read aloud – all ages; Independent read 4th grade and up.

“What if I am destined to be the Wilderking? How should I live?”
“The same way you should live if you weren’t the Wilderking. Live the life that unfolds before you. Love goodness more than you fear evil.”

The Bark of the Bog Owl is a mixture of Huck Finn, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Biblical story of David & Goliath. Set in the mythical land of Corenwald, Aidan Errolson is destined to be the Wilderking to save his beloved country from the deceitful Pyrthians. Just a teenager, he is an unlikely warrior-king, and his stories of Dobro, the feechie, just complicate his credibility. Readers can sympathize with Aidan’s struggles and doubts, yet his unshakeable love of country and commitment to integrity propel him forward. His friend Dobro provides more than a few chuckles.
The Bark of the Bog Owl is a lovely read-aloud for the entire family. It has all the great elements of a strong story – humor, mystery, adventure, and underlying truths that encourage us all to “Love goodness more than you fear evil.”

Adventure Chapter books (series)
#2 Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School
By Andrew Clements

Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School: We the Children
Written by Andrew Clements
Ages 7-10

“First and always, my school belongs to the children. DEFEND IT. Duncan Oakes 1783”

This is the inscription on the gold coin given to Ben, a sixth grader at Oakes School, by the ancient janitor Mr. Keane, right before he fell over dead in the school hallway. His last words conveyed an urgency for Ben to protect the school and keep it from being torn down in the name of progress. Ben and his friend, Jill, start looking for answers. It turns out that Captain Oakes, the school’s founder, left clues, artifacts, and other tools that the children hope will keep the only school they have ever known from being demolished and the quaint history of their town unblemished by the construction of an amusement park.

The Keepers of the School is a six-volume set. It is very suspenseful without the use of magic or fantasy. Ben and Jill (and later Robert) follow the clues in an effort to save their school. The children do real detective work and learn historical information along the way. They learn to work together and the power of friendship. Written for middle grades, this series will engage even the most reluctant of readers as the mystery unfolds. Will Ben and his friends be able to save the Oakes School?

Andrew Clements is a favorite children’s author who writes about ordinary people and often uses the school setting, which is so relevant to children. His books are a nice balance of humor, suspense, and genuine characters. Some of his other books include Frindle, Lunch Money, The School Story, and Janitor’s Boy.

Adventure Chapter books (series)
Tucket’s Travels: Mr. Tucket, book 1
By Gary Paulsen

Mr. Tucket (The Francis Tucket books #1)
Written by Gary Paulsen

“Happy Birthday, Francis,” his father said, smiling. “We figured that it was about time you had one of these.” Francis was really puzzled, until his fingers tore away some of the paper. He didn’t need to unwrap it all to know what it was.”

Mr. Tucket is the first installment in a five-volume series about Francis Tucket and his family’s journey to Oregon during America’s Westward Expansion. In 1847, Francis and his family leave their farm in Kansas for a new life. Francis receives his own rifle for his 14th birthday and lags behind, practicing his shooting. Soon he is captured by Pawnee Indians. Will he get away? If he does, how will he survive alone in the wilderness?

Mr. Tucket is a great adventure story loved by children and adults alike. The reader will be transported into the difficulties faced by early settlers of the American West. Paulsen’s knowledge of the living in the wilderness provides detailed descriptions of Francis and his struggles. Young readers can relate to Francis’ efforts to be grown-up. All readers will enjoy the adventure, humor, and excitement of these Western tales. Along the way, they’ll also gain an appreciation for early settlers in the American West.

Adventure Chapter books (series)
Madeleine Takes Command
Living History Library

By Ethel C. Brill

“What is your plan, Ma’m’selle?” the older solider inquired.
“To defend the seigneury to the last. The little children must stay in the blockhouse and their mothers with them That leaves only six of us …We are fighting for our people-what there are left of them-for our country and our faith. Let us fight to the death if need be.”

Madeleine Takes Command is a based on the true facts of how in 1692 Madeleine de Vercheres, a French Canadian settler, her two younger brothers, and a handful of settlers defended the family estate against the Mohawk Indians until help arrived. Her parents were away at the fur-trading center of Montreal when the Indians trapped most of the men when they were farming the land outside the garrison. Madeleine’s quick thinking, courage, and leadership motivate the remaining settlers to hold off the Indians.

Madeleine Takes Command vividly portrays the dangers and hardships of settling the new frontier. It portrays the struggles of both the French settlers and the Indians in whose land they were seeking to develop. Madeleine’s story is a remarkable story for young people, females in particular. She is a worthy character to imitate.

Reading about history really makes places come alive! We read this book aloud as a family before we took a family trip to Quebec. We stood on the banks of the very river that Madeleine watched her mother sail away and from which she hoped and prayed help would arrive. We looked across the plains and imagined the settlers hunting and farming as described in the Madeleine’s story. We felt we were in Madeleine’s time. That is the power of an amazing story….it transports us to places we haven’t been. Then if we are fortunate enough to actually visit there, it feels familiar and like an old friend.

Madeleine Takes Command is one book in the Living History Library series. Each book in the series portrays an actual historical period and persons from the perspective of children. We have read many of them and they are an excellent way to learn and experience history. Check them all out!

The Magic Dreidels: A Hannukah Story

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The Magic Dreidels: A Hannukah Story
Written by Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrated by Katya Krenina

The Magic Dreidels: A Hannukah Story tells of a family busily preparing for Hannukah. Everyone is working, except for Jacob who is distracted by playing with his dreidel. His mother sends him out into the cold to fetch water from the well. On this snowy night, he meets a goblin who exchanges his ordinary dreidel for a magical one! He rushes home to show his family; however, he soon finds out that his neighbor has played a trick on him. Will his family ever believe him again?

In our home, we read picture books to learn and connect with people, places, special holidays, and historical events. Stories, like this one, are great ways to introduce young children to terms (vocabulary) and traditions associated with these events. When children have a broad introduction to a variety of people, places, and events, they can build on that knowledge as they journey through life.  These kinds of books make unfamiliar objects become known and seemingly foreign cultural traditions become recognizable. There are many Hannukah stories. What is your favorite?

A Turkey for Thanksgiving

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A Turkey for Thanksgiving
Written by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Diane de Groat

“My wife won’t mind that you’re too fat,” he said. “Let’s go. It’s getting close to dinnertime.”

A Turkey for Thanksgiving is a humorous tale about Mr. Moose’s quest to have a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. He searches throughout the forest, passing by Rabbit, Mr. & Mrs. Goat, Sheep, and Porcupine until he finds a frightened turkey at the river’s edge. Will he get the turkey for dinner?

This is a fun story for young children and perfect for reading while Thanksgiving dinner is being prepared. They will enjoy the interaction between the animals and the illustrations are beautiful.

Eve Bunting, born in Ireland, has authored over 100 children’s books which range in topics from funny folktales to stories about difficult topics such as immigration, loss, and racism. She enjoys writing picture books because they require the writer to tell the tale in a short but interesting way. Check out the many stories by Eve Bunting.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Remember, when you enter Amazon through this link and make a purchase, a portion of the sale will be donated to Book Drive for Kids. Thank you for your support!

Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving

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Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving
Written by Eric Metaxas
Illustrated by Shannon Stirnweis

It is like the story of Joseph from our sacred Scriptures,” he said. “Like you, Joseph was also taken from his home and sold as a slave. But God had a plan for him.

Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving begins in 1608 when Squanto is a young Patuxet boy who is excited to see strangers with shiny beads in huge ships. Yet tragically he is captured and sold into slavery in Spain. How does Squanto get back to his homeland in the New World? Will he ever see his family again?

Squanto’s story is a sad one and may be difficult for young readers; however, his story is an important lesson to all of us. He shows readers how to choose forgiveness over bitterness and retribution; how to learn new things no matter the situation; and how to share one’s knowledge with those who are struggling, regardless of their skin tone or race. His story shows the providence of God in saving Squanto and then how He uses Squanto to save an entire village.

While this book may be difficult for young children, it certainly is an important story for children and adults alike. It contributes to a better understanding of the difficulties faced by early American settlers and their Indian neighbors. It encourages readers to reflect on the real historical events which led to the Thanksgiving Day holiday. It demonstrates again the many things for which we as Americans have to be thankful during the Thanksgiving holiday.  

Remember, when you enter Amazon through this link and make a purchase, a portion of the sale will be donated to Book Drive for Kids. Thank you for your support!

Pilgrim Cat

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Pilgrim Cat
Written by Carol Antoinette Peacock
Illustrated by Doris Ettlinger

“A cat just jumped on our boat, Father!” Faith Barrett exclaimed as she waited with her family and the other passengers to sail.
“Every ship needs a few good mousers!” said her father.
Pilgrim Cat is a delightful story of the Pilgrims’ voyage to the New World from the perspective of young Faith Barrett and her new friend, Pounce, a stray cat. In an appropriate style for young children, it tells of the hardships they faced – seasickness, harsh winter, and fevers which ravished the passengers.

Spring comes and with it Squanto, who shows the Pilgrims how to plant and grow food in this new land. Through each new challenge and adventure, Pounce is Faith’s loyal companion but one day near the harvest, he disappears. Faith is sorely disappointed! What has happened to Pounce? Will he return?

Children love Pilgrim Cat because of its descriptive storytelling and the playful interaction between Faith and Pounce. Parents and educators love it because it is a faithful re-telling of actual events of the Pilgrims’ voyage and settling in Plymouth. Farming details down to the actual vegetables and foods that were grown are shared. It is a wonderful introduction to the actual day-to-day events of life in 1620. It presents the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians as friends and grateful neighbors at their harvest celebration. Pilgrim Cat is a great story for introducing, even the youngest readers, to the real story of America’s Thanksgiving holiday.

Remember, when you enter Amazon through this link and make a purchase, a portion of the sale will be donated to Book Drive for Kids. Thank you for your support!

Night Gardener

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Night Gardener
By Jonathon Auxier

Through the crack around the door, she saw a tall shadow move inside.
‘Master Windsor, is that you?’ she said as bravely as she could.
The footsteps stopped.
The wind stopped.
Her heart stopped.

The Night Gardener is a mysterious tale of Irish siblings Molly and Kip who must find work because their parents have abandoned them. The only job available is as servants for the Windsor family at an old English mansion surrounded by rumors and overgrown woods. Warned by neighbors not to venture to the Windsor’s home, Molly and Kip are faced with no other choice.  They notice strange noises at night, a locked room, and how those who enter the room seem to become paler and paler. Finally, when faced with the truth, Molly and Kip demonstrate true friendship and courage. A chilling tale laced with solid lessons on greed, honesty, and love. For 9-14 year olds who like a spooky, magical tale; they will not be disappointed!   

If you enjoy this magical tale by Jonathon Auxier, check out his other books: Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes and Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard.

Remember, when you enter Amazon through this link and make a purchase, a portion of the sale will be donated to Book Drive for Kids. Thank you for your support!

Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent

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Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent
Written and illustrated by Bill Peet
“I wish there was something more exciting to do. I’d like to have some fun for a change.”

Cyrus, an enormous sea serpent, is feeling bored and discontented. Can’t most children relate to this feeling? Then he is taunted by a shark for his mild personality and is challenged to give way to his destructive side. Aren’t we often faced with others who take advantage of our feelings to encourage negative behavior? At first Cyrus succumbs to this shaming; however, once he sees the people who will be impacted by this disastrous choice, he has a change of heart. Cyrus uses his power to help the powerless.

Readers can’t help but sympathize with Cyrus and wonder what choices he will make. In a culture that praises and elevates the powerful, this simple children’s book demonstrates the responsibility of the powerful to protect the weak. Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent is one of many Bill Peet books that have great illustrations with humorous and relatable stories that appeal to virtuous choices.

Bill Peet (1915-2002) is one of my favorite children’s authors. He is the author-illustrator of 34 children’s books all of which are still in print. Additionally, he was also an illustrator for Disney for 27 years, working on several of their classic animated movies. Each book bears his signature-style of colored-pencil illustrations. His books feature animals as main characters who often face overwhelming circumstances in which they have a choice to make. Some of our other favorite Bill Peet books are Kermit the Hermit, The Wump World, The Caboose who Got Loose, and The Spooky Tail of Prewitt Peacock.

Remember, when you enter Amazon through this link and make a purchase, a portion of the sales will be donated to Book Drive for Kids. Thank you for your support.