Reviews by Linda Peters
Title Secrets of the Seven - The Eureka Key
Author Sarah L. Thomson
Sarah Thomson has begun a series called Secrets of the Seven which combines solving codes and puzzles with American history and a suspenseful mystery. The first book in the series is called the Eureka Key. This book introduces the reader to the main characters and sets up the entire plot line for the series. Middle school puzzle master Sam Soloman is constantly getting in trouble at school even though his teachers say that he is terribly smart but lazy. His parents wonder when he will ever grow up and stay out of trouble. Martina Wright is the complete opposite of Sam. She loves books and learning new things, she has a photographic memory and loves American history. The one thing they have in common is that they are both winners in the American Dream Contest. Their prize, an all-expense paid trip around the United States during the summer. Sam’s parents let him go once he convinces them that the contest says that it will be a life changing experience and isn’t that what they want for him. Sam and Martina are met at the airport by Evangeline Temple, who Sam nicknames the Ice Princess and another young man by the name of Theodore who doesn’t smile and seems very aloof. The four of them board a small plane to start their summer adventure in Death Valley, Nevada. Little did Sam and Martina expect their adventure of a lifeline to start with everyone but them getting sick and passing out while the plane is still in the air. The trip doesn’t get any better when several bad guys force them to lead them to a mysterious rock formation. All of this revolves around a mysterious group of men from the American Revolution. The only question is whether Sam and Martina, along with the strange Theo, can figure out their history and the puzzles to unlock their rocky prison and solve how Benjamin Franklin is involved in all of this. Readers from age 8 to 14 will find this to be a suspenseful and challenging mystery that entertains. I highly recommend it as an excellent mystery that combines history, humor, and puzzle challenges that will make readers wanting to read the next book in the series.
Title Princess between Worlds
Author E.D. Baker
E.D. Baker’s series called A Tale of the Wide-Awake Princess continues with the fifth book called Princess between Worlds. This book continues the adventures of Annie and Liam after their wedding. They are planning their grand tour of the neighboring kingdoms when a witch gives them a wedding gift of a collection of magical postcards. All they have to do is touch each postcard and they will magically appear at that place. Their gift takes them to faraway places that they have never heard of or knew existed. At each place they are met by suspicious villagers and often accused of being trouble. They also discover many new people like the Yeti and magical dragons who help them survive. As their travels continue to get stranger and stranger they discover that a nemesis of theirs from past books is trying to kill them with the postcards. Annie and Liam long to return home but none of the postcards show their kingdom. It is only with clues from each place that they are able to find someone who can help them find the Magic Marketplace that sells magical postcards like their gift. This book was not as exciting as the first four books, but readers of the series will want to continue to follow Princess Annie’s adventures. This is an optional book for readers from age 8 to 12 who like fairy tale books or have read other books in the series.
Title The Enemy Above
Author Michael P. Spradlin
Publisher Scholastic Press
There have been many Holocaust books written about the hiding and escaping of Jews during World War II. The Enemy Above by Michael P. Spradlin ventures into the Nazis takeover of the Ukraine. This was a country use to the Russians and others always wanting their land and resources. Late in the war, after Russia has halted the German machine, the Nazis turn their eyes and troops toward the rich farmlands of the Ukraine. Much of this land had been farmed by Jews for generations and they, like other Jews in Europe, never thought that the Nazis would come to their farms and villages. While this story is a work of fiction, it is based on a true story. Anton, a twelve year old Jewish boy lives with his two uncles and grandmother on a farm in the Ukraine. His mother died in childbirth and his father left sometime before to help the Polish army against the Germans. He has not been heard from for months. Now the Germans are getting closer and closer to their farm. His uncles warn Anton that if the Germans come he must take his grandmother and run to a cave the townsmen have found that the village can hide in till the Germans leave. Among the Germans is a young Gestapo officer who is determined to move up in the German army by bringing in all of the Jews that he can find in this country. When Anton and his Grandmother try to escape to the caves, they find that they may have waited too long and his grandmother is captured by Major Von Duesen. Anton must come to her rescue. In doing so he makes himself and his grandmother become the symbol of hate for the Major as he vows to find them and make them into an example to other escaping Jews. Anton and his family eventually make it to Priest’s Grotto, a series of underground caves that have a water supply and miles of underground tunnels. The only question is whether the Jews can stay hidden till the Germans leave or are defeated. Based on the story of the Jews who did hide in Priest’s Grotto which is still in the Ukraine. This is a fascinating read that must be added to any collection of Holocaust stories. Readers will gain a new perspective of life for Jews in Eastern Europe during the end of the third Reich. Highly recommended for readers from ages 10 to 15.
Author Gordon Korman
Publisher Scholastic Press
Gordon Korman has once more found a topic that will be a sure hit among his readers. Cameron Boxer is a gamer. He has spent his thirteen years preparing himself for doing nothing but improving his gaming skills. He does just enough to get by at school and to keep his parents off his back. His whole goal in life is to be left alone and to improve his skills to enter the Rule the World gaming contest. That was his whole goal till his undivided attention of gaming caused him to let the house catch on fire. His very upset parents have now decided that his slacker attitude and total involvement in gaming has to end. The parent ultimatum – gaming will be cut if he doesn’t form some other interests. To appease his parents he forms a new school club with his two best friends. The club is called the Positive Action Group. A fake club that supposedly does good deeds in the community. The club would be Cameron’s way to make his parents get off his back so he could get back to his real life-gaming. What Cameron didn’t count on was a guidance counselor who needed a group like this to help make his career and another eighth grader who wanted the group to save an old beaver that was eating its way through the town. Before Cameron knows it, his club has been turned into a real club doing good deeds all over town and he is the president of the group. As the club grows, so does Cameron. Life lessons are learned and eventually all of the students in the middle school find their lives changed by positive action. The only person who can’t seem to realize that he is changing is Cameron himself. The book is full of surprises, laughs and engaging storylines. Different chapters are told through the eyes of different main characters in the story making the book even more interesting. Recommended for readers from 10 – 14.
Title Strange Mr. Satie Composer of the Absurd
Author M.T. Anderson
Publisher Candlewick Press
First published in 2003, Strange Mr. Satie Composer of the Absurd, is reprinted for new readers. Erik Satie was born at the turn of the twentieth century in Paris. He was involved with many new composers who were experimenting with new sounds in music. His music was considered to be very experimental and strange. Many people didn’t understand it and didn’t like the sound of his compositions. His music followed no known rules, which pleased him, but not others. At age 39 he went to school to learn the rules of music so he could break them and create music that people would respect. He was known for his famous temper, his acrobat girlfriend who he threw out his window in rage, his peculiar lifestyle of very strict daily schedule and personal hygiene rules. He was friends with Picasso, puppeteers, and wizards. After several failed musical productions, in 1924 he wrote a ballet with painter Francis Picabla that involved a movie, a cannon, and a camel. Shortly after the success of his ballet Satie died. His music is still available for music lovers of the absurd. M.T. Anderson, the author of the book, and Petra Mathers, the illustrator, have presented a very interesting picture book of a music genius who lived in his own child-man life, struggling to make his brilliance shine. Fascinating book for ages 5 and up of a man who influenced many other musicians after him, but during his lifetime received little acclaim. Recommended for libraries wanting to include musicians or unheard of people that have influenced today’s world in their biography sections.
Title Gary’s Garden
Author Gary Northfield
Gary’s Garden by Gary Northfield is a long picture book written in comic book form. Readers are taken into Gary’s back yard to meet some very strange critters who live there. Each strip is one or two pages long. The problem with this book is that I am not sure who would read it. Young readers would find the stories hard to follow and the humor above their heads. Older readers who might find the book humorous will not pick up a book that looks so babyish. The print is small and readers have to really struggle to read the strips. (This is an uncorrected proof so that problem may be fixed in the final printing.) I also found the strips to be confusing at times, redundant, or lacking humor that I would have expected in a book proposed for young readers. I would not recommend this book.
Reviews by Melissa Sokol,
Title: Blue in the Face
Author: Gerry Swallow
Evaluation: Elspeth Pule is a spoiled brat. Her parents are at their wits end since she has been expelled from yet another school and is insisting that she get an alpaca as a pet in their small apartment near Seattle. At the recommendation of an overpriced psychologist her parents simply ignore Elspeth the next time she holds her breath to get her way. When her parents try out this tactic Elspeth passes out and wakes up in a forest where everything is alive; rocks, twigs, and even her doll Dolly Dew Eyes. Soon Elspeth is meeting famous nursery rhyme characters only to find out the rhymes she knows have been changed by King Krool and the truth is she has been written about in a prophecy that says she will be the one to lead a rebellion against King Krool and will be instrumental in returning their land to the benign rule of King Winkie. A fast paced and fun plot with a main character that is realistically slow to change her spots and see the errors of her ways. The author did a lovely job of changing nursery rhymes but keeping their original cadence. The illustrations are cute, but do not always correctly relate to the text. For example Elspeth is given a pair of silk slippers that are compared to ballerina shoes, but in the illustration they appear to be high heeled shoes. Recommended for any library serving students in grades 2nd -5th grade.
Title: Fridays with the Wizards
Author: Jessica Day George
Evaluation: Celie and her family are just recovering from their latest Castle Glower adventure and their kingdom is embracing the known presence of Griffins again. However the Castle still has secrets to reveal to Celie and the rest of their family; parts of a ship from a long time ago, a tower with foreign instruments meant for who know what, and the evil wizard Arkwright hiding in the secret passage ways. How can they capture the wizard and stop his mayhem and attempts to steal Griffin eggs. This is the fourth book in this fantastical series that will please fans and continue the character development of the story’s key players. This book would not stand alone easily. Recommended for any library owning the previous books in the series and serving children in grades 1st through 5th.
Title: My Family is a Zoo
Author: K A Gerrard
Evaluation: Family members are introduced with their animals as they all gather to take a trip and deliver two polar bears to a new family member. By the end of the narrative you realize that all the animals are favorite stuffed animals that family members have treasured all their lives and the polar bears are a gift for a new set of twins that have just been born. Cute illustrations by Emma Dodd and a good storytime book that fits the themes of family members and stuffed animals/toys. Optional Purchase for any library serving children age 3-7.
Title: Secrets of Bearhaven
Author: K E Rocha
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Evaluation: Spencer Plain has spent his entire life steeped in bear facts and lore. After all both his parents work tirelessly and worldwide to rescue bears in peril. His parents have been away from home longer than usual when his uncle Mark shows up at school and pulls him out. His father has been captured and his mother has become unreachable which means it’s time to bring Spencer to the safety of Bearhaven, where computers help bears communicate with humans and rescued bears are brought for rehabilitation. Spencer struggles to come to grips with his temporary home and with trying to convince his uncle and the bears who care for him to let him help on the next bear rescue and hopefully to find some clues to his parents’ whereabouts. This book is the first in a series. Children will likely enjoy the sci fi elements mixed in with the mission of saving bears, but I had a hard time trying to rationalize where they would get the funds to build all the mentioned technology and transport by only rescuing bears. Optional purchase for any library that serves children in grades. 2nd-5th.
Title: Oons Finds an Egg
Author: Adele Griffin
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Evaluation: This is the first title in The Oodlethunks series. Oona and her brother Bonk are playing hide and seek in the woods around their cave in prehistoric times when a storms lets loose and Oona can no longer find her brother or her way home. While crossing a rope bridge it snaps and Oona lands in the river next to a giant egg! She decides since she and her brother need a pet she will bring it home to care for until it hatches, but what kind of animal is in that egg? And will it eat plants or meat? While the premise, illustration, and characters in this book would appeal to children in 1st through 3rd grade the reading level would be more appropriate for a child in 4th or 5th grade. I often have parents ask for higher reading material that is still emotionally appropriate for children in younger grades and this book could fit that need. Optional purchase for libraries serving children in grades K-3 that have some very high achieving readers.