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Kids Book Reviews

The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Valente, Catherynne M.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I've yet to read something by Catherynne M. Valente that isn't absolutely gorgeous -- admittedly I may be a little bit biased, as I definitely think folkloric stories are the best, and folkloric stories with lovely playful twists are the BEST best... But when it comes to evocative and clever prose, as far as I'm concerned Valente is on a level all her own. At the moment, I happen to be reading her "Fairyland" series, and so... Behold, the first book -- "The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making!" It's just as whimsical as it sounds.

So there's this little girl named September, living in a lonely house and washing a bunch of lonely teacups all the time and feeling very trapped. A quirky and talkative Green Wind -- apparently a defiant and spirited sort of wind -- riding a leopard shows up to spirit her away to Fairyland if she likes. This book is very much like "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" for the modern age: September has loads more authority over herself and her destiny, for one, and she grows dramatically as a human being over the course of the series. Fairyland helps that along of course, despite being a wild and alien place, complete with folkloric and/or mythological figures both eternal and re-imagined, petulant tyrants with very impressive hats, and interesting twists and turns aplenty that I can say I definitely didn't see coming. Valente's world is simultaneously familiar and wonderfully fresh, like she's composed words to go along to the tune of a well-beloved song, shifting its meaning in unexpected ways while still keeping true to the soul of something timeless.

Reviewer's Name: Kate
The Hidden Oracle
Riordan, Rick
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Oh my goodness, Apollo, you strange and beautiful basket case. I was laughing all through this book, marking pages to shove at my friends... You know the drill. The Greek-mythology-centric Percy Jackson series as a whole helped me through some dark times when I was younger, and this first book of Rick Riordan's new "Trials of Apollo" series is delightful, just as I remember "The Lightning Thief" to have been back when I really, really needed it. (It's only missing Mr. D -- I've always especially liked Mr. D. Maybe he'll show up in the next one?)

Anyway. You know how in Greek folklore, Apollo gets stripped of his powers sometimes when he gets his king/dad, Zeus, angry? That's happened again in this series, only now it's all happening in modern day New York... Where the rules to everything are way different than what Apollo's used to... Annnnd he's not used to acne or helplessness, either, both of which he has to deal with as an awkward teen apparently named "Lester." It's the sparkly god of the sun/music/so many things's turn to go on actual quests again instead of waving demigods off on them... And he's very, very sad about it.

Some familiar faces from the Percy Jackson series have appeared so far in "The Hidden Oracle," but I would say it's definitely its own series with unique sources of pathos. Something I always loved about the Percy Jackson books is their empathy, the way people can redeem themselves, the way characters can still be heroic despite/because of their flaws... And that is STILL HERE, operating now through the protagonist, given the centuries worth of mistakes a now-human Apollo has to grapple with. I definitely liked "Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer" -- the Riordan book that came out a bit before this one -- but it didn't click with me in nearly the same way as Apollo's shenanigans. "The Hidden Oracle" felt like a fresh and self-aware remix of old ideas and settings from Percy Jackson, all told through a recently fallen god's wonderful, WONDERFUL narration. Yes, if you want something completely different than Percy Jackson this might not be the best place to look. But if you want to see the Percy Jackson universe through refreshingly new and oh-so-Olympus-y eyes, this may be perfect for you!

To sort of sum things up: I think this is a great kids' book, engaging and fast-paced and written with a light and goofy sense of humor, just like those original Percy Jackson books. (Sometimes the humor does get VERY goofy, so go in warned, but other times it's clever and tongue-in-cheek. Funny guy, that Apollo. Versatile.) Beyond that, though, I...a grown adult...am 100% buying the next book for myself just as soon as it comes out. I know that doesn't necessarily mean EVERY mythology-loving adult equipped with a suitably goofy sense of humor would also enjoy this book, but I know for a fact plenty of others have the same plan.

Reviewer's Name: Kate
Book Review: The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
Edwards, Julie
2 stars = Meh
Review:

**Spoiler Alert** Let me just say this, don't read this book out loud to your young child. It took forever to get through it and I was so sick and tired of it by the end that it turned into a chore. I didn't really get into it, it just seemed silly to me, but my daughter liked it. A major sticking point for me was the author's failure to explain why the antagonists of the book were actually on the side of the Whangdoodle in the end. Meh.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Brown Girl Dreaming
Woodson, Jacqueline
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This poem book is really well written. It has a unique poem style with just as a unique narrator. This book is about a girl named Jackie growing up in the 1960's-1970's. She has to deal with the hardships of not being treated well because of her skin color along with other things going on in her personal life. The author of this book did a really good job at putting these dilemmas that Jackie faces in the mind of a little girl. I would have rated this book 5 stars if it wasn't so dry in the middle. You get sucked in right from the start but then in the middle of the book, it gets a little boring. But don't give up on it, it picks up later on and has a fantastic ending.
Reviewer Grade: 8

Reviewer's Name: Mikayla B.
The School for Good and Evil
Chainani, Soman
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In the small town of Gavaldon every four years two children are taken by the mysterious Headmaster. One of the children taken has a heart of gold, the other is evil beyond belief. The people of Gavaldon say that they are taken to the School for Good and Evil where they will be prepared for their own fairy tale, and end up on the pages of children's books. This is the dream of Gavaldon's most beautiful girl Sophie, for she dreams to become a princess and have a happily ever after. Though this is the opposite for Agatha, the hermit of Gavaldon, for she wants to spend the rest of her life in her cozy graveyard with her cat and only friend (Sophie). Will their wishes come true, or will their worlds be completely turned around? I would rate this book a 4 out of 5 because I found that some parts were a little to predictable but the rest was amazing. I would recommend this book to any one who likes fantasy. I am in eighth grade and I am 14.

Reviewer's Name: Gabrielle F.
Awards:
Genres:
The Wrath of Darth Maul
Windham, Ryder
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Going back to Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, Star Wars The Wrath of Darth Maul follows the life of Darth Maul, one of the main antagonists of the movie, and gives insight of the character’s childhood, opportunities, and future. We all know that Obi-Wan had “killed” Maul on Coruscant, but Maul continued to live within the deep dark hole, though inhumanly. The novel starts out by giving insight about how Maul came to affiliate with the Sith and some information about his home planet, Dathomir, and explains all the way up to when he fights Qui-Gon and his bisected by Obi-Wan. We get to feel the emotions of Maul, as the book is in 3rd person limited, and the book gives some invaluable information that could clarify some misconceptions within the movie. Ryder Windham did an amazing job on giving essentially a biography about Maul and his life. I recommend this book exclusively to Star Wars fans, especially those who are interested in little screen-time, overlooked characters, such as Darth Maul.

Reviewer's Name: Joe T.
Journey's End
Hawkins, Rachel
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

After her parents split, Georgia girl Nolie Stanhope finds herself spending her summer in a mysterious town called "Journey's End" in Scotland while her father investigates a mysterious fog (known as The Boundary) that's plagued the local village folk for centuries. Nolie is pretty excited - in addition to some sweet international travel, she's an avid ghost enthusiast, and feels like the summer might be promising in that department. And she is pretty immediately proven right! When Nolie and her new Scottish friend Bel see a weird dude walking down the beach, they think they've seen a ghost. Have they? And why is the Boundary suddenly moving closer to shore?

This was a pretty great MG ghost story. The setting is wonderful - Scotland sort of lends itself to mystery, and Hawkins imbues the village of Journey's End with a ton of charm, personality, and a touch of creepiness. Both of the lead characters, Bel and Nolie, were pretty well fleshed out with distinctive and likable personalities. Their friendship, while quickly formed, was believable and would be a great example for young girls. There's a bit of bullying and some exposition about the effects of divorce, so some important relatable issues are addressed. The Boundary itself is a fantastic and appropriately creepy mystery centerpiece. Really, my only complaint is that there was a ton of build-up to a mystery/ghost story that was pretty quickly and too easily resolved. But I'm a tough customer when it comes to middle grade reads, and overall, this one was pretty great so I'll go with the 4 star rating. I'll definitely be booktalking this one with sixth graders in the fall.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: The BFG
Dahl, Roald
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Lovely lovely book. I started off reading this to my 6 year old, but it's kinda scary so we stopped. I just had to finish it on my own. I love how the BFG talks and how whimsical the story is as a whole. It's Roald Dahl, what's not to love?

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Book Review: My Brother Sam is Dead
Collier, James Lincoln
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

When I started this book I could not understand why it had been banned. It seemed so innocuous. I only read it because it was in the free pile where I work. I looked it up and it was for violence, language, and an unpatriotic view of the Revolutionary War. Fair enough. It is violent and unpatriotic for sure, which is why I liked it. It's also a very good story and is about as accurate an account of the Revolutionary War era as can be reasonably expected from a work of fiction for young people.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
The Way of the Samurai
Stilton, Geronimo
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I really enjoyed reading this book that is part of the popular series. The pace is fast, which I like. I traveled to Japan in August of last year, so I remember some of the places the book talks about. The Samurai culture is very interesting to me and readers will enjoy it. This story has it all, history, geography, international travel and an interesting ending.
Reviewer Grade: 7

Reviewer's Name: Thomas C.
Genres:
Dragonbreath
Vernon, Ursula
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This enjoyable story about Danny Dragonbreath is a good read. Danny has to deal with bullying, but he makes it through. His trusty friend Wendell is a classic. You will enjoy the pirate ship, the amphibians and the deep sea creatures. I am looking forward to the next book in the series.
Reviewer Grade: 7

Reviewer's Name: Thomas C.
Awards:
Hatchet
Paulsen, Gary
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book was very fun to read, it left you on the edge of your seat. It is a fairly short book. The story line has a fast pace. I would recommend this book to a more advanced reader. It is a riveting survival story centered in the Canadian wilderness.This book is now one of my favorites.
Reviewer Grade: 7

Reviewer's Name: Thomas C.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #1)
Kinney, Jeff
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is a kid friendly and amazing book. I personally loved the series. I read this series a lot it is about a kid trying to survive middle school named Greg there are ten books in the series so far and I have read all of them. This book is great and I would recommend this book for younger readers.
Reviewer Grade: 7

Reviewer's Name: Thomas C.
Awards:
Genres:
The Ugly Truth (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #5)
Kinney, Jeff
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I really like this book. This is one of my favorites because I can relate to Gregg Heffley. Since I just started 7th grade, much of this book matches what I’m going through now. The reader will enjoy the illustrations throughout the book. You will need to read the book to find out if Gregg and Rowley are able to get their friendship back on track.
Reviewer Grade: 7

Reviewer's Name: Thomas C.
Genres:
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Atwater, Richard
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This absurd book was a fun read. I enjoyed the humor and outrageous premise of the book. Mr. Popper makes many sacrifices for his family of penguins, but the sacrifice is worth it. This book has won many awards and is a classic at my school. I especially enjoyed the unique ending to the satisfying story.
Reviewer Grade: 7

Reviewer's Name: Thomas C.
Genres:
The Willoughbys
Lowry, Lois
2 stars = Meh
Review:

This humorous page turner was fun to read. I would recommend this book, it is a shorter read but it is very entertaining. This is a children’s book. This book was surprisingly humorous. I enjoyed the pace of the story. It is not a hard book to read and it is geared to the young reader. This book will definitely make you laugh.
Reviewer Grade: 7

Reviewer's Name: Thomas C.
Awards:
Genres:
Impyrium
Neff, Henry
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

3000 years ago (aka present day), the earth suffered from "the Cataclysm" - an apocalyptic event that changed the literal shape of the earth (because earthquakes) as well as all of its political structures. In this future version of earth, technology has been all but outlawed, and magical folks are treated in a vastly superior way to those without magic. Hob Smythe is a non-magical miner living in the Dusk (outside of present-day Vancouver) who is recruited by a secret society called The Fellowship that wants non-magic folks to have the same rights as magic folks. He is quickly whisked away to the capital (Impyrium) where he is to spy on Hazel Faeregrine - the princess third in line to the throne that the Fellowship suspects is massively powerful. Meanwhile, Hazel is trying to learn how to wield her great magical power, while maneuvering and investigating interesting goings on in the palace.

As you can probably tell from that description, there is a lot of world-building that happens in this book. As a result, the beginning is a little slow, but after a few chapters, I found myself engrossed. Neff creates a dynamic world full of magic, demons, and dragons. The characters themselves are intelligent, likable (if a little gullible), and independent. If you like your heroes with pluck, you'll love Hazel and Hob. The story, once it gets going, is fairly complex, but in a really great way. There's a lot of plotting and conspiracies and it's really fun to try to figure out what is happening along with Hazel and Hob. A lot of little threads are introduced, and many plot points are tied up in the end while still paving the way for the next installment in the story. Additionally, there is fun social commentary in terms of non-magic vs. magic folks and their respective treatments.

I liked this enough that I immediately put the author's companion series, which is called The Tapestry and tells about the events of the Cataclysm, on hold. This is probably my favorite non-sequel middle grade read of the year. Recommended for fantasy readers of all ages. 4 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Story Thieves
Riley, James
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Owen, a young book-nerd, desperately wishes he could live inside his favorite series. Bethany, a half-fictional girl, is desperately searching for her missing father within fictional worlds, hopping from story to story. One day, Owen discovers Bethany's secret. He makes a deal - he helps her find her father, she allows him to enter his favorite book. But, as they discover, the worlds of fiction are much more dangerous than they appear on the page...
This book was so much fun! I loved every minute of it! Owen and Bethany are great characters that you root for. I also loved the various references to popular books, such as Harry Potter, Peter Pan, and Percy Jackson. If you enjoy fun and geeky adventure stories, this one is DEFINITELY for you!
Grade: 10

Reviewer's Name: Gillian P.
Peter Pan
Barrie, J. M.
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

An amazing classic and phenomenal success, Peter Pan by J.M Barrie follows the story of the children of the Darling family: Wendy, Michael, and John. One night, Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, a fairy, slip into the house of the Darling family and convince the three children to come with him to Neverland, a place where the lost boys live and also where magic resides. After flying there, the lost boys and Peter ask Wendy to be their mother and caretaker since they have never had mothers. Wendy accepts, only for a short while, but eventually she must leave and return to her parents, who are worried sick about them. Wendy plans to leave, with the lost boys insisting on coming with her, but Peter refuses because he longs to be a young boy forever and never grow up. Leaving Peter on Neverland, Wendy and the lost boys fly away but are attacked by the pirates and captured, so Peter must rescue them, but can he defeat their leader Captain Hook? This book is considered somewhat childish due to Disney’s production of the piece, but the story holds deep and moral meanings that would appeal and interest almost any reader.
Review Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Joe T.
Dragons Love Tacos
Rubin, Adam
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This story has it all, from tacos, to laugh out loud humor, to dragons, to colorful illustrations, and most importantly you also learn about why NEVER to give dragons totally mild salsa with jalapenos. The results are action packed, disastrous, and hilarious. Luckily, the dragons make everything right in the end.

This book is just plain old fashioned silly, and even a bit absurd, fun! The pictures in this book really capture the tone and elevate and enhance the story rather than get in the way. I'd even argue that they might be the main draw of this already entertaining book. The illustrator, Daniel Salmieri, didn't take the illustrations too seriously and you can tell they had as much fun making the book as you will reading it. Enjoy this lighthearted, humorous romp and feel free to enjoy a few tacos along the way when reading!

Reviewer's Name: Will
Awards:

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