reviewed by Mrs. Ellis, 2003
Any Small Goodness:
A Novel of the Barrio
year old Arturo tells
the story of his family's life in East Los Angeles, mixing Spanish
phrases into the English text in a melding called Spanglish. His family
with ordinary problems (a lost cat, the grandmother's disapproval of
American customs) with good humor, but when their house is sprayed with
by a drive-by shooter, the adjustment is harder. Arturo
must make a choice between acting on his anger or bringing
a small goodness into the barrio.
thoughts: Good for
illustrating the assimilation process for Hispanic immigrants, and a
discussion starter on gangs and violence. Shows how acts of kindness
The Shakespeare Stealer
Elizabethan England, Widge, a young orphan, is trained by a clergyman
in shorthand so he can steal the sermons of other preachers for his
own use. Word gets out of Widge's skill, and he is sent to London to do
same for a rival theater manager at a performance of the new play
"Hamlet," by William Shakespeare. Circumstances lead to Widge's
eventual acceptance into the Shakespeare troupe, where he realizes how
work goes into the creation of a theatrical production and how wrong it
steal other's creative work.
thoughts: A good historical novel, with appealing young characters,
humor and suspense. Excellent
illustration of the Elizabethan theater and of the concept of
property rights. Includes enough action to make a good read-aloud,
vocabulary is sometimes challenging. One
young reviewer on Amazon.com recommended it
highly and wrote "I
would read it every day if I could."
Sequel: Shakespeare's Scribe
Summary: Kenny Roy Willson lives in rural Texas
he works every day at his mother's run-down cafe for almost no money.
resents having to give up playing football and being in the school
band, at his
mother's insistence, but he is fighting to hold onto his writing -
the possibility of prize money but also because of the beautiful older
shares his love of writing. When his father is released from prison,
life becomes even more complicated, largely because of his mother's
promote her husband as a country singer, a dream she clings to despite
husband's lack of desire and extreme stage fright. Kenny's own dream is
away, but he worries about what will happen to his neglected little
thought this book was very well-written, and the characters are very
believable and complex, not simply good or bad, but a mixture of both.
author throws a lot of ideas into the plot, including domestic abuse,
alcoholism, ex-convict adjustment, and rural isolation and poverty. This book might appeal to students who face
complicated and challenging situations in their own families.
Up on Cloud Nine
Summary: The friendship between practical Ian
Stol is portrayed in flashback as Ian waits by Stol's hospital bed for
still-unconscious boy's too-busy lawyer father to visit. Stol has
fallen out a
second-story window, or did he jump? With accident-prone Stol it is
to know for sure, and with his parents unavailable (his mother is a
photographer on assignment in the rain forest), Ian's own family feels
to step in to care for this remarkable boy. Both funny and sad, this is
beautifully written book. Set in England.
Personal thoughts: A
discussion starter on the topic of families and friendship. Ian's
help Stol avoid being labeled as a child at-risk could prompt questions
what a true friend should do in a similar situation.
Brown (Author), Dandi
Daley Mackall (Author)
Summary: Jamie wants desperately to
attend a summer art camp, but her
single mother could never afford the fees. She enters a portrait in a
which would win her enough money to pay her own way, not knowing that
her friends has already sent in another portrait in her name. When the
portrait is selected by the judges as the winner, Jamie must decide
accept the price money under these circumstances, or do the right thing.
thoughts: Besides being an appealing
story, this book
also encourages good habits for internet safety. Jamie and her friends
private chat room for their online chatting, and they are careful about
personal information. (Their chat room is connected to a Christian web
which really exists.) Another book in this series (Stranger Online)
handling threatening emails. Both books have an unobtrusive Christian
perspective, but the story stands above most Christian fiction for
plot and character development.
Isabel: Taking Wing
(Girls of Many Lands)
Summary: 12-year-old Isabel Campion lives in
where girls and women are expected to live a life centered on their
family. Her father and older brother, by contrast, travel extensively
business. Adventurous Isabel doesn't seem to fit in at home, so she is
live with her independent-minded aunt. But bandits and the plague
challenge her efforts to find a place of safety and happiness in a
Personal thoughts: This will appeal to girls,
especially those who
enjoy the Dear America series or fans of Karen Cushman (The Midwife's
Apprentice). Part of the Girls of Many Lands series.
by Clive Barker
First of a planned 4-volume series.
Quackenbush lives unhappily in a small town in
Minnesota with her
equally unhappy family, until the day she walks out onto the prairie
the sea of grass turn into an ocean. From that moment, she is swept
non-stop adventure in the magical world of the Abarat, where fantastic
creatures live not in a certain place, but at a certain time. During
adventures that follow, it becomes clear that Candy is not in the
the first time, and that she is not a regular girl from Minnesota.
Personal thoughts: Lavishly
full-color drawings by the author, this is certainly a visually
Readers will enjoy Candy's adventures, and find the many magical
interesting, but the abrupt ending leaves many plot threads unresolved,
readers will be disappointed. The author sometimes seems to substitute
action for serious character development.
Confucius: the Golden Rule
by Russell Freedman
Summary: Students who have
always heard teachers and
parents quote the golden rule will be interested to learn that
the same idea many centuries ago. Students studying government will
that Confucius advised the rulers of his country to follow many of the
democratic ideals on which our own country was founded. Teachers will
gratified to learn that when his ideas for government reform were
too radical, Confucius dedicated his life to teaching young people to
deeply and independently, and left a deeper mark on the world than the
who ignored him during his lifetime.
Personal thoughts: An excellent
book for many
reasons, including outstanding writing, beautiful illustrations, and
way this Newbery award winning author makes the life and ideas of this
itinerant philosopher relevant to today.
by Deborah Ellis
in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, where girls do not attend
women are forbidden to appear in public without a male escort. When her
is imprisoned, the family decides to send the young girl out in boy's
and short hair to earn money since there is no man in the house.
thoughts: Students will learn about
in this battered country by reading this book. The cruelty of the
clearly shown, but Parvana keeps hope in her heart by doing what she
help others while waiting for her father to be released from prison.
Sequel: Parvana's Journey
Summary: An older Parvana is left alone after
her father dies while
traveling with her in search of the rest of their family, who had gone
the previous story. Still disguised as
a boy, Parvana encounters devastating evidence of how fragile life is
war-torn Afghanistan when she finds a starving baby in a bombed-out
Unable to abandon him, she carries him with her as she struggles to
food to keep them both alive. With two other children she meets along
she finally finds a refugee camp where there is more food, and medical
the now-dangerously sick baby. There she loses her new "sister" to a
land mine, which, ironically, helps her find her mother.
Personal thoughts: Darker
mood than the first book, this installment shows the horror of life in
zone. Air bombing and mine fields strike with random devastation. A
the life of war refugees.