Princess Violet, last princess of the Andulan Realms, is not a fairy tale princess. She is plain, bold, and outspoken, but truly loved by her people. The Mirrored Kingdom enjoys peace and the intelligence of their royal family, but an ancient evil is trying to break into the kingdom. When Violet and her best friend Demetrius find a hidden library with a forbidden book and an evil painting, some of the evil begins to find its way in. Soon, unrest and discord filter into the hearts of the people. Kindness is replaced with resentment and the peace is shattered.
As war and disaster take over the land, it is up to Violet, Demetrius, and the kingdom’s last dragon to overcome the evil and restore the peace. Together, they learn the importance of trust and friendship in a world that is falling apart. Iron Hearted Violet presents a fairytale-like story with strong characters and important life lessons, great for a family read aloud or older independent readers.
Recommended for ages 8 and up.
Sam can’t remember life before his Grandpa Mack, but sometimes his memory brings up snatches of a cold and angry place. Although he is happy and safe with his grandpa, when Sam finds a newspaper clipping in the attic, he begins to question if he is where he belongs. The article talks about a missing boy and the picture looks like a three-year-old version of Sam. The problem is Sam can’t read the article. Dyslexia causes words to jump on the page and Sam can only figure out a few, key points.
In an attempt to puzzle out the article and learn about his past, Sam befriends Caroline, a new girl at his school. The two fifth graders build a strong friendship as they try to rebuild Sam’s past. Their experience teaches lessons about love, loyalty, and learning to belong even when life is hard. The author creates a compelling mystery and two great characters finding their place in the world. Her approach to the struggle of dyslexia is also compassionate and realistic, a good way for readers to understand that very real learning trial.
Recommended for ages 10-12.
Bob, a cobbler, and Joan, a laundress, live a quiet and predictable life in their small town. When they open their door to a lost, young boy one night, their lives change dramatically. The boy claims he was once a rat and shows no knowledge of normal human manners or eating habits. As Bob and Joan try to teach the boy they name Roger, they come to love him and think of him as their own little boy. Unfortunately, less charitable people want to exploit Roger for his differences. Soon, prejudice clouds the city, and the people cry for Roger, ‘the sewer monster’ to be exterminated. Will love or prejudice prevail?
With a fairy tale feel and simple story telling, Philip Pullman tells a powerful story about the dangers of judging others. He includes elements of well-known fairy tales, but manages to create an entirely new story. I originally picked this to read to my young boys, but while it is a light story, Pullman includes some of his trademark darkness. It is a perfect story for fantasy and fairy tale lovers of 8 years or older, but a little scary for younger readers. A quick read with some illustrations, it still teaches important lessons and makes young readers think.
Recommended for ages 8 and up.
When Emmy Blue’s father announces his plan to move his family to the mountains of Colorado, Emmy looks forward to the adventure. The Wild West sounds much more exciting than becoming a lady and learning to quilt. However, she learns that adventure also means sacrifice and hard work. After leaving friends, family, and her pet cat, Emmy starts a new life on the trail to Golden, Colorado.
On the wagon train, Emmy and her family experience hardships and strengthening experiences. They make friends and even some enemies in their journey to a new land. At the request of her grandmother, Emmy is forced to learn to quilt as she travels, but her quilting soon becomes soothing and a way to record memories. In her first children’s novel, Sandra Dallas gives a realistic and detailed view of wagon train life. She also tells an interesting story of a child finding her place in a new world.
I recommend it for 10 and up, because there is some discussion spouse abuse. Nothing is discussed in detail and it is age appropriate, but it can be a hard subject and might take a more mature reader to understand.
Recommended for ages 10 and up.
A strange explosion destroying their house is just the beginning of unexplained changes disrupting Jaide and Jack Shield’s lives. The twins are sent to live with Grandma X, a woman they have never met who is as mysterious as her name. With Grandma X, more disasters continue and Jaide and Jack soon learn their life is no longer normal and neither are they. The twins begin showing strange powers in response to the evil that seems to be closing in on them. Through a series of adventures, they learn what it means to be troubletwisters.
TroubleTwisters is a great read for fantasy and adventure enthusiasts who love Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. It provides the same non-stop action with mysterious and fantastical powers. Jake and Jaide are interesting characters learning about their new-found powers in a battle against evil. The action is captivating, but not too frightening for most young readers (but might be a little intense for those who scare easily).
Recommended for ages 8-11 years.
Abby doesn’t fit in with the girls at her school in spite of her parents’ pressure to lose weight and get along. After months of enduring the harsh company of ‘the medium girls,’ Abby finally stands up for herself and goes off on her own. This brings harsh consequences from the girls, but Abby makes new and better friends.
In an attempt to avoid the petty girls from school, Abby follows a mysterious fox and a persistent dog. These animals lead her across a stream in her neighborhood where she meets a family of true friends. Anders is a nine-year-old boy homeschooled by his grandmother. The two of them are taking care of Anders’s father, who is badly affected by his experiences fighting the war in Iraq. As Abby spends time trying to help these and other new friends, she learns more about her own strengths. She also learns that life doesn’t need to be controlled by the ‘medium girls’ and she is strong enough to stand up to them.
This is a well-constructed book showing the reality of peer pressure and the power of finding your place in the world. It effectively shows the struggles of the tween years, with moments of pain and discouragement, but an overall feeling of triumph. The story is intriguing and the message is both applicable to the intended audience and very uplifting.
Recommended for ages—9-12.
When Dinah and her mother move into an old mansion, Dinah finally feels she has found a home. She imagines the home in its former splendor and refuses to notice the crumbling walls and failing electricity that mark it as condemned. With her disappointment over her mother’s new, overbearing boyfriend and her desire for friendship, Dinah finds herself wishing the stone animals from a nearby castle would come to life. To her surprise, her wish comes true and Dinah’s new home is soon protected by fantastical animals. They are invisible to most, but their presence is felt.
Barry and Jacob, two boys from Dinah’s new school, recognize the animals for what they are, but they sense the threat that Dinah fails to see. Together, they try to understand Dinah and protect her in a way that magical animals can’t. This is a fantasy story, but with a hint of the dark and sinister. I was caught up in the story, but Dinah’s life is sad enough that I don’t recommend it for younger readers. There is nothing inappropriate, but the loneliness and magic would be better for older kids or tweens.
Recommended for ages—10-13.
Joseph Michtom lives in Brooklyn with his family during the summer of 1903. His only wish is to visit the new amusement park at Coney Island, but his family is too busy. As Russian immigrants, Joseph’s family struggled with the others until his father sold the first stuffed toy bear. Now the family can’t keep up with the demand for toy bears and Joseph feels his childhood being sucked away by their good fortune.
Through the eyes of Joseph Michtom with some inserted insight from orphans living under the bridge, Karen Hesse brings turn of the century Brooklyn to life. She shows the joys and struggles of that period in history. It is through the experience of the Michtom family and Joseph’s own coming of age, that we see the culture and people of a growing and advancing America. Brooklyn Bridge brings a tween’s perspective of this period of American history.
Recommended for ages—9-12.
Jake and Lily Wambold are twins so inseparable that they can read each other’s thoughts. They can’t play hide and seek, because they always know where to find each other. But the summer they turn twelve, things begin to change. Jake makes some new friends and Lily feels abandoned and lost without her brother. At first she reacts in anger, but then her Poppy inspires her to find her ‘just Lily’ life. As Lily finds her own life, she learns more about herself and others. Jake, through his experiences on his own, learns about himself as well.
Told from the journal writings of both twins, Jake and Lily is a wonderful story of finding yourself and where you belong. Although it focuses on twins, the book echoes feelings most kids deal with through the tween years. With both a male and female protagonist, it is a perfect for tween boys and tween girls. Jake and Lily are likeable characters with believable experiences. Their story teaches the importance of relying on your family as well as yourself.
Recommended for ages—9-12.
Esperanza enjoys an indulged life on her family’s ranch in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Surrounded by wealth and loving family, she has little understanding of the servants and ranch hands around her. An unexpected tragedy robs Esperanza of her comfort and forces her and her Mama to flee to California. There they settle in a camp for migrant farm workers and are forced to endure the hard physical labor and financial struggles of their new position.
In a new land and a new life, Esperanza finds nothing familiar. She struggles to fulfill her required tasks in the midst of personal sorrow. While her new situation is hard, Esperanza learns valuable lessons. She learns about the importance of friendship and compassion as well as the strength that comes from facing and overcoming challenges. Her story is a powerful illustration of life as a migrant worker during the Great Depression.
Although Esperanza Rising, describes difficult circumstances, it leaves readers with a sense of hope in the strength of the human spirit.
Recommended for ages—9-12 years.