Once again, Sharon Creech uses poetic writing and endearing characters to create a heartwarming story. Naomi Deane and Lizzie Scatterding are two orphan girls living in the town of Blackbird Tree. One summer day, a mysterious boy falls from a tree and into their lives. With the appearance of the ‘Finn boy,’ unexpected happenings and curious surprises begin to occur. Through these events and a wide variety of characters, Creech shares a tale that illustrates how ‘a delicate cobweb link[s] us all.’
The Great Unexpected is a story of coming of age and finding your place in the world. It also teaches the power of kindness and the importance of forgiveness. Creech’s characters are intriguing, quirky, but also very real. The story is a mystery whose resolution shows the interconnectedness of the world. Creech’s intended audience is tween readers, but I think her story can reach younger and older readers, too. It is a good book for reading aloud in a family with a variety of ages.
Recommended for independent readers ages 9 and up, and reading aloud for all ages.
The son of two attorneys, Theodore Boone knows every lawyer, judge, and police officer in his small town. He also knows more about the law than any thirteen year old and is the first choice for kids (and even some adults) seeking legal advice. However, when Theo learns of an unknown witness for the town’s current murder trial, he finds even his legal knowledge has limits. How does he make sure the truth is known without endangering the witness who trusts him for advice?
John Grisham does a good job of presenting an exciting legal dilemma and intriguing story, while giving young readers some instruction on how the legal system works. He shows the reality of the courtroom without making it boring. I also like the character of Theo Boone, because he is a smart boy who isn’t afraid to ask adults for help when he doesn’t know the answers. This book is a great introduction to courtroom law and always remains age appropriate.
Recommended for ages—10-14 years
Stosh has the unique ability to travel through time using only a baseball card. He holds a card from the year he wants to visit, and suddenly he is there. In Roberto & Me, Stosh travels to 1969 to meet baseball star and humanitarian Roberto Clemente. His goal is to warn Roberto not to take the tragic plane flight that cut his life so short. However, Stosh soon learns changing the future is more difficult than he expected.
This book and the other baseball card adventure books are great for young sports enthusiasts. They include baseball facts, but also a glimpse of life in different time periods. The stories are written with enough variety and conflict that even non-baseball lovers can enjoy them. Roberto & Me was a success with my ten-year-old daughter who has never watched a game of baseball in her life.
Recommended for ages 8-12
The streets of cities in the American Industrial Era are filled with hardship and struggles, especially for young people saddled with heavy responsibilities. Giuseppe is an orphaned street musician, forced to use his talent to support a cruel master. Hannah, a maid in a fancy hotel, is the sole supporter of her family of five. Frederick is an apprenticed clockmaker struggling to create something amazing. Their situations are all different, but they are drawn together through a series of adventures.
As these three build friendships, they learn to rely on each other to get through their individual trials. Together, they learn about life, compassion, and loyalty. Their story is exciting and heartwarming as they face failures and triumphs. Kirby creates an interesting picture of an America touched with magic, perfect for readers seeking reality with a little fantasy.
Recommended for ages 9-13.
Goldie lives in a world where children are safe-guarded treasures. They are literally guarded and chained to their Blessed Guardians until they reach the age of Separation. Instead of feeling protected, Goldie chafes at these restrictions and longs for freedom. When her day of Separation is interrupted by a bomb threat, Goldie escapes and is branded as a runaway. She soon finds a strange group of rebels in the city museum. As she learns the Museum’s secrets, Goldie learns of the danger threatening her city from inside and out.
When catastrophe and dictatorship threaten the city, it is up to Goldie and her new friends to teach people the value of thinking for oneself. Danger teaches the strength and independence necessary for a thriving community and city. This story is filled with intrigue and adventure, but also holds valuable lessons about self-discovery and independence. It is a good read for young readers who enjoy adventure of the Harry Potter level, but without the same darkness.
Recommended for ages 9-12.
A brilliant, modern rendering of Francis Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Ellen Potter manages to capture nearly all the elements of the classic children’s story, but weaves her details so deftly that the story remains alive and new. Like the garden in the story, Potter breathes life into a wonderful tale of hope and healing.
After the death of her dysfunctional family, Roo Fanshaw is sent to live with a rich uncle she never knew existed. He lives in a strange island home which used to be a tuberculosis sanatorium. As Roo explores her new surroundings, she finds secrets about her family as well as her new home. Potter’s characters are mysterious and often mistrustful, but also very heartwarming. The Humming Room is intriguing for 8-10 year-old readers or good for a family read-aloud.
Sammy Keyes amuses herself by observing the world outside her Gram’s apartment through binoculars. Her sightings are common until one day Sammy witnesses a burglary in the Heavenly Hotel across the street. When she tries to report her findings, no one wants to listen to a middle schooler turned sleuth. However, the burglar is on to Sammy and she has to use her wits to solve the crime and prove her evidence.
This modern-day Nancy Drew has the same deductive brain, but a little more sass. Sammy’s adventures are complex enough for middle school readers, but harmless enough for younger children, too. This first book in the series and the others that follow are great entertainment for clue seekers with a skill for deduction.
Zilpha Keatley Snyder writes great stories for readers between 8 and tween. Her stories feature strong, child heroes having fast-paced and intriguing adventures. However, she keeps the stories appropriate for young audiences in subject and content. Another great thing about Snyder is the number of books she has written. If you enjoy one, there are many more to choose.
In William S. and the Great Escape, William Baggett is a precocious and creative kid trapped in rotten family. With an angry and lazy father, mean stepmother, and a seemingly innumerable group of bullying older siblings, William longs for escape. His plans are altered when some of the older kids flush his younger sister Jancy’s pet guinea pig down the toilet. At that point, she insists that they and the two youngest Baggetts hit the road. Their escape is filled with adventures and close calls as four neglected kids try to find a better home.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Smart Dog by Vivian Vande Velde. I grabbed it on a whim, because we needed another read aloud book for my 4 and 5 year old boys. As it turned out, they were hooked along with me, my husband, and my 9-year-old daughter. My boys have a problem with intense conflict, so a lot of the books they like are a little slow. However, this book was gentle enough for them and interesting enough for me. They missed some of the interpersonal conflict between 5th graders, but it didn’t take away from the story.
On her way to school, Amy Prochenko is approached by a dog on the run, but not just any dog. Sherlock is a lab experiment who escaped from the university lab when he overheard the head scientist talking about dissecting his brain. Amy has many adventures and finds herself making new friends as she strives to keep Sherlock safe. A funny and light story about an incredible dog and a fast thinking girl. This one is great for all ages.
“Beware the whited sepulcher,” are the last words of advice Elodie hears from her mother when leaving home for a ten year apprenticeship. This charge to trust only those who deserve trust becomes quite a challenge as Elodie begins her adventure in the town of Two Castles. A dragon detective, a shape-shifting ogre, a handsome cat trainer, a flighty princess, and a greedy king…these are just some of the characters Elodie must decide are kind, cruel, honest or false.
Through this engaging, fairy tale-like mystery, Gail Carson Levine teaches the principle that appearance can be deceiving and friendship is often found in unlikely places. Elodie is a straightforward and strong girl learning to find her place in an unfamiliar world. A Tale of Two Castles is an engaging story that is light enough for a young audience, but interesting enough for adults. Good for independent readers or a read aloud for younger kids.