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.
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.
On the way to Nottingham Fair, Robin is waylaid by a group of bullies. In self defense, he shoots and kills one of the king’s foresters. This act sends Robin into hiding in Sherwood with a few of his friends. As word spreads, more Saxons displaced by harsh Roman overlords join him in the forest and for survival, they begin robbing Norman noblemen.
The Outlaws of Sherwood follows many of the well-known aspects of the Robin Hood legend, but gives depth and complexity to all its characters. Robin is not a perfect archer, nor the carefree outlaw we know. He is a man forced into exile and consumed with anxiety over his responsibility to keep a growing band of outlaws safe. He loves Marian, but fights with her constantly in an attempt to keep her safe and away from him camp. For lovers of the Robin Hood tales, this brings that story to life with much more detail and reality than most fireside stories. A good read for legend loving readers.
Recommended for ages 11 and up
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.
When I picked up this book, I expected a Jack London-like outdoor adventure featuring a boy, wolves, and survival. However, this book is more hints of The Call of the Wild with a supernatural, ghost story twist. Authors Golden and Lebbon place a young Jack London in the Yukon searching for gold, but they draw from the myths and legends of that area and time period to add to their story. Jack’s story has wilderness adventures with a spooky, surreal tinge to them.
Although it was different than I expected, The Wild is a good read for teen boys who enjoy frightening, but not too gory stories. The story is fast-paced and intriguing, but doesn’t rely on detailed descriptions of blood and gore for its spine chilling aspects. Jack is a strong character with a good head on his shoulders, a sense of loyalty and a desire to see justice done. This is an interesting and different kind of read for adventure lovers.
Recommended for ages—13 and up.
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.