Review of Among the Hidden, by Margaret Peterson Haddix


Among the Hidden

by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Book #1 of the Shadow Children series

Aladdin Paperbacks, 2000.  153 pages.

I finally read the first book in this series, having completely forgotten that I read the second book already, Among the Imposters ( ).

This book sets the stage for the series.  Luke lives on a farm.  He’s never gone off the farm or seen anyone outside his family, but he was able to help with chores — until the woods got cut down and a housing development was built behind their house.

Now Luke must not even go in a room with an open window, for fear someone might see him.  Luke is the third child in his family, and in this future society, third children are illegal.

However, Luke finds a way to look outside and watch his new, rich neighbors.  When one family — mother, father, and two children — have all left the house, he notices someone else still moving around.  Could there be another third child living in hiding.

I read this book with our Homeschoolers’ Book Group at the library.  The kids’ reaction was mixed.  Most didn’t like the ending, which sets up the rest of the series.  Still, Margaret Peterson Haddix does a good job of quickly setting the stage and helping us understand this alternate world.  The suspense is high as we worry with Luke that he will get caught — or else never get to go out of the house again.

This book was read by one of the teachers in the local middle school, and then many kids came to the library looking for more in the series.  It won’t hook every kid, but those who get hooked want to find out what happens next.

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Review of Punished, by David Lubar



by David Lubar

Darby Creek Publishing, 2006.  96 pages.

Logan knew he shouldn’t run in the library.  But how can you keep from it when your friend tags you It?  He certainly didn’t mean to run into that old guy who looked like a retired teacher.

Logan tries to apologize, but the man says maybe he needs to be punished, and blows some book dust on him.  When Logan leaves the library, suddenly everything he says gets people groaning or giggling.

It takes Logan awhile to figure out that every sentence he utters comes out as a bad pun.  Soon the old man isn’t the only one planning to punish him.

Logan’s only way to lift the curse involves finding oxymorons, anagrams, and palindromes.  If he can’t find the required number in time, he will be cursed to spout puns forever.

This book celebrates word play in a way that invites the reader to try it for yourself.  It’s a nice quick read for groan boys and girls ready for full-fledged chapter books.  Silly fun with silly puns!

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Review of The Maze of Bones, by Rick Riordan


The Maze of Bones

The 39 Clues, Book One

by Rick Riordan

Scholastic, 2008.  220 pages.

This is not a book, it’s a product — but a good one.  Scholastic has gotten some outstanding children’s authors to write ten books in The 39 Clues series.  The captions on the back of the book say, “Read the Books, Collect the Cards, Play the Game, Win the Prizes.”  All the books come with collectible cards in the front (though they’ve been removed from the library copies).

I haven’t tried the game and haven’t seen the cards, so I will only comment on this story as a book.

The book is a good one.  Another fun adventure yarn for kids.  I probably shouldn’t have read it so soon after The Mysterious Benedict Society, Larklight, or Lionboy, but this book is right in that same vein.  A good clean adventure for kids.

The Maze of Bones has some of the flavor of The Da Vinci Code, without the religious aspects, because we have a powerful family with clues planted hundreds of years ago in actual places all over the world.

Amy and Dan Cahill thought they were their grandmother’s favorites.  But they aren’t so sure, when, at the reading of her will, a contest is announced.  Amy and Dan don’t seem to have any advantages.

They have a choice:  They can take a million dollars or the first clue.  The clue is regarding “a quest of vital importance to the Cahill family and the world at large.”  The winner may become the most powerful person in the world.

The Cahill family is enormous, and several teams form, choosing to take the clue.  How can Amy and Dan, two orphans without resources, possibly follow the clues and take on such powerful opponents?  Is there anyone they can trust to help them?

This book is well-written, and the adventure, full of narrow escapes and a trip to Paris, is compelling.  If Scholastic did half as good a job with their contest, this is an impressive feat indeed.

It’s interesting, though.  My reaction is not, “I loved this book,” but rather, “I think kids will like this book a lot.”  As I said, maybe I’ve been reading too many kids’ adventure novels lately, but although I enjoyed it, it didn’t really reach out and grab me.  And I wish that Amy and Dan’s relatives weren’t all so mean.

It will be interesting to see how well a varied group of authors can do in keeping the thread and feel of the series.  Gordon Korman has written Book Two, and I am confident he is up to the challenge.

I will definitely be watching how this series unfolds.

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Review of The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart


The Mysterious Benedict Society

by Trenton Lee Stewart

read by Del Roy

Listening Library (Random House), 2007.  13 hours, 17 minutes.  11 compact discs.

I had not one but two parents tell me that their kids loved this book.  When I saw it on audiobook, I thought I’d give it a try.  Audiobooks are working well for me for light-hearted fiction that I can enjoy in small doses.

Renny Muldoon is a brilliant orphan who knows he is completely different from other children.  When he sees an ad offering a test for gifted children looking for special opportunities, he goes to the test and begins the adventure of a lifetime.

Renny ends up on a team with other exceptional children who are offered a dangerous mission with the fate of the world at stake.  The mysterious Mr. Benedict explains why only children can save the world now.

The adventure yarn that follows is a lot of fun.  Sure, there are several coincidences and several places where believability is strained.  However, it’s definitely an entertaining and exciting story.

Del Roy’s voice sounds like a kindly grandfather telling you a story, and I quickly thought of his voice as coming from Mr. Benedict himself.

This book is excellent for upper elementary age children who will enjoy some good, clean, and clever fun.

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Review of The Wizard Test, by Hilari Bell


The Wizard Test

by Hilari Bell

eos (HarperCollins), 2005.  166 pages.

I’ve definitely become a fan of Hilari Bell’s writing.  Like The Prophecy, The Wizard Test is a fantasy for middle grade readers that takes a classic idea and digs deeper.

Dayven does not want to pass the Wizard Test.  He does not want to have the powers of wizards and be taken as an apprentice.  Everyone knows that wizards can’t be trusted.  His grandmother, who may have passed her wizard talents on to him, was a traitor to her people.

No, Dayven wants to be a Guardian like his father.

But what if the Guardians ask him to go ahead and apprentice to the wizards?  After all, they need someone to find out what the wizards are up to.  The only trouble is that Dayven finds things a little more complicated than he had been led to believe.

This is another excellent story.  I didn’t find myself as absorbed in it as I was in The Prophecy.  My personal theory is that Dayven didn’t pass the Not Whining Test.  Where Perryndon of The Prophecy accepted difficult circumstances with pluck, Dayven grumbles and complains.  However, this book was written earlier than The Prophecy, so I think it goes to show that Hilari Bell went from very good writing on to greatness.  I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

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Review of Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things, by Lenore Look


Alvin Ho

Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things

by Lenore Look

pictures by LeUyen Pham

Schwartz & Wade Books, New York, 2008.  172 pages.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things, reminded me of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, only for younger kids.  It has similar cartoon drawings generously illustrating the story, and a similar attitude toward school.

Alvin Ho is starting the second grade.  He does not like school.  He says, “If there were no school, my troubles would blast away, just like that.  I would dig holes all day.  I would play catch with my gunggung.  I would watch cooking shows.  I would keep an eye on things.  It would be fantastic!”

Alvin tells us that before he went to school, he was a superhero.  “I was Firecracker Man!  I ran around our house, full speed ahead, screaming at the top of my lungs while beating on a garbage can lid.  I was as noisy as a firecracker on Chinese New Year! . . .

“But now I am Firecracker Man only on weekends and holidays.  There is just no time for it.

“Being a superhero is hard work.  You have to save the world.  But going to school is even harder.  You have to save yourself.  Most days I can hardly even make it to the school bus.  And when I arrive at school, I can’t think.  I can’t read.  I can’t smile.  I can’t sing.  I can’t scream.

“I can’t even talk.”

It turns out that Alvin has never said one word at school.  He can talk anywhere else, even on the school bus.  But at school, his voice simply doesn’t work.

Not talking at school makes it hard to make friends.  It makes it hard to avoid annoying girls who want to be your desk buddy.  It makes it hard to join in a game of Minutemen and Redcoats.  It makes it hard to explain to a substitute teacher why you aren’t responding to her questions.

This book is a lot of fun, with a nice set of school-related scrapes, and Alvin learning to confront his fears. 

I did think the chicken pox adventure, where the whole class gets chicken pox after paying to visit the first kid who caught it, was funny, but sadly out of date.  My 14-year-old son was required to get a chicken pox vaccination before he went to school, and I think that’s pretty standard now.  So today’s children, poor things, will never know the joys of two weeks off of school along with the fun of showing off ones spots.

There are some great quirky characters.  Alvin’s Dad likes to use Shakespearean imprecations when he’s angry.  The annoying girl Flea wears an eyepatch.  Alvin’s sister loves to dig holes.  And Alvin himself is a big collection of entertaining quirks.

Alvin Ho is longer than a beginning chapter book, but makes fun, non-threatening reading with lots of pictures for a kid ready to laugh at the trials and tribulations of facing scary things like school and bullies and girls.

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Review of Coraline, by Neil Gaiman



written and performed by Neil Gaiman

with original music by The Gothic Archies

HarperCollins, 2000.  3 hours, 3 compact discs.

Coraline is an exceedingly creepy story, in a delicious, shivery sort of way.  (I recently read an author interview where he said that parents find the book more disturbing than kids do.  I’m not surprised.)

There is a door in Coraline’s apartment that leads to a brick wall.  Once it led to another flat, but when the house was split into apartments, the door was bricked up.  However, one day Coraline follows a shadow through that door.  She finds there a woman who says she is Coraline’s other mother.  She wants Coraline to stay with her forever, and has some wonderful inducements.  But they turn out to be less and less wonderful.

Everyone on the other side has black buttons where their eyes should be.  Things look normal, but turn out to be seriously disturbing.

And leaving the other flat is not as easy as entering.

Neil Gaiman’s performance of this story is wonderful, enhanced by the incredibly creepy songs of The Gothic Archies.  I chose this book to listen to on our trip to Florida because I thought my 14-year-old son would enjoy it, too.  I do think I found the story creepier than he did.  But tremendously well-written and well performed.

Not for the faint of heart.

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Review of Lionboy: The Truth, by Zizou Corder


Lionboy:  The Truth

Book Three of the Lionboy Trilogy

by Zizou Corder

read by Simon Jones

Highbridge Audio, 2005.  6 hours on 5 compact discs.

The Truth brings the Lionboy trilogy to a most satisfying conclusion.  In the earlier books, Charlie’s parents were kidnapped, and Charlie went after them.  In the third book, Charlie is the one kidnapped.  His parents and the friends he has made along the way come to his rescue, but in the end Charlie’s own ingenuity, courage, and loyalty save the day for far more people and animals than just himself.

There are a few outrageous coincidences in this book, as there were in the earlier books.  However, it’s all in good fun.  This is a rather wild adventure tale set in the near future.  The action takes Charlie across the globe to the very seat of the sinister Corporacy.

Charlie can still talk to cats, and in this book he becomes better acquainted with Ninu, a chameleon who can not only take on the colors around him, but also the languages.  With Ninu’s help, Charlie can talk to any person and any thing.

Like the rest, this makes good listening material, and would be great for a family car trip.  There is plenty of action to keep you diverted, and once again the narrator has a delightful voice (and accent) to listen to.

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Review of Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig, by Kate DiCamillo


by Kate DiCamillo

illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Candlewick Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008.  74 pages.

Here’s another book perfect for a beginning reader who’s ready for chapters.  Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig has 15 very short chapters.  The pages are loaded with colorful, hilarious illustrations.

Mercy Watson is a pig, a porcine wonder.  She is treated like a person by Mr. and Mrs. Watson, but sometimes she indeed acts like a pig.  For example, when she smells the flowers her next door neighbors have planted, she can’t resist eating them.  This prompts Eugenia Lincoln to call Animal Control Officer Francine Poulet, who has never dealt with a pig before.

In the hilarious chain of events that ensues, you can be sure that Mr. and Mrs. Watson retain their shining faith in their sweet Mercy, and that there is plenty of buttered toast.

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Review of Down Girl and Sit: Smarter Than Squirrels, by Lucy Nolan


Girl and Sit

Smarter Than Squirrels

by Lucy Nolan

illustrated by Mike Reed

Marshall Cavendish, New York, 2004.  64 pages.

With four chapters, lots of pictures, and lots of implied humor, here’s a book perfect for a child ready to read chapter books on his or her own.

Down Girl, a busy dog, narrates this book.  She and the dog next door, Sit, have an important job. 

Down Girl says,

“It is up to us to keep the world safe.  Sometimes Sit and I wish we had help, but we’ve gotten used to doing the job alone.

“The secret to our success is simple.  We are smarter than squirrels.

I don’t think people realize how many birds and squirrels are out here.  If they did, they’d never leave their houses.

Birds and squirrels steal almost everything in sight.  What they don’t steal, they eat.  They are very clever, but they are not as clever as we are.  Guess where we chase them.  We chase them up trees!

“You never see a dog in a tree, do you?  That’s because dogs are smart.  We know it would hurt to fall out.

“Birds and squirrels never remember this.  It’s easy to keep the world safe from birds and squirrels.”

Down Girl’s master is named Rruff.  It is obvious that Rruff loves Down Girl, since he shouts her name so often.

When a new creature comes to the neighborhood named Here Kitty Kitty, the dogs know their job has gotten more challenging.  Fortunately, Down Girl and Sit cleverly rise to the challenge.

A look at life from a dog’s point of view.  Lots of fun!

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