Click here to go to Armadillo Book Reviews HomeArmadillo Associates Home

Books etc. / For children 5 and under / For children 5 and up / For children 8 and up / Learning to read / For children 12 and up / Sophisticated readers-Fat books (Deep books for sophisticated but young readers) / For grumps / About educators educating / Technical Books / Gifted Education / Books whose protagonists are gifted, intellectually / All book reviews /
Search our reviews

Books for pre-teen readers

Featured fiction

  • Beyond the Deepwoods, Edge Chronicles Book 1
  • Stormchaser, Edge Chronicles Book 2
    by Paul Stewart, Chris Riddell (Illustrator)
    The Edge Chronicles is an interesting series for advanced young readers. They are for-real chapter books set in a very odd post-apocalyptic time/place, but they include captivating pen drawings on nearly every page. The only downside to them is that there is a great deal of violence and death throughout, including deaths of very prominent characters. At age 8, my daughter would not have finished even one of these. She's on the fourth of the series now. Each time she finishes one, she vows to not read the next, but after a few weeks pass, she does.
  • Isaac Asimov
    • Foundation Trilogy (out of print, sigh)
    • I, Robot
  • Ray Bradbury
    The Illustrated Man
    Spooky stories; just in case the child is thinking of getting a tatoo...
  • Ender's Game
    by Orson Scott Card (and the rest of the series is almost as good)
    Caution: lots of violence, but acceptable because the message is righteous. Powerful message.
  • First Meetings : In the Enderverse
    by Orson Scott Card
    Prequels to the Ender stories; includes the original novella which grew to become Ender's Game. Fans of Ender's Game will like these.
  • Alexandre Dumas
    The Count of Monte Cristo
    A great revenge novel. Dumas also wrote the Three Musketeers.
  • Jostein Gaarder, Paulette Moller (Translator)
    The Solitaire Mystery
    Sophie's World : A Novel About the History of Philosophy
  • Frank Herbert
  • Arthur Koestler
    Darkness at Noon
  • Jerome Lawrence, Robert E. Lee
    Inherit the Wind (a play)
  • Doris Lessing
    African Stories Out of print
  • Lois Lowry
    The Giver
    A meditation on The Giver
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • Baroness Emmuska Orczy
    The Scarlet Pimpernel
  • Chaim Potok
    The Chosen
    About an Orthodox Jewish boy trying to decide what to be when he grows up.
  • Ayn Rand
    Atlas Shrugged
    Not well written, which is not exactly beside the point, given the topic.
  • Cynthia Rylant
    Missing May
    This short, poetic novel, which won the Newbery Medal in 1993, gently but persuasively puts forth the theory that it's worthwhile to learn from experience and from others, even others who may not seem very impressive from the get-go. It is not difficult to read, is pretty short and the text is pretty large. I strongly recommend Missing May for advanced, thoughtful readers intolerant of sex or violence. My daughters found it too sad to read, though. The book would benefit greatly from a really good picture of a whirligig. (Here's a link to The Whirligig Tour. Lots of cools whirligigs here.)
  • Andre Schwarz-Bart
    The Last of the Just
    About the Holocaust.
  • Leo Tolstoy
    War and Peace
  • Owen Wister
    The Virginian

Featured non-fiction

All book reviews for this age group

jjj here I am in searchForBooksByAge conceptAge = 4 vocabAge = 4

116 books met your specifications:

TitleAuthorConceptual difficulty ageVocabulary difficulty ageGenreYear of publication

I, RobotIsaac AsimovChildren 8 and upChildren 12 and upScience fiction1950
 One of the milestones of science fiction. The three rules of robotics are still relevant today.

Journey To the Centre of the EarthJules VerneChildren 8 and upChildren 12 and upfiction1864
 A perfect novel for science geeks of all ages.

Brilliant geologist and his apprentice/nephew discover, de-crypt, and then, with their imperturbable guide Hans, follow the directions in a Renaissance manuscript that describes how they can travel to the center of the Earth.

My 12 year old warns that the "old-fashioned" language might be off-putting to some, but that the story is so involving that it pulls you along. For young readers, you might want to start by reading the story aloud, or listening to the audio book.

  In context....

1776David McCulloughChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upnon-fiction 
 Sometimes, I'll be reading a novel and get to some worrisome plot twist. The characters I've come to love are in jeopardy, and -- the tension is too great for me. I put the book down and call someone I trust who can reassure me that I should keep on reading anyway. Sometimes, they don't reassure me. "Yeah, that book is simply not worth the time." So then I go read something else.

When I chose to read 1776, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to have to worry about the plot. After all, here we all are seven years after 9-11. Or, most of us at least...

Obviously, I remembered that there had been an American Revolution, which was a war. And that people fought and died to create our nation. But the number 1776 had always had very positive associations for me. Declaration of Independence. "Give me liberty or give me death." Etc. etc.

I tried to persuade my very sensitive 13 year old to read 1776 with me. "I think it might be pretty depressing," she said. She was right. Depressing. Harrowing in fact. But well worth reading.

And come to think of it, on this the seventh anniversary of 9-11, I'm not actually certain that the American Story has a happy ending. That we are actively dealing with the very Real Problems we Americans face. Reality is harrowing. Still. And needs to be faced even when there is a woman who shoots moose from airplanes and arbitrarily fires those who cross her running for election as vice president of the United States.
  In context....

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, TheMark TwainChildren 12 and upSophisticated readersfiction1884
 When i started this book i had to get used to the language and it went along rather slowly, but as i continued to read it, I sped up and by the end i was very satisfied.

Huck Finn describes a historical period (it's set during times of slavery) and i found it very interesting to be in the mind of a boy struggling with the moral problems of setting a slave free.

--Fizzy, age 14


Al Capone Does My ShirtsGennifer CholdenkoChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, autism2004
 Some books are of their times. This book takes place at Alcatraz prison in the 1930s but is very much a reflection of contemporary culture.

The first-person narrator is a boy whose family moves to Alcatraz so that his sister may apply to a school for autistic children near San Francisco.


Amulet of Samarkand, The (Book One of the Bartimaeus Trilogy)Jonathan StroudChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction2003

This wonderful trilogy features characters with whom the reader will fall in love, and significant violence that has predictable consequences. Please, before recommending this first volume to a sensitive young reader, either read the whole trilogy or read our reviews of book two and, especially, book 3.

Sardonic musings of a demon summoned by an academically under-challenged 12 year old apprentice wizard.

An American ChildhoodAnnie DillardChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upnon-fiction1988
 Annie Dillard aims her clear scientist's eyes and the evocative Voice of the Pilgrim At Tinker Creek at the lives of upper class families with children in Pittsburgh, PA in the fifties. She reveals a great deal about Pittsburgh; and just about nothing about herself.

Atlas Shrugged Ayn RandChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upFiction1957
 Not well written, which is not exactly beside the point, given the topic.

BeastDonna Jo NapoliChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfairy tale2000
 Beast is the story of how Beast (from the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast) got to be who he was in the original story. It is based in Persia, and Beast starts out as Prince Orasmyn.

I enjoyed reading this book very much, for many reasons. One is because at first I was very confused about how Persia, Prince Orasmyn, and all the other things had to do with Beauty and The Beast at all, but it ended up making perfect sense, with the same happy ending and everything. I also thought that it was very cool how the Beast used lots of real Persian words in the story.


Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the WorldMichael PollanChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upnon-fiction2006
 Elegant essays about the symbiotic relationship between certain plants and humans. The discussions about the way tulips and potatoes changed human history ought to change the way any reader thinks about gardens and commercial agriculture.

Color of Magic, The (Discworld #1)Terry PratchettChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction2000
 This was Pratchett's first Discworld book and it's one I have tried to read several times before without successfully finishing it. This past spring, it was just about all-Pratchett-all-the-time for my 14 yr. old and me. After reading and just really loving Nation, I decided to try this one one more time.

My least favorite aspects of Discworld are the elephant-riding-the-turtle parts (its creation myth). And in the first books of this series, that seems to be given a great deal of attention.

Which is why The Color of Magic is still not my favorite of Pratchett's many novels. On the other hand, this is the book in which the walking/attack-dog suitcase debuts, as does Pratchett's very special Death. Funny, scary, absolutely real if mythological, these are arche-typ-ical Pratchett creations.

Count of Monte Cristo,TheAlexandre DumasChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upFiction1844
 Gifted guy takes his devastating revenge.
  In context....

Crack In the Edge of the World, A: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906Simon WinchesterChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upnon-fiction2005
 Simon Winchester begins and ends with the San Francisco earthquake (and fire) of 1906, but by the time he gets around to it the second time, he's provided descriptions of earthquakes and tsunamis throughout the world so detailed that I was almost afraid to finish the book. But how could I not?
  In context....

Criss CrossLynne Rae PerkinsChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2005
 Newbury-award winning novel. Each chapters unfolds from within the consciousness of a different young person in a group of young teens. It certainly is -- interesting.

One thing that's weird, though. Is that when you are always INSIDE the brains of the characters, it's hard to always keep track of what's actually happening to whom and/or whose brain you are inhabiting, even if it says so right at the beginning of the chapter. Not to mention that, once the novel is over, you still have no idea what the characters look like.


Dark Lord of DerkholmDiana Wynne JonesChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction1998
 "The cool thing about Diana Wynne Jones is that we've read many of her books, but her stories are all very different. She doesn't repeat herself. This one goes from amazing to intense, maybe it's even a little too intense," says my 13 yr. old.

As you can tell, we here are huge fans of Diana Wynne Jones. We admire the magical worlds she creates and her characters -- human, wizard, and fantastical -- captivate us. We find the plots of her stories unpredictable but plausible, at least in the magical environments in which they take place.

Dark Lord of Derkholm is about a planet that is used as a playground by a imperial power, in the person of one "Mr. Chesney". The inhabitants are compelled to stage elaborate wargames, games in which they and the tourists who pay to join them risk losing lives, families, and livelihoods. (Lest this be thought of as a metaphor for the American adventure in Iraq, please note that this story was written back in 1998, before our Mr. Cheney lead us there.)

I have a friend whose brilliant son graduated from college and then promptly enlisted in the military. "Maybe I won't get sent to Iraq," he told her. "Yeah, and why are they teaching you Arabic?" she asked him. There are young people who need to truly understand how terrible war can be. And maybe we should try to communicate this to them before they are old enough to sign on the dotted line of that enlistment contract.

But what about the kids who have already drunk the Kool-Aid? Those who know that war is not a game. Do they need to know that mercenaries sometimes rape innocent children? That sometimes heroes die in battle? That those who sponsor the wars often profit vastly from the carnage? Maybe not. But I think I'd have been happier if my friend's son had thought about these things before he enlisted.
  In context....

Dawn Palace,TheH. M. HooverChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upFiction1988
 De-mythologization (probably not a word, huh?) of the story of Medea, including the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, from Medea's point of view.

Deep SecretDiana Wynne JonesChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction1999
 We here are huge fans of Diana Wynne Jones. We admire the magical worlds she creates and her characters -- human, wizard, and fantastical -- captivate us. We find the plots of her stories unpredictable but plausible, at least in the magical environments in which they take place. One of the coolest things about her stories is that although the plot of each of her novels is really unique, characters and laws of magic overlap in intriguing ways in the many worlds described in her many stories.

We enjoyed reading Deep Secret, mostly because we became interested in Nick Mallory, who is a protagonist in another of Jones' many novels, The Merlin Conspiracy. However, it is not one of our favorite Diana Wynne Jones books.

For one thing, Deep Secret seems to mostly target adults, perhaps because it seems to be Diana Wynne Jones' tribute to science fiction conventions. The plot -- regarding a Magid (a powerful wizard whose undercover job is to keep magic under control in some sector of the multiverse) in search of a student -- is certainly compelling for certain young readers. But Jones unnecessarily throws in words (such as "orgy") that young readers are likely to ask their parents about.

Anyway, Nick is a nice, seemingly ordinary teenage boy with a witch (in all senses of that word) for a mother and a touching relationship with his ne'er-do-well cousin Maree. When my daughter and I first "met" him in The Merlin Conspiracy, he was looking for someone to train him to control his wizardly gifts. In Deep Secret, Nick seems not to be consciously aware that he needs training.

We enjoyed learning more about Nick and Maree and the Magid Rupert Venables and many magical creatures, including some fascinating centaurs and phantasmagorical chicks, but might not have found ourselves so riveted if we were not already familiar with many other stories in the Diana Wynne Jones opus.
  In context....

Deep WizardryDiane DuaneChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1985
 My daughter and I read A Wizard Abroad first (the fourth book in the So You Want To Be A Wizard series), and then we read So You Want To Be A Wizard, the first book in the series.

Both stress the responsibilities and hazards of having great power. Both climax in a to-the-death battle between Good and Evil. And So You Want ..., much to the dismay of my daughter, proclaims the theme that self-sacrifice to the death is deemed a worthy and necessary outcome in certain extenuating circumstances. And that it might happen to a friend of yours. Perhaps because you need them to make that sacrifice. This is not a theme that my daughter much likes.


DogsbodyDiana Wynne JonesChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1975
 There are just a few authors that my 12 year old and I trust implicitly.

After having raced through umpteen of her novels, we may have placed Diana Wynne Jones in that category. Sure, The Magicians of Caprona was kind of stupid.... But if you locked us in a library, with a short deadline in which to emerge with a book we were willing to read, it might very well be one by Diana Wynne Jones.

Dogsbody pre-dates the Chrestomanci stories; it's a bit more science fiction than Jones' usual fantasy. The characters and plot -- Cinderella meets Puss (or, in this case, Dog) in Boots -- are very appealing.

The story is told mostly from the point of view of a high Illuminancy, Sirius, who, because he lost his temper and (apparently) killed someone, is exiled to Earth in the body of a new-born puppy. As Sirius learns how to survive as a dog, while solving the mystery of how he was framed, we also learn a bit about the Troubles in Northern Ireland and about how controling our impulses can help us get what we need/want.
  In context....

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeRobert Louis StevensonChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upFiction1886
 Okay, this is a BIT of a spoiler, but I knew this when I read the book, and it was just as exciting:

This book is about a man who discovers how to switch from his evil self to his good one, purposefully. It is Gothic (creepy and mysterious), and very exciting.

It is only about 100 pages long, and so the suspense is kept up through the entire book until the end. Stevenson's language is very chilling. This quote gives you a great sense of the style that the whole story is written in: [they heard a] "dismal screech, as of mere animal terror."


Dragon's MilkSusan FletcherChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1989
 I enjoyed reading Dragon's Milk. It's about a girl who is different from everybody else in her little town. Kaeldra has to get milk from a dragon so that her foster-sister won't die. And that's how Kaeldra's adventure starts.

I was upset with the end of the book because it was sad but I'm still going to read the other books in the series.

-- Fizzy, age 11

DragondrumsAnne McCaffreyChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, dragons1979
 Menolly's friend Piemur (a boy) comes of age (confronts bullying and anti-intellectualism).
  In context....

Eldest (Book 2 of Paolini's Inheritance trilogy)Christopher PaoliniChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction2005
 We found Eragon, the first book in this trilogy (as of Spring, 2006, the third is not yet published), so involving that we were not sure we would survive until we read Eldest.

And, well, Eldest is ok.

We are certainly going to read the next book in the series, just as soon as we can get our eyes on it.

But Eldest, like many of the middle volumes of many trilogies, was much more of a chore and less of a pleasure to read than Eragon was.


Elegant Universe, The: Superstrings, hidden dimensions and the quest for the ultimate theoryBrian GreeneChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upNon-fiction1999
 After reading Greene's descriptions of the theory of relativity and why objects in motion get heavier and time slows down, we actually thought we understood it, for a fleeting moment, at least.
  In context....

elsewhereGabrielle ZevinChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2005
 Poor Liz Hall, she is killed in a hit-and-run car crash when she is only 15, and when she wakes up, she's on a ship traveling to Elsewhere, the world after death.

On the ship she meets the 6 year old captain who explains that once you die you go to Elsewhere and live backwards until you're a baby, then you sail back to Earth to begin a new life.

Also on the ship, Liz meets a dead superstar and another girl named Thandi who's around Liz's age, with whom she becomes friends. Everyone else on the ship is an old person.

At first in Elsewhere, Liz is angry and upset that her life had to end when she wasn't even 16 yet. She never got to fall in love or learn to drive, or anything!

But as her backwards life progresses, Liz meets a boy named Owen Welles, and she starts to feel like she could enjoy her not-life.

This book is not adventure-packed like some books, but it is in the mind of a girl, and with her you go through all her problems, like a boyfriend, a dog, sadness, happiness, and other things that a teenager girl would go through.

I enjoyed this book very much, because you really get to know the characters and the thoughts of Liz sound like what she'd actually think. This is a new version of what happens after life that I've never heard before, and I think that it's very interesting.

Before my parents let me read this they were worried that it would be too scary for me, Liz being dead and all, but it isn't like that at all. The book is somewhat sad and dreary in the beginning but it's not like it would give nightmares or something bad like that. This book really put new thoughts in my mind, new thoughts that weren't bad.

I recommend this book for maybe 6th or 7th graders and up, even though I read it at a somewhat younger age.

--Fizzy, age 12

  In context....

Equal Rites (Discworld #3)Terry PratchettChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction 
 As usual with Pratchett, this book is witty, often downright, funny, but it also has to do with real life problems.

The plot follows a girl who wants (and is destined) to be a wizard, but is not allowed to be because she is a girl. Wizarding is OBVIOUSLY only for boys.

But as little kids do, she doesn't really understand the situation and so proves that she CAN be whatever she wants.


Eyes of the Dragon, TheStephen KingChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1987
 According to the blurb, Stephen King wrote this book because his 14 yr. old daughter could not read his other books.

I got this book because I'm not a fan of horror, but wanted a chance to read a book by Stephen King.

It is not a book I'd recommend to a child; I found it CREEPY, perhaps not in a horror-ish way, but creepy nevertheless.

Fire and HemlockDiana Wynne JonesChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction1985
 There are just a few authors that my 12 year old and I trust implicitly.

After having raced through umpteen of her novels, we placed Diana Wynne Jones in that category. Sure, The Magicians of Caprona was kind of stupid.... But if you locked us in a library, with a short deadline in which to emerge with a book we were willing to read, it might very well be one by Diana Wynne Jones.

Fire and Hemlock is quite a bit different from other Jones' novels. For one thing, it is SPOOKY. It is, in fact, so intense, so spooky that if my daughter and I hadn't trusted Jones as much as we did, we would never have finished reading this story.

On the other hand, many of the characters do resemble other Jones characters we've met in her other stories. For one thing, every young woman of child-bearing age is at the very least utterly self-involved and uncaring about her children.

  In context....

Flight of the Dragon KynSusan FletcherChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1997
 I liked Flight of the Dragon Kyn better than Dragon's Milk because it is not as depressing. There is some tragic violence in this pre-quel, though.

Flight of the Dragon Kyn tells the story of a girl named Kara who can call birds down. The people in her village don't like her or her gift; When she was very little she came down with a deadly sickness and they left her in a cave for dead. When she came back to them, her eyes had turned from blue to green.

Some villagers claimed that a dragon gave her its milk and that that's why she had changed.

When Kara gets older, she is taken away to call down dragons for the king. Kara realizes that she and her gifts are being used to commit great evil. What is she to do  -- Fizzy, age 11


FlippedWendelin Van DraanenChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction 
 This is a cool book because we get to see the same turn of events from two very different perspectives. It is about two neighbors, a girl and a boy, who switch off hating each other and being in love.

Fountainhead, TheAyn RandChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upFiction1946
 At one point, I actually believed that Ayn Rand had overreacted and that most people respect and understand that they need intelligent, capable people around them.

Read The Fountainhead; Atlas Shrugged is identical except that it's much longer.

Galileo's DaughterDava SobelChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upNon-fiction1999
 The story of Galileo's daughter, Sister Maria Celeste, is mostly peripheral to the story of Galileo himself, in this non-fictional biography. Along with interesting details about what life was like for the illegitimate daughter of a famous scientist in the late 16th century, the book also concentrates on the Catholic Church's determined and successful attempt to get Galileo to renounce his conclusion that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa.

Gathering BlueLois LowryChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upScience fiction, girl heroine2000
 Gathering Blue is a companion novel to The Giver, kind of like next-door-Dystopias. But this one is about a girl born with gifts, not engineered to have them.
  In context....

Girl Named Disaster, ANancy FarmerChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1996
 1997 Newbery Honor book. First person account of how a gifted Mozambiquen girl orphan survives and forges families -- with baboons, scientists, and her own kin -- for herself during a harrowing trip through the South African wilderness. Nhamo, the girl, must use all that she knows -- which foods to eat, what happens when the seasons change; how to consult/appease her spirit guardians -- to survive on her own on her long trek.

A lovely, interesting, intense survival story.


Giver, The Lois LowryChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upScience fiction1994
 A boy bred with gifts for a special purpose and how he discharges his responsibilities. Easy to read, but not appropriate for young readers. Newbery Medal winner. See: A meditation on The Giver.
  In context....

Goddess of The Night (Daughters of the Moon, Book 1)Lynne EwingChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upScience fiction2000
 Very quick.

Unrealistic and puts the "high-school-girls-should-just-go-around-trying-to-get-a-boyfriend" spin on life. It's about this girl named Jennifer who discovers that she can turn invisible because she is a goddess.


Going PostalTerry PratchettChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction2004
 This book is super satirical, funny, and enjoyable. The main character is an ex-thief who ends up working in the government as the Postmaster.

I just love how Pratchett mercilessly mocks how stupid and horrible people can be, and still makes this into a great book, and is able to slip in some big moral problems.

Very enjoyable if you love highly satirical, sarcastic, and just plain WEIRD.

-- Fizzy


Golem's Eye, The (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 2) Jonathan StroudChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction2004
 Sardonic musings of a demon summoned by a very young, but now, successful, wizard.

Bartimaeus Book Two: The Golem's Eye is a very good book, but before you read it you should read Bartimaeus, Book One: The Amulet of Samarkand, because things in Book Two will make much more sense that way.

This book switches perspective between three very different characters:
  • Kitty the feisty commoner,
  • Bartimaeus the sardonic djinni, and
  • Nathaniel (John Mandrake) the annoying magician.
My favorite character is Bartimaeus, because he gives you footnotes to explain stuff better, tell us his very personal thoughts, and talks very funnily.

-- Fizzy, age 11


Goose Girl, TheShannon HaleChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction, science fiction 
 This book is based on the Grimm's fairy tale about a princess who was betrayed by her maid and forced to be a goose girl. In the fairy tale, in the end the maid gets killed in a coffin filled with nails as revenge... I don't know why, but i expected the author to write an alternate ending to this story.
  In context....

GossamerLois LowryChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2006
 Delicate story about how the community of ideas and the community of people can cooperate to save a ravaged young life.

Great and Terrible Beauty, A (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy)Libba BrayChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction2003
 This a spooky book about a girl with powers she doesn't understand. As she tries to survive in a "we shall civilize your daughters" kind of school, she makes friends with her enemies and brings them in on her secret.

I was always on the edge of my seat with this book, because even if no magic was happening, or she wasn't being chased by a monster, the social conflicts of teenage girls can seem terrifying sometimes.


Great Brain, The John D. FitzgeraldChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upbiographical1967
 First person story of one of three Catholic brothers growing up in turn of the century Mormon Utah.
  In context....

Harriet the SpyLouise FitzhughChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upFiction, girl heroine1964
 My daughter initially resisted reading this book because the movie made such an awful impression on her. But she really enjoyed this story of a girl who "wants to know EVERYTHING" and gets into deep trouble for writing down what she knows.
  In context....

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) J K (Joanne Kathleen) RowlingChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction2003
 I think this is my favorite of the Harry Potter series so far, but also my least favorite in some ways: Harry, Ron, and Hermione have definitely grown up a lot between books four and five, but they do it in a somewhat annoying fashion.
  In context....

Higher Power of Lucky,TheSusan PatronChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upFiction2006
 As a lover of fairy tales, it was probably impossible for me not to love reading this sophisticated story, simply told, which pretty much turns every fairy tale convention on end:
  • When my younger daughter was around 3, she was obsessed with learning how Cinderella's mother had died. In this story, we learn within the first few pages that our heroine's mother died when she was struck by lightening.
  • In many fairy tales, the heroine's name has to do with her physical appearance. In this story, the heroine's name has to do with her fate.
  • Most fairy tales abound in generalities and their language is very simple, even bland. Some groups are pushing to ban this Newbery Award winner because the word "scrotum" appears on its first page.
  • In many fairy tales, the stepmother serves as villain. In this story, the heroine's father's first wife comes to Lucky's rescue -- she raises her after her "real" mother has died.
  • In many fairy tales, the protagonist leaves home to seek his (it IS usually his) fortune. In this story, Lucky runs away from home, only to realize that she belongs with her stepmother.
And yet, The Higher Power of Lucky is a fairy tale, albeit a new-fangled one.

A good one as well.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyDouglas AdamsChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upScience fiction1980
 The book is pretty good but the audio recording of the BBC Radio production is our favorite. Once you read this the number 42 will take on a whole new meaning for you. Boy is it sad that Douglas Adams is no longer with us.
  In context....

HogfatherTerry PratchettChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction 
 Really cool book about a conspiracy to kill the Hogfather, who is like Santa Claus in Terry Pratchett's Discworld.

Death's granddaughter Susan, along with a toothfairy and the oh-god of hangovers have to save the world.


Illustrated Man, The Ray BradburyChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upFiction1951
 Spooky stories; just in case the child is thinking of getting a tatoo...
  In context....

InkheartCornelia FunkeChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction2003
 No doubt most authors of fiction hope to evoke worlds using words alone. But what if it were possible for certain readers to actually cause people and objects to transition between fictional worlds and our world, just by reading aloud?

InkSpellCornelia FunkeChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction2005
 No doubt most authors of fiction hope to evoke worlds using words alone. But what if it were possible for certain readers to actually cause people and objects to transition between fictional worlds and our world, just by reading aloud?

This is book two of what is promised to be a trilogy.

If anything, my 11 yr. old and I liked this book even more than its predecessor, InkHeart. And, as an added bonus, InkSpell provides a touching and believable portrayal of a pair of pre-adolescents who are just about certain they are in love.


Into the Dark Fire, (Daughters of the Moon, Book 2) Lynne EwingChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upScience fiction2000
 This is the second in a series. This "goddess" can read people's minds. She is chosen by the evil shadow king to become evil, but fights it off.

Invention of Air, TheSteven JohnsonChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upNon-fiction2008
 A lovely biography of Joseph Priestley, a scientist, theologian, and political thinker.

In these days when we are trying, finally, to get the politics out of science, this book argues that the reverse, having scientists care about politics is deeply ingrained in the fabric of the United States and Britain. Not that kings and princes always wish it so.

Note to sensitive readers: Priestley's experiments often involved the use of live animals and plants, some of which died in the absence of oxygen.

  In context....

Just EllaMargaret Peterson Haddix and Rene MilotChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1999
 Just Ella explains what happened to Cinder-Ella after her first happily ever after. She finds out that Prince Charming is not what she wants, but she has to find a way out of marrying him.

Ella doesn't like the palace either, it's too stuffy, but she does manage to make some good friends who end up saving her from a life of for ever just looking pretty and sewing all day long.

I liked this book; it was a don't-put-down-'til-you've- read-it-all book (To me, at least).

--Fizzy, age 11

KimRudyard KiplingChildren 12 and upSophisticated readersfiction1901
 When we finally read (and then re-read) the last page of Kim, my barely 12 year-old said to me, "I loved this story. I love Kim. But no more Kipling for a while. It is too hard."

We started reading Kim together in early fall. We finished in mid-December. The difficulty of:

  • The language (and there are many languages used here: British English, of course, but also Irish, Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, others we probably don't know the names of...)
  • The concepts: Tibetan Buddhist vs. Hindu religious beliefs, Islamic concepts, the differences between Catholic and Protestant attitudes, and
  • The politics: What are the Russians, French, British, and the various native Indians trying to accomplish in all their complicated plots
made reading the book a long-term investment.

Some days, we could manage only a few pages, because we had to pause to analyze what had happened, or because we couldn't understand a religious practice, or the meaning of a word distracted us.

Kim is like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell meet James Bond meet Harriet the Spy, only harder.

Not a book to be read when one is tired.


King Must Die,TheMary RenaultChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upFiction1958
 De-mythologization (probably not a word, huh) of the story of Theseus and the Minotaur.

In this version, Theseus expresses his wonder at the radically different ways of life in the patriarchal Greek world in which he grew up and the matriarchal Minoan lands he comes to rule.

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883Simon WinchesterChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upnon-fiction2003
 Simon Winchester does what he does better than any other science writer I know. He starts with one well-known natural disaster. Introduces us to many of the people affected by the unfolding events. Then weaves in information about the geography, geology, history, state of technology, and then puts it all together and tells the story of the disaster.
  In context....

Last Dragon, TheSilvana De MariChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, fairy tale2006
 A beautiful and gentle but very sad fairy tale for children about xenophobia, ethnic cleansing, forced communal farming, vegetarianism (and its limitations), witch hunts, forgiveness, sacrifice, and the difference between selfishness and self preservation. My very sensitive 12 yr. old loved this story and encouraged me to listen to it on audio CD.

The story is so intense that if Trish Connolly, the reader, were not so compelling, there were many points at which I would have stopped. No way I could read this story -- I'd have been crying too hard.

The Last Dragon is the story of Yorsh, a young elf who is taken in by two humans when all the other elves have been exterminated by the humans of Daligar. (The elves, as everyone knows, were responsible for all evil and misfortune in the world, including the terrible rainy weather and resulting floods. After all, there must always be someone to blame.) The humans who shelter Yorsh despite the peril to their lives learn to love and appreciate his special gifts. And Yorsh comes to know that not all humans are murderers and thieves.


Letters From RapunzelSara Lewis HolmesChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction2007
 Abandoned by her parents (her father, a long-time sufferer from chronic depression has disappeared; her mother is just not around), constrained by overly restrictive homework assignments that she can't or won't complete, condemned to spend long, long hours in detention, terrified that now that she has been identified as gifted, she will be forced to hang out with the nerds in the gifted pull-out class, Candace frantically tries to metaphorically grow hair long enough to provide an escape.

While not a fairy tale in the ordinary sense, Letters From Rapunzel brilliantly demonstrates the power of those ancient stories to help us understand our seemingly mundane lives.

  In context....

Love, StargirlJerry SpinelliChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2007
 It had been one of those errand-intensive Saturdays. On the way home after much driving, with groceries in the car, my 13 yr. old said, in a studiously casual way, "Hey Mom, you know the sequel to Stargirl is out." One of the pathetic things about us is that we forget our own phone numbers, but know by heart the precise coordinates of every bookstore and/or library in our current vicinity (where ever in the world that might be) and their hours. We checked Love, Stargirl out of the library within 15 minutes.

If you have a gifted child, particularly a girl, who is about to enter high school, or who is already in high school, and who has not already read Jerry Spinelli's amazing novel about the glory and the pain of being orders of magnitude different from one's peers, go now and read Stargirl. And then hand it to the child.

Love, Stargirl, which takes the form of a letter that Stargirl writes to the boyfriend who was insufficiently tolerant of her uniqueness, is not really a sequel that can be fully appreciated unless one has already read Stargirl. In her letter, Stargirl describes the process by which she rediscovers her joy in creatively reaching out to others.
  In context....

Mango-Shaped Space, AWendy MassChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction 
 I loved this book. It is about this girl named Mia who has this syndrome called synesthesia. Some different parts than usual are connected in her brain, so that letters and sounds have colors (this is real!) Her cat's name is Mango. In the book she learns that she is the "weird" one in her school and has to deal with it, because at first she thinks she's crazy.

Me and My Little Brain John D. FitzgeraldChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upbiographical1967
 First person story of one of three Catholic brothers growing up in turn of the century Mormon Utah.

Warning: Each book in this series veers broadly from (usually) a very cheerful first few chapters, in which the happy life of the narrator's family is depicted to subsequent harrowing chapters in which death, danger, and/or permanent dismemberment often occurs. The books usually resolve relatively pleasantly, but my daughter had difficulty sleeping after reading some chapters. (Although she always insists on getting the next book in the series.)

  In context....

Millicent Min, Girl GeniusLisa YeeChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2003
 A must-read for gifted girls, especially those in middle school or grade-skipped into high school.

Eleven-year old Millicent Min will be a senior in high school in the fall, but at the beginning of the summer we read about, she is teacher's pet in a community college poetry class and students ranging in age from high school age through college take advantage of her as a tutor but don't treat her as a friend. "Sooo sad!", my 10 year old sighs, empathetically.

Lisa Yee claims to not have skipped five grades in school, but she certainly understands what many of the issues that might confront a sensitive, gifted, 11-year old high school senior might be.

  In context....

Mozart SeasonVirginia Euwer WolffChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, girl heroine1991
 The Mozart Season is the story, told in the first person, of a young girl who comes to understand, deeply understand, the depths of good and evil in the world. This coming-of-age novel describes the process by which Allegra comes to cherish the eccentricities of her grandmother, (who is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor), her mother's brilliant best friend (who lost her child and her equanimity in a dreadful accident), a street person (Mr. Trouble, who lost his brain to lead poisoning and his quality of life to an indifferent system), and Mozart's Fourth Concerto.
  In context....

NationTerry PratchettChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2008
 My daughter has been censoring my reading lately. She refuses outright to allow me to read certain books, like Brisingr, the third book in the Eragon series and Inkdeath, the third book in the Inkheart series.

As for Nation.... "You won't like this book," my daughter said as she handed it to me. She meant that SHE did not like this book. "I usually would give every Terry Pratchett book I read a 10 out of 10. I give this one a 6, maybe. He is usually at least amusing, even when he is grim. This one is mostly just grim though."

My assessment is more generous than my daughter's. Nation is intense. And contains significantly more mayhem, death, and destruction than most Pratchett stories, for adults or children. And rage at the universe. Along with Pratchett's customary skewering of the silliness of every society and religion he happens across. With, perhaps, a little more bitterness than usual.

I could not put Nation down. And as I parsed each angry word, I thought that if I were Terry Pratchett, brilliant author of unforgettable stories, and I had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, well I would be raging at the Universe as well.


Pirates!Celia ReesChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upFiction2009
 I don't think the exclamation point in the title is warranted.

I picked it up because I saw "based on a true story", and wanted a glimpse into what pirate life was really like, but throughout the book I felt like it was very fictional.

Proud Taste for Scarlet and MiniverE.L. KonigsburgChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, historical1973
 Eleanor of Aquitaine and some of her friends hang out in heaven and discuss Eleanor's life and loves.

Ptolemy's Gate (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 3) Jonathan StroudChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction2005
 Sardonic musings of a demon summoned by a very young, but now, successful, wizard.

Book review: Part 1

Spoiler alert

I hate spoilers. However, I wish I had known more about the third volume in this trilogy before my daughter and I started reading the first one. (This would not have been possible when we started the first volume, because the third volume had not yet been released.)

That being said, I highly recommend all the books in the trilogy and I am glad that my daughter and I read them together.

This review is being presented in multiple parts; each part may provide additional information that, taken together, might give away some of the plot twists of Volume 3.

On the other hand, those helping highly sensitive readers select books might want to read through all the parts of this review before recommending books in this trilogy to them ...

Book review: Part 2

My 11 year old really loved these books. But they are a bit of a departure for her -- there's real murder and mayhem in them, which, until recently, she would not have tolerated.

As in previous volumes in the Trilogy, this book switches perspective between three very different characters:

  • Feisty Kitty is one of the commoners who are mistreated by the ruling elites and the demons they employ and are devastated by the economy and grief that result from the incessant wars the elites wage on foreign shores. She realizes that she must do something. But how much can one person do and can she live with the devastating consequences of her actions on her friends and colleagues?
  • Bartimaeus the sardonic djinni, who stands back and makes sarcastic comments about the other characters and the plot, even when he's right in the middle of it all, and
  • Nathaniel (John Mandrake) the gifted but annoying magician who has been co-opted by an Evil government because of his great intellectual abilities. Most of the time, the djinni has to obey the boy's commands, and a lot of the humor/sarcasm comes in when the djinni explains to the reader how morally compromised the boy is becoming. (And, to his credit, the djinni doesn't hesitate to tell the boy either, not that the boy listens most of the time.)
There is a complex relationship between these books and slavery too. The djinni is a slave, and even though he respects the good qualities of his boy master, he also hates having to obey his commands. Most of the time, the djinni makes this clear. But he's sometimes more supportive of his master than I think an average slave might actually be.

In Ptolemy's Gate, Bartimaeus also develops a touching relationship with Kitty and an awareness of kinship with the commoners whom most djinn scorn if they consider them at all. So much for cooperation between oppressed masses.


Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! (London Stage Revival)Rogers and Hammerstein  Children 12 and upChildren 8 and upmusical1999
 X-Men have been, and remain, our favorite super-heroes. We watch the movies; have not gotten into the comic books. Have recently also enjoyed Hellboy. Some of us really admire The Incredibles (but some of us do not).

We must write our homage to X-Men someday. After all, this is a group that thinks that hiding out in a school for the gifted will somehow shield its members from bullies. A creative, if foolish, concept.

Plus, they have both Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman. And very cool superpowers. And great special effects.

We are waiting with great anticipation for the release of the latest X-Men movie, Wolverine. Although, judging from the previews, it's probably going to be depressing as anything. And meanwhile, since we love and admire Hugh Jackman (have started watching Australia), and we love and admire musicals, we sat down and watched this production of Oklahoma.

Plot spoiler alert: plot spoilers follow below...
  In context....

RulesCynthia LordChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, autism2006
 In Al Capone Does My Shirts, the first-person narrator is a boy whose family moves to Alcatraz so that his sister may apply to a school for autistic children near San Francisco.

In this less anachronistic modern-day Newbery Honor Book, the first-person narrator, Catherine writes down rules for her autistic brother, David, although she's learned from experience that he routinely ignores them.

Written by the mother of two children, one of whom is autistic, the plot, written with the help of Lord's non-autistic daughter, clearly demonstrates how much the parents of the autistic child demand from the one who does not suffer from that disease.


Sea of Trolls, TheNancy FarmerChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2004
 Nearly-Christian, Saxon apprentice-wizard boy is abducted by Vikings and learns that even Berserkers (who live to create mayhem) are human and that ancient gods are to be respected and, often, feared, even if one does not worship them.

Skin Hunger (A Resurrection of Magic, Book 1)Kathleen DueyChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction2007
 Okay, I picked this book off the shelf because I thought it was funny to name a book "skin hunger". You can't really judge a book by its name.

The book is not about people eating each other, but two separate story-lines. One is about a girl named Sadima who can hear the thoughts of animals. The other is about a boy named Hahp sent to a gruesome magical academy. The only thing the plots share in common is a man named Somas, who owns Sadima's kind-of boyfriend, and lets Hahp's friends die of starvation.


Small StepsLouis SacharChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction2006
 Small Steps is kind of a sequel to Holes, but it's from the perspective of Armpit (Theodore) instead of Stanley.

I liked Small Steps; I read it in less than a week, although it gets a little smushy in some parts -- lots of kissing and stuff.

In the beginning, it's just a little bit boring, but it picks up at the end.

So if you read it…

Fizzy, age 11


So You Want to Be a WizardDiane DuaneChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1983
 My younger daughter and I have been lucky in that we have often failed to start at the beginning of a series, and when we have, it has often worked out well for us.

We read A Wizard Abroad a while back, enjoyed it, and were advised to start at the beginning of the series. If we had started at the beginning of the series -- hmm -- well, we might not have continued.

Like A Wizard Abroad, So You Want To Be A Wizard stresses the responsibilities and hazards of having great power. And like Abroad, it climaxes in a to-the-death battle between Good and Evil. Unlike Abroad, but not unlike the third book in the series Deep Wizardry, and much to the consternation of my daughter, self-sacrifice to the death is deemed a worthy and necessary outcome in certain extenuating circumstances.

Song of the LarkWilla CatherChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upFiction1915
 I am always blown away when a novel that is nearly 100 years old speaks to me as compellingly as Song of the Lark did. The story of Thea Kronborg, one of many children in a family

Songcatcher, TheSharyn McCrumbChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, historical2002
 The book is actually the history of a song, rather than a story about a person who catches songs. And/or it's the story of how a song gets caught.
  In context....

Soul of a New Machine Tracy KidderChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upNon-fiction1981
 Kidder is a great non-fiction writer. This is a true story about how a company manipulated its most talented employees into creating a great computer, without regard to what the work environment would do to them or their families.
  In context....

StargirlJerry SpinelliChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2000
 An amazing fiction book that confronts the issue of a gifted child trying to fit in. My 10 yo and I loved this VERY sad but VERY funny and VERY true novel. We read it to each other this summer, alternating chapters, and every time my older daughter caught us, she'd hang out and listen.
Stargirl is a brilliant and highly eccentric high school girl. The novel is written in the narrative voice of the boy who loves Stargirl with and for all her eccentricities and yet despite himself wants her to fit in at school so he can fit in too.

  In context....

StowawayKaren HesseChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, historical2000
 "Read this book," my 12 yr. old ordered me. "I'm pretty sure you'll like it. I liked it a lot."

And I did indeed like it a lot. And, I learned a lot about sea voyaging in the late 1700's too.

Hesse based her tale on fact -- there was really a young boy named Nick Young who "appeared" on the roster of Captain Cook's ship Endeavour quite a few months after the ship had left England, but before it had put into any port. Hesse guessed that he had been a stowaway and was discovered once it was too late to put him ashore.

Nick's story is told in the form of his journal entries for the entire voyage, each of which provides a date, a latitude and longitude (in measurements of Capt. Cook's time, which means that if a reader were to want to follow Nick's journey on a globe, one would have to do a little math), and an approximate location in words.

In Hesse's imagination, but perhaps this is truly how it happened, once Nick is free to show himself, he makes himself useful as assistant to the ship's physician, writing tutor, and friend to the Goat and the dogs and many of the sailors.

Stravaganza: City of MasksMary HoffmanChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction2002
 City of Masks is about a teenaged girl named Arianna who lives in 16th century Talia, who wants nothing more than to be a mandolier, and a boy named Lucian, who lives in 21st century England, and has an incurable case of cancer.

As Lucian suffers, his dad gives him a beautiful notebook from what seems to be very early Italy. When he fell asleep one night holding the notebook in his hand, he finds himself in 16th century Italy (Talia).

There he meets Arianna, and learns that how he got there was by what the experts call stravagation (which is how he was transferred from his world to this new one). So quite suddenly he is thrown into living two lives, one as a sick kid in modern England during the day, and the other as a perfectly healthy young man in Talia.

I recommend this exciting, kind of mysterious book for people who like fantasy and books that you don't want to put down.

City of Stars is an amazing book, the first in a series of 3. It is so wonderful for many reasons, one of which is that this book surprises you, (in a good way). While you're reading it's hard to guess what is going to happen, until it does, or nearly until it does. 

Sword in the Stone, TheT.H. WhiteChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, King Arthur1938
 Lovely anachronism-rich story of the childhood of King Arthur.
  In context....

Tao of Pooh, TheBenjamin HoffChildren 12 and upChildren 5 and underNon-fiction, philosophy1983
 Not difficult to read, but explains some very interesting ideas in a humorous way.
  In context....

Thirteen Orphans, Breaking the WallJane LindskoldChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2009
 Very cool idea for a plot. Although this book is pretty long, I finished it in two or three days (despite the need to do other, more useful, things).

The story is about the twelve signs of the Chinese Zodiac, with a person who represents each animal. A girl named Brenda discovers early in the book that she is the future Rat, and she has to help regain the memories of her father and other "animals" whose memories of their identities have been stolen. Brenda is forced into a battle she hadn't been aware of until just weeks before, and although only a "Rat-ling", she must help the twelve and the grandson of the original emperor.


Through Wolf's EyesJane LindskoldChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2002
 This is a book about a girl who was brought up by wolves, before being "rescued" by "civilized" people. The catch is that they think she is next in line to the throne of an ailing king. As her new friends try to teach her manners and human customs, a war is breaking out, and traitors work against everyone but themselves.

Tree By Leaf Cynthia VoigtChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1988
 A gloomy book about the effects of war and weather on real bodies and minds. And about how a child can come to feel responsible for the acts of man and nature.

Truckers (Bromeliad Trilogy: Book 1)Terry PratchettChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1990
 "What a GREAT ending!", sighed my 12 yr. old daughter, when she finished reading this book. "And it's by Terry Pratchett, so the sequel will be great too."

In this a tale of city cousins (members of a race of small and short-lived creatures called Nomes who consider the Arnold Bros. Department Store, est. 1905 to be their universe) visited by their country cousins (also Nomes, but ones who lived Outside before visiting the store), gentle fun is poked at organized religion, sexism, and rigid inability to think in general.

When the city Nomes finally realize that Final Clearance. All Sales Final! means that their universe, or at least, Arnold Bros. (est. 1905), is ending, they must work with their visitors to save themselves.

True BelieverVirginia Euwer WolffChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, girl heroine2001
 Virginia Euwer Wolff impresses me with her ability to capture and express the needs, wants, temptations, fears, motivations, and ways of life of her fictional heroines.

True Believer is the second first-person fiction I've read by Wolff; the first was The Mozart Season, another great favorite of mine. Like The Mozart Season, True Believer is told in the voice of an entirely believable girl.

But unlike Allegra Shapiro, heroine of The Mozart Season, LaVaughn, narrator of True Believer, has so many worries in the present day that she cannot dwell on her past or the past of her family. LaVaughn describes her day-to-day life in the inner-city projects, a life so relentlessly hard that keeping her eye on her future becomes nearly impossible sometimes, in free verse so compelling that it reads like prose.


Tuck EverlastingNatalie BabbittChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction 
 This is a beautifully written book about a family of people who never age and never die.

From the perspective of 10-year-old Winnie, Babbitt shows us many details rich with color and motion that Winnie notices at first only through the bars of her fence. As she strays out of her yard for the first time, she comes to know the Tucks, who enchant her (as well as us).


Twelve Angry MenReginald RoseChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1954
 I think this play is amazing. It focuses on twelve men on jury duty who are deciding whether a teenager is guilty of killing his father. The jurors must unanimously rule "guilty" or "there is a reasonable doubt." All of the jurors are white, fairly privileged.

Watership DownRichard AdamsChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upfiction1972
 Epic story of a rabbit civilization that faces challenges.
  In context....

Where I'd Like To BeFrances O'Roark DowellChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2003
 A group of children abandoned to a group home and an apparently Asperger's-spectrum, intellectually gifted child, are united by a love of architecture, or building, at least, scrap-booking, and the stories told by an overly-imaginative housemate.

Not hard to read, although the stories of how the children came to live in the home are sad.


Wizard Abroad, ADiane DuaneChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction 
 Fourteen year-old wizard Nita's parents are worried about her "relationship" with her wizarding partner (a boy), so they ship her off to Ireland, where she gets into much more harrowing situations (and a romantic one as well) than those she might have experienced if she'd just stayed put in the USA.

My daughter and I loved the way the tiny Bard Cat interacts with her less gifted human allies. The seeming contradiction between the way wizards look -- ordinary -- and what they have to do -- extraordinary -- might be heartening to a child who feels that his or her specialness is not reflected in appearance or circumstances. And, the cameo appearances by Celtic mythological beings are fun.

The discussions of Nita's romantic thoughts (nothing graphic, but probably not of great interest to younger children) and the responsibilities that go along with great power, and the excitement, mayhem, and death that inextricably mix with battle might make this book appealing to adolescent readers, rather than to younger readers.


Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart (Wolf, Book 2)Jane LindskoldChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2003
 My daughter will read nearly any book that is put in front of her, and she knows just about intuitively when one is "good" or not. In other words, we are entirely in sympathy with, for example, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker, in which he explains that there are really only a few stories to be told and the important thing is to tell the tale creatively and well.

On the other hand, my daughter and I have noticed that in many young adult book series, nearly every book in the series uses, not only the same basic plot, but also the exact same plot elements in the exact same order. This is truly frustrating, because, once we've caught on to this failing, basically, not only do we know exactly how each book will end, but we also know pretty much what the twists and turns will be before the end. This is even more frustrating when the characters are as interesting and unique as they are in Jane Lindskold's Wolf Series. And, even worse, Lindskold's plot twists seem to always include a planned rape, described, not too graphically, but at length, and then a protracted and bloody battle.

So, what can we now say about Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart, the sequel to Through Wolf's Eyes, which we raced through just a while ago?

Agony and the Ecstasy, The: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo Irving StoneSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upFiction, biography1961
 Reading this novelized biography of Michelangelo just now, after so recently reading the non-fictionalized Dancing To the Precipice was probably a mistake.

I did read The Agony and the Ecstasy to the end and found it mostly interesting, but -- so many unexplained wars, duplicate names, minor characters, changes of venue. Seems to me if you are going to fictionalize, you might want to streamline. If there are three characters named Ludovico, maybe rename one to be Vico?

I did learn a lot of facts, or at least I think they were facts, about Michelangelo's life and the history of the Papacy and the Italian city states. What I did not learn, and missed, was a bit more of an explanation about why this talented, obsessed artist allowed himself to be so taken advantage of? And why did the patrons who claimed to admire him so much abuse his gifts rather than help nurture them? I understand that they might need to use their enormous wealth to pay their armies, but -- Why the law suits? Why did so many popes ask the impossible when they clearly wanted Michelangelo to do great work for them?
  In context....

Among SchoolchildrenTracy KidderSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upNon-fiction1990
 My first comment on this book read: "So far I am really captivated by this book, which is interesting because I didn't really expect to like it so much..."

This feeling lasted for the entire book. The writing style pulled me in so much that the story didn't even matter, although it is really cool as well. Kidder basically shadowed a fifth grade class in a poor, rundown, public school for an entire school year and wrote about the experience.


Below the RootZilpha Keatly SnyderSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upDystopian/religious1975
 Issues sometimes arise for gifted readers who become infatuated with books written by authors who write for both adults and children and/or with books that are in series that are unevenly targeted. Below the Root, which is a book my 9 yr. old adored, is a prime example.

Because she reacts very poorly to unhappy endings, we had decided to recommend against her reading certain novels. So, for example, after significant discussion, we decided that Lois Lowry's The Giver was too intense for her, for now at least.

But she had loved Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Egypt Game, and the illustration (by Alton Raible) on the back cover of Below the Root made us yearn to read the book, even though our resident teenager warned against it.

So we decided to read Below the Root together.


Blue Girl, TheCharles de Lint Sophisticated readersChildren 12 and upfiction 
 This is a book that can be placed under the category of "Urban Fantasy" : fairies and other fantasy creatures running around modern day cities...

Picked this up as a quick read. Not gripping per say, but interesting.


Book Thief, TheMarkus ZusakSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upFiction2007
 Good book. About a girl during the Holocaust, but on the side we don't usually hear: She is German, but suffering as well. In the very beginning of the book Liesel's brother dies, and she is shipped off to live with "scary" foster parents. And by the middle her family is trying to keep a Jew hidden, and still "Heil Hitler" everyone they see.
  In context....

Carpet Makers, The Andreas EschbachSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upScience Fiction2005
 One of the most seriously weird science fiction books of all time. And it's a pretty interesting one too. About a society whose culture and economy are based solely on the life-consuming creation of carpets made from hair.

Catching FireSuzanne CollinsSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upfiction2009
 I am not a fan of cliffhangers. I knew this one would be, and went to order the next one from the library and discovered that it will not be published for a WHOLE YEAR! Anyway, I liked this one more than the first one. It had less scene by scene explanations of the horrible deaths of contestants entered in The Hunger Games.

Chosen, TheChaim PotokSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upFiction1967
 WAS:Orthodox Jewish boy trying to decide what to be when he grows up.

Flippant. Flippant. And, entirely unfair to this book.

It is the middle of World War II and most citizens of the US are still unaware of what is happening to the Jews of Europe. Reuven Malther, an Orthodox Jew, is severely injured in a baseball game by a ball pitched by Danny Saunders, a Hasidic (much more fundamentalist) Jew. They become friends and as a result they, and we, learn a great deal about the different styles of parenting, religious observation, and reactions to the formation of the state of Israel, among believers in different branches of Judaism.


Elegance of the HedgehogMuriel BarberySophisticated readersChildren 12 and upfiction 
 This book is remarkable, in that with every page I read, I was more captivated.

For one thing, the author tells the story in a very interesting way: The story is narrated by two very different, but also very similar, characters. One is a 12 year old genius and the other is a 50-something year old concierge in the fancy hotel she lives in.

So that's cool, but the writing style is what really got to me. Barbery gets very deep into some philosophical questions, that at many points I found confusing at first, but once I got into my "elegance of the hedgehog mood", I really enjoyed it.


Ender's GameOrson Scott CardSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upScience fiction1977
 Story of a boy who is raised (some would say, manipulated) to use his gifts to save humanity, and the thanks he gets. Easy to read, but not appropriate for young readers.
  In context....

Ender's ShadowOrson Scott CardSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upScience fiction1999
 Story of one of Ender's soldiers, a boy who is bred with gifts to help save humanity, and the price he pays for having those gifts. None of the Ender books are great literature, but they resonate with gifted readers. This one may be even better than Ender's Game. Easy to read, but not appropriate for young readers.
  In context....

FeedM.T. AndersonSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upfiction-dystopian 
 This review seems like a spoiler, but it really gives nothing away, at all...

This book really got me worried about how horrible human beings are and what we're going to do to the world... It gave me a very depressing feeling while and after reading. It is set in the (near??) future, and most people are basically controlled by their "feeds" implanted directly in their brains, which are used mostly as an excuse to constantly show them thousands of advertisements. I guess the ending is supposed to be a little hopeful, in that the main character is considering fighting the feed, when he sees its awful power over humanity, but... I think hopeful is not a word that anyone can truthfully apply to this book.


First Meetings : In the EnderverseOrson Scott CardSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upScience fiction2003
  Prequels to the Ender stories; includes the original novella which grew to become Ender's Game. Fans of Ender's Game will like these.
  In context....

GracelingKristin CashoreSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upfiction2009
 This is a super fast-paced, easy read, which was great since that was what I had expected. The book is about a girl, Katsa, who is "graced", gifted with a special talent that no-one else has... She basically has to save the world, and on the way lots of other exciting things happen too.

Harmonic FeedbackTara Kelly Sophisticated readersChildren 12 and upfiction2010
 I really liked this book: it's told from the perspective of a girl diagnosed with Asperger's and ADHD.

Her biggest challenge in the book was realizing that the labels "normal" and "abnormal" are nothing more than labels, and that nobody is the same, so "normal" is subjective.


HomeMarilynne RobinsonSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upfiction2008
 Beautifully written, desperately sad novel that seems to prove that love, family, friendship, faith, words, and circumstances sometimes collude to defeat well-meant efforts to escape the trap of alcoholism.

Hunger Games, TheSuzanne CollinsSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upfiction2008
 This sounds kinda negative, and I did enjoy it, but I do have a bit of a sour aftertaste after reading this:

I'm not sure how to rate this book. It was very disturbing: The whole point is that 24 teenagers all fight to the death. Yay. But it was also very gripping and exciting, and talked about the price of freedom. It definitely kept me up with vivid images in my head...


Is God a Mathematician?Mario LivioSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upNon-fiction, biography2009
 I never thought I'd get my fill of non-fiction books about mathematicians. And this is not really a bad one. Maybe it was the silly title and the author's transition from that religious question to the more chicken-and-egg question: Do humans invent mathematics or do they discover mathematical principles?
  In context....

Man Who Loved Only Numbers, The : The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical TruthPaul HoffmanSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upNon-fiction, biography1998
 Biography of the brilliant mathematician, Paul Erdos. Inspiring because this extremely odd guy, who spoke in code and could not perform the normal functions most other human beings usually have to do (such as pay bills and cash checks), found ways to mentor promising young mathematicians and revolutionize mathematical thinking.
  In context....

My Brain Is Open: The Mathematical Journeys of Paul ErdosBruce SchechterSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upNon-fiction, biography2000
 Biography of the brilliant mathematician, Paul Erdos. Inspiring because this extremely odd guy, who spoke in code and could not perform the normal functions most other human beings usually have to do (such as pay bills and cash checks), found ways to mentor promising young mathematicians and revolutionize mathematical thinking.
  In context....

My Sister's KeeperJodi PicoultSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upfiction2004
 I am not very satisfied with the ending to this book. The whole thing is very sad, and Picoult just HAD to add one more horrible twist... ANYway, this book is good, but as I said, horribly depressing, as you may expect from a book about cancer. The idea is that 13-year-old Anna has always been just a vessel of bodyparts to contribute to her leukemic sister for various surgeries, and she decides to sue her parents so she doesn't have to donate a kidney.

Step From Heaven, AAn NaSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upfiction2003
 I'm not sure how to rate this book, because the narration ranges from a five-year-old's perspective to that of an 18-year-old one. This is really interesting, but leaves most of the book as a very easy, lower-level read. However, this story about abuse and immigration is intense and scary.

Surely You're Joking Mr. FeynmanRichard FeynmanSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upNon-fiction, autobiography1985
 First volume in inspiring autobiography of physicist (and all-around extremely intelligent and charming guy), Richard Feynman.
  In context....

Beautiful Mind, A: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash Sylvia NasarFor grown-ups Children 12 and upNon-fiction, biography1998
 Biography of the brilliant mathematician, John Nash.
"How could you, a mathematician, believe that extraterrestrials were sending you messages?" the visitor from Harvard asked the West Virginian with the movie-star looks and Olympian manner.

"Because the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way my mathematical ideas did," came the answer. "So I took them seriously."

In this workmanlike biography of the brilliant mathematician John Nash, Sylvia Nasar, a journalist, describes Nash's pioneering early mathematical discoveries, his decent into madness, and his eventual recovery and receipt of a Nobel Prize in Economics.
  In context....

About the Armadillo Associates Web Site
Internet Design & Development
Object-oriented software design & implementation
API Design & Evangelism
Efficient high tech project management
Evocative high tech PR
Perceptive Technical Reporting
Coastside Film Society
Books & etc.
School-related issues
Armadillian wanderings
Click here for graphical Home Page
Click here for Flash-y armadillos
Search our site

Rants and reviews table of contents / Into the Woods / Annie Get Your Gun / Learning to Build and Program Robots / Stomp

©2024 Armadillo Associates, Inc.
Comments, questions? Send us email
Click here to go Home