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Searched for books featuring:

  • Gifted Protagonist

AND Vocabulary age =
  • Children 5 and up
  • Children 8 and up
  • Children 12 and up

142 books met your specifications:

TitleAuthorConceptual difficulty ageVocabulary difficulty ageGenreYear of publication

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....

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.


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.

Anastasia AgainLois LowryChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1979
 Anastasia is now 12, has a 2 year old, precocious brother, and has moved to the suburbs.

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

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....

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.


Black and Blue MagicZilpha Keatly SnyderChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1966
 Twelve-year old boy learns to use and appreciate his gifts.
A soothsayer once told Harry that his was "... a rare gift, and his magic will be of a special kind."
Now, many years later, it is summer in San Francisco. It's possible that Harry has heard that same voice intone the words "The air is absolutely heavy with possibilities." Or maybe he dreamed them.
Because he performed a good deed, twelve-year old Harry (interesting name, isn't it? -- my daughter thought so!) receives a gift. As such gifts often do, this one is bestowed with limitations. Harry must never be caught displaying the gift "publicly" lest the giver of the gift be harmed.


Boggart, TheSusan CooperChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction 
 After reading The Dark Is Rising, I never would have imagined that Susan Cooper was capable of writing a book in which all characters are not either entirely good or entirely evil. And yet, here we meet the Boggart, an Old Thing, whose purpose in the world is to play tricks on people. He never intentionally harms anyone, but he almost always acts impulsively and many of his actions result in chaos at best.

Accidentally exiled from his castle in Scotland, the poor Boggart discovers peanut butter and that playing around with electricity and streetcars in modern-day Toronto can lead to dire (unintended) consequences.

Even the gifts the Boggart bestows on his hosts, ten-year old computer nerd Jessup and his twelve-year old sister, Emily, cause terrific problems.

  In context....

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....

Cart and CwidderDiana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction 
 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.

Cart and Cwidder is a light-weight but enjoyable and typical Diana Wynne Jones offering. There is the standard DWJ mother -- self-involved and mostly oblivious to even the most obvious danger to her children. There are the children whose future depends on their learning to take advantage of their gifts, innate and physical. In this case, the gifts are their ability to entertain, spin tales, and play the musical instruments left to them by their murdered father.
  In context....

Charlotte's WebE.B. WhiteChildren 8 and upChildren 5 and upfiction1952
 Updated Sept. 11, 2006:

My then-10 year old daughter fixed her eyes on me, eyes that implied that she'd just realized that a Truth had been withheld from her, and she was going to get to the bottom of it.

"So, Mom," she said, "It seems as if what a fiction book is about is not really what it's about. Is it?"

"Hmmm," I answered. "What you mean is that a story is not just about its plot. Sometimes, often, in fact, a story has a message and the message is conveyed by the plot, but also by the author's choices of words. The message is sometimes called the theme of the book. It's what the author wants you to learn from reading the book. It's why authors go to all the trouble of writing books."

Which brings us to Charlotte's Web. Charlotte's Web has long been a favorite of mine and my daughter enjoyed listening to it for a year or two when she was very young. But when dear daughter (dd) was around four, her best friend was diagnosed with a disease that was, at the time, almost always fatal. We happened at the time to be listening to the audio book version of Charlotte's Web as read by the author, E.B. White. So, there we are in the car, listening, and dd asks, "Is L. going to die?" I turn the tape player off and answer that I don't know. Dd says "I don't like Charlotte's Web. And what did Cinderella's mother die of?"

I explain that in those times long ago, nearly everyone was more likely to die but that women of childbearing age were particularly at risk. Dd asked, "So, are you going to die? Am I going to die?" ....

For years after that conversation, dd did not willingly read or listen to Charlotte's Web. I believe that this is because, more than any other children's book that I have read, Charlotte's Web is about death as a normal consequence of living. And, no, I'm not saying that children/people never die in books, but they die romantically as in At the Back Of the North Wind or they die unexpectedly young at the hands of Evil Doers or they die off-screen, like Cinderella's mother. (Dd's friend lives and thrives, thank goodness.)


Cheaper By the DozenFrank B. GilbrethChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upnon-fiction1948
Skipping grades in school was part of Dad's master plan. There was no need, he said, for his children to be held back by a school system geared for children of simply average parents.

Dad made periodic surprise visits to our schools to find out if and when we were ready to skip. Because of his home-training program -- spelling games, geography quizzes, and the arithmetic and languages -- we sometimes were prepared to skip.

... The standard reward for skipping was a new bicycle.
My 12 year old loved almost everything about this true story about how a couple of pioneering efficiency experts raised their 12 children. Except the ending.

Although I tried to warn her about the ending by pointing out some of the foreshadowing and emphasizing that this is a true story, she was pretty much devastated by it.


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.


Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 1: Charmed Life / The Lives of Christopher Chant, The Diana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1988
 The books in this set are:
  • The Lives of Christopher Chant
  • Charmed Life
We actually read them in reverse order, and recommend that you do as well.

Charmed Life is the story of Cat and Gwendolen, brother and sister orphaned when their parents were drowned. Gwendolen seems to be a talented magician. And Cat -- well, not so much. Both are adopted, for reasons Cat finds difficult to understand, by a very powerful sorcerer, the Chrestomanci.

The Lives of Christopher Chant tells the exciting story of how Christopher Chant (barely) survived to become the Chrestomanci.

Both stories explore the problems of gifted children who are made to feel inferior because they are special.

  In context....

Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 2, Book 1: The Magicians of Caprona Diana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2001
 The books in this set are:
  • Magicians of Caprona
  • Witch Week
After reading Volume 1 of the Chronicles of Chrestomanci -- Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant -- we were very eager to read the second volume.

But the first book in this volume, The Magicians of Caprona, a Chrestomanci-universe-based story with many similarities to Romeo and Juliet was a real disappointment.

  In context....

Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 6: Conrad's Fate Diana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2005
 Either Diana Wynne Jones must have had a truly rocky relationship with her uncle, and found that her mother did not protect her from him, or else she's just got a thing against uncles. In any case, evil uncles are major drivers of plots in Jones' intriguing set of worlds, as Conrad Tesdinic, the 12 yr. old narrator of this book, learns. Conrad's uncle is every bit as evil in his own ways as Christopher Chant's (who becomes the Chrestomanci in Diana Wynne Jones' universe) was to him.

A 16 yr. old Christopher Chant and his future wife, Millie, play supporting roles in this, the eventful, but not frenetic story of how Conrad avoids the terrible fate his uncle attempts to foist upon him and instead finds himself a mentor.

  In context....

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....

Dark Is Rising, TheSusan CooperChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1999
 "I'm more patient with books that are pretty much just pure plot than you are," my 12 yr. old tells me.

Perhaps that's why she liked The Dark Is Rising more than I did.

The contest in The Dark Is Rising is simply good vs. evil. No one who is evil at the beginning of the book recants. No one who is (truly) good goes bad. In addition to the other gifts Will Stanton, seventh son of a seventh son, inherits comes the ability to tell, almost upon meeting someone, whether they are with the Light or with the Dark.
  In context....

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.

Dealing With DragonsPatricia C. WredeChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, dragons, fairy tale1990
 Highly politically correct fractured fairy tale about a princess who fashions a full life for herself even though she doesn't conform to the fairy tale standards for princesses.
  In context....

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....

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 RiderCornelia FunkeChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2004
 Lovely, gentle story about a community of fantastical creatures and a few humans who adventure together to discover a place in which to build a new life together.

One of the many delights:
The brownie named Sorrel lives to eat mushrooms. But when she doesn't like someone and calls him or her names, Sorrel uses the names of poisonous mushrooms as epithets. SO CUTE!!!


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

DragonflyAlice McLerranChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2000
 Smoothly told tale of a group of people who band together to raise a dragon. Confronts the reality of "scientists who would intervene" without making them out to be evil.

DragonhavenRobin McKinleyChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2007
 This book was very slow for a long time in the beginning, but good. It is from the perspective of a teenage boy who lives in our world, which, it seems, has dragons in it. A protected species, of course. I know that sounds very cheezy, but it is well put together, and a fun, quick read (except the beginning).
  In context....

DragonsingerAnne McCaffreyChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, dragons1977
 "Like Harry Potter, but better," says my daughter. "And, it's about a GIRL (Menolly by name) who goes to school to get better at something she's good at."
  In context....

DragonsongAnne McCaffreyChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, dragons1976
 I was not sure whether to be shocked or amazed at the outrage my daughter expressed when she realized that Menolly was forbidden to sing just because she was not a male. Guess gender bias has not held my daughter back as of yet. On the other hand, she LOVES this book.
  In context....

Ear, The Eye, And The Arm, TheNancy FarmerChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1994
 In this Newbery Honor Book set in Zimbabwe in the year 2194, three siblings hurdle through a science fiction-y Africa and learn that even the most magical humans are not always honorable and even the most wicked exploiters can sometimes come through for you, but that family is family.

EastEdith PattouChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, myth2003
 When my daughter chose to read East, we did not know it was based on the story collection called East of the Sun, West of the Moon (EOTSWOTM) and we had not read any of the Norwegian fairy tales in that beautiful collection.

We loved East, which describes in great detail, the life of Rose (called Karen in EOTSWOTM), who, like Beauty in Beauty and the Beast, comes to love the beast (in this case a white bear) who forces her to leave her home and loved ones.

  In context....

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.


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....

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....

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.


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....

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....

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.

Freak the MightyRodman PhilbrickChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1993
 When I was young and feeling lonely, isolated, ridiculed by my fellow students, my father, one of those hugely gifted people who thrives with little interaction with other people because he is constantly obsessed by projects of his own, would suggest that I reach out to "other lonely children" and make friends with them. I never really found that forging alliances with other "outcasts" made me feel better when those in the "In Group" made fun of my clothes, hair, etc. Freak the Mighty is one of those novels in which the alliance of the weak prevails.

And, Sad Ending Alert. The foreshadowing is quite subtle, so it might come as a shock to young readers.


From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. FrankweilerE.L. KonigsburgChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1964
 A girl and her brother run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. A how-to, although I suspect kids would not be able to get away with this in this day and age.

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


Gone-Away LakeElizabeth EnrightChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1957
 Newbury Award winning novel. Kind of spooky adventure in which almost nothing happens but in an involving sort of way.
  In context....

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....

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.

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....

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.


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....

Hat Full of Sky, ATerry PratchettChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2005
 A Hat Full of Sky is the sequel to the Wee Free Men. It is about an eleven-year old girl named Tiffany Aching, who is training to be a witch, and the Nac-Mac-Feegle (Wee Free Men), who are fairies (but do NOT call them that unless you want to be seriously injured).

Tiffany is a very unusual witch, because she's from the Chalk Land. In fact, Tiffany is actually the ONLY official witch of the Chalk. She is also the Hag of the Chalk Land, which means that it is her job to protect the Chalk. (She tells it what it is; it tells her what she is.)

When something evil comes to the Chalk, Tiffany has to make it go away.

-- Fizzy, age 11


Hidden Treasure of Glaston, TheEleanor M. JewettChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, historical1946
 Gentle tale of Hugh, whose family is caught up terrible violence, and who is sheltered and healed in the monastery at Glastonbury during the reign of Henry II of England.
  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.


HootCarl HiaasenChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2002
 Smoothly written story of a young man whose family relocates to Florida. He becomes involved with two other teens attempting to save a colony of burrowing owls whose nesting area is threatened by hard-hearted developers.

My then-10 year old loved this story so much that she insisted we go see the movie as a family. Which turned into a nine hour ordeal, long story, but the movie was/is not playing in many places. The book is much, much better than the movie. Perhaps that's not saying much, though ...


Howl's Moving CastleDiana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2001
 A cheerful, easy to read, but very complicated, backwards fairy tale, in which the protagonist is the oldest of three stepsisters. Nearly every character in this story, major and minor, wears at least one or two disguises. In some cases, the disguise is of his or her own choosing, but not always.
  In context....

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.

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....

Invention of Hugo Cabret, TheBrian SelznickChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2007
 At the advanced age of 12, and although my precocious reader loves reading chapter books, she still misses having pictures in her books.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret solves this problem. A Dickensian fairy tale, told in words and beautiful, complicated charcoal drawings, Hugo Cabret tells the story of the rediscovery of a silent film director and a young boy in Paris of the early 1930s.


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....

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....

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.

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.


Last Olympian, The (Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book 5)Rick RiordanChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2009
 A great ending to a great series, which is about a kid named Percy who discovers he's the son of Poseidon (the ancient Greek sea god) and that all of the "mythology" he learned in school is real.
  In context....

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....

Lightning Thief, TheRick RiordanChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2005
 Learning that he's the son of a Greek god clarifies some things for contemporary 12 year old Percy.

High concept, but not as stirring in its execution as I'd expected.

  In context....

Linnea in Monet's GardenCristina BjorkChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, historical/art1987
 Young girl visits the places Monet lived and learns about how he translated his life into his paintings.
  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....

Mairelon the MagicianPatricia C. WredeChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, magic1991
 My daughter says, "I really, really like the way the characters use magic in the world the author has built."
  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....

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.

Maniac MageeJerry SpinelliChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1990
 Modern day tall tale, beautifully written by Jerry Spinelli, whose Stargirl we also loved.

Maniac's athletic gifts and personal fortitude give him entree behind the window curtains of many homes in his small Pennsylvania town, where he is privileged to share meals and experiences with old and young, black and white, humans and zoo animals.

Maniac re-pays the kindness of strangers by helping to bridge, although not heal, the town's racial divide.


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....

Merlin Conspiracy, TheDiana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2003
 Once, one of my daughters was interviewed for an article about gifted children. "Sheesh," she sighed when she got off the phone. "People don't realize that just because a person is smart, that doesn't mean that she knows everything. We still need to learn things and learn how to do things."

Diana Wynne Jones is one author who understands that many children have the potential to be great wizards, but they need guidance or they can go wrong. And although they are able to teach themselves many things, in order to reach their full potential, they often crave time with mentors.

In The Merlin Conspiracy, we meet three potentially great wizards. Roddy and Grundo are children of the royal court of Blest. Roddy is the daughter and granddaughter of wizards; her grandfather in particular is dauntingly illustrious. Grundo is the scion of a single (evil) mother. Roddy babies Grundo because of his learning disabilities; could it be that she coddles him too much? In another universe, Nick Mallory longs to learn from Romanov, a wizard who was hired to kill him, but who decided to let him go. But everything Nick does seems to harm Romanov rather than ingratiate him. The Merlin Conspiracy is the story of how all three get to know each other and find ways of getting educated about their worlds in an organized way.
  In context....

MessengerLois LowrySophisticated readersChildren 8 and upfiction; dystopian2004
 Sequel to Lowry's Gathering Blue, and, some might consider this the third in the dystopian trilogy that started well with, and has coursed relentlessly downhill from, The Giver. The plot is highly derivative of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, The Birthmark, with some unpleasant touches and Christian symbolism similar to Zilpha Keatly Snyder's Until the Celebration, but entirely lacks the beauty of the Below the Root books.

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....

Mirror of MerlinT. A. BarronChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upKing Arthur1999
 Fourth in a series about the childhood of Merlin. The bally mag is just a hoot.
  In context....

Molly Moon's Hypnotic Time Travel Adventure (Book 3)Georgia ByngChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2005
 We had not read the first two books of this series when we read this one, and that was not a problem. Apparently, earlier in the series, Molly Moon escapes from the dreary orphanage in which she is confined by becoming a master hypnotist and defeating her uncle, who is an evil madman.

In this episode, Molly must learn to travel through time so she can rescue her beloved dog, Petula, her friends Forest and Rocky, and her earlier selves, all of whom have been kidnapped from the present to India in the 1870s.

The plot is twisty and interesting and Molly is a wonderful role model for gifted children. She has obviously had to work hard to learn to be a great hypnotist in previous books. Now that Molly is possibly the best hypnotist in the world, there are still other challenging skills she needs to work hard to learn. Skills that some adults around her have mastered and other adults are just adequate at doing. Time-travel for one.

Another endearing trait that Molly has is that she is very aware both of her great abilities and of her shortcomings. The all-knowing narrator of the book takes especial care to let us know what Molly is thinking when she masters her self-doubts, carefully thinks through her options, and then puts her all into implementing whatever solution she thinks will work best.


Molly Moon's Incredible Book of HypnotismGeorgia ByngChildren 5 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2003
 "Why don't they make books like THIS one into movies?," my 12 year old exclaimed. I was listening to this book on tape and dear daughter, who had read the book a few years earlier, was lured into listening.

Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism like Molly Moon's Hypnotic Time Travel Adventure, which we read a while back, narrates the story of Molly Moon, an orphan, and her best friend Rocky.

  In context....

More Adventures of the Great BrainJohn D. FitzgeraldChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upbiographical1969
 Second volume in the first person series of one of three Catholic brothers growing up in turn of the century Mormon Utah.
  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....

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 Side of the MountainJean Craighead GeorgeChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1959
 reviewed by Jennifer Dees

I've just finished reading one of my old favorites to my daughter, and it occurs to me that it's a very good book for homeschooled kids. The book is "My Side of the Mountain", by Jean Craighead George (1959). I vividly remember that I cherished this book at about 8 or 9 years old, little pioneer girl that I was. We lived "out in the country", with woods bordering our 10 acres, and I spent many a happy hour out in the woods, in my own world, imagining myself an adventurer from some time past, probably as a male protagonist (they had all the fun; the feminist revolution hadn't hit our small town yet).

My daughter's well into chapter books but this one's a little long and deep for her, but when I saw it in the library I couldn't wait. I read a lot to her when I can find a break in her own reading. I knew this was one we would enjoy together, and we did.

  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.


Ogre Downstairs, The Diana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1991
 A magical chemistry set unites the five children in a newly-blended family, and, eventually, helps three of them learn to respect and trust their new father, who is big and loud enough to be an ogre.
  In context....

Peter and the StarcatchersDave BarryChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2004
 This great book may seem a little silly at first while you read it, but it's an exciting story anyway. In fact both my parents and my uncle liked it just as much as I did.

It starts as an orphan boy, Peter, (who doesn't know his last name or even how old he is), and his four friends: James, Thomas, Prentiss, and Tubby Ted are in an old smelly wagon cart on their way to a ship called the Neverland, being shipped into their adventures.

On the Neverland Peter meets a girl named Molly, (who he thinks is VERY pretty) who needs his help protecting the magical trunk the Neverland has on board. Peter doesn't hesitate in saying yes. During their voyage, they are being followed by the wickedest pirate on the seven seas, Black Stache, who is after their ship and its mysterious cargo.

In this prequel to Peter Pan, you discover how the pirates, the mermaids, the flying, the croc, and all the other puzzles of Peter Pan came to be (according to Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson).

I liked this book very much, and I feel that it does a good job of explaining how Peter Pan became Peter Pan. This book could appeal to anyone from 8 years old to full grown adults, especially if they like the story of Peter Pan.

--Fizzy, age 12

Pilgrim At Tinker CreekAnnie DillardChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upnon-fiction1974
 I have always been squeamish.

And yet, Annie Dillard's beautiful yet clear-eyed vignettes about the resplendence and horrors of the natural world captivate me.


Pinhoe Egg, The: A Chrestomanci Book Diana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2006
 In this, the latest episode in the life of Cat Chant, Cat has truly settled in to preparing for his future. The story reveals that he has come far in his apprenticeship to Christopher Chant, (the current Chrestomanci -- Chief Enchanter) and his family.

Cat has learned how to learn from a very gifted nine-lived enchanter who is (obviously) very talented, but possibly not as talented as Cat is. Throughout the book, Cat works on identifying skills Chrestomanci has that Cat still needs to learn, on when to solve problems on his own and when to call for help, and on how and when to intervene in the lives of the less gifted inhabitants of the universes he is destined to govern.

Like the plots of many other stories in the Chrestomanci series, the plot of this novel explores the problems of a gifted child (in this case a girl) who is made to feel inferior because she is special.

  In context....

Pippi LongstockingAstrid Ericsson LindgrenChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1950
 My daughter was hooked the moment Pippi started explaining about how everyone in Egypt walks backwards all the time.
  In context....

Princess AcademyShannon HaleChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, science fiction2005
 Nifty re-thinking of the Cinderella story.
  In context....

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.


Rowan of RinEmily RoddaChildren 5 and upChildren 5 and upfiction1993
 A Quest, gently told; a good chapter book for a young/new reader.

In Questing to the top of the mountain with six fellow villagers to obtain water for his village, Rowan, a frail, young shepherd, gains confidence and courage.


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.

SilverwingKenneth OppelChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1997
 A precocious bat and his adventures during a war between the bats and the birds.
  In context....

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.


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....

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. 

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....

Surviving the ApplewhitesStephanie S. TolanChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2002
 Joyous, involving story about a family of stereotypically gifted but stereotypically self-involved Artistes and the stereotypically Troubled Youth who benefits by becoming swept up in their passionate pursuit of Art.
Stephanie Tolan takes wonderful advantage of the fact that we all know the Sound of Music so well we can hear the music in our heads, and those stereotypical personality types move the story along efficiently and with great humor. The characters themselves know they are stereotypical; and their self-awareness is one of the things that saves them and the story. Not a great book, but one we are very glad to have read.
We particularly LOVED the way butterflies weave the various plot elements together.
Excellent portrayal of the joys of homeschooling.

-- Emily Berk
  In context....

Tarantula in My Purse and 172 Other Wild Pets, TheJean Craighead GeorgeChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upnon-fiction1996
 The perfect book for the young reader who wants to adopt every stray creature he or she sees.

In this non-fiction collection, Jean Craighead Geoge, author of My Side of the Mountain, describes the many wild animals she and members of her family have adopted over many years, their adventures and how they fared in captivity, and (for most), how they came to be released.

  In context....

Thief Lord, TheCornelia FunkeChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2002
 This interestingly imagined story describes how a group of children and a pair of carefully chosen adults build a community in the magical city of Venice.

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.


Trumpet of the Swan, TheE.B. WhiteChildren 5 and upChildren 5 and upfiction1970
 I won't label this a book about matter-of-factly overcoming one's disabilities; it's so much better than that. I guess what it really is is a book about how one voiceless swan found his bliss (and his voice), and it provides lessons in how we can find ours. The book on 4 CDs narrated by the author is worth many listens.

-- Emily

  In context....

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.

Twenty-One Balloons, TheWilliam Pene du BoisChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upScience fiction1947
 Technologist/balloonist discovers an island on which a group of very special folks have isolated themselves.

Winner, 1948 Newbery Medal

  In context....

Understood BetsyDorothy Canfield FisherChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, historical1916
 Written in 1916, it's the story of an orphan girl who adjusts to life on a Vermont farm.
  In context....

Velvet Room, TheZilpha Keatly SnyderChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, history1965
 Gentle but involving story about young girl whose family has lost its farm, but not its love, principles, or dignity, in California in the Great Depression. One of the notable and wonderful things about this novel is that most of the adults, and most of the children, consistently act in honorable and thoughtful ways. The plot is driven principally by the harsh circumstances of the times.
  In context....

View From SaturdayE.L. KonigsburgChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1996
 Motley group of gifted kids learn about each other and to work together to win a contest, aided by an inspiring teacher.

Warm Place, TheNancy FarmerChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction1996
 Gentle tale of a young giraffe who is stolen away from her home and marshals a multi-species group of friends to help her find her way home.

As in other Nancy Farmer stories, many of the bad guys in this tale are space aliens.


Wee Free Men, TheTerry PratchettChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2003
 The Wee Free Men is a very enjoyable book about a nine year old girl named Tiffany Aching and her unexpected friends, the Nac Mac Feegle. I liked this book VERY much and it was fun to read. It is wacky in a normal way.

Tiffany lives on a farm peacefully if not a bit bored-ly until she meets the Feegles, and together they have to save the day.


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.


Wild RobertDiana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2003
 A girl whose family manages a historic castle in England summons a witch, Robert, who was buried 350 years earlier. Although Robert's behavior is impulsive and assertive, he usually has reasons for enchantments.
  In context....

WintersmithTerry PratchettChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2006
 Sometimes a precocious person uses her gifts in a way that have dire consequences. Whether or not the harm was intentional, that person should take responsibility for the problems she creates and try to resolve them.

Early in this tale, Tiffany Aching, a very mature and gifted if reluctant witch, makes the awful mistake of arousing the romantic attention of the Wintersmith (God of Winter), and nearly simultaneously but through no fault of her own, loses her teacher and home.

Wintersmith is the story of how Tiffany:
  • Rectifies (with the "help" of her silly blue friends the Nac Mac Feegle and her not-quite-as-silly boy?friend, Roland) the wrong she's done,
  • Learns to fit back into her home, and
  • Comes to appreciate, understand, and learn from other mentors.


Witch WeekDiana Wynne JonesChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2001
 Many of the stories in Wynne Jone's Chrestomanci series explore the problems of gifted children who are made to feel inferior or taken advantage of because they are special. This happens to the protagonists of The Lives of Christopher Chant and Charmed Life, for example.

But in the society evoked in Witch Week, anyone identified as a witch is burned at the stake. Which puts the students at the Larwood House School, all of whom are orphaned because of a family connection to witchcraft, in a desperate position. Many of them know they are witches. And although it's exhiliarating to know that one has great power, they know from experience that the penalty for getting caught, or worse, being turned in by one's peers, is death by fire.

Spoilers below...

  In context....

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?

Wright 3, TheBlue BalliettChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upfiction2006
 My teacher gave me Wright 3 because I liked its prequel, Chasing Vermeer sooo much. I read The Wright Three in a day -- It is one of those books where you can't stop reading because no matter where you are in the book, you're always at a spot where it's too exciting to stop. (I remember when we were reading Chasing Vermeer in class and my teacher had to confiscate my friend's book because she was too far ahead and wouldn't stop reading.)

Wright 3 is about three kids named Calder, Petra, and Tommy. Petra and Tommy at first don't like each-other but are both friends with Calder. They have to work together to save the Robie House, a historical house in their neighborhood that has lots of secrets.


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