The Children's Book Compass

Archive for the ‘Novels’ Category

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos.   (2011).  341 pages.  FSG.  Ages 11- 14.

Gantos won the Newbery for 2012 for this humorous, autobiographical novel. In 1962, twelve-year-old  Jack gets in trouble and is grounded for the summer.  His mother only lets him out of his punishment to help an elderly neighbor type obituaries for the local newspaper.  Gantos loads his story with unexpected twists and turns that are zany and sometime mysterious.

Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard.  (2011).  183 pages.  Delacorte Press.  Ages 14-adult.  Realistic Fiction.

As sixteen-year-old Alex begins the school year at his boarding school, he is unable to save his roommate from drowning.  That event consumes Alex as the truth of what happened consumes him with guilt.  A supporting English teacher nurtures Alex’s poetic talents and tries to help him come to terms with the drowning.  This novel explores moral issues and the cost of peer pressure in a way that demonstrates the complexity of being a teenager.

 Sparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor.  (2011).  247 pages.   Putnam.  Ages 11- adult.

Reading this book was a gift.  The story features lovable and intriguing characters that by the end of the book seem like friends.  The Mother of seventh grader, Raine, unexpectedly takes a job for the summer at a small artist retreat, Sparrow Road.  Raine is not happy about having to leave her home in Milwaukee.  It turns out that her mother wants Raine to meet the father she has never known who lives near Sparrow Road.  The summer turns out to be memorable and life changing for Raine.


Bluefish by Pat Schmatz.  (2011)  226 pages.  Candlewick Press.  Ages 12- adult.

Travis has hidden a secret – he can’t read.  When he gets to middle school he encounters a teacher who discovers his secret and offers him a solution.  A new friend, Velvetta, also helps him with his reading.  Both Travis and Velvetta are dealing with grief and loss.  How they learn to trust and support each other as they become friends makes a story that sticks to the heart.

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The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango. (2011). 352 pages. Delacorte Press. Ages 12-adult. Realistic Fiction.

This moving novel is based on the life experiences of Farinango who at seven was taken from her rural, very poor family in Ecuador and made a servant to a family in the city.  In the face of very difficult challenges the girl manages to teach herself to read and write and finally escapes when she is  a teenager.  The story shows the cost of being caught between two cultures.

Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engle.  (2011).  145 pages.  Henry Holt.  Ages 12-adult.

The setting is 1510 in the Caribbean.  A young boy of Spanish and Taino ancestry is a slave on a pirate ship that is eventually shipwrecked during a hurricane. The boy speaks the language of the native people who save him.  He suddenly is given power over his former captors who also survive the storm.  Engle tells her story in lyrical verse in the voices of five different characters.  This book would make an effective choice for readers theater.  Historical notes at the end provide a fuller picture of the events.

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall.  (2011).  224 pages.  Lee & Low Books.  Ages 12-adult.

This is another novel told in verse.  The story is about a Hispanic family whose mother is battling cancer.  The oldest daughter, Lupita, tells how she becomes responsible for her seven younger siblings.  However, she is still able to enjoy her passion for acting in her high school drama classes.  The author captures the loving tenderness of the family.

I have been sick for most of the last month, and haven’t been able to post any reviews.  However, I have been reading and found some terrific books to recommend.  Since there are so many, I will just give a brief reviews over the next few days.  Please note that most of these books have a wide age appeal.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from Slobhan Dowd.  Illustrated by Jim Kay.  (2011).  204 pages.  Candlewick Press.  Ages 11-adult.

This powerful book enthralled me from the first pages.  I think it is one of the most compelling and honest novels I have ever read.  Colin’s mother is dying of cancer and he is haunted by a monster.  Is the monster part of a nightmare or, is it real?  Will the monster help Colin face the truth of his mother’s situation?  The ending is tremendously moving and brought me to tears.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu.  (2011).  312 pages.  Walden Pond Press.  Ages 9-12.  Fantasy.

Breadcrumbs is an intriguing mix of realistic fiction and fantasy with the theme of the power of friendship.  Eleven-year-old Hazel and Jack are the best of friends in our contemporary world.  They love to read fantasies.  When Jack suddenly disappears, Hazel goes into a magic wood to rescue him from a white witch who has frozen his heart.  The story is enriched by many references to beloved fantasies.

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt.  (2011).  360 pages.  Clarion.  Ages 11-15.  Historical/Realistic Fiction.

Eighth grader, Doug Swieteck surmounts difficult challenges in 1968 when his family moves to a new home in upstate New York.  Doug’s perseverance, hard work, discoveries in art and kindness to others blesses himself his family and the people in his new community.  Schmidt tells the story in Doug’s voice which is humorous and endearing.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson.  (2011)..  422 pages.  Greenwillow.  Ages 12-adult.  Fantasy.

What a captivating, fantastic romance and adventure.  The heroine is a princess who has always believed that she is nothing compared to her older sister.  How she discovers her own strength, intelligence and ability to lead makes an engrossing  and enchanting story.

Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak.  Illustrated by Philip Hopman.  (2011).  145 pages.  Eerdmans.  Ages 10-adult.

Here is a story based on real events of a troop of Polish soldiers in World War II.  The soldiers discover a small bear cub and adopt him.  The bear travels with the soldiers from Iran to Egypt and finally to Scotland at the end of the war.  In the midst of war, the bear provides a relief from tragedy with his humorous antics.  Maps of the soldiers’ journey and photographs at the end enrich the story.  Winner of the Mildred Batchelder Award which is given to book originally published in another country in a language other than English.

The Lily Pond by Annika Thor.  (2011).  217 pages.  Delacorte Press.  Ages 10-14.

A sequel to A Faraway Island, winner of the Mildred Batchelder Award in 2010.  This book follows thirteen year old Stephie Steiner, as she goes to school on the mainland.  Her Jewish parents have sent Stephie and her sister to Sweden to protect them from the Nazi persecution.  Stephie must please her foster parents, navigate through the difficulties of a new school and the responsibilities of being a scholarship student while she experiences her first love.

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales by Chris Van Allsburg.  (2011).  221 pages.  Houghton Mifflin.  Ages 11-adult.  Short Stories.

When I last taught sixth grade my students were inspired to tell the stories they saw in the gripping pictures of The Chronicles of Harris Burdick.  Now fourteen talented authors have created their own stories that are evoked by each the pictures.  The original pictures are included with each short story.  Young people will enjoy the stories and want to compare them with their own versions.  Read the some of the stories aloud to hook listeners who will want to read more who will want to read more on their own.

Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.  409 pages.  Scholastic.  Ages 11-16.  Fantasy.

Stiefvater imagines an island world where dangerous horses, capaill uisce, emerge from the sea to be tamed (somewhat) and run on race day in November.  The opening line hooks the reader, “It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”  Only the capaill uisce are raced on the beach against the cliffs in November.  Two teens alternately tell their stories of preparing for the race.  The two stories seamlessly merge by the end of the book.  Sean at age ten saw his father killed in the race, viciously pulled from his saddle by a capaill uisce and trampled to death.  Later, Sean becomes a gifted trainer of the capaill uisce.  But he works for the richest man on the island and although he has won the race four times, he hopes to win again to gain the horse he loves.  Puck’s desperate goal is win the race so she can use the award money to save her family farm for herself and her brothers.  Only, her problem is that no girl or woman has ever ridden in the race and, instead of riding one of the magic water horses, she wants to ride her own land pony.  The novel is a page turner as it races toward a resolution.  Beware don’t start it late at night.  Romance, adventure and a cast of intriguing characters are the story elements that zip the story along.  The island setting takes an active role in the plot.  The author was inspired by several myths about dangerous fairy horses from the sea that have been told in the British Isles.

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai.  262 pages.  Harper.  Ages 9-14.  Historical Fiction.

In the 1980’s I taught an exceptional class of sixth graders who were mostly immigrants from Viet Nam.  They had lived through difficult and challenging experiences escaping from Viet Nam and then living in refugee camps.  During our year together the children wrote about their experiences in coming to America.  I gave those stories to Eve Bunting who was inspired by reading them to write How Many Days to America?  So it was a special joy to read Inside Out & Back Again because it tells a similar story.  Ten-year-old, Há, begins the story when her family celebrates Tet, the first day of the lunar calendar, in Saigon.  The ensuing year unfolds great changes for Há and her family when they leave their war torn homeland, escape on a crowded ship, spend time in a refugee camp on Guam and finally travel to Alabama where they are sponsored by a mentor.  The story comes full circle ending on Tet in 1975.  The novel is told in evocative, lyrical verse that shows the emotional cost of the family experiences.  For example, Há writes the following account of being on the ship as water is rationed and food is scarce.

“Once Knew

Water, water, water/ everywhere/making me think/land is just something/I once knew/like/napping on a hammock/bathing without salt/watching Mother write/laughing for no reason/kicking up powdery dirt/and wearing clean nightclothes/smelling of the sun.”

When Há goes to school, the fourth grade, for the first time, she encounters bullying, has troubles with the new language and feels dumb all the time.  There is a positive portrayal of a teacher who provides support and understanding of Há ‘s situation.  Lai writes from her heart and captures the emotional upheavals of that year.  In her Author’s Note she explains that most of the details in the story are inspired by her own memories.  Reading this novel will help children build empathy for their immigrant friends and  classmates.


The Ogre of Oglefort by Eva Ibbotson.   Illus. by Lisa K. Weber. (2011).  247 pages.   Dutton. Grades 3-7.  Fantasy novel.

This is the last book of the talented and masterful storyteller, Ibbotson.  Fantastic characters, a troll, a hag, a wizard and an orphan, are sent on a quest to save a princess from an evil Ogre.  However, when they arrive at the Ogre’s castle they discover the situation is surprisingly different than they were told.  The characters are deliciously described.  Here is the opening paragraph of the book,

“Most people are happier when their feet are dry.  They do not care to hear squelchy noises in their shoes or feel water seeping between their toes—but the Hag of the Dribble was different.  Having wet feet made her feel better: it reminded her of the Dribble where she had been born and lived for the first seventy-eight years of her life, and now she dipped her socks into the washbasin and made sure they were thoroughly soaked before she put them on her feet and went downstairs to make porridge for herself and her lodgers.”

Kids will want to keep reading after that opening.  The theme, discovering your happiness or bliss, makes the book a satisfying read.  This one will make an enjoyable read aloud for adult and child.  A few black line drawings are sprinkled throughout the story.

The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True by Gerald Morris.  Illus. by Aaron Renier.  (2011). 118 pages.  Houghton Mifflin.  Grades 2-6.  Fantasy Novel.

This is the third book in Morris’ The Knight Tales series.  After children read this one, they will want to go back to read the others in the series.  Morris retells the stories from the King Arthur legends with humor and verve.  His retellings make the stories accessible for younger children.  Large size font, a small book size and action-packed line drawings also make these books attractive for younger readers.  The story of how Sir Gawain the Undefeated takes on the challenge of the fearsome giant, The Green Knight, makes a rousing tales.  The adventures come tumbling out of the pages.  Readers will be glued to the story of how Sir Gawain meets the challenge of the Green Knight and discovers wisdom and grace along the way.


Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

e-mail: MarilynCaz@aol.com
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