Posts Tagged ‘Book 1’

The first of a four book series Gregor The Overlander was published in 2003. It received critical acclaim, including the New York Public Library’s 100 Books for Reading and Sharing.

Story overview:

Twelve-year-old Gregor counts the days since his father’s mysterious disappearance. It has been over two years, but he has not forgotten. In a New York City apartment, he lives with his mother; grandmother; sister; and younger sister, Boots, who was still in her mother’s womb at the time of their father’s disappearance.

As the man of the house, Gregor has taken on many responsibilities, such as watching over Boots. On one particular day, Gregor happened to be down in the basement doing laundry when Boots was sucked into a vent in the wall. Following behind her, he finds himself falling in darkness for an unfathomable amount of time. When he safely lands, it does not take long for him to realize that he is no longer in New York City.

Guided by giant cockroaches to the kingdom of Underlanders (humans), Gregor and Boots discover a world of giant bats, rats, and spiders. But the biggest discovery is that of their father, who happened to be a prisoner of the rats. With the help of Luxa (pronounced Luke-sah)—future queen of the Underlanders—Gregor (the supposed Warrior of a prophecy) and Boots are accompanied by several other questers on a mission to save his father and return them back home.

My thoughts:

I was wonderfully surprised by this story. Not knowing what to expect, I jumped right in. The story is fun, the character dynamics are realistic, and the “other world” elements [mostly] believable. I particularly liked how the author let the children act like children. Such as Gregor faking-out the Underlanders by pretending to run for the exit, and Boot’s fit over not getting a cookie. This is one I looked forward to reading, and one that I definitely plan to read the next book in the series.

Things to consider:

This is a family friendly book. There are a few scenes that may be disturbing to some children (such as a spider sucking the insides out of its dead companion), but overall I would recommend it to children twelve and older (tweens plus). Equally good for both girls and boys. One other note—from the Christian perspective—there is mention of evolution in a factual sense. Of course, evolution is debatable and your stance on it may differ from that of the author. Still, it is not a major theme and only a slight mention.

Opportunities for discussion:

Hope is a central topic in this story. Specifically hope for the future. To avoid disappointment, both Gregor and Luxa did not allow themselves to believe it was OK to look to the future with wishful thoughts. To a certain degree, it is good not to have unrealistic expectations in life, as expectations are often the cause of an unsatisfying existence, however, as this story points out, one must have hope in the future in order to find true happiness. Ask your child what it is they hope for, if anything at all, and then help them to understand the difference between deceiving expectations and positive goals, dreams, and aspirations.

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I came across this book a little while back at a used bookstore. I picked up a copy for my Aunt as a Christmas gift, but had not yet had a chance to read it myself.

Since I was thoroughly disappointed with The Alchemyst (which had practically nothing to do with alchemy), I was a little worried about yet another Irish novel. Thankful, like most biases, these were unfounded, and Artemis Fowl could not be anymore night and day.

This is the first book in a three book series (update: 04/13/10 – there are currently seven known books in the series), and I can say for sure, I will be adding the next to my list.

Story overview:

Artemis Fowl II is a twelve-year-old boy genius, who comes from a family with a long history of being professional thieves. With his father missing for some time and his mother not in her right mind, Artemis is free to roam about—with help from his abnormally strong manservant, Butler—and execute his latest scheme.

His current ambition is directed at the race of elves in an attempt to acquire their gold and restore his family’s fortune. To accomplish this, Artemis locates and tricks an elf into letting him make a copy of their (the race’s) secret book. After translating this book, the young boy genius plots out a way to find and capture another elf to use as a hostage.

We learn that Leprechauns are actually known as LEPrecon, who are a special recon force that live miles underground. Captain Holly Short, the first female member of LEP, had nothing but problems trying to keep her position with Commander Julius Root always breathing down her back. If this was not bad enough, she finds herself as Artemis’s captive. Commander Root makes this his priority case to (1) save Holly, and (2) protect the hidden identity of their race. Artemis may have gotten a little over his head on this one, but somehow manages to stay on target.

My thoughts:

I quite enjoyed this one. Normally I am not a big fan of constant point-of-view switches, but these are done smoothly and sensibly; not disjointing at all. The characters are great fun to follow along, and the story had me wanting to jump right back in to see what happened next.

Things to consider:

This is a pretty harmless tale. Good for boys and girls in their preteens and older. There is a gory scene when Butler fights a Troll, some slight mentions to curses (done with good humor), and crude descriptions of a Dwarf’s gas, but all are done tastefully.

Opportunities for discussion:

The moral question arises of how one should treat their enemy. As did Artemis, who struggled with the human-like appearance of his captured elf, Holly. It was Holly who showed Artemis how one should treat their enemies, as she tried to save Artemis and his crew. This reminded me of the Bible verse, Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This opens a good discussion for you and your children/child.

This is the first in a six book series by Irish author Michael Scott. A movie version also seems to be in production. When swinging over to Amazon to check out the ratings, I was satisfied with the high marks from over one hundred reviews, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

Story overview:

In the modern world, Twin siblings, Sophie and Josh Newman (teenagers) work across the street from one other. One day Sophie notices shady looking characters entering the bookstore where her brother works. Among these characters is the underhanded John Dee, whose goal is to capture the owners of the bookstore along with a book that is definitely not for sale on their shelves.

This book is called the Codex, which unlocks many of the world’s mysteries, including the secret to immortality. The owners of the bookstore are Nicholas Flamel and his wife, Perenelle (who both happen to be immortal, and very old). Dee manages to capture Perenelle and the Codex, but in the process Nicholas escapes with Josh and his sister Sophie. It seems as if all is lost, but then Nicholas learns that—during a struggle—Josh ripped out some of the pages in the book; making the important parts useless.

Once Dee discovers this, he pursues Nicholas, Sophie, and Josh to recover the missing pages. Why? Dee seems to be the representative of an ancient race called the Dark Elders, whose mission is to recapture the world from the humans, and somehow they need the book to do this. Nicholas, however, has other plans as he is convinced that these twins are part of an ancient prophecy. With the help of Scathach (a vegetarian vampire (yes, really . . .), and second generation Elder Race), the team goes on an adventure of discovery and retreat.

My thoughts:

OK, so I know this book sounds good. The ratings say it is good. But I had a hard time staying interested. Why? (1) The use of Third Person Multiple Points of View and Omniscient Point of View is jarring and disjointing. I feel as if the author was trying to get into too many heads. And really, I didn’t care about John Dee; he was the bad guy, why did I always need to know his perspective? (2) It seemed to me as if there was too much needless information. There were a few times where I yelled, “I get it, you don’t need to explain it any further!” Also, the actions of the characters mostly spoke for themselves, yet the author was always describing them, he described . . . everything. (3) Too much needless back story. A lot of it didn’t seem to matter in the forward plot movement. So, my conclusion? I didn’t like the writing style all that much. And the story itself didn’t pull me in. But, that said, others did like it, so I suggest you see for yourself.

Things to consider:

There is mention of an old earth, as the Elders lived many years before man. Apparently men came from the apes and messed everything up. I know this is fantasy, but it does take place in the “real world” and more than subtly promotes the idea of evolution. That, and it highly promotes the modern idea that power comes from within each individual. These and other things mentioned in the story leads me to wonder if the author’s beliefs reside around the modern Humanist Manifesto. (Such as: “Humanism believes that man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as a result of a continuous process.” And that the universe is self-existing not created.) Just something to keep in mind. There’s no real inappropriate language or sexual situations, and the violence level is fitting for this type of tale (and audience). The audience? Boys and girls, probably around their early teens.

Opportunities for discussion:

Speaking of the Humanist Manifesto, if you are a person of faith and you are unfamiliar with this movement, then I strongly suggest that both you and your teen become familiar with it. In a lot of ways this has become the new “modern religion.” You can read a copy of it at americanhumanist.org . Obviously, this movement is pretty anti-Christian, but I believe we should take the time to try and understand other perspectives so that we can better present the truths we ourselves have discovered.

Gahoole_Capture_b1In my search for popular children’s books I came across the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series. Currently, it appears there are fifteen books and a September 24, 2010 movie scheduled to be released.

The author, Kathy Lasky has written more than fifty fiction and nonfiction books for children and young adults. She is quoted as saying, “I want young readers to come away with a sense of joy for life. I want to draw to them into a world where they’re really going to connect with these characters.”

For the most part she achieves this with The Capture.

Story overview:

A young Barn Owl named Soren finds himself falling from the warm nest of his parents only to land at the bottom of the tree. Unfortunately for Soren, his parents were out hunting for food. Only his little sister, unhelpful (& deceiving) brother, and blind snake-servant remained.

Soren is captured by an Owl patrol and taken to St. Aegolius’ Academy for Orphaned Owls. It did not matter that Soren wasn’t really an orphan because, as he discovers, the Academy’s true aim is to conquer the Owl kingdoms. Soren learns of the true horrors of Moon Blinking—which destroys an Owl’s free will—hard labor, punishment for asking questions, and the terror of Owls who yield to Vampire Bats.

With the help of his Elf Owl friend named Gylfie—and a few un-blinked Owls at the Academy—Soren escapes. They are joined by a male Great Grey Owl named Twilight, who helps both Soren and Gylfie to find their homes, but unfortunately they have been deserted. Now a new and greater adventure lies ahead.

My thoughts:

There is a slight Redwall‘ish feeling to this tale; if you like one you may like the other. For some odd reason newly born Owls have an instant British vocabulary, but overall it is a cute and charming adventure. Personally, I got bored with it. My attention kept dropping off and the events seemed to drag on longer than I would have liked. However, I think the right audience would love it. Particularly those who are between 6 to 12 (six to twelve) years old.

Things to consider:

As mentioned under my thoughts, I think this is appropriate for children between six and twelve, and for both girls and boys. Note that any youth beyond tweens runs the risk of becoming bored with it. However, I do want to caution that there are a few disturbing situations that may be considered frightful to some children. Off the top of my head these are: vampire bats drinking the blood of willing Owls, a few violent deaths, and a horrific act of Cannibalism. Overall this is a clean story, and is free from any sexual references or profanity.

Opportunities for discussion:

The theme of brainwashing is fairly dominant here; such as moon blinking and the restriction of asking questions. Yet belief is also mentioned (in a positive way) when talking about the legends of Ga’Hoole. It is easy for the world to relate Christianity to brainwashing, and granted in some cases there are brainwashed Christians, however this is not the intended path of believers. Brainwashing comes from conforming without testing or questioning, but it is the job of the believer to understand where he or she stands. We believe in individuality, not conformity. We all have unique gifts, personalities, and ways of looking at things. This is why the Bible talks about people being a different part of the same body. A discussion topic for your child would be to ask them what they believe makes them unique. Ask them what beliefs they hold onto, and then ask them if there are any questions they would like to share with you. Then be willing to listen and respond (non-condescendingly.)

Warriors v1If you liked the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, you’re gonna love Warriors. That is, if you like cats who act like cats. Mice, rabbits, and birds have the same kind of presence that fish do in Redwall: food. Matthias and Basil Stag Hare would not be in a good position here.

The author, Erin Hunter, is actually not a person, but three people: Kate Cary (takes turn writing), Cherith Baldry (takes turn writing), and Victoria Holmes (comes up with ideas and monitors consistency). All live in the UK, and as quoted in the back of the book, are:

“. . . inspired by a love of cats and a fascination with the ferocity of the natural world.”

Story overview:

A young “kittypet”–or so called by the Clans–named Rusty, lives a pleasant and comfortable life among the “twoleggs.” Though he spends many hours sitting on a fence looking into the forest, it wasn’t until he became bold enough to go exploring that his life changed.

While exploring, he was attacked by a cat named Graypaw. After fighting him off, other cats from the ThunderClan approached him. They make him an offer: join their clan and give up his “kittypet” life forever, and he will live as free cat. After giving it some thought, he decided to join.

Life became difficult for Rusty, who was given a new name (Firepaw), and a new home. He learns what it means to be a part of something, to work hard, to have real friends, and to eat like a real cat. Once things start to fall into place, life for him becomes even more complicated when one of the other clans decides to take over all the territories. Now the lessons really begin as ThunderClan fights back, and the lives of his clan depend upon him.

My thoughts:

The names thrown out at the beginning are enough to make one’s head spin, but amazingly enough they are not that hard to follow. Hunter seems to have taken a Native American’ish approach to them: Bluestar, Lionheart, Tigerclaw, Spottedleaf, Ravenpaw, Speckletail, etc. As an author myself, there’s a few areas where I would question the quality of the writing (adverb city, such as “Yellowfang replied dryly.” and “Firepaw meowed urgently;” as well as overuse of exclamation points and italics) but regardless of this, it flows pretty well. I would call this book a page turner and a must read for kids (and some adults too). The one thing that bothered me though–and perhaps I just missed it–has to do with the whole nine lives thing. Why did some cats–particularly one of the younger ones–die when being killed, yet another, older cat came back? I was confused here. And whatever happened to the fox which was hinted at?

Things to consider:

This is not your average Politically Correct tale. There are strong elements of ferocity (as mentioned by the author.) Where I believe that’s part of what makes this story so genuine, I would caution some kids, whom it may be a little freighting for. Nature is very relevant in this tale, and anyone who’s watched a nature show knows things can be dicey. I would age rate this at around eight + (tweens and older,) and for both girls and boys. No bad language and no sexual references, but as mentioned, very violent (and I don’t mean violent for the sake of violence, but rather for the sake of realism.)

Opportunities for discussion:

Death, survival, bravery, and courage are strong themes in this tale. Among them are deceit, betrayal, blame, and bias. Talk to your kids about the price of freedom. Share with them the flaws of living a soft and easy life, and tell them that they need to work hard for what they have. There’s no room for laziness in the world of nature or the world of man. Also, in the case of Yellowfang, we learn that things are not always as they seem. We should not judge and blame without knowing the facts. Innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around. Ask your kids if they have ever done this only to find out later that they were wrong about the person.

The Nixie's SongOK, so I feel a little stupid about this. I had watched the movie “The Spiderwick Chronicles” with Freddie Highmore, and was actually quite impressed. When at the library, I saw this book on the shelf and decided; since I liked the movie version, why not read the original books?
 
I was halfway through the book and thought, man the book is really, really different from the movie. Can you tell why I felt stupid yet? Yes, this is “Book 1”, but not of “The Spiderwick Chronicles” rather “BeyondThe Spiderwick Chronicles”. Duh! It’s a series that takes place after the original.
 
So, aside from feeling dumb about my mistake, I can actually say that I’m glad I went with this version first. Having the original movie somewhat still in my mind, I was happy to read an entirely new adventure with new characters. Also, I was glad to see several writing mistakes and “hack” no-nos, which made me feel better about missing the few things I did in the first version of my book (the corrected, 2nd edition is soon to be released).
    
Story overview:

Eleven-year-old Nicholas Vargas had his world turned upside down after the death of his mother. Not long after he is forced to welcome a new stepmother and an overly imaginative stepsister (Laurie) of similar age. If that wasn’t bad enough, Laurie takes over his room so that he is forced to share with his older, “surfer” brother.
 
Nick believes that internalizing everything and not bothering anyone is the way to get through life, but he soon finds that ignoring Laurie and her crazy ideas is impossible. After finding a four-leaf clover, Nick soon discovers that he is able to see fantastical creatures and is forced into helping a Nixie called Taloa, who has lost all her sisters.
 
In his journey to find Taloa’s sisters, both him and Laurie discover a giant that has the ability to breathe fire. They learn that three of Taloa’s sisters were killed by the giant. Accidentally leading the beast back to their home,  Taloa is forced to sing to the giant to keep it from killing her and destroying everything else in its path. In the meantime, Nick and Laurie go to a book signing to meet the creators of a book called “Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You,” in hopes of finding an answer to deal with their giant problem (yes, pun intended).   
 
My thoughts:

I enjoyed reading this one. The illustrations are very well done, and the larger font size makes reading this book easier for younger kids. The attitude of Nick (the main character) seems very realistic for a boy of his age. I enjoyed the tensions between characters, their misunderstandings, and the imagination or lack there of.
 
Things to consider:

I would guess this is good for age eight and up. As mentioned, the fonts and illustrations would be appealing to children. Also, there’s really no questionable content that I can think of beyond a few violent scenes.
 
Opportunities for discussion:

You can talk to your children about death, particularly if they have lost a parent like Nick did. Share with them that they are not a bother, but important parts of your life. Another element of discussion is the difference between telling a lie and using imagination, and sometimes doing the right thing may mean displeasing other people. In addition, even though you may not like a person at first, if you give them a chance, they may become a close companion in the end.

tTe Tightning ThiefThis is a story that I saw on Amazon as a recommendation for people who liked Inkheart, so I figured I’d check it out.
 
Written in the first person, there are a few places that are a bit off, but overall it is written quite well. The mix of mythological characters, inside the setting of the modern world, is an original concept as far as I know. At least, how it is done in this book.
 
This is a great story for kids with ADHD and/or other learning disabilities. As having been one of “these kids” myself, I can appreciate Jackson’s messages of encouragement.
 
Story overview:

Twelve-year-old Percy Jackson, a kid struggling with ADHD and dyslexia, is constantly finding himself in trouble and getting kicked out of different schools. But one day, something amazing happens at the school he currently attends; he finds himself using a magical sword to protect himself against one of his teachers, who just so happens to be a Fury in disguise.
 
This doesn’t keep him from getting banned from, yet again, another school, and so he goes back home, accompanied by his friend Grover. Receiving a less than ideal greeting from his stepfather, Gabe, Percy is at least able to go on a camping trip with his beloved mother, Sally Jackson. But the trip goes bad and Percy finds himself trying to escape a minotaur, who destroys their car and injures Grover. And all though Percy ends up killing the beast, it was too late to prevent the mysterious death of his mother.
 
Percy wakes up in a cabin, which is in a special camp for “Half Bloods.” He discovers that his father was a god, and, in order to stop a war between the gods, he ends up going on a quest in search of Zeus’ master bolt, which was supposedly stolen by Hades. Accompanying him are: Grover, his goat-like friend, and Annabeth, the twelve-year-old half-blood daughter of Athena. With only words from an oracle’s prophecy as his guide, Percy faces many adventures before reaching the new Olympus and seeing his father for the first time.
 
My thoughts:

At first, I wasn’t sure about the story, but I kept with it. I was glad I did. By the end I was hooked. I will be reading the next one in the series in the coming months. Oh, and Ares as a biker? Nice touch!
 
Things to consider:

This story covers mythological gods, but it makes a distinction between “god” and “God.” Keep in mind that this is a fictitious telling of old gods in a modern setting, do not take it literal as if it’s trying to say that they are real beings. This book would be good for pre-teens (tweens) +, and for both girls and boys; though more so towards boys. There’s no bad language, sexual situations, or excessive gore, however there is plenty of action violence.
 
Opportunities for discussion:

There are several elements in this story that are good discussion points: Pride, arrogance, manipulation, betrayal, deceit, friendship, and family. Among these are attributes of love between parent and child, loyalty, determination, and honor. I particularly liked how Jackson made the main character’s disabilities a strength. Share with your children how people have different gifts and talents, and just because they struggle with others, it doesn’t mean they are stupid. Also, one of the messages here is that sometimes people need to solve their own problems rather than having others do it for them.