Posts Tagged ‘Children’s stories’

Ghosthunters And The Incredibly Revolting GhostPublished in 2006, Ghosthunters And The Incredibly Revolting Ghost is the first of a four book series by Cornelia Funke. For those of you not aware, this is the same author who wrote the Inkheart Trilogy, The Thief Lord, and Igraine The Brave (all formerly reviewed on this site).

Story overview:

Nine year old Tom lives in an apartment complex. A new resident recently moves in, but unlike the typical occupant who rents an apartment, this one is a ghost (named Hugo) who haunts the cellar. At first Tom is scared away, but his Grandmother’s friend, Hetty Hyssop, tells him that the ghost is just an ASG (Averagely Scary Ghost)—which is mostly harmless.

When Tom confronts Hugo, he finds that the ghost was chased out of his former home by an IRG (Incredibly Revolting Ghost). Thankfully for both Tom and Hugo, Hetty Hyssop is an expert ghost hunter.

After collecting supplies, the three of them set out to chase away the IRG so that Hugo can have his home back. Once they arrive at the old house, Hetty Hyssop quickly discovers that this IRG is the most powerful one she’s ever dealt with.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed the lightheartedness of this story. Funke creatively uses objects to fight against ghosts, such as eggs, graveyard dirt, and mirrors. Keep in mind that unlike her other works [mentioned above], this one is geared to a slightly younger audience.

Things to consider:

There’s no inappropriate language, violence, or sexual situations. However, if taken in the wrong light, situations such as the IRG removing its head might come across as slightly disturbing to some children. Overall I’d say this is a safe read and one good for children ages seven to preteens.

Opportunities for discussion:

Some Christians get overly protective whenever a story contains ghosts. Please remember that this is a work of fiction, and not meant to be taken literally. Explain to your children what the Bible says about ghosts (which, if memory serves, isn’t much, if anything at all), and ask them if they believe ghosts are real. Explain to them your beliefs on the topic, but be careful not to put them down if they say something you don’t agree with.

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From the author of Anne Droyd and Century Lodge comes the next book in the series, The House of Shadows. Will Hadcroft is probably best known for his The Feeling’s Unmutual non-fiction story, which overviews his challenges of growing up with Asperger Syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder, which usually results in difficulty interacting socially, repeat behaviors, and clumsiness).

The first Anne Droyd book was written in mind of children that suffer with similar symptoms. However, the story is not limited to this group by any means. It is a tale of a robot designed to have the appearance of a young girl, thus, an android. She comes across three children who end up adopting her in an attempt to help her understand what it is to become human. You see, she possesses some biological properties that make up her brain, and it is the children’s responsibility to awaken them.

Story overview:

Gezz, Luke, Malcolm (Malc), and Anne are on winter break in the coastal town of Whitby. Gezz’s parents—who are the chaperones—are not known for their wealth, and so the group ends up staying at a low-cost Bed and Breakfast. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that this place—and the family running it—are more than a bit odd.

The only semi-normal member of the Stevenson family is a girl named Sophie, who happens to be around the same age as the rest of the children. Malcolm takes an instant liking to the girl, and the others accept her into their group without any quibbles. Only, there is one thing. They promised to keep Anne’s secret safe. What secret? That she’s an Android. Sophie realizes there is something different about Anne and she is determined to find out what the other children are hiding.

But that’s not all. Sophie’s family has a few secrets of their own. Strange comings and goings of people in the night have all the children on a mission to uncover what is going on. It isn’t until they come across the frightful figure of a man, with the characteristics of a best, that they realize this isn’t the kind of vacation they were expecting.

My thoughts:

For some reason—which I can’t put my finger on—Anne leaves a lasting impression on one’s memory. The idea of a robot trying to figure out what it is be become human is not a new idea (can anyone say, Data?), but Hadcroft does this in a unique way. The behaviors of Anne Droyd are believable, as well as the personalities of the children who take care of her. In The House of Shadows, I found myself enjoying the side stories, such as the boating incident and the counterfeit money. But the ongoing plot as a whole also does not disappoint and comes out with a satisfying end. Overall a fitting sequel in the Anne Droyd saga. Here’s looking forward to the completion of Anne Droyd and the Ghosts of Winter Hill.

Things to consider

There is nothing questionable that I could detect in this story. I would age rate this for children ages twelve and older (tweens plus). It is important to note that this is a British written novel, which has not been converted over to an American audience. There were a few phrases, slang, and descriptions that confused me. Such as “Oh, you’d better take your coats. It’s still quite cold in the evenings and you’ll have to queue up on the pavement. There’s always quite a queue.” It took me awhile to realize what “queue up on the pavement” meant. There are also some punctuation differences such as single quotes instead of doubles and the placement of things like periods. Still, this does not affect the overall clarity of the story as a whole.

Opportunities for discussion:

There is a theme of addiction in this story. Not only Malcolm’s alcoholic parents, but Sophie’s family who tried to continue her grandfather’s experiments to prevent illness. Even though the experiments destroyed her grandfather’s immune system and ultimately lead to his death, Sophie’s mom wanted to use the mixture of chemicals to eliminate her negative moods. As you know from reading the story, this had negative consequences. Not only to the mother, but to Sophie. Unfortunately, children are often the victims in cases of addiction. Read the sequence on page 192/193 and ask your child to think about how Sophie is feeling. Warn them of the negative consequences of addiction and how they not only hurt themselves, but the ones they love too.

The Thief LordI decided to give this one a try because it was written by an author I have come to like. At first, I assumed it would be just another Fantasy story along the lines of Inkheart and Igraine The Brave, but I was surprised to find how few fantasy elements it had. In fact, it wasn’t until further along in the book that I discovered the fantastical properties. It is nice to see writers who are able to pull off more than one format.

I believe there is also a movie version of this story, but I have not seen it, so keep that in mind when reading this review; the two may be quite different.

Story overview:

After the death of their mother, 12-year-old Prosper and 5-year-old Bo run away to Italy; the place their mother had told them was magical. Shortly after they arrive, it becomes clear to them that there is little magical about it. They meet a group of street kids who survive by stealing from tourists, overseen by  a 13-year-old boy who goes by the name of The Thief Lord.

Prosper and Bo’s aunt hire a private detective named Victor Getz to track down the two boys. At first, you might think that she misses them, but ultimately her plan is to put Prosper in an orphanage and keep Bo like a little toy puppy. This is the reason they ran away in the first place. Unbeknownst to their aunt, Victor turns out to be a nice man who helps the children in more ways than one.

When an old man gives The Thief Lord a special job, things begin to change. The task is to find the missing wing to a supposed magical Merry-Go-Round. The legend is that anyone who rides it can become either younger or older. When things go wrong, Bo finds himself captured by his aunt, The Thief Lord’s true identity becomes known (getting him ostracized by everyone), and the money they receive from the job turns out to be fake. Yet Prosper and The Thief Lord team up to complete the task so that they can ride the Merry-Go-Round and become adults who are in charge of their own lives. Their only hope is that the legend is true.

My thoughts:

I liked this one. I didn’t love it, but it was pretty good. The story definitely got more exciting about three-quarters of the way though. The characters were believable, the landscape and settings well described, and the situations fun to watch unfold (that is, in my mind’s eye). I would recommend it both to those who liked Cornelia Funke’s other books, and those who have never read anything by her before; the story stands strong on its own.

Things to consider:

Barnes & Noble lists this for ages 9 to 12. I agree with that, however I would expand the age group to include teens and adults. There are no sexual situations, coarse language, or extreme violence. Overall, a pretty clean tale.

Opportunities for discussion:

As the title indicates, theft is one of the central topics. As the reader, we are shown why the children stole: mainly to survive. However, most children are not under these extreme circumstances and should never have a reason to steal. Ask your children if they ever stole anything. If they are honest, they will probably say they did. Then ask them how it made them feel. Wait and listen. From there talk to them about using their desire to acquire things in a positive way rather than a negative one: such as doing chores around the house, waiting for Christmas, or mowing the neighbor’s lawn. You can also talk to them about contentment and the fruitless endeavors of obsessing over ‘things.’ It is important to instill these ideals into children no matter what age they are; it will greatly aid them in their adult life.

Igraine the BraveI checked out this book because I enjoyed the Inkworld/Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke.

Here are my past reviews of the trilogy:
1) Inkheart (Inkheart Trilogy, Book 1)
2) Inkspell (Inkheart Trilogy, Book 2)
3) Inkdeath (Inkheart Trilogy, Book 3)

Story overview:

Soon to be twelve years old, Igraine eagerly awaits her birthday present. Even though she insists on being a knight, she doesn’t hesitate to accept gifts made from magic. Her mother, father, and brother worked on her gift with the help of some special magical books.

During the process, Igraine’s parents were accidentally turned into pigs. This wouldn’t be so bad except that (1) they could not use magic in pig form, (2) they needed giant’s hair in order to be turned back, and (3) their old castle suddenly fell under siege by a man named Osmond who took over the castle next-door. Osmond’s desire was to capture the magical books and become the most powerful wizard in the world.

Igraine goes on a quest to find giant hairs while her brother stays back at the castle to fend off the intruders (with the aid of the magic books and the castle’s defenses.) On her journey, Igraine comes in contact with the Sorrowful Knight of the Mount of Tears, and the two travel back to hopefully save the day.

My thoughts:

To be honest, after I started to read Igraine The Brave, I ended up putting it down and letting it sit on the pile for awhile. Why? Because the beginning forced a lot of explanatory narrative onto the reader, which in my opinion, is completely unnecessary. But once I got past that part, it didn’t take long for me to appreciate the story (I recommend starting with Chapter 1 and then going back to the preface once you have finished the book.) Wonderfully designed characters (especially the cat, Sisyphus,) a neatly designed fantasy world, fun personalities, great situations of tension, and the story is creatively magical. It is also easy to read and the writing style is of good quality. A great book for lovers of fairy tales.

Things to consider:

Great for girls and boys; ages nine to twelve (and younger if you read it to them.) No questionable content in the form of sexual situations, foul language, or dark themes. Even the violent scenes are quite tame. The one thing that may be considered disturbing to some children is when the knights get turned into fish and the cat has them for a light snack. Honestly, this is funny, but some children might take it seriously. Overall a great family book that is bound to become a favorite during story time.

Opportunities for discussion:

Part of the fun of this book is that it is not overly serious. However, in all stories, there is at least one good opportunity for discussion. One thing that stood out to me is the honor code of a knight. Ask your children to tell you the difference between the Sorrowful Knight and the Heartless Knight, and which they would rather be.

The Cat That Made Nothing Something AgainGenerally, I think it is of poor taste for an author to do a review of his/her own story.  But a recent article was written about my book in the “Minnesota Christian Chronicle,” and as great as that is, they removed the mention of where my book is available for purchase. That and they misspelled my name (James Mason not Maxon) in one instance.

Thankfully they mentioned this blog, booksforyouth.com, therefore, motivations of self grandeur aside, I’m adding this post to make it easier for anyone who is genuinely interested in finding out where to purchase a copy.

It can be purchased on Amazon.com at this link for $6.99 .

Below are some excerpts from the article:

“Since the 1990s, American children have been growing up in a wired world. By the time they enter Kindergarten many kids already know how to use a mouse to navigate through menus on a computer. Not to mention they are proficient at playing videogames, downloading music and even sending text messages.

While these are skills children will eventually need to learn, Dr. David Walsh, president and founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family, says parents need to make sure exposure to technology doesn’t replace brain building activities like reading, imaginative play and storytelling during a child’s preschool days.

James Maxon, 31, of Maple Grove, Minn., has witnessed the effects overexposure to technology has on children first hand. While watching his wife’s Godson grow from a child to a teenager he noticed how little imaginative play the boy engaged in.

Realizing that children have so many activities that are easier to do than reading vying for their attention these days, Maxon says he purposely made the book [The Cat That Made Nothing Something Again] easy-to-read with short chapters that are designed to help children stay interested. ‘They need to be able to pick up a book, knowing that if they only read for a few minutes they will be able to easily put it down without feeling like they never got anywhere.'”

Click here for the full article.

Here is a quick synopsis:

The Cat that Made Nothing Something Again, published in Dec. 2008, is a whimsical tale about a nameless cat that is bored in a land of dry everything – people, trees and land. He remembers a time when the landscape was green, flowers bloomed and people cared about him and each other. He wants to experience the joy he remembers so well again, so he sets out on a journey to figure out who sucked the moisture from his world and get it back.

Along the way he meets some colorful characters, including a wise old turtle, a seemingly sinister troll, a smart little bird, an overwhelmed mayor and a simple seed who remind him how important it is for people to do what’s right and take care of each other. Other Christian-themed messages delivered in the book: if you know something is wrong you must do what you can to make it right; don’t worry about that which you cannot change; it is better to serve than to be served; and faith is an important tool for getting through difficult times.

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.