Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Book)

Author: Tom Angleberger. Release date: 2010. Publisher:  Amulet Books. ISBN: 9780810984257.
Plot summary: Sixth-grader Tommy’s friend Dwight is in possession of a strange force known as Origami Yoda. Origami Yoda is a creation of Dwight’s, but seems to have a clairvoyance that is in stark contrast with Dwight’s utter quirkiness. Dwight does things like digging holes just to sit in them for hours before filling them in again. He always says odd things and doesn’t do well in school. But Origami Yoda is different. Although he resides on Dwight’s finger and his voice travels through Dwight, Yoda seems to have all the answers to the students of McQuarrie Middle School. But Tommy has a question for Origami Yoda so important, he can’t leave the answer to chance: does he have a chance with his crush, Sara. Tommy decides to create a case file of all the incidents involving Origami Yoda’s powers. With help from his friends, Kellen and Harvey, the file holds stories from those in the student body who have been impacted by Yoda’s words, whether positively or negatively. Will Tommy trust the wisdom of Origami Yoda enough to know what to do about Sara? Or is Origami Yoda simply another of Dwight’s weird creations?
Review:  The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is an exceptionally entertaining story that, in actuality, is more about tween dynamics than oracles made of paper. Tommy is the primary narrator of the story, though each chapter, or “case,” can take the voice of many different students at McQuarrie Middle School. At the end of each case, Tommy’s cynical friend, Harvey, provides commentary (he believes Origami Yoda to be completely false). Tommy’s friend, Kellen, provides drawings throughout each case that illustrate various characters or Origami Yoda in action. The result of this combination of voices is a laugh-out-loud funny but sometimes touching story about fitting in and being different in middle school. It is clear that Dwight, the creator and voice of Origami Yoda, is far more perceptive than his peers believe him to be. Through his finger puppet, he guides his peers in the right direction, despite the fact that he is constantly ridiculed for being “strange.” The case of Origami Yoda is more the case of Dwight, the school outcast, and how those who are different can make good friends too. Tweens will likely pick up on this message while being entertained by the whacky illustrations and humor.
Genre: Ficton/Humor
Reading level: Grades 4-7
Similar titles:  Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney.  
Personal thoughts:  I really enjoyed this book, possibly more than Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The characters are very likable, and I enjoyed being able to hear from the whole school, rather than experiencing the case of Origami Yoda through one person’s perspective. I look forward to more works from Tom Angleberger.    
Themes: Friendships, dynamics of middle school, being different, following your instincts, psychics/clairvoyance, Star Wars.
Awards/Reviews: Positive review from School Library Journal and Booklist.  
Series Information:  N/A
Character information:
Tommy – The creator of the “case file” of Origami Yoda. He wants to determine Origami Yoda’s authenticity to determine if some advice given by Yoda concerning his crush, Sara, is accurate.
Kellen – Tommy’s friend, and co-contributor to the case file. He likes Rhondella and often seeks Origami Yoda’s advice about how to approach her.
Harvey – Tommy’s friend, and co-contributor to the case file. He is cynical and constantly doubting Origami Yoda’s “abilities.” He eventually constructs his own Origami Yoda to challenge the original.
Dwight – Creator of Origami Yoda. He is considered very strange by the rest of the school, and is often described as a “loser.” He is the voice of Origami Yoda, and wears the puppet on his finger.
Sara – Tommy’s crush, she has had her own experiences with Origami Yoda.
Rhondella – Kellen’s crush, she has had her own experiences with Origami Yoda.
Annotation:  Even if he has proved himself to be clairvoyant, how far can Tommy trust the advice of Origami Yoda? Does Origami Yoda really have the power to make sixth-grade that much easier by shedding light on events to come?   

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Counter Clockwise (Book)

Author: Jason Cockcroft. Release date: 2009. Publisher:  HarperCollins Children’s Books. ISBN: 9780061255540.
Plot summary: Nathan Cobbe’s life changed forever the day his mother was tragically killed in a bus accident. Now he lives with his father, Henry, in a dingy apartment in a run-down project slated to be demolished at anytime. Nathan’s life is humdrum: he attends school but doesn’t really pay attention, his father is making him take physics review at a local community college to prepare for exams, and his only friend, Moll, can’t seem to get through to him. One night, however, during his physics review, Nathan meets someone that takes him on a strange adventure through time: an enormous Beefeater named Bartleby who seems to know quite a bit about Nathan’s life. It seems that Henry is inadvertently travelling through time, trying to stop Nathan’s mother from getting hit by the bus that ended her life. What Nathan learns, however, is that some things in life, and time, are meant to happen, and that changing them can alter the world in unimaginable ways. With Bartleby’s help, Nathan must stop his father from setting time spinning by changing the past, before it’s too late.
Review:  This unique story is British author Jason Cockcroft’s first novel, and provides an interesting and cerebral read for tweens that will get them thinking about topics they might not be familiar with. American readers will likely have to familiarize themselves with certain important terms Cockcroft uses to advance the plot, like Beefeater, another name for the Yeomen Warders who guard the tower of London, and Routemasters, or red double-decker buses. Once the British vocabulary is understood, the story is very gripping. Nathan’s adventures through time are not as exciting or magical as other literary time-travellers. His father is trying, inadvertently, to stop the tragic events that cause the death of Nathan’s mother. Nathan is torn between his desire to set time on the right course and his own grief at the loss of his mother. The relationship between Nathan and his father Henry extends far below the surface interactions that are common in other novels for tweens, giving young readers a chance to truly think about how father and son might bond after the loss of a mother and wife. The character of Bartleby the Beefeater is akin to a large, eccentric and mischievous Fairy Godmother. At first, the reader isn’t sure what to make of him, but as the story progresses, he becomes quite likable. Overall, Counter Clockwise is an unusual story that will appeal to tweens of both genders and of varying degrees of interest in the science fiction genre.
Genre: Science-fiction/Adventure
Reading level: Grade 5+
Similar titles:  100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson, Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo.
Personal thoughts:  This was a very interesting read, and I was surprised by the depth of the emotions evoked from the story. I learned some new tidbits about British culture and enjoyed Cockcroft’s writing style. I look forward to more works from this new author.   
Themes: Time-travel, grief, death, father and son relationships.
Awards/Reviews: Positive review from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist.  
Series Information:  N/A
Character information:
Nathan Cobbe – Teenager whose mother was killed one year before in a tragic bus accident. He lives with his father in a rundown project and has a very sad existence. His life changes forever when he meets Bartleby and begins his adventure through time.
Henry Cobbe – Nathan’s father. He is a neurotic and paranoid man, but tries his best to be a good father to Nathan. He is distraught over the loss of Nathan’s mother, and begins to inadvertently travel through time to try to save her.
Bartleby Cobbe – Beefeater and time-traveller who is revealed to be Nathan’s grandfather. He begins Nathan on his journey through time to stop Henry from altering the past.
Moll – Nathan’s best friend at school. She tries to get through to Nathan, but he is resistant to getting close.
Mr. Hernandez – Nathan’s physics teacher.
Annotation:  If you could go back in time and right a wrong, would you do it? And if you did, would it be the right thing to do?  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Karma Bites (Book)

Authors: Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas. Release date: 2010. Publisher:  Sandpiper. ISBN: 9780547363011.
Plot summary: Franny Flanders is about to begin 7th grade and the worst thing has happened: in an effort to “go blonde,” Franny’s hair has accidentally been died orange by her best friend. Whoops! Luckily, Franny’s Granny is able to reverse the damage using a mysterious oily mixture. Franny appreciates Granny’s efforts, but things turn weird when Franny spends the first day of 7th grade speaking her mind: something no middle schooler in the precarious position of “clique border crosser” should do. Franny questions her Granny and discovers the truth: the hair reversal mixture was a recipe from a magical Hindu box Granny received from a mysterious monk in Bhutan. As Franny learns more about the powers of the box, she decides to use more magical recipes to fix things in her life. First, she must reunite her two best friends, Kate and Joey. The three were inseparable in elementary school, but middle school caused Kate to become the leader of the “beeks,” the band-geek clique, and Joey to emerge as head of the “poms” and “peaks,” the school’s popular cheerleaders. After she fixes her social life, Franny takes on more challenges: getting her evil English teacher to chill-out, fixing the school’s cafeteria food, and ridding her father of his pesky new girlfriend in an effort to reunite her newly divorced parents. But how far can magic go to correct everything that is wrong in Franny’s world? Franny is about to discover that you can’t mess around with the universe, and that karma really bites.
Review:  Chock full of current language, pop-culture references, and humor, Karma Bites is the perfect “fun-read” for the tween girl of 2011. Franny is a very likable character, and the fact that she’s flawed makes her very relatable. Her adventures answer the question of what would happen if magic could fix all the wrongs of middle school. Tucked into Franny’s dealings with Hindu boxes, magical recipes, and hippie Grannies, however, is a valuable message: Franny eventually learns that she holds the power to making her life good, even if it’s not perfect. Authors Kramer and Thomas use their literary prowess to make the narrative sound as it’s coming from the mouth of a 12-year-old girl. Franny frequently uses fun phrases like “flip me out” to react to different situations. The writing style will hold definite appeal to readers. Apart from the entertaining aspects of the novel, Franny does deal with some serious issues that many tweens experience. Her parents are recently divorced and her grandmother has moved in to help her mother take care of her and her little brothers. Franny is clearly upset about the separation, and believes that her mother and father will get back together. She must also contend with the cutthroat social politics of middle school. Elodie, her school’s “mean girl,” is a vicious bully who enforces a rigid caste system dividing the student body into their rightful place. Her best friends, Joey and Kate, are now enemies and focus on who Franny spends more time with, rather than on Franny’s well-being. Tweens will be able to relate with these challenges on a very real level, despite the presence of magic. Overall, Karma Bites is an effervescent book that young readers are sure to enjoy.
Genre: Fiction/Humor
Reading level: Grades 4-8
Similar titles:  None
Personal thoughts:  Although it is somewhat “light” fare, I really enjoy Karma Bites and would recommend it to tween girls as a fun read. I was impressed from the start with the authors’ writing style. It’s often difficult for adults to write in “tween” language without sounding corny or like they’re trying too hard. Kramer and Thomas pulled it off perfectly, creating a entertaining narrative that tweens will enjoy. I will definitely keep an eye out for my titles from this duo.  
Themes: Magic, karma, social aspects of middle school, divorce, bullying, cliques.   
Awards/Reviews: Positive review from School Library Journal  and .
Series Information:  N/A
Character information:
Franny Flanders – Witty and clever 7th grader who seeks to use her Grandma’s magic Hindu box to right all the wrongs in her life. She struggles to cope with her parents’ divorce, the animosity between her two best friends, and with Elodie, the school bully.
Mathilda “Granny” – Franny’s whimsical, new-age grandmother. At first distant from Franny, the pair become close as she helps Franny navigate life in middle school.
Joey– One of Franny’s best friends. She is the leader of the cheerleading squad at her school, known as the “poms,” and is a member of the “peaks, the popular group.
Kate – Franny’s other best friend. She is the leader of the “beeks,” the band geeks, and is also the drum major for the marching band.
Elodie – The most powerful popular girl in Franny’s school. She refers to herself as “La Principessa,” and rules the cliques with an iron fist. She is a cruel bully, but is friends with Joey and tolerates Franny.
Alden –Franny’s friend and crush from art class.
Naomi – Franny’s father’s new girlfriend. She is beautiful and kind, but Franny believes she stands in the way of her parents reuniting.
Marsha Whalley – The school outcast. Franny sympathizes with her and tries to give her more self confidence.
Annotation:  Wouldn’t it be nice if you could fix everything that’s wrong with middle school like magic? Wrong! Franny is about to discover that when you mess with the universe, karma can really come back to bite you.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Benjamin Franklinstein Lives! (Book)

Author: Matthew McElligott and Larry Tuxbury. Release date: 2010. Publisher:  G.P. Putnam Son’s. ISBN: 9780399252297.
Plot summary: Middle-school student, Victor Godwin is an inventor, scientist and straight-A student. He spends hours upon hours perfecting his science fair project through thorough investigation and testing. Victor believes that everything should be planned or tested properly before it is begun; he never does anything on the fly. Victor’s perfect scientific world is thrown for a loop, however, when the body of Benjamin Franklin, held in a hibernating state for over 200 years in his basement, is awoken by a mysterious thunderstorm. Ben must feed on electricity to stay awake, but Victor soon discovers that too much turns Ben into a maniacally hungry monster. Ben assures Victor that he has been awoken for some higher purpose related to an underground organization known as the Modern Order of Prometheus, but the pair are unable to determine just what that purpose is. In the meantime, Ben uses his scientific skills to help Victor ensure a victory at the science fair. But why has Benjamin Franklin been awoken? Will Victor ever learn the truth?
Review:  This unique, clever and often hilarious novel is Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets Frankenstein. Victor is an uptight middle-school student who spends his days calculating and testing his various scientific theories. He appears to be very rigid and lacking in spontaneity. Mention is made of his parents getting a divorce, and older readers might pick up on Victor’s constant “tests” as a way to maintain control over his life resulting from his family splitting apart. Benjamin Franklin is an unusual father-figure for Victor to idolize, but that is precisely what ends up happening. Ben encourages Victor to step outside of his comfort zone, helping him to break out of his shell. Apart from these more sophisticated undertones, younger readers will enjoy the novel for its humor and excitement. Many pages are accompanied by illustrations or diagrams of various scientific projects or machinery Victor encounters. Some of these drawings actually serve an educational purpose, while others simply enhance the story. Overall, ‘tweens, especially boys, will enjoy this silly “horror” novel with a deeper message.
Genre: Fiction/Horror/Humor
Reading level: Grades 4-6
Similar titles:  Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney.
Personal thoughts:  I really enjoyed this clever, quick read. Benjamin Franklinstein is a very lovable “monster” and Victor is an interesting protagonist as well. I appreciated the novel’s undertones of self-confidence and dealing with broken families as well. Upon finishing the story, I was excited to learn it is the first in an upcoming series. I look forward to seeing how the series fares.
Themes: Science, historical figures, horror.  
Awards/Reviews: Positive review from School Library Journal and Booklist.
Series Information:  First novel in Benjamin Franklinstein series.
Character information:
Victor Godwin – An uptight middle-school student who spends most of his time working on his science fair project and testing various inventions. He meets and befriends Benjamin Franklinstein after he is awoken in Victor’s basement.
Benjamin Franklin – A “Frankenstein” type monster version of the famous historical figure who, having slept in a state of suspended animation for over 200 years, is awoken in Victor’s basement. Believes he has been awoken by the Modern Order of Prometheus to serve a higher purpose.
Scott Weaver – Victor’s best friend. Hopes to create a potato battery for the science fair.
Annotation:  Victor Godwin’s life is forever changed when Benjamin Franklin, who has been in a state of hibernation for over 200 years, is suddenly awoken from his electric chamber in Victor’s basement!

Monday, March 7, 2011

I Am Number Four (Film)

Release date: 2011. Performers: Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Callan McAuliffe, Kevin Durand. Studio: DreamWorks. Director: D.J. Caruso. Screenplay: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Narti Noxon. Based on novel I Am Number Four (2010) by Jobie Hughes and James Frey.

Plot summary: Number Four, an alien refugee from the planet Lorien, is living on Earth with his guardian, Henri. The two are constantly on the run from the evil Mogadorians, a monstrous race of aliens who destroyed their home planet and will not stop until those who fled are killed. When Number Four develops a painful scar on his leg, he knows that Number Three has been killed by the Mogadorians. Since the nine children who fled Lorien have to be killed in order, he knows he’s next. Henri and Number Four move to Paradise, Ohio, where Number Four becomes John Smith. John begins high school where he meets Sam, a nerdy outcast who is constantly bullied, and Sarah, an intriguing photographer. Henri warns John not to get too close to any of his classmates, but, as John and Sarah develop a romantic relationship, John is unsure if he can spend the rest of his life on the run.

Review:  This highly anticipated movie adaptation of best-selling novel I Am Number Four (2010) is visually thrilling and contains some exciting moments, but ultimately falls short of its potential. The novel is quite lengthy (448 pages), and provides a detailed look into the lives of Number Four, Henri and the history of their planet, Lorien. The movie, however, barely scratches the surface of the backstory of the Lorien refugees, introducing plot elements and objects with no explanation to their meaning. In doing so, the richness of the novel does not make it into the movie version, leaving only a typical action-film full of visual effects. Some ‘tweens will undoubtedly enjoy the movie, with heartthrobs Alex Pettyfer and Teresa Palmer and Glee cast member Dianna Agron lighting up the screen with their beauty. But those young viewers searching for substance will be left wanting more and, hopefully, turning to the novel to fill in the gaps.

Genre: Action/Science Fiction/Romance

Interest age: MPAA PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action and language. Most likely will appeal to ages 10 and up.

Similar titles:  Twilight (2008), New Moon (2009), Eclipse (2010), Jumper (2008).

Personal thoughts:  As a fan of the novel, I was really looking forward to the movie version of I Am Number Four. Unfortunately, I was fairly disappointed with the result. The movie was not a terrible adaptation (i.e. the film version of The Golden Compass), but many plot elements from the novel were unnecessarily omitted. The back-story of how Henri and Number Four came to be living on Earth was a very important part of the novel, but was completely left out of the movie. For those who hadn’t read the book, much of the story would have been quite confusing. The movie also played up the character of Number Six, who only appeared in the last few chapters of the novel, no doubt to highlight beautiful actress, Teresa Palmer. Although I’m sure many ‘tweens would enjoy this film, I would not recommend it as a faithful adaptation of the novel.

Themes: Aliens, constant moving, romance, danger.  

Awards/Reviews: Positive reviews from Arizona Republic, Los Angeles Times, Variety and Boston Globe. Based on best-selling novel.

Series Information:  Second novel, The Power of Six, to be released in 2011. Movie version to follow.

Character information:

Number Four/John Smith – Seventeen-year-old alien from the planet Lorien. He has spent his life with his guardian, Henri, on the run from an evil race of aliens, the Mogadorians. Moves to Paradise, Ohio where he falls in love with classmate, Sarah.

Henri – Number Four’s guardian. He constantly urges Number Four to keep a low profile and protect his true identity.

Sarah – Seventeen-year-old high school senior. Loves photography, and is constantly hounded by ex-boyfriend, Mark. Falls in love with Number Four after they meet in high school.

Sam – High school student who is constantly bullied for being “nerdy.” Befriends Number Four.
Number Six – Seventeen-year-old alien from the planet Lorien. Her guardian was killed and she is searching for Number Four, believing that uniting will make them more powerful to fight the Mogadorians.

Mark – High school bully and ex-boyfriend of Sarah. He pulls several pranks on Number Four and is jealous of his relationship with Sarah.

Annotation: He has spent his life on the run from the aliens who destroyed his home planet. But how long can Number Four keep his true identity a secret after he falls in love?

After the Fire (Book)

Author: Becky Citra. Release date: 2010. Publisher:  Orca Book Publishers. ISBN: 9781554692460.

Plot summary: Eleven-year-old Melissa lives with her mother, Sharlene, and her four-year-old brother, Cody, in a cramped apartment. Melissa doesn’t trust Sharlene, a recovering alcoholic, and is haunted by memories of a terrible fire that destroyed the trailer her family shared with Sharlene’s former live-in boyfriend, Darren. When a family friend offers Sharlene a lakeshore cabin to stay in for the summer, Melissa  is skeptical. Sharlene, Melissa and Cody travel to the remote location; Melissa is annoyed by her mother’s enthusiasm for the woods, the cabin, and the canoe she assures Melissa she will love paddling around the lake. Shortly after arriving, Melissa meets Alice, a girl her age, while exploring the island in the middle of the lake. Alice seems strange, but Melissa finds the fantasy world she creates to be interesting. As she spends more time with her mother and makes her first true friend in Alice, Melissa learns that holding onto her anger might not be worth the effort. And, as she learns more about Alice, Melissa wonders if perfect families exist only in fairy tales.

Review:  This surprisingly poignant novel provides an utterly realistic look into the life of a girl who, through tragedy and hardship, lost the innocence of childhood too early. The fragile relationship between Melissa and her mother, Sharlene, is at times heartbreaking. Sharlene desperately tries to make up for past wrongs, and Melissa resists her at every turn. Their time at Flycatcher Lake, despite Melissa’s annoyance at having to spend her summer in a remote cabin, proves to be a therapeutic experience that brings the little family closer together. The character of Alice is also quite interesting. It is clear from the beginning that something is not quite right with the unusual girl. The descriptions of her family appear too perfect, and Melissa catches her in some lies early in their relationship. When Melissa discovers that Alice’s life is even less ideal than her own, it presents a lesson not only for her, but for the reader, that the “grass is always greener” notion, in reality, never pans out. This is just one of the reasons why After the Fire is a wonderful novel for young readers. Although it covers some sophisticated topics, alcoholism, neglect, death, Citra does an excellent job of making the story appropriate for younger readers. A very thought-provoking book for ‘tweens.

Genre: Fiction/Drama

Reading level: Grades 5-8

Similar titles:  N/A

Personal thoughts:  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this novel. Melissa is an extremely realistic and honest main character, especially for a story written for ‘tweens. Her anger at her mother, Sharlene, is very real, and many readers will, unfortunately, be able to identify with the situations Melissa experiences. After the Fire touches on some very advanced topics, but does so in a way that makes them appropriate for young readers. The novel definitely creates some talking points between parents/teachers and ‘tweens about alcoholism, neglect, death and family relationships. I would recommend this novel for readers interested in a realistic story.  

Themes: Family relationships, neglect, truth vs. fantasy, anger.

Awards/Reviews: Positive review from VOYA and Booklist.

Series Information:  None

Character information:

Melissa – Eleven-years-old. Lives with her mother, Sharlene, and her brother, Cody. Is haunted by memories of a fire that destroyed her family’s trailer and left her with some scarring on her hand. Is angry with her mother for her history of alcoholism and neglect.

Alice – Eleven-years-old. Lives in a cabin with her family at Flycatcher Lake. Befriends Melissa, and tells her about the fantasy story she is writing.

Sharlene – Melissa and Cody’s mother. A recovering alcoholic, she is trying to repair her damaged relationship with her children.

Cody – Four-years-old. Melissa’s little brother and Sharlene’s son. He is not very trusting of his mother, and relies on Melissa to comfort him.

Annotation: Haunted by memories of the fire that destroyed her family’s trailer, Melissa’s life is changed forever when her mother, a recovering alcoholic, takes her and her brother, Cody, to stay at a remote, lakeside cabin for the summer.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Baby-sitting is a Dangerous Job (Book)

Author: Willo Davis Roberts. Release date: 1985. Publisher:  Ballantine Books. ISBN: 9780449701775.
Plot summary: Thirteen-year-old Darcy Stevens is an experienced baby-sitter, but isn’t sure she’s experienced enough to handle the three Foster children. Although they live in a beautiful mansion, the Foster kids are anything but ideal: they don’t listen, they play tricks, and they let Darcy know right away that they don’t like her. Darcy is determined to baby-sit for them since their parents, a doctor and a bank president, pay her twice her normal rate. One afternoon, however, Darcy and the kids experience something so terrifying that they will have to rely on each other to survive: they are kidnapped. Their kidnappers take them to a remote house where they are guarded by two vicious Dobermans. The men tell Darcy and the Foster kids that they will be set free once their parents fork over a hefty ransom, but Darcy isn’t so sure. Can Darcy devise a plan to escape, saving herself and the children?
Review:  This exciting novel, though somewhat out-dated for today’s cell-phone generation, is still full of enough suspense to appeal to ‘tween readers. Darcy Stevens is a very likeable heroine. She wants the Foster children to like her, but is not very confident if she is old enough o handle watching three kids alone in a big mansion. When she and the children are kidnapped, she doesn’t panic, but stays focused on keeping them safe and finding a way to escape. The author does an excellent job of making the kidnappers just mean enough to get the point across, without venturing too far into “scary” territory. Nothing violent or upsetting happens to Darcy and the children beyond them being kidnapped and held captive. This is an important point to make in that the premise of the story could actually be quite terrifying for young readers if not presented properly. Roberts creates just enough suspense to make the story very interesting and difficult to put down. Overall, ‘tweens will enjoy this exciting novel.  
Genre: Fiction/Suspense
Reading level: Grades 4-8
Similar titles:  The Kidnappers: A Mystery and Hostage by Willo Davis Roberts.
Personal thoughts:  This was one of my absolute favorite books as a ‘tween, and I was delighted to get the chance to read it again as an adult. I remember finding it thoroughly engrossing, exciting and suspenseful when I first read it, despite my typical childhood fear of being kidnapped. I was impressed by Willo Davis Roberts’ ability to tell a story with a frightening plot but make it appropriate for younger readers. Although it is out-dated for this current generation (many of whom would undoubtedly think, “Why didn’t Darcy have a cell phone?”), I still find Baby-sitting is a Dangerous Job to be a fun read for ‘tweens.  I was also saddened upon reading this novel to learn that Willo Davis Roberts passed away in 2004 at the age of 76, but know that her novels will continue to excite young readers for years to come.
Themes: Kidnapping, bravery, bonding experiences, child-abuse, running away, baby-sitting.
Awards/Reviews: Positive review from Publishers Weekly. Award-winning author.
Series Information:  None
Character information:
Darcy Stevens – Thirteen-year-old girl who gets a job baby-sitting for the Foster children. She is unsure of her ability to care for the kids, but her courage and tenacity come to light after she and the children are kidnapped.
Jeremy Foster – Six-years-old and oldest of the Foster children. He is mean to Darcy when they first meet, but becomes attached to her and helps her plan their escape after they are kidnapped.
Melissa Foster – Four-years-old and second oldest of the Foster children. She is not as mean as her brother, but plays some tricks on Darcy when they first meet. She becomes attached to Darcy after they are kidnapped.
Shana Foster – Two-years-old and youngest of the Foster children. She is very sweet, and charms the guard dogs into liking the children after they are kidnapped.
Dan Hazen – One of Darcy and the Foster’s kidnappers. He is not very smart, but is the kindest to the children.
Henry Hazen – Another kidnapper. He is not very kind to the children and does most of the work to get the ransom money for the children.
Pa Hazen – The ringleader of the kidnappers. He is very cruel and abusive.
Tim Stevens – Darcy’s older brother who she looks up to. He is very knowledgeable and kind to his sister.
Irene Pappagoras – Darcy’s best-friend. She is in love with Darcy’s older brother, Tim.
Diana Hazen – A friend of Darcy and Irene’s, and daughter of Pa Hazen. She has run away from home to escape her abusive father. Darcy and Irene help her hide out.
Annotation: Thirteen-year-old Darcy Stevens thought she had her work cut out for her when she took the job baby-sitting the three Foster children. Little did she know that she would have to keep herself and the children safe after they are kidnapped!