Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Nightmarys (Book)

Author: Dan Poblocki. Release date: 2010. Publisher:  Random House Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780375842566.
Plot summary: Seventh-grader Timothy July has been plagued by nightmares ever since his brother was wounded while serving in Iraq. These nightmares are terrifying and keep Timothy awake for hours. During the day, he sometimes finds himself imagining horrifying things while he’s awake. To make matters worse, Timothy isn’t sure what to think when he gets partnered with strange and quiet new girl Abigail for a field trip to the local museum. His best friend, Stuart Chen, is his usual partner, and is angry that Timothy unwittingly volunteered to team up with Abigail. Things get even more odd while the class is at the museum. Abigail seems nice, but Timothy can sense something different about her. When the two venture into the museum basement, the horrifying images from Timothy’s nightmares converge upon him, causing him to panic. When he confesses what is happening to Abigail, she tells him that she has also been plagued with terrifying nightmares. It seems that a curse has been placed on people connected with Abigail that is causing the things from their nightmares to torment them even after they wake up. Can Timothy and Abigail determine the origin of the curse and stop it before the terror consumes them?
Review:  This truly frightening tale from Dan Poblocki is full of twists, turns, mystery and, above all, scares that will delight brave tween readers. Almost from the first pages of the novel, the reader develops a sense of dread at the horrifying images that seem to be haunting the characters. At the center of the waking nightmares is a mysterious man in an overcoat and hat. Timothy begins to experience these terrors as well, and is determined to fight them, with the help of his new friend Abigail. As the primary protagonists, Timothy and Abigail are very likeable. Timothy is kind to the new girl who everyone else makes fun of, and is also brave in his resolve to overcome whatever is cursing him and his friends. The story contains many different plot lines that converge in the nail-biting finale. Overall, The Nightmarys is an entertaining and terrifying adventure that tweens are sure to enjoy.
Genre: Fiction/Horror
Reading level: Grades 6-10
Similar titles:  The Stone Child by Dan Poblocki, The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hahn.
Personal thoughts:  If I’m being completely honest, this book terrified me. As I was reading it, I kept having to remind myself that it is a young adult novel, and therefore not “worthy” of making my eyes dart around and covering my head with the blanket at night. I admire Poblocki’s ability to create a sense of absolute horror with no gore or violence. The idea of the waking nightmare is quite scary, and I would only recommend this book to brave readers. Younger tweens are likely to have nightmares themselves after reading this story.  I know I did.
Themes: Nightmares, curses, mystery, horror.   
Awards/Reviews: Positive review from School Library Journal and Booklist.
Series Information:  N/A
Character information:
Timothy July – Seventh-grader who has been experiencing terrifying nightmares ever since his brother was wounded while serving in Iraq. After meeting Abigail, his nightmares start to continue during the day, and he discovers a curse has been place upon them causing their fears to come to life.
Abigail – Seventh-grader, who is a quiet loner and recently moved from New Jersey after her parents split up. Timothy unwittingly volunteers to be her partner for a school fieldtrip and she learns that he has been experiencing waking nightmares just as she has. She and Timothy must discover the source of the curse that is causing them to be plagued by terror.
Stuart Chen – Timothy’s best friend. He is very cynical, and is mad at Timothy and Abigail when they are partnered for the school field trip. He also is plagued by waking nightmares and almost drowns as a result.
Zilpha Kindred – Abigail’s grandmother. She has a connection to the mysterious curse, but Abigail and Timothy are not sure what it is.
Mr. Crane – Timothy and Abigail’s science teacher. He also becomes plagued by waking nightmares.
Annotation:  What would you do if your worst fears and the things from your nightmares haunted you during the day? Timothy and Abigail must find a way to put an end to the curse that is causing them to be plagued by terror even when they’re awake.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Face on the Milk Carton (Book)

Author: Caroline B. Cooney. Release date: 1990. Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780385323284.

The Face on the Milk Carton.jpgPlot summary: Fifteen-year-old Janie Johnson lives a normal life with her loving parents in Connecticut. Her life changes forever, however, when she spots a missing child photo on the back of a friend’s milk carton and recognizes the girl: it is Janie herself. The carton identifies the girl as Jennie Spring, who was kidnapped in a shopping center parking lot twelve years earlier. Janie has a brief memory of the day she was kidnapped, but isn’t sure what it means. Determined to find out more, Janie goes through the attic of her parents’ house and discovers old school papers by someone named “Hannah.” Angry, Janie confronts her parents, who reveal that she is, in fact, their granddaughter. Hannah is the name of their actual daughter, who joined a dangerous cult and left them with Janie. Still, Janie isn’t convinced. Are her parents telling her the truth, or is there more to the story?
Review: This gripping mystery story will entertain even the most reluctant of tween readers with its twists and turns. Almost every young person has wondered at some point if they are adopted, and the story of Janie Johnson, who discovers that she was kidnapped after she spots her face on a milk carton by chance, is the embodiment of that common question. Janie makes for a likable heroine, and faces her situation bravely. She clearly loves her adoptive parents, but longs to discover the truth without hurting them. Her boyfriend, Reeve, is also likable and supportive. The end of the novel leaves the reader with a cliffhanger that will undoubtedly prompt them to pick up the rest of Cooney’s series.

Genre: Fiction/Mystery
Reading level: Grades 6-9

Similar titles: Other titles in the Janie Johnson series by Caroline B. Cooney.
Personal thoughts: This was one of my favorite books as a tween and I remember thinking how easy it was to read even then. As an adult, I can still see why I found it so enjoyable. Cooney has a very natural way of writing that engages the reader and gets them involved in the mystery of Janie Johnson’s kidnapping. I would highly recommend this entire series for reluctant readers.

Themes: Kidnapping, adoption, mystery.
Awards/Reviews: Positive reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.

Series Information: First book in Janie Johnson series by Caroline B. Cooney, titles: The Face on the Milk Carton (1990), Whatever Happened to Janie? (1993), The Voice on the Radio (1996), What Janie Found (2000).
Character information:

Janie Johnson – Fifteen-year-old high school student who discovers that she is Jennie Spring after seeing her face on the back of a milk carton. She wants to find out the truth about her kidnapping twelve years ago.

Reeve – Janie’s boyfriend. He helps Janie uncover the truth about her kidnapping.

Mr. Johnson – Janie’s adoptive father. He believes Janie is his granddaughter.

Mrs. Johnson – Janie’s adoptive mother. She also believes Janie is her granddaughter.
Annotation: Fifteen-year-old Janie Johnson’s life changes forever when she sees the face of a young girl who was kidnapped twelve years earlier and realizes that she is the girl in the picture. Can Janie uncover the truth about her kidnapping?

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow (Book)

Author: Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Release date: 2005. Publisher: Scholastic Nonfiction. ISBN: 9780439353793.

Plot summary: This nonfiction title follows the lives of twelve tweens and teens living in Germany during the Third Reich. Some of the young people became enthusiastic members of the Hitler Youth, or Hitlerjugend, while others denounced the dictator. The book begins with the formation of the Hitlerjugend in 1926 and continues through the war to de-Nazification process that occurred after Hitler’s death. Included in the book are many photographs of the lives of Hitler Youth and what they experienced at the hands of the notorious dictator.

Review: Hitler Youth, though a nonfiction title, is as emotionally taxing and horrifying as any of the fiction books who have chronicled the experiences of various individuals during the Third Reich and World War II. Instead of focusing on those who were victimized by Hitler and the Nazis, this book looks at many who supported him and his efforts. Bartoletti’s tone is neutral throughout the book, but it is clear she is trying to make some effort to explain what exactly would cause these young members of the Hitlerjugend to get behind a man who was responsible for the deaths of millions. Some of the experiences and memories provided by the twelve youth featured in the book are both heartwarming and terrifying. The story of Scholl children who risked their lives opposing Hitler and denouncing his actions is a wonderful, heroic piece of the book. Some of the other young people, however, like sixteen-year-old Alfons Heck who lead an army of Hitlerjugend and Sasha Schwartz who, at eleven-years-old, looked up to Hitler as a national hero, are startling. It is certainly impossible to determine every reason why the members of the Hitlerjugend decided to go along with the dictator’s murder of millions of innocent people, but this resonating title seeks to shed a little light on the youth themselves, despite their motives.
Genre: Non-fiction

Reading level: Grades 5-8
Similar titles: The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Personal thoughts: This nonfiction title, though fascinating, was sickening at the same time. I have read quite a few books, both fiction and nonfiction, about the victims of the Third Reich, but never have I really explored the mindset of those that were responsible for it. I think this book, particularly some of the photographs, will stick with readers for a long time. Hopefully it will serve as a lesson to them that those in power are not always worth following.
Themes: Nazis, Third Reich, Hitler, Hitler Youth, holocaust

Awards/Reviews: Newbery Medal Honor Book 2006, positive reviews from Booklist, School Library Journal, Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine.
Series Information: N/A

Character information: N/A
Annotation: This true story presents the lives of twelve young people who were involved in or affected by the Hitlerjugend, or Hitler Youth, during the Third Reich.

A Wrinkle in Time (Book)

Author: Madeleine L’Engle. Release date: 1962. Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN: 9780312367541.

Plot summary: Meg Murry has always been different. She’s very smart, but just doesn’t seem to fit in at school. To make matters worse, she has to deal with her younger brothers, ten-year-old twins and five-year-old, Charles Wallace, who is a genius. Both of her parents are scientists, but her father mysteriously vanished years before. One stormy evening, a strange old woman, Mrs. Whatsit, visits the Murry house and mentions something called a tesseract to Meg’s mother. Meg discovers that this is a scientific term that her father was researching. Curious to learn more, Meg, Charles Wallace and Meg’s friend, Calvin O’Keefe, visit a mysterious house that Charles seems to know is the home of Mrs. Whatsit. There they meet Mrs. Who, another strange woman, who tells Meg that she will help her find her missing father by transporting her to his location using a  tesseract. It appears that a tesseract is a fold, or wrinkle, in the fabric of time and space, and allows for quick transport between different worlds. Meg’s father was investigating this concept, and became trapped on a planet called Camazotz, which is under the control of a mysterious and evil force known as the Black Thing. Can Meg save her father and return to Earth?
Review: This creative and entertaining cerebral adventure from L’Engle has long been considered a classic work of science-fiction for young readers. It has so successfully stood the test of time for many reasons: the characters are interesting and engaging, the concept is utterly unique, it combines a lot of intriguing elements (time travel, space travel, angelic entities, evil), and adventure. The plot is not simple, and does require some commitment on the part of the reader to work through (a lot of unfamiliar terms are used, and the storyline takes many twists and turns that may require re-reading.) The payoff for following the plot, however, is an outstanding novel that tweens are sure to remember long after finishing the book. As the primary protagonist, Meg is quite likable. Young readers who also feel like they simply don’t fit in will identify with what she goes through. Meg is also intelligent and brave, however, which many readers, especially tween girls, will admire. Her five-year-old brother, Charles Wallace, is also interesting. He clearly thinks well beyond his years and is almost prophetic at times. The typical younger brother in novels for tweens is brash, annoying, immature or all three, so Charles Wallace makes for a nice change. Overall, this is an excellent book for young readers who are interested in more complex stories.  

Genre: Science-fiction
Reading level: Grades 5-9

Similar titles: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, rest of time quintet series by Madeleine L’Engle.
Personal thoughts: I’ve read this title several times over the years, and every time I discover something new. L’Engle is a fantastic writer and creates stories with a lot of depth and complexity that still manage to be appropriate for younger audiences. This and the rest of the series are bound to be favorites for young science-fiction fans, I know it was for me!

Themes: Time/space travel, science, evil, family relationships, not fitting in.
Awards/Reviews: Newbery Medal Winner1963, Sequoyah Book Award Winner1965, Lewis Carroll Shelf Award Winner 1965.

Series Information: First book in time quintet series by Madeleine L’Engle, titles: A Wrinkle in Time (1962), A Wind in the Door (1973), A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978), Many Waters (1986), An Acceptable Time (1989).

Character information:
Meg Murry – Thirteen-years old and the oldest of her siblings, she feels like she doesn’t fit in, despite being very intelligent. She loves her little brother, Charles Wallace, and her friend, Calvin.

Charles Wallace Murry – Five-years-old, and the youngest sibling in the Murry family. He is a genius who has demonstrated some abilities in telepathy.
Calvin O’Keefe – Meg’s friend who is only fourteen-years-old but is a junior in high school. Like Charles Wallace, he is incredibly intelligent and also has some abilities in telepathy. His family is very dysfunctional, so he spends a lot of time with the Murrys.

Mrs. Whatsit – A strange elderly woman who visits the Murry’s house and tells them about the tesseract. She later is revealed to be an immortal creature who is over 2 billion years old.

Mrs. Who – Another elderly woman who is later revealed to be an immortal creature.
Mrs. Which – The third of the immortal women who has the most knowledge of the tesseract.

Annotation: Thirteen-year-old Meg has never fit, despite being very intelligent and having a loving family. Soon she discovers the secret behind her scientist father’s mysterious disappearance and goes on an adventure through time and space to rescue him.

Tom's Midnight Garden (Book)

Author: Philippa Pearce. Release date: 1958. Publisher: Oxford University Press. ISBN: 9780064404457.

Plot summary: When his brother Peter gets a nasty case of the measles, Tom is sent to stay with his aunt and uncle in their boring flat to avoid getting sick. Tom isn’t really allowed to go outside because he might already be infected with the measles, and there is nothing inside to keep him entertained. Restless and lonely, Tom isn’t sure what to expect when, while lying awake one night, he hears the old grandfather clock in the building strike thirteen. When Tom goes downstairs to investigate, he ventures out of the back door of the house and discovers a beautiful, blooming garden instead of a boring backyard full of garbage cans. Tom returns to the garden each night and discovers that not only is he going to a different place, he’s also travelling back in time. He meets a young girl named Hatty, who appears to be the only person who can interact with him as he explores the garden. Tom begins to notice something strange about Hatty, however. Each time he comes back to the garden, she seems to have aged years even though only a night has past. What exactly is going on in Tom’s midnight garden?
Review: This charming and clever story has remained a classic piece of literature for young readers for over fifty years since it was first published. Although tweens of today will definitely note that Tom’s world is now far in the past, the idea of his travelling back in time to the 19th century and meeting young Hatty will still delight the reader. One of the most enjoyable parts of Tom’s Midnight Garden is that it has no sinister undertones or antagonists that plague the main characters. Instead, the driving force behind the plot is to uncover exactly how Tom is able to travel back in time to play with Hatty in the beautiful garden each night. The satisfying and touching ending of the novel leaves the reader with a warm feeling in their heart. Overall, a very charming book that tweens will continue enjoy for another fifty years.

Genre: Fiction/Fantasy

Reading level: Grades 4-7

Similar titles: The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston.

Personal thoughts: This was my absolute favorite book as a tween, and I have read it several times over the years. Each time I am struck by how sweet but entertaining the story is. There is nothing salacious or scary about the plot, but it is thoroughly entertaining. I love how Philippa Pearce stirs up the imagination of the reader with the secret of the midnight garden. I have and will continue to recommend this wonderful book to young readers.

Themes: Time-travel, mystery, friendship.

Awards/Reviews: Carnegie Medal winner 1958

Series Information: N/A

Character information:
Tom – Tween boy who is sent to stay with his aunt and uncle after his brother, Peter, comes down with the measles. Tom is initially bored to tears at the flat, but soon discovers a magical garden at night where he befriends a young girl named Hatty.

Hatty – Young girl who Tom meets in the mysterious midnight garden. She ages rapidly as Tom visits and revisits the garden.

Annotation: Tom is bored to death when he is forced to stay with his aunt and uncle after his brother comes down with the measles. What he doesn’t know is that adventure awaits him once he discovers a mysterious garden that only appears during the night.

The Giver (Book)

Author: Lois Lowry. Release date: 1993. Publisher: Bantam Books. ISBN: 9780395645666.

The Giver Cover.gifPlot summary: Eleven-year-old Jonas lives in a world where everything and everyone has their assigned place. When a child turns twelve, they are given a job based on their skills or aptitudes. Marriages are assigned based on personality, and only two children are allowed per household. When it is time for Jonas and the other elevens to have their Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas is shocked when the Chief Elder skips his number and does reveal Jonas’ assigned task. Later, the Chief Elder pulls Jonas aside and tells him that he has been selected for a special task: he is to become the “Receiver of Memory.” Jonas then meets the Giver, the only person in Jonas’ world who can do things that have been removed, like hear music, see color, and feel pain. Jonas begins training with the Giver, learning about things he never imagined. During his training, Jonas’ family briefly takes care of a baby, Gabriel, who Jonas discovers can also receive memories and sensations. When Jonas learns that Gabriel is scheduled to be “released,” or euthanized, he must decide whether or not to leave his perfect world to save the young boy.

Review: Lowry’s Newbery Medal Winner, The Giver, is a complex but incredibly interesting novel for young readers that is likely different from anything they have ever experienced before. The concept of the “perfect” society where everything is planned is now relatively common in literature, and more contemporary titles for tweens and teens have used this concept as well. The Giver is different in tone, however, from many of these other stories. The reader begins not realizing what kind of world Jonas actually lives in. Only later in the novel is it revealed that Jonas has never seen color or experienced pain, and these revelations are more climactic as a result of Lowry’s timing. The things Jonas experiences will likely cause young readers to think more about their own societies and how structured or un-structured they are in comparison. This thoughtful and original novel is a must-read for tweens, especially those interested in science-fiction.

Genre: Science-fiction

Reading level: Grades 5-9

Similar titles: Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld.

Personal thoughts: When I first read this novel in the 5th grade it absolutely blew my mind. I have never heard of anything like it, and thought it was utterly fascinating. Getting the chance to experience it again as an adult was fun. I am huge fan of Lois Lowry, but this is by far my favorite of her many novels. I think she does an excellent job of creating a thought provoking story that is still age appropriate for young readers.

Themes: “Perfect” society, government control, technology, sensations/experiences.

Awards/Reviews: Newbery Award Medal Winner (1994), positive reviews from School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and The New York Times.

Series Information: Loose trilogy including The Giver (1994),  Gathering Blue (2000) and Messenger (2004).

Character information:

Jonas – Begins the story as an eleven-year-old waiting for his job assignment when he turns twelve. To his surprise, he becomes the Receiver of Memories, a task he has never heard of, and learns about things he never knew existed in his society (color, music, pain).

The Giver – Becomes Jonas’ mentor, passing on his memories and sensations for Jonas to experience and hold onto.

Gabriel – A young baby who Jonas realizes can receive memories. Jonas is very fond of the baby and wants to save him when he discovers he is to be euthanized.

Asher – Jonas’ best friend. He is given the assignment of Assistant Director of Recreation.

Fiona – Another friend of Jonas. She is given the assignment of Caretaker of the Old.

Annotation: Jonas is shocked when he learns he is to become the next Receiver of Memories and will experience things he never knew existed in his world (pain, color, music, love.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Gossip from the Girls’ Room (Book)

Author: Rose Cooper. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Delacorte Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780385739474.
Plot summary: 6th-grader Sofia Becker is certain she will reach extreme popularity status if she has the juiciest blog on her school’s website. She begins posting anonymously as the Blogtastic Blogger, and keeps a pre-blog notebook where she records all of the gossip she uncovers, mostly by eavesdropping in the girls’ room. Her best friend, Nona Bows, helps her maintain the blog and keeps her identity secret. The main subject of the Blogtastic Blog? Mia St. Claire, the most popular girl at school. It seems like Mia has a crush on Sofia’s “boyfriend” (he might not realize he’s Sofia’s boyfriend, or that she even likes him), Andrew. Determined to overthrow Mia’s popularity and restore Andrew’s “affections,” Sofia seeks out the juiciest gossip she can find about Mia. But what happens when Sofia discovers that Mia isn’t such a bad person after all?
Review:  Harkening to female fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid this debut novel in Cooper’s Blogtastic! series brings the online aspects of middle school society to the forefront. Sofia is not a particularly likeable protagonist. It’s never really explained why she hates Mia St. Claire so much (the crush on Sofia’s “boyfriend” happens after she has already declared her dislike for the popular, Mia). Sofia doesn’t really seem to have any qualms about bluntly pointing out the faults of her teachers, classmates, parents, and even her best friend, Nona. Despite the fact that Sofia is fairly hard to feel sympathetic for, her actions and behavior is actually relevant. Middle and high school students often take liberties in expressing their feelings online, not realizing that what is said is just as hurtful as if it was in person. It’s clear that Sofia would never say in real-life what she says on her blog, and this is an important lesson for young readers to understand. When she discovers that the object of her hate, Mia St. Claire, is actually a nice person, the hurtful things she’s gone out of her way to spread through the school seem to express more about Sofia’s self-confidence than about her nemesis. While some tweens are likely to dislike Sofia, others will undoubtedly understand her predicament, and be interested in the sequel Cooper promises at the end of the story, Gossip From the Boys’ Room (2012).
Genre: Fiction/Humor
Reading level: Grades 5-7
Similar titles:  Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell, and The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow.
Personal thoughts:  This title received mixed reviews from the professional journals, and I was interested to see why there were such different perspectives (Kirkus and Booklist loved it, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal hated it.) After reading it, I tend to venture more on the side of PW and SLJ. I found the character of Sofia to be such a huge brat, I almost gave up on the book. What I realized, however, is that there are many Sofia who exist out in the middle school world: spreading rumors about people online, caught up in their own world, very self-centered, etc. The lesson about avoiding gossip is one that is often learned through difficult circumstances in middle school, and I think that Gossip from the Girls’ Room might be a good starting point to warn tweens about the pitfalls of talking about people behind their back. I will most likely read the follow up novel to see where Rose Cooper takes the characters.
Themes: Middle school, blogs, gossip.  
Awards/Reviews: Positive review from Kirkus and Booklist.
Series Information:  First installment in the Blogtastic! series by Rose Cooper.   
Character information:
Sofia Becker – 6th grader who is obsessed with becoming popular. She begins blogging anonymously as the Blogtastic Blogger and hopes her blog will launch her social status. She has a very strong dislike for Mia St. Claire, and a crush on Andrew.
Nona Bows – 6th grader and best friend of Sofia. She isn’t as interested in the blog, but helps Sofia with it when she can. She has a crush on Mike.
Mia St. Claire – The most popular girl in the 6th grade and Sofia’s arch-nemesis. Mia seems to be unaware of Sofia’s dislike, and is discovered to be a nice person.
Andrew – Sofia’s crush who is oblivious to her affections. He calls Sofia “Barfia” because she threw up on his gym shoes. He is briefly Mia’s object of affection.
Mrs. Becker – Sofia’s mom. Sofia is embarrassed when she becomes a substitute teacher at the middle school.
Annotation:  It’s hard to become super popular in 6th grade, but Sofia Becker is determined that her juicy blog will launch her into the social stratosphere!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Hocus Pocus (Film)

Release date: 1993. Performers: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Omri Katz, Thora Birch, Vinessa Shaw. Studio: Walt Disney Pictures. Director: Kenny Ortega. Screenplay: David Kirschner, Mick Garris, Neil Cuthbert.

Plot summary: In 1693 Salem, Massachusetts, teenager, Thackery Binx, is horrified to discover that his younger sister, Emily, has been captured by witch sisters, Winifred, Sarah and Mary Sanderson. Thackery is unable to save Emily before the sisters suck the life out of her, and is turned into a black cat himself. Shortly after, the Salem townspeople confront the Sanderson sisters and hang them for their crimes, but not before the witches cast a spell that will allow them to be resurrected on Halloween night by a virgin. 300 years later, sixteen-year-old Max and his eight-year-old sister Dani have just been forced to move from Los Angeles to Salem by their parents. Dani makes the best of the move, but Max is very unhappy, despite the crush he develops on popular girl, Allison. On Halloween night, Max reluctantly agrees to take Dani trick-or-treating, and the pair stumble upon Allison’s house. In an effort to impress his crush, Max invites Allison to accompany him and Dani to the old Sanderson cottage, now a mothballed museum. The trio arrive at the cottage, only to be attacked by a black cat (Thackery Binx, still alive after being transformed by the witches.) Before they can stop him, Max lights the “black flame candle,” fulfilling the spell that the witches cast and bringing them back to life. Now the Sanderson sisters are on a mission to suck the lives from all of Salem’s children so that they can live forever. Will Max, Allison and Dani be able to stop them?

Review: This classic Halloween flick contains enough spooky thrills to entertain younger tween audiences, without giving them too much of a scare. Although the “present” in the film is now dated (tweens of 2011 will undoubtedly chuckle at the early 90s references, hair styles, and clothing), the story is interesting enough to still be relevant today. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy are a great comedic trio as the evil Sanderson sisters. Although their demise is, of course, inevitable, tweens will enjoy their sisterly banter and efforts to acclimate themselves to the “future.” The love story between Max and Allison is also something tweens will enjoy, as is the relationship between Max and Dani. Overall, this is a fun movie that will delight tweens year round, but especially at Halloween-time.

Genre: Comedy/Halloween

Interest level: Grade 4-8

Similar titles: The Witches (1990)

Personal thoughts: This was one of my favorite movies as a tween, and I still love it today. When I first saw it in theaters, I was only 9 and it was just scary enough to entertain me. I think that tweens today will still enjoy the whacky behavior of the witch sisters and identify with Max as he struggles to contend with his little sister and his crush.

Themes: Witches, Halloween, sibling relationships, high school relationships, moving.

Awards/Reviews: Was not a critical success in theaters, but has garnered a cult following. The film is regularly played on TV at Halloween. In 2010, the Sanderson sisters were ranked #9 on the MTV.com movie blog’s list of “Best Movie Witches Ever” (http://moviesblog.mtv.com/2011/01/07/season-of-the-witch-best-movie-witches/).

Series Information: N/A

Character information:
Winifred “Winnie” Sanderson: The head witch of the Sanderson sisters. She is the smartest of her sisters, but also the most ruthless. She wants to be young and beautiful forever.

Sarah Sanderson: The youngest of the Sanderson sisters, and the least intelligent but most beautiful. She frequently runs around and sings incoherently.

Mary Sanderson: The middle Sanderson sister, she has the ability to “sniff out” children with her nose.

Max Dennison: Sixteen-year-old high school student who is upset that his parents moved him and his sister, Dani, to Salem, Massachusetts. He has a crush on Allison, and is awkward around her. He inadvertently resurrects the Sanderson sisters and must fight to stop them.

Dani Dennison: Eight-year-old little sister of Max. She is enthusiastic about living in Salem. She frequently fights with and annoys Max.

Allison: Popular and intelligent high school student. Max has a large crush on her, and the feelings are eventually mutual.

Annotation: What would you do if you accidentally resurrected three witches on Halloween night? Max and his sister Dani must try to stop the evil Sanderson sisters, originally executed in Salem, Massachusetts in 1693, from sucking the lives out of the town’s children to become immortal.