Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Girls’ Life (Magazine)

Published since 1994. Published by Girls’ Life Acquisition Co.
Emma Watson - Girls' Life Magazine [United States] (August 2007)Description: Since it was first published in 1994, Girls’ Life has focused on issues facing real-life tweens, like school, self-esteem, and peer pressure. Also included in the monthly publication are fashion tips, advice, quizzes, horoscopes, and games. The magazine often features celebrities on the cover, along with information and interviews about their lives.
Review:  Girls’ Life is an ideal magazine for older tween girls who are just on the cusp of wanting to pick up teen magazines like Seventeen or Cosmo Girl. The topics featured in the magazine are more mature than children’s magazines, and include a lot more celebrity gossip and advice about the opposite sex. According to the magazine’s website, the publication prides itself on guiding tween girls without making them grow up too fast. This is accomplished well and the magazine is very age appropriate as well as entertaining. Tween girls will undoubtedly want to read through each issue, especially those featuring celebrities they admire.
Genre: Magazine
Interest level: Grades 5-9
Similar titles: American Girl Magazine
Personal thoughts: This was not a title I read as a tween, but I have often looked through issues that have come through my library. I am always impressed with how the magazine covers important topics but in an age appropriate manner. Although I do prefer American Girl magazine for tweens, I think Girls’ Life is another really good publication as well.  
Themes:  Celebrities, advice, fashion, real-life issues.   
Awards/Reviews:   Published for 17 years. Recipient of many Parents’ Choice Gold Awards and the Parent’s Guide to Children’s Media Awards. Official magazine for Girl Scouts of the USA. Official book for Take Our Daughters to Work Day.
Series Information: N/A
Character information: N/A
Annotation:   Want to learn about fashion, celebs, boys, and real-life issues facing girls just like you at the same time? Girls’ Life magazine features advice columns, horoscopes and fun quizzes that are sure to entertain you.  

American Girl (Magazine)

Published since 1992. Published by American Girl, LLC.
Description: Published by the same company responsible for the American Girl dolls and fiction series, American Girl magazine is issued bimonthly and contains a variety of regular articles and special features for the modern American girl age 8 and up. Regular features include advice columns, including “Help!” and “Heart to Heart.” In addition to these columns, the magazine features fiction stories, games, and ideas for parties or crafts.
Review:  Published for almost twenty years, American Girl magazine has been a breath of fresh air in the world of magazines available for tweens. Too old for children’s magazines and too young for teen publications, American Girl is completely age appropriate for tween girls who aren’t quite ready to dive into the world of fashion, make-up, and celebrity gossip. Much of the fiction included in the magazine is actually quite well-written and interesting. The advice given is sound and appropriate for tweens. Overall, this magazine has been serving its target audience very well for almost two decades, and has the readership to prove it.
Genre: Magazine
Interest level: Grades 3-6
Similar titles: Girl’s Life Magazine
Personal thoughts: I used to read this as a tween and it still puts a smile on my face every time I see an issue pass through my library. It is a very wholesome but interesting and completely age appropriate publication. I am often impressed by the caliber of the fiction included in the magazine. I hope that this magazine continues to be published for years to come.
Themes:  Self-confidence, advice, creativity.  
Awards/Reviews:   Published for almost twenty years to over 500,000 readers.  
Series Information: N/A
Character information: N/A
Annotation:   Read the magazine that has been enjoyed by girls for almost twenty years! Included in this bimonthly publication is advice, craft ideas, party planning, and interesting fiction stories.

A Cinderella Story (Film)

Release date: 2004. Performers: Hilary Duff, Jennifer Coolidge, Chad Michael Murray, Dan Byrd, Regina King. Studio: Warner Brothers Pictures. Director: Mark Rosman. Screenplay: Leigh Dunlap.
File:Movie poster a cinderella story.jpgPlot summary: Samantha Montgomery lives with her loving father, Hal, who owns a successful diner. Wanting Samantha to have a mother, her Hal marries Fiona who moves in with her two daughters, Brianna and Gabriella. One night, Hal is tragically killed during a large earthquake, leaving Samantha to live with Fiona, who is actually cruel and hates Samantha. Since Hal had no will when he was killed, Fiona inherits the house and diner, and turns Samantha into her and her daughters’ personal slave. Eight years later, Samantha, Brianna and Gabriella are in high school. Fiona spoils her daughters rotten and they are bumbling idiots who are trying desperately to be popular. Samantha is forced to work long hours at the diner, but still manages to get straight A’s. Samantha takes refuge online, where she has a pen pal named Nomad who she shares her aspirations with. It is revealed that Nomad is actually Austin Ames, the most popular boy at Samantha’s high school, quarterback of the football team, and recent ex-boyfriend of popular cheerleader, Shelby. When Nomad suggests that he and Samantha meet in person at their school’s Halloween dance, Samantha is distraught when Fiona forces her to work, missing the dance. The loving employees of the diner, however, are determined that Samantha go, and get her dressed up beautifully. When she arrives in costume at the dance, Austin doesn’t realize who she is, and the two immediately fall for each other. But when Austin learns that Samantha is actually a poor diner employee, will he still love her?
Review:  This modern take on the classic Cinderella tale includes a lot of twists and turns from the original story that make for a wonderful movie for tweens. Instead of Samantha’s beauty, the “prince” falls for her kindness and intelligence. The evil stepmother is actually a Botox’d, plastic surgery obsessed woman who is too self-centered to love anyone but her own offspring. The stepsisters are wannabe popular girls, who believe they are talented and desirable, but are, in fact, perpetually making fools of themselves. The prince is a pensive and intelligent quarterback who doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed into the life his father has set out for him. All of these changes make for a very interesting film that shows that popularity isn’t all it’s cut out to be. True to the original tale, the ending of the movie is very satisfying with all the loose ends tied up and the characters getting what they deserve. A Cinderella Story is an idea “chick-flick” for tween girls with a good message behind it as well.
Genre: Fiction
Interest level: Grades 4-9
Similar titles: Ever After (1998)
Personal thoughts: I really enjoyed this modern take on the Cinderella story, especially because it showed that brains can take a girl much farther than just beauty. Jennifer Coolidge as the evil stepmother almost stole the show for me with her goofy Botox’d face. The interactions between Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murray are very sweet, and tweens will definitely enjoy watching the beautiful couple fall for eachother.
Themes:  Cinderella, intelligence, following your heart.
Awards/Reviews:   Box office success.
Series Information: Sequels: Another Cinderella Story (2008) and A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song (In production)
Character information:
Samantha Montgomery – The “Cinderella” character. An intelligent and caring girl who is orphaned after her father is killed in an earthquake. She meets her “prince” in an online chatroom where she impresses him with her intelligence and aspirations.
Austin Ames – The “Prince Charming” character. A kind but misunderstood high school quarterback. He is the most popular guy at school, but longs for something outside of the life that he sees laid out before him.
Fiona Montgomery – The “Evil Stepmother” character. A cruel, self-absorbed woman who cares only for her own daughters. She treats Samantha very poorly.
Brianna and Gabriella Montgomery – The “Evil Stepsisters.” They try very hard to be popular, but always end up making fools of themselves.
Annotation:   In this modern version of the classic tale, Samantha meets her prince, the most popular boy in her school, in an online chat room where she impresses him with her intelligence and aspirations in life.

Aquamarine (Film)

Release date: 2006. Performers: Emma Roberts, Joanna “JoJo” Levesque, Sara Paxton, Jake McDorman, Arielle Kebbel. Studio: Fox 2000 Pictures. Director: Elizabeth Allen. Screenplay: John Quaintance and Jessica Bendinger. Based on the novel Aquamarine by Alice Hoffman.
File:Aquamarine (poster).jpg
Plot summary: Claire and Hailey are best friends living near a resort on the Florida coast. Claire is an orphan who lives with her grandparents and Hailey lives with her single mother, a marine biologist. The girls are devastated to learn that Hailey will soon be moving to Australia for her mother’s job. Claire and Hailey wish for something miraculous to happen so that Hailey doesn’t have to move. One night, after a particularly nasty storm, the girls discover a mermaid named Aquamarine who washed ashore and into the pool at the resort. Claire and Hailey befriend the kind and charismatic mermaid, who informs them that she can take human form on land during the day as long as her legs don’t get wet. Aquamarine has run away from home trying to escape an arranged marriage and prove to her overbearing father that true love exists. In order to do that she needs to fall in love, and tells Claire and Hailey that if they help her they will get to make a wish. Seizing the opportunity to avoid Hailey’s move, the girls set out help Aquamarine fall in love with a handsome lifeguard named Raymond.
Review:  This fun and simple movie is girly to the core, and will delight tweens with its humor and heartwarming message. The relationship between Claire and Hailey mirrors the friendship many tween girls have with one another. They are incredibly close and rely on each other for everything, but things outside of their control seem to be pulling them apart. It is clear that Hailey is the stronger of the two girls, trying to coax the orphaned Claire out of her fear of “living.” Aquamarine is a very wise and charismatic character who helps Claire and Hailey realize that they are both courageous and capable of living happily without one another. The love story between Aquamarine and Raymond takes a back seat to the dynamics between Claire, Hailey and Aquamarine. The end result of the film is an encouraging message to “be friends with life” as Aquamarine says, and Claire and Hailey both grow stronger as a result of their adventures. A very sweet and wholesome film that tween girls will enjoy.
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy
Interest level: Grades 4-8
Similar titles: Splash (1984)
Personal thoughts: Even though I am about fifteen years past the target audience for this film, I still find Aquamarine to be a very entertaining and heartwarming movie. Sure, there are some goofy, girly scenes, like when Claire and Hailey try to teach Aquamarine about love by having her read through a dozen magazines or when the ladies go shopping and get makeovers. But the overall message of the film is really solid, and I think the characters, especially the confident mermaid, are good role models for tweens.
Themes:  Mermaids, friendships, courage.
Awards/Reviews:  Nominated for two Teen Choice Awards, two nominations and one win for Young Artist Awards. Box office success.
Series Information: N/A
Character information:
Claire Brown – A kind but timid tween girl who was orphaned after her parents were killed in a boating accident. She is very clingy to her best friend, Hailey.
Hailey Rogers – Claire’s best friend, and the braver of the two. She lives with her mother who is a marine biologist, and is devastated to learn that her mother is moving her to Australia for her job.
Aquamarine – A charismatic and confident mermaid who washes ashore during a big storm and befriends Claire and Hailey. She desperately wants to prove to her father that true love exists and is trying to escape an arranged marriage with a merman that she doesn’t like.
Raymond – A handsome and kind lifeguard. He is the object of lust for many tween girls around the resort, and Aquamarine is determined to make him love her.
Annotation:   Claire and Hailey are best friends who are in danger of being split up when Hailey’s mother wants to move her to Australia for a promotion. When a beautiful mermaid named Aquamarine washes ashore, the friends are in for an adventure that will change their lives forever.

The Tilting House (Book)

Author: Tom Llewellyn. Release date: 2010. Publisher:  Tricycle Press. ISBN: 9781582462882.
Plot summary: Josh Peshik’s parents don’t make a lot of money, so when they have the opportunity to purchase an old but spacious mansion they take it. The trouble is, the mansion is tilted. The floors, the furniture, the walls, all slope three degrees inward. Even more strange are the equations, formulas and ideas scribbled all over the walls throughout the house. The Peshiks are determined to make the best of their new house, however, and Josh and his little brother Aaron, along with their mom, dad and grandpa, move in. What follows is a series of adventures and strange occurrences involving the various secrets contained within Tilton House. From talking rats, to a dimmer switch that makes the house disappear, living in the mansion makes for one interesting summer vacation. Despite all of these odd happenings, Josh wants to learn more about the mysterious man who built the mansion and what all of the scribbling mean. Will he be able to uncover the truth about Tilton House and all of its eccentricities?
Review:  Told in a series of interconnected vignettes, The Tilting House is a fun and original tale where the setting, a mysterious old mansion, is a prominent character in its own right. Immediately after beginning the novel, readers will be intrigued by the oddness of Tilton House. The sloping floors, the crazy scientific scribbling all over the wall, and the magical discoveries of talking rats, powder that makes things grow, and a dimmer switch that makes the mansion disappear. Hidden within all the mansion’s eccentricities is a decades old love story that explains the truth behind Tilton House. Tweens will enjoy this quirky novel. The way Llewellyn has organized the chapters makes for an interesting read. There is somewhat of a plot string that continues throughout the novel, but each chapter chronicles a different event that Josh and Aaron experience. The conclusion of the novel is very satisfying but also leaves the story open for sequels.
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy
Reading level: Grades 4-8
Similar titles: The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone.
Personal thoughts: I found this book to be delightful. The idea of a house that slopes leaves many opportunities for fun storylines, and Llewellyn took advantage of them very well. I really liked the romance that Josh and Aaron discovered that was responsible for a lot of the eccentricities of Tilton House. I wouldn’t be surprised if Llewellyn wrote some sequels to this story and I look forward to seeing them.
Themes:  Science, mystery, mansions, secrets.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, Publishers weekly, and Kirkus Reviews.
Series Information: N/A
Character information:
Josh Peshik – A tween boy who moves with his family into the mysterious Tilton House. Josh is determined to uncover the secrets behind the house and is very adventuresome.
Aaron Peshik – Josh’s little brother. He is also interested in learning more about the mansion, but is far more apprehensive than Josh.
Lola – A tween girl who lives on the same block as the Tilton House. She befriends Josh and Aaron and helps them investigate the mysteries behind the mansion.
Grandpa Peshik – Josh and Aaron’s quirky grandfather who is also interested in their investigations of the house. He has a wooden leg, his actual leg was lost due to a fishing accident.
Mr. Daga – A large talking rat that lives in the attic of the Tilton House. He is gruff, but eventually provides a lot of assistance to the Peshiks in investigating the house.
Annotation:   Josh and Aaron Peshik aren’t sure what to make of the new house their parents have just moved them into: all the floors slope three degrees inward and there are crazy, scientific scribbling all over the walls. They soon find that when you live in a tilting house, adventure is definitely in store!

Monday, May 9, 2011

James and the Giant Peach (Book)

Author: Roald Dahl. Release date: 1961. Publisher:  Alfred Knopf. ISBN: 9780375814248.
Plot summary: After his parents are tragically killed by an escaped rhinoceros, James Henry Trotter is sent from his serene cottage by the sea to live with his cruel aunts, Sponge and Spiker. The women treat James horribly, beating him for no reason, giving him leftover scraps to eat, and forcing him to sleep in the attic on the bare floor. One day while taking a break from the abuse outside in the garden, James meets a mysterious man who offers him a bag of crocodile tongues which he promises will bring him happiness. James is heartbroken when he trips and spills the contents of the bag at the base of a barren peach tree in front of the home. Not long after, however, a very large peach begins to grow on the tree, growing bigger and bigger with each passing day. James’ aunts invite crowds to view the peach, for a fee of course. One day while cleaning up after the crowds have left, James discovers a tunnel leading through the fruit and into the hollow pit at the center. In the pit, James discovers a group of insects who were also transformed by the magical tongues and can speak like human beings. The insects are kind to James, and the group decides to escape the awful hillside. After the insects chew through the stem, the peach is released from the tree and rolls into a series of adventures beyond James’ wildest imagination.
Review:  This Roald Dahl classic contains the same slightly dark tone as many of his other titles, but is still one of the author’s most light-hearted and fun novels. James experiences living with his aunts are so awful it’s almost cartoonish. They beat him, call him terrible names, and give him only disgusting things like fish heads to eat. Almost from the start, the reader will wish horrible things upon these women. That James is able to find a more loving environment in the company of insects living within an enormous peach is no surprise. The various adventures James and his friends experience will delight readers, especially when the peach gets skewered on top of the Empire State Building. The conclusion of the novel is very satisfying as well, and will likely inspire tweens to pick up another Roald Dahl title, if they haven’t read them all already. James and the Giant Peach would make a great classroom read-aloud as well as an individual option for both tween boys and girls. The film version of the novel, released in 1996, is an excellent adaptation and would make a great companion to reading the book.
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy
Reading level: Grades 4-7
Similar titles: Other Roald Dahl novels, Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket.
Personal thoughts: I am a huge Roald Dahl fan, and remember tearing through this book as a tween. As an adult, I enjoyed it just as much. There is something so clever in Dahl’s writing style that makes any plot twist, no matter how crazy or odd, seem marvelous. I also liked that the abuse received by James at the hands of his aunts is so over the top as to be cartoonish. It would be unfortunate to try seriously delve into the topic of child abuse in a novel about a giant, magical peach, and Dahl steers clear from making this an issue.
Themes:  Orphans, magic, talking animals.
Awards/Reviews:  Considered a classic piece of children’s literature.
Series Information: N/A
Character information:
James Henry Trotter – Kind young boy who is forced to live with his abusive aunts after his parents are killed. He tries to be happy even if his aunts are cruel, and ends up finding a new family of talking insects living in the pit of a giant and magical peach.
Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge – James’ horrible and repulsive spinster aunts. They are perpetually cruel to James and abuse him frequently. When the giant peach begins to grow in their yard they use it as a money making scheme.
Centipede – One of James’ insect friends living in the peach. He and James become close on their adventures.
Earthworm – Another of James’ insect friends. He is constantly arguing with the Centipede and is somewhat pessimistic, but also kind.
Grasshopper – Another insect living in the peach. He is the most sophisticated of the insects and acts as a father to James.
Ladybug – Another insect living in the peach who takes on a motherly role to James.
Spider – Another insect living in the peach who has a particular hatred of James’ aunts for killing her relatives. She often uses her webs on the various adventures in the peach.
Glowworm – The final insect living in the peach with James. She is kind but very lethargic. She provides light for the insects in the peach pit.

Annotation:   After his parents are killed and he is sent to live with his repulsive and cruel aunts, James is sure that he will never be happy again. Things change, however, when an impossible large peach begins to grow on the formerly barren tree in front of his aunts’ house.

My Side of the Mountain (Book)

Author: Jean Craighead George. Release date: 1959. Publisher:  Puffin Books. ISBN: 9780140348107.
Plot summary: Thirteen-year-old Sam Gribley decides one day that he is fed up with his life in New York City and decides to run away to live in the Catskill Mountains. All Sam brings with him on his journey is a few tools including a knife and some flint and steel. After arriving in the Catskill Mountains, Sam has some trouble battling nature. He catches a fish but is unable to make a fire at first to cook it. He isn’t sure which plants he can eat and which are poisonous. With the help of some passing travelers, however, Sam soon learns how to survive and begins to enjoy his new way of life.
Review:  This classic tale does not have an overly complicated plot, but is still a very enjoyable survival story. Most tweens have undoubtedly contemplated the idea of running away and living in the wilderness, but Sam actually does it. Readers will enjoy the detailed descriptions of how he manages to create a rather nice life for himself in the beautiful Catskills. The story will likely create an interest in nature for many tweens. My Side of the Mountain would make an ideal choice for a reluctant reader, especially a male tween, because it has a simple but interesting story. Animal lovers will also enjoy this title as Sam befriends many woodland creatures.
Genre: Fiction/Survival Story
Reading level: Grades 4-7
Similar titles: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, and sequels to My Side of the Mountain.
Personal thoughts: As I mentioned in my entry for Hatchet, I was a huge survival story fan as a tween and remember loving My Side of the Mountain. Picking it up as an adult was a real treat, especially since I was better able to geographically place where the story takes place. I was a little wary of Sam simply running away to live in the woods, but I don’t think the story encourages readers to run away by any means. I would highly recommend this book to tween boys, especially reluctant readers, as it’s a very easy title to breeze through.
Themes:  Survival, nature, living off the land.
Awards/Reviews:  Newbery Honor Award Winner.
Series Information: Four sequels published beginning in the 1990s: On the Far Side of the Mountain (1991), Frightful’s Mountain (1999), Frightful’s Daughter (2002), Frightful’s Daughter Meets the Baron Weasel (2007).
Character information:
Sam Gribley – Thirteen-year-old boy who runs away from his home in New York City to live off the land in the Catskill Mountains.
Annotation:   Thirteen-year-old Sam Gribley decides that he’s fed up with life in the big city and runs away from his home in New York to live off the land in the Catskill Mountains. Will he be able to survive the elements long enough to create the serene life he’s envisioning?

Jumanji (Film)

Release date: 1995. Performers: Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce, Bonnie Hunt, Jonathan Hyde, David Alan Grier. Studio: TriStar Pictures. Director: Joe Johnston. Screenplay: Jonathan Hensleigh, Greg Taylor, and Jim Strain. Based on book Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg.

File:Jumanji poster.jpgPlot summary: It’s 1969 in a small New England town, and twelve-year-old Alan Parrish discovers a mysterious board game in a construction site near the shoe factor owned by his wealthy father. After learning that his parents plan to send him to a boarding school, Alan decides to run away, taking the game with him. As he is leaving the house, however, he is stopped by his friend, Sarah Whittle, and the two decide to play the game. The game begins to act very strangely, with the pieces moving on their own and messages appearing in smoke in the middle of the board. On Alan’s first move, he is told he must wait in the jungle until another player rolls a five or an eight. He is then sucked into the center of the game, and Sarah, terrified, flees the house. Twenty-six years later, orphans Judy and Peter Shepherd move into the mansion where Alan lived with their aunt Nora. The siblings are having a difficult time coping with the death of their parents, but discover the mysterious board game in the attic. After unleashing a swarm of giant mosquitos and a pack of crazy monkeys, Peter rolls a five, releasing a now middle-aged Alan. Alan is overjoyed to be free from the terrifying jungle, but is sad to learn that his parents are dead and the town is now in shambles. Things get even worse when Judy, Peter and Alan realize that they will have to locate Sarah, who is now also an adult, in order to finish the game they began in 1969 and put a stop to the crazy jungle creatures wreaking havoc on the town.

Review: This exciting and clever movie adaptation of a classic picture book incorporates a lot of humor, danger and mystery into one entertaining film. The opening of Jumanji is very engaging, with Alan being sucked into the game and it cutting to the now decrepit mansion twenty-six years in the future. Siblings Judy (played by a young Kirsten Dunst) and Peter have an interesting storyline on their own in regards to their parents death and how they are coping. It is clear that they are close and this bond is enhanced throughout the film. Robin Williams, of course, brings his own element of fun to his role as the adult Alan, as does Bonnie Hunt as the adult Sarah. Jonathan Hyde is also very entertaining playing a dual role of Alan’s father and a vicious hunter released from the board game. The conclusion of the film is very satisfying, and it is likely that tweens will want to view this movie again and again.

Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy

Interest level: Grades 3-8
Similar titles: Zathura (2005).
Personal thoughts: I was in sixth grade when Jumanji was released in theaters and I absolutely adored it. In speaking with tweens who come into my library, they love the film as much as I did. It is very exciting, entertaining and clever. I think the balance of humor, danger, mystery and romance is perfect for a relatively wholesome tween film. I often recommend this title to families looking for something that everyone can enjoy, even tweens or teens.

Themes: Adventure, board games, jungle.

Awards/Reviews: Performed very well at the box office.

Series Information: The film Zathura (2005) is also based on a book by Van Allsburg and is sometimes viewed as a sequel to Jumanji.

Character information:

Alan Parrish – Begins the film as a twelve-year-old who is dissatisfied with his privileged life. After beginning a game of Jumanji, he is trapped in the jungle for twenty-six years. When he emerges, he is, understandably, a little quirky.

Judy Shepherd – A tween girl who was recently orphaned and now lives with her brother and her aunt Nora. She is obviously angry at the death of her parents and often acts out by lying and creating wild stories. In the adventures that follow as a result of Jumanji, Judy proves to be very courageous and caring.

Peter Shepherd – Judy’s younger brother. He is not coping well with the loss of his parents and hasn’t spoken since they died. Peter begins to talk once the Jumanji game begins, and proves to be very brave.

Sarah Whittle – Alan’s childhood friend who was outcast by the town after she was the last one to see Alan alive. She considers herself a psychic, but is under the care of a psychiatrist.

Annotation: Most board games require that you use your imagination, but when you play Jumanji the things in the game come to life.

The Indian in the Cupboard (Book)

Author: Lynne Reid Banks. Illustrator: Brock Cole. Release date: 1980. Publisher: HarperCollins. ISBN: 9780380600120.
Plot summary: It’s Omri’s birthday, and he receives his much desired skateboard and helmet, as well as a plastic Indian figurine from his friend Patrick and an old medicine cabinet from his older brother. Omri isn’t too thrilled about the Indian or the cabinet, but he soon changes his mind when he wakes up the next morning and finds that the Indian, who he had put in the cabinet the night before, has come to life! Omri soon learns that the Indian’s name is Little Bear and that he is from the Iroquois tribe. Little Bear demands food, fire and a blanket, and Omri soon finds himself caring for the feisty but kind miniature warrior. Omri decides to try bringing other figurines to life to keep Little Bear company, including a plastic horse, a World War I army medic named Tommy, an Indian chief, and a cowboy named Boone. Many adventures ensue, including a tussle between Little Bear and Boone and a dangerous situation with a pet rat on the loose. Can Omri keep his new miniature friends safe?

Review: This novel takes a different twist on the classic “toys come to life” concept with wonderful results! The concept of the figurines coming to life in the cupboard is simple but very delightful as well. Readers will definitely enjoy Little Bear’s personality, especially when he stabs Omri in the hand with his miniature knife. Discovering what Omri will bring to life, and what mishaps will certainly ensue as a result, will keep tweens turning the pages quickly. Also included in the story are some deeper concepts about friendship, especially between Little Bear and Boone who are, at first, quick to personify the “cowboys vs. Indians” concept. Readers will likely be so enchanted by this first installment, they will want to quickly pick up the next novels in Banks’ best-selling series. Overall, The Indian in the Cupboard is a very enjoyable, entertaining and timeless tale.

Genre: Fiction/Fantasy

Reading level: Grades 4-7
Similar titles: Other titles in the Indian in the Cupboard series by Lynne Reid Banks.
Personal thoughts: I adored this novel as a child, and was so excited to pick it up again as an adult. There is something simple but enchanting about Omri’s adventures with his miniature friends. I really enjoyed seeing how Omri took care of the tiny people, and especially loved Little Bear’s antics, like building a long house and stabbing Omri in the hand. I think this is a true classic that is not going anywhere. I have and will continue to recommend this book to tweens, especially reluctant readers who will enjoy its fast and interesting pace.

Themes: Toys coming to life, Indians, cowboys, imagination.

Awards/Reviews: Considered a classic piece of children’s literature.

Series Information: First book in Indian in the Cupboard series by Lynne Reid Banks.

Character information:

Omri – A tween boy who receives an old medicine cabinet and a plastic Indian figurine as gifts on his birthday. Much to his surprise, the Indian comes to life after Omri locks it in the cabinet.

Patrick – Omri’s best friend who gives him the Indian figurine. Omri shares the secret of the cupboard with him.

Little Bear – The human form of the plastic Indian figurine. He is a ferocious but kind Iroquois warrior.

Boone – The human form of the plastic cowboy figurine.

Annotation: What would you do if you could make toys come to life by putting them in a magical cupboard?


Flipped (Book)

Author: Wendelin Van Draanen. Release date: 2001. Publisher: Random House. ISBN: 9780439649986.

File:Flipped.jpgPlot summary: Juli Baker has loved Bryce Loski since they first met in second grade. Unfortunately for Juli, Bryce doesn’t feel the same. He finds the quirky girl and her constant badgering to be embarrassing. Over the years, he tries to distance himself from Juli, but she simply won’t give up. One of Juli’s favorite activities is to sit high in the branches of a big sycamore tree. Juli loves trees and often invites Bryce to join her, which he, of course, refuses to do. Things begin to change when the two are in eighth grade. Bryce begins to see what he’s been missing all these years: Juli is a fun, charismatic and passionate person who is also very kind. The trouble is, Juli has grown bored of Bryce’s constantly ignoring her and his seemingly shallow personality. It seems that things have flipped for Juli and Bryce, and now Juli is the one doing the ignoring.

Review: This delightful novel of childhood love takes a new look at middle school romance that readers are sure to enjoy. The story is told in alternating voices between Juli and Bryce. Each have a unique perspective on the plot, and knowing what is going on in each of their heads makes things all the more interesting. Juli’s persistent love for Bryce and his “baby blue eyes” is something that many tweens will identify with. On the other hand, many will also identify with Bryce and his constant efforts to avoid Juli’s outlandish and often embarrassing attention (i.e. telling him his hair smells like watermelon, etc.) Flipped is full of situations that will resonate with readers, and that is part of what makes it such an engaging story. The twist in the story, when Bryce falls for Juli but she no longer feels the same, is equally delightful. The 2010 film version of the story makes an excellent companion to the novel as well.

Genre: Fiction

Reading level: Grades 6-9
Similar titles: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.

Personal thoughts: This is such a fun novel, I wanted to read it again and again. I found myself really identifying with Juli and her persistent efforts to capture the attention of that one boy. I think most former-tweens had experiences such as this and will likely enjoy the novel as much as current-tweens. This is definitely a novel for tween girls, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in something entertaining but sweet.

Themes: Romance, friendship, compassion.

Awards/Reviews: Virginia Young Readers Program Award Winner, South Carolina Children’s Book Award Winner, California Young Reader Medal Winner, Nevada Young Readers Award Winner, Illinois Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award nominee, positive reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal and Booklist.

Series Information: N/A

Character information:

Juli Baker – Quirky but kind girl who falls hopelessly in love with Bryce Loski in second grade. Over the next six years, she tries her hardest to get Bryce to love her back. She loves trees and raising chickens in her family’s yard.

Bryce Loski – Shy but kind boy who is the recipient of a lot of undesired attention from Juli Baker. When the two reach the eighth grade, Bryce begins to reciprocate Juli’s feelings, but it might be too late.

Chet Duncan – Bryce’s kind grandfather who immediately takes a liking to Juli. He helps Juli clean up her family’s disheveled yard.

Annotation: In second grade, Juli Baker flipped for Bryce Loski and his beautiful baby blue eyes. Unfortunately, Bryce couldn’t be less interested and spends the next six years avoiding Juli and her unwanted advances. In eighth grade, however, things change, and Bryce finds himself flipping for Julie...but is it too late?

Soldier Boys (Book)

Author: Dean Hughes. Release date: 2001. Publisher: Simon Pulse. ISBN: 9780689860218.

File:Soldier Boys.jpgPlot summary: During the second world war, two farm boys, one from Utah the other from Germany, decide to the join the fight for their respective countries. Sixteen-year-old Spencer Morgan, a Mormon from Brigham City, Utah, drops out of school and trains to become a paratrooper, hoping to prove himself to his family and friends. Fifteen-year-old Dieter Hedrick is initially involved with the Hitler Youth, and his blind devotion to the dictator leads him to insist upon being sent into combat. Both Spencer and Dieter are enthusiastic about fighting for their country, not truly understanding the implications of war. Spencer’s eyes are opened when his best friend is killed, and an older soldier named Schaefer helps Dieter to see that murdering the enemy is nothing to revel in. Spencer and Dieter eventually meet during the Battle of the Bulge, and what happens proves that, even though they are enemies, soldiers in war have far more in common than they realize.

Review: This gripping novel tells the stories of two teenage boys fighting on opposite sides in WWII, who come to realize that a person’s humanity should never be lost in the ravages of war. Full of historical information and references, readers will learn a great deal about both sides of WWII in Soldier Boys, particularly the Hitler Youth program, the Battle of the Bulge, and the horrors of combat on the front. Both Spencer and Dieter are engaging characters who bring a unique voice to the events in the story. The relationship between Dieter and Schaefer is, at times, very touching, with the older soldier having a fatherly impact on fifteen-year-old Dieter. The conclusion of the novel is heart breaking, but also helps to drive home the point the novel ultimately presents: the terrible tragedy that is war itself. Tweens are certain to enjoy this novel, especially boys who are close in age to the main characters.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Reading level: Grades 6-9
Similar titles: A Boy at War: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Harry Mazer, Heroes Don’t Run: A Novel of the Pacific War by Harry Mazer, Search and Destroy by Dean Hughes, Missing in Action by Dean Hughes.
Personal thoughts: I enjoyed this book, but also found it difficult to get through at times. The tragedy that is war is a common theme throughout the story and I couldn’t help but think of all the young men and women currently fighting in wars overseas who are likely experiencing situations similar to the characters in the novel. This made the story very sad for me, but I do hope that tween readers pick up on these concepts as well. Despite this overwhelming feeling of sadness, however, I found the novel to be very well written and an ideal pick for reluctant tween boys who don’t want to read anything “girlie.”

Themes: War, World War 2, death.

Awards/Reviews: New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age list, positive reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.

Series Information: N/A

Character information:
Spencer Morgan – Sixteen-year-old Mormon boy from Brigham City, Utah. He drops out of school to become a paratrooper for the US military in hopes of defending his country during WW2.
Dieter Hedrick – Fifteen-year-old German soldier and former member of the Hitler Youth program. He is very dedicated to Hitler and cannot wait to begin fighting on the front.
Schaefer – An older soldier who befriends Dieter. He is weary of war and convinces Dieter that killing the enemy is not something to celebrate.
Ted Draney – Fellow paratrooper and friend of Spencer’s.

Annotation: War is supposed to tear two sides apart, but American soldier Spencer and German soldier Dieter find that, even though they are enemies, they have more in common than they realize.