Great Reads for Teens and Tweens!

Helping you make an informed decision about that book

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

Title: Cloaked in Red

Author: Vivian Vande Velde

Publisher: Amazon Children’s Publishing         Year: 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0761457930

Genre: Fiction

Age: 11 and up

Themes / Subjects: Fairytale retelling

Plot Summary:

So you think you know the story of Little Red Riding Hood, the girl with the unfortunate name and the inability to tell the difference between her grandmother and a member of a different species? Cloaked in Red is a collection of eight twisted versions of Little Red Riding Hood with creepy personalities and situations that are created around the classic narrative and dialogue patterns.

My Take:

This book is BORING! Not only did it not hold my attention (I started two other books before I even got halfway) but if it weren’t for this blog/review I probably wouldn’t have finished it.

In the preface, she makes it clear that not only does she believe the story of Little Red Riding Hood is illogical, absurd and ultimately flawed, that it is full of generally dim nameless people making bad choices. Um, hello it’s a children’s fairytale and fairytales are chock full of the absurd which is one reason they are so popular.

I found Vivian Vande Velde’s humor to be extremely dry and not sarcastically funny as some other reviewers thought. And I usually like sarcastic humor. The stories were too short and as much as Velde puts down the illogical/absurdity of fairytales seems to draw quite a bit from other fairytales.

So what’s good about this book? In each of the short stories, Velde focused on a different character from the original story: the grandmother, Little Red, the woodcutter, Little Red’s mother, the wolf, and even the Red Riding Hood. While all these stories share a common theme, they are each separate and self-contained so you can easily pick the book up, read a story, and then read something else in between.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars. I think this might be a good book to keep in the bathroom. The stories of short enough that you could easily read on while doing some “paperwork.”

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The Shadowland by Meg Cabot (Mediator Series Book 1)

Title: Shadowland The Mediator Series Bk.1

Author: Meg Cabot

Publisher: HarperTeen           Year: 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0060725112

Genre: Fiction

Age: 13 and up

Awards: ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults

Themes / Subjects: Ghosts, Fantasy, Romance, Relationships, high school, mediator

Plot Summary:

Suze is a high school sophomore, who, in her own words has “this unfortunate ability to communicate with the dead.” She’s a mediator which means she is responsible for helping ghosts solve unresolved issues so they can move on to the next world. As important as Suze’s role is, it is one that she has always resented. At sixteen, she just wants to be a normal teenage girl, worried about clothes and boys, not dead people To make matters worse, her mom has remarried and is moving them from New York City and clear across the country to northern California. With a new stepdad who’s pretty cool, and three stepbrothers who turn out to be a pain, Suze hopes this move to California will be a positive change. At least she thought that until she meets Heather, the angry ghost of a girl who committed suicide over Christmas break and wants revenge on her ex-boyfriend.

My Take:

Meg Cabot is one of my all-time favorite authors so I was really surprised I hadn’t heard about this book until a student suggested I read it. This has now become one of my favorite YA series! Every day I would look forward to seeing this particular student and would greedily beg for the next book in the series.

This is a fast paced novel, chock full of sarcasm and ghost busting action! The book immediately begins with action and just continues to get better. Things really pick up when Suze realizes she is stuck sharing a room with the ghost of a young boy named Jesse. Swoon! He sounds really dreamy (kinda weird since he is dead) and it’s hilarious how much he aggravates Suze. Heather (angry, evil spirit) is absolutely crazy and truly believes that Suze is trying to take over her life and place at the high school.

You will find yourself constantly laughing in the most random of places and breezing through this book with no problem. If you are a fan of the paranormal, romance, and sarcastically funny protagonists, then this is a book for you!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars! All teen girls should READ THIS BOOK!

Similar read: Paranormalcy by Kiersten White … Evie considers herself a normal teenage girl even though she works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency.

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web4teens

I have been talking to many of you about adding reviews of websites but haven’t been sure how to approach the matter on my blog. I considered renaming my blog something boring like Great Resources for Teens and Tweens but find myself shaking my head at such a blah title. I’m even considering moving beyond a blog to an actual website (which will cost $$$) where I can have links and pages and the whole shebangs. However, while I am trying to figure out how this whole thing is going to work out, please check out the website http://web4tweens.wordpress.com/ . As part of a class assignment, I worked with two other lovely ladies to create a record/review of some tween based websites. If you look under the title of each post, you can see who is the author/reviewer for that particular post and site. We are going to be presenting our blog on May 2nd and definitely would love to hear your feedback.

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Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

Title: Titanic: Voices from the Disaster

Author: Deborah Hopkinson

Publisher: Scholastic Press    Year: 2012

ISBN-13: 978-0545116749

Genre: Non-Fiction

Age: 8 and up (according to the publisher)

Themes / Subjects: Shipwrecks, Titanic (Steamship), North Atlantic Ocean, History

Plot Summary:

The voices and stories of real TITANIC survivors and witnesses to the disaster are weaved together in a heart stopping action, nail biting drama filled with fascinating historical details, archival photographs on nearly every page and quotes from primary sources. Hopkinson’s book follows the stories of nine-year-old Frankie Goldsmith; Violet Jessop, a young stewardess; Jack Thayer, an American high school senior; Colonel Archibald Gracie, a well-to-do gentleman; William Murdoch, a brave seaman; Charlotte Collyer, a young mother on her way to start a new life; and many others.

My Take:

We recently put this book into our library system and with the recent re-release of James Cameron’s Titanic (the movie) and upcoming anniversary of the event, I thought it would be an interesting read.

Deborah Hopkinson’s style of writing is very similar to James Swanson (I just reviewed his book Chasing Lincoln’s Killer below) in that she takes factual information and weaves it into a historical retelling of that fateful night. It is absolutely heart-wrenching to read first-hand accounts of families having to make the most difficult decisions of their lives. When the women and children boarded the life boats, little did they know that they would never see their husbands/fathers again. This book really made me think about how I would have reacted had I been on the Titanic.

The publisher of this book suggests kids ages 8 and up to read the book, but because of the chilling nature I would suggest at least 12 years old. I seriously had nightmares where I was stuck on a sinking ship, had the potential to be rescued but was told I couldn’t bring my babies. On a happier note, this book is a wealth of information and I learned a lot about the Titanic in a non-boring way.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars. I just could not put this book down! I would be reading until the wee hours of the morning and fall asleep with the book on my chest. Then when I would wake up in the morning I would be rushing off (usually late) to work because I tried to squeeze in just one more chapter, or two, or three …

Similar read: Shutting Out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880-1924 by Deborah Hopkinson … I am seriously looking forward to reading more nonfiction books by Deborah Hopkinson and James Swanson.

Just for fun: The release of this book was actually planned to coincide with the 100th anniversay of the sinking of the Titanic!

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Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson

Title: Chasing Lincoln’s Killer

Author: James L. Swanson

Publisher: Scholastic Press    Year: 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0545204705

Genre: Non-Fiction

Age: 12 and up

Awards: YALSA Best Book for Young Adults

Themes / Subjects: Biography, memoir, president, Abraham Lincoln, education & reference, American history, John Wilkes Booth, Civil War, manhunt,

Plot Summary:

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer is an account of Lincoln’s assassination and the 12-day manhunt for his killer, the famous (now infamous) actor John Wilkes Booth. Although nonfiction, this book will read like a historical thriller, as Swanson uses dialogue and text from original sources adding to the authenticity and chilliness of the story. The sentences are short and the chapters condensed yet full of excellent black and white illustrations to compliment the text.

My Take:

Usually when tweens/teens hear the word nonfiction they automatically think boring books about facts. I used to think that too and relied only on the nonfiction section for research. So when student after student suggested I read James Swanson’s book Chasing Lincoln’s Killer I did so reluctantly.

This is how learning about history should be! Swanson is an absolute magician when it comes to weaving together pieces of history and testimony to recreate the manhunt for the infamous John Wilkes Booth beginning with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and ending with Booth’s capture twelve days later. I love history and thought I knew everything about Lincoln’s assassination but this book proved there was still so much more to learn. Swanson at times goes into gruesome, in-depth detail which only serves to captivate the reader and motivate them to keep reading. I was absolutely blown away to learn how many people helped Booth escape and the number of close calls he had with getting caught. My favorite part was seeing pictures and reproductions of all the conspirators, locations, and newspapers/cartoons surrounding this event in history.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5. The reason I can’t give this book a full five stars, is that many times I felt like I was rereading certain pages. The author can be a bit repetitive at the beginning of the book but by the end I was more focused on John Wilkes Booth then whether or not I had already read a certain piece of information.

Similar read: Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

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The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Title: The Maze Runner

Author: James Dashner

Publisher: Delacorte Press      Year: 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0385737951

Genre: Science Fiction

Age: 12 and up

Awards: YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers 2011

Themes / Subjects: dystopian society, young adult, fantasy adventure, science fiction, relationships

Plot Summary:

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name everything else is a complete blank. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them open and every night they are closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers. Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

My Take:

If you are looking for a great series to read after finishing Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games Trilogy then this is exactly what you are looking for.

From the very beginning and until the finish, author James Dashner provides barely enough information to answer the questions that form in the reader’s mind but what information he gives does promote one to keep reading. I found myself reading the book in one sitting because I just had to know what was going on and how the story was going to end.

I felt the characters weren’t as well developed as they could have been. Teresa is an extremely important character yet she is just so flat. Thomas was a bit of a disappointment as well and his character really doesn’t develop until almost the end of the book. On the other hand certain secondary characters were so deeply created that they at times had a larger impact on me than the main character.

By the end of the book I was wondering, what was the point of all that? The characters themselves don’t understand why they were put through the horrors they were and one can only hope this is because the author will develop the story I the next two books. The reason I liked this book was because the suspense kept me intrigued. I just had to know why the boys were in the maze and how they were going to escape. I just with it had been more thought provoking and detailed.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars … The plot seemed to drag which dragged out the suspense and not always in a good way. Still a great read.

Similar read: Divergent by Veronica Roth

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Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff by Jennifer L. Holm

Title: Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff

Author: Jennifer L. Holm

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers      Year: 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1442436633

Genre: Fiction

Age: 8 and up

Awards: ALA Notable Children’s Books, Beehive Award Master List (Utah), Booksense Children’s Pick, BookPage Notable Title, Charlotte Award Ballot (New York), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award Master List (Vermont), Lone Star Reading List 2008-2009, NAPPA Gold Award Winner, Publishers Weekly Starred Review, South Carolina Book Award Nominee, 2007 New York Public Library‘s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list

Themes / Subjects: Middle School, growing up, girls, friendship, education, family, relationships

Plot Summary:

Ginny Davis begins her seventh grade year with a list of items to accomplish. None of these items, however, include accidently turning her hair pink, or losing the lead role in the ballet recital to her ex-best friend. If anything could go wrong this school year, then it will.

As readers follow Ginny’s story of her year through her collection of stuff – notes from friends, report cards, receipts, cartoons, poems, etc. – an image of a funny, loveable girl struggling with her identity emerges, whoever that girl ultimately turns out to be.

My Take:

I was extremely skeptical reading a book that was told through stuff. At first glance, I thought there was no way that the book would be coherent and would only work for higher thinkers/readers. This book was actually pretty cool.

The first thing that makes this book neat is that it is not written like a typical book. Instead each page has “stuff” like to do lists, notes, IM’s, receipts, programs, etc. I would recommend reading the book twice. The first time just read the book to read it. The second time you read it, really take the time to look at the connections between all the stuff and what is said. For example, second on Ginny’s to-do list that opens the book is to get the role of the Sugarplum Fairy in the Nutcracker, so you know how much Ginny wants the role. Later on in the book you see the casting list, and on the next page you see a journal entry lamenting her stepfather’s forgetfulness, and you easily connect the dots for that plotline.

This is such a hilarious and beautiful story, about the resiliency and spirit that early adolescents have, in spite of things that always seem to go wrong.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars … A very easy read but is definitely better the second time.

Similar read: Middle School the Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson

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Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Title: Al Capone Does My Shirts

Author: Gennifer Choldenko

Publisher: Perfection Learning     Year: 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0756970208

Genre: Fiction

Age: 10 and up

Awards: Newbery Honor, NYPL’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, Publishers Weekly Best Book 2004, ALA Best Book for Young Adults 2005, ALA Notable Book 2005, New York Public Library Best Book for Teen Age 2005

Themes / Subjects: Alcatraz, Special Needs, Relationships, Coming of Age, Friendships, 1930s, Famous convicts of the 1930s, Family, Social Issues

Plot Summary:

It is 1935, right in the midst of the Great Depression when Moose Flanagan’s father takes a job as a prison guard on Alcatraz Island. This means the whole family, including his mom and older sister, Natalie, have to live on the island, within the shadow of the prison, in an apartment building with the families of the other guards. Moose is not happy about leaving his home and friends in Santa Monica to take up residence next to a prison. Moose adjusts to life in a strange new place, stuck with the responsibility of looking after his sister, hardly seeing his parents, and getting to know the other children on the island, including the pretty and problematic Piper, the daughter of the Warden.

My Take:

When I first saw this book in the school library three years ago, I thought it sounded silly. I was expecting a comedy, maybe some boy humor too. I totally judged this book by the cover. And it was totally not what I expected. Sure there is humor sprinkled throughout the book, but I was so surprised how serious the book was.  The story is told by Moose Flanagan, a 12-year-old boy whose family has recently moved to Alcatraz because of his father’s job. I expected the book to be about Moose’s relationship with Alcatraz and fitting in, which it does a little, but the bulk of the book is about Moose’s relationship with his special needs sister.

What I love most about this book was reading about their relationship and how Natalie’s special needs affect the entire family. It really is tough love.  I really believe this book could help teens to understand people with special needs and that they deserve to be treated with the same respect as everyone else. This story is really deep and has so many wonderful messages yet the setting and time period help to keep it light.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars … I think Al Capone would be delighted to know he plays a vital, positive, role in a young teen’s life in this novel

Similar read: The Children of Alcatraz: Growing Up on the Rock by Claire Rudolph Murphy … A great non-fiction read to learn more about life on Alcatraz with real stories from the kids who lived there.

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Schooled by Gordon Korman

Title: Schooled

Author: Gordon Korman

Publisher: Hyperion Book CH     Year: 2008

ISBN-13: 978-1423105169

Genre: Fiction

Age: 10 and up

Themes / Subjects: Middle School, Bullying, Hippies, Humor, Social Issues, Survival, Relationships, Prejudice

Plot Summary:

“Capricorn (Cap) Anderson has never watched television. He’s never tasted a pizza. Never even heard of a wedgie. Since he was little, his only experience has been living on a farm commune and being home-schooled by his hippie grandmother, Rain” (back of book). Yet when his grandmother falls from a tree and has to stay in the hospital for an extended period of time, Cap is forced to move in with a social worker and her mean teenage daughter. At school, Cap is immediately targeted because of his weirdness. He wears hemp, tie-dyed clothes, beads, has long hair and practices tai chi and meditation. At Claverage Middle School, it is a long standing tradition that the biggest nerd be elected eighth grade class president, and big man on campus Zach Powers has his eyes set on Cap.

My Take:

The kids at this school are horrible! What really bugs me about this book is the entire time Cap attends Claverage Middle School no one stands up for him, yet at the end of the book all 1100 students have something good to say about him. But what really bugged me was Mr. Kasigi’s, the principal, ignorance throughout the book. He knew that bullying was going on at his school and he knew the joke of the eighth grade president yet he looks the other way. As a mentor and educator he has a really horrible attitude.

Overall the book lacked the action that I’ve come to expect from Gordon Korman. Every day was the same for Cap with little change, I wasn’t a fan of the characters especially Mrs. Donelly, Cap’s social worker. Her daughter was one of the worse people to Cap yet she did little to stop her. And the ending, well it kind sucked. Suddenly everything is resolved. No problem. Really? Not very realistic.

With all that being said, it’s a work of fiction and a quick read and it might make kids think about different lifestyles and values different from their own. A school reading group could have a field day with this book when used in a discussion about bullying.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars … I really like Gordon Korman but I sit in the middle with this book. Too much bullying, not enough action and a not so great ending

Similar read:

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Hank Zipzer: Niagara Falls, or Does It? by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

Title: Hank Zipzer: Niagara Falls, or Does It?

Author: Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap      Year: 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0448431628

Genre: Fiction

Age: 7 and up

Awards: Beehive Children’s Fictional Book Award,  Black-Eyed Susan Book Award,  Maud Hart Lovelace Award,  Wyoming Indian Paintbrush Book Award

Themes / Subjects: Elementary school, school & education, learning disabilities, humor, friendships, social issues – special needs, juvenile fiction

Plot Summary:

For Hank Zipzer, fourth grade is not the fresh start he thought it’d be. On his first day back to school he is called to the principal’s office where he is scolded for being late to school. When he returns back to class things get even worse when Mrs. Adolf assigns the class a five paragraph essay on “What You Did This Summer” and tells Hank he will be the first to present his essay. Five paragraphs?! Hank can hardly write one good sentence, how is he going to write five paragraphs? Instead of writing what he did last summer, Hank decides to use his “creativity” to present a living essay. Naturally it begins well and ends as a disaster landing Hank in detention which strangely enough may end up changing his life.

My Take:

Is Hank Zipzer really the world’s greatest underachiever? I think not. Hank Zipzer is absolutely an amazingly awesome character and one whom I greatly admire. Everyone learns differently and it’s a little heartbreaking to read that people (especially his parents) think Hank is lazy or dumb just because he does things differently. In fact, he is a creative genius and has a knack for remembering interesting facts. He just has difficulty translating his knowledge to boring assignments. It uses silly, irreverent, classroom humor to tell the story of a young boy who enlists the aid of his classmates to keep him out of trouble. This is one book in a series of similar stories, and promises good reading for kids of all ages.

I know the age is 7 and up and this is a teen/tween page, so why include this book? Because it is that awesome! The lessons in this book can be applied to all ages and should be read by all ages. Don’t let the fact that Hank is an elementary kid scare you off, take my word for it, it’s a great read.

Neat fact: Henry Winkler is dyslexic and his stories are about a kid with a learning disability. See any similarities? Hmm…

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Similar read: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos … Like Hank Zipzer, Joey Pigza the main character of this series has a learning disabilities and struggles with his desire to behave and his impulses.

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