Great Reads for Teens and Tweens!

Helping you make an informed decision about that book

They Never Came Back by Caroline B. Cooney

Title: They Never Came Back

Author: Caroline B. Cooney

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers      Year: 2010

ISBN-10: 0385738080

Genre: Fiction

Age: 12 and up

Themes / Subjects: Young Adult, Mystery/Suspense, Convicts, Family Life

Plot Summary:

Check out my booktalk trailer I created with goanimate.com!

They Never Came Back by Caroline B. Cooney http://goanimate.com/videos/0-1DbRFgc0yA

My Take:

Imagine having the world at your fingertips: a rich family, mansion, any type of lessons you could want, new clothes and accessories, vacations out of the country, etc.. Now imagine that in one day everything is flipped upside down and you are told your parents are criminals that have fled the country and have left you behind to answer the questions of dozens of people with initials like FBI and NASD. All this and you are ten years old. I could not begin to imagine what young Murielle must have felt.

My heart goes out to Tommy and his family because they so badly want to believe that Cathy Ferris is their missing niece/cousin, Murielle Lyman. The whole book I kept wanting to read ahead to see if Murielle’s parents would ever come back or if they were truly just in love with the money. At the head of each chapter is either Murielle or Cathy’s name which tells the reader not who is talking but what year it is … the present is Cathy and five years back at the time of the incident is Murielle. This was a pretty neat way to not only tell the current story but provide the reader enough of the backstory.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars … I didn’t like finding out so quickly about Cathy Ferris and felt that should have been drawn out more.

Similar read: The Face on the Milk Cartoon by Caroline B. Cooney … after reading They Never Came Back, I had a strong urge to reread The Face on the Milk Cartoon. I remember that book giving me the chills.

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Holes by Louis Sachar

Title: Holes

Author: Louis Sachar

Publisher: Yearling Books   Year: 2000 edition

ISBN-13: 978-9990833089

Genre: Fiction

Age: 10 and up

Awards: 1998 New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of the Year and the winner of the 1998 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the 1999 Boston Globe – Horn Book Award for Fiction and the 1999 Newbery Medal.

Themes / Subjects: Adventure, Boys, Teens, Camp, Juvenile delinquents, Friendship, Social Situations, Family Life, Survival

Plot Summary:

Stanley Yelnats was given a choice. The judge said, “You may go to jail, or you may go to Camp Green Lake.” Stanley was from a poor family. He had never been to camp before.

And so, it would seem that Stanley would be serving an easy sentence for a crime that he had not committed. Yet fate has other things in store for Stanley. Camp Green Lake is not the kind of camp that you look forward to going to during the summer. In the heart of Texas, Camp Green Lake is a bizarre, other worldly place without a lake and absolutely nothing green, although it once boasted to have held “the largest lake in Texas.”

Every day the warden makes the boys “build character” by digging holes five feet deep and five feet wide. Soon Stanley realizes there is more to the character building than simply digging holes but that the warden is actually looking for something lost a long time ago and it isn’t long before Stanley begins to do some searching of his own – for the truth.

My Take:

First off, how cool would it be to have a first name that was your last name backwards and to have that name passed down for generations? It’s pretty neat once you get past the confusing part of understanding what I just said.

Holes is an action filled story full of characters with strong voices, funny scenes and tons of twists and turns that will keep any reader engaged from cover to cover. This is an excellent read for young boys because the characters are so relatable. The beginning is a bit depressing with its bleak descriptions yet the ending is definitely worth the emotional journey. One of my favorite things about this book is how Sachar is able to interweave characters and stories throughout the main story. There were many times I felt myself having an “Oh my gosh!” moment and rushing off to share what I had just read. A good read for in the classroom or book clubs.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Similar read: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli and definitely check out the movie (after you have read the book of course!)

 

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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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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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