Great Reads for Teens and Tweens!

Helping you make an informed decision about that book

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary

Title: Ramona Quimby, Age 8

Author: Beverly Cleary

Publisher: HarperCollins        Year: 1992

ISBN-13: 978-0380709564

Genre: Fiction

Age: 8 and up

Awards: Newbery Honor Book, IRA/CBC Children’s Choice, Buckeye Children’s Book Award (Ohio), Garden State Children’s Book Award (New Jersey), Charlie May Simon Book Award (Arkansas), ALA Notable Children’s Book, Horn Book Fanfare, Horn Book Fanfare, Parents’ Choice Gold Award, Parents’ Choice Gold Award

Themes / Subjects: Juvenile Fiction, Elementary School, Friendships, Family Life

Plot Summary:

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

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary http://goanimate.com/videos/0ZjsHi-6puxw

My Take:

Another classic from my childhood! The pages of my copy are literally falling out, but I’ve had the book since childhood and can’t bear to throw it out for a new copy. In elementary school I had my fair share of mishaps which is just one of the reasons I love Ramona Quimby. Reading about her made me feel like it was ok that I leaned up against the wall with wet paint and got it in my hair because Ramona had gotten egg in hers. Ramona is literally the little girl inside every one of us and even if you relate more with Beezus, I am sure you have had a Ramona moment. Although this book is intended for children, I would highly recommend that parents buy it for their young kids and keep it on the family bookshelf because they are going to want to read it again and again.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Similar read: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. No young girl’s life is complete without Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume by their beds.

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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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Apples to Apples Junior – The Game of Crazy Comparisons!

Name: Apples to Apples Junior – The Game of Crazy Comparisons

Created by: Mattel

Age: 9 and up

Players: 4 – 10

Description:

Apples to Apples Junior is a hilarious card game with crazy comparisons that is not only fun to play but also helps players expand their vocabulary and thinking skills. “The game is as easy as comparing apples to apples – just open the box, deal the RED APPLE cards to each player, and you’re ready to go!” (from the manufacturer).  Players take turns being the judge and the judge starts the game by playing a GREEN APPLE card featuring a one-word characteristic such as Amazing or Scary. The rest of the players must then pick one of their own RED APPLE cards in their hands that they think is best described by the judge’s card. When everyone has put their cards on the table, you must try to convince the judge that yours is the best match. If your card is picked, then you win that round! The first player to win four rounds wins the game!

My Take:

I first played this game at Christmas time with my family (that was the Disney version) and am an Apples to Apples addict! The game and rules are very easy to follow and the discussions it causes people to get into are hilarious! I would suggest the junior version for younger kids because I’ve found that they did not understand some of the words on the original version. Winning is entirely based on the opinion of the dealer and everyone gets a turn of being the dealer so this game is perfect for everyone. There is really no way to cheat in this game although I have been a part of some pretty heated discussions over whose card is the best match. I think this game also offers insight into how people think and was really impressed by the thought the dealers put into selecting a card.

Rating: 5 out of 5 apples … I’ve played quite a few versions of Apples to Apples and loved each and every one of them!

Similar Game: Headbanz Game by Spin Master Games

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Notes from the Dog by Gary Paulsen

Title: Notes from the Dog

Author: Gary Paulsen

Publisher: Ember; Reprint edition               Year: 2011

ISBN – 13: 978-0375855429

Age: 12 and up

Genre: Fiction

Subjects / Themes: Young Adult, Neighbors, Self-Confidence, Animals – Dogs, Health, Friendship, Family Life, Entrepreneur

Plot Summary:

Finn is a fourteen-year-old loner who lives with his dad and best friend Dylan … who happens to be his dog. Finn is terrified of meeting people and finds conversations to be painful which is why this summer he has “planned, in fact, to speak to fewer than a dozen people over the entire summer” (p.14). Then he meets his pretty new neighbor, 24-year-old Johanna, a cancer survivor with a passion for life. With his only true friend Matthew, Finn learns to love and take care of Johanna both emotionally and physically and while doing so begins to change in big ways himself.

My Take:

Gary Paulsen is a celebrated young adult/children’s author whose book Hatchet is a part of our school district’s fifth grade curriculum, so I knew that his latest book was bound to be good and it didn’t disappoint.

The characters in this book were so well developed that as I read, I felt like I truly knew them. Finn is a major introvert at the beginning of the book and your heart just breaks because of his insecurities. Yet, as you learn more about him you begin to realize he is very wise for his age. The whole book I was rooting for him to come out of his shell and for his endeavors to be successful.

I did expect there to be more to the notes from the dog, but Paulsen seemed content to let Finn tuck them away in a special place and let the reader ponder over what the notes meant. I was a little disappointed with the ending but only because I wanted there to be more to it. Still, I couldn’t help closing the book with a smile on my face and thinking “that was nice.”

Our fifth grade teachers are looking to update their reading curriculum and I would highly recommend adding this book to their list. It deals with the difficult topic of breast cancer, loners, and dysfunctional families with such grace and tenderness that as a reader you become more involved with the characters and not so much the negative things they are going through.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars … this is such a wonderful, heart-warming story

Similar Read: Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

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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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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

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Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Title: Twilight

Author: Stephenie Meyer

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Year: 2008

ISBN -13: 978-0316038379

Age: 14 and up

Genre: Fiction

Subjects / Themes: high school, forbidden romance, fantasy & magic, vampires, relationships

Awards: Publishers Weekly’s “Best Children’s Books of 2005”, School Library Journal’s “Best Books of 2005”, 2008 #26 in USA Today’s list of “Bestselling Books of Last 15 Years”, bestselling book of 2008 and second biggest selling of 2009

Plot Summary:

When 17-year-old Bella Swan moves to Forks, Washington she unwillingly becomes the center of attention in her new peers eyes, except one. Bella is mystified by the alluring and handsome Edward Cullen who spends little time socializing with his classmates and most of the time with his family. The Cullens have managed to keep their vampire identity a secret in the small community of Forks but everything changes when their existence and Bella’s life is threatened.Can Bella and Edward’s love survive their biological differences and will Edward be able to protect everyone he loves?

My Take:

This wouldn’t be a teen book review blog if I didn’t include the “hottest” book since Harry Potter and before the Hunger Games. I’ve put off this review because I’m not sure I can be completely unbiased. Let me explain …

The first time I read this book I was in college and recently single. I never really fit in with any of my classmates so I was totally feeling like Bella Swan. The idea of falling in love with a good-looking but dangerous boy? Enticing. I devoured every page and didn’t sleep a wink that entire week because I JUST HAD TO READ THE WHOLE SERIES.

The second time I read the book I hated every minute of it. Coming out of a tough break-up probably didnt’ help but all I could think was Bella was an idiot. I couldn’t understand what had appealed to me the first time I read the book but this second time I was definitely not Bella. How could she put herself in danger and not think or care about how it would affect her family or few friends? Or my biggest annoyance, how could their love be so deep and true if they hardly knew one another?!

Not too long ago I reread this book for a third time. I can honestly say, I don’t understand the hype around this book or movie. Sure the story is fun and a little daring but I found too many flaws and inconsistencies in Meyer’s writing to really enjoy the book. For example in one paragraph it’s the beginning of the week and Bella is getting ready for finals, the next paragraph finals are over but in the paragraph after that Edward is walking her down the hall after Bella finishes her first final. What the heck? I found myself having to reread certain passages over and over again before I could move on which made this third reading rather tedious. I found the characters to be rather shallow and poorly developed. How could Bella an honor student act so stupid sometimes? And if Edward has lived for a hundred years, why isn’t he smarter?

All in all … if you are thinking about reading it after a break-up, don’t. You really won’t like it. If you are thinking about reading it for fun, then enjoy. If you have an analytical brain who likes a story to have a consistent flow, I’d think twice.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Those inconsistencies really bug me!

Similar Read: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

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Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson by Louise Rennison

Title: Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson

Author: Louise Rennison

Publisher: Harper Teen    Year: 1st edition, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0064472272

Age: 13 and up

Genre: Fiction

Subjects / Themes: Young adult, humor, British comedy, social situations, family life, friendships, relationships

Awards: Not Just for Children Anymore! (Children’s Book Council), IRA/CBC Young Adults’ Choice, Michael L. Printz Honor Book , ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, ALA Best Book for Young Adults, ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, ALA Booklist Editors’ Choice (these are just the more notable awards, check out Rennison’s site for a full listing!)

Plot Summary:

I really loved this plot summary from amazon.com’s Brangien Davis so I thought I’d share it rather than write my own …

“She has a precocious 3-year-old sister who tends to leave wet nappies at the foot of her bed, an insane cat who is prone to leg-shredding “Call of the Wild” episodes, and embarrassing parents who make her want to escape to Stonehenge and dance with the Druids. No wonder 14-year-old Georgia Nicolson laments, “Honestly, what is the point?” A Bridget Jones for the younger set, Georgia records the momentous events of her life–and they are all momentous–in her diary, which serves as a truly hilarious account of what it means to be a modern girl on the cusp of womanhood. No matter that her particular story takes place in England, the account of her experiences rings true across the ocean (and besides, “Georgia’s Glossary” swiftly eradicates any language barriers).

The author, Louise Rennison, is a British comedy writer and it shows. Whether Georgia is dealing with wearing a bra (“OK, it’s a bit on the loose side and does ride up round my neck if I run for the bus”), pondering kissing and how to know which way to turn your head (“You don’t want to be bobbing around like pigeons for hours”), or managing the results of an overzealous eyebrow-plucking episode (“Obviously, now I have to stay in forever”), she always cracks us up. Georgia struggles with the myriad issues facing teen girls–boys, of course being at the forefront–but she does it with such humor and honesty it almost seems like a good time. This refreshingly funny book is ripe for a sequel, which readers will await in droves. (Ages 11 and older).” –Brangien Davis

My Take:

I love this book so much and find it so incredibly hilarious that I was afraid if I attempted a plot summary like Brangien Davis’s I would end up just retelling the whole thing! Of all the diary style books that I have read, this is by far my favorite. Georgia and her girlfriends are goofy, silly, crazy and seriously how I saw myself and my friends at her age. The tween/teen years are so awkward, yet it is comforting to read/hear about other people your age who are just as awkward if not more so than you are. No matter what she and her girlfriends do, things always seem to take a turn for the worse.

Parents (or guardians or educators) do not judge a book by its cover! When my school bought this book there were plenty of teachers and a few parents who thought it was inappropriate for the age group. Other titles in this series include On the Bright Side I’m Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God and Then He Ate My Boy Entrancers. SOOOO, maybe the titles are a little shocking but this shock value is exactly what is going to attract the readers. Remember, Louise Rennison is a British author/comedian so it’s going to contain British humor. There is nothing wildly inappropriate about this series. Most of the kids who have checked out this book have either loved it or not understood its humor and as a result stopped reading. I would highly encourage kids to keep reading and to not forget that Rennison does provide readers with a glossery about British slang/language.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars! As Georgia Nicolson would say it’s “Fabbity fab fab!”

Similar Read: Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary … Ok, ok I know this is kickin it a little old school, but I seriously felt that Georgia Nicolson with all her mishaps could be a teen version of Ramona Quimby. Actually after reading the Georgia Nicolson series I felt an urge to go back and reread my old Ramona books.

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