Great Reads for Teens and Tweens!

Helping you make an informed decision about that book

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Title: One Crazy Summer

Author: Rita Williams-Garcia

Publisher: Amistad    Year: 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0060760908

Genre: Fiction

Age: 9 and up

Awards: 2011 Coretta Scott King Award Winner, 2011 Newbery Honor Book, 2011 Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction, 2010 National Book Award Finalist, Junior Library Guild Selection, Texas Library Association Best Book for 2010

Themes / Subjects: Juvenile Fiction, Historical Fiction, Prejudice & Racism, Family Life, Travel & Culture, African American, Black Panther Party, 20th century issues, Civil Rights Movement

Plot Summary:

It’s the summer of 1968 and sisters, 11-year-old Delphine, 9-year-old Vonetta, and 7-year-old Fern embark on an adventure that takes them from Brooklyn, New York to Oakland, California to meet the mother that abandoned them many years ago. The girls have no idea what to expect, but they certainly didn’t expect to participate in a day camp run by members of the Black Panther Party. Cecile Johnson, their mother, “mammal birth giver,” is secretive about her work behind the closed kitchen doors and wants nothing to do with them. Set during one of the most tumultuous years in American history, One Crazy Summer explores the civil rights movement through the eyes of children.

My Take:

I actually walked away from this book with a better knowledge of the civil rights movement and Black Panther Party. The reader sees the historical changes through the eyes of Delphine, the oldest sister. Although she is just 11 going on 12, Delphine is extremely wise for her age and carries the added weight of being responsible for her sisters. I love how conscious she is of the differences between blacks and whites, yet she doesn’t allow her views or opinions to be mandated by others especially the Black Panther party.

Throughout the book, I kept hoping for Cecile Johnson to change and finally become the mother the little girls so desperately wanted/needed. However, through Delphine’s, Vonetta’s, and Fern’s journey I grew to feel sorry for Cecile and had a better understanding of her relationship with her children (or lack of one). This book is both excellent for teens and adults because the impact of that summer continues to affect us today.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Similar read: The Watson’s Go to Birmingham1963  by Christopher Paul Curtis

Leave a comment »

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Title: Little House on the Prairie

Author:  Laura Ingalls Wilder

Publisher: HarperCollins (75th Anniversary Edition)            Year: 2010

ISBN -13: 978-0061958274

Age: 8 and up

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Subjects / Themes: Juvenile Fiction, Family Life, Frontier, Pioneer Life, 19th Century United States, Farm & Ranch Life, Historical Fiction, Classic

Plot Summary:

Pa Ingalls is tired of how crowded the big woods are getting. So he decides to sell the house and move west with his family. Just before the ice breaks, the family loads up their wagon and heads out. They cross the Mississippi River and then head south, settling two days away from Independence, Missouri. Now they have to build a new house and survive the wilderness. Meanwhile, Laura is anxious to see a papoose. And with all the Indians in the area, she may get her chance.

My take:

Little House on the Prairie is a true classic that is not only enjoyed by children but adults as well. The writing is simple yet the story is captivating. It is a wonderfully enthralling educational adventure story that captivates its readers from the very first page. Although it is categorized as a fictional story, I consider this book non-fiction since it provides us with a pretty accurate view of the relationship between settlers and Indians and between pioneers and the government. This book and series is a great way to introduce students to the 19th century westward movement in the United States.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Similar Read: The Headless Horseman by Mayne Reed

Leave a comment »

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

Leave a comment »

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:

Leave a comment »

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Title: Maniac Magee

Author: Jerry Spinelli

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers      Year: 1990

ISBN-10: 0316807222

Genre: Fiction

Age: 9 and up

Awards: Newbery Medal (1991), Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award (1993), Nene Award (1996), Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (1993), Flicker Tale Children’s Book Award (1992), Flicker Tale Children’s Book Award (1992), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award (1992), Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Reader’s Choice Award (1993), New Mexico Land of Enchantment Award (1993)

Themes / Subjects: Social issues, prejudice & racism, runaways, orphans, relationships, family relationships

Plot Summary:

All Maniac Magee wants is an address with numbers that he can tell people is where he lives and a loving family to come home to. Before he became Maniac Magee, Jeffrey Magee was orphaned as a baby when his parents died in a trolley accident. Sent to live with an unloving/feuding aunt and uncle who refuse to divorce because they are Catholic, Jeffrey finally decides to run away at age 8. Eventually he makes his way to the highly segregated town of Two Mills where through his amazing feats, Maniac (as the townspeople will call him) transforms the town forever.

My Take:

I love action and stories that don’t spend too much time building the story up. Within the first three pages, Maniac is orphaned and living with his feuding Catholic aunt and uncle. This is going to be good!

Maniac Magee is a truly wonderful character and young hero. Although much of the time he is sleeping on the streets or with other down-and-outs like himself, he continues to amaze everyone he meets with his friendly nature, athletic feats, and complete color-blindness. This book is part of the 6th grade curriculum at the school where I work. Although the targeted audience of this book is ages 9-12, a few of the teachers agree with me that older kids would benefit from reading (or re-reading) this book. The issues or prejudice & racism and how Maniac handles the situations would make for an awesome in-depth discussion and debate.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. I couldn’t give it a full 5 stars because there were a couple scenes that made me feel a little weird. Why didn’t anyone call the authorities when this kid wouldn’t go to school or go home? Then again it was a different time when this book was written.

Similar read: The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

1 Comment »