Tag Archives: adventure

[O] Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris

17 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

This review refers to the Overdrive version of the audiobook of Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris, read by Carrington MacDuffie.

Christian was raised by a troll, but that didn’t stop him from longing after Princess Marigold. They become pen pals by carrier pigeon, and one day, Christian decides to make his fortune and find work at the palace. There, he must save Marigold from her mother’s schemes and prove that he is worthy of her love.

This is a cute story that is pretty funny, although younger listeners may not get all the references to fairy tales and pop culture. MacDuffie’s voice took some getting used to at the beginning, but her performance is funny and draws listeners into the story.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter O.

[J] Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

11 Apr

(#93 on School Library Journal‘s Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results from 2012.)

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson is set in 1910 and is about an orphaned English girl named Maia who gets sent off to live in the Amazon with her relatives and has lots of adventures. There’s even a small love triangle with a stage actor she meets on the boat over and a mysterious Indian boy she meets in the jungle. It’s a satisfying read that goes on longer than expected (in a good way) and ties up all the loose ends by the last page.

I loved this book. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started reading it (all I knew was that it started with the letter “J” and that it was by a popular author I hadn’t really read much of before). It was written more recently than I expected, too, in 2001. I first heard of Ibbotson when I read The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, but after reading this book, the omnibus of three of her books just jumped to the top of my “to read” pile (right after all the books I need to read for this challenge, and the others I need to read for class…)

Even though I read tons of orphan books growing up and usually prefer to have loving parents (even if they’re absent) these days, Maia was just the kind of character that I liked to read about. She was smart, brave, resourceful, and just plain fun to read about. She was basically what I had hoped Calpurnia Tate would be, but Callie Vee did not keep my attention the way Maia did.

The natives in this book are seen through the rose-colored glasses of Maia, which seem to be typical for the time period, but since it is actually a contemporary book, their portrayal is probably not as offensive as it could have been. Unrealistic maybe, but not offensive. I also spent way too much time while I was reading the book getting distracted by her name, since Maya is a common Japanese name, but I haven’t really heard of an English girl with that name before. (Apparently she was named after Hermes’s mother in Greek mythology, which is appropriate, since her parents were very well-traveled.)

Anyway, everyone should read this book, but it’s great for girls who like historical fiction or adventure books. :)

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter J.


[X] Xanth series by Piers Anthony

27 Apr

The first and only thing I could think of for the letter X was the Xanth series by Piers Anthony. I don’t know if I would consider them YA, but I think I read them in late elementary school because I found the books at the junior high where I had Chinese school on Saturdays. They were probably a little mature for me, but I enjoyed the humor and the fantasy elements. There was also an older girl at church who collected the series, so she let me borrow a bunch of the books in the series after she found out that I liked them.

Considering how much I read them at the time, it’s kind of sad that I can barely remember anything about them. Looking at my bookshelf, I actually own quite a few of his books, but I couldn’t remember which ones were part of the Xanth series and which ones were part of a different series. I remember now that I liked the puzzles in the Adept series, so I bought books from that series, but I didn’t realize that I only bought the second half (I think). I did manage to find an X book under “Anthony, Piers” on my shelf, though–Xone of Contention, which is part of the Xanth series.

Even with the help of Wikipedia, I couldn’t remember much about the book or the series, so that’s all for this very short post… Only two more to go!

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter X. 

[T] Tiger by Jeff Stone

23 Apr

Tiger by Jeff Stone is the first book in the Five Ancestors series about five young warrior monks whose temple, the only home and family they have ever known, is destroyed. They are the only survivors, starting them on a quest to learn about their pasts and save their country.

Even though Jeff Stone is not Chinese, he has a respect for the Chinese culture that comes through in these novels.  He uses both Mandarin and Cantonese words throughout the books, including in the names of the characters, who are all named after animals that reflect their personalities.  I don’t speak Cantonese, but by the time the words are romanized, they tend to come out similar to Mandarin, and it was fun trying to figure out what all the words meant (and brush up on my knowledge of Chinese animal names!).

This is a dark, suspenseful action-packed series that will leave you wanting to read the next book as soon as possible, so I would recommend getting your hands on a complete set before reading Tiger. Fortunately, I was able to get the first six ebooks all at once, and I borrowed the seventh and last book from my library way before I finished the sixth, so I was able to read straight through them.

If you can’t tell by the description above, this book is great for boys, and fast-paced enough for reluctant readers. I recommended it to my fifth graders last year, but I don’t think anyone ended up reading it. :( I’ll have to try harder to promote it this summer. Girls are usually more willing to read about boy main characters, and I think those who enjoy action or adventure stories will also like this series. There are also a few strong female characters in the series, so girls should have no problem relating.  With all that action, it does get a little gory though, so be prepared for some blood.

Here’s Random House’s website for the series, complete with Flash trailer and cheesy music.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter T. 

[S] The Strictest School in the World by Howard Whitehouse

21 Apr

I randomly picked up the first book, The Strictest School in the World, at the library because the subtitle looked interesting:

Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, a Rubber Boy and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly Broken (The Mad Misadventures of Emmaline and Rubberbones)

I liked the part about the clever girl because I always enjoy reading about clever girls (having aspired to be one in the past, I now just find them amusing). Most of my favorite books involve clever girls, and my favorite novel that I wrote for Nanowrimo stars a clever girl.

Emmaline’s dream is to build flying machines, and Rubberbones, a boy who can’t get hurt, is destined to help her fly them. However, her mother (in India with her father, a British colonial officer) wants her to become a lady, so she sends Emmaline off to a boarding school for girls that is known as the strictest school in the world. The rest of the Mad Misadventures series follows their adventures and misadventures with a cast of wacky and colorful characters, most of whom you would not want in your living room, even if they do mean well.

It had been a while since I read about England and its surroundings, and I have to say I enjoyed reading about the horrible boarding school and the cool Aunt Lucy (widowed, round in shape, fierce with an umbrella, enjoys cooking with slugs) who encourages her niece in her endeavors. I also loved Lal Singh, Aunt Lucy’s mysterious Indian butler, who seemed to have been a solider in a past life. He always seemed to appear in the right place at the right time, and his Indian curry sounded delicious, especially compared to Aunt Lucy’s slug cakes.

The headmistress of St. Grimelda’s School for Young Ladies reminded me of Miss Trunchbull (from Matilda, by Road Dahl), and disgusted me almost as much. The villain of the second book was also gross, as the faceless fiend really had no face. In comparison, the Collector (of mad scientists) in the third book was not nearly as intimidating or fleshed out as a character, as he sent his underlings to do most of his dirty work and just sat in his lair for pretty much the whole book.

The books all start off a little slow, but once the action starts, it continues until the very last page, with only a few breathers in the end. Every time one problem is resolved, another seems to take its place. The climax generally takes place very near the end of the book, and what comes after that is is rush of resolving loose ends that left me wanting more. Which was why I read the next book. And the book after that.

It is very effective, making me want to read more even after there were no more pages. However, at times, I got tired of the American mad scientist Professor Bellbuckle blowing something up–again–and Princess Purnah (the rightful heir to the throne of a small, very violent, country) messing up yet another plan with her random outbursts and thirst for blood and sweets. It’s loads of fun, but can get a little tiring if you read it all at once.

Overall, it’s a fun mad-cap adventure that never quite seems to stop, whether you want it to or not. I think kids of all ages would love their adventures, but for American kids unaccustomed to the speech and vocabulary of Britain, it may be a little difficult to understand. The more they are exposed to it, though, the easier it will be for them to absorb, so this may be a good place for them to start, as long as they are willing to skim over the parts they don’t understand (which is a good tip for any child reading anything that contains content that is above their level).

There is a little real history, mixed with real and fictional characters from a number of famous and not so famous books, including Queen Victoria, Sherlock Holmes, Sigmund Freud, and Nikola Tesla. The same goes for the map of the world Whitehouse created, which includes both real and made-up places. Kids may have a hard time telling fact from fiction (which is the point), but it would be a great place to start or end interdisciplinary work on the Victorian era.

Contains mild violence, kidnapping, guns, knives, pterodactyls, and a scary headmistress. Includes dialect that may be hard to understand for lower level readers, especially in places that are not England.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter S.*

*Note: I actually wrote this review almost immediately after reading the book last year and was saving it for this blog, so please excuse the length…

[Q] The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whelan Turner

19 Apr

I can’t believe I didn’t discover Megan Whelan Turner until last year! I mean, she was even in Disney Adventure! And I had a subscription to that for years, although I was already in high school by the time her story came out in it and had stopped subscribing.

The Queen of Attolia is the second book in her The Queen’s Thief series (which, according to Wiki, is a fan-coined name). I try to introduce the first book of a series as much as possible, but I’m making an exception since I need a book for “Q” (I suppose I could have used the name of the series like I did for The Immortals Quartet by Tamora Pierce, but I’m trying to keep it to book titles as much as possible this month). I loved this series so much that I bought all four books after reading the ebooks from the library.

The world Turner writes has elements of Greek myths, but it is really about political maneuverings with a little intervention by the gods. It does remind me a bit of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books, which have some of the same feel to them. Turner and Pierce both do a great job with characterization, and Gen reminds me of George Cooper from the Tortall books. The politics is as engaging as Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games, and there’s a bit of Percy Jackson thrown in with the mythologies. And there are more unexpected twists than any of those series, I think. (Just writing this makes me want to go back and re-read them!)

Some profanity in The Queen of Attolia makes me not want to use it with my fifth graders, who can still be somewhat immature when it comes to things like that. I would definitely use the first book, The Thief, though. It’s a great book, written in first person, even though the rest of the series is written in third person. It has the added bonus of being a Newberry Honor book in 1997, which is always nice to tell the parents.

This series has strong male and female characters with enough action for the boys and a little romance for the girls. Great for fans of any of the series I mentioned above, although the series does get a little darker after the first book.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter Q.

[M] The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

14 Apr

Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?

This is the beginning of the ad that the four main characters of this book (series) answer when they start on their adventure.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart is filled with puzzles and mysteries that the reader can try to solve along with the characters. I’ve been trying to teach my students to read critically by asking questions and making predictions, and this would be a great series to get kids to do that naturally.

I was on the fence about reading this book, but when I saw the actual book and the cover at the library, I knew that I would enjoy it. I did, and so did everyone else I recommended it to (including picky fifth grade boys).

The first book is a little slow, and there is some pretty important information to understanding what is going on that is not revealed until the very end of the book. You don’t realize what you’re missing until you read the second book, though, and I think the first book would be better if re-read after finding that new piece of information (I didn’t have time to re-read it, though–I was too busy reading H.I.V.E.).

Kids seem to like it a lot, especially the more precocious ones (this was another word I’d learned from Dealing with Dragons, come to think of it). Great for advanced fourth or fifth graders, boys and girls alike (the main characters are two boys and two girls). Also good for kids who like puzzles or games.

The book also has a great website with all the usual book website stuff, plus games and a link to their free app on iTunes. We have been talking about engaging patrons through social media a lot in my library school classes, and while this isn’t a library, I think it’s a great example of a book that is taking advantage of its content and the technology available to reach out to its target audience.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter M. 

[H] H.I.V.E. by Mark Walden

9 Apr

H.I.V.E. = The Higher Institute of Villainous Education.

I loved this book from the title, and the story (and its sequels), weren’t too shabby, either. They reminded me of Harry Potter mashed together with Mission:Impossible or another flashy action movie with cool gadgets. The acronyms in the book all spelled out something meaningful, which was also fun.

It was while I was reading this book that I realized that books were being written for shorter attention spans these days. This book reads like a spy movie or T.V. show (which isn’t surprising, since the author has an M.A. in Twentieth Century Literature, Film and Television and used to be a video game producer/designer according to Wiki).

That said, other than the shortage of commas, this is (another) favorite new discovery. I’m waiting anxiously for the full series to come out in the States so I can buy a box set!

Really action-packed, full of diverse characters (one of whom even speaks American English!) and strong male and female characters. Great for reluctant readers and book lovers of all ages and backgrounds. (The main character is a 13-year-old boy, and School Library Journal lists it as being for grades 5-8.)

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter H.

[E] The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer

5 Apr

This science fiction book set in a futuristic Africa is a Newbery Honor book from 1995, but the future doesn’t feel too dated. It features a brother and sister (with their younger brother) as the main characters, so it easily appeals to boys and girls. I am always on the lookout for books that can appeal to both genders because I rarely have book club classes that are just boys or just girls, so I want to make sure that everyone can enjoy the book. I also try to switch off between male and female protagonists if I can.

I remember my sister and I both reading this book and enjoying it a lot through at least middle school. My copy of this book is pretty battered from the re-readings (and I think just the time it spent in my bag). I did re-read it recently because I was thinking about using it for a class (although we ran out of book club time because we needed to do test prep…). Even so, it took me a while before I could remember if the main characters were black or white.

This struck me because I was just reading this article about how characters are “white until proven black,” and I saw that I shared the same stereotypes in my reading. Most of the books that I read while growing up had white protagonists, so my natural association with books turned into one that is primarily white. I’m trying to counter that by reading (and re-reading) as many diverse books as possible, but there is still that part of me that defaults to white.

(Going further off topic, just the other day, my Korean American students–boys and girls–failed to notice that the main character of a short scene was female because they didn’t know her name, even though she was referred to with female pronouns throughout the passage.)

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm has mystery, action, likable characters, and bogeymen. Great for middle grades and up. It also deals with issues about race, gender, prejudice, and acceptance.

And just in case you were wondering, the main kids in the story are black, although a few key white characters (including the Ear from the title) help describe race relations in the society in the book.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter E. 

[D] Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

4 Apr

Patricia C. Wrede was probably one of the first authors whose name I remembered as a child. I remember reading and loving Dealing with Dragons in what must have been 3rd or 4th grade, when the first Scholastic paperback version came out.

After reading it once, I lost it and didn’t find it again until 6th grade, when I carefully taped in a bookplate so that I would never lose it again. There was no point, though, since I never loaned it out to anyone because I was so afraid I would never see it again.

I read it over and over that year, and then at least once a year after that until I went to college. I distinctly remember looking up the definition of the word “disposition” from this book and actually remembering it because I had read it so many times (as opposed to other words that I looked up and promptly forgot). 

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

My beat-up copy of the book. You can't really tell from the picture, but the cover is actually taped on because it fell off after being read too many times.

It was and still is one of my favorite booksand Patricia C. Wrede is still one of my favorite authors (I read her blog every week). I had mentioned in an earlier post that I love fairy tale retellings. For Dealing with Dragons and the rest of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (the name of the quartet), Wrede manages to put in lots of references to fairy tales from “The Frog Prince” to “Sleeping Beauty.” And that’s just in the first chapter.

But what I really love about this book is that the main character, Cimorene, is not a typical princess or a typical heroine. She’s smart, practical, and funny, and she was probably one of my earliest role models (although I didn’t notice at the time). Plus, she wasn’t Asian, but she had black hair in a time when all the other girls I read about had blond or brown hair.

This was the first book I thought of when my boss asked me to do a book club with my (then 4th/5th grade) students. The girls loved it, and the boys were okay reading it, but the biggest problem in teaching the book was the vocabulary. I was at the stage where I was encouraging my students to look up all the words they didn’t know, and Wrede does not write down to kids. I had one overachieving student come in with over a hundred vocabulary words (and sentences!) one week. I love this book, but I would probably not choose to teach it again.

I will recommend it (and its sequels) to any girl that comes my way, though. Pre-teen (and up) girls might also like Wrede’s Regency fantasy books: Mairelon the Magician and The Magician’s Apprentice (now reprinted together as A Matter of Magic) and The Sorcery and Cecelia series by Wrede and Caroline Stevermer.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter D. 


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