The Wampum Exchange

The Wampum Exchange by Rosemary McKinley

(Summary taken from an email the author sent me.) “Long Island author, Rosemary McKinley has written a young adult historical
novella, The Wampum Exchange, set in 1650, Southold, New
York. A
twelve-year-old boy has a chance meeting with a Native American
boy and
their worlds connect in a most interesting way. The tale is told
through
their daily lives, giving the reader a glimpse into life in
America. Middle
grade readers, as well as adults would enjoy reading
this story.”

This is a short, fun little story about life in 1650 in Southold, New York. It looks like Ms. McKinley put a lot of time into researching life in that area and in that time period, and it shows in this story. There are some fun facts about the time period woven into the storyline, and I think it’s a great way to teach children history. They are learning and they don’t know it! I didn’t know much about the wampum and so it was fun for me to learn as well. The story is written in a very simple style, but that makes it easy to read. The characters are fairly well developed, and the setting is well described. There are some really good descriptions in the story.

I enjoyed reading this story and will most likely read it to my kids. I have it in e-reader format, so it’s not one I can just hand over to them to read. It will be a good time to talk about life during that time period and discuss our country’s history, which I definitely enjoy doing. This would be a really good story for elementary school children to read in class, or have read to them. You get a fun story and history included! Of course, it is historical fiction, but it’s based on as much fact as Ms. McKinley could find. I liked this story and recommend it, especially to teachers and younger readers.

Rating: G Clean!

Recommendation: Third grade and up.  This would be a great silent read or read-aloud book.

Chocrotes and the World Without Question

Chocrotes and the World Without Question by Steve Berkowitz

(Summary taken from an email the author sent me)

The
allegorical story, Chocrotes and
the
World Without
Question,
explores the power of
questions, and references ideas around tyranny, revolutionary movements, freedom
of speech, and educational philosophy. For as long as civilization has existed,
people have longed to be free. The struggle for freedom continues to this very
day in countries around the world. Chocrotes and the World Without
Question
provides a timeless lesson
that can help introduce young people to the events that are unfolding in our
modern world. While there are deeper meanings and lessons tucked away in the
pages of the book, the youth of the world will enjoy Chocrotes and the World Without
Question’s
ability to make them
smile and laugh.
The
setting for this book is a fantasy world inhabited strictly by Chickens. In
this far off world, the Chickens live in fear of an evil King: Doodle Doo. This
evil king, having usurped the throne from a Queen and King who believed in the
power of questions and love, Doodle Doo turns the Chicken world upside down and
destroys thousands of lives in the process.
Chocrotes is born during Doodle Doo’s reign and is raised by a
scientist and professor of roostory, who believe in the power of questioning.
Chocrotes believes strongly that his peaceful world has been uprooted by a
fascist regime. Throughout his life Chocrotes asks questions, even though he is
warned not to.
It is not long before he is banished for daring to
question a professor, and exiled to an island in the far reaches of the
kingdom. It is there he develops a philosophical creed by which to live freely,
and to inspire his fellow hens and roosters to rise up against a hateful
dictator. After many years Marco Pollo, an old childhood friend, rescues
Chocrotes from his island of
isolation and helps return him to the world without question.
Chocrotes gathers together his fellow Chickens to stand and fight against the
evil king.

Chocrotes and the World Without Question was initially created as a final project at
Lesley University for a graduate class, Arts and Education: History and
Philosophy. I am a Masters of Education candidate with a focus on Elementary
Education. My experiences in the classroom, both as a student and a teacher,
have shown me how much students truly enjoy asking questions, how questions are
asked constantly in their daily lives, and how curious children really are in
general. I feel this story could help students understand the power of
questioning to make sense of their small and large worlds. With the power of
question, a person, or a Chicken can accomplish anything.
This short story is actually a modern day fable! It’s been a long time since I read Aesop’s fables in elementary school, and this story brings a modern day lesson to the forefront. Yesterday my son was struggling with piano and didn’t want to ask his teacher any questions on how to do it better. Learning that it is okay to ask questions is a big step in each child’s life. A lot of kids don’t have this problem and ask a million questions a day, while others are afraid. There is a good lesson on why it is good, and important, to ask questions about lots of things. If we don’t question then we don’t think for ourselves.
I enjoyed this story. It’s a quick 33 pages and is easy to read. It’s clean, except for an evil leader who kills those who ask questions. (There aren’t really any details about how those chickens die, you just know they do.) This is a great resource for teachers, especially of the older grades. It’s also a good resource for parents.
Rating: PG (It’s clean, but is probably better for kids who are a little older.)
Recommendation: 3rd Grade and up. I think this age group and up will better be able to understand the symbolism and the lesson.
Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Gregor and the Code of Claw

Gregor and the Code of Claw (Book #5) by Suzanne Collins

(Summary taken from the inside book jacket) “Everyone has been trying to keep Gregor from seeing the final prophecy, The Prophecy of Time. It says something awful, but Gregor never imagined just how awful: It calls for the warrior’s death. The warrior being Gregor, of course. Now, an army of rats is quickly approaching and Gregor’s mom and his little sister, Boots, are still in Regalia. In spite of the terrifying prophecy, Gregor must gather up his courage to defend Regalia and get his family back home safely. The entire existence of the Underland is in Gregor’s hands and time is running out. There is a code that must be cracked, a new princess to contend with, Gregor’s burgeoning dark side, and a war designed to end all wars.”

I liked this finale book. It wasn’t my favorite of the series, but I liked it. Having read all of them right in a row I was kind of getting sick of them, but I did like it. It was a little darker and a little more violent, but still okay. I liked how it showed the relationship between Gregor and Luxa blossoming and how it showed Gregor growing up and deciding that he had to sacrifice himself to save everyone else.  I liked the addition of the code they needed to break. I really like Howard’s character, and Mareth’s character.

I didn’t love the ending. I think Ms. Collins needed 50 more pages and a little more time. I thought it ended very abruptly and without closure for the characters involved (and me). I thought she killed off a character she shouldn’t have and it just made it so sad. Books don’t always need to have a happy ending (although it is nice), but this was just sad. I would still recommend the series because the rest of the series is really good.

Rating: PG+ (War violence, characters (even a main character) dying, fighting)

Recommendation: 3rd Grade and up. If you’re child has read the first four then I’d recommend finishing it for sure. You may want to read it to judge if your child is ready.

Gregor and the Marks of Secret

Gregor and the Marks of Secret (Book #4) by Suzanne Collins

(Summary taken from the inside book jacket) “In the fourth volume of the critically acclaimed Underland Chronicles, Gregor is drawn ever deeper into a brewing crisis. For generations, rats have run the mice–or “nibblers”–out of whatever lands they’ve claimed, keeping them constantly on the move. But now the mice are disappearing, and the young queen Luxa, who credits them with saving her life, is determined to find out why. When Gregor joins her on a fact-finding mission, he’s relieved that this time, at least, there’s no prophecy on the line. But when the true fate of the mice is revealed, it is something far more sinister than Gregor or Luxa have imagined–and it points the way to the final prophecy he has yet to fulfill. Gregor’s role as warrior and his abilities as a rager are put to the test in this suspenseful, action-packed penultimate installment of Suzanne Collins’s thrilling Underland Chronicles.”

I liked this book, however, it is darker than the first three. The things that happen are darker and more sinister, and evil. One main character dies, but hundreds of innocent minor characters die. And the main characters watch (they want to help but can’t). So, it’s harder to read, but it still has some happy moments, and Boots is as cute as ever. Gregor finds his abilities are lacking in certain areas but is learning to control them better. It is a fast, easy read, but sad and depressing. If you have read the first three you definitely need to read it, just know that it’s not too happy. And it leaves you hanging at the end.

I like the characters and I like that as the books go on we continue to learn more about each character and each circumstance. I like that the characters grow before our eyes, and I’m quite attached to some of them. Ms. Collins’ writing style is easy to read and definitely draws you in. I have the next one sitting on my dresser so I don’t think I’ll be doing much today.

Rating: PG+ (Violence, fighting, deaths of innocent creatures, it’s darker than the first three)

Recommendation: 3rd or 4th grade and up. If your child is a third grader you may want to preview this one first. It is more depressing and may be harder for a third grader. My 4th grader read it and commented to me that he didn’t like it as much because it was more violent.

Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods (Book #3) by Suzanne Collins

(Summary taken from the inside book jacket) “Book Two left off with Gregor reading the Prophecy of Blood: a prophecy that calls for Gregor and Boots to return to the Underland to help ward off a deadly plague. But this time, Gregor’s mother refuses to let him return to the Underland…until the rat Ripred assures the family that Gregor and Boots are just needed for a short meeting, which the crawlers will attend only if their “princess” Boots is present. Gregor’s mom finally relents, on the condition that she go with them. The Underland plague is spreading, and when one of Gregor’s family is stricken, he begins to understand his role in the Prophecy of Blood, and must summon all his power to end the biological warfare that threatens the warmblooded creatures of the Underland.”

This book has all the suspense and action that the previous two books had, and the story takes an interesting turn. Of course there is the prophecy that they don’t really understand until it all happens, and some lingering questions, even then. It is a fast, easy read and definitely a page turner. A new Overlander ends up going to the Underland, and that throws some twists and turns into the story. Gregor grows a lot in this book, I think. Which is good. I think he is starting to learn more about himself and find confidence in his abilities. At the same time, he is still a child, only 12 years old, and there are times when he acts like a 12 year-old boy. Which is annoying, but realistic. There are also some new characters introduced, and I ended up liking them a lot.

I find this series interesting, when compared to Suzanne Collins’ other famous series “The Hunger Games.” That series, of course, is not written for the same age group, but the messages of war and peace are quite different. In “Hunger Games” war is fought as a game. It is meant to entertain and teach a lesson to the spectators. They are to learn not to fight against their leaders. In “Gregor,” war is fought for protection. It is also fought to gain something like a cure to a plague or to fight an evil creature. In this particular book, there is a message that war should be the last resort. Gregor has never liked his role as a warrior, and he has never liked fighting, but he has done it to protect himself and his Underland friends. He has also done it to gain something. In this book he begins to think about how war might not be the only option sometimes, but sometimes it is necessary. I don’t like political statements in children’s books, and this could be portrayed as one, but it is not overly bearing and works in the book. But, I know my 10 year-old didn’t quite catch all of that, so it may be a mute point anyway.

I liked this book. It is repulsive in some spots (the plage is nasty), but overall I enjoyed it. There is some fighting violence and characters do die along the way. This series may not be for a cute, timid little girl, but she might still enjoy it. My 10 year-old boy loved it and finished all the books in a matter of a couple of weeks. I also enjoyed it. There is no language and no “physical intimacy.”

Rating: PG+ (There is a war, with fighting, the plague is really disgusting and nasty, and characters do die.)

Recommendation: 3rd or 4th grade and up. My 10 year-old, 4th grade, loved it.

Michael Vey

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans

(Summary taken from the back book cover) “HAVE YOU FOUND THE LAST TWO?” The voice on the phone was angry and coarse, like the sound of car tires over broken glass. “Not yet,” the well-dressed man on the other end of the phone replied. “Not yet. But we believe we’re close–and they still don’t know that we’re hunting them.” “You believe you’re close?” “They’re two children among a billion–finding them is like finding a lost chopstick in China.” “Is that what you want me to tell the board?” “Remind the board that I’ve already found fifteen of the seventeen children. I’ve put out a million-dollar bounty on the last two, we’ve got spiders crawling the Web, and we have a whole team of investigators scanning global records for their whereabouts. It’s just a matter of time before we find them.” “Time isn’t on our side,” the voice returned sharply. “Those kids are already too old. You know how difficult they are to turn at this age.” “I know better than anyone,” the man said. “But I have my ways. And if they don’t turn, there’s always Cell 25.” There was a long pause, then the voice replied darkly, “Yes. There’s always Cell 25.”

I had heard a lot about this book and so I was excited to read it, and my son wanted to read it, so I needed to pre-approve it for him. I have to say, it did not disappoint! I really liked this book. It’s engaging and definitely a page-turner. The concept is so different, which I like. Mr. Evans’ writing style draws you in and keeps on moving. I loved the characters. Mr. Evans’ character development is so good that you feel as if Michael is your best friend. Taylor and Ostin are right up there as well. I liked that some of the unfavorable characters at the beginning change to allies in the end. Characters I wanted to hit at the beginning became some of my favorites at the end. I also liked the relationships between the characters. I liked how Mr. Evans had them relate to each other and play off each other. Even though it’s unrealistic, when you are reading it, it becomes reality. I felt like I could actually someday meet someone with a power like this. Crazy, I know.

Cell 25 didn’t play as much of a role as I thought it would, but it did show the strengths of certain characters. It also showed the evil and indifference in other characters.

I loved that this book was clean! There is some violence, but no profantiy and no “physical intimacy.” The violence included high school boys’ pranks and after school fighting. It also included  fighting between good and evil at the end. Some guards die. The evil character asks good kids to do bad things. Some of them follow and some of them don’t. I loved that it showed kids that you can resist peer pressure and not do things you are uncomfortable with, or that you know are wrong.

My 10 year-old son is very excited because it is 10 yr-old approved!

Rating: PG+ (This includes the above stated violence)

Recommendation: 3rd grade and up. I think even my third grader will be okay reading it. He’s reading “Harry Potter” right now, and there is more violence and scary stuff in that than there is in this book. He may not understand the technological stuff (like what an MRI does), but I don’t know if my 10 year-old does either. I’ll have to explain that. If a third grader hasn’t read anything like “Harry Potter” or “Percy Jackson” then it may be too much.

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane (Book #2) by Suzanne Collins

(Summary taken from the inside book jacket) “In the months since Gregor first encountered the strange Underland beneath New York City, he’s sworn he won’t ever go back. But when another prophecy, this time about an ominous white rat known as the Bane, calls for Gregor’s help, the Underlanders know the only way they can get his attention is through his little sister, Boots. Now Gregor’s quest reunites him with his bat, Ares, the rebellious princess Luxa, and new allies, and sends them through the dangerous and deadly Waterway in search of the Bane. Then Gregor must face the possibility of his greatest loss yet, and make life and death choices that will determine the future of the Underland.”

I was really excited to read this book because I really enjoyed the first one. It did not disappoint. It was full of action and took Gregor on quite the adventure. It wasn’t a happy journey, at all, and there was a lot of loss. Loss of animals and people. There were some surprises and there was some predictability, but overall I really liked it. You could tell Ms. Collins was setting the reader up for book #3, but that’s ok. As an adult, I just read. I don’t really look for what I think is coming, and the younger readers, like my 10 year-old son, don’t either. If you do, you may predict the ending, but I just sit back and enjoy the story. I always like to see how the prophecies turn out, and the creative ways that Gregor finds to fulfill them, and the creative ways he uses the “Overlander” resources to help himself and his friends.

I really like the characters in this series, and I began to like the new characters that are introduced in this book. I like Ms. Collins’ character development, especially with Gregor and Boots and Luxa and Mareth. I do want to know more about Mrs. Cormaci, so I hope that comes into another book. She seems like she might know what is going on, but you can’t tell for sure.

This book is quite violent with some gory scenes. There are some deaths (of animals) and some missing persons. There is no language and no “physical intimacy.”

Rating: PG+ (Not quite a PG-13, but might be too much for some younger readers.) Violence, death of animals, fighting.

Recommendation: 3rd grade and up. If your child is in third or fourth grade and is sensitive then it may be too much. My fourth grader loved it. I liked it as well.

Book Review of Laura’s Star by Klaus Baumgart

Laura’s Star by Klaus Baumgart

I love this book! It is such a sweet story. Laura wishes on the evening star for a friend. She sees something shiny fall from the sky and runs outside to see what it is. It is a beautifully shiny star (and it really is shiny….love it!). She takes it up to her room and find that it is broken. She puts a band aid on it and then falls asleep with it next to her. In the morning it is gone and she is so sad. She searches everywhere, but to no avail. All day long she is heartbroken. That night she goes into her room for bed and sees the star right there on her pillow. “Stars only come out at night.” She is so happy. She plays games with the star, reads with the star, and finds that the star is getting cold in her hands. She knows she needs to send the little star home. So she ties her balloons to the little star and lets it fly back to its home in the sky. Each night when she looks out at the stars she finds her little star and knows she has a friend.

Need I say more??? What child hasn’t wished for a friend?? And what child hasn’t looked up at the night sky and felt in awe of the stars? This story relates to almost everyone and is just so sweet. I love that the star is shiny. It just makes this story (sorry, I hate overusing this word, but it fits here, I promise) special. My kids love this story. They point out the shiny star every time we read it. I highly recommend this story! This is a great read-aloud!!

Rating: G Hooray for children’s books that are clean!!!

Recommendation: Everyone!!! Girls may like it more, but my boys have always enjoyed it as well.

Gregor the Overlander (Book #1) by Suzanne Collins

(Summary taken from the back book cover) “When eleven-year-old Gregor follows his little sister through a grate in the laundry room of their New York apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland beneath the city. There, humans live uneasily beside giant spiders, baths, cockroaches, and rats–but the fragile peace is about to fall apart. Gregor wants no part of a conflict between these creepy creatures. He just wants to find his way home. But when he discovers that a strange prophecy foretells a role for him in the Underland’s uncertain future, he realizes it might be the only way to solve the biggest mystery of his life. little does he know his quest will change him–and the Underland–forever.

I am so glad I found this book! This is a good, fun book. I was worried about it for my 4th grader since Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games is NOT 4th grader approved, but it turned out to be really good. It has a fun and different storyline, which catches you right from the beginning. It’s a fast, easy read, and it has some fun twists and turns. The writing style is easy to read and draws you in. It is clean from start to finish (except for some war violence), which I love. I really liked the characters, especially Gregor and Boots, and thought their character development was good. I loved the relationship between Gregor and Boots. It was so cute how much he loved her and how he takes care of her and protects her. Not too many young boys would feel that way about their little sisters. Some of the Underland characters were developed well also. I thought it interesting that she used everyday, not so nice, creatures to become some of the best and nicest characters. I also like that this is a series so I know that my 4th grader has at least that many books to read before I have to find him something else to read. 

I really enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it! Hopefully I’ll be posting the review for the second book soon. I love that you can have a great book that is clean. So great.

Rating: PG   Clean–no swearing or “physical intimacy”. There is some war violence with characters dying. And some of the “big bugs” may scare younger readers.

Recommendation: 3rd or 4th grade and up. I enjoyed it. It’s not Harry Potter, but it’s enjoyable and a fun read.

Book Review of Holy Stable by Heidi Hanseen

Holy Stable by Heidi Hanseen

(Summary taken from the back book cover) “The heavenly gift of Christmas transforms hearts and homes. Create lasting memories as you experience with family and friends the shared affection at Jesus’ birth. Mary and Joseph’s devotion to God and sublime caring for each other will bring you to experience the story as never before. As Joseph searches for comforting words to offer Mary, he is attended by angel children who sing along to welcome Baby Jesus. Discover how sharing the gift of Jesus’ love blesses relationships, as you enjoy the magic of children’s narration, original music, and song.”

This is a beautiful book! The gold-tipped pages are beautiful and give you a sense that what is in the book is important. The illustrations are well done and add greatly to the story. The story of Mary and Joseph is written in poem form and done very well. It is tender and not corny. The music on the CD is very soft and calming. The children’s voices are so sweet and convey the message of Christmas well. I love the idea of having the music, narration, and a downloadable script all wrapped up together with the book. This will make having the Christmas pageant in your home or church much easier. You can use her narration or just the music. There are many ways to make it fit perfectly with your needs. Thank you, Ms. Hanseen for such a beautiful book. I will definitely be reading this one to my children this Christmas season.

Rated: G (Clean!)

Recommendation: Great for everyone!!

Discloure: I did receive a free book in exchange for this review; however, this does not sway my opinion. All my reviews are honest.