How to Save the Planet by Barbara Taylor

How to Save the Planet. By Barbara Taylor. Illus. by Scoular Anderson.  Scholastic, Inc., 2001.  96 pages. $16.00

Content: “So, why does the Earth need saving?  Well, to put it bluntly, because of us!”  But, don’t despair, because How to Save the Planet is HERE!  This book provides answers to WHAT the problems facing the earth are, things like pollution of the earth, sky and oceans, destruction of natural habitats, and depletion of natural resources.  It explains WHY these things have happened, and it explains WHO can do something about it – US!  In easy to read, accessible text and cartoon-like illustrations, this book breaks down a serious topic into digestible parts.  Entertaining and informative, How to Save the Planet meets younger tweens at their level about a topic both interesting and important to many of them.

Review: Written in an informal style that tweens can easily understand, How to Save the Planet a great way for younger tweens to learn about the, potentially overwhelming, topic of the environment.  With wit and playfulness Taylor gives tweens knowledge, insights and, perhaps most importantly, information about what they themselves can do to make a difference. Chapters cover the ozone layer, global warming, air pollution, water pollution, energy, transportation, garbage and recycling, and habitats; and each chapter ends with a “Go for Green” section, which starts: “Here are some things you can do to…” There are also “Be an Earth Scientist” experiments to help demonstrate some of the concepts in the book, “Check Acid Levels in Your Rain” and “Make Recycled Paper” for example. Taking a huge topic and summing it up in fewer than 100 pages is a big job, and How to Save the Planet manages to do it quite well.

Genre(s): Non-fiction, Science

Reading/Interest Level: 8-10 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback

ISBN: 9780531146408

Similar Books: The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming, 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth, Earth Explained

Subjects: environment, ozone layer, global warming, air pollution, water pollution, energy, transportation, garbage, recycling, habitats, conservation, wildlife, earth science


Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Hatchet.  By Gary Paulsen. Simon and Schuster, 1987. 195 pages. $17.99

Plot: It’s the first summer since his parents’ divorce and Brian Robeson is going to spend it with his father in Canada.  Brian’s mother drove him to the small Hampton, New York airport where he would board a single engine plane to Canada, her parting gift to him, a hatchet to use “in the woods” with his father.  But,
Brian’s plane doesn’t reach its destination.  The pilot has a heart attack and Brian, the only other person on the plane, must take over flying it.  After intentionally crash landing by a lake, in order to inflict the least injury upon himself, Brian begins the task of surviving.  Can he find enough food to live?  Can he shelter himself from the dramatic storms that pass over this land?  Will he ever be rescued?  Brian must dig deep inside himself to find the answers.

Review: Gripping and exciting, Hatchet brings its readers on a tense and dramatic journey.   Though written in third person, the novel gives the reader the feel of being privy to the private thoughts of a young man desperately trying to survive in the wilderness.  Some of Brian’s knowledge is a little too convenient, he’s watched a nature special that provides him with just the exact information he needs, but otherwise the novel reads like a journal of a young man stranded in the wilderness, discovering not only whether or not he can survive, but who he really is.

Genre(s): Adventure, Realistic Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 9-13 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0689840920

Similar Books: Brian’s Winter, Brian’s Return, Brian’s Hunt, Where the Red Fern Grows

Subjects: survival, wilderness, growing up, plane crash, independence, Canada, divorce

Selected Awards: 1988 Newberry Honor Book, 1987 ALA Notable Book

Series Information: Hatchet is the first in a four-book series about Brian Robeson (see similar books above for titles)


Character names:

Brian: Main character, 13-year-old visiting his father for the summer, his parents have recently divorced, has to survive by himself with very few resources, save the hatchet his mother gave him for the trip

Brian’s Mother: Left Brian’s father due to a secret that Brian knows but his father does not, gives Brian the hatchet that turns out to be a dramatically more useful gift than either of them could have imagined

Brian’s Father: Lives in Canada, a mechanical engineer who works in the oil fields.

Terry: Brian’s best friend

Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon

Zora and Me.  By Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon. Candlewick Press, 2010. 170 pages. $16.99

Plot: It’s the early 1900’s in Eatonville, Florida and best friends Zora, Carrie, and Teddy have several mysterious circumstances on their hands.  Can old Mr. Pender really turn into a gator?  Traveling turpentine worker, Ivory, met the three friends near their favorite tree in the woods and sang them a beautiful tune with his guitar; a week later he was dead.  Who killed him and why?  Zora, a keen storyteller from a young age, is determined to find out the truth, not matter how painful it may be.  As told by Carrie, Zora and Me is a fictional account of the childhood of acclaimed writer, Zora Neale Hurston.  The story traces the adventures and discoveries of three best friends as they confront issues of race and identity, loss and death, and love and hope.

Review: Warm and charming from the first line, Zora and Me blends real life circumstances with the imagination and open-minded perspective of a young person.  Though the book is fictional, the authors clearly thoroughly researched both Zora Neale Hurston as well as the town and times of her childhood.  Zora is a delight as a bright, earnest, sincere girl, and her loyal and loving friend Carrie makes a great partner.  Their other best friend, Teddy, is an equally charming character, though seen less than the two girls.  The topics covered are serious and important, and the book’s writing makes these topics accessible to tweens. Zora and Me is overall an enjoyable story with an interesting and unique historical perspective as well as a book that adds much needed racial diversity to the mystery genre.  The book also includes a biography, time line, and bibliography of Zora Neale Hurston.

Genre(s): Mystery, Historical Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 9-13 years

Selected Awards: 2011 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent, 2011 Edgar Award Nominee Best Juvenile, 2010 Kirkus Review’s Best Children’s Books of the Year List

Available in: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0763643003

Subjects: friendship, growing up, racism, passing, Florida,

Character names:

Carrie: Narrator, best friend of Zora and Teddy, brave, loyal friend, lives with her mother, her father’s whereabouts have been unknown since he left for out of town work six months earlier

Zora: Dreamer, excellent story-teller, brave, strong in her convictions, loyal friend, lives with her mother, father, older sister, and baby brother

Teddy: Loyal friend, knows a lot about and cared for animals, lives on a farm with his mother, father, and two older brothers, Teddy has chores on the farm to do every day, so cannot always go on adventures with Carrie and Zora

Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs #1: The Buried Bones Mystery

Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs #1: The Buried Bones Mystery.  By Sharon M. Draper. Simon and Schuster, 1994. 94 pages. $4.99

Plot: What do you do when it’s a nice summer day just after 5th grade, you and your three best friends go to the basketball court to shoot some hoops, and you find that someone has taken a chain saw and cut down the basketball poles?  Well, when one of your friends is already training himself to eventually work for what he calls, “the FB of I,” you start a club, a club that solves mysteries, and you call it the Black Dinosaurs.  Rico, Ziggy, Jerome, and Rashawn built a clubhouse in Ziggy’s backyard and in the process of digging found another mystery, a box full of bones.  Are the bones human?  Dinosaur?  And are they somehow related to the basketball court mystery?  If anyone can find out it’s the Black Dinosaurs, and they are on the case.

Review: An easy to read mystery with a simple plot, Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs would be a good choice for younger tweens as well as reluctant readers.  The four main characters are likable and friendly, if somewhat one-dimensional.  The boys’ relationships with each other are charming and appealing; they demonstrate great teamwork and camaraderie as they build the clubhouse and solves the mysteries.  Sprinkled with references to African American history, the clubhouse’s first password is “Tuskegee,” this mystery provides cultural diversity to a genre that lacks it.  The back of the book contains an 11-page study guide with questions for each chapter.

Genre(s): Mystery

Reading/Interest Level: 8-10 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook

ISBN: 978-0689879104

Subjects: friendship, dinosaurs, clubhouse

Series Information: The Buried Bones Mystery is #1 in a six-book Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs Series

Character names

Rico: lives with his mom, loves the excitement of Ziggy’s house compared to the relative quiet of his own, wears his shirts tucked in and doesn’t like to break the rules

Ziggy: adventurous and full of creative ideas, lives with his mom and several members of his extended Jamaican family, aspires to one day be a spy for the “FB of I”

Jerome: lives with his grandmother and two little sisters, often helps take care of his sisters

Rashawn: lives with his mother and father, has a dog Afrika, is a vegetarian, likes dinosaurs

The Giver

The Giver.  By Lois Lowry. Houghton Mifflin, 1993. 180 pages. $17

Plot: Jonas’ world is seemingly perfect.  There’s no hunger, prejudice, or poverty.  Everybody knows what is and is not allowed, what s/he is responsible for, and what happens when the rules are not obeyed.  Even politeness is codified.  In a society carefully constructed and maintained, twelve-year-old Jonas, dutiful and obedient, is assigned to be the community’s “Receiver of Memories.”  All the so-called “twelves” are given their career assignments in a celebratory ceremony.  Jonas’ position is considered the most honored in the community, and he is to replace an old man who will train him for the job.  As Jonas starts receiving memories he begins to have thoughts he has never had before.  He starts to question his outwardly ideal society and finds out there is more below the surface than he has seen or even considered before.  Is his world utopian?  Dystopian?

Review: Fascinating and frightening, Jonas’ world is cause for thoughtful reflection.  Lowry’s novel raises questions about what it means to be a society and what qualities make a society function.  The story is engaging and interesting.  Lowry’s writing is riveting and though-provoking, allowing the reader to question Jonas’ world along with him.  The Giver contains some events whose plausibility is questionable, but, even so, would make a great choice for a book club or class discussion.

Genre(s): Fantasy, Science Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 8-12 years

Selected Awards: 1994 Newberry Medal, 1996 William Allen White Children’s Book Award, ALA “Best Book for Young Adults, ALA Notable Children’s Book, ALA Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000, Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Book, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0-395-64566-6

Subjects: utopia, careers, society, memories, knowledge, freedom, choice

Main Characters

Jonas: eleven to twelve-year-old main character who is given the honorable career of the community’s “Receiver of Memories,” obedient follower of his society’s many rules until he starts to question some of the community’s accepted methods of doing things

Lily: Jonas’ seven to eight-year-old sister

Jonas’ father: works as a “Nurturer,” a caretaker of new children, is particularly concerned with the development of a “one” named Gabriel, helps Jonas follow society’s rules

Jonas’ mother: works as a Judge, helps Jonas follow society’s rules

Gabriel: a baby in the care of Jonas’ father who eventually comes to live with Jonas’ family, in the hopes that his growth and development, which are slower than expected, will improve

Asher: Jonas’ best friend who isn’t always successful at following the rules and who enjoys fun

Fiona: friend of Jonas and the object of Jonas’ newly recognized “stirrings” of attraction

The Giver: the elderly man currently holding the position to which Jonas has been assigned, holds the societies’ memories, so individuals of the community do not have to experience them.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  By E. L. Konigsburg. Simon and Schuster, 1967. 162 pages. $6.99

Plot: “Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away.  That is, running away in the heat of anger with a knapsack on her back.  She didn’t like discomfort…Therefore, she decided that her leaving home would not be just running from somewhere but would be running to somewhere.”  That “somewhere” turned out to be the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  Claudia planned the whole thing out, including inviting one of her younger brothers, Jamie, along because he wouldn’t make trouble and he was “rich.”  What Claudia and Jamie found at the museum was a comfortable, elegant place to live and a mystery about the origins of an angel sculpture, donated by Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the book’s narrator.  Was Michelangelo the artist?  Would Claudia solve the mystery?

Review: Part adventure, part mystery, this novel takes the reader on an exciting journey.  Claudia is intelligent and brave, Jamie is clever and strong-willed, together they take the Met by storm…in secret.  Carefully crafted and beautifully written, this book flows effortlessly and captures the reader’s imagination from beginning to end.

E-Rating: ****

Genre(s): Adventure, Mystery, Realistic Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 9-12 years

Selected Awards: 1968 Newberry Medal, 1970 William Allen White Children’s Book Award

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0-689-71181-7

Subjects: running away, art museums, New York City, Michelangelo

Main Characters

Claudia Kincaid: intelligent, thoughtful, curious 11-year-old Connecticut native running away from home

Janie Kincaid: good at saving money, clever, middle brother of Claudia’s three younger brothers, running away with Claudia

Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: wealthy older woman, narrator of the book, and keeper of the answer to the mystery

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Movie

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (PG Movie).  Directed by Thor Freudenthal. 20th Century Fox, 2010. 92 minutes. $29.98

Plot: Based on the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Books by Jeff Kinney, “Wimpy Kid” and middle school student Greg Heffley and best friend Rowley find trouble easily.  Convinced he can and must become popular, Greg attempts various activities to achieve that goal.  Rowley does not help Greg much, as, it seems, at every turn, Rowley is behaving in a way that causes Greg extreme embarrassment.  After many failed attempts at popularity, a run in with some bullies, and much gross-out humor along the way, Greg comes to a realization about what really matters.  Hint: it’s not being popular.

Review: Tweens may enjoy the gross humor and antics of Greg and Rowley, adults may not.  The first half of the movie moved slowly and lacked a cohesive plot, but the second half picked up a bit and had more substance.  For fans of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, this movie brings to life some of the familiar scenes, and cleverly integrated line drawings.  But the clever, compelling nature of the books is not paralleled in the movie.

E-Rating: ***

Genre(s): Humor

Reading/Interest Level: 9-13 years

Available in: DVD; Blu-ray; accompanying book,  The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary by Jeff Kinney

Subjects: middle school, popularity, friendship, bullying

Series Information: Movie based on the first book of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid 5-book series by Jeff Kinney

Main Characters

Greg Heffley: main character, diary writer, wimpy kid

Rowley: Greg’s, often immature and lovable, best friend

Rodrick: Greg’s older brother who is intent on torturing Greg as much as possible

Mr. and Mrs. Heffley: Greg’s not-so-cool parents

Angie: Friend of Greg and Rowley, school newspaper reporter