A Smart Girl’s Guide to Friendship Troubles: Dealing with Fights, Being Left Out & the Whole Popularity Thing, by Patti Kelley Criswell

A Smart Girl’s Guide to Friendship Troubles: Dealing with Fights, Being Left Out & the Whole Popularity Thing. By Patti Kelley Criswell.  Illustrated by Angela Martini.  American Girl Publishing, Inc., 2003.  87 pages. $9.95

Content:  Sometimes friends can be mean.  Sometimes friends can be supportive and kind.  What kind of friend are you?  What kind of friends do you have?  Do your friends make you feel good about yourself?  Bad about yourself?  Friendships are complicated and sometimes challenging, but some friendships are worth it.  Some probably are not.  The Smart Girl’s Guide to Friendship Troubles gives readers insight into identifying friendship problems and tools for resolving those problems.  From toxic and fading friendships to bullying and arguing, this book provides information about how to think about these difficult situations and how to determine what course of action feels most appropriate.  Sprinkled throughout are stories from girls who have been there; quizzes for readers, like do you speak up? and could you be a bully?; as well as tips and advice.  A great read for tween and young teen girls and those who love them.

Review: This is an important book.  With the internet providing even more avenues for people to express unfriendly feelings, A Smart Girl’s Guide, from 2003, is even more relevant today.  This books strives to be inclusive of girls who are both victims and victimizers and everyone in between.  The book includes illustrations of multicultural girls in varying states of friendship.  There are also places in the book where readers are invited to write their own thoughts about a particular topic.  With concrete tips, encouragement, and validation of many of the emotions that might arise, a girl could use this book to come up with her own resolution to a difficult friendship situation.  This book, or one like it, would be a great required reading and discussion topic for all 5th or 6th grade girls.

Genre(s): Non-Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 9 -14 years

Available in: Paperback

ISBN: 978-1584857112

Similar Books: Stand Up for Yourself and your Friends: Dealing with Bullies and Bossiness and Finding a Better Way, A Smart Girl’s Guide to the Internet: How to Connect with friends, find what you need, and stay safe online, A Smart Girl’s Guide to Starting Middle School

Subjects: friendship, bullying, problem solving, conflict, social interactions

Series Information: There are other Smart Girl’s Guides, all by American Girl Publishing, Inc.  In addition to those mentioned in the “Similar Books” above, there is a book about each of the following: manners, sticky situations, money, boys, staying home alone, parents’ divorce, parties, style, and knowing what to say

Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Special Edition 2010

Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Special Edition 2010. Ripley Publishing. Scholastic, Inc., 2009.  144 pages. $15.99

Content: Learn about a man who made a his own island out of things that others threw away, see the carrot that “found” the gardener’s missing wedding ring, get a look inside a toilet seat collection, check out one man’s body which is tattooed from head to toe, or imagine snacking on a sausage sundae, an ice cream cone filled with mashed potatoes and topped with sausage gravy and a sprinkle of green peas.  Discover all of these things and much more inside, Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Special Edition 2010.  Whether its amazing human feats or bioluminescent plankton, this book covers topics large, a 2 ¾ inch tongue, and small, a 1.25 x .86 inch micro edition of British newspaper First News. Get a good look at things strange and unusual.  Great for reluctant readers and those with an adventurous spirit.

Review: Sometimes gross, sometimes un-believable, but always fascinating, the information in this book appeals to readers with a variety of interests.  Full of hundreds of high quality color photographs and even more facts, Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Special Edition 2010 provides a wealth of information in an accessible and exciting format.  One drawback is that there are many intriguing facts for which there is no picture, which left me curious enough to put down the book and search the internet for a visual.  A comprehensive index provides the readers with the ability to search for topics of interest.

Genre(s): Non-Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 8-12 years

Available in: Hardcover

ISBN: 978-0545143455

Similar Books: Guinness World Records 2011, Time for Kids That’s Awesome!

Subjects: human body, tattoos, clothing, buildings, cars, recycling, artwork, food, plants, animals, insects, electricity

The Lightening Thief: Percy Jackson and The Olympians, Book One, by Rick Riordan.

The Lightening Thief: Percy Jackson and The Olympians, Book One. By Rick Riordan. Hyperion Books, 2005.  400 pages.  $7.99

Plot: Percy Jackson is a kid who hasn’t had it easy, and maybe that’s why he’s so appealing.  Diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, he has had a hard time staying in school, in fact, he has been kicked out of several.  But, when he’s twelve years old, Percy finds out something about himself that he never could have imagined.  His father, who he has never known, is a Greek god.  His mother is mortal, so Percy is a demigod or “half-blood.”  His mother takes him to Camp Half-Blood where he meets other half-bloods and finds out which god his father is.  After discovering the identity of his father, Percy, along with his friends Annabeth, a demigod daughter of Athena, and Grover, a satyr, must go on a quest.  There is trouble brewing amongst the gods and Percy et al must succeed in their quest in order to avoid a large scale battle of the gods.  Will they survive?  Will they succeed?  And who is Percy’s father, anyway?

Review: This book has it all: humor, adventure, mystery, fantasy and likable, dimensional characters.  Percy’s flaws make him all the more real.  Imminently readable and interesting, this book draws readers in with twists and turns, lots of adventure, and a plot filled with Greek mythology references.  Luckily, this book is part of a series, so we don’t have to leave Percy just yet.

Genre(s): Adventure, Fantasy, Realistic Fiction, Mystery

Reading/Interest Level: 9-13 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

ISBN: 9780786838653

Similar Books: Other books in the Percy Jackson series, The Demigod Files (A Percy Jackson and the Olympians Guide), Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief movie, Harry Potter series

Subjects: family, friendship, war, Greek Mythology, ADHD, Dyslexia

Series Information: The Lightning Thief is the first book in a five book Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, books two through five are: The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, The Last Olympian

Selected Awards: 2006 YASLA Best Books for Young Adults List, School Library Journal Best Book of 2005

Wizards of Waverly Place: Alex Tells the World

Wizards of Waverly Place: Alex Tells the World (Season 4, Episode 1, November 12, 2010), TV Program. Producer: It’s a Laugh Productions.  Actors: Selena Gomez, David Henrie, Jake T. Austin, Jennifer Stone, Maria Canals Barrera, David DeLuise.  Series dates: 2007 – present.

Plot Summary: The Russo family lives on Waverly Place in New York City’s Greenwich Village.  With an Italian American father, a Mexican American mother, and three lovely children, the family seems to be living the American dream.  Only, there’s a twist.  The three children, Justin, Alex, and Max, are wizards.  The father, Jerry used to be a wizard, but by marrying a mortal, Theresa, he was relieved of his powers.  Now his children are training to become wizards and they will eventually compete to be the receiver of the family’s magic.  Only one of them can get the magic and stay a wizard forever, the other two will become mortals.  They must keep their powers a secret from the mortal world.  In this particular episode, viewers join the family after they have just escaped imprisonment by the government.  They return exhausted, but safe, to Waverly Place.  But, other wizards are still being jailed, and Alex, the middle child and only daughter, decides she must tell the mortal world about the wizarding world in order to save the other wizards.  This revelation is against all wizarding rules, but Alex feels she has no other choice.  Will Alex become a hero?  Will the wizards be saved?

Review: This program has an interesting premise.  With the popularity of Harry Potter books, a TV show about wizards is a great choice.  This show is less like Harry Potter, and more like many of the tween comedies out there.  There are silly antics, slapstick jokes, outsmarting the parents, and, hopefully, a positive message at the end, in this case, standing up for what is right, even if there are unpleasant consequences.  The characters can be compelling.  Viewers could get caught up in the successes or failures of the wizard training program and relate to the sibling rivalry and friendship issues.  The parents are present, but not too hovering.  The big star of the show, Selena Gomez, has a recording career and has starred in several movies, likely a big draw for this program.

Genre(s): Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Adventure

Viewing/Interest Level: 8 – 12 years

Available in: Cable TV Disney Channel, DVD, online at http://disney.go.com/videos/#/videos/tvshows/

Similar Programs: Good Luck Charlie, That’s So Raven, Hannah Montana

Subjects: justice, speaking out, secrets,

Selected Award: 2009 Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Program


The Tale of Despereaux (unabridged audiobook), by Kate DiCamillo

The Tale of Despereaux (unabridged audiobook). By Kate DiCamillo.  Read by Graeme Malcolm.  Random House/Listening Library, 2005.  3 hours, 30 minutes.  $14.99

Plot: From the moment he is born, Despereaux is different.  He is smaller than the other mice his age and his ears are enormous, but what makes him the most different is his behavior and his ideas.  You see, Despereaux isn’t afraid of humans, and, in the mouse world, this is tantamount to heresy.  Despereaux lives in a castle and one day, he meets and falls in love with the beautiful, and very human, Princess Pea.  This is not acceptable to Despereaux’s family or community, so he is harshly punished.  That brings Despereaux to the dungeon, a dark, damp, hopeless place.  In the dungeon lived Chiaroscuro, a rat who loves light, going against all that rats hold dear, though he shared a dislike for mice with his rat brethren.   The story of Miggery Sow, a young girl who, after he mother’s death, was sold to a man by her father, is a tale of abuse, neglect, and mistreatment.  All Miggery, Mig for short, wants is to be a princess.  How do these disparate stories come together?  What will happen to Despereaux, Chiaroscuro, Mig, Princess Pea?  Will this “Fairy tale” end happily ever after?  This story is about hopes and dreams, being comfortable in one’s own skin/fur, and following one’s passion.  Written with feeling, humor, and suspense this book is a wonderful audiobook or read aloud book.

Review:  Graeme Malcolm’s melodious voice and British accent were a perfect match for this fantasy tale that takes place in a castle.  Characters, some heroic, some deeply flawed, come to life as their stories unfold on this audiobook.  Listening to the story allowed for time to consider more about the characters and their motivations.  Listening to the story also provided a wonderful opportunity to imagine and picture all of the characters and happenings.  This story is both dark and light, with some events that could be disturbing to some younger or more sensitive tweens.  It was unfortunate that Miggery Sow, the abused girl whose father sold her to a man, was represented as fat, which was a decidedly negative characterization as it was close on the heels of the description of her as being stupid as well.  The writing seemed to want to turn the reader/listener away from having sympathy or compassion for a girl who clearly deserved both.  Overall, a great fantasy to dive into and enjoy.

Genre(s): Fantasy, Adventure

Reading/Interest Level: 9-12 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

ISBN: 1400099137

Similar Books: Mrs. Frisby and  the Rats of NIMH, The Tiger Rising,

Subjects: fitting in, friendship, love, growing up, family, community, hopes, dreams,

Selected Awards: 2004 Newberry Medal (the book)

Children’s World Atlas, by Igloo Books

Children’s World Atlas. Igloo Books, 2008.  128 pages.

Content: A great resource for tweens, this atlas starts with some overview world maps and facts, and a helpful, “How to get the best out of this atlas” spread.  The rest of the atlas broken down into section by continent.  Within each continent’s section there is a map of the entire continent as well as maps of the individual countries or regions of that continent.  Individual country or region two-page spreads include 3 text boxes entitled.  “Data” contains information about longest river, highest mountain, miles of coastline, climate, per capita annual income.  “Fascinating facts” provides bits of information designed to intrigue and interest readers about that country.  “Q & A” asks and answers common questions about the country.  Full color photographs include depictions of natural resources, buildings, fauna and flora, and industries, while text provides a general overview of the place.

Review: Nicely detailed and not too overwhelming, this world atlas is a perfect fit for tweenagers.  The colorful photographs and clearly marked maps make navigating the pages of this book easy and interesting.  Whether flipping through to compare two countries’ longest rivers or looking for what languages are spoken on what continents or writing a report on one particular country, this atlas provides ample information for all of these endeavors and more.  One drawback: tweens may be a bit put off by the word “Children’s” in the title, though it might serve to tweens confident that the book is  accessible to them, which it most certainly is.  One nice addition: end pages are covered with flags of the world.

Genre(s): Non-Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 8-12 years

Available in: Hardcover

ISBN: 978-1845613938

Similar Books: The Everything Kids’ Geography Book: From the Grand Canyon to the Great Barrier Reef – explore the world!, Time for Kids Super Science Book, Time for Kids Almanac 2011

Subjects: geography, continents, countries, cultures, rivers, mountains, oceans, lakes, climate, population, natural resources, plants, animals

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me.  By Rebecca Stead. Wendy Lamb Books, 2009. 208 pages. $15.99

Plot: It’s the 1970’s and everything is going along fine in sixth grader, Miranda’s life.  He best friend since they were little, Sal, lives in her building and they explore New York City together, often walking by the homeless man on the corner who she calls “the laughing man.”  Her mom has a nice boyfriend, Richard, who Miranda likes.  And sixth grade is OK.  But, then, everything changes.  A boy neither of them knows punches Sal when he and Miranda are walking home from school one day.  And all of a sudden Sal doesn’t want to hang out with Miranda anymore.  Miranda’s mom is preparing to be a contestant on the game show $20,000 pyramid, with Miranda and others’ help.  Miranda finds herself in need of friends and companions.  She makes some new friends, including getting to know the boy who hit Sal; his name is Marcus.  And she starts receiving these mysterious notes.  She finds the first one in her library book.  She wonders how it got there.  Then more notes appear; who are they coming from?  Why doesn’t Sal want to be friends anymore? Will Miranda’s mother win $20,000 and make them rich?

Review: Author Rebecca Stead has accomplished an amazing feat with When You Reach Me.  The book is warm and personable.  Main character, Miranda, is likable and spirited.  Characters are three-dimensional and interesting.  And, through intricate details and careful story telling, Stead has created a book that defies any one (or two) genre category.  It is at once a mystery, science fiction, historical fiction, realistic fiction, and adventure novel.  And covering all those genres serves to strengthen the story and contributes to its ability to appeal to a wide audience, which it does and will.  The writing flows effortlessly, the hints and clues add intrigue, the characters are rich and multi-faceted and the plot is fun.  This would be a great book for a book group and for re-reading, as analyzing the story during a second read would be an interesting and enlightening activity.

Genre(s): Adventure, Mystery, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 9-13 years

Selected Awards: 2010 Newberry Medal, 2010 ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2010 ALA Best Books for Young Adults Top 10, 2009 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0-385-73742-5

Similar Books: Criss Cross, The Phantom Tollbooth, A Wrinkle in Time, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Subjects: friendship, identity, time travel