The Spy Next Door

The Spy Next Door (PG Movie).  Directed by Brian Levant. Lionsgate, 2010. 94 minutes. $14.98

Plot: In this family comedy Jackie Chan plays Bob Ho, a Chinese spy helping the CIA with a case.  Ho is dating woman next door, a single mother of three, who doesn’t know that he is a spy.  To the kids, he seems like a boring guy, and they vow to keep him away from their mother.  But, Bob is determined for the kids to kids to like him, so he can marry their mother and the five of them can settle down as a family.  He takes on the role of babysitter to the three kids when their mother has to go tend to her injured father.  Bob is planning to retire from being a spy, but things take a turn when it seems there is a mole in the CIA, and Bob get called in, one day into his retirement, to help out.  He is in the position of managing the kids and his search for a Russian spy.  With some great fight scenes that feature Chan’s talent as a a highly skilled martial artist, this film combines elements of comedy with action and adventure to entertain the whole family.

Review: Sometimes silly, sometimes goofy, this action comedy is light on plot, but, contains enough silliness and great martial arts scenes to make it enjoyable.  Jackie Chan plays a seemingly stiff and awkward “normal” guy who is really a top-secret spy.  The fight scenes are almost comical, like a cartoon, no blood is spilled and with Chan jumping around demonstrating his agility and finesse, the bad guys don’t stand a chance.  The stereotypical Russian spies as bad guys are disappointing, but not surprising given that the plot of this movie is fairly basic and predictable.  Even with that, though, I enjoyed watching Chan as both potential step father being challenged by his girlfriend’s three kids on the one hand and being a highly competent and sought after spy on the other.

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

Viewing/Interest Level: 8-12 years

Available in: DVD; Blu-ray

Subjects: spies, honesty, love, family


The Twits, by Roald Dahl

The Twits.  By Roald Dahl. Illustrated by Quentin Blake.  Puffin, 1982. 87 pages. $6.99

Plot: The Twits are awful people.  My Twit has a disgusting spiky beard that he never washes; it is full of bits of food and other debris.  Mrs. Twit is ugly, but she wasn’t always that way.  Her face got uglier and uglier until eventually the ugliness of her face matched the ugliness of her thoughts.  The Twits do not seem to like anyone, even each other.  They spend most of their time thinking up or carrying out cruel tricks on each other.  Mrs. Twit feeds Mr. Twit worms in place of spaghetti.  Mr. Twit adds small bits of wood to Mrs. Twit’s walking stick every day to convince her she has a terrible case of the shrinks.  The tricks go back and forth and back and forth, until the day the birds and monkeys get involved.  Will the mugglewump monkeys have to spend the rest of their lives upside down, like Mr. Twit would like them to?  Will the birds continue to be made in the Twits Wednesday night bird pie?  Will the Twits ever get what they deserve?

Review: Roald Dahl never fails to make his stories unique and weirdly twisted.  With The Twits, he did not disappoint.  His gentle, melodic, and matter-of-fact writing belies the darkness of the Twits’ story, but this works to keep readers engaged and not too uncomfortable.  Readers will be justifiably and satisfyingly outraged at the preposterous, mean, and warped behavior of two of Dahl’s worst characters.  When the monkeys finally decide enough is enough, readers will root for them and hope they succeed in exacting revenge on these despicable people.

Genre(s): Humor

Reading/Interest Level: 8-12 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0439269704

Subjects: tricks, misanthropy

Soldier, DK Eyewitness Books, by Simon Adams

Soldier, DK Eyewitness Books.  By Simon Adams.  DK Publishing, 2009.  72 pages. $8.99

Content: Soldiers have been around a long time, defending their lands, invading other lands, protecting treasures.  Soldiers come from all over the world, wearing different uniforms, using different weapons and forms of intelligence, saluting to differing leaders.  In this information-packed book, readers can learn about soldiers from many times and places.  From English soldiers of 1204 defending medieval castles to samurai warriors of Japan and women soldiers to guerrilla fighters, there is a lot to learn about soldiers.  Read about enlistment, training, weaponry, uniforms, rations, intelligence and much more.  Learn the difference between a platoon and a brigade (a platoon is 30 soldiers a brigade is 3,000).  Find out how Zulu warriors shields were used to make the army look like it had twice as many soldiers as it did.  This book includes hundreds of facts along with hundreds of high quality, full color photos and a CD with Soldier Clip Art.

Review: High interest and high quality facts and visuals make this book a great choice for a tween interested in anything soldier-related.  Topics covered allow for a comprehensive overview of the subject, and there are also many intriguing details.  Many tweens, particularly tween boys, are fascinated by war, so this book is a good way to get those kids reading at a challenging level.  While some of the most harsh and dramatic realities of war are glossed over, this book maintains a fairly neutral stance without glorifying violence.  When a specific battle is discussed, there is a mention of the number of soldiers injured and killed.  There is a two-page spread on morale, and a two-page spread called “Honoring the soldier,” but the pictures include very little in the way of death or injury.  It’s a fine line, because too much gore could make the book inappropriate for this age group.  Too little, protects readers from the full story.  Overall, this is a high quality book, includes an index, and a timeline of soldiers and wars.

Genre(s): Non-Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 8-12 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback

Similar DK Eyewitness Books: World War I, World War II, Arms & Armor, Battle, Civil War, American Revolution, Vietnam War

Subjects: soldiers, artillery, tanks, armor, army, navy, air force, marines, battlefield, battles, war, weapons, intelligence, spies, troops, mines

Bone: Out from Boneville, by Jeff Smith

Bone: Out from Boneville. By Jeff Smith.  Scholastic, 2005.  144 pages. $10.99

Plot: Once the richest man in his community, then found to be a crook, Phoncible P. Bone has been kicked out of Boneville.  His cousins, Fone Bone, and Smiley Bone, help him get out of town in a hurry and they all run away until the townspeople are not following them any more.  The Bone cousins are human-like creatures; they stand upright and have two arms and two legs.  They are blob-like in appearance, with round heads and white, smooth bodies which are smaller than the average human.  When a swarm of locusts surprises the cousins, they get separated, and Fone Bone eventually ends up in a valley with strange, scary rat creatures, unusual weather patterns, a dragon which no one but Fone Bone seems to see, and a lovely young girl named Thorn, who becomes Fone’s friend.  Together they find Fone’s two cousins and manage to escape an attack by the rat creatures.  But will the rat creatures return?  Why do they hunt the Bones?  Will the Bone cousins ever get back to Boneville?

Review: This book has some classic and well-done graphic novel elements: clear, detailed drawings in comic cels, good vs. evil, and mystery and suspense.  The unusual storyline and quirky characters make Bone fresh and unique.  Bone is humorous and, at times, a bit scary, and the artwork reflects this.  The Bone creatures are cute and friendly looking, but the rat creatures are hairy and menacing, with sharp horns and sharp teeth and red eyes.  Bone does what a high quality graphic novel should do, it uses words to enhance the story that the images mostly tell.

Genre(s): Graphic Novel, Adventure, Mystery, Fantasy

Reading/Interest Level: 8-12 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback

ISBN: 978-0439706407

Similar Books: Others in the series; The Adventures of Daniel Boom, AKA Loud Boy; The Dodgeball Chronicles (Knights of the Lunch Table, No. 1)

Subjects: banishment, good vs. evil, survival

Series Information: Out from Boneville is the first in a nine volume Bone series, so the adventure continues…

Selected Awards: The Bone series started first as black and white cartoons, those cartoons and the newer color graphic novels have received numerous Eisner Awards and Harvey Awards.  In 2005, Time Magazine put Bone (a compilation of the 9 book series) on its list of the 100 best English-Language novels from 1923 to the present.

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

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

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


Nancy Drew #105: The Clue in the Antique Trunk, by Carolyn Keene

Nancy Drew #105: The Clue in the Antique Trunk.  By Carolyn Keene. Aladdin, 2001. 160 pages.

Plot: Nancy and her friends Bess and George are off to White Falls, Massachusetts to visit Nancy’s former neighbor and White Falls history buff, Vera Alexander.  Vera is running the White Falls crafts fair which includes a fundraiser for the White Falls history museum she hopes to break ground on soon.  But, somebody doesn’t want Vera to succeed with the museum.  The building she wants to use was a knife factory whose owner, Zach Calder, was killed with one of the Calder knives.  The townsfolk think they know who the killer is, but no one is sure.  And who stole the antique trunks from Vera’s house that held the items to be auctioned off to raise funds for the museum?  Nancy and her friends have several mysteries to unravel to get to the clue in the antique trunk.  Will they find out who killed Calder?  Will they find out who is trying to stop the opening of the history museum?

Review: In true Nancy Crew style, this mystery has twists and turns that keep the reader guessing.  Slightly updated from the 1930’s, a computer is used to inventory antiques, but not all the way to today, the story still has the old-fashioned feel of most Nancy Drew novels.  Cell phones would have proved useful for Nancy and her friends, but, alas, the story wasn’t that contemporary.  Fans of Nancy Drew won’t be disappointed, and mystery fans who like suspense in an accessible and relatively mild form, will also enjoy this novel.  Excellent mystery for younger tweens, as things always seem to feel in control when Nancy is around.

Genre(s): Adventure, Mystery

Reading/Interest Level: 8-12 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook

ISBN: 978-0743423458

Subjects: robbery, history, murder, antiques, friendship, mystery

Character names:

Nancy Drew: intrepid teen detective

Bess Marvin: Nancy’s friend, helps solve mysteries, cousin of George

George Fayne: Nancy’s friend, helps solve mysteries, cousin of Bess

Vera Alexander: Nancy’s former neighbor who invites Nancy and her friends to the crafts fair and hopes to get some help with figuring out who is out to destroy her museum plans

Julie Bergson: Vera’s assistant