The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid(PG Movie).  Directed by Harald Zwart. Sony Pictures, 2010. 140 minutes. $19.94

Plot: Twelve year old Dre Parker lives in Detroit, and then one day he and his mom get on a plane, and all of a sudden he is living in Bejing.  Dre’s mom has a new job in China, and he finds himself in an unfamiliar land, knowing neither the language nor the customs.  His first foray to the playground results in his finding a new friend, Mei, and being beaten up by her friend, Cheng.  Cheng does not think that Mei and Dre should be friends, and Cheng’s continued bullying of Dre make Dre’s life difficult and unhappy.  Dre decides that he needed to learn martial arts to be able to defend himself from Cheng and Cheng’s gang.  Eventually, the maintenance man, Mr. Han, becomes Dre’s Kung Fu master and they train together intensely for a tournament in which Dre has been entered.  This movie is a remake of a movie of the same name from 1984.

Review: Entertaining and exciting, this movie has a lot of great martial arts scenes as well as beautiful views of Beijing and the surrounding Chinese countryside.  Jaden Smith as Dre is cute and witty, vulnerable and brave.  Jackie Chan as Mr. Han is understated and serious, caring and strong.  Dre’s friendship with Mei, played by actress Wenwen Han, is sweet and the two support each other.  The kiss between Dre and Mei seems out of place, given their young age, and I suspect it could be the least popular part of the movie for the many young tween boys who would likely enjoy everything else about this film.  A great film for boys and girls and the whole family, the Karate Kid has positive messages including: never give up, find your inner strength, work hard and respect yourself and others.

Genre(s): Realistic Fiction, Family

Viewing/Interest Level: 9-12 years

Available in: DVD; Blu-ray

Subjects: friendship, kung-fu, dreams, inner strength, bullying

Selected Award: 2010 Kids’ Choice Awards Favorite Movie

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. By J. K. Rowling. Scholastic, 1998.  312 pages.  $13.95

Plot: Harry Potter has never fit in.  He doesn’t fit in at home; he lives with the Dursleys. Aunt Petunia, his deceased mother’s sister, and uncle Vernon are disapproving and neglectful.  His cousin, Dudley, is mean, manipulative and an all around bully.  Harry has a hard time making friends at school as Dudley and his gang harass and torment him so much, no one dares to get close.  Then comes his eleventh birthday and with it, a letter, well, actually MANY letters, but Uncle Vernon intercepts most of them, until one finally gets to Harry.  Harry has always known that his parents died when he was young, but what he didn’t know was that they were a witch and a wizard and they died saving his life.  And, what’s more, Harry himself possesses the power of magic, and he has been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  The Hogwarts Express takes students from London to their school, and, in the station, Harry meets his soon-to-be best friend Ron Weasley.  Harry is nervous but excited to go to a place where, maybe, he’ll finally fit in.  But, will he fit in?  He and Ron become close to a third friend, Hermoine Granger and the three of them embark on an adventure solving the mystery of the forbidden third floor, which seems to be hiding something very important.  Along the way Harry learns more about himself and his past.

Review: This is gripping reading at its finest.  The characters are charismatic and unique.  The story is interesting and unpredictable.  Once readers enter the “magic world” they won’t want to leave.  There is nothing overly literary about the writing, but it flows well, and the compelling nature of the story will appeal to many tween readers, who don’t care so much about whether or not a book is considered great literature.  Tweens know what they like, and many like Harry Potter.  This is a great book for boys and girls, reluctant and eager readers alike, and fantasy fans.  The first of a series of seven books, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, will leave readers wanting more, and, luckily for them, they can get it!

Genre(s): Fantasy, Adventure, Mystery

Reading/Interest Level: 8-12 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook

ISBN: 9780590353427

Similar Books: Other books in the Harry Potter series; The Lightening Thief; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Matilda; there is also a movie with the same title

Subjects: family, friendship, magic, wizardry, spells, growing up, coming of age,

Series Information: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first book in a seven book series, books two through seven are: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


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)


Time for Kids That’s Awesome! The World’s Most Amazing Facts & Records, by the Editors of Time for Kids Magazine

Time for Kids That’s Awesome! The World’s Most Amazing Facts & Records. By the Editors of Time for Kids Magazine. Time Home Entertainment, Inc., 2010.  208 pages. $19.95

Content: In fifteen “AWESOME” chapters, this book provides information about noteworthy (awesome) things from around — and beyond — the world.  Each page is covered in colorful photographs as well as printed facts.  Readers can learn about things huge and tiny, incredible animals and plants, remarkable sports events, unusual food, the wonder of outer space, extreme weather, and more.  From new technologies and a $30,000 doghouse to beetles bigger than your hand and wonders of the ancient world this book will amaze and thrill.  Find out: what is the largest waterfall in the world, what is the largest mammal on earth, how to spot computer spyware, who was the first American woman in space, the snowiest places in the U.S., how to build a miniature scene in the eye of a needle and MUCH MORE!

Review: Exciting, interesting, and awe inspiring, That’s Awesome is a great choice for reluctant readers and readers more interested in non-fiction, which often, but not always, is boys.  The hundreds of items included in the book are fascinating.  The photographs are colorful and beautiful.  The topics are varied.  The book is published by Time Home Entertainment, which lends some legitimacy to the book, assuring readers that the facts are well researched and accurate.

Genre(s): Non-Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 9-12 years

Available in: Hardcover

ISBN: 978-1603201568

Similar Books: Guinness World Records 2011, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Enter if You Dare, Time for Kids Super Science Book

Subjects: animals, plants, outer space, dinosaurs, sports, food, arts, weather, jobs, technology, human body, history


Room One: A Mystery or Two, by Andrew Clements

Room One: A Mystery or Two.  By Andrew Clements; illustrated by Chris Blair. Simon and Schuster, 2006. 192 pages. $5.99

Plot: Ted, the only 6th grader in his 10-student school, loves mysteries.  He challenges himself to guess the outcome of mystery novels he reads after getting halfway through the books, and he often gets it right.  But one morning while riding his bike delivery papers along his paper route he sees a girl looking out the window of an abandoned farmhouse.  Who is she?  Why is she there?  Ted uses real life detective skills as he searches for answers.  Along the way, Ted learns about friendship, loyalty, and compassion.

Review: This is a charming story of contemporary, small town life.  There are so many people leaving the area that Ted’s school may even be shut down due to low enrollment.  Ted is curious, maybe even nosy, but always ethical and thoughtful.  The writing flows nicely, and is accessible for younger tweens.  The story has enough depth to work for older tweens, particularly those who don’t like scary mysteries, as this one has a bit of suspense, but is not frightening.  To some extent, this book reads more like a great realistic fiction story than a mystery, though there are elements of mysteries and detective work.  Ted’s dry sense of humor, kindness, and sometimes faulty, but well-meaning, decisions, make him an appealing and likable character.  Giving some attention to issues like the Iraq war and homelessness, this book has a social conscience and gives the reader pause for thought.  Small, simple black and white drawings sprinkled throughout the book add a nice touch of emphasis to certain events of the story.

Genre(s): Realistic Fiction, Mystery, Adventure

Reading/Interest Level: 9-12 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0689866876

Subjects: friendship, homelessness, veterans, poverty

Selected Awards: 2007 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery

Character names

Ted Hammond: main character, resident of rural Plattsford, NE, the only 6th grader in his school, loves mysteries, sees a girl in the window of an abandoned farmhouse and decides to find out who she is and why she is there

April: the girl Ted sees in the window

Mrs. Mitchell: Ted’s teacher, he confides in Mrs. Mitchell and she helps Ted when he needs it


An Inconvenient Truth (Young Readers Edition) by Al Gore

An Inconvenient Truth (Young Readers Edition). By Al Gore. Penguin Young Readers Group, 2006.  191 pages. $23

Content: A primer on global warming and the “climate crisis,” An Inconvenient Truth is the adaptation for young readers of the documentary film and book of the same name. Gore explains global warming’s causes and effects through easy-to-read text and demonstrative full-color photographs, artwork, charts and diagrams.  Chapters cover climate change, pollution, the atmosphere, weather and storms, humans’ impact on the earth, and more.  The graphics and pictures complement the text as teaching tools themselves, and with the easy to read and understand text An Inconvenient Truth is a great choice for a wide range of tweens and visual learners.

Review: Al Gore, well known for his activism on behalf of the earth, has taken his message to tweens in a beautiful, intelligent, and important book. An Inconvenient Truth is well written for the audience it targets.  The use of colorful graphics, photographs, and illustrations effectively demonstrate a multitude of points that words alone would could not convey.  Photos of glaciers from 100 years ago and “today” show, in dramatic fashion, the impact of global warming.  The book doesn’t go into great depth, but it feels right for this age group.  It provides an overview and several specific examples.  There are many topics that tweens might be interested in researching further.  The one disappointment is the two page “Take Action” spread at the end of the book, which literally contains only four bullet points with ideas; it almost feels like an afterthought, though it does point readers to a website for information.

Genre(s): Non-Fiction, Science

Reading/Interest Level: 9-12 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback

Similar Books: Our Choice: How We Can Solve the Climate Crisis (Young Reader’s Edition), An Inconvenient Truth DVD, The Omnivore’s Dilemma for Kids: The Secrets Behind What You Eat

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