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


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


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

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