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


Guinness World Records 2010: The Book of The Decade, by Guinness World Records

Guinness World Records 2010: The Book of The Decade. By Guinness World Records.  Guinness World Records Limited, 2009.  280 pages. $28.95

Content: The most.  The largest.  The best.  The smallest.  The newest. The fastest.  The youngest.  The heaviest.  The strangest.  The longest.  The first.  The oldest.  The loudest.  The Guinness Book of World Records brings you world records from the year as well as from the first decade of the 2000’s.  From scientific discoveries and unique human bodies to sports records and cutting edge technology, this book covers a lot of ground.  This book is packed full of information, pages have very little blank space between the extensive text and many full-color photographs.  Just a quick flip through the book is exciting and entertaining, but it is also something that a reader could read from cover to cover.  Reluctant readers are likely to be inspired by this book, with appeal to both boys and girls.

Review: This book is fascinating, exciting, interesting, silly, and even educational.  There is some great science information as well as tons of facts about a huge diversity of things.  A great book for tweens to read together with a parent or a friend, there is something for everyone in this volume.  While there is a fairly extensive Table of Contents organized in page order, which is by category, there is no index, which detracts from the reader’s ability to pinpoint a particular world record.  The Guinness Book of World Records was the originator of this type of superlative information book in 1950’s.  This 2010 edition is a colorful, compelling, and exciting book, worthy of the Guinness name.

Genre(s): Non-Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 8-14 years

Available in: Hardcover

ISBN: 978-1904994503

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

Subjects: food, plants, animals, insects, electricity, world records, sports, the earth, celebrities, pets, music, movies, television, energy, buildings, transportation, vehicles, collections, stunts, human body, technology


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Movie

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (PG Movie).  Directed by Chris Columbus. Warner Bros., 2001. 152 minutes. $19.98

Plot: Following along the lines of the book of the same name, eleven year old Harry Potter is living with his cruel and neglectful aunt, uncle, and cousin when he receives a letter telling him he has been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  Prior to this Harry had not known he was a wizard.  And, as it turns out, Harry’s famous in the wizarding world for not succumbing to an attack by the evil wizard Voldemort.  Once at Hogwarts, Harry, along with his best friends, Ron and Hermoine, get enmeshed in the mystery of the sorcerer’s stone, a magical crystal with the power of immortality.  With encounters with an angry troll, a three headed dog, and a baby dragon, the three friends show a great deal of resourcefulness, determination, and bravery, but danger seems to lurk around every corner.  Will they be able to save the sorcerer’s stone from the evil wizard searching for it?  Will they get through their first year of Hogwarts alive?

Review: Exciting and entertaining, this movie stays amazingly true to the book upon which it is based.  The characters are well developed and intriguing, with a cast of talented actors.  The special effects are well done, if not perfect.  There is a need to suspend disbelief anyway, so why not forget they’re special effects and sit back and enjoy?  The scenery is beautiful and once immersed in the magic of the movie, most viewers will not want to come back to real (I mean, muggle) life.

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

Viewing/Interest Level: 8+ years

Available in: DVD; Blu-ray; Wide Screen, Full Screen, and Ultimate Editions

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

Series Information: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first movie in an eight movie series, movies two through eight 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 Part 1, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (to be released later in 2011)


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.


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


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