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


Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, by Eleanor Coerr

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. By Eleanor Coerr.  Illustrated by Ronald Himler.  Puffin, 1999.  80 pages. $5.99

Plot/Content: Sadako loves to run.  Fast.  Her father once asks her mother, “`…Did you ever see her walk when she could run, hop, or jump?’  There was pride in his voice because Sadako was a such a strong, fast runner.”  Sadako trains hard to become the fastest runner she can be.  She approaches life with a zeal and joy that make all those around her smile.  Sadako was a baby in the city of Hiroshima during World War II, when the United States Air Force dropped an atom bomb on the city.  She had seen many people in her city become ill with leukemia, what many call “atom bomb disease.”  When Sadako starts having dizzy spells, she first keeps them secret, but when falls down while running, she can keep the secret no longer.  In the hospital, ill with leukemia, Sadako’s best friend, Chizuko, brings her a paper crane and reminds her of the legend that if a person is ill and folds 1,000 cranes “the gods will grant her wish and make her healthy again.”  So, Sadako sets her mind on folding 1,000 cranes with the same determination that she put into her running.

Review: Based on a true story, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is a moving, beautiful story of hope, love, and inner strength.  Written in language accessible to younger tweens, this book is readable and appropriately simple, yet the concepts are deep and multifaceted.  Delicately rendered black and white illustrations depict a few of the key scenes in the book.  An epilogue tells the story of what happened after Sadako’s death.  The book also includes instructions on how to fold an origami crane.

Genre(s): Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 8-10 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

ISBN: 0698118022

Similar Books: Kira-Kira, A Taste of Blackberries

Subjects: family, love, illness, World War II

A Taste of Blackberries, by Doris Buchanan Smith

A Taste of Blackberries. By Doris Buchanan Smith.  Illustrated by Charles Robinson.  Scholastic, 1973.  74 pages.

Plot: Jamie is a great best friend, sometimes a little exasperating, but a great best friend nonetheless.  He’s always up for an adventure, often stirs up trouble, and isn’t scared of anything.  Jamie is a trickster and a joker, and he makes his best friend smile.  A lot.  So, it didn’t seem odd that Jamie was one minute poking a stick at a bee hole in the ground and the next minute he was on the ground writhing.  His friend thinks it is another joke, another attention getting device, until, the ambulance comes, and then he has a lot to think about.  Jamie dies, and his best friend doesn’t know what to do without him.  How will he get through the day, when he knows Jamie is gone?

Review: Sensitive and gentle, this books gives readers a window into how a young boy deals with the death of his best friend.  There are so many feelings that come up for the main character, and Smith takes time to address a lot of them.  This book is most appropriate for the younger end of tweens, but would also be appropriate for older tweens dealing with similar issues.  This first person portrayal of a boy mourning and missing his friend, is moving and touching, and would make a great book for a tween book group or discussion group.

Genre(s): Realistic Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 8-11

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback

ISBN: 978-0590337847

Similar Books: Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

Subjects:  death, friendship, grief

Selected Awards: ALA Notable Children’s Book

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


Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata

Kira-Kira. By Cynthia Kadohata.  Atheneum, 2006.  272 pages. $16.95

Plot: Kira-kira — Japanese for glittering, shining, the way the world feels to Katie when her sister Lynn is with her.  It is the 1950’s and Katie is just 5 when her family moves from Iowa to Georgia, where there are fewer than 50 Japanese people in a town of over 4,000.  Lynn teaches Katie about the ways of the world, the beauty of the sky and how to do her darn math homework.  You see, Lynn is a genius, and, not only that, she loves Katie more than anything else in the whole world, and Katie feel the same about Lynn.  Life is challenging in Georgia; Katie’s parents work so hard she misses seeing them, and she and Lynn do a lot of the caretaking of their beloved little brother, Sammy.  But things are going along all right, her parents are even saving up to buy their very own house, until Lynn get sick.  Then there’s a shift, and Katie’s world gets turned around.  Will they be able to buy the house?  Will Lynn get better?  What will happen to Katie’s family?

Review: The love demonstrated and portrayed in the novel is exquisite.  Katie’s family members love and care for each other deeply.  This is part of what makes this story so compelling, and so very beautiful.  The writing is exact and purposeful and the author weaves in bits of Japanese culture in a decidedly American setting, contributing to the richness and authenticity of the novel.  A moving, inspiring story of good times, hard times, hope, and inner strength.

Genre(s): Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 9-14 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0689856402

Similar Books: The Higher Power of Lucky; Maniac McGee; Bud, Not Buddy; Bat 6

Subjects: family, love, illness, discrimination, racism, union organizing, poverty

Selected Awards: 2005 Newberry Medal, 2005 ALA Notable Children’s Books

Character Names:

Katie: main character, the book is told from her perspective, younger sister of Lynn, older sister to Sammy, loving, not a great student, thoughtful, kind, a bit mischievous, loved

Lynn: Older sister to both Katie and Sammy, loving caregiver to her siblings, has a special bond with Katie and teachers things and take an almost parental role in Katie’s upbringing

Sammy: youngest child of the family, much loved by all, sweet and easy going

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