Tag Archives: 4th

The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit (Ninja Detective #1)

NinjaDetective1by Octavia Spencer

I usually approach books written by celebrities with a bit of trepidation. More often than not, I don’t even bother reading them — just waiting for others’ reactions. But for some reason, I got a positive vibe from the galley. Perhaps because its multi-ethnicity cast portrayed and neatly presented on the cover? My gut feelings proved to be not that wrong. Much like what Spencer enjoyed reading as a child (Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown,) the story is just complex enough to keep the readers’ interest without too many confusing layers and the solutions are somewhat on the easy and happy side — which are thoroughly appropriate for its intended middle grade readership: both entertaining and comforting.

Do I sense that Spencer tried too hard to “balance” the cast with the inclusion of a hearing-impaired Hispanic kid, a black kid, and a Chinese house-keeper/friend? Yup. I sense that. But I’m ok with it because she actually created solid characters whose identities and friendships ring true and whose ethnicities are not the focal point or the plot driving elements. For the most part, the ethnical references are cringe-free. (Except for when Mei-Ling says, “Ni Hao” for a quick morning greeting to those she knows well… instead of the more appropriate “Zao” – for early/morning.) I will have no problem recommending this book to my students and hopefully they will enjoy this mystery with its positive message of community building.

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Sisters Grimm #1: The Fairy-Tale Detectives

sistersgrimm by Michael Buckley

I read this series not in order but it didn’t hurt the enjoyment since each story has its central conflict to resolve and there’s a nicely tied up ending for each one. This first story sets up the backdrop quite nicely, explaining how the fairy tale creatures (the Everafters) got to Ferryport Landing and how the sisters came to assist their grandmother in playing the detectives to capture the culprits in magical crimes. It’s all very clean, imaginative fun and beloved by many of my young readers.

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Fairy's Return and Other Princess Tales

fairysreturnby Gail Carson Levine, a collection of six Princess Tales

I enjoyed pretty much every single story in this collection.  Each one is inventive and fresh, with a lot of humor and just the right kind of twists from the original tales to maintain a high level of interest — even from this veteran fractured fairy tale reader.  I only wish that the design and the title are not so incredibly girly because I believe like all Grimm tales, these stories can be equally appreciated by both genders, even if the focus on the tales is the yearning and seeking of that one and perfect match.  The way Levine presents the relationships of the main characters stresses more on personalities and character compatibilities than some external or shallow physical attraction makes these tales solid choices for young readers.

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Grimm Legacy

grimmlegacyby Polly Shulman

For a librarian, someone who has worked for the New York Public Library system and toured the underground (deeply underground) stacks of books and objects, and a huge fan of fairytale reinventions, this book is a perfect match.  I thoroughly enjoyed the capers and the many magical aspects of the storyline.  This is another one that I can easily recommend to readers who want fantasy stories firmly inserted into their real world experiences.  The clean high school romances, the school basketball games, and the use of electronic devices will speak to contemporary twin readers.  The threads of the mystery are intriguing the first 2/3 of the story.  The last 1/3 becomes a little less skillfully laid out: once all the red herrings are eliminated and the true villain is identified, the story loses a little bit of momentum.  But thanks to the few super fun elements (Elizabeth’s losing her sense of direction, the bottomless box, and the whole idea of all those people turned into figurines for centuries, for example,) I was not bored.  It is, however, a little of a let down to see that the author could not seem to come up with a better or really clever way to get rid of the villain and had to employ a deus ex machina in the form of one of the minor characters and a realm that was never introduced previously in the story.  Nonetheless, I am still excited about the companion book that is to be released this June, The Wells Bequest. I can’t wait to go back to this fantastic library and see what the imaginative mind of Polly Shulman has concocted for the readers.

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Tales from Brothers Grimm and Sisters Weird

talesfrombrothersgrimmby Vivian Vande Velde

The short fractured fairy tales in this collection are lightly inventive, and I found the retelling of Hansel and Gratel truly successful: Vande Velde turns the traditionally sympathetic siblings into cold-blooded, calculating murderers.  The few fairy tale poems seem to be merely fillers.

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Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby

I always wanted to read this book — and more than one teachers at school urged me to read it. Since I can’t really read it this year – I downloaded the audio book read skillfully by Marc Thompson. Thompson definitely did the story justice with expertly designed and executed voices for the many characters in the tale. The story itself satisfied: a wonderful blend of life-or-death/survival scenarios and the warmth of friendship and inter-generational support. Although there are some really despicable adults in the tale, there are also so many caring ones that eventually made the three children’s lives better.

I anticipated a lot more “magic” due to the title and the cover design and felt slightly disappointed when I realized that it’s mostly a tale of young immigrants and their struggles finding their places in the world and supporting their families. All three protagonists’ stories are definitely compelling. Kirby then introduced some magical elements in the form of the golems and the golem’s “heart” for the clockwork man. Being a picky and sometimes narrow-minded genre-purist, I found this mixture a bit disconcerting — although it was quite satisfying to read those fantasy bits. I don’t think any child reader will be bothered by this mixture of historical/realistic story telling and elements of magic.

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11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass

I listened to this one. Ever since my daughter read and really liked this book, I wanted to fit it in my reading schedule. Time passed, and I never got around to do that — until I downloaded it on my Android phone from the New York Public Library and had the chance to have some fun with it nightly when I wash dishes! And what fun I had!

This has been a steadily popular book in my middle school library with 4th and 5th grade girls for the past 2 or 3 years and it has good reasons to be so. The ingredients are delicious: an old family feud, an enchantment placed on the two friends, the re-living of the same day with variations depending on one’s choices (which include some REALLY poor but thrilling ones,) and the reforge of a lost friendship. What not to love? I am also grateful that the narrator has a pleasant voice. A delightful ride, for sure.

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