Tag Archives: magical story

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

unusualchickensUnusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

Definitely a breezy read with some fun bits and pieces. I really like Kelly Jones’ portrayal of Sophie, level-headed, with plenty of normal kid concerns and normal kid courage. Jones included some not-too-heavy-handed tidbits about how others perceive Sophie, being half Mexican American, being viewed as poor, being “presumed” in not-so-flattering ways.

Since my taste runs more toward more saturated kind of fantasy, I wanted the chickens’ powers (and they are amazing powers) to manifest more, stronger, and add more tension to the story.  However, I can also see how this can be quite attractive to those who just want their magic to be more like everyday happenings — not too many world-altering encounters.

My narrative device-detector antenna was definitely alert for this one and wish that the letter-writing device had worked all the way through.  The really really long, as-it-happens, climatic sections did not work all that well for me: not sure when/where Sophie would have been writing to Agnes in the middle of rescuing the chickens and participating in the Poultry Show (and it is apparent that those letters weren’t written after all the excitement as a report, since Agnes would have known all that had happened and wouldn’t have needed such narration of events.)

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Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

floraulyssesOne of the most delightful books I’ve encountered!

So much of it is sparkling, like gems — the humor, the humanity, the friendship, and even the heartaches.  And there’s a special twinkle of absurdity: the squirrel poet, the hysterical blindness, the kind but weird neighbor with the “living” painting, etc.

Read this two years ago but never got to put the book note up and so much of the book is still vivid in my mind.  Indeed a great Newbery choice!


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The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

truebluescoutsby Kathi Appelt

(narrated by Lyle Lovett for Audible)

This is what outstanding, distinguished, and thoroughly enjoyable children’s books should be!  And of course, I had the additional pleasure of listening to Appelt’s narrative voice brought to live by Lyle Lovett: folky, hilarious, tender, with just the right amount of controlled drama.  This environmental tall tale set in the swamp land, featuring anthropomorphized critters, caricatured villains, down home, real but also realer than life characters, and mythical beings is perfect for a family and classroom read aloud!  One of my favorite 2013 books for sure!

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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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Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck

Who would have thought? Richard Peck: the 21st Century Austen for the 8 to 10 set? But he IS! This little gem of a book has all the good stuff:

A cast of talking mice whose actions and living conditions are completely believable and are in tune with children’s fantasy play; a twisting, surprising, and humorous upstairs/downstairs comedy that involves Royalty and seafaring; the perennial favorite plot progression allowing the lower class main characters go up the social ladder due to good luck and hard work; and clean grown-up romances.

Peck’s deft hand also created a great protagonist in the no-nonsense Helena and made her think and speak properly like one would have from the late 1800s. I was completely charmed!

(And the full-page incidental illustrations add to its charm even more!)

Quick – go and get a copy and treat yourself and your young readers!!

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The Unnameables

The UnnameablesAuthor: Ellen Booraem
Reading Level: 4th to 6th

Pages: 318
Publisher: Harcourt
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

This is an allegory that works on many levels, made rich with well-portrayed and multi-faceted characters. Which, I guess, renders it not a true allegory since the characters are not all confined to single traits or symbolic equivalents. At the very beginning, I was dubious: thinking that the symbolism and “names” are all too transparent and too easy to predict. And yet, with the blusterous arrival of the Goatman and then all the tangential but significant side trails and events, the story drew me in and kept me highly interested and entertained. I bated my breath, hoping for a satisfying and well paced ending, and was not let down.

I very much appreciate the rich imagery, the successful world-building, and the economy of the text — also its gentle humor in the friendly way these simple folks behave. I’m also so pleased that the Unnameable acts (what one might easily interpret as “art” or “craft”) are given a made-up name of “runyuin” (which has the word “ruin” embedded — I wonder if this is even intentional) so that the interpretations can be surprising from minds not as set as mine. I can see how this book might be of great use in a 4th-6th grade classroom since it is both well-crafted and can generate good conversations!

View all my goodreads reviews.

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Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat

Author: Lynne Jonell
Reading Level: 4th – 6th grade

Pages: 352
Publisher: Henry Holt
Edition: Hardcover, 2007

It’s impressive how Jonell manages to inform the readers of all characters’ personalities, feelings, and actions without ever straying away from Emmy’s perspective: readers only know what she sees, hears, and thinks. The outlandish circumstances with all the super(magical?)-powers of the rodents are accompanied by a gentle tale of friendship, longing for parental love, and the essence of stable families. I mentally applauded the several jabs at the absurdity of the over-scheduling of our children.

The illustration with the flip-book margin of Rat falling and Emmy catching him ceases being a gimmick when it visually sums up the spirit of the story: “Don’t worry. We’re friends. I will catch you if you fall.”


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Magpie Gabbard and the Quest for the Buried Moon

Author: Sally M. Keehn
Reading Level: 4th – 6th

Publisher: Philomel
Edition: Hardcover, 2007 (ARC)

It is definitely Quirky, with that capital Q! The tall-tale tone and the magical and outlandish plotline are consistent and coherent in their own way. Very strong opening scene and concluding passages.

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Author: Lois Lowry
Reading Level: 4th – 6th

Pages: 140
Publisher: Hougton Mifflin/Walter Lorraine
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

Since so many people love this book, I was unwilling to read it, afraid that I’d find it undeserving in some way. But, I, too, fell in love with it right away. My admiration of the author’s skill in telling a simple and yet complex story sustains until the very last word on the very last page. What a refreshing experience.

The characters, major or minor alike, have such depth. Many things are unsaid about them, but the reader senses a strong “knowing” of their souls from the few key moments in life Lowry chooses to present. The elegant text, deceptively simple, reminds me of my favorite Dickinson poems: a few words, arranged just right, describing the most common personal experiences, can encompass the immensity of the collective human minds — conscious or subconscious.

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The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea

Author/Illustrator: Anne Sibley O’Brien
Reading Level: 2nd – 5th grade

Pages: unpaged
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

This picture book in comic book style is near perfect in every way. The narrative is fluid, the story is exciting, the cultural details are accurately portrayed both in text and illustraion, and the pictures are expertly rendered. I am impressed at how O’Brien effectively conveys varied moods by simple changes of each facial feature.

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Pish Posh

Author: Ellen Potter
Reading Level: 4th grade and up

Pages: 166
Publisher: Philomel Books
Edition: Hardcover 2006

Ellen Potter really knows how to build upon the utterly unbelievable scenarios and make them seem oh-so-plausible. Her New York City apartment buildings (as in the Olivia Kidney books)expand into wonderlands that even the lovers for Carrollian twists and turns will find tantalizing. The mystery, the unique characters, (11-year-old Clara Francofile who owns nothing but simple black dresses and a keen sense of the social standings of each celebrity coming through her parents’ restaurant and her co-star Annabelle Arbutnot, pre-teen master burglar, for example) and the satisfying resolution all just WORK! A truly fun read.


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Lily Reads: Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants

Author: Sam Swope
Reading Level: 2nd – 5th

Pages: 99
Publisher: FSG
Edition: Hardcover, 2004

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American Born Chinese

Author: Gene Luen Yang
Reading Level: 7th and up

Pages: 240
Publisher: First Second, Roaring Brooks
Edition: Paperback original, 2006

I cannot pin down my own reaction to this graphic novel. It is beautifully produced: glossy paper, clean layout, the comic illustrations are quite skillfully done, and the storytelling is at moments quite intelligent. But, that what I felt most reading the book was how all parts of it are “adequate” and how I was aware of all these components at the same time finding myself not terribly moved in any way. I was not offended, either — even by the buck-teethed, slant-eyed, Engrish-speaking caricature of a Chinese cousin (I knew that he served some form of purpose other than ridiculing the Chinese as a whole.) I felt little revelation — even when the three story lines finally get twisted together, the surprise factor only lasted a short moment and then the bigger lingering question remains: “Are these three stories organically entwined due to an unyielding internal creative force or are they forced together because it seems like a cool idea to connect a current day ABC’s destiny to an old Chinese Legend?” For me, the resolution definitely lacks the power to convince me that this tale cannot be told better.

The best part of the book actually is the very short, very straightforward, very truthful retelling of the Monkey King story — I wanted more of that!

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The Chocolate Touch

Author: Patrick Caitling
Reading Level: 1st – 3rd


Lily and I took turns reading aloud to each other and had a blast. This is definitely a “messegey” book: don’t eat too much junk food! but it works well as a highly entertaining and imaginative story. I read it a long time ago and this time around, I still enjoyed it.

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July 2005 Reads

Howl’s Moving Castle
by Diana Wynne Jones

fantasy, highly recommended  (4th-7th)

I saw the Miyazaki animated feature film based on this favorite of mine and in between two viewings, I was compelled to quickly re-read Howl. I HAD to re-read it to affirm for myself that Jones’ tone is completely different from that of Miyazaki’s. I much prefer the book’s world… into which I would not mind falling — but I will AVOID the movie’s world at all cost…

Although both book and movie are finely crafted and powerful in their own ways… for some reason, I think the less overtly “anti-war” approach (in the book) commands a depth of human conflicts and the internal struggles of “darkness vs. light” that the movie did not seem to be able to convey convincingly.

So much wise humor, so much gentle and yet deep probing of the human hearts was lost in the movie version.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (HP VI)
by J.K. Rowling

fantasy, series, highly recommended (4th-6th)

Definitely one of the better volumes of the series. It is more tightly written, moves at a neck-breaking pace, draws this reader in and pins her down! There are even a couple of surprising elements/scenes. It has been a fun ride! Although many people say that this one is much DARKER than the rest, I still feel that there is quite a bit of hope and levity. Maybe because I like dark tales and this does not strike me as those that really get into the characters’ psyche in a disturbing way — those tales by Poe or Hawthorn… for example. It does not “disturb” my sense of security. It’s a very imaginative and well thought out yarn. I am pleased!

Saiyuki (vols. 5 – 8)
by Kazuya Minekura

fantasy, manga, graphic narrative, translation (7th and up)

The series remains explosive, intriguing, and GORGEOUS!!! Must keep on reading them….

The Story of the Treasure Seekers
by E. Nesbit

fantasy, classic (3rd-5th)

Umm… I could not finish this book… it got tedious after the first 6 or so chapters. I know that it would have been a really fun book for me as a child… but it seems so dated — the sensibilities just don’t ring true any more. (And I LOVE nostalgic stories.)

by Jhumpa Lahiri

realistic fiction, adult

I found the events too mundane and the telling too tedious toward the end of the story… too many vignettes and descriptive passages. I also found having the death of the father inserted into the story is a tad gratuitous. Over all, it was somewhat enjoyable and intriguing, but not awe-inspiring.

The Amulet of Samarkand (Bartimaeus Trilogy I)
by Jonathan Stroud

fantasy, recommended (5th and up)

This proves that as a reader, I am not entirely consistent… I tried reading this title a year ago and found myself irritated by the tone of the narrative voice of one of the main characters, namely Bartimaeus. This time around, I had more leisure and more patience. Now this story becomes both fascinating, solid, and Bartimaeus has become an endearing character, albeit a conceited one! I can now see why The Amulet of Samarkand is a favorite of so many of my students. I applaud their taste! I must say that as fantasy world-building goes, this story is really successful: it follows impeccable logic and is rich with historical and mythical information. Now I look forward to reading the sequel!

First Boy (galley)
by Gary D. Schmidt

mystery (5th-7th)

There is simply too much concentration on cows and farm businesses to keep my interest up! It MOVES SO SLOWLY… and the pay off was not that great at the end. The sense of suspense is done well but unfortunately I just did not care enough about the characters to be emotionally invested in the outcome of all the “mysteries.” And… the events are both predictable and too coincidental to make this a first (or even second) rate mystery. Too bad…

W Juliet (vols. 1 – 4)
by Emura

realistic fiction, gender bender, manga, graphic narrative, translation (5th-7th)

This gender-bender manga is a lot of fun to read. I enjoyed the relationship between the main characters (the tender love affair is very touching) but found that it drags on a bit — which is common in serialization… one year of their time together is prolonged into FOUR volumes… and I just want a little more and faster development of their predicament… and I want to know exactly what HAPPENS at the end… but alas, that will take maybe another 3 years!

Saiyuki (vols. 1 – 4)
by Kazuya Minekura

fantasy, manga, graphic narrative, translation (7th and up)

This manga series has one of the best artworks in the field… Amazing hair-dos, of course; great personalities — you can actually tell each character apart without having to memorize their hairstyles or clothing! The storyline is pretty wacked but that is not surprising, being Manga. There is solid emotional development for each of the 4 main characters and enough of a coherent storyline that I would recommend this to readers new to this genre/form. Of course, there is a lot of gore (and slight sexual references) that it is not for the very young or faint of heart!

Goblin Wood
by Hilary Bell

fantasy, recommended (5th-7th)

Read this last year but for some reason didn’t record the experience. A solid fantasy from a solid author. I loved how all the characters are drawn with depth and complexity, loved the relationships between the humans and the goblins and between the main characters, and definitely loved the resolution that was not simple or predictable.

The Old Country
by Mordicai Gerstein

historical fiction, fantasy, magical story, highly recommended (4th-7th)

An odd and fascinating tale, with all the right fairy tale touches, and the mysterious ensemble of characters. Couldn’t quite figure out whether very young readers who have not much exposure to the history of the Jewish Holocaust will find this tale intriguing or puzzling… and for those who have been exposed to that part of history, will this tale be too “messagey” or enlightening? For this reader, it was satisfying enough, both as a fairy tale and social commentary. And of course, one does like a surprising ending!

Princess Academy
by Shannon Hale

fantasy, highly recommended (5th-7th)
Shannon Hall Goose Girl delivered again! I was a little put off by the cutsie looking cover.. thinking, oh, no, she sold out!! She’s doing a cute Princess Tale kind of thing… but, no, once again, the situations and the magic are subtle and the skillful presentation of the inter-personal relationships still holds mesmerizing power from this talented storyteller. Magic, boarding school story, romances, friendship, self-discovery, wit… this book has everything!

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
by Suzanna Clarke

fantasy, alternative history, adult

OH MY GOD… this book is SOOOO good! I would have given it 10 stars if I allow myself to break the rating rules! What a strange mixture of the traditional British comic portrayal of class relations, a la Jane Austen, and the dark, supernatural musings of fine writers such as Hawthorne… One can slowly savor this long tale (782 pages with fine print and finer print for footnotes of which many are short stories in disguise…) and never wish to get out of that eerie world of 19th century alternative Britain. So imaginative and lyrical; so humorous and melancholy; so amazing! A book that stole my heart!

The Good Times are Killing Me
by Lynda Barry

mystery, YA (7th and up)

Barry is skilled in presenting the voices of the characters and capturing the senses of the places. However, there is somewhat a disconnect because of the episodic nature of the “story.” I can imagine how this works really well with music, as when it was first presented as a musical one woman play. Without the music, something is definitely lacking.

Day of Tears
by Julius Lester

historical fiction, highly recommended (5th and up)

I couldn’t quite make up my mind whether I enjoyed this or not. The subtitle of a “novel in dialogue” really threw me — because the “dialogues” are mostly monologues and there are plenty of descriptions of settings and musings of emotions to make this a successful “dialogue” novel. The voices are also not very distinct from person to person. That said, there are many many strong elements going for the novel.   One being the underlying story itself: it is powerful and I can see young readers taking this short tale to heart and understanding the theme and events deeply for its emotional impact.  Another is the strong and effective portrayal of many of the characters and their relationships.  And of course, the imagery of tears/rain, consistent throughout the story, reflecting the mood of the characters and the readers.

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