Jeremy & the General

by John Ibbitson,
ISBN: 0029540852

You've Seen Enough

by Paul Kropp,
ISBN: 0029540860

Science Is . . .:
A Source Book of Fascinating Facts, Projects & Activities

by Susan V. Bosak,
515 pages,
ISBN: 0590740709

Mystery at the Lighthouse

by Joan Weir,
160 pages,
ISBN: 0614177294

Death Drop

by Mary E. Blakeslee,
128 pages,
ISBN: 0773673210

House That Max Built

by John Green,
ISBN: 0773673393

Escape to Freedom

by Vancy Kasper,
ISBN: 0773754520

Fiona & the Flying Unicorns

by Sandy Watson,
112 pages,
ISBN: 0920501680

Keepers of the Animals:
Native American Stories & Wildlife Activities for Children

by Michael Caduto, Joseph Bruchac, John K. Fadden, Vine DeLoria,
286 pages,
ISBN: 1555913865

Post Your Opinion
Children's Books - A Mix of Opinion
by Gill Lefkowitz

ALTHOUGH my credentials for writing this review may or may not be adequate, those of my students are impeccable. They are a mix of youngsters from grades four, five, and six in the "gifted" program at a downtown Toronto school. Many are talented musicians, skilled athletes, creative and critical thinkers, and sophisticated writers; but above all, they are avid, enthusiastic readers.

These are kids who read before, during, and after meals. They read in the school yard. They try to steal secret glances at books inside their desks while it is elsewhere that their attention is required. On their way to the front of the room to sharpen a pencil, they can easily be thrown off course by any printed words lying in their path. These are students to whom, as I learned a little too late, you pledge a flat rate during a read-a-thon: "per book" is simply out of the question.

These are, in short, well-read, thoughtful young people, and, as you will see, highly credible reviewers. A short note on our reviews: each student read a book of their choosing, and wrote their own review. What follows is a mixture of student/teacher opinions - not surprisingly, often quite different!

Both students who reviewed Fiona and the Flying Unicorn (Orca, 101 pages, $7.95 paper), by Sandy Watson, thoroughly enjoyed it. Elizabeth B., a grade four student who found this book very "amusing," summarises the story. "It is set in the Fraser Valley in British Columbia. Fiona Malloy is a very imaginative nine year-old who has to hand in plans for a science project. She comes up with the perfect topic - unicorns, her favourite animal. But she runs into some trouble with her principal. If she doesn't come up with another topic, she'll be forced to help her know-it-all brother, Everett, with his rabbit study. Later, when Fiona and some other children become trapped in a house, her imagination is what helps them out."

Monica L., a grade six student, highlights the only weighty part of this book in her comment, "My favourite part is the friendship found at the end of the story." Fiona befriends Bradley, a bully, after he reveals that the cause of his fear of heights is his dad's death in a plane crash. Monica recommends this book to "kids around grade four or under," and I concur. The no-nonsense language could be handled by students in grades three or four, and the straightforward story should interest the Fiona Malloy peer group.

Although I would gauge Death Drop (General, 141 pages, $5.95 paper), by Mary Blakeslee, to be of interest to grade three and four readers, both reviewers, one in grade five and one in grade six, enjoyed this book enough to recommend it to kids of their own reading level. Nicola C. - D., in grade five, summarises the plot. "When Jason, Gary, and David, three members of the Lemon Street Gang, are reunited over their summer vacation, they didn't expect the fun and excitement they found at the East End Mall. Nor did they expect to befriend the secretive and tattered-looking boy named Bill Jones, who seemed uncontrollably scared and wary. Bill is actually Penny Campbell, a runaway girl who has found a home in the mall. They learn that the cause of Penny's flight is her new stepfather, Tony, who she says hits and mistreats her. As her stories get wilder, they begin to lose faith in her honesty, especially when she tells them that her stepfather is involved in a plan to hijack the mall's popular roller-coaster, an operation that might cost dozens of kids their lives."

Matthew S., a grade six reviewer, calls this book "amazing." Nicola suggests that the book is a "strange mix of maturity and immaturity. It is the story of an abused girl, and yet the layout is simple and uncomplicated. It seemed to drag at some points." Still, Nicola closes with "Congratulations, Mary Blakeslee, you've got my approval!"

But I found the kids and adults in Death Drop lacking in personality and depth; I didn't know enough or care enough about any of them. The roller-coaster hijacking incident seemed far-fetched, and the language unexceptional. Despite these positive student reviews, I would not have purchased this book for my class.

Beth B. reviews Joan Weir's Mystery at Lighthouse Rock (General, 148 pages, $5.95 paper), a book I didn't have the opportunity to read. "In most books you have to get well past the beginning before they start to really take over your imagination. In Mystery at Lighthouse Rock I was captured after the first sentence. Sometimes I would read the chapter over, just to make sure I didn't miss out on any clues. I noticed that the author described each character carefully, so that the reader had a perfect image of what the character was like. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys mystery and adventure."

David L., a grade four student, describes a book best suited for readers in grades three and four, John Green's The House that Max Built (General, 115 pages, $5.95 paper): "This wonderful, magical story kept me in so much suspense that every time I had some time to read it, I would." David summarises the story: "It all starts when Max, a very imaginative boy, is asked to tear apart a refrigerator box. Instead, he asks his friends, Perky and Amanda, to help him build a cardboard house. When a mysterious box appears and disappears on the top of their house, they try to get into it. When they finally get inside the box they are magically taken to the time of King Arthur and Merlin."

David concludes his review by stating that "the author made me feel like the characters were alive. By the time I had finished the book, I wanted to read it again." 1, too, wanted to read the book for a second time, but only for the purpose of clarifying what I would call a convoluted, hard-to-follow story line that uneasily slipped between two time periods. The three kids in this story are likeable, but again, I wouldn't add this book to the classroom library.

Although two grade six students reviewed Paul Kropp's You've Seen Enough (Maxwell Macmillan, 113 pages, $15.95 cloth), I would suggest that this book is grade seven or eight material. Jenni H. summarises the book in this way. "This is a novel about a boy named Danny Morrison, whose life is going pretty crazy. His parents fight all the time, his sister is a smoker and a high school drop-out, and his seven-year-old brother can't even pour his own Cheerios. But when he has to get glasses, that's the last straw!" Matthew S. continues, "Danny's feelings towards the glasses are that they make him look like a total nerd. He's rude to the clerk at the optician's and on the way home his mother slaps him." Matthew found this book "interesting, weird, and funny," and recommends it to students of his age 0 1). Jenni recommends it to "anyone who likes reading about boy/girl relationships, and solutions to family problems." I would highlight the "relationships" aspect of this book, as there are a few descriptions of young teen romance that might make it more suited to older readers. I found the language and the story compelling, although some of the characterisations, particularly that of the town bully, seem to have been pulled from the early-teen writer's cauldron of over-used and wornout stereotypes.

Andrea R. summarizes Escape to Freedom (Stoddart, 217 pages, $9.95 paper), by Vancy Kasper. This dramatic story "takes place just after the Second World War in Czechoslovakia. It is about two Austrian children who escape from their prison camp. The children face starvation, imprisonment, and even death as they bravely make their way to West Germany and freedom."

The language, story, and issues raised in the book are sophisticated and detailed. Escape to Freedom should interest strong readers in grades five and six, and would certainly be of interest to older students who love historical fiction. This is a book I would choose to read aloud to my class, as it is filled with informative historical references, important adolescent issues such as trust, separation from parents, and changing feelings about oneself, as well as rich language and compelling dialogue. A grade six student, Anne, sums up Escape to Freedom: "In three words, I loved it! In two, just great! In one word, fabulous! It was as if I was living the life of the kids in the book as I read it." Andrea R. says, "Escape to Freedom is a well-written book that I enjoyed very much. I think that this book shows that even though the children are poor and desperate, they can still make their dreams come true."

Clara C., a grade six reviewer, writes about John Ibbitson's novel 1812 (Maxwell Macmillan, 172 pages, $15.95 cloth). "The title pretty much says it all. In this book an orphaned teenager of 15 gets mad at his uncle for stealing the family's farm from him. The boy, Jeremy Fields, joins the British army and becomes General Brock's barman (personal assistant), accompanying the general into war against the Americans." The scales are heavily tipped towards the historical element in this work of fiction. Informative and detailed, the book oozes the early history of Upper Canada from its every line, and tries to drag the story of a young boy's life along with it. In some passages the history and fiction work well together, while in others the story suffers as the history lesson is being taught. Clara states, "Sometimes you find yourself on the edge of your seat, eager to read; but sometimes you find yourself sitting on the edge of your bed, eager to sleep." 1812 would be best suited to students in grades five to eight.

The final two books to be reviewed should be sold with an "Adult Accompaniment" rating. That is, they would benefit by being presented to children by an adult. The first, Keepers of the Animals: Native Stories and Wildlife Activities for Children (Fifth House, 266 pages, $22.95 cloth), by M. J. Caduto and J. Bruchac, is a wonderful collection of Native stories that highlights the importance of animals in Native tradition. Physically, it resembles a textbook, and may require an adult introduction to pique a reader's interest. Francesca, a grade four student, comments, "I am very fond of Native myths and I enjoyed the writing in this book. It has a large variety of tales and many environmental tips and nature facts." Each beautifully told story is accompanied by an informative "discussion," a series of questions, related environmental activities, and suggestions for "extending the experience." This richly detailed book could easily keep you and your children engaged for many hours.

Science Is... (Scholastic, 515 pages, $29.95 paper), by Susan V. Bosak, has been a valued resource-book in my classroom for many years. This new edition contains more than 450 science-related activities, experiments, projects, plays, stories, puzzles, and games. I have frequently made use of the anecdotes and "Did You Know?" type information presented in the book, as well as the well-organised, easy-to -implement experiments. Bonus: there is an excellent list of resources/references included. This handbook is a must for teachers of grades one to eight, "Science Fair Parents," or budding Canadian scientists.


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