Not-very-oldies and still-very-goodies...recommendations from 1999 to 2005!
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The Giants and the Joneses
by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Greg Swearingen

published by Henry Holt

Jumbeelia and Colette have a lot in common: they are both avid collectors, and they both tire of their collections fairly quickly. The big difference between them is just that: Jumbeelia is a giant, and she has finally found a magic bimplestock to climb down and collect some adorable igglyplops, or human beings…namely, Colette and her siblings! In this time of crisis the brother and sisters slowly begin to cooperate, but will it be in time to escape the dangerous clutches of callous brother Zab, the sharp claws of the spratchkin, or Jumbeelia's thoughtless neglect? Language arts teachers can luxuriate in the linguistic learning opportunities that this charming tale affords; invented Groilish vocabulary abounds and is the most fun since Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky. With the help of a glossary, children will soon be bilingual in Giantese, and read-aloud has never felt so fresh and funny. Full of page-turning suspense, interesting problem-solving, themes of empathy and responsibility and distended spot illustrations that deliver us even further into fantasy, this reverse Jack and the Beanstalk has the makings of a classic in its own right, and is one of the most delightful of the year. (7 and up)

Project Mulberry
byLinda Sue Park
published by Clarion

Patrick is psyched to start the project for the Work-Grow-Give-Live Club ("Wiggle" for short) and is eager to come up with something worthy of the state fair. His best friend Julia Song's mother suggests they work together to raise silkworms, but secretly, Julia is writhing: why can't that do something that's not so…Korean? Themes of honesty, prejudice and ethics permeate this story that takes on some heavy topics with a light and readable touch. Nearly every chapter is alternated with a short dialogue between the main character and the author, a kind of interior monologue that gives the reader insight into the writing process, giving this diamond yet another facet to be used in the classroom. (10 and up)

by David Ives
published by HarperCollins

The year is 1863, and thirteen year old Billy Christmas decides to run away from his overbearing mother in St. Louis. "Please do not come east trying to find me as you never will," he warns, and sure enough he heads west, hard-scrabbling out his living as a scribe, taking dictation for illiterate lovelorn cowboys, wistful western wives, disgruntled Indians and customers with complaints. With his trusty stationery and pen, he manages to create a postal circuit for himself, but a dangerous cowpoke is trying like gangbusters to write our hero off and take his turf. The voice throughout this book is charming and original, from clever descriptions ("when I was done reading, Romulus sighed like a man who just et a steak," "Jenny Sneed is a full-uptuous woman") to its protagonist's earnest literary aspirations (with chapter titles such as "Having Been Robbed Again, I Prepare to Live a Moral Civilized Life"). Ives commands his language as one would a good horse along the cliffs and valleys of his exhilarating plot. Besides being one of the funniest books of the season with some of the most endearing characters, the dialect makes for an especially lively read-aloud; let children follow along in their own copies to see with their own eyes what good writing looks like. A bit saucy in parts, but what do you expect? It's the wild, wild west! You will love the adventures of this true man of letters. Yee-hah! (11 and up)

Beany and the Meany
by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by Susanna Natti
published by Candlewick

Beany and the Meany When Beany's best friend is usurped for the upcoming science fair by a new student, she is stuck with chip-on-the-shoulder Kevin. Her teacher assures her that the duo can make do, and in fact, Kevin is good at science; but it is a bit hard for Beany to see past her partner's accusations that she has cooties and suggestions that they experiment to find out what forms boogers. The writing offers a high-success experience for new chapter book readers and contains subtle and sensitive observations, from the strained sleepover as Beany tries not to feel like three is a crowd, to Kevin's defensive responses to any questions that make reference to his overworked mother and strained family life. The story is without the cynicism and sardonic tone of many book being produced these days; even the understated spot illustrations are observant and match the author's genuine affection for the everyday crises that mark the days of grade school. Many girls (and fans of Beverly Cleary) will be charmed to discover this cheerful fictional friend whose heart beats with a familiar rhythm. (7 and up)

The Old Country
by Mordicai Gerstein
published by Roaring Brook

Well, thanks to Mordicai Gerstein's Caldecott-winner The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, we knew could draw, but this proves him to be a double-threat! This ambitious, mysterious novel intoned from the half-warm, half-warning tones of a grandmother who has seen much, young Giselle stares too long into the eyes of a fox and finds she has exchanged shape with the beast. Set in an unspecific "Old Country" during a time of war, the girl-fox struggles to survive and to reunite with her family. Will the fox and the perpetrators of this terrible war ever come to justice? Told with special sympathies toward the most vulnerable, this book has a special potency as a parable for peace. Folkloric and mystifying, this is one memorable trip into the woods. (9 and up)

Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid
by Megan Mcdonald, Peter Reynolds
published by Candlewick

"I have to drink at the baby water fountain. And stand in the front row for class pictures. And I always have to be a mouse in school plays…Just once, I'd like a speaking part, not a squeaking part." Such is the voice of Stink, intrepid little brother of the wildly popular Judy Moody, who suffers from the challenges of his size but works it out through a series of hilarious comic strips (both Underdog and Captain Underpants would be proud) and unsuccessful attempts at rushing nature's course. Finding a hero who stands tall in the halls of history helps Stink cope with his short shrift. Zany chapter titles like "Stinkerbell, Shrinkerbell," abundant spot illustrations and witty, irreverent repartee will help reluctant boy readers reach page-turning heights, especially the ones for whom the day when they can slam dunk a basketball wonÕt come soon enough. (7 and up)

Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth
by J. V. Hart, illustrated by Brett Helquist
published by HarperCollins

In order to become such a terrible villain as to be the pirate enemy of Peter Pan, one must have had a rather troubled childhood. And sure enough, we have here the moody and textured character study of Hook, who at one point worked under the terrible captain of a slaveship and sided with the slaves, endured a romantic rivalry with Arthur Darling (someday father of Wendy) and undergoes brutality and estrangement within his family and at his boarding school. Dark and complex, this story is for those brave enough to go to sea, and to watch a brave young heart have shadows cast upon it. Avast, read alongside Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's Peter and the Starcatchers for the full Peter Pan prequel effect. (11 and up)

BabyMouse: Our Hero
by Jennifer Holm, illustrated by Matthew Holm
published by Random House

What little girl doesn't long for glamour, excitement, adventure, being queen of the world? Babymouse is a true new heroine on the pages of children's literature, embodying girl power all the way to the tips of her little curly mousie whiskers. With Walter-Mitty-like aplomb and a surprising amount of attitude, she uses her imagination and the help of her dedicated friend Wilson Weasel to solve monumental problems, like not being invited to Felicia Furrypants's exclusive slumber party. Babymouse's perfectly understandable motivations and perfectly imperfect choices make her sympathetic and recognizable, regardless of her long tail. Fashionable pink-tinted illustrations on every page are eye-candy, especially to the long overlooked population of female reluctant readers. Like candy, it's hard to stop after just one. This fresh and energetic series of graphic novels by a brother-sister team will be snapped up faster than you can set the reading trap. (7 and up)

Each Little Bird That Sings
by Deborah Wiles
published by Harcourt

Declaration is just starting to realize that maybe having a best friend whose family runs a funeral home is not as cool as it once might have been, and the timing couldn't be worse. Comfort's own great aunt Florentine has kicked the bucket in her flowerbed, and her emotionally needy and clinically embarrassing cousin Peach has come to stay and harangue her just when she is in the depths of despair. Who could blame Comfort for wanting to hide in her closet with only her dog for company? But this plucky heroine steps up and steps out when the floodwaters come, forcing her to face her feelings about loss and life, maybe even learning enough to write an obituary for her beloved aunt fit to print in the prestigious Aurora County News. A satisfying read for fans of Kate DiCamillo's tear-jerker Because of Winn Dixie, this book wins for best first line ("I come from a family with a lot of dead people") and may win more than that before the year is through. (10 and up)

My Big Sister is So Bossy She Says You Can't Read This Book
by Mary Hershey
published by Harcourt

This is the kind of book that is the reason little girls like to read. When Effie is strong-armed into absconding the key to the St. Dominic Angel Scout treasury by her persuasive sibling, big bucks come up missing. Effie is desperate to replace the money before anyone finds out so she can rescue her family's borderline reputation; however, the stunt she pulls to earn the cash is nothing short of shocking. Realistically resolved and full of recognizable family banter, this book has both heart and humor, a bit of mystery and all of the high spirit that the title suggests. Big sister Maxie is sure to live on in kiddie-lit infamy… be sure to read this saucy book, no matter what she says. (10 and up)

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs
by Betty G. Birney, illustrated by Matt Phelan
published by Atheneum

Sassafras Springs sure seems like small potatoes to Eben McAllister after her reads about the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, but Pa's not shaken. He offers Eben a challenge: find seven bona fide wonders here in his own town, and he'll win a trip to visit relatives in Colorado, where he can see real mountains. Easier said than done! Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Eben learns "there's no place like home" with the help of the inventive narratives of his neighbors. Full of memorable stories within the story, from the mysterious doll that saved Miss Zeldy's life as a child to the ghost story about the "four-legged haint," this book is sure to inspire a closer inspection of one's own backyard. Evocative line drawings and beautiful packaging make this book a pleasure to hold in your hands, and the words inside are just as warm and comfortable on the tongue. This is a perfect classroom read-aloud with all sorts of possibility for integrating into other subjects and projects such as journaling, ancient history, or interviewing one's elders. Wonderful. (9 and up)

You Are SO Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah!
byFiona Rosenbloom
published by Hyperion

Stacy Friedman is preparing for one of the most important cornerstones of her young life, the coming-of-age celebration in which she will show her knowledge of the Torah, or Jewish holy book. But her concerns are less spiritual and painfully pedestrian as she is sidetracked by a sidewinding friend stealing the object of her affections, and her mother thwarts her best-laid (if expensive) fashion plans. How is a person supposed to succed socially under such conditions? Sassy and outlandish, though not always pretty, this is a telling tidbit about a certain type of girl, and you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy…fans of Judy Blume and suburban stressors especially will fancy this funny cavalcade of pre-adolescent angst and the crushing materialistic concerns of our heroine. If you don't want to laugh, you SO shouldn't read this book. (12 and up) Also of interest: My Bar/Bat Mitzvah: A Memory and Keepsake Journal, which children can personalize themselves.

The Chronicles of Narnia
byC.S. Lewis, illustrated by Pauline Baynes
published by HarperCollins

With the release of the movie version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe comes renewed fervor for the classic fantasy series, released in a variety of formats this season. Favorites are the single volume collection, which contains all seven books unabridged in one handsome volume. The Full-Color Gift Edition Set is a nice introudction to the land of Narnia, containing the first two volumes in oversized but still unabridged editions, with the illustrations given the Ted Turner colorization treatment. The larger type and heavy-duty binding make it a very good choice for slightly younger Narnia enthusiasts, or for teachers reading aloud to a class. Lastly, the Companion to Narnia is a meticulous guidebook to all the little animals, gnomes, fauns and royalty that will be encountered by those who embark upon the seven volume journey. Have a nice trip, and try to resist the Turkish delight. (9 and up)

Guys Write for Guys Read
by Jon Scieszka
published by Viking

Touché, Mother-Daughter Book Clubs! The boys have arrived, and its time to get the party started. This clever collection is a great springboard into Sceizka's Guys Read initiative, which is popping up all over the country as boys and teens gather to exchange words. This anthology designed to accompany the initiative reads like a who's who of great guys in children's literature: Avi, Louis Sachar, Eoin Colfer, Jack Gantos, Brian Jacques, Walter Dean Myers, Christopher Paolini, Mo Willemns, Jerry Spinelli, Dav Pilkey, Richard Peck and many many more all come together to share memoirs, short stories, comic books, drawings and all things testosterone in the name of reading. Besides content filled with page-turning humor, good-hearted mischief, heartbreak and action, there are biographical stats on each "player" as if they were weilding baseball bats instead of pens and brushes, and bibliographies following each passage, as if to say "there's more where that came from!". A good ploy for your good boy,and a great way to get dads involved, too. (10 and up)

Makeovers by Marcia
by Claudia Mills
published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Marcia is less than thrilled when she discovers her eighth grade community service project will entail visits to the local nursing home. Distracted by pre-teen concerns like her perceived weight gain, difficulties in art class and the upcoming dance, working with a bunch of old people is last on her list. When her savvy sister suggests she combine her talent and interest in makeup with her requisite visits, it sets off a series of connections that, in the end, help Marcia get her priorities straight. Mills is a too-often overlooked talent when it comes to the delicate art of capturing the voice of the 'tweenager: "Of course, it was only the second week of school, and Marcia knew that no boy was even thinking of asking a girl to the dance yet. It would take some serious, but subtle, manipulating by the girls to plant the seed of that thought in the dry, stony soil of an eighth grade boy's brain." Marcia's magazine-inspired machinations backfire hilariously, and her relationships with the elderly blossom in a way that is both believable and uncontrived. A nice balance is achieved between who Marcia is trying to be and who she really is, and make her a character that many girls will look upon with both sympathy and empathy. Emotional depth, laugh-out-loud humor and a rhythm that matches the heartbeat of its intended audience mark this well-written story that will inspire community service, self-esteem and an appetite for more books by the author. (11 and up)

The Day It Snowed Tortillas / El Dia Que Nevaron Tortillas: Folktales told in Spanish and English
by Joe Hayes
published by Cinco Puntos Press

Ten folktales from the New Mexican tradition are deftly told in language that makes the tongue itch with a yearning to pass them along. With perfect pacing, it seems one story is better than the next, though I suppose my personal favorite is "Good Advice," in which a poor boy pays good coin in exchange for a little knowledge and puts it to good use. Or perhaps it is "The Cricket," in which a big talker gets himself into a lot of trouble when he insists he is an adivino, a seer who can find lost articles. But what could be funnier than the misunderstood conversation in a graveyard of "Pedro and Diablo," charming as the cumulative tale "The Little Ant," classic as the Cinderella spin-off "Little Gold Star," heartbreaking as the ghost story "La Llorona," or clever as the title story, "The Day It Snowed Tortillas," in which a fast-thinking wife protects her hard-working but careless husband? YouÕll have a good time deciding which one is your favorite, and intermediate-aged children will have an even better time listening to them and trying to retell them. This truly remarkable read-aloud collection has alternating pages in Spanish and English, to insure bilingual storytelling success. (8 and up)

The Legend of the Wandering King
by Laura Gallego Garcia
published by Scholastic

Prince Walid is good-looking, intelligent and talented. But when he meets a poet who can best him, it brings out the worst in His Highness; he forces the poor man to create a carpet showing the history of the entire human race. The poet dies before the project's completion, but what he manages to create is still enough to create madness in men who look upon it. When the carpet is stolen, Walid must go on a journey in order to find the carpet and redeem himself. Based on a real-life story of a king in pre-Muslim Arabia, this unpredictable adventure over the changing sands of both the desert and of fate is sure to set readers' hearts pounding. (11 and up)

Horse Stories
edited by June Crebbin, illustrated by Inga Moore
published by Candlewick

I was never one of those "horsey girls," but even so, I could not resist this handsome volume of fourteen stories divided under such enticing headings as "Difficult Horses," "Dream Horses," "From the Horse's Mouth," "Horses in Danger" and "Horses to the Rescue." It includes selections from such classics as Marguerite Henry's Misty of Chincoteague and Anna Sewell's Black Beauty, as well as tales that gallop through history and geography, like the moving Native American legend of the Mud Pony, the Horse of Milk White Jade of fourteenth century Mongolia, the legend of the steed chosen to carry Alexander the Great and the loyal gray palfrey that serves a knight of Medieval times. The equestrian backgrounds of both author and illustrator are evident in the loving care of the selections and the elegant full color plates capturing every flick of tail and toss of mane. Prepare for adventure and romance as you gallop through the pages of this gorgeous gift book. (8 and up)

Postmark Paris: A Story in Stamps
by Leslie Jonath
published by Chronicle

Thanks to her father's temporary position at a university, a nine year old girl finds herself in the city of lights. Working on adding stamps to her collection, she adjusts to her new surroundings and sees the beauty and excitement of the city mirrored on these tiny squares. Even when the girl returns home to the states, she finds in her collection the remembrances of this special time in her life. Told in first person, each page is illustrated with a stamp, and in the end, the reader holds her treasured collection in hand. Like a postage stamp, this book is a small gem, and like the letter it is pasted upon, the story is about finding one's place in the world without forgetting the journey. Delicate, unique, understated and delightful, this book may inspire a new hobby as well as a new outlook for many readers. (8 and up)

Whales on Stilts
by M.T. Anderson
published by Harcourt

Better bring a parachute for this one, readers, because this book goes way over the top! Alpha-nerds rejoice, the techno-hero has arrived in spades as three sharp kids conspire to stand in the way of a mad scientist who plans to take over the world using remote-controlled whales on stilts with laser-beam eyeballs and the ability to control our thoughts. Yes, he probably should be stopped, but the page-turning never does. Though this may be a bit wild for some tastes, there's no denying that Anderson is a daring and inventive writer with the finger on the thumping pulse of the child-as-hero. And while the snarky tone in this first in a series might appeal to Snicket fans, fear not, the endings are sunny in spite of some very unfortunate events. (9 and up)

by Renée Goscinny, Jean-Jacques Sempé
published by Phaidon

After half a century as a French favorite, at last this charming collection of stories about a schoolboy are available to us in English translation, prettily illustrated with spot illustrations by the New Yorker cover giant Sempé. First off, the packaging of this book is pure genius: bound in a material that verges on tight tweed, with the character depicted in gold cloisonné, carrying this book around is as much of a fashion statement as it is a literary statement. The episodic nature of these stories make for marvelous read-aloud, though some of the motifs may be dated (pipe-smoking dad and a doctor who makes a house call are some examples). Good-intentioned mischief prevails, and the great strength of this book is in the voice: pitch-perfect notes of annoyance, outspokenness, distraction, and a generous helping of affection…what are little boys made of? (8 and up)

The Book Without Words : A Fable of Medieval Magic
by Avi
published by Hyperion

Thirteen-year-old Sybil is the servant of Alchemist Thorston, who dies trying to steal her life's breath, but, for better or worse, simply won't stay dead. Thorston's pet raven helps convince Sybil to learn the secrets of alchemy held in the book that only she with the green eyes can read. Avi has a special gift for evoking a setting of tangible Gothic gloom, and infuses his fable with plenty of characters with which to ally oneself or to despise. The cynical cawing companion serves well as a counter to sweet Sybil, and despite all of the dark shadows, this book concocts an ending in which the light of goodness shines. (11 and up)

The Naked Mole-Rat Letters
by Mary Amato
published by Holiday House

Frankie is still grieving the loss of her mother and is none too keen on her father's blooming long-distance romance with a zookeeper in Washington D.C. named Ayanna. When Frankie sends e-mails in an effort to sabotage the relationship, the woman responds wisely with e-mails referring to the small mammals in her charge in reference to the struggles that Frankie is experiencing, ultimately helping her to weather the difficult times she brings upon herself by acting out. The e-mail exchanges are full of candor and humor that are a voyeuristic pleasure to read, and Frankie's spiraling path befits a young girl trying to get to the other side of both pedestrian disappointments (like not getting the lead in the school play) and struggling with larger, more painful issues. Treated with great humanity, this honest portrait of a girl on the edge of crisis and a parent trying to move forward will be recognizable relief to many readers.(11 and up)

Al Capone Does My Shirts
by Gennifer Choldenko
published by Putnam

Moose is less than enthusiastic about moving to Alcatraz Island, but if they do, his father can work as a prison guard, and his sister can attend a special school in San Francisco and get the help that she needs. When the school does not accept her, she is left to Moose's charge, who is miserable about the time it takes away from his dreams of a winning baseball team. Here is the story of a devoted brother of an autistic girl (who, in 1935, is going undiagnosed) and the pressures of his situation that lead him to get mixed up with the daughter of the warden and the keys she holds to a whole lot of mischief on the infamous island. This book has all of the elements of a great piece of fiction: a compelling and original historical setting, and a compelling and original story. The author could have leaned too heavily on one or the other, but instead, each stands as a solid and individual component of a whole as strong as the legend of Al Capone and the bars that held him. Great humor, pathos, snappy dialogue and sympathetic family characters round out the promise of the premise, and the extended author's note at the end will shed even more light on the surprising lives of the many children who grew up near the prison. I sentence you to the three-to-five hours it will take to read some of the best-written sentences of the season; to miss this achievement in children's literature would be a crime. (11 and up)

Evangeline Mudd and the Golden-Haired Apes of the Ikkinasti Jungle
by David Elliot, illustrated by Andrea Wesson
published by Candlewick

"In human life , well, almost anything can happen and usually does." That is certainly the case inside this book! Evangeline Mudd was blessed by a butterfly at birth, so maybe that accounts for her spunky spirit. But her mettle is sorely tested when her permissive primatologist parents are sent to do field work in the Ikkinasti Jungle, brimming with wormy things that can crawl between your toes and make you turn the color of a plum, mosquitos the size of hummingbirds, and worst of all, the spitting spiders, big as dinner plates that can wind you in a web so tight you can't even move your pinkie. But none of these torments compare with the desperation of being sent to live with her finky mink-farming uncle and crazed ballerina aunt in their opulent home surrounded by animal rights demonstrators. When Evangeline's parents do not return, it is up to Evangeline and the recently-recovered-from-amnesia Dr. Pickaflee to enter the perilous jungle and rescue her loved ones from the jaws of foul play. I went bananas to discover this year's most cliffhanging (or should I say vine-hanging?) read, one that sent children brachiating around the room (if you don't know what "brachiate" means, don't worry, you will by the end of the first chapter). The zany-with-a-capitol-Z characters and insane predicaments are made entirely believable thanks to the author's deft and earnest hand, speaking at times directly to the reader in the comforting tones that a golden-haired ape might reserve for its offspring. This book will definitely put Elliot on the map! If you like the irreverent casting in Roald Dahl's novels or regularly include Ruth Stiles Gannett's classic My Father's Dragon in your repetoire, try this new rumble in the jungle; you'll go positively ape. (9 and up)

The School at Crooked Creek
by Laurie Lawlor, illustrated by Ronald Himler
published by Holiday House

The free spirit of the frontier is captured in this story of how Beansie makes an adjustment from feeling at home on his Indiana homestead to finding a place in his new log cabin school. Despite the strong historical detail, the situations like handling competition and getting lost will be recognizable and engaging to modern readers. Lawlor went to lengths to make sure the language throughout the book was authentic and often humorous ("I'll wear you out if you don't behave!" shouted by the teacher Master Strike to the unruly students was one of my favorites, as well as Beansie's delight in "aggrafretting" his sister), and tied with the natural storytelling talent of this author, this is a delightful read-aloud, brief enough for your youngest Little House fan. (7 and up)

Another very special historical book about adventures in a remote one-room schoolhouse is Ghost Girl: A Blue Ridge Mountain Story by Delia Ray (Clarion). Set during the Depression, it is the story of a lonely April Sloane who has undergone great hardship but receives renewed hope when a worldly teacher comes to town as part of President Hoover's program. When changes come to the mountains, April has to steel herself and choose alliances. Based on real letters exchanged between Miss Vest and the White House, this well-researched and well-written book that will resonate in a child's spirit like an echo in a valley. (10 and up)

The House on Falling Star Hill
by Michael Molloy
published by Scholastic

Tim Swifts' grandparents' property may not be worth what it once was since falling stars have smashed holes around their English village. Some trips into the parallel, warring world of Tallis should shed some light on such shadowy doings around the neighborhood since these projectiles planted themselves. Part fantasy, part ghost story, this involved adventure will transport fans of Tamora Pierce's timbre and the descriptive scenes of Brian Jacques' Redwall series. Toxic winds, telepathic girls, trees with floating leaves and a few giant boys are a few of the creative touches evocative enough to slip into a child's dreams. The typeface and elegant silhouetted spot illustrations invoke the magic inside this tome. Great summer reading; after all, who wouldn't like to spend a holiday fulfilling a quest to restore a king to a throne? (11 and up)

Montmorency: Liar, Thief, Gentleman
by Eleanor Updale
published by Orchard

When a thief falls through a glass roof in an attempt to escape justice and is disfigured, an ambitious doctor gives him a second chance with an extreme makeover. It's going to take more than a few stitches to change a man's character, though, and the clever villain lives a dual life, sometimes posing as the unscrupulous servant Scarper and other times cavorting as his master Montmorency with London's hoy-paloy just enough to know the best way to rob them, using the sewer system as the perfect in-and-out. How long can a man keep up this dual life, and how long will he want to? Self-discovery is the theme of this provocative story, with an unusual and romantic depth of character that rings of the Victorian era but is entirely readable for children today. Fans of Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series won't want to miss this marvelous mischief. (11 and up)

The SOS File
by Betsy Byars, Laurie Myers and Betsy Duffey, illustrated by Arthur Howard
published by Henry Holt

"Have you ever needed to run, but you legs were like spaghetti? Have you ever needed to yell 'help!' but your throat was dry with fear? For fun and extra credit write your story and put it in this file." This is the inspiration behind a collection of vignettes, from solving the problem of having to pay for the school fund-raising candy bars that were eaten, to the rescue of a boy from a bear by none other than Abraham Lincoln, to the meeting of the man who connected an adopted girl with her family, to the sharing of a lucky---and somewhat yucky---baseball cap, to the harrowing tale of a boy in the girl's bathroom and his clever escape, this story is a variety show of resourcefulness and survival. This book benefits, unlike some others, from the collaboration of authors because many voices come through in the many characters, and are tied together nicely at the end when the teacher confesses his own S.O.S: being held back in the first grade. Language arts teachers who are having a creative writing S.O.S., this is sure to be your lifeline, inspiring both true and tall tales from your own motley crew. (8 and up)

Chasing Vermeer
by Blue Balliett, illustrated by Brett Helquist
published by Scholastic

Coincidences are the crux of this story of middle-school students Calder and Petra who come together in their belief that things are connected in unexpected ways, and seem called upon by the very fates themselves to disclose the location of a missing art masterpiece. Codes and visual pentomino clues in the illustrations make this book full of fun things to decipher, and Balliett's education background becomes apparent in the smooth depiction of theteacher, whose unconventional methods egg the children into exploring problem-solving from new angles (which comes in handy when it seems the teacher herself may be involved in the crime). Set on the campus of the University of Chicago, this book is heady, and its real strength is not in the mystery (which actually has a lot of holes in the narrative) but in the opportunity for discussion about more esoteric things like "what is art?" "What makes someone an expert, and why are some opinions more valuable than others?" and "Is there really such thing as coincidence?" My favorite is Ms. Hussey's original assignment to write a letter that she won't be able to forget, an assignment that deserves replication, if only to demonstrate how difficult it really is. This mystery wins for most pre-publication buzz, and has garnered comparisons to Konigsburg's classic From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I think such a comparison is flawed; it is more along the lines of Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game in its sophistication and expectation that the reader become involved in the uncovering of the solution. A provocative read for precocious children. (11 and up) Children who enjoy this book might also like Paul Janczko's new book, Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing, which may comes in handy when solving…ormaking…mysteries of their own, and be sure to check out Trick of the Eye by Dennis Haseley (Dial) which came out around the same time as Chasing Vermeer and deserved a share of the buzz as another fine mix of art and fiction, also revloving around theft of fine art, but in this case, paintings mysteriously speaking to Richard and giving him clues to unravel his past. (12 and up)

by Alison McGhee
published by Candlewick

This poetic story is told from the point of view of Sally's friend, a sensitive girl named Eddie who feels deeply the imminent loss of Sally's grandmother Willie as her own and is desperate for the inevitable change not to take Sally from her life as well. All the efforts at organization Eddie attempts, from a series of reminder-rubber-bands to her incessant list-making, can't keep the changes from happening or Sally's moods from swinging, but between these girls there just might be enough heart to weather it all. Strong characters will pull your heart strings like Eddie's rubber bands, and you'll find yourself missing Sally's grandmother in advance. Like Kevin Henkes' Caldecott honor-winning Olive's Ocean , this book is an evocative portrait of the time in a young girl's life when roads begin to diverge and one must decide who to take along on the trip. Or perhaps life isn't a road, more of a braid, like the ones Grandma Willie weaves into Sally's beautiful hair? An outstanding pick for mother-daughter book clubs. (11 and up)

Missy Violet and Me
by Barbara Hathaway
published by Houghton Mifflin

You know you've got a good book in your hands if you're laughing out loud and looking forward to the next chance to turn those pages, which is the case in this down-home remedy for the reading blues. Papa pays off the debt to the local midwife by apprenticing his daughter to her, making eleven-year-old Viney Miss Violet's "best helper girl." Viney's rural southern life over this eventful summer comes into sharp focus . Earthy details, strong dialect and likable characters (even cut-up cousin Charles Ellister Paxton Nehemiah Windbush, Mr. Som Grit who courts Miss Violet but can't stomach her line of work, and the Rausy brothers and their spooky "haint" stories) and quite a few moving scenes make for an unusual book for its age group. Listening to her elders pays off so by the time the summer is through, Viney knows enough that she could try her own hands at a bit of baby-catchin' in a pinch, and put know-it-all Margie Poole in her place (though she's grown-up enough not to do it). Compare and contrast with Karen Cushman's Newbery-winning The Midwife's Apprentice; when it comes to strong female characters and bringing history to life, both books really deliver. Just make sure your child knows that babies don't come from the cabbage patch before beginning! (9 and up)

Stopping for a Spell
by Diana Wynne Jones
published by Greenwillow

Before there was J.K. Rowling, alongside Eva Ibbotson and Vivian Vande Velde, is the author who puts that sparkle at the end of any waving magic wand. Fans who have been following her 25+ year career in fantasy writing for children will not be disappointed in her latest collection of stories which puts a few wicked twists into the idea of learning to live with folks you don't care for. The chair who has been turned into the main character in "Chair Person" lacks a few social skills, as does the unwanted guest in "Who Got Rid of Angus Flint," and the "Four Grannies" who come to interrupt a young inventor's creative flow take a bit of getting used to. Goodness knows there is grievous little short fiction written with the intermediate reader in mind, and if you want to stop for more than a spell, you can get downright bewitched by the nearly five hundred pages of abracadabra in her collection of stories, Unexpected Magic. If you are looking for a read-aloud for an upper-grade kid, put on your British accent, pick a story and watch it work like a charm. "Better than R.L. Stine," said one sixth grader. You heard it here first! (10 and up)

Shredderman: Secret Identity
by Wendelin Van Draanen
published by Knopf

The pen is mightier than the sword, or rather, the keyboard is mightier than the bully, as the case happens to be for for fifth grader Nolan "Byrd the Nerd. " When "Happy Hippie"teacher Mr. Green asks his students to each create a newspaper page, he unintentially spawns Shredderman, Nolan's inner superhero, the nemesis to the nefarious name-caller, line-cutter and stomach-puncher known as Bubba Bixby. When Nolan's scheme extends into cyberspace, he is further empowered by his secret identity, but will he use his power to create come-uppance for good, or evil? "It's what you do when you think no one's looking that tells us what kind of person you really are," Mr. Green muses, and this book will give plenty for young readers to muse over as well. Readers will never guess who Shredderman chooses for his sidekick! As usual Van Draanen packs a punch for reluctant readers, and recognizes the beat (and the beating) of a different drummer. Compare with the marvelous Surviving Brick Johnson by Laurie Myers for a different kind of bully, and a different kind of solution. (8 and up)

Alien in a Bottle
by Kathy Mackel
published by HarperCollins

It would take a genie in a bottle in order for Sean to win that art scholarship to study glass-blowing in the special high school program he's been dreaming about. Scavenging on the beach for bits of glass he can use to create something for the art fair that will impress the judges, he comes across the crash-landed ship of two extraterrestrials on the lam, willing to swap three wishes for the earthling's protection from scammer Dinn-Tauro, extraterrestrial junk dealer. When Dinn-Tauro retaliates through Sean's subconscious, it may prove to be more than he bargained for. Smart and just a little bit snarky, this is more than a far-out science-fiction romp. The relationship between Sean and his parents who are unspportive of his "starving artist" aspirations is a daring portrayal, as is the need for art, and friends who can see the world through artist-colored dreams, to restore the world to its proper order. An unconventional book for your unconventional kid. (11 and up)

The Old Man Mad About Drawing: A Tale of Hokusai
by Francois Place
published by Godine

The spirited life of Hokusai, the incredibly prolific Japanese painter and printmaker most famous for his Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji, is seen through the eyes of his apprentice. The measured writing (which may be a result of the translation) is brought to life with the generous and glorious full-color ink and watercolor illustrations, capturing the charming detail and the humor of the little street seller Tojiro who is slowly but surely learning from a great master. This is a book that you will hold in your hands and say, "how beautiful." It is amazing what children can learn about Asian culture and the artistic process from this jewel, making it a perfect compliment to Linda Sue Park's masterful Newbery winner about an apprentice to a Korean potter, A Single Shard. (9 and up)

A more modern exploration for young readers of the artist's role in the world may be found in Silk Umbrellas by Carolyn Marsden (Candlewick), in which a Thai girl's talent for painting umbrellas might be her only hope to escape the fate of her older sister, working in a factory. The repercussions of moving from an agricultural to an industrial economy trickle down to the life and dreams of a child in this sensitive story that is a must-read for future consumers and future art appreciators. Great for classroom discussion. (9 and up)

How I Found the Strong: A Novel of the Civil War
by Margaret McMullan
published by Houghton Mifflin

Move over Across Five Aprils, McMullan's first novel about the Civil War packs the punch of a cannonball. Told in graphic detail is the struggle of ten-year-old Frank Russell, who is the man of the house when his father and older brother leave him with his grandparents, pregnant mother and the family slave. As the family's quality of life declines and the horrors and losses of war reveal themselves, Frank comes to realize that the army is composed of individuals, and as individuals, there are decisions to be made; very, very difficult decisions. Frank on the homefront does us as proud as any soldier, as does this author who through a child's eyes offers us an unrelentingly immediate portrayal of a war that, in 1866, left Virginia with a fifth of the budget going to artificial limbs. This book is amazingly brave in so many ways, not only in its complex tackling of slavery from a southern perspective but in its willingness to question, who really benefits from a war? A novel of its time, a novel for our time. (11 and up)

by Lauren Myracle
published by Dutton

It's the classic predicament when one friend hits puberty a little sooner than the other, and when Amanda makes a run for growing up, it leaves true-blue Winnie in the dust. The mix gets stickier when a sixth grader takes Amanda under her wing, while Winnie pairs up with someone less popular. Spattered with hip details like glittery eyeshadow, snagging the new Seventeen or all wearing the same-color shirts, girls will be laughing out loud with a resounding chorus of "oh, yeah." Whether they are applying lip gloss or still playing with jacks, girl readers are sure to recognize themselves through this perfect portal to the pre-teenage in print. On a scale of one to ten for modern friendship stories, this does rate an eleven. (9 and up)

A slightly darker picture of Mean Girl syndrome is lit by the ten candles on the cake in The Double Digit Club by Marion Dane Bauer (Holiday House), in which Sarah's friend Paige is going to be invited to join a club that ignores girls who are nine and younger, leaving Sarah friendless for the summer. When Sarah "borrows" a doll from her blind neighbor to lure Paige back, both girls realize that maybe the price for popularity may be a little too high and with too few rewards. While Bauer's characters may not be your favorite people in the world, their foibles are painfully true to life and their choices make for good discussion. (8 and up)

Mable Riley: A Reliable Record of Humdrum Peril and Romance
by Francois Place
published by Candlewick

Life as a schoolmistress seems far less glamorous than Mable might have hoped, as Mable's turn of the century diary chronicles the delights, and more often the disappointments, of her relocation to her sister's home. In an effort to snag a little sizzle in the hum-drum Canadian town, Mable hooks up with a scandalous eccentric who brings out Mable's deepest aspiration: to become a writer. In the course of this offbeat mentorship, Mable joins her Ladies Reading Society, which turns out to be a front for suffragettes and offers Mable a little more action than she had anticipated. The diary form accentuates the character's strong voice, who could possibly be a second cousin to Anne of Green Gables . Mable's reflections, questions, and many high-spirited exclamations pepper the writing, but most entertaining are her histrionic but earnest attempts at writing (don't worry, Mable, it takes a while to hone that talent!). A faux-imprinted leather cover and rough-edged pages make this book feel like a discovered diary in an attic, which makes sense, because it was such a diary written by the author's grandmother that served as inspiration for this book. The circle continues, as this book will inspire the diary-writer in literary-hearted girls everywhere. (9 and up)

The Report Card
by Andrew Clements
published by Simon and Schuster

Fifth grader Nora Rose Rowley may be a genius, but why show it when all it will do is get you in an accelerated program where it's all about the grades, grades, grades? Out of one pressure cooker and into the frying pan she flies when she brings home a terrible report card on purpose, just to prove a point. Will the grown ups ever get it: there's more than one way to measure intelligence! The master of the straightforward school story (remember our favorite, Frindle?) has done it again, and his book proudly brings home a D+ for deliciously satirical, divinely subversive and an exploration of the kid's-eye view of testing that is long overdue. (9 and up)

The Tail of Emily Windsnap
by Liz Kessler
published by Candlewick Press

What little girl hasn't dreamed of being a mermaid? Living with her protective mother on a houseboat, it isn't until the seventh grade that Emily begins to discover her strange capability for transformation during a swimming class (the descriptions of her alarm the first couple of times she gives it a whirl are quite convincing). Her new form is her ticket to an underwater city where questions about her origins are answered. A romantic fantasy that shimmers with imagination. (9 and up)

Toby, on the other fin, is not a mermaid, but befriends a family of them in The Fish in Room 11 by Heather Dyer (Scholastic, Chicken House). Abandoned as a child at a hotel by the sea, he is eager to stay a welcome part of their circle, so in an effort to keep their identity a secret, he disguises them as hotel guests. The nasty proprieter smells something fishy, but these folks are not so easy to catch. This tender, funny chapter book tips the scales as a read-aloud. (8 and up) And if you still are fishing for a good read, The Young Man and the Sea by Rodman Philbrick (Scholastic, Blue Sky Press) may be just what you need to bring on board. Skiff Beaman's life in a small Maine town has been on the rocks since the loss of his mother, the decline of his father and the decay of the boat that is their source of income. Skiff is further downtrodden by the relentless indignities put upon him by a wealthy neighbor boy. A catch of a giant blue tuna that he can sell for sushi might give them the economic boost they need to get back on their feet, so using a small boat and the harpoon created by his father and a bit of advice he remembers from his mother, he sets out to save the day. First-person perspective adds to the story's intensity and our investment in this underdog's success. Suspenseful, intense and poignant, I liked it much better than Hemingway's version…and so did the kids. (10 and up)

by Donna Jo Napoli
published by Greenwillow

Fantastic adventure alert! Great multicultural story alert! This award-winning author is at her best in this thrilling, chilling escapade. Sixth grader Alvin is suffocated by his mother's well-interntioned protectiveness in their Washington D.C. neighborhood, and lives vicariously through his hero, African American Arctic explorer Matthew Henson. He decides to follow in his footsteps quite literally, using the money he was saving for a bicycle to set venture out to the North Pole. If the 33-hour freezing train ride to Churchill doesn't kill him, the walrus stew will! Friendship with an Inuit tribe might be the key to survival in an adventure story that even might have even raised Jack London's eyebrow. While the turn of events may, at times, be a little far-fetched, there isn't a child who won't be cheering Alvin on and living vicariously so far out of reach from the safety and familiarity of the home. Why the publisher decided to release such a wintry story in summer is beyond me, but hey, the descriptions of the North Pole in January work better than air-conditioning. Bear-fat cookie, anyone? (7 and up)

Winchell Mink: The Misadventure Begins
by Steve Young
published by HarperCollins

Too many things rhyme with Mink: stink, pink, dink, fink…and the bullies know them all. But what nobody knows is the amazing adventures Winchell is having right before his birthday. Whether he's been transfigurmatated into a turtle, a brontasaurus ballplayer, a kindergartener with a posterior like a plunger, or a consultant along with Abe Lincoln in regard to the marvelous Gratchkea, one thing's for sure, little Winchell stink-pink-dink-fink-Mink is living life to the fullest, and to the zaniest. Offbeat humor and inventive writing has a cinematic quality that is heaven's gift to the short attention span; this book really needs to come with a seat belt, because the adventures come faster than the speed limit for most books. Besides which, I'll bet you can't go five pages without laughing. All right, three. Maybe one. (9 and up)

Geronimo Stilton: Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye
Geronimo Stilton
published by Holiday House

Geronimo Stilton's position as editor-in-chief of the Rodent's Gazette and beloved bestselling author throughout all of Mouse Island leads him into an awful lot of adventures! With the help of his family members, he investigates haunted houses, finds lost treasure and cavorts with Egyptian mummies. These highly graphic romps have funky fonts and full-color pictures throughout (which is very unusual for a chapter book!) giving the series a highly comic, "collect-'em-all" feel. Intelligence and problem-solving is as highly valued as a wedge of Camembert in every episode, and the easy-breezy-extra-cheesy readability makes for a high-confidence choice for new and reluctant readers. (7 and up)

The Oracle Betrayed
by Catherine Fisher
published by Greenwillow

Nine women serve the power of a Greco-Egyptian god, but not all of them are on the level. The Speaker is supposed to translate the wishes of the higher power, known only through the oracle, but her own self-serving ambitions are hinted at in a note passed from the high power before his sacrifice to meek Mirany, handmaiden to the high priestess. The betrayal of the oracle could mean disaster, but to stop the dastardly deceptions that abound will require Miranda to call upon a courage she may or may not posess. The author's background as an archaeologist comes through clearly as the language flows and twists like the knotted tributaries along the Nile, and you can nearly feel the dust of ancient times coating your face as you read. A labyrinth plot and richly imagined characters (with an extra helping of villains!) create a complex tapestry that will transport sophisticated readers. Marvelous and strange. (11 and up)

Otto and the Flying Twins: The First Book of the Karmidee
by Charlotte Haptie
published by Holiday House

You're either for magic or against it, and in The City of Trees, the Normals are clearly against it. No matter, because Otto Hush is positively hum-drum, not a dollop of magic in his blood. But when Otto's twin sisters begin to fly, the secret's out: his doubly ho-hum father, who has been working as a librarian, is actually King of the Karmidees, and his family and people are at risk of being rounded up. The main comment I heard about this book was, "it's not like any other fantasy." Indeed, the light, satiric tone and underlying theme of stick-togetherness helps this long-awaited import from the United Kingdom take flight. Isn't there a bit of magic in every family? There certainly will be for the one that has this on the shelf. (10 and up)

Blue Fingers: A Ninja's Tale
by Cheryl Aylward Whitesel
published by Clarion

Twins are considered bad enough luck in 16th century Japan, but when Koji's clumsiness loses him a valuable artisan apprenticeship, he becomes a pariah, fleeing to the forest. He is captured by a band of ninjas, deft and focused warriors whose fighting skills cannot be matched. The training and missions of Koji, and the dawning of his destiny will keep readers absolutely riveted. Koji's growing understanding of his role in the feudal society, strong personal relationships and his desire to keep a code of honor will go far to help children understand that the Teenage Mutant Turtles didn't have anything on the real McCoy! In spite of the dangers and action, the violence in is at a minimum, but the page-turning stays at a maximum. This book earns a black belt for excellence. (10 and up)

Jump Man Rule #!: Don't Touch Anything
by James Valentine
published by Simon and Schuster

Okay, I confess, I was a little put off at first by this book. Maybe it was the offer to "Win A Panasonic 4-in-1 Digital Camera! See Sweepstakes Card Inside!" plastered on the cover, or the blurb that read, "Throw Away the Playstation and put the Xbox back in the carton--Jump Man has arrived!" that set my gag reflex a-flutter, but here is a case where there is actually some truth in advertising. Though the big rule in the book is "don't touch anything," children were actually yanking on the book for a chance to join Theo in his test drive of the new Jump-Man, the machine that is all the rage with teens from the year 15,000,073. Granted, it's pretty rad to become invisible and be able to travel anywhere in time and view salient points in history first-hand (even beats TV!) but poor Theo lands himself in the year 2004 where there's not a whole lot going on. Stuck there for awhile, he finds friendship and even a little bit of romance while figuring out his way back. Propers have to be given for the use of technology and invention that went into this book, and with its modern graphic novel cover appeal and traditional storytelling talent, I predict a bright future for this series. (11 and up)

Starring Prima!: The Mouse of the Ballet Jolie
by Jacqueline Mitchard, illustrated by Tricia Tusa
published by HarperCollins

Having been born behind the Ballet Jolie, how could Prima have grown up to be anything besides a great ballerina? It is true, she is a mouse! But such talent should not be reserved for rodentkind alone, oh, no! It must be shared with all! Even humans! Therein lies the conflict for our determined little diva, and her belief in her dream will earn her applause and roses from her readers. Prima's scolding of Meowsky and the performance of the Nutcracker (who gets to be the Mouse King?) are priceless. And of course, what ballerina doesn't spend some time in gay Paris? Tusa's flighty, funny spot illustrations add a lot to the narrative's graceful line. An anthropomorphized animal story along the lines of a trés feminine Dick King-Smith, this sweet read-aloud or read-alone written by New York Times bestselling author will tickle audiences until they are pink as a tutu. Little ones listening in might also enjoy Time for Ballet by Adele Geras, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas (Candlewick) to bring home the pointe that this fancy dance is fun! (7 and up)

Say What?
by Margaret Peterson Haddix, illustrated by James Bernardin
published by Simon and Schuster

The parents in the Robinson household seem to be short-circuiting; whenever one of the children do something wrong, they admonish them incorrectly "(If all your friends jumped off of a bridge, would you jump, too?" is the father's response when six-year-old Sukie spills glitter on the floor). When the children discover the parents haven't lost their marbles but instead have been following "how to get your kids to listen" advice from a magazine article, there's nothing to do but fight fire with fire! All is fair in this family war, and this wholesome, high-spirited reading is perfect fare for your new chapter-book reader, or for a discussion on the need for family rules and good communication. (7 and up)

Leon and the Spitting Image
by Allen Kurzweil, illustrated by Bret Bertholf
published by Greenwillow

Leon's lack of fine motor skills is landing him in hot water with his new teacher, the odd Miss Hagmeyer, a Medieval throwback who has an almost deranged obsession with sewing. In order to pass, the children must create stuffed "animiles" (stitch count not to exceed four s.p.i., or stitches per inch, mind you), culminating in a master piece at the end of the year. The story takes quite a fantastic turn midsection, though, when Leon makes a doll of his teacher and discovers that he can control her every move by using it. The book brims with mystery (is Miss Hagmeyer's hair really held on with velcro? What are all of those funny eyeballs she keeps locked away? And what on earth is The Hag doing with all those stuffed animals?) and ends on a sharp note of revenge, both of which are extremely appealing to the dark side of middle-graders. The story's great strength, however, resides in Hagmeyer's willingness to redirect her curriculum based on the best of what she has to share. The fact that this one teacher's passion, for all the controversy she stirs up, is able to transform her students, makes this book an inspiration for all classroom teachers to stand and deliver their lessons through the filter of the best in themselves. A highly unusual classroom read. Plus, I just loved staring at those endpapers covered in eyeballs…and I could swear they were staring back. (10 and up)

The River Between Us
by Richard Peck
published by Dial

With the arrival of a steamboat from New Orleans to a small river town in Illinois comes two mysterious visitors: the heartbreakingly beautiful Delphine and her hard-boiled companion Calinda. Both women are taken in by the Pruitt family, much to the fascination of the narrator, fifteen year old Tilly Pruitt. Though the glamorous and worldy Delphine can talk a blue streak, she manages to leave out the more salient details of her background, details which threaten to explode in her face as rumors seethe throughout the town. Can the potential of romance be enough to keep Tilly's brother home from the battles, or will the visions of forboding that plague Tilly's clairvoyant sister come to fruition? People are not all they seem to be, and the strains of the times ultimately call upon each character to show themselves for better or for worse. This Newbery-award winning author deserves renewed kudos for his foray into the Civil War. Beautiful decriptions and emotional depth give this novel notable texture and depth. This story of many layers plays on favorite themes of Peck's, including ghost stories and intergenerational connections. Any teacher who is looking for a new angle on the Civil War and black history will find the order filled here, and anyone looking for a page-turning trip back in time will also find that this is just the ticket. (10 and up)

The Meanest Doll in the World
by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin,
illustrated by Brian Selznick
published by Hyperion

This sequel to The Doll Family revisits the two amiable clans, the modern Funcrafts and the vintage Dolls whose very way of life is threatened upon the discovery of an outré Princess Mimi poppet with a serious Napoleon complex. The preposterous doings of the naughty little prima dolly will leave readers gasping with shock right along with the toys that are scrambling in her wake. Martin and Godwin are in top form, adding some particularly mischievous and thrilling explorations of the classroom from a doll's eye view. This high-spirited fantasy leaves the door wide open for very real discussions about the best way to make and keep friends, and happily, for another sequel. I overheard a dinner conversation in which a woman exclaimed that Brian Selznick has reinvented the art of the illustrated chapter book, and this volume is evidence of that. The double-page illustration of coats on hooks in a hallway is one of the most evocative I've seen in a modern chapter book, and each carefully rendered black-and-white decoration, rather than making it a "baby book," adds so much wit to the telling of this already whimsical story. One of those special reading flights that will make you and your family hope magical things do come true, and maybe even help you believe that they might. (8 and up)

The Tale of Despereaux
by Kate DiCamillo,
illustrated by Timothy B. Ering
published by Candlewick

What a remarkable gift Kate DiCamillo has. Not only is she a great storyteller herself, but she turns anyone who reads her books aloud into a great storyteller. Her books are among the great pleasures of classroom teaching. She really took a departure from her other two books, and her own bravery translated into a particularly gallant story, full of poignancy but never losing her trademark good humor and generally graceful turn of the word. There has not been a book so hard to describe since Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee; in fact, it is one of those amazing books about everything. For practical purposes, though, let's say it is a book about a mouse who falls in love with a princess. It is about life in a castle where anything can happen, and usually does. It is about a terrible dungeon, and the unfortunates who must dwell in darkness. It is also about soup (great chance to tie in some cooking activities!). DiCamillo brings all these elements together in short, cliff-hanging chapters, and pauses frequently to address the reader directly, accompanying us on this very dire adventure featuring a most unlikely, and most likeable, hero. A fearless book in every respect, this title has made it on to the very exclusive Must Reads by the Time You're 13 list. Get it while the soup's still hot. (8 and up)

Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism
by Georgia Byng
published by HarperCollins

"It's the same with lots of things we do. If you're not good at them, you just give up. And then you're not good at them more, and so you don't try moreԵ" Molly's best friend Rocky chides her, and she can hardly stand it. It's the last thing she needs after a series of unfair punishments at Hardwick House, the orphanage where she resides. When Rocky is adopted and taken to America without her, it's too much. Why can't life be more like the Qube Cola commercials she watches on tv? It seems like life wil never take an upward swing until Molly comes across a strange book in the library, a book that carries her into the mysterious and powerful world of hypnotism. She uses her power to do amazing things at a local talent show, and to earn her a trip to New York city, where it seems like Molly will finally find the life she has been dreaming about. Little does Molly know that a criminal mastermind is hot on the trail of the precious volume that she holds in her hand. The page turning suspense and lots of surprises makes for gleeful reading, but the best part of this book is really the snarky humor. Subtle commentary on popularity and consumer culture permeate the story's underpinnings, and Molly 's ambitious nature knows no peer in the world of children's literature. Animal lovers will also enjoy Molly's spellbound comrade, a stone-sucking pug named Petula. Molly does wicked and wonderful things to all who fall under her spell; that includes readers. You've been warned. Read it before they make a movie. (8 and up)

Mind Games
by Jeanne Marie Grunwell
published by Houghton Mifflin

Six only slightly willing members of the seventh grade Mad Scientist Club team up to create a science fair project about ESP and end up correctly predicting numbers in the Maryland State Lottery. How did they do it, you may ask? Well, interested readers will be privy to the private notebooks of all the members, where they will not only get to read about their hypothesis but follow along as a friendship fades, two very different sisters find some common ground, an egghead tries to solve the enigma of his mother and a Russian immigrant gets her footing. The voyeuristic format lends itself well to the slightly spooky theme. Distinct and compelling characterizations throughout the book make it hard to believe that one author could have executed so many voices so flawlessly, but obviously we are dealing with a very unusual new talent who shows shades of E.L. Konisburg. The juggling act of many stories is done with shocking ability, and together they form one potent story that suggests knowing each other well is the best way of knowing what comes next…or at least surviving it. (11 and up) If this story appeals to your reader, then I predict PredicKtions by John Halliday (McElderberry) will go over well in your future. Josh's fortune-telling Aunt Julie predicted that Josh would someday be famous in his sleepy hum-drum town of Westlake, but even his Ouija board can't prepare him for the stir that his friendship with three oddballs will cause. Unique plotline and extremely engaging characters eminate from the pen of this professional librarian turned author, who obviously has his fingers on what kids like. (10 and up) And younger readers will meet a moody stranger in Judy Moody Predicts the Future by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds (Candlewick) , the latest intstallment in which our tempermental lead may posess ESP (extra skink-hunting powers, that is) along with the power to hold the attention of series readers. (8 and up)

Millicent Min, Girl Genius
by Lisa Yee
published by Scholastic

It is very rare to find a book in which you cannot manage to turn a page without laughing. Millicent Min, Girl Genius is that book. Millicent's tentative, earnest steps toward achieving every pre-teen girl's dream--making and keeping a real best friend--loom larger even than Millicent's goal to win the Field's Medal, the highest mathematical honor a person under forty can achieve. ("It would be great to do all this by age twenty but I don't want to put too much pressure on myself. Therefore, if it doesn't happen until I am, say, twenty-three, that's fine with me.") As Millicent tutors a jock named Stanford, survives her first sleepover, spikes a point for her volleyball team and tries valiantly to hide her genius from her ebullient friend Emily, she learns that there are book smarts and people smarts, and both are important. It's nice to have a heroine who is more concerned with learning curves than body curves, and her character's development is gradual and convincing and a pleasure to read. Millicent is the valedictorian of the intermediate reading list (no Field's Medal, I know, but it will have to do for now). (11 and up)

Smarty-Pantses in the house! The schoolhouse, that is…high I.Q.'s are all the fall fashion rage on the shelves of children's literature. For more classroom conundrums, treat the children's cranium to Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo, by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown). I doubt that even Einstein could have come up with an algorithm for the middle-school mind, but Greg Leitich Smith manages this and more in his funny and ambitious novel. Attending an elite private school in Chicago, three preteens of the noblesse oblige participate in a science fair with varying degrees of enthusiasm. After all, even the most gifted child may find it hard to concentrate when trying to calculate the angles of a love triangle! A great strength of this book is the deconstruction of stereotypes; even smart kids can be slackers and girls can be shockingly unsentimental. The ending takes a courtroom drama twist that will keep kids turning pages till the verdict is in. There's a lot going on in this book, and a lot to like; through it all is an exploration of the scientific method, with a very convincing teacher villain who proves to have his students' best interest at heart all along. This book is brave because at no point does it talk down to the reader; the author assumes his audience is the brightest crayon in the box, the sharpest knife in the drawer…and by doing so, his audience is elevated and will find they actually have a lot in common with this privileged pack. When it comes to making and keeping friends, being true to yourself and standing up for what you believe is right, this is one book that will help kids excel. Galileo would have read it to his class. (12 and up)

Swear to Howdy
by Wendelin Van Draanen
published by Knopf

Rusty Cooper has fallen under the spell of his charismatic neighbor Joey, and follows him into all variety of mischief. From orchestrating revenge on smarty-pants sisters by filling the Cokes they peddle at the ballgame with bugs, to replacing dead goldfish on a regular basis to avoid the wrath of Joey's erratic father, the boys have their fair share of harmless fun a la farting contests and frog-catching. They often end their escapades with an oath of secrecy to protect their behinds. This brotherhood becomes the source of serious trouble, however, when one of the pranks goes horribly awry and ends in a way that neither boy anticipates. The story, set against the grey backdrop of a paper mill town, starts recognizably as the story of two best friends doing things their parents just don't know about (visit Robert Newton Peck's Soup series for similar hijinks), but the tension builds. Still, the shadow that descends on the last few chapters is alarmingly sad, making it important that anyone sharing this book with children read the book in its entirety before passing it along. (See Richard Peck's essays about the importance of the theme of suicide in literature for boys in Invitation to the World: Teaching and Writing for the Young). This book could have ended many ways, and the author's decisions, along with the boys', are the stuff of great discussion. (10 and up)

Granny Torrelli Makes Soup
by Sharon Creech
published by HarperCollins

Come, come, bring your bowl and let Granny Torelli fill it to the brim with romance! Not the horrible gushy oversexed romances of so many young adult novels, but the realistic amore between two best friends who just may grow up to be more than that. Meet Rosie and her bold, angry, exuberant Rosie self, and Bailey, Bailey, who is usually so nice, oh Bailey, are you really going to fall for that Janine down the street, who thinks she is a movie star? Jealous? Pah! Luckily, Granny Torelli is in the kitchen, making soup, making pasta, cooking up stories of her life in Italy, teaching Rosie and that Bailey boy that life is too short not to show the ones you love that you really love them. The fact that Bailey is blind is woven naturally into the story, and does not seem nearly as big of an impediment as Rosie's colorful temper. Powerful voices and truths make this a nourishing main course that you will love to serve up to children at that awkward age where the interest in the opposite sex is beginning to bloom. Warm and delicious! (11 and up)

The City of Ember
by Jeanne DuPrau
published by Random House

A fantastic underground world is fully realized in this cliffhanging, heart-pumping sci-fi fantasy that even people who don't like sci-fi fantasy will enjoy. The generator that provides the lifeforce for the city has been running well for hundreds of years, creating a society that is ambivalent and content, few venturing into the darkness that envelopes the city's perimeter. But the flickering lights indicate that it may be time to generate some new ideas, and fast! Lina the messenger and Doon in the Pipeworks come off like the voices of doom, insisting that the cryptic Instructions for Egress may be the answer, if the friends can only figure it out. Timely themes of limited resources and the powerful not fully sharing their hand are provocative, and the expectation that these young people will contribute to their society through work and thought will speak to the desires of many middle grade readers. Fantastic descriptions and characters you will care about, this debut is absolutely electric and deserves every bit of buzz it has been receiving. If you could generate energy from the speed in which readers are turning these pages, you could even light up Ember…see if you can get past page three without being completely hooked! Fans of James Gurney's Dinotopia and Lois Lowry's The Giver must have this on their shelf. (11 and up)

You can also join the underground movement in children's literature by reading Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic). Gregor's tumble through the grate is his laundry room was foretold in prophecy, and like Gregor the reader is thrust into a surprising underworld populated by giant and sometimes likeable talking bats, spiders, rats and cockroaches (code words: reluctant boy readers, come hither). Could this netherland lead him to the answer to his father's disappearance? His desire to make this rescue for himself and his baby sister is enough motivation to face the kind of threats that, gulp, reside in this war-torn subscape. Dark and complex, this book is competition to video games. (11 and up)

by Jerry Spinelli
published by Knopf

A young smuggler searches for the simple pleasures in life: chocolates with a hazlenut heart, a pickled egg, a ride on a merry-go-round, a bird's song, a name of his own. None of these are easy to come by in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II, where the gypsy boy resides partly with a band of homeless boys, partly with a Jewish family whose daughter he has come to consider his little sister. In the face of the atrocities the boy views every day, the author adeptly depicts his personal growth, from the small child who thinks the occupation of Nazi "Jackboots" is a parade to the young man who steals extra potatoes to feed the hungry in Janusz Korczak's orphanage, to the man whose childhood reality takes a terrible toll. In this portrait of inhumanity, the humanity shines through, such as the father who tries to explain the definition of "happy" to a starving boy or the admonishments and slaps between the ruffians as they try to preserve one another's lives. Particularly interesting is the character of Uri, the boy who takes care of Misha and aligns himself unthinkably in order to preserve himself and offer a chance of rescue to those he cares about. In a place where it is safest to be invisible, each character is rendered in full, and will reverberate in your heart and brain long after the bindings have been closed. The descriptions are always true to the point of view of the child narrator, poetic, page-turningly strange and grippingly evocative, making this a difficult but honest and well-researched depiction for children who are learning about this impossibly cruel chapter in time. An ambitious work, and this historical perspective is a departure for this Newbery-winning author. A brave book about children who are, as Misha's adopted father puts it, "boy wonderful" and "girl wonderful," even in a much less than wonderful world. (11 and up)

by Sue Stauffacher
published by Knopf

Ow! Ow! My sides hurt from laughing too much. Has anyone ever died laughing? If anyone would know it would be Franklin Delano Donuthead, Olympic champion worrywart and borderline OCD case who has frequent telephone conversations with his friend Gloria at the switchboard at the National Safety Department. Gloria wisely advises him that stress is a major cause of mortality, and he might do well to focus more on something else, girls perhaps, but clearly, Gloria does not understand that "girls fill me with so much stress they ought to come with warning labels…Girls cannot be quantified in any way. The laws of mathematics, physics and chemistry do not apply to anything wearing a barette of gold bracelet." But a strange chemistry bubbles up when Franklin encounters rough and tumble Sarah Kervick, Sarah Kervick with the kung-fu grip, Sarah Kervick who is germier than a mold experiment, with" dirty blonde hair so tangled together it looked like there was a throw pillow crocheted onto the back of her head." Sarah Kervick also has secrets: secret challenges and secret abilities and maybe even a secret dream that can be realized in a surprising way. Sensitively written, it was reminiscent in parts of the beautiful Newbery honor book Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor Lisle, but not nearly as sad. The characters are quirky and unique, from Franklin's down-to-earth shouting-in-the-bleachers-at-a-little-league-game mother to his neighbor Bernie who designs a homemade set of storytelling cards from old National Geographics and playing cards (not a bad idea!), and of course there's our unreliable narrator, who keeps a running list of fictional characters who are most likely to die in preventable accidents. An astonishingly touching and hilarious story of an unlikely friendship, and hot fodder for discussion on what when learn about ourselves and others by having friends. One of the most original voices of the year. (11 and up)

by Cornelia Funke
published by Scholastic

The German author of the imaginative journey The Thief Lord has gifted the world with every booklover's fantasy come true: a power to bring book characters to life. Quite literally, this is the case for Mo. He is desperately trying to hide this ability from his daughter Meggie, and in doing so also hides that this power can work conversely and has in fact imprisoned Meggie's mother while releasing the wicked and coercive Capricorn. Maggie's ignorance may be just what Capricorn needs to capture her and lure her father, using his gifts to his evil ends, or it just may be that Meggie is too smart for him! My favorite part of this book was frankly formalistic, each chapter starting with a quote from a book, such as William Goldman's Princess Bride, Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, Eva Ibbotson's The Secret of Platform 13 or J.R.R. Tolkein's Fellowship of the Ring. The author used her own love and knowledge of books to make this volume even more textured and enticing. This erudite tome anticipates a reader as serious a bibliophile as its author, its girth at five hundred plus pages giving Harry Potter a run for his money. But the allure of its premise may tempt many a bookworm into a world of sinister adventure. (12 and up) If you like the premise but are daunted by the page count, try two new terrific picture books along the same theme: The Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book? by Lauren Child (Hyperion), and Miss Smith's Incredible Storybook by Michael Garland (Dutton), you'll have a crush on this spiky-haired librarian sporting a "Clash" button and leather jacket; her book isn't bad, either. ( both 6 and up)

The Key Collection
by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Yangsook Choi
published by Holt

Xiao Jimmy's best friend is his grandmother Ni Ni, who makes delectable jiao zi dumplings and would never laugh at his "family" of keys, and the stories he makes up with them. When the family decides it might be best if Ni Ni live with an aunt in California, Xiao Jimmy is the one who really does hold the key to both his grandmother's and his own adjustment to this change. Subtle and gently paced, this is a story with a variety of themes (moving, immigration and friendship among them) and conflicts played out in the hearts and deeds of unpretentious characters. Pronunciation guide and recipe included. (8 and up)

Ruby Electric
by Theresa Nelson
published by Atheneum

Ruby is an aspiring screenplay writer, with a deep admiration for Steven Speilberg and quite a bit of talent of her own. Movie scripts seem to be the only way Ruby can deal with the absence of her father, who fails to show up at any arranged meetings. Surely it's because he's a cop on the beat, running down the bad guys? Speaking of, being paired with two of the worst students in her class for a project isn't making life any easier, nor is the recurring appearances by her mother's boss, who is helping her move on with her life a little faster than Ruby might like. Why can't life be like the movies? Realistic situations, plenty of sharp humor and a savvy cinematic sensibility make this book a contemporary ride for many middle-graders. (12 and up)

Olive's Ocean
by Kevin Henkes
published by Greenwillow

The horses are let right out of the gate in this novel by the acclaimed picture book artist who brought us Lily's Purple Plastic Purse. Within the first few pages, we learn that Martha Boyle's classmate Olive has died in a car crash, and a page from her journal has been delivered to Martha by Olive's mother, informing her that 1) Olive would have liked Martha for a friend, 2) Olive wanted to visit the ocean, where Martha happens to be heading with her family, and 3) Olive wanted to be a writer, which was also Martha's secret ambition. These bits of information are kept private inside Martha, and swirl within her through the summer days that follow. When Martha is led on by an older boy more concerned with his video masterpiece than with people's feelings, her world comes crashing down, and must reconverge in a new way before she can retrieve a healthy perspective. Conversations with Godbee, her grandmother, and crossed lines with the boy who really cares for her will have readers pondering about what we leave unsaid in this life, and what connections are forged by what we do choose to share. Though there were more ideas introduced than actually play out in full within the story line, this remains an interesting, authentic and ambitious character study of a pre-teen girl and all the overwhelming things that come with the territory. (10 and up)

The Boy Who Spoke Dog
by Clay Morgan
published by Dutton

The author is a big fan of "old school" classic adventure stories like Robinson Crusoe and Call of the Wild, and the influence plays out in this very dramatic tale. Jack is shipwrecked on an island that seems to have been inhabited but now appears to be populated only by dogs, one proving to be boy's best friend, and a vicious pack that may be his worst enemy. What really sets this story apart and giving it a contemporary sensibility is the alternating viewpoints between Jack and collie Moxie, making it a compelling exploration of characters who are struggling to communicate. The fact that they aren't even from the same species certainly lends a whole new twist! The descriptions throughout the book bring the scenes to life, and the bond that is formed is developed and believable. You'll be speaking intermediate boy language when you share this tale of loyalty and survival. (9 and up)

Not Just a Witch
by Eva Ibbotson, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
published by Dutton

Hecate Tenbury-Smith is not just any witch, she's a good witch meant to make the world a better place, with a special gift for animal magic. She plans to use her gift to start her band of Wickedness Hunters who will scope out beastly behavior and turn the culprits fittingly into beasts. But even a witch as powerful as Hecate is susceptible to spells of the heart, and falls for a baddie whose influence she can only escape thanks to a romantic twist. A magical cast of characters with all sorts of talents and ambitions (I was particularly partial to the wizard who aspired to create a walking cheese) and an empathetic pet worm are a few bits of the imagination that are the hallmarks of Ibbotson, as she also demonstrated in Island of the Aunts, The Secret of Platform 13 and Dial-a-Ghost. Personally, I pick her books over J.K. Rowling's. (Uh-oh, is that thunder I hear?) (10 and up)

Half and Half
by Lensey Namioka
published by Delacorte

Fiona Cheng is half Chinese and half Scottish, but when she has to sign up for a folk dancing performance, there is no box to check that says half and half. Fiona struggles with the desire to please her Scottish grandfather while respecting her Chinese roots, and in the process discovers that she is more than the sum of her parts. Another winning family story from the author of Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear, Namioka gives a lot of gravity to her protagonist's problem, and her ability to solve it creatively is just one of many traits that make Fiona so likeable. (9 and up)

More charismatic chicas in can be found in these recently released and highly recommended realistic novels:
Seeing Sugar by Cynthia L. Brinson (Viking) (Kate Martin loves the fourth grade, until she finds herself upstaged by a sweet Southern belle, who becomes the brunt of every problem that follows, even taking the blame for Kate's new eyeglass prescription. It is not until Kate takes up photography that she begins to see clearly that a new friend might be out of sight.) (8 and up )
Utterly Me, Clarice Bean by Lauren Child (Candlewick) (A whole diary-slash-novel in the saucy and outspoken voice of picture book star Clarice Bean, who you may remember from I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato . Life is utterly utterly trying when Clarice vies for the prize for best book review. But has Clarice ever not met a challenge? No extra charge for the doodles and swirls throughout. ) (8 and up )
The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley (Who Planned to Live an Unusual Life) by Martine Murray (Scholastic)(Cedar Hartley has "a green thumb for people," and surrounds herself with a motley crew almost as exasperating and idiosynchratic as herself. Almost. In her efforts to help the world grow in the direction she designs, Cedar comes that much closer to realizing her own potential. Some mature themes in this quirky novel by an Australian talent.) (12 and up )
On Her Way: Stories and Poems About Growing Up Girl edited by Sandy Asher (Dutton) (A hope chest full of writing to get girls through the best of times and the worst of times. Creative, funny and touching stories respresent a variety of genres, collected from the most popular authors in the yearbook. Great bat mitzvah gift, too!) (11 and up )
Amber Brown is Green with Envy by Paula Danziger (Putnam) (The latest in this sympathetic series stands on its own as Amber struggles with her parents' divorce and other unfair doings in the world.) (9 and up )
Encore, Grace! by Mary Hoffman (Dial) (The darling diva who dominated in the picture book Amazing Grace now has a starring role in this chapter book. Rivalry for a role in the class play is just one of many realistic conflicts that will engage readers.) (8 and up )
Lily B. on the Brink of Cool by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel (HarperCollins) (Lily documents the summer that her family nearly gets taken in by charismatic con-artists, including one her own age. Lily's voice as a writer is effervescent, and she is a heck of a reader, too; loads of recommendations for pre-teen bookworms wind into the story. Lily's not just on the brink of cool, she's crossed the border!) (11 and up )
Agnes Parker, Girl in Progress by Kathleen O'Dell (Dial) (Sixth grade comes to life in glorious black and white print, with everything captured from oral reports to first crushes to bullies like Neidermeyer (how refreshing and realistic to read about a female antagonist!). Funny and fresh, many pre-teens will recognize themselves in these pages.) (10 and up )

Olivia Kidney
by Ellen Potter, illustrated by Peter Reynolds
published by Philomel

Strange doings abound at the apartment building where Olivia Kidney resides with her father, the bumbling building superintendent. Whether visiting with the cantankerous neighbor whose apartment is made completely of glass or escaping the deadly clutches of Sidi and her talking lizard, weirdness is the rule rather than the exception. A friend in the furnace room may be the only real ally she has to set things right, but even he turns out to be not quite of this world. Slowly, the reader comes to understand that these strange encounters may be the gauze covering Olivia's wound that runs real and deep: the loss of her beloved brother to cancer, and the need to communicate with him, if only through her imagination. Fans of Neil Gaiman's Coraline might best appreciate the nuances (and seances!) of this moody tour of the many rooms in a troubled girl's mind. (11 and up)

Need some more shivers for your timbers? Now, you know as soon as you say "ghost story," all the children come running, and Catie and Josephine by Jonathan Scott Fuqua, illustrated by Steven Parke (Houghton Mifflin) is a very special book that blurs the lines between apparitions and bon amies. Catie Calloway is glad to meet Josephine in the midst of all the adjustments she has to make moving into the old house, and Josephine is equally delighted to find Catie, not having had a friend in the past fifty years. Catie's parents inability to see Josephine leads them to believe that their little girl is having trouble making friends, and it will take some doing for the two to stick together through trials and tribulations, not to mention threats of summer camp. Fuqua already earned a lot of well-deserved respect for his resplendently written novels Darby and The Reappearance of Sam Webber , but this departure for younger readers is also a success, rife with realistic dialogue and capturing the almost compulsive esprit of little girls in the throes of passionate best-friendship. Computer-generated photographs make imaginative and sometimes unsettling accents to the spooky mood. Girls will go ga-ga, but any gender will find themselves wishing for such a friend to appear out of thin air. (9 and up)

Almost Forever
by Maria Testa
published by Candlewick

The fact that narrator's father is a member of the U.S. Army Medical Corps is little consolation to the young narrator and her family in this free verse novella. "Bullets and bombs/do not care/that you went to medical school," Mama has to remind him. But father fulfills his duty, leaving his family to run the course of the year without him, looking to news, letters, and their own hearts for the hope they need to sustain them. The story ends happily, but begs the question, what about the other families? Set during the Vietnam War, this story is timely and asks even young readers to consider the price that is paid not only by those who go into battle, but by the brave families they leave behind. A hard subject to present to young readers, done with panache and respect by this gifted author. (9 and up)

Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist: Lunch Walks Among Us
by Jim Benton
published by Simon and Schuster

Sugar and spice and all things nice she's not, but Bunsen burners are a-popping to celebrate the arrival of nonconformist Franny K. Stein, who may well provide the female side to Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants series. While Franny's mother might have hoped for one of the Ashley twins, she's got more of a Wednesday Addams on her hands, re-doing her bedroom's frou-frou decor to resemble a laboratory. Franny likes science a lot, but she likes making friends even more, and is troubled by the reticence of her peers to gather 'round. When her concerned teacher suggests Franny think of making friends as an experiment, she's talking Franny's language. After collecting the necessary data, Franny undergoes a dramatic transformation (brought to life courtesy of some mix-and-match pages in the book that will make your children laugh out loud), and finds the popularity she's been craving. But when her teacher is abducted by The Giant Monsterous Fiend, she makes a difficult decision and returns to her more craven self, in order to create the lunch meat monster that can perform the rescue. While Benton may be accused of a certain amount of copy-catting and potty humor, there is definitely a method to the madness. The story has real conflict that both boys and girls will recognize, low-level vocabulary and page-turning suspense to ensure success for reluctant or emergent readers, and the cartoon illustrations are cool enough to compete with Saturday morning television. I hypothesize that this little girl who uses a snake to skip rope, builds a Barbie clone that can chomp the heads off of other dolls and has a green thumb for Venus flytraps has the potential to ooze her way into the hearts of many. (7 and up) You can also add to your child's reading chemistry kit with the kid-pleasing picture book Hazel Nutt, Mad Scientist by David Elliot, illustrated by True Kelly (Holiday House). Hazel seems to be a cousin of Franny, inventing a Frankensteinway piano that is just right for Dracu-la-la's recital. (6 and up)

Made You Look
by Diane Roberts
published by Delacorte

Who doesn't like a road trip? Jason doesn't! Puttering from Texas to Los Angeles, Jason bemoans camping cross-country with Jen, "two-year-old disposable diaper queen of the world," prima dramarina older sister Millicent who thinks-she's-all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips, in a camper that looks like a "giant sardine can." Oh, well, it'll all be worth it so long as Jason can be a contestant on Masquerade Mania, Jason's favorite TV game show which is a demonic cross between Jeopardy and Let's Make a Deal. This novel is definitely All-American as Roberts offers an authentic and high-energy view of suburban middle school life and a keen ear for attitude. Best friend Freddy is particularly winsome in scenes where he is trying to prepare Jason for his first television appearance. Many kids will identify with the characters and enjoy the accompanying mayhem, and there is even underwear thrown in for good measure. How can you lose? (9 and up) Check out Hooray for Hollywood for more titles that feature life in La-La Land.

Skinny-Dipping at Monster Lake
by Bill Wallace
published by Simon and Schuster

A camping trip, some late night fishing, a dip in the lake…what's missing? A monster, of course! Luckily, Wallace has the formula for kid appeal and adds the proper touch of good-natured by-the-campfire terror before long. While this straight-forward story doesn't strain to be literary, this is just the kind of play-by-play adventure that Tom Sawyer wouldn't have minded joining in on, and reluctant boy readers will get through swimmingly. (9 and up)

Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia
by Barbara O'Connor
published by Farrar Straus Giroux

You want spunk? Bird's got spunk. No way is she going to take "no" for an answer when it comes to making friends with Harlem Tate. No matter that he's all long-haired, crouched up and hanging out at Elite Tattoos. Bird has found out that Harlem has a secret talent for spelling. a talent that can deliver them to none other than Disney World…if he would just cooperate. It turns out that spelling isn't Harlem's only secret, and in the process of working together Bird doesn't get quite what she expected. This is one of those sunny books that capture the spirit of all that's possible to find in other people. O'Connor shows a particular strength in dialogue. Miss Delphine, Bird's neighbor (and a sort of southern Auntie Mame) has an especially affecting and enviable relationship with Bird, and and the banter is natural and funny. Overall, this is a great book for intermediate readers who want to learn how to spell f-r-i-e-n-d. (9 and up)

If your appetite for heck-raisin' Southern belles is whetted, don't miss Spitting Image , by Shutta Crum, where you'll find Jessie Kay Bovey, a character that any reader would want as a best friend. This tom-boy has got vim, vigor, the strongest sense of justice since Sandra Day O'Connor, and enough good intentions to pave the way to…well, we all know where the road of good intention leads. When a social worker comes to her small Kentucky town, Jessie sees it's an opportunity to help her best bud Robert get the glasses he needs. In doing so, she unwttingly compromises the pride and dignity of the people she cares about. Set in the 1960's, this story about a tough girl gives a surprisingly delicate treatment to issues of class and dignity, plus offers the problem-solving prowess and personal growth that children admire and love to read about. (11 and up)

Another problem solver for younger readers may be found in Capp Street Carnival by Sandra Dutton . Mary Mae Krebs who has taken it upon herself to help her family's twenty-one year old boarder figure out what she should do with her life. Why not? After all, Mary Mae knows exactly what color her parachute is, predicting a comfortable future as a famous country-western singer (her lyrics are there for your reading pleasure). She plans to put all of her talents to good use at the fundraising carnival. Though she encounters some challenges that the stars in her eyes have prevented her from predicting, readers will enjoy Mary Mae's confidence, and the planning and organizing that is spelled out is just the sort of thing that inspires intermediate readers to rise to the occasion of helpfulness in their own creative ways. (9 and up)

The Way a Door Closes
by Hope Smith,
illustrated by Shane Evans
published by Henry Holt

"Daddy is flying,/just like a kite,/and we are the tail./ Our holding on/is the thing that lets him soar." A series of free verse poems chronicles a cycle of love and loss and love again after a pre-teen's father temporarily abandons his family. The pain of this turn of events is more poignant by the author's choice to clearly delineate the family's strength and happiness before the choice is made. Then small things overflow with meaning: candles on a cake, photos in a book, a china bowl full of nuts are all reminders of better days, and days that to his credit, the speaker hopes will come again. An especially interesting aspect is how so much falls to the young man in the absence of his father: not only must he be strong enough for himself, but he has to be the optimist for his friend in the same boat, the hope for his mother that the cycle will not repeat, the one who can still make his younger siblings smile. While each poem moves the narrative, some really stand on their own and resonate, such as the description of waking in the morning, "Golden," and the haunting "The Way a Door Closes." The happy ending is refreshing, though I am not convinced that Daddy comes home to quite the same family that he left. This is a point that will make for spirited discussion, along with the formalistic aspects of the book. How does the author use description of everyday things to create mood? Is the author heavy-handed, or are the reactions realistic? How does his grandmother give him strength? Are the circumstances limited to African-Americans, or is there something more universal here? Many children will identify with the gravity of the situation, and sympathize with this very thoughtful portrait of a boy trying to do right in a family that has gone wrong. A provocative and poignant choice for all intermediate language arts programs. (10 and up)

How Angel Peterson Got His Name And Other Outrageous Tales About Extreme Sports
by Gary Paulsen
published by Wendy Lamb Books/Random House

"…none of what we did should be done by anybody except heavily insured, highly trained professionals under adult supervision on closed courses with ambulances, doctors and MedEvac choppers standing by." Ok, we've been forewarned. Put on a helmet and begin reading this memoir of Paulsen's 13th year, in which boys wrestle bears in an effort to impress girls, a penny-pinching young lad inadvertently takes up hang-gliding in an effort to protect his investment, and a confident troupe sets out to break the world speed record on skis in the flatlands of Minnesota. Ouch, these stories are so good they hurt, and should be considered gut-wrenchingly funny until some kid decides to imitate one of the stunts and gets himself killed; Paulsen optimistically dedicates the book "to all boys in their thirteenth year; the miracle is that we live through it." Pray for such a miracle and recommend this book which will perform the equally miraculous stunt of getting pre-teen reluctant reader boys turning pages fast enough to break a world record. Another harrowing writing feat from the Ernest Hemingway of children's lit. (10 and up)

To The Edge of the World
by Michelle Torrey
published by Knopf

Matteo is a privileged boy in 16th century Spain, but all that changes when he loses his parents in the plague. By signing on as cabin boy for Magellan's voyage, Matteo has signed on for great adventure, as does anyone who reads this marvelous book. A likeable, complex main character provides the natural voice that carries the story along so believably, and the thrill of a sea voyage reaches a stormy pitch when the crew is on the verge of mutiny. The author's enthusiasm for her subject is clear in the descriptive passages and well-researched detail. Use this fine novel to navigate children smoothly into uncharted territories of world history and exploration. (10 and up)

by Karen Cushman

Unfortunate twists of fate separate Rodzina Clara Jadwiga Anastazya Brodsky out of the loving arms of her family and onto an Orphan Train sponsored by the Children's Aid Society. Headed into the inscrutable west, Rodzina believes she will be sold into servitude. Unfriendly, overaged and oversized, the Polish street girl is given lots of responsibility by "Miss Doctor," their chilly chaperone who seems more concerned with keeping her suit clean than consoling the unfortunate. Rodzina lets her guard down somewhat as she is put in charge of watching the other urchins in the car, and befriends a redheaded girl who introduces herself to all prospects by announcing "My name is Lacey and I'm slow," so that she can be sure the family that picks her really loves her. As one by one the children are adopted off, Rodzina finds herself remaining on the train, her prospects looking as increasingly barren as the landscapes she passes. The setting stays mainly on board, allowing for some reflective character development and careful descriptions so young readers can really imagine what a child in such dire circumstances might be feeling. A strong story about strong female characters. Teachers and other interested folks who are fascinated by this real chapter in history might also enjoy We Rode The Orphan Trains by Andrea Warren, The Orphan Train Adventuresby Joan Lowery Nixon, or the incredible PBS video from the "American Experience" series, The Orphan Trains. (9 and up)

by Helen Cooper,
illustrated by Ted Dewan

On a day at the beach, a father and daughter draw a cunning little horse in the sand, and the little girl wishes it would come to life. Luckily, the horse is wishing the same thing at the same time, so the wish is very strong. The horse sets out to find his little girl and to get as far from the beach with its wild waves as he can, maybe even as far as the stars. This book is full of magic and gentleness, lovely language, spirited humor and a galloping plot with plenty of close calls. The dreamlike quality makes it a great bedtime chapter book for emergent readers, and an equally memorable classroom read-aloud ride. (6 and up)

Crispin: The Cross of Lead
by Avi
published by Hyperion

Fourteenth century England springs to life in the most action-packed historical fiction since The Three Musketeers. Avi has proven again and again that he is not in the business of wasting children's time, and so he dives right in; by page 25 the main character's mother has died, he has had his life threatened at a sword's edge by the steward of the manor , and has been declared a "wolf's head," in which he may be killed on sight for a handsome reward, falsely accused of a dastardly crime. Do you think that's something? Wait until page 50! "Asta's son," as the peasant boy is called, is on the lam but finds friendship in a juggler with a powerful personality and perhaps just a bit of trouble of his own. Well-research period detail and a lot of romantic conventions will introduce children to the hard facts of feudalism painlessly, and the gore and the cliffhanging quality makes for the kind of classroom read-aloud that leaves kids begging like paupers. Middle Ages for middle graders. Congratulations to Avi on this, his 50th book, and on winning the Newbery award! (9 and up)

Saffy's Angel
by Hilary McKay
published by McElderry Books

The Cassons are not your typical family: the children are named Cadmium, Indigo and Rose, after the colors of paint that their artist mother loves. Then there is Saffron, adopted by the family and trying hard to find her place in it. When grandfather dies and leaves her an angel, Saffy feels all the more displaced. Is the angel real or imaginary? The mystery must be solved before Saffy can really feel a part of the circle that surrounds her. Though this story definitely has some driving suspense, the real strength is the incredible characterization. Rose's back-talking banter towards her more conventional and pretentious father, their permissive mother, Caddy's long-suffering infatuation with her driving school teacher, the loving resolve of brother Indigo to hunt down Saffy's angel and the bossy scheming of Saffy's wheelchair-bound best friend make this an honest and witty portrait of a family trying to come to grips with it's own uniqueness. An import from England, this book has plenty of European travel tidbits too; this book is a refreshing change of scenery all around. (11 and up)

by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean

This is the scariest children's book I have ever read, and it took a mighty long time to read, I might add, because I had to keep taking intermissions in order to tell myself that it's just a book, it's just a book. I literally had to shove it under my sofa for two hours to try to get it out of my spinal cord, but then I had to take it out because it was too creepy to have under my couch. Then I read a little more and had to do some cheerful karaoke while the sweat that had accumulated on my palms dried out. What's so scary? I couldn't tell you, nothing really happens and everyone speaks in civil tones, but somehow it is so exactly like reading a bad dream with disturbing little symbols and details that shine like a smile made up of a few too many sharp teeth. Parents that work too much, parents that love too much, too many hours in a bored girl's day all scrape away like too long fingernails against a bare back. There is a black cat that out-freakies Lewis Carroll's Cheshire and a deadpan little girl heroine bent on exploring an alternate universe where innocents are held captive and are called upon to handle more than the reader can stand to read. But you will read, "Because," as Coraline says, "when you're scared but you still do it anyway, that's brave." Inarguably well-written if uncomfortably psychological, give it to children who have been sneaking your Stephen King anyway, and don't blame me if they have nightmares. (11 and up)

Lucy the Giant
by Sherri L. Smith

Lucy is a overgrown teenage girl who manages to escape the tirades of her drunken father by passing herself off as an adult and landing a job with an Alaskan crabbing crew. While the setting is romantic, the desire to grow up more quickly is one many young teens will relate to, and the adventures of this unique runaway makes for record-breaking page-turning. Through sharply drawn detail, readers are transported on board and nearly feel the cold spray of the Atlantic. The great strength of this story is Lucy herself, a wry sense of humor carefully guarding her heart's desire, to belong to a family…even if she has to create it herself. This is a powerful book, and even though it's a cliché, you will find that you have laughed and cried. With its proactive female protagonist, it can be paired with Avi's masterful The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle for great classroom discussion. This is a truly astounding first young adult novel, worthy of both adult accolades and adolescent applause. Big in every way. (12 and up)

Stuart's Cape
by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Martin Matje

"I want to have an adventure," Stuart moans, and promptly facilitates some wonderful ones with the help of a cape he fashions from his father's old neckties. In the week before he starts third grade, his exploits range from free-fall as a result of overeating angel food cake, to taming wild animals in his room, and to my favorite, growing toast from toast seeds until he has enough for a toast party (which could and should be replicated in a classroom). Stuart's parent's oblivion and the zany pen-and-ink illustrations throughout make for an especially droll read, and a formidable salute to imagination. The ending is original, as Stuart makes a friend before school starts in an unexpected way. While excellent for read-aloud, this is a perfect first chapter book for emergent readers as well. Up, up and away! (7 and up)

A Corner of the Universe
by Ann M. Martin

The summer that Hattie turns twelve is the summer that she discovers she has an uncle that no one ever told her about. Adam's school for the mentally disabled has closed, forcing him to move back home with his stodgy parents, paying frequent visits to the boarding house that Hattie's parents run. Despite the barbs of a less-than-tolerant community, Hattie finds many unexpected bonds with her uncle, and finds friendship with Leila, a girl working at a carnival that is passing through town. When his world proves to be more than Adam can handle, Hattie is forced to look at her world using a new paradigm. I have read a lot of books with characters with special challenges and always thought, "eh," and I confess that I worried this would be another one. It wasn't, not at all. All of the characters were distinct, believable and resonating. Adam in particular is authentic, with an immediate presence that is genuinely refreshing, not just a sterotype but a multifacted person. Leila is the perfect better-or-worse friend that many girls dream of having, and will be satisfied to find her here. The other feat I admire is that while Martin has a successful mass market history as the author of The Babysitter's Club, she didn't fall back on any formula or dumb down her book. The demands of the situations that were placed upon Hattie were adult in many respects. Children live in a world of grown-ups and see so many grown-up things, but that is so rarely reflected sensitively in books. Hattie has no real buffer or rescuer outside of her own insight, her own intelligence, and even these seem to batter her. I cried in many unexpected places. This latest effort is extraordinarily brave and worthy of Newberry recognition. It was a great human portrayal, a brave and universal piece of American literature. I read it and thought, this is as good as Steinbeck or Saroyan. (10 and up)A Chapman Award Winner!

Dear Papa
by Anne Ylvisaker

Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn finds a distant cousin in this series of letters about a girl in the 1940's trying to cope as cheerfully as she can with the loss of her father. So many changes: Mama gets a job, the sisters are sent to live with country cousins, and what on earth is Mr. Frank trying to pull with a marriage proposal? The voice is authentic, as Isabelle wrestles with the mores and prejudices of her time, particularly in regard to religion. Isabelle's outspoken, even out-and-out fresh-mouthed reactions to situations will elicit laughter from readers, and the author does a good job of expressing the frustration children have when they must stand by helplessly while grown-ups insist on making silly decisions. While the ending feels a little rushed, this book as a whole still holds strong as a character study of a little girl that other little girls will want to know. (9 and up)

Judy Moody Saves the World
by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter Reynolds

Judy learns about the destruction of the rain forest and initiates some environmental initiatives in her own home, for better or worse. Several interesting ideas that readers can employ within their own communities are subtly included in the narrative. The story line is strong as Judy seeks to really make a difference, realistically encountering resistance and failure as she goes, and just as realistically, finding a way that she can ultimately realize her ambition. Judy's mood-swings are as sizzling as ever (hey, Judy, do you think you could be a little nicer to your brother in the next book?) and brimming with the youthful esprit that makes the world go round. The latest in the Judy Moody series has the most opportunities for classroom integration, so read and recycle! (8 and up)

Waiting to Disappear
by April Young Fritz

Buddy's mother has not been the same since her older brother was killed in a car accident, and hits the bottom of her emotional spiral right before the Fourth of July. Buddy struggles with the secrets and stigma of family mental illness in a small town the 1950's, and the "why me?" feeling of adolescents throughout the ages. Buddy valiantly tries to make the best of her summer with this problem looming in the background, casting new light on the friends and family in her life. Her situation surprisingly gives her an opportunity to cope with her grief and learn what she has to offer to those who still love her, and need her. An auspicious and ambitious debut taking on tough themes, the talent of this author is not likely to disappear anytime soon. Kids who liked the voice in Kimberly Willis Holt's Dancing in Cadillac Light will enjoy this as well. (12 and up)

The Voyage of the Arctic Tern
by Hugh Montgomery, illustrated by Nick Poullis

Gather the whole family around for this one! This read-aloud is one of the most unique offerings of this or any season, as a modern author writes an epic sea-faring tale completely in verse. Ship-captain Bruno has three tasks he must perform in recompense for an ancient crime, and cannot die until they are complete. In a story crossing both centuries and countries, Bruno finds and gives away a treasure, saves a life, and rescues one betrayed. The poetry flows with the graceful variance of the ocean, and the moral conflict is stirring as Bruno tries so desperately to right a wrong. The sketchy pen and ink illustrations of are plentiful, dark and moody. The author chose to remortgage his apartment in order to self-publish this epic. Good move! A bestseller in England and now landed on our shores, this piece of time travel promises to bring old-fashioned pleasure to modern readers. Teachers, use it to teach poetry as well! (9 and up)

The World Before This One: A Novel Told in Legend
by Rafe Martin

"I've watched the mesmerized faces of children and adults as they listen to a captivating storyteller. What was once a regular occurence in the dead of winter is now a rare treat anytime," writes Seneca Elder Peter Jemisen in the introduction to this unique novel. Crow and his grandmother are pariahs of their nation, living a hardscrabble existence in the time before stories. By chance, Crow finds a boulder that speaks and shares with him fabulous porquoi stories and legends. Crow is rightly spellbound by the Talking Stone. Grandmother, however, suspects a dark magic at work and designs to put an end to this strange connection before the greatest story can unfold: how the first storyteller came to be! The terrific tension of this central story umbrellas over the enchanting traditional Seneca tales like a Native American One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Emphasizing the responsibility people have to nature, this book has a special message for the people of our time. Children who are lucky enough to have this exciting novel shared with them will be exposed to mythology in a successful melding of oral and written tradition. (9 and up)

The Thief Lord
by Cornelia Funke

When nefarious relatives offers to adopt one orphaned boy but not the other, the brothers run away from Germany to the fabled Italian city of Venice. There they encounter the Scipio the Thief Lord, who runs a criminal ring of street children a la Dickens' Oliver Twist. The boys are soon sent on a mission to steal part of an enchanted merry-go-round, and that's where the plot goes all magic and mystery! Strong characterization marks this bestselling novel from Germany (Funke being the third most popular author there after R.L. Stine and J. K. Rowling), and children will groan for one more chapter in the hope of finding out what next befalls their favorites. Full of great discussion material and elegant descriptions, this cliffhanger will steal the heart of every reading teacher and bedtime storyteller. (10 and up)

Gooney Bird Greene
by Lois Lowry, illustrated by Middy Thomas

Gooney Bird Greene appears at Watertower Elementary School the first week in October, just waltzes in without any parents, wearing pajamas and cowbody boots and makes herself at home; after all, Gooney Bird likes to be "right smack in the middle of everything." When her teacher explains that the class is learning about what makes a good story, Gooney Bird grabs the baton and obliges the class with a series of tales with titles like "How Gooney Bird Came from China on a Flying Carpet," "The Price, the Palace and the Diamond Earrings," and "Beloved Catman is Consumed by a Cow." While seemingly outlandish, they all prove to be, as Gooney Bird puts it, "absolutely true." What's more, Gooney Bird manages to impart several pearls of wisdom about what makes a good story to her class, and to all who read this book. The classroom banter Lowry writes is impeccable, and Gooney Bird is irresistible with her grade-school glamour, accesorizing with the likes of tutus, flip-flops and black opera gloves. Gooney does not go unappreciated, as everyone, even her teacher, are unconditionally charmed into letting this extraordinary child run the show. Besides being a very funny read in the tradition of Pippi Longstocking and a very pragmatic introduction to storytelling, it's a classroom romance, complete with waltzes and (eeeuuuhhh!) smooching. Hopefully there will be Gooney Bird sightings in every 2nd grade classroom in the nation, and we'll be watching for more. (8 and up)A Chapman Award Winner!

Indian Shoes
by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Put away the war paint and woo-woo-woo, there's a new Native American in Chi-town. An outstanding collection of short stories that does so much more than explode myths abut contemporary Indians, this funny intermediate read celebrates genuine cross-generational ties and bridges urban-rural sensibilities. Especially touching is when Ray Halfmoon trades in his high-tops for moccasins in an effort to cure his grandfather's homesickness. The dialogue is natural and authentic, perfect for read-aloud and reluctant readers. The world of multicultural children's literature will never be the same after Cynthia Leitich Smith gets through with it, and for that we can thank her! A shoe-in for many social studies awards. (8 and up)

A Single Shard
by Linda Sue Park

Tree-ear is an orphan who lives under a bridge with old lame Crane-Man, the only family Tree-ear has ever known. In the midst of scrounging to make do, Tree-ear can't help but hide and admire a local potter at his work, and decides he would like nothing better than to learn to make a pot of his own. Finally mustering the courage to ask for an apprenticeship, Tree-ear is drawn into the routines of ill-tempered Min, the master potter, and nurtured in secret by the potter's wife, Ajima. When a royal emissary tours the small town to assign pottery commissions for the palace, Tree-ear must make decisions that will change his life and the lives of the people around him forever. The period detail of this novel set in twelfth-century Korea is seamless and the storytelling breathes lifeblood into a time when perfection of a craft meant honor worth more than money. The pacing hums with the even rhythm of a potter's wheel, and the multifaceted characters come complete with pasts and secrets, moods and mercies. This book shines with an appreciation of both people and the things they make, and in writing about the quest for excellence and recognition, the author achieved it. This Newbery winner deserved the gold. A must for anyone interested in art, or in great books. (11 and up)

by Jerry Spinelli

I wish every parent of a son would read this book. In the chapter "Win," Spinelli manages to spell out in a little more than a page the great terribleness of being a boy. And in the chapters that follow, we see a heroic effort in the face of that terribleness. In the spirit of Spinelli's last masterpiece Stargirl, this is a resonating portrait of a boy at once misunderstood and joyful in spite of the world's slings and arrows, a boy who likes to laugh when nobody else is laughing. Told in a striking present tense, Zinkoff's everyday life takes on a poignancy, whether Zinkoff is following along on his father's mail route, trying to make a best friend or eking toward the "furnace monster" in the basement. Spinelli's style also gives the story an immediacy, even an urgency; we are carried through Zinkoff's entire school career as if we are on top of a thunderous tidal wave surging toward a shore. Will it crash violently? It is the stuff of page-turners. If I have only one complaint, it is the book's title; it would be better named Winner. (10 and up)

Lenny and Mel
by Erik P. Craft

Fans of Jon Sciezka's Time Warp Trio and Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants find new heros in Lenny and Mel. These tenacious twins have their own special take on special days, leaving Thanksgiving turkey for The Leftover Fairy, making oversized paper machˇ heads for PresidentÕs Day and recycling them as pinatas for Cinco de My-Oh-My. Teachers, you and your classes have made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and Ramadan, Valentine's Day and Saint Patrick's, so you must reward yourself with Lenny and Mel: Holidazed in order to face the spring holiday barage. It's got a small, cozy format with zany spot illustrations that works with the text to create the funniest book this year. Will inspire your kids to write about their own "holidaze," too! Besides being great in the classroom, this funniest chapter book of the year has been my standard birthday gift for all 2nd-4th graders. Go ahead and laugh out loud ...any day's a high holiday when you're reading Lenny and Mel! (7 and up)

Trouble Don't Last
by Shelley Pearsall

Do the kids in your class think the Underground Railroad was a series of train stations? Don't laugh...this is an all-too-common misconception, and speaks to the need for great children's literature on the subject. Here is one book that delivers. The author, a historian for Hale Farm and Village, a museum that recreates mid-nineteenth century life, saw a need for young adult fiction that would put runaway slaves in the foreground of history. Eleven-year old Samuel lives in fear at Master Hackler's farm, but what other life is there? One night, he is pulled from his bed by a fellow slave, old man Harrison, and finds himself on the run. Harrison is cantankerous, sometimes even deluded, but he does hold a secret in a ball of yarn that will determine Samuel's destiny. Reseilence, ingenuity and cooperation carry this unlikely pair closer and closer to Canaday, and to freedom...but can they make it the final stretch? Trouble might not last, but the suspense does, right to the very last page. Well-written and well-researched, a formidable debut and a fine read-aloud. (9 and up)

Ruby Holler
by Sharon Creech

Florida and Dallas, better known as "the trouble twins" in the orphanage, have been ricocheted from one nightmarish foster gome to another, and have given up hope on ever finding a home and loving family. Instead, they dream of hopping a midnight train, a plan that is interrupted by their placement with an older couple in a house tucked away in the country. Expecting the worst, the twins find instead that the couple are patient and forgiving...and good cooks to boot. Best of all, they are willing to take Florida and Dallas along on the trip of a lifetime, if they can manage to stick around. The sideline of the greedy and disullusioned orphanage search for treasure on the couple's land, while adding some tension, is mostly peripheral. Gently told, this is a story about connections, finding them, losing them and making them yourself. An unusual book suited to fans of early Natalie Babbit (Tuck Everlasting). (11 and up)

by Eva Ibbotson, illustrqated by Kevin Hawkes

Dial-A-Ghost? More like dial-a-page-turner! The spook social workers Miss Pringle and Miss Mannering have taken it upon themselves to find good homes for the Wilkisons, an amiable family lost during a London air-raid, as well as a home for the Shriekers, a couple as noxious as a midnight telemarketing call. When the ghosts' home assignments are mixed up, it means a change in fortune to the amiable and athsmatic young heir to Helton Hall. Frightening, funny, and easy to follow, this is a story that fans of J.K. Rowling and John Bellairs have been waiting for. Get your reading exorcise...I mean, exercise, and share this one out loud! Isn't screaming fun now and then? (10 and up)

Angel on the Square
by Gloria Whelan

Brilliant historical fiction follows the coming of age of Katya Ivanova, daughter of the Empress Alexandra's lady-in-waiting. Katya has a privileged view of both the aristocracy that rules 1914 Russia and, thanks to a friend, the squalor and esalating disquietude of the underclass. Unable to at first believe in the ambivalence of those she holds dearest and then unable to convince them that they are in grave danger, Katya matures and defines herself in the context of this turbulent time. Whelan had a tough act to follow after winning the National Book Award for Homeless Bird , but she succeeds again in outstanding characterization and detail, drawing the reader into a world that is at once distant and timely. Whelan gracefully skirts the gorey details of the end of Romanov rule while still offering Russian history and romance to young readers. Wait in line for this one! (12 and up) For more background information and fascinating photos, check out Anastasia's Album by Shelley Tanaka.

Fair Weather
by Richard Peck

Whenever I read a book by Richard Peck, I am absolutely beside myself, twisted with admiration. Although A Long Way From Chicago has already made the coveted "Must-Reads by the Time You're 13" list, I have to say, Peck has done it again. Again, laughing out loud. Again, the turning of pages casting a spell that seems to carry away the hours without my noticing. Again, history come to life as though I were looking through a window onto it. Again, nearly jumping out of my skin in anticipation of reading aloud, again, the joy of knowing that I have found a book that will resuscitate a love of literature in even the most agonized adolescent. This book is a ticket to the 1893 World Columbian Exposition. Yes, mysterious Aunt Euterpe has sent for her country kin to come and get an education in the pavilions set up along Chicago's lakefront, and all of their lives are changed for it. Celebrate the New Year by introducing your children to some of the most marvelous characters---in fact or fiction---of the 19th century. The sounds, the sights, the smells, from the low-down dance halls to the tippy top of the Ferris wheel, you will feel like you're really there. It's too bad Frank Capra isn't still around, he was the only movie producer fit to bring Fair Weather to the screen, but we'll more than manage thanks to Peck's prowess on the page. And it's too bad Mark Twain isn't around, either. He would have loved this. (10 and up)

Lady Lollipop
by Dick King-Smith

"Each time I sit down to write an animal story, I say to myself, 'what sort of animal?' and I answer, 'Pig!' Then I say, 'No,no, you've just done a pig story.' So I have to wait. And I have waited. And then along came Lady Lollipop!" Well, after reading King Smith's Babe: the Gallant Pig and now Lady Lollipop, I say, let the man pen his pig stories! When the heavily indulged Princess Penelope pronounces she wants a pig for her birthday, all the peasants present their most precocious porkers for her approval. She chooses the scruffiest pig in the lot, but it refuses to be separated from her orphan trainer. So Johnny Skinner comes to stay at the castle, and ends up training a lot more than his pig. The round, jovial pencil illustrations add folksy humor to the text. I donÕt know about pig stories, but I certainly never get sick of spoiled princess stories, and this one is especially fast-paced and jolly. Even the chapter titles are fun to read: "Chapter Six: You always want to get your own way" and "Chapter Eight: If the pig comes in, Mommy goes out" . Perfect for read alouds or independent endeavors for kindergarten through third grade. (6 and up)

Love That Dog
by Sharon Creech

September 13. "I don't want to/because boys/ don't write poetry./ Girls do." Still, Miss Stretchberry keeps at it, introducing Jack to a wonderful world of words until he comes across one special, golden poem that speaks to him and connects him with an author and helps him to communicate the love and loss that had been weighing in his heart all along. This book questions our preconceptions about poetry, and is one of the finbest tributes to the reader/author connection I have ever come across. Besides being a phenomenal introduction to poetry for the classroom, this book offers Creech's signature surprising character development. Written in poetic line form and journal style, this book is a very fast read but has many layers to be explored and enjoyed, definitely poetry in motion! The selections Miss Stretchberry shares are included in the back of the book, so you can share them too (also visit Poetry Power or poet Kristine Scott George's site for more marvy material ). This is definitely one of the best books of the year, you could do a lot verse! (ouch!) (9 and up)

The Secret School
by Avi

How many little girls fantasize about playing teacher in their own school? For Ida Bidson, it's no child's game. It's 1925, and when the only teacher in Ida's remote Colorado one-room school has to leave and tend to her ailing mother, it seems impossible that Ida will be able to take her high school entrance exam. But the children agree to continue to secretly come to school...if Ida is willing to teach. Avi, being the master of the serial cliffhanger, will school any reader in old fashioned suspense. This satistying read-aloud also gives children some sympathetic insights into life on the other side of the teacher's desk. We're rooting for you, Ida! (9 and up)

Breaking Through
by Francisco Jimenez

The sequel to The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child stands solidly on its own. Told in a straightforward, genuine style, this book continues the Mexican author's memoirs through middle and high school. The voice has an unusual dignity as the author candidly reveals his own innocence and growing ambition in the face of "the American Dream." In Jiménez's world, school is not a right but a privilege, and Jiménez describes a heroic effort working as a teenager both in the fields and cleaning offices to help his family while trying to succeed at school in such a matter-of-fact manner that it is humbling to read. Jiminez's frustrated relationship with his unhappy father is surprisingly tender; indeed, family relationships even in the bleakest situations are rife with humor, patience, and optimism. There is precious little available for Spanish-speaking children to relate to in children's literature, and this book fills that niche, but it is also is far more universal than that. Jiménez is a model and inspiration for all children who have obstacles to overcome, and he is a great champion of mutual respect between races and classes. I can't imagine a better book to share with someone who sees high school on the horizon, and it is also a must-read for all English-as-a-Second Language teachers. Viva Jiménez! (12 and up)

Witch Child
by Celia Rees

From the very first page, we are drawn into the powerful and violent world of Mary. Her grandmother, the one who has loved her since she was a baby, is accused of witchcraft, dragged from her home, tortured and then put to death. Mary is sure she will be next, but is mysteriously spirited away by an elegant and powerful woman, who books her passage to America. Mary Newbury knows she has special powers in her blood. Will she be able to hide them well enough to keep safe? So begins the journey across an ocean to the New World of 1659, where old ways run deep, and where rousing suspicion is literally as easy as jumping in a lake. This book claims to be derived from a series of documents called "the Mary papers," found hidden inside a quilt from the colonial period. In fact, this is just a convention that further helps the reader suspend disbelief and fully enter the detailed and authentic world of this well-researched historical fiction. Besides being grounded by period detail, this book offers a strong caricature of adolescence: Mary at once feels infallible and vulnerable, is faced constantly with difficult choices yet feels trapped. It is through looking outside herself toward others like her secret friend Jaybird, unsuperstitious Jonah, and jealous and petty Deborah Vane that she is able to decide who she must be...for all it's dire consequence. This book is exciting, and readers will plunge forward page after page, marveling at Mary's many challenges and wondering if they would make the same decisions. Moreover, Witch Child offers a timely and bitter scenario of what happens when ignorance and fear stand in the guise of conformity. A bestseller in Great Britain arriving on our shores, it will probably be plugged as a "Harry Potter;" actually, it is better paired with Elizabeth George Speare's Newbery classic, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, which was just re-released with new art by Barry Moser. Read them both for great discussion and comparative study. (12 and up)

Belle Teal
by Ann M. Martin

The real reason to read this book is because everyone would like a friend like Belle Teal. Loyal, funny, principled, fiesty and bright, this little girl takes on the world. Her grandmother's faculties are fading fast, her mom is going to school and working overtime, she is bullied by a rich girl with little class and a big secret, and she has the backbone to defend her African-America buddy as he navigates his way through hostile 1960's desegregation territory. In fact, the calvalcade of conflict would seem a bit contrived were it not for the panache with which it is handled and the realistic gamut of emotions portrayed. Fans of Ann Martin's earlier Babysitter's Club series will be pleased and surprised with the appeal of Belle Teal, Martin's finest work to date. (9 and up)

The Secrets of Ms. Snickle's Class
by Laurie Miller Hornik, illustrated by Debbie Tilley

The author is an elementary school teacher, and it shows. This book has all the stuff kids like: gum chewing, no homework, tooth fairies and secrets, secrets, secrets! In fact, everyone in Ms. Snickle's class has a secret, but her class has only one rule: no telling secrets. This turns out to be harder than it sounds, especially when the girl who tells everyone else's secret has the biggest secret of all! Children will enjoy the magic button Ms. Snickle presses to turn her classroom into her living room, and the visits to the school nurse by the student who is allergic to secrets. I personally liked the principal who suspends a child for seven years for swallowing his gum. This book is absolutely outlandish and will tickle the silly-bone of the most discerning 2nd and 3rd graders. Miss Piggle-Wiggle's got competition, folks! Let's not keep this read-aloud a secret...great for the end of the school year, let everybody know! 7 and up.

by Jerry Spinelli

Who is this mysterious girl, homeschooled for most of her life, wearing long prarie skirts, singing "happy birthday" accompanied by her ukelele to kids in the lunchroom, carrying a pet rat in her knapsack, leaving cookies and treats on the desks of her classmates? Is she an alien or something? Leo Borlock is no different from everyone else at Mica High: he can't quite believe Stargirl is real...or that he, such an ordinary guy, is falling for her. When Stargirl cheers for both teams during the basketball championship, though, the tide turns viciously against her, and the undertow of peer pressure threatens to drag her under. Is Leo trying to save Stargirl from the slings and arrows of outrageous high school fortune, or is he part of the problem? This is an amazing novel that tackles the theme of individuality, and questions why we are intimidated and angered by things that are different. It is a joy and inspiration to read about Stargirl's good deeds and resilience, her innocence of spirit; she is one of those strong fictional figures that will warrant imitation by her readers and will endure in the genre. Author Spinelli carries us from laughter to heartbreak with his usual panache (remember Maniac Magee?). This is a sensational read-aloud or read-alone for upper graders; don't let them enter high school without first having a date with Stargirl! Get it before it wins the Newbery. Ages 11 and up.

Owen Foote, Money Man
by Stephanie Greene

Know what's so great about Stephanie Greene's writing? The kids in her books take initiative. Owen Foote stories are idea stories (as we learned before inOwen Foote, Frontiersman), and this latest is no excepetion. There is so much stuff that sends Owen's heart a-flutterin', especially in the "Junk You Never Knew About" catalog. Since allowance is slow in coming, Owen schemes with the vim that suggests perhaps he is the cousin of Fitzgerald'sGreat Brain. This book is chock full of dialogue and ambition, and teachers, you will just love integrating it into any units you may teach about money. Save your allowance and add value to your book collection. Ages 7 and up.

Purrfectly Purrfect: Life at the Acatemy
by Patricia Lauber

If you knew the reaction this book got from the children who heard it, you'd drop everything and get your paws on it right now. It is an extraordinarily witty cat-alogue of all the feline fun at the Acatemy, a school for cats. "As any cat owner knows, cats are born purrfect," but the school serves the purrpuss of making sure; after all, cats are purrfectionsists. The purriculum consists of cats in history, cats in geography, eticat, mewsic and, of course, Spanish (all good schools teach foreign language, you know!). Underlying the unrelenting punnery is an engaging story of Dudley who is too little even for kittengarten, but insists on attending the acatemy. He is about to fail everything, and the head of the school is desperately seeking a way to include him in graducation and save the honor of the institution. Children just adored hearing the "what I did over summer vacation" essays the cat students wrote, being privvy to their report cards, and learning all the cat facts (which actually were very educational). Each cat has it's own distinct personality, kudos to the author for some excellent characterization. I am not a cat lover, but I have to say this book was the most fun I've had sharing with children in a long time, each page promising suspense and laughter. This book is generously illustrated with witty pen-and-ink cartoons, and is indeed a purr-fect pick for both boys and girls in the new chapter book crowd, ages 7 and up (but makes a great read-aloud for younger children, too).

The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill
The author was a school teacher for more than thirty years in the Alaskan "bush," and has used that experience to create vivid and authentic voices for this wonderful chapter book about adventures in a one-room school house. So many teachers in this Athabascan community flee, sickened by the smell of fish and the old ways that permeate the little town. But Miss Agnes comes, bearing beautiful art supplies, opera, and, heaven bless her, children's literature! When Miss Agnes grows homesick for her native England, can the children who love her convince her to stay? This book has so many great classroom connections and has such great read-aloud potential for second through fifth grade. Mostly, it has a tremendous power to include the reader in the experience of being a student in Miss Agnes' school, so grab a book and join the roll call!

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
I approached this book somewhat skeptically...a Native American perspective of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series? Sounded gimmicky to me! In fact, The Birchbark House was a book Erdich was born to write. A year in the life of an Ojibwa is told from the point of view of Omakayas, or "Little Frog," named so because her first step was a hop. She is the sole smallpox survivor on Madeline Island, rescued by a strange and strong old woman named Tallow, and given to a loving family. When smallpox strikes Omakayas' village a second time, though, who will survive? Besides a plot that screams for read-aloud (complete with ghost stories!), the book is rich with authentic detail of daily living and memorable characters, such as her painfully pesky little brother Pinch and her devoted pet crow, Andeg. By the end of the book, I wanted to say "thank you thank you thank you!" to Erdrich for an absolutely stellar family and coming-of-age story. The Birchbark House offers to readers of all ages and genders a long overdue perspective on frontier life with a exemplary quality of research and writing that stands independent from anything that has gone before it. An important addition to the shelves of children's literature. (8 and up)

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos
Just released in paperback! This story offers the rare first-person perspective of a boy with a severe behavioral disorder. Although surrounded by loving, supportive or well-intentioned adults, Joey Pigza cannot find it within himself to make good choices. Whether running to the school nurse after swallowing his own house key (and bringing it up again), running amock during a field trip to an Amish farm or running with scissors, Joey is running out of chances. When he is finally deemed dangerous to himself and others, he is sent to the scary "special ed" school downtown...will Joey ever find the help he needs and deserves? "You have a good heart," one parent observes in spite of Joey's trials and tribulations, and the same may be said about this book which offers a long-overdue insight into the spinning-blender world that so many kids experience. Well developed characters, humor and guts earned this satisfying read the National Book Award. A definite "don't miss" for reluctant readers. (10 and up)

Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer H. Holm
"Ladies and princesses don't get to have adventures because they get left behind," observes Amelia May, and being left behind is the last thing she wants to happen. But "no kind of young lady" is May Amelia to her teacher, father, and cruel and cantankerous Grandma. The only girl born to a Finnish American family at the turn of the century on the Nasel River, May Amelia joins her seven lively brothers on adventures at the logging camp, battling against cougars and uncovering secrets of shanghaied sailors. Secretly, though, she longs for the baby growing in her Mama's belly to be a girl. Will her dream come true? This historical fiction based on the diaries by the author's grandaunt is told in present tense, giving it a rare sense of immediacy and life. (For mature readers, 11 and up)

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
"Oh, no! Not another dog book!" was my shortsighted response when this little treasure arrived in the mail. Was I wrong! Since her mother left when she was three, India Opal Buloni lives with her father, a soft-spoken preacher, in a lonely little trailer. Thanks to the help of a smiling stray she meets, she is able to befriend the people in her small town: Otis, working in a pet shop with an arrest record and a special talent for soothing the savage beast; Miss Franny Block, bear-fighting librarian; the mysterious Gloria Dump, possible witch with a penchant for egg salad and many more original and engaging characters that will resonate with the reader like a sweet-sounding bell long after the book is closed. "We appreciate the complicated and wonderful gifts you give us in each other," prays the preacher, and indeed, the author has offered a complicated and wonderful story, not so much about a dog as it is about friendship and "loving what you got while you got it." I loved this book so much while I had it, it is included on my very exclusive "Must Reads by the Time You are 13" list. (10 and up)

The Bad Beginning: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the First by Lemony Snicket
Who says every cloud has to have a silver lining? The linings are lead for the Baudelaire orphans, who lost their parents in a fire, and it's downhill from there. Their parent in locos is completely loco, trying to do away with the poor heros to gain their vast fortune. This book is a tribute to Murphy's Law: everything that can go wrong, does. "If you have picked up this book with the hope of finding a simple and cheery tale, I'm afraid you have picked up the wrong book altogether," warns the author. "I am bound to record these tragic events, but you are free to put this book back on the shelf and seek something lighter." Misery loves company, it seems, as this series of books has achieved legions of fans, and was in fact fervently recommended to me by a fifth grader. An absolutely miserable story full of wit and exciting vocabulary that is defined for young readers throughout the book, this is a great pick for pre-teenagers who have been desensitized by television. Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling fans will take special pleasure in the dark fact, perhaps "Lemony Snicket" is a pen name for Rowling herself, or maybe Philip Pullman? Whoever it is, this book is a page-turner. (9 and up)

Pee Wee's Tale by Johanna Hurwitz
For every child who has ever wanted a pet, here is Pee Wee, the literate guinea pig! Poor Pee-Wee is adopted into a family that doesn't really appreciate him, and is released into the world of adventure that is Central Park. Luckily, he makes fast friends with Lexi, a squirrel who is nuts about giving survival advice. For those of you who have written to me requesting a title for second- and third-graders, this is a great independent read, though my young son adored it as a read-aloud...I hope his kindergarten teacher will be open to a guinea pig as a class pet! Whether or not, she is going to receive this book, which is full of great characterizations, humor, suspense and a satisfying ending. Pee-Wee's spirit will bring out the risk-taker in even the shyest young reader! (5 and up)

The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley
Who is Corin? Folk keeper to the mysterious and brutal cellar spirits, clumsy servant to the family at Cliffsend, or Corrina, long-haired seal-maiden with the poetic and potent power of the Last Word? Corin/Corrina has been disguised so long, s/he isn't sure who s/he is anymore, and it takes the power of magic and friendship for the secret to be revealed. Told in page-turning journal form, The Folk Keeper is fast-paced fantasy with vivid description and exciting characters. (11 and up)

Dave at Night by Gail Carson Levine
Using her own father's life as inspiration, Levine creates a gripping story of a Jewish boy sent to a bleak orphanage after the death of his father, escaping nightly to accompany an old fortune-teller who attends parties amidst the backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance. Conflicts arise as Dave must determine whether to leave the orphanage for good, or stay with the friends he has come to know as family. At once funny and sad, Dave at Night is a superior read-aloud and a great tie-in to black history...make your own invitations to the Harlem Renaissance, and then celebrate with an afternoon of period music, poetry, dancing and food. (8 and up)

Clockwork by Philip Pullman

Prepare to be spooked while reading this book...which makes it an outstanding read-aloud for 6-8th grade! A storyteller is gifted at telling spine-tingling tales, but in the midst of telling one at a local tavern, the evil main character walks through the door to present the local clockmaker with a dreadful gift. Spellbinding stories within stories abound in Clockwork, and they all wind down to a satifying conclusion. (10 and up)

Other Fine Fiction Books

Lowji Discovers America by Candace Fleming (Atheneum) (An episodic portrait of a boy who moves from Bombay, India to Hamlin, Illinois.) (9 and up)
The Wedding Planner's Daughter by Coleen Murtagh Paratore (Simon and Schuster) (Stella, glammy single mom and wedding planner, is unaware that her twelve year old daughter Willa sews cherry pits into the hems of her client's gowns. What other secrets and wishes does she have to learn about her quirky kid? Plan on keeping an eye on this new and talented author.) (12 and up)
The Shadows of Ghadames by Joelle Stolz (Delacorte) (In Libya at the end of the 19th century, women are confined to their homes and their rooftops. Malika dreams of more.) (12 and up)
Bindi Babes by Narinder Dhami (Delacorte) (Hot new series features three sisters, who have to contend with their Auntie trying to marry off their widowed father. A comic look at the rift between generations and cultures.) (11 and up)
The Crow Girl by Bodil Bredsdorff (Farrar Straus and Giroux) (Translated from the Danish, this story with folkloric tones focuses on a girl searching to find a home after the loss of her grandmother.) (11 and up)
King in the Window by Adam Gopnik (Candlewick), (Francophiles will find a reading fete in this literary fantasy about a boy in Paris who meets a mysterious king with news that he is next in line to wear the crown.) (11 and up)
Rosa, Sola by Carmela A. Martino (Candlewick), (An only child's wish for a baby brother has heart-rending results when her mother's pregnancy doesn't go as planned. A sensitively written novel with strong characterization.) (11 and up)
May Bird and the Happily Ever After: Book One by Jodi Lynn Anderson, illustrated by Leonid Gore (Atheneum), ("Go jump in the lake" takes on new meaning when a dip takes misfit May to the ghostly land of Ever After. Imaginative, spine-tingling storytelling.) (10 and up)
The Magic Nation Thing by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (Delacorte), (Abby O'Malley has been trying to ignore the psychic gifts that are part and parcel to being descended from a long line of witches, but the day is coming when she can ignore her talents no longer. A compelling read about fitting in and adjusting to changes as much as it is about magic, by a three-time Newbery honor winner. ) (10 and up)
Drift House by Dale Peck (Bloomsbury), (Take a trip on a house boat…literally… accidentally adrift on the Sea of Time. Bits of metaphysics pepper this perilous adventure.) (11 and up)
Harry Sue by Sue Stauffacher (Knopf), (Beautifully written book about a little girl who is born into a family of criminals, but finds her own character through books. ) (10 and up)
The Girl with the Broken Wing by Heather Dyer, illustrated by Peter Bailey (Scholastic), (Who is that fluttering at the window? Is it Peter Pan? No, it's an angel, but by the way she behaves, her halo seems to be on a little crooked. Fans of Dick King-Smith will enjoy this funny little flight. ) (8 and up)
The Top 10 Ways to Ruin the First Day of Fifth Grade by Ken Derby (Holiday House), (Fifth-grade funnyman Anthony Madison is bent on making an appearance on the David Letterman show, but his attempts may not be halping his schoolwork or his social life. Put this high on your list for reluctant readers…and attention-seekers.) (top-10 and up)
Double Crossing by Eve Tal (Cinco Puntos), (Raizel and her Papa come to America to escape Czarist Russia, but don't anticipate all that they have to give up from their Jewish culture in order to assimilate. An unusual, provocative immigrant story. ) (10 and up)
Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time by Lisa Yee (Scholastic), (In this companion to the laugh-out-loud Millicent Min, Girl Genius , the stereotype of the over-achieving Asian is smashed in these humorous misadventures of a likable boy who has to miss baksetball camp in order to go to summer school. Yee is one of the funniest writers for children today.) (10 and up)
Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick (Scholastic) (Steven will never forget his eighth grade year; it's the year his little brother is diagnosed with leukemia. Told with honesty and a healthy, surprisingly realistic dose of humor, this one is a stand-out on a shelf of issue-driven books.) (12 and up)
Flush by Carl Hiassen (Knopf), (In this companion to the Newbery-honor winning Hoot , Noah tries to stop a casino boat operator from using the ocean as his personal privy. Themes of Conservation and corporate greed continue to get their due on pages penned by Hiassen, so polluters, beware!) (9 and up)
The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney (Greenwillow), (Thomas Ward is going to have to learn the difference between a good witch and a malevolent one if he is going to fill the shoes of the town's Spook, a kind of policeman for local magic. With evil Mother Malkin on the top of the "wanted" list, Thomas has his work cut out for him! A thrilling, chilling debut that is casting a wide spell among readers.) (11 and up)
Magic by the Book by Nina Bernstein(Farrar Straus Giroux), (A shabby, unassuming tome from the library actually transports its readers to another place and time. Fun fantasy for booklovers, and an homage to E. Nesbit! ) (9 and up)
Leon and the Champion Chip by Allen Kurzweil, illustrated by Bret Bertholf (Greenwillow), (Magical realism is the device du jour in this way-out book about a science project gone awry. Companion to the quirky classroom tale Leon and the Spitting Image .) (10 and up)
Absolutely, Positively Not by David LaRochelle (Scholastic), (A lighthearted look at one boy's struggle with sexual identity. Strong characterization and sensitive portayal of the effects of gay-bashing make this book absolutely, positively fresh.) (12 and up)
Deliver Us from Normal by Kate Klise (Scholastic) (Neurotic and sure he knows what people are thinking, Charles is having a really hard time fitting in. After a few twists of fate that send his family packing, our hero is left to wonder: What is normal anyway? ) 1(12 and up)
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall (Knopf) (Mannered telling shares a summer of old-fashioned fun. Winner of the National Book Award!) (10 and up)
Friends: Stories About New Friends, Old Friends, And Unexpectedly True Friends edited by by Ann Martin and David Levithan (Scholastic) (What could be more fun than a collection of stories about friends from favortite authors such as Meg Cabot, Jennifer Holm, Pam Munoz Ryan and more?) (11 and up)
Who Am I Without Him? : Short Stories About Girls and the Boys in Their Lives by Sharon Flake (Hyperion) (Highly charged first-person vignettes from an African-American female perspective explore the many relationships we can have with the men and boys in our lives.) (12 and up)

TheAnybodies by by N.E. Bode (HarperCollins)(Switched at birth, fern is about to be unswitched for a summer of wild adventures with her most unusual parents.) (12 and up)
My Father's Summers: A Daughter's Memoir by Kathi Applet (Holt) (A gorgeous memoir told in carefully chosen prose-poem scenes of shocking emotional power about a father who leaves one family to start another. Brave and forgiving stuff.) (12 and up)
The Boy With a Lampshade on His Head by Bruce Wetter (Atheneum) (When a friend needs a real-life rescue from an abusive situation, it might be enough incentive to draw super-shy guy Stanley out of his shell.) (11 and up)
The Legend of Buddy Bush by Shelia P. Moses (McElderberry Books) (renowned playwright tries her hand at children's historical fiction in this candid account of Pattie Mae Shield's perspective of unfair racial protocol and the highly publicized 1947 case in which a black man was falsely accused. ) (12 and up)
The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau (Random House) (Yes, it's here, the "is-it-here-yet-is-it-here-yet"anticipated sequel to one of the best books of last year and Chapman Award winner, The City of Ember. The people living underground have finally comes up and met the people on the surface!) (10 and up)
The Outcasts of Schuyler Place by legendary E.L. Konigsburg (Atheneum), (Margaret Rose Kane spends her twelfth summer with her eccentric great-uncles defending three eclectic mosaic towers (a la Watts) that they consider to be art, but the neighbors have determined to be a blight. This companion to Silent to the Bone heralds the return of a strong-willed heroine, and the city council had better beware; this time, it's personal. The audio narrated by Molly Ringwald is also artfully done!) (12 and up)
Aldabra: The Tortoise Who Loved Shakespeare by Silvana Gandolfi (Scholastic) When Elisa discovers that her mother once tried to institutionalize her grandmother and that is the reason for their terrible rift, she decides to let nothing divide them again. This may be challenging, as Nonna Eia is slowly but surely turning into a tortoise in an effort to trick death. Strong characters anchor this wild ride. Free armchair trip to Venice with every purchase. (12 and up)
Never Mind!: A Twin Novel by Avi and Rachel Vail (HarperCollins) (Two voices harmonize in this book about very different twins. Mary-Kate and Ashley, this isn't!) (11 and up)
How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell (Little, Brown) (The main character from Cowell's picture book Hiccup the Seasick Viking returns in chapter book form in a tale of Viking initiation that is full of farce. Rough pencil sketch artwork adds to the heroic melee.) (8 and up)
Heartbeat by Sharon Creech (HarperCollins) (Free verse captures the free spirit of a girl who loves to run, and the thump-thump of her feet on the pavement may represent the passing of time and the changes this brings, or the heart of the characters. This Newbery-winning author is formalistically formidable as always, and changing colors are a motif throughout the book that makes for great discussion with older children.) (11 and up)
The Good, the Bat and the Ugly by Paul Magrs, illustrated by Alan Snow (Atheneum) (A fame-seeking puppeteer loses control of his toys when they decide to do their own handiwork.) (11 and up)
A Couple of April Fools by Gregory Maguire (Clarion) (Pranks abound between rival girls and boys' clubs on April Fools Day, but when teacher Miss Eath goes missing, it's no joke. The mystery needs solving in this latest in the addictively entertaining series about the townspeople of Hamlet, Vermont.) (10 and up)
Naming Maya by Uma Krishnaswami (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) (Did all of Maya's troubles between her parents begin with the choosing of her name? With the help of a friendly cousin, Maya comes to terms with her family's drama against a backdrop of modern India.) (11 and up)
Worth by A. LaFaye (Simon and Schuster) (When a child from the notorious Orphan trains of the late eighteenth century does the work on the farm of the son who was incapacitated in a field accident, both boys struggle to find their places in the family.) (10 and up)
Zoo School by Laurie Miller Hornick, illustrated by Debbie Tilley (Clarion) (the valedictorian of quirky school stories enrolls readers in a classroom that is positively wild. Will the new inspectors give it a passing grade? Children will love designing the school of their dreams after this book releases imagination from its cage.) (7 and up)

Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl's Story by Pegi Deitz Shea (Clarion) (Inspired by the pa'ndau, or "story cloth," the author weaves a compassionate story of a young teenager and her grandmother adjusting to life in the United States.) (12 and up)
Colibri by Ann Cameron (Farrar Straus Giroux) (Kidnapped on the streets of Guatemala, Rosa was supposed to bring her treasure-seeking "uncle" luck, but luck is running out. Your heart will beat as fast as the colibri, or the hummingbird, as you read this dramatic story. ) (12 and up)
Bicycle Madness by Jane Kurtz, illustrated by Beth Peck (Holt) (When Lillie is mentored by suffragette Miss Frances Willard, it creates quite a stir. Spirited historical fiction in an authentic voice will inspire children with a sense of justice to do more than spin their wheels. ) (9 and up )
Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book One: The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud (Hyperion) (Fantasy lovers, hold on to your wizard's hat! Nathaniel, an eleven-year-old sorcerer's apprentice, gets more than he bargains for when he unleashes the power of a five thousand year old djinni and uses him to steal his teacher's prized posession. Wand-erful stuff!) (11 and up )
The Antarctic Scoop by Lucy Jane Bledsoe (Holiday House) (Far-fetched and far-flung fun as a girl teased for being a science nerd lands a role in a slightly unscrupulous video project in Antarctica.) (10 and up)
Harold's Tail by John Bemelmans Marciano (Viking) (You'll go squirrely over this story that proves life on the street is no walk in the park, especially if you keep company with rats. By the grandson of Ludwig Bemelmans, author of the celebrated Madeline series, this animal story will appeal to fans of Johanna Hurwitz's PeeWee's Tale.) (8 and up)
Case of the Cat with the Missing Ear by Scott Emerson, illustrated by Viv Miullett (Simon and Schuster) (A perceptive yorkshire terrier is on the case in the first of many adventures of Samuel Blackthorne, middle-grade mystery mascot!) (9 and up)
Iqbal by Francesco D'Adamo (Atheneum) (Fictionalized account told from the point of view of a young carpet factory worker inspired by the brave and compassionate spirit of thirteen year old hero Iqbal Masih, killed in Pakistan in 1995 for his work against child labor. An eye-opening and well woven tapestry of a story, frayed by the sadness of real events.) (9 and up)
Grape Thief by Kristine L. Franklin (Candlewick) (Coming of age story that takes readers back to 1945, where a boy called "Cuss" because he can swear in fourteen languages is growing up in a mining town. Beautifully written story of a boy faced with many hard choices, children will be engaged by vicariously choosing along with this lively character and his loving family who might yet keep him on track. ) (11 and up)
The Gorillas of Gill Park by Amy Gordon (Holiday House) (A first-person account of a wild summer with Aunt Bridget spent saving a park from the malling of America.) (10 and up)
The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (Roaring Brook) (A mystical journey through India and the Himalayas.) (12 and up)
Max's Logbook by Marissa Moss (Scholastic) (Fans of Moss's Amelia's Notebook. will be shouting "oh boy!" once they meet this new male protagonist. Sticking to the journal format, Max uses his notebook to keep his inventions and experiments, and the ups and downs of his parents' divorce. You're going to love his alien eraser collection!) (9 and up)
Cowboy Boy by James Proimos (Scholastic) (Wacked-out world of a sixth grade boy abounds with bullies. Tons of cartoon illustrations and a healthy dose of gross.) (10 and up)
The Worry Website by Jacqueline Woodson (Delacorte) (An ingenious teacher sets up an on-line chatboard to help with his classroom's conflict resolution. A big hit in England, now available in the good old U.S.A.) (10 and up)
The Green Dog : A Mostly True Story by Suzanne Fisher Staples (Farrar Straus Giroux) (Fictionalized memoir recalls the dog of the author's dreams, and the summer in 1950 when he appeared. Bittersweet to the bone.) (10 and up)

The Sun, the Rain and the Appleseed: A Novel of Johnny Appleseed's Life by Lynda Durrant (The fruit that this novel bears is a bushel of well-researched information about the legendary environmentalist and entrepreneur.) (10 and up)
Stanley, Flat Again! by Jeff Brown, illsutrated by Scott Nash (We have waited for 40 years for the sequel to Flat Stanley, and here it is! Plenty of fun from the guy who makes pancakes look fat.) (7 and up)
A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass (Mia sees colors in sounds, numbers and letters, and discovers that she has a real medical condition called synesthesia. A problem novel with a particularly interesting problem.) (11 and up )
Charlie Bone and the Time Twister by Jenny Nimmo (A fourth grader described the Charlie Bone series to me as "the one series that really could follow-up Harry Potter." Here is the latest in the fantasy series that deserves such high praise and full to the brim of characters with amazing and surprising talents; be sure to check out the first, Midnight for Charlie Bone ) as well. (10 and up)
Where the Four Winds Blow by Dan Yaccarino (Two sparring siblings must work as a team to rescue their parents from elements gone terrible and insidiously wrong. Simple text and color illustrations throughout make this a very exciting and imaginative success story for emergent and reluctant readers. Congrats to this great picture book talent for making the chapter book crosssover!) (8 and up)
Circle of Doom by Tim Kennemore (The Sharp children are mixing potions for fun and profit, and the result is a bubbly brew that will satisfy fans of Roald Dahl's George's Marvelous Medicine .) (10 and up)
The Puppeteer's Apprentice by D. Anne Love (A dark and suspenseful drama set in the middle ages follows a young girl who works hard to learn her craft and ultimately cuts the strings of the secretive and brutal personalities that surround her. Good reading for fans of Karen Cushman's historical fiction and Avi's recent Newbery winner, Crispin: Cross of Lead.) (11 and up)
The Mum Hunt by Gwyneth Rees (Same old story: dad loses mom, daughter advertises for new mom. Light and funny story with a British flavor describes preteen best-laid plans gone awry, and occasionally, awright. ) (9 and up)
Clever Lollipop by Dick King-Smith (In this sequel to Lady Lollipop , Princess Penelope has to learn to read. Johnny Skinner was able to teach a pig in the last book, is Collie Cobb able to teach a princess in this one? Don't worry, Lollipop is still around to lend a helping snout.) (8 and up)
Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa (Violet is having a busy year; her fifteenth birthday approaches, pivotal in the eyes of her Cuban family, but where it fit into her very American life? Very refreshing and realistic voice make it a pleasure to follow this main character through all of her situations, including a performance at the Original Comedy competition, a first date, and some very charming exchanges with her best friends.) (11 and up)
Where I'd Like to Be by Frances O'Roark Dowell (Sensitive but unsentimental novel with masterful pacing about the effect a child's charismatic and troubled personality has on the dynamic at a Tennessee Children's home. One teacher described it as a" must read for all children with troubled pasts." Might have been a setting that Katherine Paterson's Great Gilly Hopkins might have passed through.) (11 and up)
Varjak Paw by S.F. Said (A priviliged kitty ventures out into the mean streets of the city to master a secret martial art for cats, and discovers the strange and sinister goings-on that have been behind the disappearances. Weird and dreamlike and unforgettable stuff from a firecely feline point of view, with an underlying theme of family. But you stopped listening to everything after I said "martial arts for cats," didn't you? I don't blame you. Who can't help getting stuck on that?) (11 and up)
The Second Summer of the Sisterhood by Philip Ardagh, illustrated by David Roberts (Hotly anticipated sequel follows the latest romantic adventures of these young Ya-Yas and their traveling pants.) (11 and up)
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly (A girl with dreams of writing struggles to be liberated against the backdrop of Theodore Dresier's An American Tragedy. Gorgeous, sophisticated writing for sophisticated readers.) (12 and up) (Please look to Richie's Picks for more young adult literature recommendations!)
What Would Joey Do? by Jack Gantos (Hyperactive hero Joey Pigza is back, trying like gangbusters to be a do-gooder.) (10 and up)
Stonecutter by Leander Watts (Eerie journal of a gifted young apprentice. Opulent language graces this fine historical fiction. Watch as this new author carves hs name into the walls of children's literature!) (10 and up)
The Rudest Alien on Earth by Jane Leslie Conly (A shape-shifter is sent to Earth on a research assignment.) (9 and up)
A Stone in My Hand by Cathryn Clinton (When a Palestinian girl's father disappears, she wonders if her brother will be the next victim. A radical novel about a child who dares to believe in peace even when surrounded by violence.) (10 and up)
Charles Dickens and Friends, retellings by Marcia Williams (Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities get the comic book treatment.) (9 and up)
Taking Liberty: The Story of Oney Judge, George Washington's Runaway Slave by Ann Rinaldi (The honcho of historical fiction does it again! Go back in time to Mount Vernon in this intense and compelling novel in which a young woman is faced with a life-changing choice.) (10 and up)
The Same Stuff as Stars by Katherine Paterson (Angel Morgan, living a squalid life in a Vermont farmhouse with her negligent grandmother, is offered some relief through the insights of a stellar neighbor. The kindness of one stranger makes all the difference in this latest novel by the award-winning author of Bridge to Terebithia. ) (11 and up)
Jamie and Angus Stories by Anne Fine, illustrated by Penny Dale (Short, sprightly vignettes about a boy and his favorite toy are fine fare for new chapter-book listeners.) (5 and up)
Hoot by Carl Hiassen (Cause and effort entangles the new boy at school in an environmental mystery. Funny dialogue makes for fast-paced read-aloud, with lots of classroom connections to hoot…er, I mean, to boot.) (12 and up)
A House Called Awful End: Book One of the Eddie Dickens Trilogy by Philip Ardagh, illustrated by David Roberts (First in a snarky series full of lamentable circumstances that will appeal to fans of Lemony Snicket.) (9 and up)
A Chill Wind by Janet McDonald (A laissez-faire attitude bites Aisha in the behind, and she backpaddles to try to get herself out of the projects. ) (12 and up)
The Annoyance Bureau by Lucy Frank (Christmas break spent with unfriendly stepfamily takes an unexpected turn when a mysterious buzzing walkie-talkie-remote-control-like device is slipped into Lucas's backpack. Great New York flavor.) (11 and up)
Deaf Child Crossing by Marlee Matlin (Academy Award winning actress tries her hand as an author using her own experience growing up, as deaf and hearing girls struggle at camp to create a friendship with staying power. Also of interest is the latest well-written historical fiction from the Dear America series, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: The Diary of Bess Brennan, Perkins School for the Blind, 1932 by Barry Denenberg, in which a blind girl tries to fit in away from home.) (5 and up)
The Gold-Threaded Dress by Carolyn Marsden (A girl from Thailand is pressured to fit in at school. Great for fans of Estes' The HundredDresses.) (8 and up)
Little Horse by Betsy Byars, illustrated by David McPhail. (Hang on to your saddle, first chapter-book readers are in for a cliffhanger! When little horse falls into the stream and is swept away by the current, he encounters waterfalls, thunder and hawks, all a bit much for a little horse...and just how little is Little Horse? That's the fantastic surprise.) (7 and up)
7 X 9 = Trouble! by Claudia Mills, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (So many children will be able to relate to this boy's trials and tribulations as he learns his times tables! Sensitively told with lots of lively banter, integrate into math class, or just read for fun. Any way you study it, this book scores 100%!) (8 and up)
The Confe$$Ion$ and $Ecret$ of Howard J. Fingerhut by Esther Hershenhorn (Young entrpeneur seeks to maximize profits by writing a how-to book about his amazing run for the H. Marion Muckley Junior Business Person of the Year Award. Hilarious!) (9 and up)
Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch (outstanding historical fiction about an Irish American immigrant girl who goes to work in the fated Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Compelling story featuring a well-rounded main character and incorporating well-researched information about labor, immigration and women's rights.) (12 and up)
Red Midnight by Ben Mikaelsen (Gritty, pull-no-punches adventure story about a boy and his four year old sister who flee guerrilla attacks in Guatemala.) (12 and up)
Lumber Camp Library by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock (fans of the Dear America series will appreciate the period detail of this story about a girl who finds the magic of books out in the wilderness. Lots of good homeschooling scenes, too!) (8 and up)
Stink Alley by Jamie Gilson (Excellent mischief and boy-girl friendship as an energetic orphaned girl lives among the religious refugees of 17th century Holland.) (10 and up)
Stowaway by Karen Hesse ( a porthole into the adventures on Captain Cook's voyage. Painstakingly researched and based on a true story, it makes a nice compliment to The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. ) (11 and up)
The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland (The daily life of young King Arthur! First in an awaited trilogy.) (11 and up)
Winnie Dancing on Her Own by Jennifer Richard Jacobseon, illustrated by Alissa Imre Geis (A friendship triangle threatens to collapse when Winnie bumbles at ballet. A terrific realistic chapter book pick for those tricky 2nd-3rd grade years, with winsome and delicate illustrations by a new talent who we hope we will see again! Click here to find out how to get a free author's autograph for your copy!) (7 and up)
A Book of Coupons by Susie Hich Morgenstern, illustrated by Serge Bloch (Charming story of a teacher who uses presents to teach lessons. (9 and up)
No More Nasty by Amy MacDonald (a zany aunt substitutes in a mortified nephew's classroom, and makes some very inventive changes to the curriculum.) (9 and up)
The Adventures of Erasmus Twiddle by Eric Lster, illustrated by Amy Abshier (a mix of mystery and magic as we follow Grmskville's famous and talented "not detective" on crazy capers.) (9 and up)
In Ned's Head by Soren Olsson ( This secret diary of a sixth grade boy was a bestseller in Sweden! Sneak a peek!) (10 and up)
Missing from Haymarket Square by Harriette Gillem Robinet (Suspenseful historical fiction about a girl whose father is caught in the crossfire between union organizers and Pinkerton police. Multicultural perspective adds another facet to this gem! Nonfiction tir-ins may include Russell Freedman's Kids at Work and Susan Campbell Bartoletti's Kids on Strike.) (9 and up)
Aquamarine by Alice Hoffman (9 and up)
Gloria's Way by Ann Cameron (author of The Stories Julian Tells, one of the "Must Reads by the Time You're 13") (6 and up)
Matilda Bone by Karen Cushman, author of Catherine, Called Birdy (10 and up)
The Boy of a Thousand Faces by Brian Selznick (8 and up)
Monster by Walter Dean Myers (12 and up)
Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants by Dav Pilkey. The Captain Underpants series need not be read in any particular order, and is a must read for any comic book fan. (5 and up)
Shiva's Fireby Suzanne Fisher Staples (11 and up)
Ramona's World by Beverly Cleary (9 and up)
A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck (10 and up)
Holes by Louis Sachar (11 and up)
Love from Your Friend, Hannah by Mindy Warshaw Skolsky (9 and up)
The Ghost of Fossil Glen by Cynthia DeFelice (a page-turning murder mystery for upper intermediate/mature readers)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Some more favorite fiction may be found under Girl Power or Reading Resuscitation, or in the fiction archives. These recommendations were made with grade-schoolers in mind; please look to Richie's Picks for more young adult/ high-school bound literature recommendations!

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