The Dark Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural

By Patricia McKissack

The Dark Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural, stories that scared me as a kid and still spook me today. But these are not just ghost stories; they are African-American in theme, and deal with issues of racism, classism, emancipation, and the Klu Klux Klan. One of the most terrifying is the “Tale of the Gingi”, which has remained with me since I first read these in 3rd grade.

The Dark Thirty is an incredibly well-written set of short stories, each with its own feel and voice. Recommended for around grades 4 and up, it is a great book for anytime you need a scary story. It deserves all the awards it has received, and I highly recommend this book to anyone with children who like a fright.

Suggested Ages: 7-12

McKissack, P. (1998). The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural. Random House Children’s Books.

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The Last Dragonslayer

By Jasper Fforde

The Last Dragonslayer is set in an alternative-reality where most of the familiar things – companies, telephones, roads, cars and all the other things we take for granted – intermingle with dying magic. Jennifer Strange is a foundling (orphan), who is currently in charge of a magical employment agency that works to find a new field of work for obsolete magicians: home improvement. Everything is turned upside down, however, with the announcement of the impending death of the last dragon.

Fforde handles The Last Dragonslayer with his trademark British wit. It does lack some subtly in its break-neck pace. There are themes of environmentalism, evil corporations, don’t-trust-strangers, capitalism, and necessary evil. Given that this is a book for children, I can forgive the heavy-handedness, and really it can be easily overlooked.

Suggested Ages: 9-12

Fforde, J. (2011). The Last Dragonslayer. HarperCollins.

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Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

By Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is the first of the Percy Jackson series, a set of novels about Percy, a young boy who comes do discover that he is the son of a Greek God and a mortal woman.

The Lightning Thief is a great book for teens. It is simply-written and fast-paced, full of action, gods and myths of yore. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and is a light, fun read that will appeal to readers of all ages. I would highly suggest this book to kids who enjoy a good action story.

For better or for worse, it reminds me of Harry Potter – a great read that lots of people enjoy, and that appeals to the young, mythologically-saavy crowd.

While it is not the deepest of series, it’s not meant to. It’s meant to be picked up and enjoyed as an action-packed coming-of-age tale.

Suggested Ages: 9-12

Riordan, R. (2006). Percy Jackson and the Olymptians: The Lightning Thief. Disney Book Group.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

By Roald Dahl

One of the great classics of children’s fiction is the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Most of us know the story: Charlie lives with his parents and both sets of grandparents. One day, Willy Wonka announces a contest that sends five golden tickets around the world; the five children who finds a ticket will be able to enter on the appointed day and get a tour of the factory.

The brilliance of Roald Dahl lies, for me, in his ability to craft over-the-top, and yet somehow relatable, characters, both in the main character and the supporting cast.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is not a long story, but it covers an incredible amount in its pages. Familiar motifs play out in the pages in a whimsical style. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has that elusive, coveted timeless quality, and is appealing to a large age range.

Suggested Ages: 5-12

Dahl, R. (1998). Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Penguin Young Reader Group.

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Waiting for the Whales

By Sheryl McFarlane

Waiting for the Whales, by Sheryl McFarlane, was one of those books I loved when I was small. It differs a lot from other books in it’s main character; for the first half of the book it is an unnamed old man. He lives alone between the forest and the sea, grows his own food, and spends his days waiting for that one time of year when the orcas will swim by his home.

The artwork is stunning. Ron Lightburn has a beautiful touch, crafting pictures that evoke a wonderful sense of emotion in each page. From the old man’s loneliness to his camaraderie with his granddaughter, to the simple scene of his death, each scene is done with tact and touching simplicity.

Among its five awards, Waiting for the Whales won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Illustration, and the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrators Award.

Suggested Ages: 5-9

McFarlane, S. (2002). Waiting for the Whales. Orca Book Publishers.

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East of the Sun & West of the Moon (Part 3)

By Sarah Beth Durst

Welcome to part 3! Parts 1 and 2 are here and here, respectively.

The main protagonist is Cassie, who has been basically raised in the research station, where her father tags and researches polar bears. On her birthday, Cassie is paid a visit by a polar bear, and told that she was promised to him as a bride. Spirited away, she tries to make a new life as the bride of a bear.

This book contains a lot of new elements, as one must to flesh a children’s book to a full-sized novel. Bear is not a cursed prince but a magical being in his own right. The trolls have been changed; they are now a race of gelatinous, ever-changing, ethereal beings who want to live but do not know how.

The book started off strong, but ended with a whimper, leaving me disappointed. Read for the good ideas, but be warned it will likely leave you scratching your head.

Suggested Ages: 9-12

Durst, S. B. (2009). Ice. Margaret K. McElderry Books

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Minnie and Moo: Night of the Living Bed

By Denys Cazet

Minnie and Moo are a Levelled Readers (3) series for young readers growing in their reading ability

The story of Night of the Living Bed starts with Minnie having a nightmare that all the candy in the world has been eaten by a giant mouse. This sets off a chain of events that sends her and Moo’s bed hurtling down the hill, picking up a variety of other farm animals and sending them off the farm, down to the suburbs. Surprise, it’s Halloween night!

Honestly, I’m not sure why this book is ranked so high as a levelled reader. I found it every simplistic, especially compared to a few other levelled readers I’ve seen.

If you’re looking for a good Halloween Book for a children trying to increase his or her reading level, you could do worse then Minnie and Moo, but there are better ones out there.

Suggested Ages: 5-9

Cazet, D. (2004). Minnie and Moo: Night of the Living Bed. HarperCollins.

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Babymouse #2: Our Hero

By Jennifer L. Holm & Matt Holm

Babymouse. Was anything ever to clearly marketed towards little girls? Okay, beside Barbie. Babymouse is an amalgamation of everything little girls want to be, and everything little girls are. Babymouse is a big sister, a big dreamer, forgetful, sarcastic, and deadly enemies with Felicia Furrypaws. And in this installment of her ongoing adventures, Babymouse must find it in herself to be courageous as she faces off against her aggressors and counters her biggest fear – dodgeball!

The artwork is unique. It seems messy and done quickly, but it works. Mostly done in black and white, the comic bleeds into shades of pink when Babymouse enters one of her many, many daydreams. It’s the fantasies – so out of place and extravagant as to be hilarious – that gives Babymouse its unique charm.

Babymouse is sassy, relevant, and silly enough to appeal to the elementary school set and help encourage reading.

Suggested Ages: 6-9

Holm, J., & Holm, M. (2006). Babymouse: Our Hero. Random House. More

East of the Sun & West of the Moon (Part 2)

By Mercer Mayer

Welcome to part 2! For part 1, please go here.

This is the version of East of the Sun & West of the Moon that I have the most trouble with. Several of the key themes are missing, most notably the polar bear. Instead this one plays like a mash-up of The Princess and the Frog and East of the Sun West of the Moon.

After the beginning of the story has ended, however, we veer back into more recognizable territory. She sets out, getting help from various supernatural beings who guide her closer to the kingdom she seeks, and each offer her a gift that will help her save her love.

The biggest positive I can give this version is its artwork, which is gorgeous, and comparable to Gal’s. It reflects the setting well, even if the setting isn’t how I would like it. The details are perfect, with heavy lines and excellent colours.

Suggested Ages: 3-7

Mayer, M. (1980). East of the Sun & West of the Moon. Four Winds Press.

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Grover’s Amazing Dream: A Storybook Introducing New Words

By Liza Alexander

The full title of the book is Grover’s Amazing Dream: A Storybook Introducing New Words. The very first page (after the title page) is a Note to Parents that gives a mini-speech about the importance vocabulary, and how this book will have words that your child will likely not understand. That is the point, in face, to help them learn new words as Grover describes his amazing dream.

The artwork is mediocre. While the colours are very well-done, the strength of it lies in the background. Grover, on every page, always has the same expression – the same one on the cover. While the children can connect to Grover in his attitude – innocent, full of childlike wonder and imagination – the artwork doesn’t convey his attitude very well.

While everything about the book is simple, it does provide a lot of new words and onomatopoeia that will help stretch vocabulary.

Suggested Ages: 4-7

Alexander, L. (1988). Grover’s Amazing Dream: A Storybook Introducing New Words. Western Publishing Company.

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