YA & Children’s Books

 

Any Witch Way You Can starstarstarstar

by Amanda M. Lee

This one has a YA feel to it, but the characters made it a fun read. There’s a sort of amusing snark among the members of a witch family. Three cousins and their four aunts have some love/hate family dynamics than lean towards the humorous.

It’s also a murder mystery. A body is found in an Autumn festivities corn maze and as one of the cousins can see and talk to ghosts, the mystery of how and why this person was killed becomes the central theme to the story.

A lot of things were predictable. I spotted the killer almost as soon as they were introduced and an elusive character was also a bit obvious, but the dynamics between characters really carry the story. While I don’t feel a compelling need to read more of the gazillion stories written by this author, I did really enjoy the read.

 

The Key to the Demon’s Gate starstarstar

by Daniel M. Quilter

The target age for this story is Middle Grade and it reads appropriately for that level to me. The story is wonderfully imaginative and sends three teenage protagonists on quests and through adventures that would definitely appeal to young readers.

Henry Rockwell and his friends get whisked away into a fantasy world adventure with demons, pirates, magic and of course a quest.

Though the character development and plot were fairly average for the age group, I think younger kids would enjoy it. My only complaint is that it ends with some of the details of the story unfinished and an invitation to continue the adventure in the next book.

I’m becoming less tolerant of this sales approach as more authors do it and although I don’t mind it in favorite adult or YA series, I think it sends the wrong message to younger readers and feel that even a series should conclude the adventure at hand and act as a stand alone. How can you encourage reluctant readers to take an interest if the story never ends? Or takes three or more books to do so?

Overall an okay story that would sit well in a children’s library one the series is complete.

 

The Cat in the Christmas Tree starstar

by Peter Scottsdale

This is written for children, and as such some of the dialogue isn’t quite realistic but more of a cleaned up version like you often see in children’s books. The plot holds together reasonably well and the magical transition was very good.

There were some good messages about learning to respect the property of others and not bullying, however, I have an issue with a few other messages that come across.

First of all, the father is in total charge of the family and the mother doesn’t argue when he threatens to get rid of the cat. This gives a bad impression of relationship dynamics as well as of a father’s role. To me, he’s totally evil and his wife should divorce him and keep the cat so her son will be happy!

My other issue is with calling the cat bad for jumping into the tree. Really? You bring a real tree into a home with a cat and expect him not to jump into it immediately? The author is a cat lover and owner so he should know better than that! Also, when the cat is destroying things he shouldn’t or biting, why aren’t the parents making any effort whatsoever to teach him parameters? Cats do learn, and not by whining at them that they shouldn’t do that as if they understood every word. (Secretly I do believe they understand every word but that’s another matter.)

All things considered, the story has some brilliant elements from a Christmas magic point of view, but I would not buy it for a child because of these unacceptable messages about fathers and cat discipline.

Trapped in Room 217 starstarstarstarhalf

by Thomas Kingsley Troupe

This is a children’s Horror story, targeted at age 8 – 12. I’d say it’s appropriate for that level, yet the writing is very good! It’s part of a series of real life ghost stories, set in places where ghost sightings have actually been reported.

Jayla and Dion have to accompany their father, a landscaper, for a job in Colorado. It turns out that the hotel they stay in has a reputation for being haunted. Jayla is in seventh grade, her brother is a little younger.

As it turns out, the room they stay in has a resident ghost. When the children experience a sighting of the ghost, they set out to investigate.

I’m no expert on children’s literature, but I think this was extremely good for the age group. The writing doesn’t ‘talk down’ to the children’s level so I was able to appreciate Jayla and Dion’s adventure and concerns about getting into trouble for various things.

While the fear factor would be considered tame for the adult Horror reader, I think it pushed the scary parameters just enough to keep a child interested while not giving them nightmares, unless they’re overly sensitive. It’s still a ghost story and the dark can be frightening!

This would be an excellent choice for the sort of kid who enjoys Goosebumps or children’s adventure stories.

Ghost Boy starstarstar

by Stafford Betty

Sometimes a book starts a little awkwardly, like the author was trying too hard to make a start and to get too many things in too soon or to make a special effort to mention some ‘agenda’. I had to make a few allowances for this one because the story I was expecting to read, about a protagonist who sees ghosts, was worked into that crucial first chapter smoothly enough to hope for some good flow to the rest of the story.

It did flow well after, though I felt the narrative was ‘young’ for my taste, but it’s targeted at YA and middle grade and I would say appropriate for the middle grade age group, apart from the diversions into conversations about ‘God’ that don’t quite fit in and come across as if the author is laying ground to push young readers towards religious beliefs.

Ben Conover is a boy from a religious family, but he sees ghosts, especially a girl ghost who he calls Abby. His parents don’t believe what he sees is real of course and try to get him to stop making comments about it. The story covers interactions with other kids, both friends and foes, as well as family members. There are a few lessons about following the lead of older kids, especially relatives, who do things you know aren’t smart and about dealing with life in general from a 12-13 year old’s perspective.

Overall I did enjoy the story, but it didn’t really progress in a central theme and I thought the ending left some inconclusive loose ends. I liked Ben as a character, but I did think some of the situations could have been better developed or followed up.

Flight of the Griffin starstarstarhalf

by C.M. Gray

This is a YA story and reads like one, yet it has a dark and magical plotline that intrigued me and kept me interested. A young thief makes a special haul on a dare that includes a magical knife. The previous owner of the knife seems to be unaware of its significance or the connection to a small grey cat that has been living with him for several weeks.

The thief and his friends live on a boat, but don’t want to sail away too suddenly as the city watch would notice and they would come under suspicion for the significant burglary. In the course of deciding how to stash some of the loot and minimize evidence, they discover some of the unusual properties of the knife.

Their adventures soon begin to look like a gaming campaign or the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon series, but a lot of imagination goes into the plot and there are some original ideas I found interesting. It’s the typical Order vs Chaos scenario with heroes and demons and would be gold for a middle grade reader.

A few too convenient solutions and the innocent nobility of the warrior among the heroes being reluctant to kill an unarmed enemy makes it most appropriate for young readers, but still it had some wonderfully fantastical ideas and the writing itself was flawless.

Shiver starstarstarstarhalf

by Maggie Stiefvater

This is a YA story but very well written so I didn’t feel like I was reading children’s literature, as is often my problem with YA.

Grace has a fascination with the wolves around her rural home, but when she is dragged off her swing and attacked by the pack, she makes a connection with one of them that saves her life. From then on, her wolf comes to visit her every winter, though he also watches her in summer, but in human form.

This was a sweet romance story with a paranormal twist. It is written in alternating points of view so we see both Grace and Sam’s thoughts about the developing bond between them and the effects when a local boy is bitten and becomes one of the shapeshifter pack.

Despite the high school age concerns which is something I don’t usually care to read about, I enjoyed this one al the way through, though I thought the ending was a little too abrupt and left the last events unexplained. Some loose ends are expected though as it’s a series.

YA Romance readers who like a little paranormal should enjoy this one.

The Show Off Monkey and Other Taoist Tales starstarstarstarhalf

by Mark W. McGinnis

This is a book of retold Chinese fables, based on the writings of the ancient philosopher Chang Tzu but written in modern language that any child could follow.

The tales are very short and each has a morale at the end to teach the reader something about the foibles of human nature.

The pictures are beautifully done and in full color in what looks like an oriental style. Overall the book is beautifully presented and would make a nice gift to a child, though adults would enjoy it too!

willaWilla Wicked starstarstarhalf

by A.M. Hudson

This is a YA teenage witch story. The premise sounds really corny, but somehow it seems to work. Willa the teenage witch befriends her neighbour who everyone thinks is a dork. His recent suicide attempt makes them a little careful and mostly they whisper behind his back.

Little do they know, Henry Charming is not of their world. Through the minefield of high school dances and crushes, Henry has a bigger issue to deal with and Willa is the only person he trusts to tell his secret. Meanwhile, Willa’s crush on a popular guy brings its own teenage angst.

There’s a strong fairytale thread in this story and it isn’t the sort of thing I would want to read a lot of, but it was done pretty well so as YA stuff goes, I can’t complain too much. I did find myself wanting to know what would happen in the end. There’s even one scary bit.

cat-detectiveThe Cat Detective starstar

by Amma Lee

This is advertised as a YA book but it reads more like a children’s story. If it weren’t for an occasional wrong form of word, I’d recommend it to budding Mystery readers.

It’s a cute story. Wendy and her black cat, imaginatively named Black, set out to solve mysteries. It’s part of a series of course. Wendy has the ability to hear cats talk so Black is able to help her with her cases.

I’ve scored it low because, quite honestly, not enough happens. There is no tension or feeling of danger at any point and the case isn’t all that hard to solve.

In its favor I didn’t see any typos and any story about a talking cat can’t be all bad, but I won’t be reading any more of the series as it’s just too young for me.

dark portalThe Dark Portal starstarstarstarhalf

by Robin Jarvis

This is a whimsical children’s story but it’s not just a cutsie mouse story, there are elements of Horror for children. The rats peel mice, as in skinning, so probably for slightly older children with the disposition to enjoy things like Goosebumps.

It is mostly about a mouse family who travel, one by one, through a grate that they know takes them into the territory of the rats. First the father goes on a whim, then his daughter goes to look for him and soon several mice are where they shouldn’t be in a dangerous place.

I don’t often read stories directed at very young readers, but I liked the tone and the writing in this one. Adventurous mouse stories formed an essential part of my own childhood reading and I think this one could easily sit on a shelf next to The Secret of Nimh.

It’s a surprisingly multi-layered story with a spiritual element, but mostly adventures of the child mice. Imagine Nancy Drew stories or the Hardy boys in mouse form. The quality of the writing holds up all through and this is a story I would happily buy for my nieces and nephews who are appropriate age for stories that don’t write down to a child’s level, but concern young characters with whom they could identify. One of the better contributions to children’s literature that I’ve seen for a while.

Advertisements