The Westing Game, for which author Ellen Raskin earned the Newbery Medal, has entertained young sleuths for nearly 40 years. Wealthy business tycoon Sam Westing has named the 16 tenants of Sunset Towers as heirs in his will. Furthermore, he placed the individuals into teams of two, gave them clues and $10,000, and charged them with figuring out the details of his death. The first team to solve the mystery will inherit his estate.
The Westing Game is full of puzzles, word games, and fun plot twists to keep readers on their toes. Once the solution is revealed, its cleverness almost begs the reader to start the book over again in order to re-read the book now having a full understanding of the events.
Fans of The Westing Game might also enjoy Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. Emily and her family move to San Francisco. Emily is excited for the change because that brings her closer to Mr. Griswold, creator of the Book Scavenger game that she loves to play. Players hide books and post clues of the books’ whereabouts on the internet. Players earn points by being the first to find books, so the race is always on!
Emily and her new friend, James, find a mysterious book that is directly tied to Mr. Griswold, who has recently been attacked. Emily and James learn that their hunt may not only help them win the game, but may also solve the mystery of Griswold’s attack.
Book Scavenger contains ciphers, word puzzles, historical references, and other clues. Emily and James create some of the clues themselves, so the reader also gets a behind-the-scenes look at the logical process that goes into these puzzlers.
I recommend both The Westing Game and Book Scavenger for ages 10-14. Book Scavenger is a bit heavier on the coding and ciphers, which might make it better suited towards older children in that age bracket, but readers who don’t fully grasp the puzzles will still enjoy the fast-paced plot.
I may be biased towards liking this book, because I am a female mathematician. There had been a time when I had considered becoming an aerospace engineer. I wanted to work for NASA. After I discovered that engineering wasn’t quite the right path for me, I instead earned my Ph.D. in applied and interdisciplinary mathematics (what a mouthful!), specializing in mathematical biology. Still, I can’t deny that I still find the idea of space exploration rather captivating.
When I found out there was a Young Readers’ edition of Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, I knew I wanted to check it out. This book highlights the lives and achievements of a handful of African American women who made substantial contributions to aviation and our nation’s space program. The fact that they were female mathematicians at a time when few women earned college degrees made this story worth telling. Add to that the extra obstacle of being treated as less-than-equals to their caucasian peers, and one can’t help but feel admiration and respect for these intelligent women and all that they accomplished.
Hidden Figures will appeal most to children ages 10-12, and maybe even ages 8-10 for very strong readers. Of course, older readers may also appreciate learning about this fascinating slice of history – I know I did. This book will encourage all readers to rise above adversity and work hard to realize one’s dreams.
Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Jason Chin is a beautiful picture book, both in text and illustrations. In a gentle yet engaging manner, it introduces young readers to the water cycle. The rhyming text and cleverly placed page turns make this book a wonderful book to read aloud because there are many opportunities for interaction and participation between reader and listener.
The text is simple, but there are four pages at the end of the book that provide more detailed information about water. In these pages, scientific words (such as evaporation and condensation) are defined and there are some fun facts about the water content of familiar objects.
I highly recommend Water is Water for children ages 4-8. As a lyrical nonfiction science text, it would be a great addition to any classroom or home library.
Duncan Tonatiuh’s books are well received, winning various awards. A Mexican-American author and artist, his illustrations have a unique style that celebrates his heritage. The content of his books draws from Mexican-American history and culture, from biographies to legends.
In Separate is Never Equal, Tonatiuh presents the story of the Mendez family, focusing on daughter Sylvia. After moving to Westminster, California, the Mendez children attended public school, only to be told that they needed to go to the Mexican school instead. The Mendez family was infuriated, and rightfully so. Sylvia’s father, Gonzalo, was from Mexico, but had become a U. S. citizen. Her mother, Felícitas, was from the U. S. territory, Puerto Rico. The children were U. S. citizens and spoke perfect English.
The Mendez family filed a lawsuit against the Westminster schools. The court ruled in favor of the Mendez family, which led to the desegregation of schools in California, seven years before the famous Brown v. Board of Education case desegregated schools in the entire country.
I found this story riveting. I was somewhat embarrassed that I knew absolutely nothing about the Mendez case before reading this book. The case paved the way for similar lawsuits and led to awareness for racial equality, so why do we not teach our students about it?
I highly recommend this picture book for ages 6-10, though I think even younger children may be captivated by the illustrations, and older students will be interested in reading a little known piece of history. Separate is Never Equal would be a wonderful addition for any study on U. S. History or in discussion of current events and the fight for racial equality. The biographical matter, family photographs, bibliography, and glossary at the back of the book make it easy for students to dig a little deeper to learn more about the Mendez family.
The William Hoy Story, by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Jez Tuya, is one of my favorite picture book biographies. I love reading how William Hoy not only overcame obstacles at a time in which there were few resources for deaf people, but he also went on to make an impact on the game of baseball that continues to this day.
William was a natural ball player, but his deafness made it difficult for him to play because he couldn’t understand his teammates and the officials. After some disheartening experiences and discrimination, he created hand motions for the officials to use so that he would know if he was safe or out, and if pitches were balls or strikes. William went on to become a well-beloved and highly respected baseball player, playing for various professional teams.
Baseball enthusiasts of all ages will enjoy The William Hoy Story. Further, this story could inspire all children ages 4-8 to work hard and push through barriers to achieve their dreams.
Sparse rhyming text and vivid illustrations make Flying Eagle a wonderful non-fiction option for young children. Author Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen uses rhyming couplets to tell of a father eagle hunting to bring food back to his family in the nest. As the eagle surveys the land, the reader is introduced to additional types of wildlife in the Serengeti Plain. Illustrator Deborah Kogan Ray utilizes a bold, warm color palette for the first two-thirds of the book, and then offers the contrast of deep dark blues and purples as evening sets. Animals pop from the pages against the colorful backdrops.
Flying Eagle is suitable for children ages 4-8. There are three pages of back matter that provide additional information about the tawny eagle and the Serengeti Plain in Africa. In addition, recommended resources are given for further reading and research.
If you are looking for a fun read aloud book for the whole family, try Fenway and Hattie by Victoria J. Coe. Winner of the 2017 Global Read Aloud award in the early reader category, this book will be a favorite for dog lovers as the story is told from the perspective of a dog!
Fenway is a feisty Jack Russell terrier who loves his owner, Hattie. When Fenway and Hattie (and big humans Food Lady and Fetch Man) leave their city apartment for a home in the suburbs, Fenway has a myriad of new challenges to overcome. Evil squirrels, a dog-less dog park, and the Wicked Floor. But none of these problems is as big as the possibility that Hattie may be drifting away. Fenway will have to think of a big plan to win back the affections of his favorite short human.
Fenway and Hattie can be read aloud to kids of all ages, but it will probably be most enjoyed by those ages 5-10. For independent reading, I recommend it for ages 7 (strong readers) to 10.
On the hunt for a light-hearted young adult novel (I wondered… do they even exist???), I came across The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot. I enjoyed the movie starring Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews. I vaguely recalled that it had been based on a book, but I did not realize it was a YA book. On my next library trek, I picked up a copy, hoping for a breezy read. I wasn’t disappointed.
Main character Mia Thermopolis is an awkward high school freshman who learns that she is Princess of Genovia, a fictional European principality. She already has difficulty navigating school (algebra!), but now she has to take princess lessons from her grandmother, learn to live with the paparazzi, and deal with the fact that her mother is dating her algebra teacher. And that’s not to mention she is now trailed by a bodyguard all day long.
The Princess Diaries is the young adult counterpart to the adult Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. Meg Cabot is delightfully funny. She mixes everyday occurrences with just enough of the ridiculous and over-the-top characters to create laugh-out-loud scenes. The diary format enables punchy one-liners and speeds the pacing. Cabot’s capture of a sarcastic but charming teenager is spot on.
A word of caution for those who are familiar with the movie: the book is SO very different. (Part of the entertainment for me was in identifying ways in which the movie deviated from the book.) The most glaring difference is in Mia’s grandmother Clarisse. The book character is completely opposite from Julie Andrews’s character in the movie. I suppose this may bother some, but to be honest, I often found book Clarisse’s blunt and rude comments hilarious.
I truly enjoyed both the movie and book, but I give the edge to the book. Even so, I do not believe the book is appropriate for young readers. The publishers suggest ages 12 and older but I would suggest 14 and older due to mature themes. The first book was innocent enough, but if a reader enjoyed the first book, then of course she would want to read the sequels. There are 10 young adult novels in the series, a handful of novellas covering short events that happen between some of the novels, and even a recently released adult book in which Mia gets married. There is more discussion of sex as the novels progress, because Mia is getting older. Nothing is overly explicit, but friends do talk about it. I find this to be true to the issues today’s teenager faces, so my personal stance is to not disregard it, but I would prefer my own daughter not read these books until she is in high school for this reason. Of course, each family will have to make its own decision regarding what is appropriate. Watch the movie with a younger audience if you would like, and then introduce the book to a high school girl looking for a quick and fun read.
Natasha is a 17-year-old illegal immigrant from Jamaica who is going to be deported with the rest of her family at 10:00 p.m. Refusing to give up the hope of staying in America, Natasha spends her last day in New York City pursuing every last-ditch effort that will keep her family in the country.
Daniel is a Korean American high school senior who isn’t excited about the future his parents have planned for him. Instead of attending Yale and pursuing a career in medicine, Daniel would rather be a poet. After meeting Natasha, he falls head over heels in love with her, and his world is forever changed.
Exploring ideas of randomness, fate, and love, The Sun is Also a Star covers one intense day in the lives of practical, scientific Natasha and optimistic, passionate Daniel. The story is written in alternating points of view (Natasha’s and Daniel’s), with occasional accounts from an omniscient narrator that provide backstory for minor characters. The result is effective and demonstrates how we are connected to one another.
The Sun is Also a Star is beautifully written and earned a National Book Award Honor for author Nicola Yoon. It would be a wonderful book to study in any contemporary literature or creative writing course. I recommend it for ages 14 and older, due to some mature themes and explicit language, though I believe it will especially resonate with young people ages 16 and older.
If you are seeking a good laugh, then look no further. President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett and Chris Van Dusen is a humorous interpretation of the speculative story that President Taft did indeed get stuck in his bath. Barnett’s prose is witty and comically irreverent. Van Dusen’s illustrations add another layer of hilarity to create picture book perfection.
Candlewick Press recommends this book for ages 4-8, but I believe all audiences will find great enjoyment in it. Young children will laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation and the illustrations that play out Taft’s indelicate dilemma. Older children and adults will appreciate the incorporated wordplay as government officials are brought in to help Taft out of the bath.
There is some uncertainty as to whether Taft was ever stuck in his bath, but there are two pages in the back that recount some of the theories. In addition, there is a funny historical account of Taft’s factual interactions with bathtubs. As such, President Taft is Stuck in the Bath would be an entertaining supplement when studying this president in American history.