Monday, April 4, 2016

Class Review - Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt


Title: Tuck Everlasting
Author: Natalie Babbitt
Age Range: 9-12
Class Average Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Summary from Goodreads:  Doomed to—or blessed with—eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain why living forever at one age is less a blessing that it might seem. Complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune.

I taught this book for my homeschool co-op 5th/6th grade writing course (along with Island of the Blue Dolphins) and I thought it would be fun to include some excerpts from their reviews. So, take a look and see what my students thought of the book! 

[The brackets throughout the review give the initials of the student that made that particular observation.]


Tuck Everlasting is a wonderful novel about a family that lives forever. Winnie Foster, a young girl, learns of the Tucks' family secret to immortality. She is torn between believing their story and thinking they are crazy. [MH] The Tucks help her to help make a decision whether or not to drink from the spring (which gave them immortality). Her choice could drastically change the rest of her life. They want her to make an informed decision. What will she decide to do? To make things interesting, a villain is also out to get the water and its secrets. [LH] The big question is, is living forever a blessing or a misfortune? [ES]

What my students loved:
  • Magical realism.  Lots of my students said they loved the fact that the book is magical realism. [HA said] I ... like how there was some magic in the book and it was not all realistic. [ES said] All the characters in Tuck Everlasting make mistakes and do a few things that mess the situation up when they are trying to help. They are not perfect, just as we aren't, which makes them normal people, because we are all sinners ... The magic of the spring and the reality of the people in the book is a unique mixture that stirs up excitement along the way.
  • The writing.  [JT said] The author was creative when she developed the characters. She made them different, but they really came together to make a great story, like pieces of a puzzle. [JJP said] I really liked the wording in it, as the author used a lot of very descriptive phrases and words. (I agree with this!)
  • Relatability. A few students related well to Winnie's character. [HA said] I ... love that Winnie was my age, so I feel maybe I could have been in the situation too. [SL said] Like me, she didn't like being bossed around.
  • Excitement and surprises.  Most of my students felt that the story was exciting. [My daughter Danielle said] I liked this book so much that I wanted to read it all in one day. I really love the adventure to the book because you really have no idea what is going to happen. [JP said] I liked ... how it was so exciting and unexpected. [AJ said] The ending was so surprising, yet at times sad. I had mixed emotions with the exciting but also sad plot.
  • The Tucks. [SL said] I like that they are laid back, relaxed and have no rules.
  • The toad. I was surprised how many of my students mentioned that they loved the toad, who played a seemingly small part in the plot but made a big impact! [JT said] I live Winnie's toad because he gave comfort in her times of need. He helped her become a better person than she was before.
The negatives that my students mentioned:
  • Mismatched love? Lots of my female students thought the story was romantic, but one had a bit more down-to-earth perspective on Jesse and Winnie. [AH said] The thought of him being over 100 years old and falling in love with a 10-year-old was creepy. (Gotta kind of agree with her there!) Oh, and my daughter Danielle spotted instalove (an all-too familiar trope we adults love to hate). [Danielle said] One thing that I thought was funny about Winnie was that when she had only just met Jesse, she asked if he was married, which shows Winnie had fallen in love with Jesse the moment she saw him.
  • The pacing.  Some students thought the book moved too slowly. [LH said] I prefer books with a little more action; the story moved a little bit slow for my liking. [MH said] In general, I found it to be rather boring and dull.
  • Connection. [AJ said] At times the author would describe Winnie as crying, but there was not much detail. I wish the author had written more of Winnie's feelings. ... I would have been more attached if Winnie was described with such emotion that makes you able to picture it.
  • They want a series. Several of my students mentioned that they thought the book was too short and they wished it was a series!
Overall, my class seemed to love this book and it provided us with many lively discussions!  The average class rating was 4.5/5 stars.



Thursday, January 21, 2016

D's Review - Warriors series by Erin Hunter

Series: Warriors
Author: Erin Hunter
Age Range: 10+
D's Rating: 5/5 Stars

Summary from Goodreads:  For generations, four Clans of wild cats have shared the forest according to the laws laid down by their warrior ancestors. But the ThunderClan cats are in grave danger, and the sinister ShadowClan grows stronger every day. Noble warriors are dying-- and some deaths are more mysterious than others. In the midst of this turmoil appears an ordinary house cat named Rusty . . . who may turn out to be the bravest warrior of them all.

The Warriors series by Erin Hunter is a fantastic animal adventure series, perfect for middle grade readers. The overall series is made up of several smaller series of six books each (plus some standalone "super editions"), and there are over thirty books that have been written so far. My daughter has read almost all of these books, many of them more than once (some of them she's read three or four times).

Read on to see her thoughts on the series ...


I love these cat books because there is so much going on and these are not your ordinary cats. They are warriors. They are split into four clans: Riverclan, Thunderclan, Windclan and Shadowclan. These books are filled with excitement! Sometimes the cats battle over territory. Sometimes a cat will lose almost his or her whole family because of things like sickness, such as white cough, or infection from a battle. Sometimes twolegs make it harder for the cats to survive because they try to catch them or destroy their territory. The books also tell about the cats' everyday lives and how hard it is for them to survive - they have to catch prey every day, do battle training, get herbs for the medicine cat, do border patrols to make sure no enemy clans steal prey, plus much more. I loved the fact that the books used interesting words to describe things - like "twolegs" for humans or "kittypet" for a house cat. 

I've read over twenty of these books, and I still can't wait to read the next! I've even read some of the books twice! I think that kids who like adventure books would think these books are exciting.


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Some of the Warriors Books on Amazon:
There are many more!


Monday, April 13, 2015

J's Review - The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials: The Collector's Edition by James Dashner

Author: James Dashner
Release Date: April 14, 2015
Age Range: 12 & Up
J's Rating: 5/5 Stars

Summary from Goodreads:  Get lost in the thrilling action and twisting plotlines of James Dashner’s #1 New York Times bestselling Maze Runner series. Read the first two books—The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials—discover lost files from the offices of WICKED, and learn forgotten Glader memories in this collectible edition. 

The Maze Runner is now a major motion picture from Twentieth Century Fox. Don’t miss the sequel, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, coming to theaters on September 18, 2015, with Dylan O’Brien as Thomas, Kaya Scodelario as Teresa, Will Poulter as Gally, Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt, Rosa Salazar as Brenda, Giancarlo Esposito as Jorge, and Aidan Gillen as the Rat Man.

Remember. Survive. Run. 

I received this book for review, but I couldn't pry it out of my 12-year-old son's hands for long, so he actually finished it first. His reward? He got to write a review!! (He doesn't actually see this as a reward since I made it part of our school day - darn, now it's just homework! Still, I can tell he enjoyed writing this, even if he won't admit it!)

If you're curious what I thought about the first book in the series, feel free to read my review on my other blog - Feed Your Fiction Addiction. For now, here's my son's take on it:



The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials Collector’s Edition is an excellent book! (Or is it books? It’s a combo, so probably just book.) 

Written by James Dashner, this book is a very nice way of packaging the two books together, while also adding the bonus of “Confidential files, recovered correspondence, and suppressed memories” and “An exclusive fan sticker”, which I’m pretty sure is a bumper sticker from looking at it. 

I rate these two books forty-seven out of five stars, the reason for it not being infinity being the fact that the series has an ending. 

In the first book, The Maze Runner, Thomas, our main character, is brought up from a strange box into “The Glade” with no memory of his past. Turns out, The Glade is in the center of a massive maze, and other boys who call themselves “Gladers” have been trying to escape for years. Part of the reason it’s taking so long is because there are monsters in the maze called “Grievers” who come out at night. Another reason is that the maze’s giant stone walls MOVE every night. 

When the first ever girl comes from the same box the next day, and Thomas figures out he can communicate with her telepathically, incredibly strange things start happening, such as the sun disappearing from the sky and the box stopping coming up with supplies weekly. Will Thomas and the
Gladers make it out of the maze alive, or will they all starve to death without their supplies? 

In the next book, The Scorch Trials, Thomas and the Gladers have escaped from The Maze, only to find out that life outside is even harder than in The Maze, and that they will all go insane due to a sickness called “The Flare” if they don’t get to a certain spot in two weeks’ time. When Thomas gets separated from most of his group, will he make it back to his friends? 

I personally believe that all of the books of the series should be included in this collector’s edition and then the “Maze Runner Files” put at the end, due to the fact that there are many spoilers, even for book two, which it is placed before in the book! 

Very well put together and written, I would recommend this book to anyone who is capable of reading the word Griever!!! 

One of my favorite books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a LOT of books!




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Friday, December 12, 2014

D's Review - The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett


Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Age Range: 9-12
D's Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Summary from Goodreads:  After the death of her parents, the neglected and spoiled Mary Lennox is sent to her uncle's large and lonely house on the Yorkshire Moors. There she discovers a secret garden and with the help of her friend Dickon restores the garden.

I absolutely loved this book as a child, so I was excited to have my 10-year-old daughter read it too! Here's her thoughts on the book ...


This book is mostly about a young girl named Mary who starts out as a grumpy little girl and how the fresh air and the excitement of having secrets brightened her spirits.

I really like the book The Secret Garden. It makes you just want to keep on reading because you wonder if Mary will ever find the door to the locked garden. At the beginning, I wasn't sure if it was going to be that good because she is such an unenthusiastic girl. But as soon as she heard about the secret garden, she started going outside more, which lifted her spirits. I think the author of this book used great descriptions that made you feel like you were right there in the book! I would recommend it for kids around my age (10), especially girls.


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Thursday, August 21, 2014

D's ARC Review - (American Girl) Full Speed Ahead: My Journey with Kit

Series: American Girl
Author: Valerie Tripp
Release Date: August 28, 2014
Pages: 208
Age Range: 8+
Goodreads Rating: 4.12/5 Stars
D's Rating: 5/5 Stars

Summary from Goodreads:  What if you suddenly found yourself in Kit's world during the Great Depression? How would your life be changed, and what ways might you help your family and others who are less fortunate? 

Join Kit on exciting adventures where the two of you can find ways to help the needy, have a hobo adventure, and maybe even hop a train! Your journey back in time can take whatever twists and turns you choose, as you select from a variety of exciting options in this multiple-ending story.

American Girl is revamping its historical books a bit, giving them a new look and combining them somewhat (the six main books for each doll are being combined into two slightly larger books). They have also created a new set of books to go with the classic historicals. These books take a modern girl and have her go back in time to visit the historical characters. There will be one "My Journey With" book to go with each historical doll character. The books are formatted like the classic Choose Your Own Adventure books - the reader gets to choose what path the modern day character will take and there are multiple stories and endings based on those choices.

My 10-year-old daughter absolutely LOVES Choose Your Own Adventure books, so this was ideal for her. She will read and re-read a book like this many times over. Kit was already one of her favorite American Girl characters, so she was very excited to read something new about her! I thought that this book was very well done. It doesn't give quite as much historical background as the "regular" Kit books, but it's a great way to get kids thinking about how the lives of these characters differ from our own. I think these books are a fantastic addition to the line. And the modern tie-in might bring in kids who would otherwise be resistant to reading a purely historical story. It might even convince them to read the rest of the series! (As a homeschooling mom, I love these books for the historical settings, and I would encourage all little girls to read them.)

Below you'll find my 10-year-old daughter's take on Full Speed Ahead: My Journey with Kit ...


This book is filled with excitement. You'll find yourself in a Choose Your Own Adventure book where you'll learn a lot about The Great Depression. This book will make you think of how it would be to live back then. But there's a lot of fun in it too because you could be a hobo, or get thrown off a freight train, or maybe even thrown in jail. Then when you get home maybe you'll find that you learned a lesson about homeless people or not to be selfish.

I really liked the parts of the book where you go home with a new attitude and get something good out of it.

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More "My Journey With" Books:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

J's Review - The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans

Series: Michael Vey #1
Author: Richard Paul Evans
Release Date: 2011
Pages: 326
Age Range: 12+
Goodreads Rating: 4.12/5 Stars
J's Rating: 5/5 Stars

Summary from Goodreads:  My name is Michael Vey, and the story I’m about to tell you is strange. Very strange. It’s my story.

To everyone at Meridian High School, Michael Vey is an ordinary fourteen-year-old. In fact, the only thing that seems to set him apart is the fact that he has Tourette’s syndrome. But Michael is anything but ordinary. Michael has special powers. Electric powers.

Michael thinks he's unique until he discovers that a cheerleader named Taylor also has special powers. With the help of Michael’s friend, Ostin, the three of them set out to discover how Michael and Taylor ended up this way, but their investigation brings them to the attention of a powerful group who wants to control the electric children – and through them the world. Michael will have to rely on his wits, powers, and friends if he’s to survive.

This review is a little different than what I typically post here on Best Kids' Reads because the review was written entirely by my 11-year-old son.  He loved this series and wanted to tell everyone about it!  (I haven't actually read this one, so I can't give my parental input).  Watch for even more reviews by J in the future!

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25, is, in my opinion, one of the best books ever written. It is an action packed Fantasy written by Richard Evans where a boy named Michael who has electric powers meets a cheerleader named Taylor who has the ability to read others’ minds and make them lose their train of thought. While trying to find out if there were more kids like them, Taylor is kidnapped! If you want to find out what is next, you will have to find out for yourself by… googling it? Or is it reading the book? I forget which one. 

Anyhow, this book definitely gets five out of five stars, although the first ¼ of the book is not nearly as interesting as the rest because it was setting up for the exciting parts of the book. 

If you like Harry Potter, you will probably like this book as well, seeing as the characters in both never get haircuts, don’t have cell phones, and use special powers to overcome an extremely overwhelming evil force.


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Books in this series (so far):

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Review & Giveaway - Unicorn Thief by RR. Russell

Title: Unicorn Thief
Author: R.R. Russell
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Pages: 270
Age Range: 9-12
Goodreads Rating: 3.94/5 Stars
My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Summary from Goodreads:  Danger lurks in the mist.

Twig and Ben are unicorn riders--guardians whose job it is to keep the last free unicorn herd safe. But a new danger is threatening the beautiful, mysterious creatures of Lonehorn Island. A thief from Terracornus has snuck onto the misty island and stolen Ben's loyal unicorn, Indy. There's only one path for Ben and Twig--straight into the secret, shadowy heart of the island and through the passage to Terracornus.

But their rescue mission is unexpectedly complicated by a secret Ben has been hiding. A secret about the Queen of Terracornus who has enslaved all the unicorns of Ben's homeland. A secret that could save them all--or start a war.


The Unicorn Thief is a really fun and adventurous follow-up to Wonderlight!  My 10-year-old daughter and I have both really enjoyed this series, and we can't wait to read more!

What I loved:
  • Unicorn Riders.  I love the concept of these books.  Ben is a unicorn rider, and Twig discovers that she's one as well.  The unicorns in this series are not really magical creatures - they're simply incredibly intelligent creatures that have a bond with their riders.  In this book, Twig struggles with what it means to be a unicorn rider, and how she can live up to her responsibilities as a rider while still living with the rules that are set for her by her "family" on Lonehorn Island (where she was sent in the first book when her family thought that she had tried to hurt her step-sister - that was all resolved in book #1, but Twig has stayed on the island for the time being).
  • Ben's secret.  Ben has a secret that he works hard to keep from Twig.  There is something about his past that he doesn't want to face.  Now, as an adult, I figured out pretty quickly what the secret was, but it definitely added an interesting dynamic to the book.  Once Ben's secret is revealed, Twig and Ben's journey to rescue Ben's unicorn becomes much more complicated!
  • The mystery of the unicorn thief.  The mystery of who the unicorn thief was and why he was stealing unicorns (especially Ben's!) was really well done.  I was surprised by the outcome!
  • The swamp.  I think that the very best thing about this book was the swamp and the competition of sorts that took place there.  The swamp is full of strange and dangerous creatures, not to mention the swamp fire.  The trip through the swamp was exciting and full of peril! 
The negatives:
  • Permissive adults.  The adults in these books sometimes surprise me with how okay they are with letting Twig face danger.  They do put up the occasional argument, but it's not much.  When Twig's dad comes back from his military deployment, he doesn't seem at all alarmed at everything Twig has been through.  This part feels just a little bit unrealistic, but I know it's kind of necessary for the story to happen.
I highly recommend  this series to kids who love adventurous books.  My daughter and I are looking forward to reading more!  I give this 4.5/5 stars.


***Disclosure: This book was provided to me by the publisher (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky) in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given. All opinions are my own***

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About the Author
R.R. Russell lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. She grew up traveling the world as an army brat and now travels the country as a coach with a non-profit judo club. She loves to read and draw, and like Twig, once spent a lot of time sketching unicorns.


Author Links:
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