Thursday, September 9, 2010

Back to School

New Mystery Series from Clements Makes School Cool Again

I am a big fan of Andrew Clements. I have read several of his books with my oldest son. They are smart and entertaining stories with well-crafted characters, plots and lessons. When I saw that Clements was writing a series I was a little interested. Then I discovered it was a mystery - very interesting. I decided to read it. not a very difficult deceision really.

“Keepers of the School: We the Children”

By Andrew Clements
For Ages 8 - 12
Think “Hardy Boys” as written by the author of “Frindle” – likable characters, interesting twists, a gold coin from 1783 and a mystery. Ben is a sixth-grader in a small New England town. His parents have recently split and his school has been sold to an amusement park company, which plans to tear it down. Now he reluctantly finds himself embroiled in a mystery and ready to defend and save the school. Rated 4.5 (intrigue, slow pacing, deep subject matter)

Most children have read Frindle by the time they begin fourth grade and are very familiar with Clements’ school stories. This year, when your children head back to school there will be a series of school stories waiting for them on the bookstore shelves. “Keepers of the School” follows Ben, a sixth-grader in a small New England town. His parents have recently split and his school has been sold to an amusement park company, which plans to tear it down.

On his way to class Ben finds the janitor having a heart attack. The janitor gives Ben a gold coin from 1783. It has been handed down through the years beginning with the founder of Captain Duncan Oakes School. It reads, "First and always, my school belongs to the children. DEFEND IT." A few hours later, the janitor is dead and Ben finds himself involved in a mystery surrounding the school, its history and the impending demolition. With the help of his friend Jill, Ben sets out to defend the school.

Clements does a great job creating likable characters with depth. Full-page and spot illustration in pen and ink add to the drama and excitement. There is even a pretty exciting sailboat race where Ben walks away a hero. This is a good choice for boys and girls looking for a mystery.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

To Read, or Not to Read?

I have been a Shakespeare fan for a long time - probably since high school. Any time I see a book that uses Shakespeare in some way shape or fashion I can't help but read it. This one looked entertaining so I went for it. But that was never really in question.

“The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet"
By Erin Dionne

For ages 10 - 14
This middle school story features “mean girls,” Shakespearean scholars in full Elizabethan garb, a seven-year-old genius, a girl named Hamlet who wants nothing more than a quiet, boring year of school and a budding romance. Even in this crazy scenario Hamlet finds a way to stand out and believes in herself. It’s an enjoyable read with good character development. Rated 4 (teen situations, humor, Dali, Shakespeare)
Hamlet, except for her name, is a typical eight grade girl. She would like nothing more than a quiet, boring year of school. Of course when your parents are Shakespearean scholars who live, breathe and eat Shakespeare 24 hours a day it can be difficult to blend in. Throw in a seven-year-old sister who is a genius and will attending classes with you and your life will probably be anything but quiet.

The plot is fairly typical school story stuff with a budding romance, friendships and finding pride in one’s self. Throw in a couple “mean girls” and a strained sibling relationship and things begin to get interesting. Dionne does a wonderful job mixing humor and teen drama. The discussions of Shakespeare, Pollack and Dali keep things interesting. Hamlet’s character is well-developed and very likable. When Hamlet finds she actually has talent she learns that even in a family of extraordinary people you can find ways to stand out and be proud of yourself. This is a fun read that will be enjoyed best by middle school girls.