Booklists: Gift Books for 2010

Every year, we create a gift book booklist for the holidays. If you are thinking of giving a book for a gift, check our recommendations! All of the books on the elementary and picture book lists came out in 2010, and should be readily available in any bookstore.

Books are especially nice if you pair them with something more concrete. For example, Touch Blue could be given with a Monopoly game, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda could be partnered with origami paper and an origami book, Finally could come with pierced earrings or a cell phone charm.  Ideas can come from reading the book, looking at the reviews, or by asking your friendly local librarian!

Another thing that are starting to pop up everywhere are The Best Books of 2010 lists.  Because our lists cover books published in 2010, you may see  some overlap. Librarians all over the United States are currently wondering about which books will win the two coveted prizes for Children’s Literature in the U.S.–The Newbery and The Caldecott–which will be announced on January 10th. We’re definitely hoping we recommended the winners on our lists as well!

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Grades 3 – 6

Angleberger, Tom. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
Tommy and his friends think that Dwight is strange, especially the day he shows up with a little origami Yoda finger puppet. Somehow though, the puppet is uncannily wise and prescient. Origami Yoda predicts the date of a pop quiz, guesses who stole the classroom Shakespeare bust, and saves a classmate from popularity-crushing embarrassment.  Is Yoda is just Dwight talking in a funny voice or does it actually has mystical powers? Dwight’s classmate Tommy wonders how Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. Can the class uncover the truth?

Bell, Cathleen. Little Blog on the Prairie
Gen’s mom signs her whole family up for a pioneer vacation. But when they get there, they discover that they have to live exactly like it’s 1890. Forced to give up all technology (and makeup, skin cleanser and music), Gen manages to smuggle in a cell phone.  Texting her friends about the horror of life on the prairie, Gen lets her friends turn her emails into a blog. But just when it seems Gen and family might pull through the summer, disaster strikes as a TV crew descends on the camp, intent on discovering the girl behind the nationwide blogging sensation—and perhaps ruining the best vacation Gen has ever had.

Barnett, Mark. Oh No!: Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World.  illustrated by Dan Santat
Some kids are too smart for their own good! When an ambitious little girl builds a huge robot for her science fair, she expects to win first place.  Unfortunately, when  the robot escapes and runs amok, she realizes she forgot to teach him the commands to stop.  Oops!  A combination graphic novel/picture book, this book will appeal to all young scientists.

DiCamillo, Kate.  Bink and Gollie. Also by Alison McGhee. Illustrated by Tony deFucile
Meet Bink and Gollie, two precocious little girls — one tiny, one tall, and both utterly irrepressible. Setting out from their super-deluxe tree house and powered by plenty of peanut butter (for Bink) and pancakes (for Gollie), they share three comical adventures involving painfully bright socks, an impromptu trek to the Andes, and a most unlikely marvelous companion. No matter where their roller skates take them, at the end of the day they will always be the very best of friends.

DiTerlizzi, Tony. The Search for WondLa
Eva Nine is being raised by Muthr, a pale blue robot in an underground home on the planet Orbona. Entirely unaware of the world outside, she finally gets her chance to see it when she flees a fierce hunter beast looking to capture her for display in his Queen’s museum. Alone, at least temporarily, she sets out on a quest to find other humans like herself. Aboveground is a fantastic and frightening world where Eva faces many dangers. The illustrations are lush and enhance this unique universe. The novel’s ending is a stunning shocker that will leave kids frantically awaiting the next installment.

Erskine, Kathryn.  Mockingbird
In Caitlin’s world, everything is black or white. Things are good or bad. Anything in between is confusing. That’s the stuff Caitlin’s older brother, Devon, has always explained. But now Devon’s dead and Dad is no help at all. Caitlin wants to get over it, but as an eleven-year-old girl with Asperger’s, she doesn’t know how. When she reads the definition of closure, she realizes that is what she needs. In her search for it, Caitlin discovers that not everything is black and white–the world is full of colors–messy and beautiful.

Gidwitz, Adam. A Tale Dark and Grimm
Trying to escape their fate, Hansel and Gretel walk out of their own story and into eight other Grimm-inspired tales. As the siblings wander through a forest brimming with menacing foes and dangerous circumstances, they learn the true story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches. Alternately hilarious and horrifying, fairy tales have never been more irreverent or subversive as Hansel and Gretel learn to take charge of their destinies and become the clever architects of their own happily ever after.

Law, Ingred.  Scumble
Nine years after his cousin Mib’s journey (in Savvy), Ledger Kale turns thirteen and discovers his savvy is a total dud–all he does is make little things fall apart. Thinking it safe to head to visit the family in Wyoming, Ledge soon discovers that his savvy is much more powerful than anyone thought. But even worse, the disaster is seen by Sarah Jane Cabot, reporter wannabe and daughter of the local banker. Ledge’s normal life is over. Now he has to keep Sarah from turning family secrets into headlines, stop her father from foreclosing on the family ranch, and scumble his savvy into control so that, someday, he can go home.

Lin, Grace. Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same. Illustrated by the author
Ling and Ting are twins. They have the same brown eyes. They have the same pink cheeks. They have the same happy smiles.Ling and Ting are sisters, and they stick together, whether they are making dumplings, getting their hair cut, or practicing magic tricks. But looks are deceiving–people can be very different, even if they look exactly the same. For younger readers.

Lord, Cynthia. Touch Blue
Because there aren’t enough children on Tess’s island, the state of Maine plans to shut down the schoolhouse. That would force Tess’s family to move to the mainland.  Fortunately, the islanders have a plan: increase the numbers of students by having several families take in foster children. So now Tess and her family are taking a chance on Aaron, but he is not at all what she expected: he doesn’t like reading, he throws up on her dad’s lobster boat, and he’d rather stay in his room than play Monopoly. Tess needs a plan of her own. This is a feel-good story about letting go of your expectations and accepting the good things already in front of you.

Mass, Wendy. The Candymakers
At the Life Is Sweet factory, four kids gather to create new goodies for the annual Confectionery Association Conference. As they run amok in the candy factory, who will invent the most delicious candy? The Candymaker’s son, who can detect the color of chocolate by touch alone?  The boy who is allergic to merry-go-rounds and the color pink?  The cheerful girl who can lift a fifty-pound lump of taffy like it’s a feather?  Or the suit-and-tie wearing boy who’s always scribbling in a secret notebook? This sweet and cleverly crafted story is filled with mystery, friendship, and juicy revelations.

Mass, Wendy. Finally
You can pierce your ears when you’re twelve. You can go to the mall with your friends when you’re twelve. You can babysit the kid next door when you’re twelve. You can get a cell phone when you’re twelve. Hey, you can even ride in the front seat when you’re twelve.  When you’re twelve, when you’re twelve, when you’re twelve . . .  Rory Swenson has been waiting to turn twelve her whole life. In exactly 18 hours, 36 minutes, and 52 seconds, it will finally happen. Her life will officially begin…

McLaughlin, Patricia. Word after Word after Word
Every school day feels the same for fourth graders Lucy and Henry and Evie and Russell and May. Then Ms. Mirabel comes to their class, bringing magical words and a whole new way of seeing and understanding. Ms. Mirabel becomes a catalyst for the students’ growing awareness in writing and gives them a means to cope with changes in their lives. The friends meet to talk about their hopes, their fears, their families, to talk about serious matters, support each other in direct and indirect ways, and find plenty to laugh about, too. Even the adults in their lives are drawn into the magical power of words.

Pennypacker, Sarah.  Clementine, Friend of the Week. Illustrated by Marla Frazee
Popular Clementine has been chosen Friend of the Week, but will the kids find enough nice things to write about in her friendship booklet? Best friend Margaret, a grade older, gets all weird when the topic of the booklet comes up.  A fun chapter book for kids just starting to read longer books. Try the whole series!

Pierce, Lincoln.  Big Nate Strikes Again
Self-confidence is Big Nate’s strongest suit. Big Nate will surpass all others! But it won’t be easy. He’s stuck with Gina, his all-time enemy, who just might ruin everything! Will Nate win or lose? Pass or fail? Or end up in detention…AGAIN?  Also try Big Nate From the Top, a graphic novel of Big Nate’s adventures!

Potter, Ellen. The Kneebone Boy
Since the three Hardscrabble kids’ mother mysteriously disappeared five years earlier, Dad will not talk about her. After the kids get a hint that Mama may still be alive, they take off to find her, first in London and then in a small seaside town, where they search through a castle with dungeons, dragons, and secret passageways and try to save a young sultan held prisoner in a wild forest. You race through the story, anxious to know how it’s all going to end. And the ending is quite a twist!

Riordan, Rick. The Lost Hero
Return to the world of Camp Half-Blood with a new group of heroes. Jason, Piper and Leo are minding their own business at school when they’re attacked by wind spirits. They’re rescued by some familiar heroes, and end up at Camp Half-Blood, where they inherit a prophecy and a quest. But with Percy missing, and Annabeth distracted, will they be on their own? To survive the journey, they’ll need the help of some familiar demigods…but maybe not the ones you expect.

Schlitz, Laura. The Night Fairy. Illustrated by Angela Barrett
When a bat eats Flory’s wings by mistake, the fairy is stranded in a giant’s garden. What she discovers is that the world is very big and very dangerous. But Flory is fierce and willing to do whatever it takes to survive. If that means telling others what to do (like Skuggle, a squirrel ruled by his stomach) so be it. Not every creature, however, is as willing to bend to Flory’s demands.

Schulman, Polly.  The Grimm Legacy
Elizabeth has a new job at the library; an unusual lending library of objects, not books. In a secret room in the basement lies the Grimm Collection,  where the librarians lock away powerful items straight out of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, items both dangerous and fun. When the magical objects start to disappear, Elizabeth embarks on a dangerous quest to catch the thief before she can be accused of the crime…or captured by the thief.

Springstubb, Tricia.  What Happened on Fox Street
Fox Street doesn’t have foxes, and it doesn’t have Mo Wren’s mother. Mo never stops looking for a fox in the ravine where her street dead-ends. And she never stops missing her mother, even as she takes on the responsibility of being in charge of wild-child Dottie and helping her dad. When her best friend Mercedes comes for the summer, it’s a year full of conundrums and upsets for both girls as their lives change and truths are revealed.

Wiles, Deborah. Countdown
It’s 1962, and it seems everyone is living in fear. Franny Chapman lives in Washington, DC, during the days surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. Amidst the pervasive threat of nuclear war, Franny must face the tension between herself and her younger brother, figure out where she fits in with her family, and look beyond outward appearances. For Franny, as for all Americans, it’s going to be a formative year.

Williams-Garcia, Rita. One Crazy Summer
Delphine and her sisters are going to stay with their mother Cecile for the summer. But Cecile wants nothing to do with them. She sends the girls to a summer camp sponsored by the Black Panthers, where the girls get a radical new education. A heartbreaking, funny tale of three girls in search of the mother who abandoned them.

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Print copies of this and our other lists (Picture Books, Non-Fiction, Holiday Books and Teen Books) are available in print form at the library.  Come in and help yourself, or see the lists as they’re posted over the next few days.



Old Favorite: Detectives in Togas

Historical fiction has always been one of my favorite genres to read, but there’s no doubt that it’s sometimes hard to recommend to the right book for every reader.  Sometimes, much of the enjoyment lies in understanding the background of the time when the story is taking place.

You probably tend to read historical fiction based on the time you’re already interested in (or assigned!) like the American Civil War, or World War II, or on The Oregon Trail.  In those cases, you already have a little background information, and you either want to (or have to) learn more.

Still, picking up a book set in a time period you know nothing about can be very rewarding. Sometimes, it can inspire a reader to find out more about that time, or discover more books set during that period. Sometimes, they’re just fun reads, where you can pick up some tidbits of interesting information to stun and amaze your friends! Crossover novels–science fiction where kids travel through time, or mysteries that take place in history, or fantasy worlds that are based on actual historical facts–can be the best place to start a love of history.

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Detectives in Togas, by Henry Winterfeld, is a mystery. It’s also set during the time when Rome ruled the world, and Caesar ruled Rome.

Caius is a Dumbbell“.  Not quite what you expect to see from a group of wealthy Roman boys at school. And yet, there is is, scratched on a wax writing tablet at the front of the classroom. Rufus, Antonius, Mucius, Flavius, Julius, Publius (and Caius, of course) are shocked to see it stuck up on the wall, for anyone to see.  But it had to have been one of them who did it. Their tutor, Xantippus, stops the fight that erupts between Caius and Rufus, as words and fists start flying, and Caius claims to recognize Rufus’ handwriting.

Xantippus sends a worried Rufus home with a warning that he will speak with his mother, and sends unrepentant Caius home for starting a fight.  He sends the rest of the boys home to think about their actions…and also with an essay, a writing assignment, and studying as punishment for their actions.

The next day, when the boys return, Xantippus is nowhere to be found.  Rufus and Caius are also missing, although with the fight the day before, none of the other boys are surprised. What is surprising is finding Xantippus tied up in his small apartment, his belongings destroyed. With no idea what the invaders were searching for, the boys help their tutor clean up his home, then are given a real day off!

On their way to the market though, they see “Caius is a Dumbbell!” scrawled in huge letters on the wall of The Temple of Minerva, right outside Caius’ home…which is also the home of his father, Senator Vinicius,  a very important man in Rome. Like Caius, the senator suspects Rufus, and he plans to denounce him.

Crime is more serious in Rome than today’s readers might think, and Rufus is in danger of losing his hands, if not his life, just for being thought guilty. The boys know that their friend is in serious danger, and set out to find and help him.

How is the attack on Xantippus connected? Is the wealthy ex-consul Tellus, who may have had some connection to Rufus’ father, trying to help or hurt the boy? Will Caius help them? Has Rufus disappeared on his own, or is he in real trouble?  As the boys find more and more clues to help their friend, they find themselves deeper and deeper in danger.  Can they work together to save Rufus? Or will their actions doom him?

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The boys in this book are kids you would want on your side if you were in the middle of a crisis. They’re hard-working, funny and persistent, and they’ll do anything to help a friend. Even though they lived a couple thousand years ago, their friendship and school days are similar to what kids today have.

Henry Winterfeld was born in Germany, where Detectives in Togas was originally published in 1953; it was translated into English and published in the U.S. in 1956.  The Mystery of the Roman Ransom was published in 1969 in Germany, and translated in 1971.  A third book about the boys was published in Germany in 1976, but has not been translated into English.  I’ll read it if it’s ever released over here!

The details of Ancient Rome are fresh, and the information feels very naturally part of  the story. All that historical information is just part of the background…and if you happen to learn a few things while you’re reading, so much the better.  In fact, I suspect that anyone who finishes Detectives in Togas will want to read the second book about Rufus, Mucius and their friend–The Mystery of the Roman Ransom, where the boys buy Xantippus a slave and Caius is kidnapped.  You might also try The Roman Mysteries, by Caroline Lawrence.  You’ll be happy you did!  (And hey, it might give you a little headstart when you study Ancient Rome in middle school…)


Old Favorites: Two Holiday Reads

Now that December is almost here, it’s difficult not to think of the holidays. So this almost-December post is about my favorite Hanukkah story and my favorite Christmas story.  More All-Of-A-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor and The Worst Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson.

Both books are based on the authors’ memories of their childhoods, Sydney Taylor’s in the early 1900s, and Barbara Robinson’s in the 1950s/1960s.  Both books are about real people and real situations, remembered decades later. A little tidbit to keep in mind while reading.

I re-read these books pretty frequently at this time of year, because they are just that awesome.

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More All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor is the sequel to All-of-a-Kind Family (there are three other books as well) but it stands quite well on it’s own. Set at the turn of the 20th century, these stories are about a Jewish family growing up on the East Side of New York City. The family consists of Mama and Papa, and sisters Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie. (All girls, which is why they were called all-of-kind.) In the last chapter of the first book, their brother Charlie is born.

The books portray a wonderful slice of life for that time period. The girls are close, and since the family doesn’t have much money, they have to rely on each other for almost everything.  Many of the chapters are centered on the rich traditions celebrated by the family during holidays and family gatherings. Chapter six in the second book is called Festival of Lights, and is all about celebrating Hanukkah. From making the (eye-watering) latkes to polishing and lighting the Menorah, to listening to Papa relate the story behind Hanukkah are memories that are warm and inviting.

When the girls walk across town to join their cousins  for dreidle games is my favorite part. Mischevious Henny asks her Aunt Rivka for some of the nuts to take home. Upon being told to take “as many as you can carry”, she opens her umbrella and takes the whole bowlful. Walking home with a bulging umbrella, her sisters figure out what she did. The dilemma of what Mama will say is solved quite handily by the sisters.

I adored the All-of-a-Kind series when I was young.  Not every chapter is about a holiday…my favorite chapter in the first book was about dusting, and my second favorite about (of course) visiting the library.  But if you want a gentle story about what life was like “in the olden days”, with a loving family and adventures in daily life, try these books.

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The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson is about a very different kind of family. The Horrible Herdmans are six siblings–Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie and Gladys Herdman. They are absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. “They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and burned down houses.” Well, toolsheds, anyway. They also wash their cat at the laundromat and  manage to give the entire school chicken pox. The kids at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School try to stay away from them as much as possible, but that isn’t easy when there’s a Herdman in every class.

When Beth and Charlie’s mother gets put in charge of the Christmas pageant, none of them expected the Herdmans to get involved. After all, rehearsals are at Sunday school, on Sunday, the Herdman’s day off. And it was at church. On stage! Why would they bother?  But then Charlie makes the mistake of telling Leroy that there are refreshments at church, and suddenly, all six Herdmans show up for rehearsals.

When the Herdmans do something, they do it all the way, so that’s how the Christmas pageant ends up with Imogene as Mary, Ralph as Joseph, Leroy, Claude and Ollie as the Three Wise Men, and Gladys as the Angel of the Lord.

It turns out that the Herdmans don’t know the first thing about Christmas, and their take on the story of Bethlehem is both funny and heartwarming.  They certainly put the story of Christmas in perspective. To say too much would give it away, but you’ll laugh out loud as you’re reading and maybe get a little teary too, at the end of the story.

The Herdmans go back to their old selves in The Best School Year Ever and The Best Halloween Ever…but the kids at the Woodrow Wilson School aren’t as surprised to discover that as much as the Herdmans scheme and fight and swear, their hearts are in the right places.

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So pick up More All-of-a-Kind Family or The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and enjoy the holidays. They’re both great read-alouds too, so if you’re a parent, looking for some way to share your holidays (and maybe find a way to sharing your own favorite memories of childhood holidays) this would be a wonderful way to start.  It’s just the beginning of the month–you have plenty of time.

Happy December!


Old Favorites: Ballet Shoes

With Thanksgiving coming up this week, I was wracking my brain trying to come up with an old favorite that involved Pilgrims, Plymouth, Thanksgiving or even November.  I failed. (Of course, tomorrow, I’ll probably come up with half a dozen.) At any rate, I went to plan B, which was an old favorite involving families.  Then there were too many. Yikes!

Narrowing it down to something I hadn’t done before was the most difficult part. But then I saw a commercial on TV and thought about what else is coming up…performances of The Nutcracker.  And there was the perfect book: Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild.

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Great-Uncle Matthew (Gum for short) was once a famous professor and paleontologist, looking for and locating fossils all over the world. After he loses his leg in an accident, he has to stop his work, but instead, he travels the world, collecting fossils…and babies.

By various means (including shipwreck and revolution) Pauline, Petrova and Posy are three orphans who all end up in Gum’s London home, looked after by Gum’s niece Sylvia and Nana. In appearance and temperment, they’re all very different: Pauline is lovely, blonde and poised. Petrova is small, brunette, and very intelligent, while Posy is red-haired and cheerful.  As they grow, the three girls become close sisters.

When Great Uncle Max disappears on an expedition, Sylvia is in danger of losing their home. It’s obvious that this small family has to come up with a plan to survive. Taking in boarders helps, but it’s just not enough. To help out, Pauline, Petrova and Posy make a vow–“We three Fossils vow to try and put our names in history books because it’s our very own and nobody can say it’s because of our grandfathers”. Their goal to become famous and create a name for themselves begins with ballet lessons. Hey, everyone has to start somewhere!

Three such different girls cannot all have the same talents. Even though they all practice, and practice hard, it turns out that ballet is a stepping stone to other things, each suiting the personality and talents of Pauline, Petrova and Posy. As they go through ups and downs, meet new people, succees, fail, disagree and share their experiences, the girls do start to achieve their goal.

From the floodlights of the stage, to the eye of the movie camera, to the thrill of high flying adventure, these three sisters all shine, once they find their own spotlight. Even though they argue, and fight and disagree, they find that the best part of their vow is that they each have friends and sisters who support them and share their experiences.  Will they become famous? It certainly seems to look that way…

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Originally published in 1937, this story reflects a time when hard work and determination was needed to survive and persevere in the world. Each of the girls figures out what they want out of life, and they set out to get it, usually with their sisters’ help. Even though Sylvia and Nana are their guardians and support system, these girls make it on their own.

I loved Ballet Shoes when I first read it!  The fact that Pauline, Petrova and Posy were doing it on their own was inspiring. Even though each girl had a different rate of success (or failure) and they just kept on going. I loved the ending (which I won’t give away). Obviously, other people liked it too, as the book has never gone out of print. At least one TV miniseries and one movie were made based on the book.

Noel Streatfeild continued with her stories of kids making it big on their own with her “Shoes” series. Some feature sisters, others brothers and sisters, and others friends who band together in some way. Besides Ballet Shoes, I think my favorites were Circus Shoes and Theatre Shoes. Pauline, Petrova and Posy don’t have another book, but if you read the other Shoe stories closely, there are hints of their lives after Ballet Shoes when characters meet or hear about the grown-up girls.

If you have a budding ballerina, or liked either the books or the movies of  A Little Princess or Anne of Green Gables, you should try Ballet Shoes. I think you’ll like it.


Booklist: Favorite Fictional Families!

Family Stories!

Did you know that November is Family Stories month?  So grab a book and celebrate with one of your favorite fictional families!  If you don’t know any fictional families, how about trying one of the families listed below. Most of these titles are the first of a series (or at least two books) about the characters.

Birdseye, Jeanne. Rosalind, Skye, Jane & Batty Penderwick
These four sisters are best friends, which is a very good thing when they spend the summer together on an estate with only two rabbits and a very interesting boy as company!  This modern story has an old-fashioned feel, and you’ll want to be friends with all four sisters. Start with The Penderwicks.

Blume, Judy. Peter and Fudge Hatcher.
Poor Peter! He has to have the most active and imaginative brother in the world.  Whether they’re going out to eat or eyeing family pets at home, these brothers will make you laugh out loud!  Start with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.

Cresswell, Helen.  The Bagthorpes
Talk about a crazy family!  Jack is the only ordinary child, surrounded by talented siblings, a genius cousin, over-achieving parents, eccentric grandparents and one sympathetic uncle. And yet, they all gather for weekly meetings and dinners…even if they do manage to do things like burn the house down.  Very humorous and very, very British. Start with Ordinary Jack.

Fitgerald, John.  Sweyn, Tom &  J.D. Jenkins
Tom is known as “The Great Brain” in Adenville, Utah. That’s not so much because he’s brilliant as that he’s the biggest conman—or con kid—in town. J. D. looks up to his brother, even as he’s caught up in his schemes.  Start with The Great Brain.

Langton, Jane. Eleanor, Eddy & Georgie Hall
Eddy and Eleanor start off this series, with their younger step-cousin/adopted sister Georgie joining them in the second book. The Halls live in Concord, Massachusetts, in a huge house, where strange things happen. The siblings bond as they deal with unexpected and magical adventures.  Start with either The Diamond in the Window or The Fledgling.

Law, Ingrid.  The Beaumont Family
Every member of the Beaumont family is keeping a secret from the world. On the day of their thirteenth birthday, each new teen develops a “savvy”, a special unique power that grows and develops with them. It can be something easy like storing sound in a container, or something big and hard to control like channeling electricity.  But whatever power they have, all the Beaumonts work together to protect and help each other. Read Savvy for Mib’s story, or Scumble for her cousin Logan’s.

L’Engle, Madeleine. John, Vicky, Suzy & Rob Austin
With a famous doctor for a father, and a former opera singer for a mother, these thoughtful, intelligent, (and sometimes annoying–to each other) siblings stick up for each other through thick and thin, while enjoying adventures at home and when they journey around the country. Start with Meet the Austins.

L’Engle, Madeleine. Meg, Sandy, Dennys & Charles Wallace Murray
Their father vanished a year ago. Their mother is a famous scientist. Twins Sandy and Dennys share a twin bond, but oldest sister Meg and youngest brother Charles Wallace are the ones who are connected. Start with A Wrinkle in Time.  And don’t be surprised if some of the Austins pop up in later books!

Martin, Ann.  Abigail, Bainbridge, Callandra, Dagwood, Eberhard, Faustine, Gardenia, Hannah, Ira, & Janthina Rosso
With those names, you think they don’t have a problem? These ten siblings are named by a system their mother invented. They always have someone to play with, but the one thing they don’t have is a pet. When they move to a new home with lots of room, these kids band together to find one and convince their parents to keep it. Start with Ten Kids, No Pets.

Mason, Simon.  Will &  Lucy Quigley (and Mum &  Dad)
These lighthearted (but stubborn) British siblings have their own take on how things should be done, and how they’re going to do it. Mum and Dad even get their own adventures in each title!  Start with The Quigleys.

McKay, Hilary.  Caddy, Indigo, Rose & Saffy Casson
The Cassons are an eccentric, engaging British family. Their artist parents named their children for colors. Saffron, however, learns at the start of the series that she is actually an adopted cousin. When their grandfather dies and leaves Saffy an angel, she searches for it. Unforgettable characters come alive in often deeply humorous and always absorbing events to be treasured. Start with Saffy’s Angel, but each sibling has their own book.

McKay, Hilary.  Ruth, Naomi, Rachel & Phoebe Conroy
The Conroys don’t have a television or pet, or vacations. They do like to read though. When their parents inherit money, they ship the four sisters off to Big Grandma’s house, where lots of chores and horribly long walks await them. At first it seems as though Big Grandma is determined to put a stop to any fun…she won’t even let them read!. But the girls find interesting ways to entertain themselves, and start having adventures and mishaps as usual… Start with The Exiles.

Naylor, Phyllis. The Hatfield Boys & The Malloy Girls
The Hatfields have always been best friends with the Benson boys, who live across the river from their house. But when the Bensons move to Georgia, the Malloys move into their house. Now, instead of boys, there are three sisters living in their best friends’ house.  From sinking cakes to floating heads, dead fish to rabid sisters, it’s war! Start with The Boys Start the War/The Girls Get Even.

Ransom, The Walker &  the Blackett Families
Boats, pirates, camping and sailing! The Swallows crew are four siblings—John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker, while the Amazon is piloted by two sisters—Nancy and Peggy Blackett.  When the two families meet, adventure is on the horizon! Start with Swallows and Amazons.

Robinson, Barbara. The Horrible Herdmans
Take one family of kids that lie, cheat, curse, steal and generally wreak havoc on the general public, but especially on the other kids at Woodrow K. Wilson Elementary School. Mary and her friends are all afraid of Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie and Gladys Herdman; but as it turns out, the Herdmans have something to share with the whole town. Start with either The Worst Best Christmas Pageant Ever or The Worst Best School Year Ever.

Snyder, Zilpha. David, Janie, Blair & Esther Stanley and Amanda Randall
The Stanley children have met their match in stepsister Amanda. Amanda’s not sure she wants siblings, even though it’s clear that Jeff and Molly are going to be married. It’s up to David to make sure that his younger brother and sisters are ready to face the adventures they’ll be encountering!  Start with The Headless Cupid.  (And check out our “Old Favorite” entry for another book in this series: The Famous Stanley Kidnapping Case.)

If you have a brother or sister, or a bunch of them, or none at all…these books are a great way to spend an afternoon.  And they’re all good read-alouds for families!  Most of these titles are also on CD, so they’re great for family car trips.


Old Favorites: The Famous Stanley Kidnapping Case

Time for another old favorite in the library’s collection!  Hold onto you hats, because this week’s selection doesn’t feature ghosts or fantasy.  (I know! Very unusual…)

Did you know that November is Family Stories Month?  I didn’t either, until I was looking for a topic for a book display. And when I was pulling stories that featured families having fun or adventures together, I came across The Famous Stanley Kidnapping Case, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.  Ahhh, it took me back! I remember reading it when it first came out,  in 1979. The Stanleys are one of my favorite families in kids’ books.

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David, Janie, Blair and Esther Stanley and their new stepsister Amanda are about to set out on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.  Molly, Amanda’s mother, was left some money when her uncle died. The only stipulation? She has to spend it all in Italy.  So Jeff, their father, takes a sabbatical for a year to write a book, and the Stanleys (and one Randall) set off for a year of culture and travel in Italy.  Only Janie, a precocious seven-year-old, has any doubts.  She predicts to four-year-old twins Blair and Esther that they’ll probably get kidnapped. David tries to reassure her while Amanda scoffs at her wild imagination.

Although David and Amanda get along pretty well for a pair of thirteen-year-olds, they disagree on the three younger kids. David has grown up watching out for them, while Amanda has never had to think of anyone but herself. Becoming part of a large family is harder than she could ever have imagined. Everything she does has to be done with a group, and even though their Italian Villa is fun, she’s soon tired of dragging kids around wherever she goes.  Even David, who is pretty patient, is growing annoyed with her behavior. In her unhappiness, Amanda brags to the wrong people about how her rich Hollywood father will let her come stay with him to escape the littlest Stanleys.

One night, three men break into the house.  The kids quickly figure out that they’ve come to kidnap Amanda for ransom. But her new little brother and sisters aren’t going to stand for their big sister being taken! Janie (who has picked up Italian very quickly) insists that they be kidnapped too, and Esther bites one of the kidnappers until they agree.  Even Blair manages to shed his angelic behavior long enough to help. When a reluctant David finds out what’s happening and manages to catch up with everyone, he ends up joining the kidnappees  so he can take care of Blair, Esther and Janie.  The harried kidnappers reluctantly take all five kids.

Even in their new Italian basement prison, only David seems to be worried about their situation. With Janie chatting daily with the kidnappers and teaching them English for the ransom notes, Esther cleaning their basement prison, scolding the kidnappers for their food preparation and eating everything in sight, Blair talking about a mysterious Blue Lady watching over them and Amanda in tears most of the time, it’s up to David to keep the Stanleys together and come up with an escape plan. Can he do it, before the kidnappers get their ransom?

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Although it might not sound like it, this is an extremely funny book. Each of the three youngest kids are very determined little characters, and they manage to get into some very interesting situations…which David then has to rescue them from.  It’s also a dangerous adventure, as one of the kidnappers is a little more determined than his henchmen. For the family portion of the plot, Amanda having to get used to being one of five instead of an only child is a compelling story. And I just love David.

The Stanleys are featured in several other books by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.  The Headless Cupid is when David and the younger kids meet Amanda. Janie’s Private Eyes and Blair’s Nightmare are mystery/adventures after the family returns to the US  from Italy. All are well worth reading!

If you like a good old-fashioned family story, with a lot of humor, a hint of mystery and a bit of travelogue thrown in, try The Famous Stanley Kidnapping Case.  And if you happen to be in the library, look at our display, which features other favorite families like the Moffats, the Hatchers, the Penderwicks, the Quimbys, the Cassons, the Krupniks, the Melendys…


Teens: Books That Made an Impact on You

Books can impact you in many ways. They can relate to you, inform you, move you, entertain you, etc. We invited teens to share what books made an impact on them for whatever reason. Here’s what they wrote on the Library’s graffiti board.

A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

Afraid that she is crazy, thirteen-year-old Mia, who sees a special color with every letter, number, and sound, keeps this a secret until she becomes overwhelmed by school, changing relationships, and the loss of something important to her.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

As her mother prepares to be a contestant on the 1980s television game show, “The $20,000 Pyramid,” a twelve-year-old New York City girl tries to make sense of a series of mysterious notes received from an anonymous source that seems to defy the laws of time and space.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

A traumatic event near the end of the summer has a devastating effect on Melinda’s freshman year in high school.

The Cay by Theodore Taylor

When the freighter on which they are traveling is torpedoed by a German submarine during World War II, an adolescent white boy, blinded by a blow on the head, and an old black man are stranded on a tiny Caribbean island where the boy acquires a new kind of vision, courage, and love from his old companion.

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham

With two attorneys for parents, thirteen-year-old Theodore Boone knows more about the law than most lawyers do. But when a high profile murder trial comes to his small town and Theo gets pulled into it, it’s up to this amateur attorney to save the day.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Pfeffer

Through journal entries sixteen-year-old Miranda describes her family’s struggle to survive after a meteor hits the moon, causing worldwide tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.

Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret

The author describes her battle against polio when she was thirteen and her efforts to overcome its debilitating effects.

Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix

When a diphtheria epidemic hits her 1840 village, thirteen-year-old Jessie discovers it is actually a 1996 tourist site under unseen observation by heartless scientists, and it’s up to Jessie to escape the village and save the lives of the dying children.

Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Thirteen Plus 1 by Lauren Myracle

The year between turning eleven and turning twelve bring many changes for Winnie and her friends.

Winnie relates the events of her twelth year and the many changes in her relationships and in her attitude toward growing up.

Winnie’s thirteenth year brings many joys and challenges as she negotiates her relationship with her first boyfriend and realizes that change is inevitable in her friends, family and even herself.

As Winnie and her friends count the days until the beginning of high school, they attend a summer camp where they learn about sea turtles–as well as human relationships.

Fever 1983 by Laurie Halse Anderson

In 1793 Philadelphia, sixteen-year-old Matilda Cook, separated from her sick mother, learns about perseverance and self-reliance when she is forced to cope with the horrors of a yellow fever epidemic.

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor

A black family living in Mississippi during the Depression of the 1930s is faced with prejudice and discrimination which its children do not understand.

A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle

During the summer her grandfather is dying of leukemia and death seems all around, 15-year-old Vicky finds comfort with the pod of dolphins with which she has been doing research.

Finally by Wendy Mass

After her twelfth birthday, Rory checks off a list of things she is finally allowed to do, but unexpected consequences interfere with her involvement in the movie being shot at her school, while a weird prediction starts to make sense.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

A coming of age novel about Charlie, a freshman in high school who is a wallflower, shy and introspective, and very intelligent. He deals with the usual teen problems, but also with the suicide of his best friend.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

When seventeen-year-old Bella leaves Phoenix to live with her father in Forks, Washington, she meets an exquisitely handsome boy at school for whom she feels an overwhelming attraction and who she comes to realize is not wholly human.