When I Was Older by Garret Freymann-Weyr


167 pages

Published by Penguin Books, 2000

ISBN: 0-329-27047-8

Interest Level: 9th-12th grades

Reading Level: 4.4

15 year old Sophie is trying to make it. Her brother Erhart died of Leukemia just before he turned 8, when she was 12 years old. Since then her life has been a series of burying herself in her schoolwork, keeping people at bay, and being angry with her father for having an affair while her brother was dying, and as a result tearing her family further apart. Now at age 15, she is dealing with the fact that boys who were her friends have begun treating her like a girl and asking her for dates, and her mother has started dating.

It is through her mother’s boyfriend that she meets Francis. All of a sudden, here is this strange boy with a tattoo on his face, asking her questions she doesn’t want to answer and forcing her to feel things she doesn’t want to feel. At first it is good to have someone to talk to about her feelings for her brother, because Francis lost his mother as well. She is able to tell him things she hasn’t been able to tell anyone, including her mother. But when Francis begins to try to deepen their relationship, Sophie has some choices to make. Does she allow Francis to become more to her than just a friend, or does she continue to keep him at arm’s length?

From the Reviewer: This book would be good for older, reluctant readers. The sentence structure is very short and to the point. There aren’t many long, descriptive sequences and the author does not get bogged down in a ton of details. It’s a fast-paced read. I was able to read the entire book in about 3 hours. There is some good snarky humor in the character responses, and a couple of times I chuckled to myself, thinking these are probably the types of responses that go through my own teenager’s heads. I normally state that parents should peruse the book to determine if it is right for your young reader, but I really suggest that this is a book for the YA reader because it deals with the death of a child and the effect that has on a family, extra-marital affairs, divorce, and brief mentions of sex.

Category: 8th Grade, High School | Comments Off on When I Was Older by Garret Freymann-Weyr

Dear Know-It-All: Set the Record Straight! by Rachel Wise

153 pages

Published by Simon and Schuster, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4445-4

Interest Level: 4th-8th grades

Reading Level: 4.0


Samantha “Sam” Martone loves to write for the middle school newspaper and dreams of travelling the world as a journalist someday. When her teacher, Mr. Trigg gives her the assignment of being the anonymous writer for the “Dear Know-It-All” column of the newspaper, Sam is thrilled! But this assignment is not as easy as it might sound. She has to keep it a secret from her very best friend, and even from her crush and fellow reporter Michael Lawrence.

When Sam writes a response to a letter received in the “Dear Know-It-All” mailbox, she thinks her answer will be a huge success. However, when she begins receiving bullying messages because the results of her advice go wrong, she’s not sure what to do. First, she ignores them, then becomes increasingly scared as the messages become more threatening. Who can she turn to for help when she is doing her best to remain anonymous as the column writer?

From the Reviewer: This book was very easy and quick to read, and engaging as well. I was able to read it in one sitting, and I believe most readers age 9-13 would be able to read it in 1-3 days, time permitting. This was an enlightening read for me, especially as I have children in the age ranges of the characters in the book. Cyber-bullying has become so commonplace these days and is a very important issue to address. I think that for young readers, this book addresses what to do in the case of cyber-bullying in a way they can easily understand: 1. Tell your parents, 2. Tell a teacher or principal, 3. Understand that it is not your fault, there may be issues the bully needs help dealing with, 4. and most importantly…Do Not try to deal with cyber-bullying on your own!

Some of the press for this book series has the age range of readers being 8-12 at grade levels 3rd-7th. While I realize that cyber-bullying can be an issue at very young ages, I feel the target age group for this book and others in the series is 9-13, and grade levels 4th-8th, maybe even higher for reluctant readers. As always, I recommend that parents peruse this book and others in the series to determine if it is right for your young reader.

Category: 4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade | Comments Off on Dear Know-It-All: Set the Record Straight! by Rachel Wise

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

399 pages

Published by FolletBound, 1996

ISBN: 0-329-29656-6

Interest Level: 6th-8th grades

Reading Level: 7.1


“I’m going to give you something, and you must promise to keep it private. Will you swear to that?”

“Yes, “Lyra said.

He crossed to the desk and took from a drawer a small package wrapped in black velvet. When he unfolded the cloth, Lyra saw something like a large watch or a small clock: a thick disc of gold and crystal. It might have been a compass or something of the sort. ….


Lyra Belacqua lives in an alternate universe that is like ours, but with a few major differences. For one, the humans have souls called daemons which are shape shifting animals that live outside their bodies and have the ability to speak to their own human, or others if they so choose.

Lyra is something of a rambunctious child; adventurous, strong-willed, fearless, a natural-born leader. Quite a handful for the older, scholarly professors at Jordan College, where she resides. As children in the town where she lives begin disappearing, Lyra’s natural curiosity begins to take over and she begins to investigate the disappearances. But when one of her close friends disappears, she embarks on a desperate journey to find him and find out what is going on.

Before Lrya can leave on her journey, she is abruptly sent to live with a woman she barely knows. While staying with the lady, Lyra finds out that her uncle has been taken captive and imprisoned in the North by armor-wearing bears. Now, not only does she need to find and rescue the missing children but her uncle as well. She is going to need all the help she can get….

From the Reviewer: I don’t normally review books that have had movies made from them, but as there is a lot of controversy surrounding this book and the trilogy, and since it was in my local school library, I thought I would give it a read. First, I liked this book. I thought Philip Pullman did a good job of creating and detailing his characters, and I had a very real sense of who I would root for and who I wouldn’t. The pacing is good, and even though Pullman gets wordy he manages to not get too bogged down by details. Second, I will upfront tell you that it is not a book intended for younger readers, regardless of what the press says. I would rate this book at about 6th grade level minimum on up, if only for its content and difficulty. Third, even based on the fact that Philip Pullman is apparently an atheist and wrote this as a snub if you will at God in general, I could really only find one section that gave me pause. In chapter 21, Pullman writes as though the character is reading a passage out of Chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis from “their” bible. He takes a very large dollop of creative license in this section. I can understand where this would make people uncomfortable. Fourth, (Spoiler Alert!) Pullman describes a process where children are separated from their deamons which is akin to murder in our world. So as always, I suggest parents peruse this book with your young reader and determine if this is a good fit for him or her.

P.S. Some have compared this trilogy to the Harry Potter series and I just can’t see it. I believe a more accurate comparison would be to C.S Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. With the knowledge, of course, that C.S. Lewis wrote in favor of God and Philip Pullman wrote in favor of a disbelief in God.

Category: 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade | Comments Off on The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman


309 pages

Published by HarperCollins, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-053093-8

Interest Level: 6th grade and up

Reading Level: 5.1


What is a boy to do when he is alive and his “family” are all dead?

A boy’s family is killed by an assassin but the child escapes. Discovered in the Graveyard on the Hill, by it’s inhabitants no less, he is taken in by one of the more respected couples of the graveyard. Vouched for by a stranger named Silas who also keeps residence in the graveyard, Nobody Owens begins his new life, while a killer still looks for him. As Bod grows up, Silas begins to teach him how to read and write and answers every question Bod asks. Bod one day meets a girl named Scarlett and learns more about the outside world from her. He, in turn, shows her the wonders of the graveyard. But not all things in the graveyard should be discovered, as Bod and Scarlett find out.

Bod learns about many different things growing up in the graveyard. He learns about ghouls and werewolves. He learns about witches and the dance between the living and the dead. He even learns how to become “invisible” to the living even though he is living himself. But he also learns that a very dangerous group is looking for him, and a killer still wants him dead.

And so it goes with Bod growing up. He meets ghosts from all walks of life and times and learns very important lessons. He learns that the world outside the gates of the graveyard is very different indeed. And he learns that he has within himself all the knowledge and power he needs to fight a battle for his life.

From the Reviewer: I loved this book! So much so that I read it in one sitting. It has a very good story line. Even though it was published a few years ago, I think the idea is refreshing of a living child being raised by the dead. I found myself liking every character in the book and despising the bad guy. I even got a little teary-eyed at the end. As much as I liked the book, I would have liked to have seen a little more description about a battle that takes place towards the end of the book, even though it wasn’t a main focus. This book was such a neat book to read. **Note to Parents** The first few chapters deal with the deaths of Nobody’s family and a killer hunting a small child. No gore is in the details, but I recommend parents peruse this book to determine if it is appropriate for your young reader.

Category: 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade, Reviews | Comments Off on The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Hunt for the Seventh by Christine Morton-Shaw


273 pages

Published by Scholastic Inc., 10/2009 – First published in 2008 by HarperCollins

ISBN: 978-0-545-20679-2

Interest Level – 6th grade and up

Reading Level: 4.5


Jim Brown’s first day at Minerva Estate is not all as it should be. He keeps hearing a girl’s voice whispering “Find the seventh!”, but there’s no one around. Then he meets Lord Minerva and instantly takes a dislike to the old man. And what about all those creepy statues on the grounds? Strange and stranger; Jim meets a young boy that doesn’t tell him his name, won’t look at him, and keeps talking about numbers and dates in odd ways. Jim continues to hear the whispering and even sees the ghost of the girl who is speaking to him.

Jim finds an old schoolroom in the manor as he tries to find out about the children who have lived at Minerva Estate. While there, a ghostly hand writes down the names and ages of six Minerva children and their ages – all deceased. Under the names are the instructions “Follow the statues”. Jim finds the first statue, but also sees how the first child died. Jim comes to the realization that he can tell no one about what he sees and hears, that he has to solve this mystery on his own. After he makes up his mind to do this however, he has another frightening vision of an old woman pointing at him and saying “The old one is watching you”.

So it goes that Jim continues to see visions of the deaths of the Minerva children. He is in a race against time to find out why the deaths have occurred and try to prevent anotherĀ  tragedy. Will he find the answers in time?


From the Reviewer: The book had a good flow and kept me interested. At times it got a little far-fetched, but I still wanted to see what would happen next. One of the disappointing factors of the book is there was no clearly defined age for Jim. I tend to like to know the age of the characters to determine if their feats are realistic enough to be believable. Unless I missed it, there are no clearly defined ages given for Jim or his sister Sally, although I assume that Jim is the older of the two. This threw me off when reading some of the things that Jim did. I finally decided in my mind that he would be around 12-14 years of age, making it easier for me to better identify with his plight and his actions. My 6th grade daughter read this book for a class project and she enjoyed the book as well, especially the ending, but did not like that fact that the author took three chapters to finally reveal what happened to the third Minerva child. This book has a choppy beginning and lack of description of her main characters. **Note to Parents** This book deals with the subject of adolescent death in violent circumstances. The descriptions are not gory, but parents may want to peruse this book to determine if it is appropriate for your young reader.

Category: 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade, Reviews | Comments Off on The Hunt for the Seventh by Christine Morton-Shaw