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 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 another  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

Dark Lord: The Early Years by Jamie Thomson

288 pages

Published by Scholastic Inc., 2013 – First published in 2011 by Orchard Books

ISBN 978-0-545-55223-3

Interest Level: 4th – 8th grades

Reading Level: 5.6

The book opens with the Dark Lord finding himself laying on the hard ground in a world he does not recognize. He does not remember how he got there, and is appalled to find he is trapped in the puny body of a small human boy. Powerless to do anything about it, the Dark Lord finds himself being called Dirk Lloyd and being studied by other human beings. He discovers that his Ring of Power that he worked thousands of years upon and his Cloak of Endless Night were not working, and his Helm of the Hosts of Hades was gone altogether! What is an Evil Overlord to do?! He is now truly at the mercy of these human beings! He soon comes to realize that he has suffered the ultimate defeat at the hands of his arch-nemesis, Hasdruban the Pure. Or as he likes to call him, the Meddling White Wizard! But the Dark Lord is determined to find a way back to his world.

The Dark Lord, er, Dirk Lloyd is sent to live with what he calls the “Guardians of Purity” – his foster family; the Purjoies. Thus begins his humanly existence in another world. As Dirk becomes accustomed to the life of a 12 year old boy, he forms alliances, albeit strange ones, with Christopher Purejoie, Susan – aka Sooz, and Sal Malik, the local head jock at his school. Dirk eventually figures out a way home to his own world and enlists the aid of Christopher, Sooz and Sal. But even the best laid plans can go awry…

From the Reviewer: It took a while, but I finally finished this book! It is not a grab you right at the beginning kind of book, but if young readers like a more involved and advanced writing style, this book is a winner. The author does not talk down to the young reader, he expects them to keep up. He is writing from the perspective of an imperious, thousands year old dark overlord, and maintains that tone throughout the book. There were some laugh out loud sections in the book for me and once I was able to devote time to reading it, I finished it in one sitting and enjoyed it. Early in the book it is too easy to put down. I had to re-read the first three chapters a couple of times because I was away from it for too long. Also, some of the visuals conjured up are a little intense for the lower end of the targeted age group. An example: “…He always imagined eggs on toast were a kind of Blood Porridge, made from the eyes of the White Wizard, toasted Halfling-flesh, and the blood of a Brown Elf.” Funny from the perspective of a Dark Lord, and I did laugh at this, but might be too descriptive for younger readers. As always I recommend that parents peruse this book beforehand to make sure that your 4th grader and even some 5th graders can handle it.

Category: 4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade, 7th Grade, Reviews | Comments Off on Dark Lord: The Early Years by Jamie Thomson

“Who Could That Be at This Hour?” by Lemony Snicket

258 pages

Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2012

ISBN 978-0-316-12308-2

Interest Level: 4th – 8th grades

AR Level: 5.5


Who is S. Theodora Markson and what does the S. stand for? Why have they been hired to retrieve a stolen artifact? Who is Hangfire and why is he kidnapping people? What is a Bombinating Beast anyway? These and other wrong questions are asked in this book.

A young Lemony Snicket is the main character of this book. He is taken in by a chaperone named S. Theodora Markson. They have been hired to retrieve a stolen artifact by a woman who may or may not be who she claims to be. Lemony meets a girl by the name of Moxie, who writes for a newspaper that no longer exists. He meets Ellington Feint, a girl whose father has been taken by a mysterious person that calls himself Hangfire. As Lemony tries to find answers to the strange occurrences surrounding his current situation, more qestions arise. Some are the right questions, but most are the wrong ones…

From the Reviewer: This is one of those books that cannot be given too much description in the synopsis, or else you give away the book! Lemony Snicket is up to his usual tricks of writing a book that makes sense, yet makes no sense at all. A book that is confusing, yet perfectly clear. I thoroughly enjoyed it! This one took me a little longer to read, as once or twice I went back and re-read a few paragraphs to make sure I wasn’t missing anything.  I would recommend this book for 5th or 6th grade and up, for more advanced readers because the plot is a little confusing. But once you get past Lemony Snicket’s writing style, it’s actually a funny book. Since this is the first in the series, I’m looking forward to reading the next book to see how the story progresses. This book is challenging and intriguing, and well written.

Category: 5th Grade, 6th Grade, 7th Grade, Grade Levels, Reviews | Comments Off on “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” by Lemony Snicket