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

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

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

Ruined by Paula Morris


309 Pages

Published by Scholastic Inc., 2010

ISBN 978-0-545-23607-2

Interest Level: 6th grade +

Reading Level: 6.0


Imagine being a 15 year old girl living in New York. Imagine being suddenly sent to New Orleans to live for 6 months with a woman you barely know. Imagine going to a school where you’re treated as a nobody because you’re an outsider. Imagine meeting a ghost one night in a spooky cemetary….

All of this and more happens to Rebecca Brown. She is a 15 year old girl who has lived in New York City all her life and loves it there. However, one day her father tells her that his company is sending him to China for 6 months, so she is sent to New Orleans to live with her “Aunt” Claudia; a woman she’s only met one time and barely knows. She is made to attend Temple Mead School for Girls and while there makes enemies instead of friends: Helena Bowman and Marrianne Sutton and their friends. This group of girls  are from New Orleans’ oldest and wealthiest families and they do not take kindly to Rebecca at all. They consider her an outsider and make sure that Rebecca is aware of their disdain for her.

At first Rebecca doesn’t really care what the girls think because she’s only in New Orleans temporarily. If she can make it through these 6 months, then she’s home free back in New York. But one night she follows Helena Bowman and her friends into the cemetary that is across the street from her aunt’s house. When it is time to leave before she’s discovered, she panics because it is very dark and she can’t find her way back to the cemetary gate. This is when she meets Lisette, who shows her the way out. She later discovers that Lisette is a ghost. Both girls are startled that she can see the ghost, but their relationship soon blossoms into a friendship as Lisette shows Rebecca her world and tells her the story of how she died. When Rebecca learns that Lisette is tied to the Bowman house and can’t leave until she finds peace, Rebecca wants to try to help her. But in doing so, Rebecca’s own life becomes endangered….


From the Reviewer: I liked Ruined because it is an entertaining read if you like ghost stories. The story moves along smoothly even though it is not a gripping tale. I read the first five chapters and had to put the book down because of other obligations, but when I had a few hours of down time, I picked it up again and was able to finish it in one sitting. The author does a good job of keeping the story interesting and detailed for the most part. I would caution parents against allowing younger children to read this book however. While it has been deemed suitable for readers ages 12+, I would advise allowing readers ages 14+ read it instead. My reason for this is that most of the characters in the book are 15+ years old, and there is one section in the book where Rebecca and Lisette are walking back to Lisette’s home in Treme. During their journey, Rebecca is able to see other ghosts in New Orleans because she is holding Lisette’s hand. The descriptions of the wounds and how the other ghosts died is detailed and I feel may be too intense for younger readers to handle. The author also describes a class system that is in place in New Orleans between old, monied, white families, and everyone else. There are several references to the Roman class system which younger readers may not understand. Parents may want to read this book beforehand to determine if your young reader can handle the content. I felt there could have been a little more character development and there were some explanations given at the end of the book that seemed rushed to me, as if the author wanted to get them down on paper before she forgot what she wanted to say. Other than that, it was an enjoyable read to pass the time.

A Dog’s Life: The Autobiography of a Stray by Ann M. Martin


182 pages

Published by Scholastic Inc., 2007

ISBN 978-0-439-71700-7

Interest Level: 4th – 8th grades

Reading Level: 5.1


A Dog’s Life: The Autobiography of a Stray is about Squirrel, a stray dog that was born along with her brother, Bone in an old shed in the backyard of the Merrion family. At first life is wonderful for Squirrel. They have Mother to care for them, they have the mice and cats who live in the shed with them to keep them company; somewhat. And they have plenty of food that Mother brings back for them. When the Merrion’s are at the house in the summer time, they have even more food from the garbage pile. Then one day, Mother does not return home from a hunting trip leaving the two to fend for themselves.

At first everything is fine for Squirrel and Bone. But as the two grow older, Bone decides it is time to leave the shed and Squirrel follows her brother as she always does. What follows is a series of very difficult turns of events for Squirrel: She loses Bone when he is picked up by some humans and she is left alone. She finds a companion in Moon, a little female dog, until she is killed by a car. Squirrel is injured in the accident as well, but is taken to the vet, healed and taken in by the family that struck her. Everything is fine for a while, until the family leaves the home they are staying in and do not take Squirrel with them. She is once again forced to fend for herself and becomes wary of humans. It is not until Squirrel is well into her adult life that she finally finds a home and the companionship she so desperately needs and deserves.

From the Reviewer: This is a very touching and heartwarming story told from a dog’s point of view. Even though it is written by a human, I felt that this is what it must be like to be a dog out on the streets with no one to care. My fourth grade daughter read this story and loved it as did her fourth grade class when the teacher read it aloud. Good care was taken in writing the book from a dog’s perspective. I would have liked to have seen a little more put into the last few chapters or maybe even another chapter or two to go deeper into the relationship between Squirrel and her final owner, Susan. The last chapters felt rushed to me.

Category: 3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade | Comments Off on A Dog’s Life: The Autobiography of a Stray by Ann M. Martin