Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve
After the Romans left the British Isles in the fifth century A. D., there were many centuries of pillaging and plunder by one tribe or clan upon another until it became a unified country. It must have been excruciatingly painful to try to raise crops and families. One legend gave them hope, and indeed continues to give hope to this day. That legend was of Arthur, the king who, with the help of a somewhat magical destiny, created a golden island of peace for a short period of time. The legend said it could be done once, so it could be done again.
Well, Philip Reeve has exposed that legend for what it was–a really good story. But no matter, it is the story that everybody needed anyway. Best not to go by the truth on the ground for historical inspiration–we humans are much better at story than we are at deeds. And Philip Reeve is an excellent writer who tells a really good story about an orphaned slave girl who was there and who may have been the only one with any common sense. So in this book, we get hope renewed by trading the ancient story of a legendary and peace-loving king for the modernized story of a sensible and strong-willed girl.
Fans of Reeve’s Mortal Engines series will like this book as will upper middle school and high school readers who enjoy stories of historical fiction with strong girl characters.
Slam! by Walter Dean Myers
On the basketball court, a player has a clear objective and several people who are seriously in the way. In a young person’s life, there is the goal of reaching adulthood with style and what can seem like shark-infested waters in the way. For Greg, who likes to be known as Slam for his finesse on the basketball court, the obstructions on the court are no threat to his confidence. Off the court is another story. As he makes his way through one successful basketball season, he struggles to transfer some of his basketball skill to his life.
Told solely through Slam’s voice, this story also reveals what goes on inside the head of an African-American youth growing up the inner city, where drive-by shootings are commonplace and drug-dealing is a prevalent career choice. Yet his only real obstacle to realizing his dreams is himself. Slam has grit and heart and a family that he values; if he overcomes his sensitivity to what he sees as disrespect, he will have a clear shot at his dreams.
As a story with a lot of basketball action, this book will mostly be enjoyed by kids in upper middle and high school, boys and girls, who like to play basketball. But the basketball should not be a reason to avoid this book. It is a great story of tackling growing up with both mind and heart.
Number the Stars
That Lois Lowry could write Gooney Bird Greene, The Willoughby’s and Number the Stars is amazing. The first two are fun and silly. Number the Stars is neither. However, it is an excellent book that brings to life the story of how Danes supported their Jewish neighbors and helped them escape the Nazi’s. According to the afterword, almost the entire Jewish population in Denmark was smuggled into Sweden. Wow.
I recommend this book to any child that read and enjoyed the Diary of Ann Frank. It is a suspenseful story, but there is no graphic violence. It does contain mature concepts associated with war and the persecution of the Jewish people. It also addresses the concept of when it is okay to lie, and how sometimes not knowing something is a way to keep people safe. This is a great book to read with a slightly older child as it could foster good discussions. -Jessica
Night Hoops by Carl Deuker
One of my students said about books by Carl Deuker, “I like it when sports books have something else going on.” The pages of this book are filled with basketball. But the story is about focus, compassion, and an open mind, and it keeps up as fast a pace as the action on the court.
A sophomore, Nick is obsessed with basketball–everything in his life revolves around it. But he also realizes that if he is going to be a star player on a winning team, the rest of his life has to work well. He has to keep up his grades, he has to understand his family, he has to respect his teammates, and he has to trust his intuition. As much as he pushes himself to be a star athlete, he also has to push himself to mature as a human being.
Anyone who likes to play basketball or even to watch it will enjoy this book, boys and girls, from middle through high school, or even younger for advanced readers. As a good sports book, it is an affirmation of the winning combination of ambition and wisdom.