Running Away to School

Author: Maryjo Holland
Genre: Children's Fiction
Reviewed by Karyn Walden-Forrest

10080402When I saw the title Running Away to School I had no idea what to expect. This book was quite different than any other book I've read, with an interesting telling of a surviving away from home as a child type of story.

Running Away to School is written by Maryjo Holland who is a retired elementary school teacher. It tells the story of a misfit boy named Dirk who, at the beginning of the book, has gotten in trouble for beating up another student on the school bus on the last day of school before Christmas break. His mother is upset at him and when Christmas arrives Dirk sees no presents under the tree with his name on them. So he excuses himself, packs some things and decides to run away.

Thinking about a safe place to stay alludes him for a while, but ultimately he figures he can stay at the school during the break because noone will be there, it wilCl be warm enough from the cold, and he would be able to find food leftovers hopefully. Thus the name of the novel.

The author does a good job of describing Dirk's thoughts. Not a lot of conversation occurs as Dirk remains in hiding, hoping to not be found. This boy is resourceful in his new home but it is still difficult to cheer for this "bad boy" for most of the book.

However as the story progresses and different events, such as a painful tooth, and witnessing another student he thought was a goody-two- shoes do something he shouldn't have done, Dirk seems to change. And with the change the reader can come to relate with him more and want something to turn out right for him.

After almost 6 months staying in the school undiscovered, summer break approaches and Dirk knows he won't be able to live without any food for that long. He ventures out to find a new alternative place to stay and finds himself in a new predicament. Fortunately it turns out for the best. Exactly how? Read it for yourself to see.

The only negative I found to this book was that the entire story, including the ending, is found on the back cover. I like to know something about a story, but I want an element of surprise as I'm reading it.

Overall this book is an interesting read for children aged 8-12. It is a short read at 49 pages, but presents situations that children could relate to and learn from. An upper elementary student will enjoy this twist on running away from home.

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October 28, 2004 in Children | Permalink | Comments (0)

Jay Walker 4th Grade Noir: The Case Of The Missing Action Figure

Author: Grant R. Philips
Genre: Children's Mystery
Reviewed by Kevin R. Tipple

10080403For Jason Walker, forth grade student and son of a police officer, school occupies just part of his day. Sometimes he helps his fellow students solve mysteries and like any good private investigator or police officer, he keeps things quiet.

Which is precisely why Benny comes to him for help, as he does not want anyone at school to know about his problem. Benny brought a very special action figure to school and now it is missing. Named "Daisy Flyer", the doll, or as Benny prefers to call it, the action figure, is very important to him and if his classmates found out, he would never hear the end of it. Not only is it missing but apparently it has been toy napped and is being held for ransom in the form of an extremely valuable playing card from a popular series. If Benny does not give in to the ransom demand on a poorly spelled note, the entire school will be told about Benny's action figure.

Walker is on the case and with an occasional observation that reads a bit old for him; he diligently begins to sift clues and suspects. What follows is a very enjoyable read and on the level of the Encyclopedia Brown series of my youth. Phillip Tomasso III, writing here as Grant R. Philips, can always be counted on for books featuring interesting plots, characters and plenty of action along with a very good story. Such is the case here in this children's novel which is simply a great read. Hopefully, this is the start of a series as this novel is a success for young readers and adults.

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October 28, 2004 in Children | Permalink | Comments (0)

Robonocchio

Author: Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier
Genre: Children
Reviewed by Kevin R. Tipple

582The world's largest company, the AMALGAMETED BEHEMOUTH has many successful subsidiaries, one of them being Wallyland amusement park. According to the park's cheerful mascot, Wally the Wallaby, the park is "'The most fun place in the universe.'" (Page 13) For Joe, the elderly inventor who creates many of the robots in the park, it isn't the most fun place in the universe anymore. For five years he has worked on "The Garden Of Fairy Tales" project, where his beautiful robots would bring to life children's stories such as Cinderella, Snow White, Pinocchio and others.

But now his boss, Mr. Fox and his assistant, Miss Kat - in the mode of corporate bean counters everywhere - have mandated that Joe stop work on the fairy tale project. They claim no one cares about that sort of thing anymore. Instead, after threatening Joe with termination, they insist that he work on the new "Roboboxers" project. The robots violently fight it out while audience response is measured by computer and whichever robot the audience prefers, the computer makes sure that robot wins the fight. Mr. Fox ignores Joe's concerns over violence and the history of the park as he embraces his violent version of the future.

Disheartened and faced with repeated threats of being fired, Joe has no choice but to comply with the order to dismantle the robots and move onto constructing new robots for the project. But, the idea appalls him and he decides to finish his favorite robot, Robonocchio which is his version of Pinocchio. Working late into the night he finishes and realizes that this might be the best robot he has ever created. Exhausted, he falls into a deep sleep and manages to miss it when, thanks to a little offworld help, Robonocchio comes to life. Much like his namesake, he has a nose for trouble and one that gives him away when he lies.

The basic story is very entertaining and appeals well to its intended audience of young adults. It also appeals to the younger crowd and adults will especially enjoy the subtle social commentary that appears from time to time throughout the book. However, what really makes this book special is the bilingual design of the book. As noted in the introduction on page 7:

"It's a simple idea: begin a text at the same place in two languages on facing pages. You can read the language you are trying to learn, but when you lose your place, you can look to the exact same spot on the page that is written in your native tongue. Without need to resort to a dictionary, the required word or phrase is there and the reader can speedily move on."

By doing so, the book helps the readers, both children and adults, improve their bilingual skills. This is the first book from the Babel Library, part of Black Coat Press, owned and operated by the authors. With French on one page and English on the facing page, it accomplishes both goals of providing an entertaining story as well as helping the reader improve language skills. The accompanying illustrations are a nice touch and serve to make this book even more entertaining for all age level readers.

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August 11, 2004 in Children | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Flame Tree

Author: Richard Lewis
Genre: Children
Reviewed by Susan DiPlacido

583The Flame Tree is much more than a coming of age story. By focusing on a 12 year Christian, American boy living in the world's largest Muslim nation during the upheaval of 9/11, Richard Lewis sets up a potentially explosive situation.

Isaac Williams is the son of two doctors who work at a missionary hospital in Indonesia. An exceptionally bright boy, he considers Indonesia his home, and though he schools with other ex-pat children, his best friend is a local devout Muslim boy, Ismail. But things take an ominous turn in young Isaac's life when the Muslim church across the street from his home compound takes a decidedly extremist turn under a new Imam. People in the community who had previously welcomed Isaac become colder, he starts having nightmares about threatening crows, and he finds a new, hidden gate into the compound. Just as things hit a contentious note in his community, 9/11 explodes and his previously tranquil community rages with a full- blown riot.

With panic at a fever pitch, during a mandatory evacuation, complete with Marine escorts, the unthinkable happens and Isaac is taken hostage by the extremist group.

To say more would divulge intricate plot details that will leave not only young readers, but also adults, breathless as they get caught in the web of this riveting page-turner. Most importantly though, beyond the action and suspense of this novel lies a thoughtful examination of culture and faith. Lewis does an admirable job here of opening up a very foreign world while also carefully exploring facets of the Muslim and Christian faiths. From the description, it would be easy to assume that this novel pits Muslims against Christians, but remember, this is an extremist group, and care is taken to highlight Islamic beliefs in their less incendiary and dangerous forms. I dare say that this book is timely, and right now, an important read. Not only for youngsters struggling to understand, but also adults.

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August 11, 2004 in Children | Permalink | Comments (0)