It is always challenging for me to select my favorite books geared for eight years old and up because all of the books I review throughout the year are what I consider to be the best books for kids. However, I narrowed down a list and these are my top favorites. And, all of these books are perfect to read out loud. I believe all of these books are candidates for the coveted Newbery Award which will be announced in just a little over a week.
Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina, by Rodman Philbrick, is one of the best historical fiction books of the year. When 13-year-old Zane visits his great-grandmother in New Orleans for the first time, he arrives just prior to the onset of the hurricane. He gets separated from Miss Trissy, his great-grandmother, as they were fleeing the city and takes refuge back at her home. When he survived the horrific winds during the night, he thought it was all over. But when he sees the rising water about to take over her house, he finds that his trials are just beginning.
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, by Karen Foxlee, is actually a retelling of the Snow Queen with the shy Ophelia becoming the heroine in the story. Her father takes a new job at an unusual museum in a country where it never seems to stop snowing. On Ophelia’s first day there she walks down a long dark corridor and hears a pounding. She opens a door to discover a young boy who has been locked away for many years by the majesty of the country: the Snow Queen. It seems he’s been waiting for this young girl to come and hopefully save him.
Gabriel Finley and the Raven Riddle, by George Hagan and Scott Bakal, is a book full of riddles waiting to be solved. Gabriel’s father has suddenly gone missing and Gabriel must solve riddles in order to find him. With the help of a young raven – that he discovers he has a magical bond with – the riddles can be answered. The quest Gabriel embarks on is exciting and full of adventure.
A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, is beautifully written and begs to be read aloud because of the eloquence of the language. Twelve-year-old Felicity has just moved to Midnight Gulch where magic spews from thunderstorms and sunflowers. But a curse has driven the magic away and Felicity feels that things are going to change there. She is a collector of words and sees glimmering words everywhere – above strangers, on rooftops, even tangled in her dog’s ears. She realizes she must bring the magic back – but how? This elegantly written book is rich with words that seem to drip off the tip of the tongue.
The Nethergrim, by Matthew Jobim, is an adventurous tale that harkens one to “The Chronicles of Narnia”. The evil Nethergrim has returned. Edmund has discovered this because first the animals began to disappear and now children are beginning to go missing – even Edmund’s brother has disappeared. While Edmund he is a disaster at learning magic and hasn’t been able to keep up with his peers, he must come together with his friends in order to defeat the horrible Nethergrim.
Half a Chance, by Cynthia Lord, is a beautiful story dealing with Alzheimer’s. Lucy’s family moves to a house by a lake where she meets Nate. Nate’s grandmother is beginning to lose her memory and is becoming confused as well as weak. She loved going with her grandson to watch the loons but now is unable to go. Lucy wants to take pictures for a contest and begins taking all kinds of pictures. Through her efforts, she is able to help Nate and his grandmother, as well as personally mature in her growth into her teen years. This book is packed with love of family and friends.
The Boy on the Porch, by Sharon Creech, is written in free verse which minimizes the words, making more of a visual impact on the story. When a couple discovers a young boy asleep on their porch, they are befuddled. He doesn’t talk, but there is a note attached that says “Plees taik kair of Jacob. He is a good boy. Wil be bak wen we can.” Their attachment to Jacob grows and happiness flourishes. But the eventual return of the parents constantly looms over them.
Five Kingdoms: Sky Raiders, by Brandon Mull, is the first book in this outstanding series. (The second book, Rogue Knight, was recently published.) Cole talks his friends into visiting a haunted house during Halloween. But as they walk down a corridor and open a door, they enter another kingdom. Suddenly, all of Cole’s friends are kidnapped and taken to this kingdom to be sold as slaves. Cole embarks on an effort to save them.
Saving Lucas Biggs, by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague, has thirteen-year-old Margaret making a decision that her family has forbidden. She must time-travel back in time in order to save her father from a death sentence. A cruel judge has just sentenced her innocent father and the only way to save him is to go back seventy-five years when his life took a change and the events of his life’s outcome now linger on this horrible mistake. This story is about forgiveness, second chances and love of family.
Fly Away, by Patricia MacLachland, is a short novel that engulfs you in family and love. Lucy and her family visit their aunt just as rain threatens to flood the area. Lucy’s little brother doesn’t talk yet, but she secretly sings to him and he sings back. No one knows this about him. So when he goes missing, the family is worried he might get caught in the floodwaters. Lucy is about to utilize her secret. This beautifully lyrical story is written by the same author that wrote “Sarah Plain and Tall”.
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems, selected by Paul B. Janeczko, and brightly illustrated by Melissa Sweet, celebrates language imagery and eloquence in an abbreviated style. The outstanding short poems take you through each season with an explosion of accented color that fills the page. Poems, structured like this, are one of the best ways to teach youngsters how to read, as well as fill our souls with the beauty of our earth.
Holly E. Newton, M. A.
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