A fresh take on a topic that has seen plenty of ink.


The Newbold children introduce a friend to a favorite game in Letts’ (What’s Behind the Curtain?, 2013) children’s book, suitable for ages 9 and up.

Twelve-year-old Chance Newbold starts his Saturday morning sleepily, following a late night of Xbox and an unwanted morning wake-up call from the family cat. It doesn’t get much better—there’s laundry to do, no milk for his cereal and the possibility that the school gossip might post something embarrassing about Chance online. But when his three sisters congregate in the kitchen, along with his oldest sister’s boyfriend, Jake, and Jake’s best friend, Kelly, things start to turn around. After all, the Newbolds can tell Kelly about their family pastime, the “Should I?” game. The setup is simple: For example, “Should I eat an apple or should I eat an orange?” middle sister Sophia asks. “You choose,” 7-year-old Molly replies. The Newbolds explain to Kelly that the game is about actions and accountability, responsibility, consequences and rewards; “it’s thinking…really thinking…about why you choose to do what you do,” Chance says. The conversation turns to an event years ago, when some mean children almost caused the death of a boy with a nerve-impairing hereditary disorder. Bullying, too, is a choice a person can make—or decide not to. Letts’ book is a quick, fun read, with characters who are great role models for young readers, and not just because they ask challenging questions; they also volunteer, compost, and only use the Internet for research. Although it touches on tragedy, the story is far from schmaltzy and is instead cleareyed and frank. It also avoids moralizing, even though there is a very clear takeaway message. A series of pages at the end, with blank lines separated by “or,” allows readers to create their own “Should I?” games.

A fresh take on a topic that has seen plenty of ink.

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-0988933330

Page Count: 122

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2014

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Simple, bella, un regalo permenente: simple and beautiful, a gift that will stay.


From the Tía Lola Stories series , Vol. 1

Renowned Latin American writer Alvarez has created another story about cultural identity, but this time the primary character is 11-year-old Miguel Guzmán. 

When Tía Lola arrives to help the family, Miguel and his hermana, Juanita, have just moved from New York City to Vermont with their recently divorced mother. The last thing Miguel wants, as he's trying to fit into a predominantly white community, is a flamboyant aunt who doesn't speak a word of English. Tía Lola, however, knows a language that defies words; she quickly charms and befriends all the neighbors. She can also cook exotic food, dance (anywhere, anytime), plan fun parties, and tell enchanting stories. Eventually, Tía Lola and the children swap English and Spanish ejercicios, but the true lesson is "mutual understanding." Peppered with Spanish words and phrases, Alvarez makes the reader as much a part of the "language" lessons as the characters. This story seamlessly weaves two culturaswhile letting each remain intact, just as Miguel is learning to do with his own life. Like all good stories, this one incorporates a lesson just subtle enough that readers will forget they're being taught, but in the end will understand themselves, and others, a little better, regardless of la lengua nativa—the mother tongue.

Simple, bella, un regalo permenente: simple and beautiful, a gift that will stay. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-80215-0

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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Not for the faint-hearted—who are mostly adults anyway—but for stouthearted kids who love a brush with the sinister:...


A magnificently creepy fantasy pits a bright, bored little girl against a soul-eating horror that inhabits the reality right next door.

Coraline’s parents are loving, but really too busy to play with her, so she amuses herself by exploring her family’s new flat. A drawing-room door that opens onto a brick wall becomes a natural magnet for the curious little girl, and she is only half-surprised when, one day, the door opens onto a hallway and Coraline finds herself in a skewed mirror of her own flat, complete with skewed, button-eyed versions of her own parents. This is Gaiman’s (American Gods, 2001, etc.) first novel for children, and the author of the Sandman graphic novels here shows a sure sense of a child’s fears—and the child’s ability to overcome those fears. “I will be brave,” thinks Coraline. “No, I am brave.” When Coraline realizes that her other mother has not only stolen her real parents but has also stolen the souls of other children before her, she resolves to free her parents and to find the lost souls by matching her wits against the not-mother. The narrative hews closely to a child’s-eye perspective: Coraline never really tries to understand what has happened or to fathom the nature of the other mother; she simply focuses on getting her parents back and thwarting the other mother for good. Her ability to accept and cope with the surreality of the other flat springs from the child’s ability to accept, without question, the eccentricity and arbitrariness of her own—and every child’s own—reality. As Coraline’s quest picks up its pace, the parallel world she finds herself trapped in grows ever more monstrous, generating some deliciously eerie descriptive writing.

Not for the faint-hearted—who are mostly adults anyway—but for stouthearted kids who love a brush with the sinister: Coraline is spot on. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-380-97778-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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