Siblings, spells and smallpox keep kids reading

Tween Books - March 2006


Sandi Pedersen


How thrilling would it be to swim like a fish? How wonderful would it be to fall in love with a beautiful rock star? How scared would you be if you thought you had a horrible disease? How awesome would it be to cause your stepmother to wake up with a face full of zits? How cool would it be if your pet could turn into a kid your age and be your best friend? Just imagine.

POND SCUM, by Alan Silberberg, Hyperion, $15.99; ages 9-12.

Oliver is a lonely 11-year-old who hasn’t had a real friend since kindergarten. His parents are divorcing and, because of his mom’s new job, they are moving. The new house is abandoned, worn down and sits next to the woods and a pond.

Our adventure begins when the animals and insects who live in the woods and the pond decide humans are no good and should not be allowed to move into the house. The animals and insects attack: The skunks leave a stink, the crows dive bomb, the flies annoy and the raccoons destroy the attic.

Oliver finds a gemstone that lets him turn himself into any animal or insect he wishes to be. He learns what it is like to live as an insect, a fish, a snake and a bird. In the end, Oliver learns how to be a friend.

THE PENULTIMATE PERIL (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12), by Lemony Snicket, HarperCollins, $11.99; ages 9-12.

Our poor heroes now are working in a hotel, a very confusing hotel organized by the Dewey Decimal System. You have to read it to understand it—or not understand it, as the case may be.

I like that many of the old villains and friends are staying at the hotel. And it was fun trying to remember details about all the old characters. I don’t like that the Quagmires were not there; I really want to know where and how they are. I do like that the book offers new clues; I don’t like that the book confused me more than ever. I like that Violet, Klaus and Sunny are taking matters into their own hands, finding the courage to stand up for themselves and are not blindly following all the goofy adults.

Don’t read this book if you haven’t read any of the others—you must start at the very bad beginning.

For the record, I love this series, but even I am getting a little bored and I just want to know how it ends. Please, Mr. Snicket, don’t make us wait forever for an ending.

CODE ORANGE, by Caroline B. Cooney, Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $15.95; ages 11 and up.

Before you are assigned your next research paper, you have to read this thriller. Mitty is 16, his biology paper is due in three days and he hasn’t started. He finds an old book about smallpox and decides this topic is better than nothing. When an envelope labeled "smallpox scabs" falls out of the book, Mitty is intrigued. After handling the scabs, he begins to think. Then he begins to research. Then he freaks out.

What if, what if, what if …

Mitty finds himself kidnapped by terrorists who are interested in bioterrorism. He doesn’t know where he is, he doesn’t know who is kidnappers are, he doesn’t even know if he has the disease they want.

SMALL STEPS, by Louis Sachar, Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $16.95; ages 10-12.

Yes, the sequel to Holes is here and it is every bit as good. I think the best part about this book is that it really stands on its own; you don’t have to read Holes to appreciate this book.

This story takes us to Austin, Texas, where we get reacquainted with Armpit. Theodore (he prefers to go by his real name now) is trying to do the right thing and make his way in this world. The trouble is, it is hard to get past the prejudice people have against an African-American teenage boy with a record. And old friends such as X-Ray show up with get-rich-quick schemes.

Theodore is also friends with his neighbor Ginny. Ginny is 10 and disabled. Together they learn about friendship, prejudice and life—and that doing the right thing is as easy as taking a small step.

BRAS AND BROOMSTICKS, by Sarah Mlynowski, Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $15.95; ages 11 and up.

Think about this: Your mom is a witch. Your little sister is a witch. You aren’t a witch. But you and your little sister are friends—such good friends that she is willing to cast a spell to help you become popular. She is willing to cast a spell to help you win back an old friend. She is willing to cast a spell to help you get a date with that special guy. She is even willing to cast a spell to stop your dad from marrying your future evil stepmother.

Now, think about what happens when your mom finds out that the two of you have been casting spells. Just imagine.

Sandi Pedersen is the mom of four and the Web mistress for Chicago Parent.

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