What 8th Graders Are Reading (In 2014)

July 30, 2014

Every year we like to go to our friend,  Erin Ocon, and ask her eighth-grade students  in Hillsboro, Oregon to recommend books to us that they’re currently reading.  Here’s this years crop of  thoughtful essays on a recently-read book.

Check back daily for a new recommendation and insight from one of these young reader/writers.


Alden Kemper recommends Cages by Peg Kehret

Alden Kemper Recommends CAGES by Peg Kehret

July 30, 2014

CagesCages by Peg Kehret

Reviewed by Alden Kemper

Can you ever make up for your mistakes? This question lingers throughout the book Cages, which is about Kit, a 14 year old girl who makes a huge mistake and has to do 20 hours of volunteer work at the Humane Society. Peg Kehret, the author, writes this book in third person point of view which I think helps this book by seeing what’s happening in another person’s point of view as well as having enough detail to understand Kit’s emotions. I absolutely love this book because it is so detailed and is one of those books that you can’t put down.

Kit Hathaway is stuck. She never means to steal that golden bracelet. She’s just mad after not getting the lead in the school play and having to deal with her unbearable stepfather. Her mother is the only one who knows about Kit stealing the bracelet for a while. After being sentenced by the court for 20 hours of volunteer work at the Humane Society, Kit meets Lady, a medium-sized terrier with reddish-blonde fur. She wants to adopt Lady herself but she can’t. Join Kit as she discovers who she really is with help from her new best friend Lady.

The first reason why I like this book is because of the setting description. Peg Kehret, the author, describes the setting in Cages exactly how I would imagine it. The story mainly takes place at the Humane Society. It is described as loud and frantic. For example, Peg Kehret writes, “The noise was loud; it was frantic. The dogs sounded desperate as if they believed that if they barked loudly enough, someone would surly let them out.” Part of the story also takes place at Kit’s home, which is also loud because of Wayne, her stepfather, yelling all the time. I love the setting description because it’s very detailed and you can easily visualize it.

Another thing I like is the characters. Kit is the main character in this book. She is a 14 year old girl who is exactly 5 foot and ¾ inches tall. She has long brown hair and a thin, boyish figure. Tracy is Kit’s best friend and she turns 14 in the book. They do almost everything together. Tracy is an encouraging person who stands up for herself and Kit. There is also Dorothy, her mother and Wayne, her stepfather. Wayne is unbearable and mean. Also, another character is Lady. Lady is a terrier at the Humane Society that Kit fell in love with instantly. Peg Kehret writes, “The rest of Lady’s fur was coarse and wiry but her ears were like rust colored velvet.” I like this quote because I can easily visualize what Lady looks like. My favorite character is Kit because at first she is shy and at the end she stands up for herself and is bold. This means she is a dynamic character.

Last, there are three main themes in this book, love, hope and friendship. Kit loves Lady right from the start which is a great example of love in this story. For example, Kit says, “I wish I could adopt Lady. But my parents won’t let me have a dog.” Kit also has hope for Lady because she knows that Lady will get a home. Finally, Kit and Tracy have an amazing friendship. They makeup after fights they have in the book which shows great friendship.

I believe that you should read this book because it’s a book that I think everyone can relate to in one way or another. I think this book helps everyone can find out who the really are with this book. Kit is someone you feel like you know like a best friend and someone you want to be best friends with. So go on and meet your new best friend inside the pages of the book Cages.


Several of Alden’s classmates have also allowed us to publish reviews of what they’re currently reading.  And for recommendations from kids of all ages, check out our Kids Recommend section.

Celebrate Aunt and Uncle Day on July 26th

July 25, 2014

Time to celebrate those relatives near and dear to your hearts:  aunts and uncles!  Summer is the perfect time to take note of these important family members. And we’ve got the book recommendations to help.

AuntsWhat Aunts Do Best, What Uncles Do Best by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

We all know kids love to spend time with their aunts and uncles–and vise versa.  Numeroff’s book is a fun way to enjoy those memories and think about creating new ones.  The parallel stories are in a kind of “flip book” format and can be read to focus on either aunt or uncle good times.  Refreshingly, the activities are pretty gender neutral, too:  building clubhouses, staying up late for TV/movie watching–and both sexes cook and shop.  Endearing expressions on the faces of the animal critter families add to the book reading pleasure.  A great kick-off for Aunt and Uncle Day!


 Uncle-ElephantUncle Elephant by Arnold Lobel

This funny, thoughtful–and a little sad–tale of a young elephant visiting his uncle is now in its second generation of entertaining our family members.  The format of several small stories makes it a great choice for the youngest child, and early readers enjoy their success as they read it themselves.  The charm of the story, though is not lost on the adults in the family.   This poignant story of love of family, joy, and hope is a winner, and one of my favorites.


 UncleUncle by J.P. Martin, illustrated by Quentin Blake (New York Review Children’s Collection)

Who wouldn’t love an elephant who sports a purple dressing gown?  And lives in a huge ramshackle castle with a crew of quirky and funny friends?  Thank goodness this 50-year-old classic has been re-issued, and it’s still hilarious and intriguing across generations.  Based on the stories that Martin used to tell his kids, Uncle contains a delightful selection of adventures, mostly with the detestable Badforts.  Quentin Blake’s illustrations are just the ticket.  Perfect read-aloud fun.


Aunt-ClaireAunt Claire’s Yellow Beehive Hair by Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Mary Grandpre

Though the titles is a grabber,this book isn’t just about Aunt Clair.  It’s about Annie exploring her family and what makes each member special.  The old photos on her grandmother’s mantel are a perfect starting pace, as her great-aunt shares the stories that go with them.  The exploration branches out to include mementos such as letters, and even a lace wedding veil.  Annie and her aunt create a family history album, that might be an inspiration for your family as a summer project, too.  And as a side-note, the illustrations will look oddly familiar to readers of the Harry Potter novels.  yes, Mary Grandpre is the cover and interior illustrator for that formidable series.


July 20th is Moon Day

July 18, 2014

Team-MoonMoon Day, July 20th, commemorates the day man first walked on the moon in 1969.

The Apollo Space program, begun by President John F. Kennedy, was created to put the first man on the moon. Apollo 11 fulfilled that dream, carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin Aldrin, Jr. What an amazing and historic event!

On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 was launched from Cape Kennedy Space Center atop a huge Saturn V rocket. On July 20, 1969, the Lunar Module, nicknamed the “Eagle”, touched down on the surface of the moon at Tranquility Base. Upon landing, Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong reported “The Eagle Has Landed.” A few hours later, Neil Armstrong, stepped off of the Eagle’s ladder, placed one foot upon the moon’s surface and proclaimed: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.

A wonderful story of the first moon landing for kids (and the adults in their lives) :

Team Moon:  How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

What I love about this book is that it opens up the backstory of the first moonwalk and demonstrates that this is not just the story of the astronauts, but of thousands and thousands of people who made it happen.  Like the seamstress who had to put together 22 different layers of fabric for each space suit.  The many engineers who had to work to create heat shields to protect the capsule from the heat of re-entry. Imagine the soft-ware engineers, telescope crew, navigators, and more. . .The book reads like a documentary, with stunning photographs, interviews, oral histories, and other primary sources from the period.  Definitely a book to pore over with the whole family.


Spunky YA Feminists

July 11, 2014

It’s a banner year for feisty females in YA movies based on books.   If you’ve been a fan of John Greene’s work, you’ve been delighting in the praise for Hazel (The Fault in Our Stars).  Or maybe you’ve been following Tris’ appearance on the big screen (Divergent)?  No need to wait for follow-up movies this summer: meet some new heroines from different genres, times, and places.  And best of all, these spunky feminists are all in series, so you can binge read on their adventures  these summer days!

MilaMila 2-0 by Debra Driza

We are initially drawn into the story of 16-year-old Mila and her mother who have recently moved to Minnesota to start a new life after the tragic death by fire of Mila’s father.  It’s soon clear that something is off, though.  Mila can remember so little of her former life–is it really just the trauma of the accident?  When she suffers an accident of her own, Mila is shocked to discover that under her skin is not bone and blood, but wires and tubes.  What is she?  And who is chasing her?  Though there is a key love interest–handsome and kind Hunter–the story is less a romance than a thriller sci-fi mystery.  Gripping, fast-paced writing.  Mila comes to rely on herself and her many strengths, while coping with coming to terms with her identity.  Loved it!  And also loved the sequel, Mila 2-0 RenegadeCan’t wait for the third installment in this planned trilogy.


StarstruckStarstruck by Rachel Shukert

Welcome to LA, circa 1938.  Glamorous Hollywood in the studio heyday.  Margo is chasing her dreams to become a star, right alongside her new friend and former vaudevillian Gabby Preston.  The two become friends as minor starlets on the Olympian Studio set.  Along the way, they meet other Hollywood hopefuls with surprising back stories. . .and dirty secrets.  Lots of backdoor intrigue, with strong teen-aged girls fighting their way through a male-dominated system. The story continues in Love Me, just out, with new surprises about each of our favorite characters.


ThroneThrone of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Known as Adarlin’s Assassin, she is the most feared killer in this magical kingdom.  Captured and sent to prison, she is given a chance for freedom if she agrees to be a fighter for the Prince.  When he pulls her out of prison to come to court, he is amazed to discover that she is an eighteen-year-old girl. Celaena is an awesome heroine–strong feisty, witty.  Maas’ kingdom is compelling, with political intrigue, dangerous assassins, and yes–an actual castle made out of glass. There is ancient magic, romance, great characters, and action–everything a summer read should offer!  And when you finish, you can jump right into Crown of Midnight, where Celaena’s adventures continue.



July is National Hot Dog–and Ice Cream–Month!

July 5, 2014

hot-dogsHot dogs and ice cream?  Talk about a celebratory month!  The hot dog has a fascinating history; check it out here. Can you believe it dates back even further than the German frankfurter of the 15th century?  Amaze your friends and family with your hot dog history trivia!



Ice cream’s origins are more contested.  Some say  as far back as the 4th century BC in Rome (History of Ice Cream); others cite China or Iran.  Our favorite resource is The Farmers’ Almanac with their  History of Ice Cream Timeline.

Why  not bring along book friends as you savor these national treasures?  Here are some favorite book characters who will appreciate enjoying these treats with you.  You might just indulge in their book worlds for some inspiration!

Pigeon-hot-dogThe Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog by Mo Willems

A hot dog is a most prized possession for Pigeon.  He can’t wait to gobble it up–but “special guest star” Duckling is also eying the potential feast. “Is that a hot dog?” he asks Pigeon innocently. Mo Willems provides his signature witty dialogue and vocabulary:  “Each morsel is a joy!  A celebration in a bun!”  Pigeon proclaims.  Friendship does ultimately prevail as the two share the hot dog.  A perfect companion to your hot dog celebration with friends!


Stick-DogStick Dog Wants a Hot Dog by Tom Watson

If you like silly sort-of slapstick humor, Stick Dog and his friends (and their adventures) are for you.  Always hungry, these doggies discover frankfurters in the sequel to Stick Dog.  The five dogs encounter many challenges, including a hungry raccoon episode–as they maneuver to distract the frankfurter guy.  Great humor for the whole family–and particularly appealing for the 7-10 year-old set, who can read it themselves (maybe aloud to their families!)


Share-Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems

Elephant (Gerald) is much the philosopher as he ponders the important question of the title of the book.  I mean, really, he has this delicious ice cream–should he gobble it right up, or share it with his best friend Piggie?  Of course, with Mo Willems at the helm, there is the fitting (and charming) solution.  (And don’t miss the Pigeon ice cream cone in the back!)


WemberlyWemberly’s Ice-Cream Star by Kevin Henkes

How about a board book for your little one to appreciate ice cream month?  And sharing?  In this sweet Kevin Henkes’ book, Wemberly gets an ice cream treat, but then her worries begin.  Will it melt on her dress?  And what about her stuffed animal Petal?  Shouldn’t she have a treat as well?  Wemberley solves the problem with Zen-like patience as she waits for her ice cream to melt–and she and Petal each have a bowl of ice cream soup.  Short text and wonderful images make this a winner.



A Trio of Summer Board Books

June 27, 2014

Toddler,-board-bookOur toddler friends like all kinds of books, including regular hardbound and paperback picture books, read-aloud treasures, songbooks. . .But there’s something special about the indestructibility and tactile feel of board books.  In the past, we’ve sung the praises of board books and even recommended a list of our favorites.  This summer, we are checking out some of the new board books to recommend to Vivi, Hudson, Boden, Roger, Pippin, Jax, and June.  Here’s a trio of new favorites to add to the classics!

Toy-BoatToy Boat (Board Book) by Randall de Seve, illustrated by Loren Long

This is a board book that will grow with your little one through pre-school and beyond.  David is at the center of the story, and the other “character” is his little home-made toy boat; (be sure to look carefully for the face in the cork holding up the mast).   A simple tale, told with grace through straight-forward text; readers explore the bounds of freedom and closeness.  As parents, we can’t help but see the parent-child bonds, though children may view it more from the perspective of the closeness of a particular toy and its potential loss, and journey back home.  Gorgeous book to pore over with your young reader.


 Hide-and-seekHide and Seek at the Beach by Kenny Harrison

What’s your favorite beach game?  Is it Hide and Seek?  That’s the go-to game for Harry and his friends.  But it’s hard to hide when you’re a hippo.  Little ones are quickly engaged and get in on the joke as Harry tries to hide. . .behind a beach umbrella, under a sand castle, in a hammock. Cheery and bright illustrations, a wonderful chance for interaction with toddler readers, with its large text type and lilting rhymes.  Tuck it in your beach bag to share on a day at the beach!


FarmerThe Farmer’s Away!  Baa Neigh!  by Anne Vittur Kennedy

What happens when the farmer is away from the farm?  In this infectious board book, we find out about all the mischief the animals get into. Books that are interactive with making the sounds of the animals are such fun for kids–and parents who get a kick out of seeing their kids laugh aloud at the silliness.  The animals make all the sounds you’d expect–and more, as they frolic in an extravagant manner.  Picnicking and racing inner-tubes are only the beginning.  How about jet-skiing, ballroom dancing, or taking off in a hot air balloon? Of course, the animals are able to settle down quickly when warned by an arf arf that the farmer is returning.  A favorite with the youngest child–and still fun for pre-schoolers.



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