High Adventure Under a Mountain?

Seems most of my Friday Flashback books have featured girls as main characters. So, viola! This week’s chapter book stars a male lead character. Leepike Ridge,  a 2008 high-adventure tale, penned by N.D. Wilson, takes readers on an adrenaline-producing  literary ride.

Tom is a frustrated kid. His father was killed by greedy treasure hunters. His mom plans to marry again and Tom just can’t deal with this soon-to-be stepfather. Angry, Tom storms down to the river, floats downstream on a piece of styrofoam and ends up in treacherous waters. Pulled into the water that flows beneath a mountain, Tom finds himself in a series of intricately woven caverns, the same ones in which his late father searched for treasure. The dark, mysterious and complex caves contain many secrets, including a dead body, strange carvings and Reginald Fisher, his father’s research colleague who has been trapped in the caverns for three years. Together, Tom and Reg form an alliance determined to survive and make their way to freedom.

Paralleling their struggle topside, Tom’s mother fights to find her son. Refusing to give up, she desperately accepts help from the most nefarious of sources, the ruthless treasure hunters responsible for her husband’s death.

The narrative contains murder, some violence and stressful situations, but for mature chapter book readers or 5th or 6th graders, the fast pace and excitement will keep them hooked from cover to cover!

Written by N.D. Wilson

Copyright 2007

Accelerated Reader Level: 4.8

A Graphic Novel of Turbo Proportions

Turbo is a class hamster, much like the one in the Humphrey books. There are a couple of distinct differences, however, Humphrey is in a chapter book, whereas Turbo is in a GRAPHIC NOVEL. You can’t dispute the coolness of graphic novels. Also, Humphrey is a regular hamster, but Turbo is a SUPERHERO! In each installment, Turbo and his other class-pet friends, who are also secret superheroes, face danger and their evil arch nemesis, the unscrupulous rat, Whiskerface! In Super Turbo and the Fire-Breathing Dragon, Turbo and his cohorts discover a new classroom pet, vowing to rid the school of it. Afterall, it is dangerous to have a FIRE-BREATHING DRAGON in a classroom. Think of all the worksheets, art projects and, well, PAPER! When a fire does, indeed, start in the science lab, the superpets are even more resolved to remove the dragon from their school, even requesting help from Whiskerface. The question becomes : will Whiskerface truly help them or use this opportunity to take over the school?

Why I Like These Books:

These books are not jammed with bathroom humor, which wears thin after a while. There is actually a simple, clever story line that works well for 3rd and 4th grade readers, with enough illustrations and action to keep the story lively and patrons engaged.

The graphic novels are brief enough for reluctant readers to finish up and feel successful, about 115 pages.  These adventure tales with ample drawings may just get kiddos to want to start a collection!

Written by Lee Kirby

Copyright 2017, 2018 (latest in series)

Accelerated Reader Level: 3.9-4.5

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Adventures in the Amazon!

Author Eva Ibbotson, who passed away in 2010, had a way with words. Today’s Flashback Friday selection from 2003 is Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea, In it, Ibbotson creates a multilayered tale that takes readers from England to the Amazon and is peppered with characters from kind to cruel. It’s 1910, and Maia is attending a girl’s academy in England when she gets word that she is no longer an orphan.  An aunt, uncle and their twins have stepped forward as relatives. Excited to have relatives, start a new life and see the Amazon, Maia sets out on a long journey by land and sea with Miss Minton, her governess.  Initially, MIss Minton is rather icy, but eventually Maia and Miss Minton warm to each other and grow close. Upon their arrival in Brazil, life becomes complicated. The Carters, Maia’s new relatives, are horrid people running an unsuccessful rubber plantation who despise the jungle. Maia loves her wild new world, but feels trapped by the Carters. A young actor friend, Clovis, met along her journey and a fellow jungle-loving friend, Finn, play important parts as well in Maia’s adventures.

Ibbotson’s story is enthralling, complex and well written. Readers who love classic tales full of excitement will be drawn into Maia’s journey and the cunning ways she navigates her adventures in the Amazon.

Written by Eva Ibbotson

Copyright 2003

Accelerated Reader Level 5.7

Why I like this book:

It is the kind of book that hooks you and you just have to read one more chapter before you go to sleep.  Maia is relatable and many readers will imagine themselves in South America, excited, scared and brave as is Maia. The word choice, descriptions and adventures are indicative of a classic tale, which I find entertaining and satisfying to read.

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Magic, Dragons and One Mean Witch!


Jax is a nine-year old boy living in Brooklyn with his mother. He is a compliant kid. But when his mother drops him off at Ma’s place for the day while she goes to court to deal with their possible eviction, he is in for an adventure that will require him to assert himself, take unprecedented risks and show cunning and bravery.  Ma, who is not a relative but did raise his mama, is about as friendly as an angry rattlesnake  Initially, Jax is afraid of Ma, which gives way to anger, then couriosity. She reluctantly allows him to stay for the day, but hisses orders at him, trys to keep him away from her things and berates him for his potential eviction.  A box sitting on a table is covered in postage from Madagascar and Jax observes it moving.  Ma guards it carefully, but Jax spies her transferring its contents to a small mints container. Eventually, through sleuthing and disobeying Ma, Jax finds that, shockingly, there are lizard-like creatures in the tin, three of them. Ma reacts strongly to his snooping and Jax decides to bail, running out of Ma’s apartment only to have her follow him.

Their discussion becomes a turning point in their relationship. Ma takes some responsibility for her gruffness and confesses that she is a witch. Jax insists that she be more respectful and gains some insight into her actions. From here, the fantasy element of the story takes off. Ma lets Jax know that she has been assigned transport of the lizards, which are really dragons, to their magical destination. Jax, who now knows that his mother was offered the chance to be Ma’s applrentice when she was young but chose not to enter the magical life, decides to embrace the adventure. With the help of magical characters and a couple of friends, Jax enters the magical world of witchcraft to discover if it’s his destiny to be part of the magical realm.

Jax’s relationship with Ma evolves from rocky to loving through their adventures: transporting to a magical world, losing Ma, losing one of the dragons, finding them both and, in the process, finding his passion.

This is a great book for new fantasy readers as they wade into the genre, and would be a fun  general fantasy story for third and fourth grade chapter book readers and reluctant readers in higher grades.

What I liked about this book:

Ma is the quintessential “hard on the outside, soft on the inside” character. It’s entertaining to witness the way in which Zetta Elliott artfully engineers Ma’s transformation through her relationship with Jax, a mere mortal and a young one, at that.

Variety makes this book spicy through these ingredients:  a variety of cultures, characters that span a wide range of ages and even one character that is invisible!

Written by Zetta Elliott

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader Level: No test yet written, Reading level approx. 5.0

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Loss, Lemonade and (Big Foot)Lore

Lemonade Liberty Witt has a mother who is a free spirit full of love. Lemonade has lots of friends and likes living in the city. But death erases the life she knows. Her mother dies of cancer.  Lemonade is sent to live with Charlie, a grandpa she doesn’t know who lives  in a rural town, Willow Creek, the dorky so-called “Big Foot Capital of the World”. What’s worse, her grandpa runs the Big Foot Souvenirs and More store downtown. All Lemonade wants to do is return to her former existence and stop feeling the overwhelming pain of grief. Then she meets Tobin, an oddball kid who has his own Big Foot Detective Agency.  Like Lemonade, Tobin has struggles. His strict adherence to rules and dedication to finding the elusive Sasquatch make him a glowing target for bullies. He has not seen his father since his dad was freed from imprisonment in Vietnam.  Expected to board a plane to return home, his father, instead, disappears. Tobin is convinced his father will return and soon. Lemonade becomes Tobin’s Big Foot-hunting assistant and, many Sasquatch expeditions and intense disagreements later, they become buddies. Eventually, Lemonade develops more friendships with locals both young and old. Ultimately, she realizes that these caring townsfolk and, most importantly her grandfather, love her and she has forged a new family in this new place.

Melissa Savage, the story’s author, expertly weaves common threads through the tale: we all suffer loss, it gets better over time if we let others in, life’s not fair, but we are strong and love (and friendship) conquer all. The topic of death seems heavy, but the humorous banter between Lemonade and Tobin, along with the adventure of Sasquatch hunting, balances the story. FYI: There is some dialogue about the need to pee in the woods and a brief mention of the difference between male and female Sasquatch (one has stuff up top). Because a main topic is grief, the book is best read by 5th or 6th grade students or shared aloud and discussed with younger readers.

Written by Melissa Savage

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader Level 4.1

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She’s No Plain Donut!

A unique and strong-willed girl named Donut is the star of my newest scout, A Stitch in Time, set in the 1930’s and written by Daphne Kalmar. Donut’s name is as unusual as her life. Her mom passes when  Donut is just a baby, she spends her time hanging out with Sam, a taxidermist, learning to stuff birds and mice that she finds in the woods of Vermont and Tiny, her sweet, “not-so-tiny” friend. Her father is a dreamer and that suits Donut just fine. But when he suddenly dies, Donut’s Aunt Agatha arrives from Boston to care for her. Not only does she serve oatmeal for breakfast and turnips at supper, both of which are on Donut’s “don’t-care-for-list”, but she plans to uproot Donut and take her back to the big city to live with her and Aunt Jo. Donut, still grieving for her dad, wants no part of that arrangement, so devises schemes of her own. When those fail, she concocts an ill-thought-out plan to run away and stay in a friend’s cabin. Donut must cross a lake, keep warm, and deal with the woods at night.  Nonetheless, fueled by her anger at everyone, from Sam for not successfully helping her stay, to her aunt, to Tiny, who can’t keep a secret, to, ultimately, her father for leaving her, she stays for days aware of the worry and fear she is causing everyone.  A blazing fire brings the story high drama and propels Donut to make decisions and realizations about her life, future and the people in it.

Kalmar brings Donut’s experiences in the woods to life with depth of  description that will draw in readers. I recommend this book for the older end of intermediate chapter book readers, grades 4 or 5 through 6. Some of the language of the time may need explaining, although it is entertaining, “the cabin was as dull as ditchwater.” But more so, there are references to smoking a pipe, drinking and a sprinkling of words such as damn and, at one point, Donut talks about how swearing makes her feel better. Emphasizing that it’s a work of FICTION, may be in order for impressionable partakers.

Written by Daphne Kalmar

No Accelerated Reader quiz yet exists

Copyright 2018

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I just finished scouting out the latest survival tale by Lauren Tarshis: I Survived the Children’s Blizzard, 1888.  As with her other survival novels, she effectively transports readers back in time, bringing a period of history alive through the dangerous events experienced by young characters..

In this offering, John, his parents and sister Franny move from Chicago to Dakota Territory. It’s 1887, and Mama and Papa are thrilled to take the government up on its offer of 160 acres of free farmland. Frontier life, however, is initially not so idyllic for John, who enjoyed his city life, friends and the not-as-extreme temperatures of Chicago.  Here, he endures the sweltering summer, the bitter-cold winter and his family’s rustic home made of sod, which occasionally leaks and frequently contains bugs and mice. Over time, however, John becomes part of a tight group of friends and wants to attend school. After a winter cold snap keeps them homebound, John and Franny return to school only to be caught up in a massive, quickly-approaching blizzard. The story pace  quickens equally.  Franny becomes missing, John risks his life and needs to be rescued, then he and his friends find themselves abandoned in deadly conditions. Readers will root for John and friends as they fight to survive the lethal blizzard.

By the time readers get to the end of the story, they’ll want to learn more about this historic blizzard that took the lives of 100 children. Thankfully, Tarshis includes a thorough Questions and Answers section following the conclusion of the story.

The straightforward simplicity of this story  makes it most suitable for third, fourth and some fifth-grade readers.

Written by Lauren Tarshis

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader Level 4.3

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If you’re not familiar with the I Survived series, it’s time to start your collection of these high-interest historical fiction books!

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Bigger May be Better, but Tiny is Terrific!

Eddie and his family discreetly live in a classroom at Ferny Creek Elementary. Life is good until the day that Aunt Min travels to the library and never returns. Eddie is tasked with traveling to the library and rescuing her. Dangers abound, with a school full of squishers (humans) and physical challenges.  Eddie, however, perseveres, locating Aunt Min, but realizing she is injured and he must stay with her as she heals. The two are book-loving bugs, content to discuss classics, enjoy story time and observe the young readers of Ferny Creek Library. All changes, however, when the librarian takes a leave to have her babies (yes, babies, she’s having three!). Enter the substitute librarian, Mrs. Vrisch (guess what her name rhymes with? yep, squish). Eddie and Aunt Minn overhear her evil plan to get rid of books and convert the library into a testing center (horrors!). Now, Eddie must take on one big job for a little bug….saving the Ferny Creek Library. Communicating with humans through sticky notes and inadvertently perpetuating the idea that the ghost of a former library volunteer is haunting the library, Eddie makes a sizeable impact for his cause.

The story is bursting with cuteness while getting across the point: determination is what matters and anyone, of any size, with enough of it can accomplish big things. Children love books set in schools and this imaginative tale will have them wondering what the bug on their school library windowsill is up to!

Written by Linda Bailey

Copyright 2017

Accelerated Reader Level 3.7

My Kind of Courage

You could say that Joseph Johnson is on a run of bad luck. That would be an understatement. True to the times, 1890, Typhoid has taken many lives, among them Joseph’s mother and young sister. His father dies in an accident, leaving Joseph in the care of an unscrupulous man who sells Joseph’s cherished horse, Sarah, to horse traders. This is Joseph’s breaking point. At age twelve, he sets out to rescue Sarah. He is not alone for long, though. He soon adds an unexpected companion, a Chinese boy who speaks no English.  On their horse-trader chase around Washington State, the two encounter characters ranging from villains to kind strangers, gruelling physical challenges and continual danger. Through it all, a touching kinship is formed between the boys. The fast-paced action will keep readers engrossed all the way to the gratifying ending.

A boy facing tough odds, solely focused on saving Sarah, with gritty determination and unwavering bravery.  Some Kind of Courage is my kind of story. Yet, the ultimate review is a one-liner from a fifth-grade boy who is a bit of a reluctant reader. Imagine him holding up the book with a wide grin and saying, “This book is the best!”

By Dan Gemeinhart

Copyright 2015

Accelerated Reader Level 4.8

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A Fantasy Book with Chocolate…Yum!

A dragon who turns into a girl and becomes an apprentice to a chocolatier? Well, if that’s not the makings of a delicious fantasy story, I don’t know what is! Aventurine is a young dragon with a restless spirit and an over-protective family. They keep her close and away from danger. Aventurine has other plans. She leaves her family to show them she can care for herself. Unfortunately, her first encounter with a human ends badly. She accepts a sip of enticing-smelling cocoa and POOF! She is transformed into a human girl. Aventurine makes her way to the village where she encounters a motley crew of characters, including an intensely disgruntled chocolatier, with whom Aventurine apprentices and finds a passion for chocolate. Not only is being human foreign to Aventurine, but dealing with them is as well! She learns imperative lessons along the way, evolving into a truly strong and independent person. The dragon attack on the village is so full of suspense and action that readers may feel compelled to duck and hide!

By Stephanie Burgis

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader Level 5.8

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