Summer is a quintessential time for reading. For kids, it entertains and inspires, nurtures imagination and creativity, and helps bridge the gap between school years. It's probably a safe bet that Printers Row Journal readers well remember childhood days spent in the pages of a favorite book. Earlier this year, the Journal invited kids ages 5-16 to submit reviews of their favorite summer reads as part of our Children's Read & Write program. Here's what these aspiring book critics had to say. Submissions were edited with a light hand, mostly for space. More reviews are coming in future weeks; be sure to visit printersrowjournal.com to share your favorites.
The BFG by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
The BFG is the big friendly giant who protects a little girl named Sophie. Together, they successfully planned to save children of England from evil child-eating giants.
One lesson learned from the novel is that people can succeed even when bad things have happened to them in their past. Sophie, the orphan, and the BFG, the smallest giant of his land, made a creative solution to a big problem.
I enjoyed reading "The BFG" by Roald Dahl. I liked the strange and funny drawings in each chapter. Honestly, I would not have read the book if it weren't for my teacher, Ms. Wilkins. I learned to have patience and to pace myself as I read this chapter book. This novel was good to read. There were funny, dramatic and serious parts.
— Blake Bradford, 9, Chicago
Nature Girl by Jane Kelley
Alone and lost on the Appalachian Trail, with only a small dog and a minuscule food supply — and not wanting to be found? This usually does not apply to any situation, but in "Nature Girl" by Jane Kelley, it definitely does. Eleven-year-old Megan is being forced to spend the summer away from her city home, and in Vermont's wilderness without any form of technology whatsoever. Her best friend, Lucy, was supposed be with her the whole trip, but canceled at the last minute because of her mom's cancer. Megan keeps complaining about having nothing to do, and her parents are really fed up with her attitude, so they send her on a hiking trip with her sister, Virginia, and Sam, Virginia's boyfriend. So when she finds herself lost on the Appalachian Trail, she thinks she might as well hike up to Massachusetts to see Lucy. She soon realizes that hiking is much harder than it looks, and with a bit of help, starts to see who she really is, and who she wants to be in the future. The hike quickly changes to a quest to find out her true self, and to prove herself to Lucy, and the world! I was quickly intrigued by the story, and parts of it could be connected to real life. Heartwarming and adventurous, "Nature Girl" is sure to please many.
— Janelle Finton, 12, Wheeling
Totally Joe by James Howe
"Totally Joe" is an eye-opening book that shows kids what it is like to be different. Joe Bunch is a gay teenager who struggles with opening up to his family. He is constantly teased by the school bully, Kevin Hennessey. Joe starts to secretly date a popular boy named Colin. Joe wishes that they could be more public, but Colin doesn't want anyone to know that he is gay.
This book taught me a lot about how it feels like to be mocked every day and to keep secret from your family out of fear that they won't love you anymore. "Totally Joe" has many lessons, and a few are that it's OK to be different, and there is no such thing as normal, perfect or right.
— Catherine Lynch, 10, Evanston
Socks by Beverly Cleary, illustrated by Tracy Dockray
This book is about a cat named Socks who lives with a Mom and a Dad. Socks doesn't know that Mom will soon have a baby. When he does find out, Socks is very worried. Will the baby be nice or mean? After the baby is born, Socks realizes the baby is not the kind of baby he was expecting. The baby was not nice to Socks. Socks did not like when the baby kept pulling on his tail and hitting his head. Socks decides to get rid of the baby. You'll have to read "Socks" to find out how he tries to get rid of the baby.
— Annie Rabenhorst, 9, Northbrook
One Way, Uphill Only by Chris Quick
"One Way, Uphill Only" by Chris Quick, a cross country and track coach and English teacher at Palatine High School, is more than just a "running book." Though it highlights the events leading up to Palatine's state title in cross country in 2011, athletes from all sports as well as non-athletes will enjoy this book as much as I did.
"One Way, Uphill Only" chronicles the trials and tribulations of the varsity squad on their journey to becoming champions. Runners will relish the detail Quick uses to describe each grueling workout, lighthearted road run, and gutsy race — as well as the racing strategies — they can learn from this book. Other athletes and sports fans will admire the hard work and drive to win that propelled the team to success. But all readers will appreciate the tale of dedication and perseverance, which is punctuated by insightful words and short bursts of humor. "One Way, Uphill Only" shows readers that success does not come easily, but that hard work pays off. Though I am a runner myself, I know that other athletes and non-athletes alike will find "One Way, Uphill Only" as entertaining and inspiring as I did.
— Jennifer Bolek, 16, Elk Grove
The Giver by Lois Lowry
In "The Giver," author Lois Lowry delivers a haunting novel based on a supposedly utopian society that, in reality, is far from perfect. Seemingly set far into the future, the book, which won the 1994 John Newbery Medal, centers on a community that could be described as utopian. Everything is carefully controlled and monitored. Every step of life is planned precisely, leaving no possibility for variations from the path chosen for you. There are no choices — your job, spouse and children are selected by the community's Council of Elders. There are no true feelings — of love, pain, loss, happiness or sadness. There is no war. There are no seasons. It's a perfect world, albeit in a sort of twisted way. And the book's main character, Jonas (11 years old at the start of the novel), accepts this. After all, this is the only life he has ever known. But, one December, that changes.
At the Ceremony of Twelve, when all children 12 years of age have their jobs chosen by the Council of Elders, Jonas receives a prestigious, but difficult job: The Receiver. He will receive memories of life in other places, far away from his own community, from a man called The Giver. He will then advise the Council of Elders on decisions based on his knowledge of past events gleaned from the memories. Some of the memories are good, like a sled ride on a snow-covered hill (in Jonas' world, there are no hills, or snow, for that matter). But others are bad. War, loss — everything that the rest of the community doesn't have to suffer from the knowledge of, one boy carries their nearly unmanageable burden. And with each new memory he receives, Jonas begins to realize something: Maybe it's not such a good thing to live the way residents of his community live, in a cold, numb world without any feeling, a world where nothing has meaning. He realizes that there's a world outside of his tightly controlled community, and it's very different: It does have feelings, things do have meaning, and you can make your own choices. That's the kind of place where Jonas wants to be, and, ultimately, he gets there.
The book is so good partly because it feels deeper than most modern novels. It is a welcome departure from the shallow, largely meaningless realistic fiction stories of modern day life that dominate bookshelves. It makes the reader contemplate their own world and its pros and cons. And it ignites a debate in their mind: Is it really possible to have a truly utopian society?
It is tough for an author to create a fictional world like the one described in the book and make it seem real, while intertwining powerful messages and making the reader ask profound questions that may or may not have a clear answer. But it can be achieved. And in this short book that speaks volumes, Lowry has done it.
— Will Foster, 12, Chicago
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic by Katie Cook, art by Andy Price
This book is about six friends, and three of them have little sisters. The little sisters were kidnapped by an evil queen named Chrysalis. So the three big sisters, along with their three other friends, saved the three little sisters.
I like this book because it is exiting (sic) and I love exciting books. The most exciting part of the book was when the ponies saw big spiders and some of the ponies got tangled in the spiders' webs. But one pony was free. So the pony used her magic to zap the spiders and the spiders ran away.
I recommend this book because it has good pictures, it is exiting (sic), and it shows us all how important friends are.
— Kathleen Carey, 8, Chicago
I Funny by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illustrated by Laura Park
I read "I Funny" and thought it was incredible. The book was so realistic and it really taught people to never give up. The main character in the book thought about giving up trying to be a stand-up comedian at least twice. The character dialogue was also fantastic because every single line could've actually been said.
For example, the main character's girlfriend asks the main character how he pees, since he is in a wheelchair. This line is great because it is a realistic question, but it's also hilarious. Finally, it had a great mix of action and laughs like the main character telling amazing jokes and the same character telling his girlfriend about a car accident that killed his mom, dad and sister. I would give it five stars, no contest.
— Jason Shacter, 10, Chicago
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is about Tom Sawyer and his friend Huckleberry Finn. They go on many adventures including becoming pirates by going on adventures in a boat by a small island. Also Tom and Betty (sic) Thatcher (a girl that he is in love with) get stuck in a cave on a school field trip. This book taught me that there can be consequences for being mischievous. I think this book is special because it was based on the author Mark Twain's life.
— Natalie Howard, 9, Deerfield
This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Earl with Lori and Wayne Earl
"This Star Won't Go Out" is a collage of young Esther Earl's thoughts, represented in different media such as journals, fiction, letters, sketches and blog posts during her dying days. (Esther died in 2010, shortly after turning sixteen.) Esther suffered from thyroid cancer, but you wouldn't know it just by reading her writing. She had a spunky and fun personality, and I think that is why my favorite form of entries are written in her own words. They are her letters. Also, in my opinion, John Green's introduction to the book perfectly captured her essence and is a wonderful eulogy that I'm sure Esther would have appreciated. Another thing I noticed that helped me navigate the book was how the pages were color coded. Throughout the book, the pages turned from green to white to orange and pink, finally resulting in the last stage of her life, red. Though there are infinite good things about this book I could write, one thing I would change would have to be the order of the pictures and the captions that follow them. I absolutely love the shots that they chose to put in this story, but it doesn't go in chronological order, so it's hard to follow. Also, I wish I would know more about what's happening in the photo, not just where it takes place. This book makes me feel very fortunate, and throughout Esther Earl's hope-filled, cheerful, and positive words, "This Star Won't Go Out" has earned my highest recommendation.
— Yael Shaw, 12, Glencoe
A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
"A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning" is possibly one of the best books I have ever read. One reason is that when the author Lemony Snicket uses words that are hard, (for example, blanch, which means boil) he tells what the words means. That way you don't have to read the story without knowing what the word means (like I often do), or get a dictionary and look up the word. I also like that when the baby in the family is babbling random words, the author lets you know what the baby is thinking. (Often she is wanting to bite something.) Plus, the Lemony Snicket books keep the story moving. In some other stories, there are parts where the author is stalling, kind of like this: "Hey Joe, what shoes are those?" said Steve. "I don't know," said Joe. Then Steve and Joe go onto a quest — which has nothing to do with the story — to find what shoes Joe has. (Well, maybe it's not that weird in most books but sometimes they just have a super duper long, boring, dull conversation that hardly makes sense.) Anyway, this story doesn't have that. It always has some sort of action in it. From a fight to climbing a grappling hook, it's always in some way interesting.
Now it's time to discuss the characters. First there's Violet. Violet is the oldest child and usually in charge because her parents died in a fire that destroyed their house. Then Violet and her siblings had to live with their relative named Count Olaf — and he is NOT the pretty little snowman from that movie "Frozen." Next is Klaus. Klaus loves to read books. He had read almost all the books in his house before it burned down. In that way, Klaus is maybe even almost as intelligent as Violet. Finally, there's baby Sunny. Give Sunny something to bite and she's happy. In the third book, she bites the head off a doll — a lot. Then, as always in a story, there's a bad guy; it is none other than Count Olaf. Count Olaf is the person the children are staying with since they don't have a home. The kids' parents had a lot of money before the fire, so that's what Count Olaf is after.
There isn't really a lesson to the story, because it's about some kids that have terrible, terrible luck. So the lesson might be to not ever try to get into situations that Violet, Klaus and Sunny get into. Or maybe don't play with fire or else your house will burn down like the children's did. But in every situation that the children were in, they had to look at every detail. That is why I think the lesson should be that every detail can make a difference. That about wraps it up. And if you ever need a book to read, choose "The Bad Beginning."
— Finn Mattes, 9, River Forest
Jeremy Mikula is a Printers Row Journal staffer and coordinator of the Children's Read & Write Program. @jeremymikulaCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, the Chicago Tribune’s premium Sunday book section. Learn more about subscribing to Printers Row Journal, which is available for home or digital delivery.