Archive for Adventure

Atlantis Lost

Written by T.A. Barron

Featuring the battle between good and evil and offering an explanation for the disappearance of the island of Atlantis, the last volume of Barron’s trilogy is exciting and action packed.

This tale begins with the island being well-established and her residents living idyllic lives. Immortals traverse the Universal Bridge, between light and dark, and discuss their existence. Meanwhile, the evil Narkazan plots to increase his power and take over the world. He wants to retrieve the Starstone, a sort of magical amplifier from the mortal love, Atlanta, of one immortal, Promi. Narkazan unleashes his minions, including dark mistwraiths and a horrible monster that destroys the City of Great Powers, devours her residents, and produces terrible offspring. Many characters have pure motives. They help wherever they can. Many characters are complicit and devious. A fierce battle ensues, involving wind lions, good and bad dragons, giants, and many other mythical creatures. In order to save the world, Atlantis must die. Hope survives.

As with many of Barron’s books, this is a great introduction to or addition to mythical sagas and the literature surrounding them. It is riveting and worth the read. 

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  • atlantis-lostTitle: Atlantis Lost                                                
  • Author: T.A. Barron
  • Published: Philomel Books/Penguin Random House, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 up
  • Genre: Fiction, Mythology
  • ISBN: 978-0-399-16805-5


The Mage of Trelian

Written by Michelle Knudsen

The third book in the Mage trilogy is fun, exciting, and a quick read. Highly recommended for summer reading.

The story opens on Calen, an apprentice mage or wizard, who has been coerced into living and working with the evil Mage Krelig. Krelig has foreseen that Calen will be more powerful than he realizes and will make a valuable tool. Calen’s goal, other than survival, is returning to his former home and friends in Trelian. Krelig is insane and unpredictable, punishing those around him harshly and for seemingly minor infractions.

Chapters featuring Calen are alternated with those featuring Princess Meg, otherwise known as the Dragon Princess. She is the princess-heir of Trelian and has been linked telepathically with a dragon, Jakl. The citizens of Trelian no longer fear Jakl, but have only just begun to discover his usefulness. Together with Calen’s former master and with Calen himself, Meg devises a plan to release Calen from Krelig’s clutches while also fighting a rival kingdom.

Naturally, everything works out in the end, but the path is often unexpected and painful.

Readers can learn a lot about the value of cooperation and the ways that friendship evolves over time and distance. Because the world of Trelian is skillfully constructed, readers can also practice literacy skills without distraction. And they may also want to learn more about medieval times or attempt to create their own worlds as extra reading activities.

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  • Mage of TrelianTitle: The Mage of Trelian
  • Author: Michelle Knudsen
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 432 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 up
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7436-6



Ruby Redfort: Feel the Fear

Written by Lauren Child

At times a little silly, this exciting new installment in the Ruby Redfort series will hold the attention of fifth graders and older by keeping them guessing until the end. The reader will be breaking codes right along with Ruby and possibly even trying out the martial arts described.

Thirteen-year-old Ruby is such a natural code breaker that she works for a super-secret organization dedicated to protecting the world. As is the case with most teenage secret agents, the badddies have no problem finding her and complicating her life. Set in fictional Twinford – resembling a cross between New York City and Los Angeles – the story follows the celebration of a film star’s career and of the release of her once-lost movie. All the while, people in high rise apartments report break-ins through impossibly high and small windows. Apparently, little of note is missing after the break-ins. When a seemingly blank business card is discovered at one of the scenes, Ruby is on the case. Of course, Ruby is constantly in trouble at work, with her parents, and with her loyal friend. Eventually, Ruby finds a connection between the film star and the break-ins. Meanwhile, she helps her friend solve a problem and foils the baddies.

The length of the book is daunting, but there’s a lot going on here, making it well worth the read.

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  • Feel the FearTitle: Ruby Redfort: Feel the Fear
  • Author: Lauren Child
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 528 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 up
  • Genre: Adventure, Espionage, Codes
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-5470-2



This Side of Wild

Written by Gary Paulson
Illustrated by Tim Jessell

Gary Paulson once again takes readers into his spellbinding experiences of the natural world. His newest book, This Side of Wild, focuses mainly on his many experiences with dogs, and occasionally birds. Are we training them or are they training us? Are you sure?

After writing over 200 books for children and young people, he still has fresh insight into where he has been and what he has learned. His smooth, elegant writing style and down home good humor make this an enjoyable read for all ages.

He takes us along on adventures of his past with some repetition, then explains what he means about who is doing the training with such explicit details as to allow us to watch our own dog a little closer. We will also take a more serious note of that birdfeeder out back and the ruckus we used to think pointless.

Teachers and librarians can use this as an introductory book for reluctant readers who may not have met Gary Paulson yet. It is shorter than many of his, but quickly engages the reader. Especially if the reader is very interested in the outdoors and/or dogs.

Literacy skills within the core curriculum standards are definitely strengthen and fulfilled as are science and geography standards at the middle grade level. Students could use a map of the United States to track the adventures in this book between Minnesota, Alaska and the Pacific Ocean.  Various lifestyles, climates and wildlife patterns are explained. Parents might wish to use the book as an evening read aloud, or for the enjoyable activity of you read a page, and I’ll read a page. It isn’t just for reluctant readers, folks, it is a fun evening project for everyone.

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  • This Side of WildTitle: This Side of Wild
  • Author: Gary Paulson
  • Illustrator: Tim Jessell
  • Publisher: Simon& Schuster for Young Readers, September 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 120 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4814-5150-5
  • Genre: Autobiography, Human/Animals Relations, Animal Behavior
  • Grade level: 5 to 8

Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra De Winter and Bram Broen

Written by Eve Yohalem

Mutiny aboard ship, would you be with the captain or against? Petra and Bram would each have to decide. They didn’t care about the gold the mutineers were stealing from the hold. They were each trying to find a place and way to live free from danger in the world.

Petra’s father would likely kill her if she were forced to return to Amsterdam. Bram would never find a place he truly belonged in the world because of being a mixed race boy.

This story of life aboard the ship, The Golden Lion, in the year 1663 is a fast paced tale of pretending to be a boy while surviving a long journey at sea. It involves bad weather, an attack by pirates and mutiny at sea.

The diagram of a ship of this sort is accurate. Much research went into writing this book with as much accuracy as possible. The author’s note explains the amount of research, but it would have been helpful, from an educational viewpoint, to have included some of the sources.

The book will still fulfill literacy requirements, as well as, core curriculum standards for geography, history. The world map showing the journey is great, but an added timeline as to how this story fits into world history would be a good thing to have students create as they enjoy this exciting swashbuckling adventure.

Grade four, grade five and grade six readers will enjoy reading this ocean journey late into the night, maybe with a flashlight under the covers!

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Cast OffTitle: Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra De Winter and Bram Broen

Author: Eve Yohalem

Publisher:  Dial/Penguin, 2015

Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz

Format: Hardcover, 312 pages

ISBN: 978-0-525-42856-5

Genre: Historical Fiction

Grade level: 5 up

Extras: Diagram of Ship, Map of Journey, Author’s Note

The Water Castle

Written by Megan Frazer Blakemore
Illustrated by Jim Kay

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Ephraim’s father has suffered a stroke. In an attempt to help his recovery, his mother, a doctor herself, has taken the family to an old inherited mansion in Maine. Needless to say, it is full of mystery, intrigue and books.

In the past, the mansion had been the home of a “water baron.” He bottled and sold water, some said under false pretenses that it was water that could extend your life and health as long as you kept drinking it. Almost like the old tales of the fountain of youth. However, the bottling plant was destroyed in a massive fire decades ago and no one even knows the source of this fantastical water.

Ephraim decides this magical water must be found in order to cure his father. While he is a normally a failure at making friends, doing things right, and staying out of trouble his great desire to cure his father helps him overcome a great many fears and weaknesses.

He makes friends of children whose parents and grandparents hold grudges against the mansion and all it stands for, but as we come to see, friendship can be a powerful force for good.

Interspersed among the chapters are letters and diary entries from 1908, when the water discovery was in full swing. The different flow of language and vocabulary gives readers the feel of the long ago in those sections.

A subplot interwoven takes the shape of following the Peary expedition to the pole, in the diary entries, and doing a report on the explorer in the present day.

Fifth grade readers will enjoy the adventure of the present day as well as the mystery surrounding the old house. They will wonder if the water can really be making the students in this school so much stronger, smarter and bigger than they would normally be. Every reader and listener will be mourning for father, stuck inside his body and cheering for Ephraim to find a cure.

Literacy skills and core curriculum can be enhanced by including some classroom research dealing with the Peary expedition, the radiation of water, the distillation of water, the fountain of youth, and the geography of the town. An art project could be drawing the mansion, the hidden laboratory in the basement or a map of the town. Students could be asked to write what they would use such water for, if they were to discover it.

It is a fun read with lots of possibilities, especially that of reading it again!

  • Water CastleTitle: The Water Castle
  • Author: Megan Frazer Blakemore
  • Illustrator: Jim Kay
  • Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers, an Imprint of Bloomsbury, 2013.
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 344 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-8027-2839-5
  • Genre:  Realistic Fiction/ Science in Fiction
  • Grades:  4 to 8
  • Extras: Author’s note, bibliography for further reading, websites with related information

The Other Side of Free

Written by Krista Russell

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The year is 1739, the location northern Florida near the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine. Thirteen- year-old fugitive slave Jem has just arrived from Charles Town in the Carolinas with Phaedra, a feisty black runaway woman, who has been “paid” by Jem’s caregiver, conjure woman Aunt Winnie, to escort Jem to Florida and look after him.
Why would Jem and Phaedra want to go to Florida?  Florida was controlled by the Spanish government. Spain had offered freedom to English colonial slaves if they fled the British colonies, swore to assist the Spanish in defeating the British, and converted to Catholicism. A group of fugitives lived at Fort Mose, just outside the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine. About the same time, a slave uprising occurred along the Stono River near the Florida-Georgia border. The British colonists slaughtered or sold many rebels.

Krista Russell, according to her website, writes “stories of adventure that bring history to life.” She has succeeded in this case. Once Jem and Phaedra arrive at Fort Mose, the adventures begin: rescuing an owl, meeting the trader Reynard, learning to fish and hunt the Indian way from Domingo, arrival of other fugitives, encounters in the forest, threats from the British, scarce supplies, preparing for battle, and the battle.
The story line drags a bit at the beginning, but reaches a flashpoint and firepower speed when Jem spies several British soldiers, and British ships blockade the St. Augustine harbor. All the fugitives gather in the Castillo for safety, but supplies are low. Jem learns about what the British have done to Fort Mose. Consequently, the Spanish authorities develop a plan to defeat the British soldiers at Fort Mose based on Jem’s reports.

The characters are many and diverse, each having his own story to enrich the general narrative. Jem is an immature and naïve thirteen, resentful of strong willed Phaedra and missing Aunt Winnie. Jem’s and Phaedra’s strong stubborn wills clash. Phaedra’s history remains a mystery until the final chapters. Reynard, the trader, adds the historical details about the importance of trading with the Indians and the British and American colonists, not only providing goods but also news. Big Sunday is the leader of the slaves and connection to the Native Americans via his son Domingo and connection to the Spanish governor and general who live in St. Augustine. General Rooster is what the slaves have nicknamed General Rojas who trains the fugitives to help fight off the British. Shadrack is the old conjure man who is the fort charcoal maker.

Interspersed throughout is the owl, Omen, that Jem rescues from his nest when he observes crows attacking the owlet. Phaedra dislikes and resents the owlet and the time Jem  spends feeding it, mending it, teaching it how to fly, and, finally, hunting for itself. However, Omen teaches Jem about the forest and the ways of the forest that help Jem provide information during the siege

Several strands of the narrative seem extraneous.  While Jem thinks about his Aunt Winnie, he remembers her stories, the stories of trickster Brer Rabbit and tells them to Omen. General Rojas propositions Phaedra, who rebuffs him. Why is that short episode needed in a story for middle grade readers?  Could other descriptions, examples, information have been used to establish the personalities of Rojas and Phaedra? Neither does the element of conjuring, while providing additional richness to the African-American culture, seem to be necessary to the forward movement of the general thesis.

Few books have been written for upper elementary/middle school readers about this period and location in America history. Most emphasis has been on the British colonies and the use of slaves on the southern plantations. Historians now consider the Fort Mose site and the flight of the slaves from the Carolinas and Georgia as the precursor of the Underground Railroad that took many slaves to safety in the north or to Canada. Russell’s previous book Chasing the Nightbird was a NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People in 2012; Other Side of Free will probably also be included in that honor listing.

Extras: Author website
Fort Mose Historic State Park:
Castillo De San Marcos:;
Stono River Slave Rebellion Site:

  • Other Side of FreeTitle: The Other Side of Free
  • Author: Krista Russell
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2013
  • Reviewer: Marion Mueller
  • Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
  • Genre: Historical fiction
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-710-6
  • Reading level: 4.9

Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War

Written by Helen Frost

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This novel in verse, written by the Printz Honor Book author, Helen Frost, once again brings a story to life by her use of the two voices of teens.

One is the son of a settler living just outside the fort and running the trading post. The other is the son of a Native Miami tribe living just miles away. The story is set in 1812 during the westward expansion.

She uses Salt to weave the story together in many beautiful ways. As salt comes from the earth and is needed by animals, Native Americans and settlers alike.

The two young boys are friends, until miscommunication causes them to doubt one another’s intentions. It is skillfully written to allow the reader to discover how easily miscommunications can come about and cause a serious rift in a friendship or an escalation in war.

Fifth grade readers plus older readers will enjoy this story and it would lend itself well to a reader’s theater in English, History or Social Studies classes. There are many areas of the common core that this book will fulfill and enhance. Literacy skills included, besides others, are inferential details, parts to whole, comprehension and cause and effect.

It would also provide for some strong writing activities dealing with; which side would you be on? What parallels to this do we see in today’s world? How can some people see so clearly what others cannot?

For a more contemporary experience with the novel in verse using two voices, see Hidden by this same author.

  • SaltTitle: Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War
  • Author: Helen Frost
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 129 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-374-36387-1
  • Genre: Historical Fiction in Verse

Navigating Early

Written by Clare Vanderpool

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When Jackie’s mother dies unexpectedly, the father he barely knows comes from active Navy duty to take him from Kansas to a boarding school in Maine. Not surprisingly, he has a difficult time adjusting and befriends a most unlikely student. They both have the pain of loss in their backgrounds and the love of adventure in their veins.

This Newberry winning author of Moon Over Manifest, has put together another exciting adventure that fifth grade readers as well as sixth and seventh grade readers will enjoy whether they are male or female.

She uses the boys’ knowledge of the outdoors and particularly of the stars to guide them along their way. While one boy shows signs of being autistic, it is an underlying awareness that comes to the reader, and not an, in your face description. He sees things differently, but he is still understandable to the others around him once they stop and consider what he is saying. It provides a good lesson for us all to stop and seriously consider what people are actually saying when they are talking to us.

Literacy skills enhanced by this book include: comprehension, cause and effect, setting, character development and plot. As a read aloud, it could be effective when studying about autism, the outdoors, dealing with death and separating fact from fiction.

Even though this is a fiction book, Clare has done a great deal of research to make sure the setting, and time period are correct. It is told with a great deal of action and excitement that are sure to keep the reader turning pages late into the night.

  • Navigating EarlyTitle: Navigating Early
  • Author: Clare Vanderpool
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 300 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-385-74209-2
  • Genre: Fiction, Adventure
  • Lexile: 790

Women of the Frontier: 16 Tales of trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble-Rousers

Written by Brandon Marie Miller

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It’s unusual for such a heavily researched and annotated work as this to be so exciting. The author chose the stories of women with a lot to tell, and she makes the reader care. The author also categorizes stories that defy category.

Not surprisingly, the stories begin with the trek west. The reader learns about Margaret Reed, a member and survivor of the ill-fated Donner party. The ordeal is real without being overly graphic. Amelia Stewart Knight was another early settler who faced unbelievable hardship – along the Oregon Trail. The next three women – Narcissa Whitman, Miriam Davis Colt, and Frances Grummond – faced unusual challenges establishing households on the frontier. Narcissa set out to be a missionary to Native Americans in Oregon. She was killed without converting a single “heathen.” Miriam wrote a book about her failed colony in Kansas. Frances married an army office and found new meanings for isolation and deprivation.

Many women in the West learned to make their own way. Luzena Stanley Wilson went west with the Gold Rush and made a living feeding or housing the men. Clara Brown was a laundress/entrepreneur/philanthropist. Bethenia Owens-Adair was a healer and physician.

Not everyone spent all their time with mere survival. Martha Dartt Maxwell became a taxidermist and introduced western animals to the East. Charlotte “Lotta” Crabtree was a baby-faced, famous singer.

Many women considered the future of the West. Mary Elizabeth Lease immersed herself in the populist movement. Carry Nation fought for temperance and women’s suffrage.

In the category of culture clash, Rachel Parker Plummer and Cynthia Ann Parker are examples of white women held captive by Native Americans. Sarah Winnemucca and Susette La Flesche were Native Americans who fought for their native people.

This work is great as a referential beginning point for a fifth grade unit of the American West or Native Americans. Many of these women wrote about their lives, so reading activities naturally flow into learning more about them and the topics they wrote about. The author includes a table of contents, notes, resources, an index, and numerous photos.

  • Women of the FrontierTITLE: Women of the Frontier: 16 Tales of trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble-Rousers
  • AUTHOR: Brandon Marie Miller
  • PUBLISHER: Chicago Review Press
  • REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
  • EDITION: 2013
  • ISBN: 978-1-883052-97-3
  • GENRE: Hard cover, Women, American West, History


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