Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan
This is a book I read when I was about ten years old—and kept rereading for years. It tells the story of a group of Norwegian children who snuck the gold bullion reserves of the Bank of Norway out of the country in the beginning of the Nazi invasion. They did this by tying sacks with the gold bricks in them to their sleds and riding the sleds down the mountain right beneath the noses of the Nazi soldiers. It’s an exciting tale in which children show great bravery doing things that children could actually do. To make the book even more exciting, it ended with a note that said it was based on an account of what really happened. Listening to it again now forty years later brought back the same feelings of excitement I had as a child when reading and rereading this tale. The only disappointment I suffered was in the afterword which pointed out that it has never been confirmed that this is how the Norwegian gold was actually gotten out of the country. The premise is based on the account of the ship’s captain who brought the gold to New York, and he, to protect the children, refused to state which part of Norway the events happened in. Whether it is ultimately true or not, it is still a wonderful story.
The Hallowe’en Folk Legend of White Horse Hill by Philip Gegan
It’s an unusual pleasure to encounter a different style of storytelling. In this short work, Philip Gegan uses poetry to sketch the narrative of the origin of Halloween. The overall effect is one of an epic poem, although it is not nearly as long as the great epics of antiquity. I would guess that the author intended the story to be read aloud to children. It’s short enough to be read in a single sitting and it comes with pertinent illustrations that add color to the story. The end result is an enjoyable and creative look at the origins of Halloween.
In Alpha Order by Author
Wally Roux, Quantam Mechanic by Nick Carr
I really liked this story but I’m not certain how to categorize it. Obviously it’s science fiction and a coming of age story, but it felt like so much more than that. The characterizations are deftly drawn so that even relatively unimportant characters shine in their vividness. And the narration by William Jackson Harper is quite simply superb.
Wally is a genius on a level that you find in superhero comics. He recognizes there is a problem in his world when he realizes that he is literally walking uphill to school and uphill home again while taking the same route. Outside of grandparents’ stories about the old days, that isn’t really something you come across very often.
So Wally invents some tools that let him fix it, but the story doesn’t end there. He keeps finding a growing number of problems with the physics of the universe and fixing them. No one believes he’s doing these things. His mother thinks he’s playing. But we the reader realize this is not the result of an overactive imagination (even though Wally’s imagination is quite active).
On top of all of this, we are watching young Wally deal with racial problems, girl trouble, and parenting issues. It’s a very short, but very endearing story about an extremely special young man growing up. I guess I knew how to categorize it after all.
The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
This is a classic children’s story about a young mouse and a young boy
who share a love of motorcycles and a strong desire to be grown up. It was a
delight to discover how engaging this story remains forty years after I first
read it. The chapters unfold with simple clear prose and a captivating
storyline built on strong personalities that everyone—young and old—can relate
to people in their own lives. Two scenes still stood out strongly in my mind
even after forty years and they were even more exciting than I remembered them.
In one, Ralph (the mouse of the title) desperately tries to escape the laundry
basket before he can be dumped into the washing machine; and in the other he
engages in an even more desperate struggle to transport an aspirin to his young
human friend who is sick with a fever. This sort of imagery helps to build a
wonderful dramatic story that you can enjoy by yourself or with the whole
Flying Mutant Zombie Rats by Kat de Falla
Pea O’Neil and his middle schooler friends accidentally open a portal to another world while riding their BMX bikes at a local track. The result is an incursion by the flying mutant zombie rats of the title. The rats are not only hungry, they are infectious, and the boys take it on themselves to try and save Milwaukee from becoming zombie central. Fortunately, they have the assistance of an other-dimensional talking cat.
Let me say right up front that this is a fastmoving novel that is loads of fun. The characters are colorful and the plot hangs together well enough to keep the story pedaling furiously forward. So yes, it seems peculiar that a couple of dads would give there sons a crash course in fighting without asking pesky little questions like who do they plan to wage war against, but it all fits the good fun tone of the novel right up to the climatic ending.
If you like remembering the heroic fantasies you had when you were twelve, this is a great story. If you are twelve, this is the sort of tale that can inspire your own dreams. In short, there’s a lot of fun between these pages and I’d like to see what trouble these friends and their cat will get into next.
I received this book free from Audio Book Boom in exchange for an honest review.
Alone with the Stars by David R. Gillham
In Alone with the Stars, David R. Gillham has found a fresh and exciting way to present a brief biography of Amelia Earhart to modern readers. Earhart is on her final flight, slowly being forced to realize she is in serious trouble, while halfway around the world, a fifteen-year-old girl named Lizzie, is receiving her final transmissions—the famous pilot’s last plea for help.
This is a highly emotional story. Lizzie is trying to force people to recognize that she has a clue to where Earhart went down and people in authority are discounting her account in a large part because she’s a girl. It’s painful but it’s also inspiring as Lizzie and Earhart continue fighting for Earhart’s survival.
Part of the power of this story is that it’s by no means clear how this tale will end. Will Lizzie change the history we know and give Earhart the happy ending she so richly deserved? Will the woman who inspired so many around the world, and not just young women, find a way, with Lizzie’s help, to survive her own death?
I’m not going to spoil a great tale, but if you know nothing about Amelia Earhart except that she was lost on her last flight across the Pacific, this story is a great place to start learning more.
Stuck by Chris Grabenstein
Stuck is a delightful, fully dramatized, story built with a twist on the Ground Hog’s Day theme. Jackson is an eleven-year-old fifth grader who is afraid to advance to middle school where a bully promises to make his sixth-grade-year hell. So, he makes a wish to stay in fifth grade and magically it happens—while the rest of his world advances one year further, leaving him behind.
At first, Jackson is pretty pleased with what’s going on, except that at the end of his second run through fifth grade, the clock resets for him again and he has to do it a third time. This run through he’s accompanied by a girl who is going through the same experience. Jackson is a pretty headstrong young man who really enjoys shining, so the first several times he goes through the fifth grade, he’s actually pretty happy with himself, excelling in school, getting better and better in sports and music, and generally being a cocky young man. But eventually, having his little sister get older than him, and losing track of his friends starts to beat him down and he begins to look for a way to start growing up again.
Grabenstein does a great job of showing the emotional growth in Jackson as he slowly progresses from being totally self-centered person to a great young man who is truly concerned with other people and this brings me to my one serious complaint about the story. The eventual solution to Jackson’s problem erases all the character growth he has made in ten years as a fifth grader and for me, that destroyed the entire point of the story. In the original Ground Hog’s Day, Bill Murray was only freed from his calendar-trap when he emotionally grew up and the audience knows he’s going to keep being the great person he has become. But Jackson forgets his ten years of fifth grade and so the superb young man he has become disappears making the whole tale sort of pointless—although it was still a lot of fun getting there.
The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame
Here’s a children’s classic that I think I read in a dentist office forty or more years ago and that has been brought to life again by Anton Lesser in this audible only edition. This is an adventure story of the late nineteenth century. A young boy makes friends with a dragon that lives in the nearby hills and they have lots of fun together until the neighbors find out and call in St. George to slay the dragon. It’s up to the boy to find a way to save his friend.
If you’d like to be brought back to a more innocent time when fights to
the death were not the principle way youth fiction solved its problems, you
will enjoy this story.
This Is a Family Show by Billy Kelly
This is a comedy show focused at young children. That means that it is often corny, but packed with genuine fun. It was taped in front of a live audience which added a believable laugh track to the book and allowed Billy Kelly to interact with his audience. Overall, it’s fun, and if you’re looking for something the whole family can enjoy, it’s a nice quick book full of laughs.
Ghostsitter—A Crazy Inheritance by Tommy Krappweis
Here’s a clever and cute fully dramatized story intended for the whole family. Tom inherits ten million dollars from his great uncle on the condition that he travel with and take care of his great uncle’s ghost train for four years until he turns eighteen years old. As you have already figured out—the ghost train has an actual ghost in it, and a mummy, a vampire, a werewolf, and a zombie and they desperately need a human to help them interface with the world.
Half the story is about Tom finding out what his inheritance is and the other half is about him learning what he has to protect his new charges from and how to do it. It’s a crazy little tale that moves along like a speeding, well, train. There’s nothing particularly scary here, just good clean fun with great sound effects and a fantastic cast of characters. So, if you just want to spend a few hours with a cute little tale, or if you’re looking for something to entertain the children, the Ghostsitter is the choice for you.
Zombie Party by Tommy Krappweis
The zany cast of Ghostsitter and Beware the Poltergeist returns to save the “life” of their zombie friend. What follows felt a lot like a supernatural scavenger hunt as everyone races against the clock to stop the zombie from turning to dust.
As with the first two books in this series, this is a fully dramatized production aimed at younger people. That won’t stop adults from enjoying it as well.
Beware the Poltergeist by Tommy Krappweis
The colorful undead cast of Ghostsitter—A Crazy Inheritance returns for another madcap adventure. This time fourteen-year-old Tom and his friends (a werewolf, a vampire, a ghost, a zombie, and a mummy) find themselves fighting to protect the denizens of a fairground from a monstrously powerful poltergeist—a spirit so strong it can cause earthquakes. They do so in their normal zany fashion, causing chaos and getting into mischief along the way.
This story is performed with a full cast and plenty of sound effects and while targeted toward younger audiences, the whole family will enjoy it. The actual story behind the poltergeist is quite touching as is the eventual resolution of the crisis.
Swamp Monster Voodoo by James Livingood
I sat down last night to listen to this audiobook short story while my wife watched a tear-jerker TV show. About ten minutes in, my son turned off his YouTube video to listen with me. Swamp Monster Voodoo is the story of a swamp creature with the ability to converse with both the living and the dead. He also has a bit of swamp magic which he originally uses to help a voodoo practitioner earn his living. It’s a decent life until the townsfolk find out about him and he has to move on.
The story picks up with him working as a healer. A ghost has asked him to raise her recently deceased grandson from the dead but she isn’t so happy about paying him for his work…which leads to a lot of fun trouble and a very enjoyable ending.
So if you’d like a short distraction from the problems of the world and wouldn’t mind finding a smile on your face, give Swamp Monster Voodoo a try. My son and I are going to try another of Livingood’s short stories tonight.
I received this book from Free Audiobook Codes.com in exchange for an honest review.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
This is a touching book about the courage and compassion of a young girl and her family as they seek to protect their Jewish friends during the Nazi occupation of Denmark. It’s really a remarkable achievement—finding a way to make a ten-year-old a believable heroine in the face of the Nazi evil. And Annemarie is a highly credible character who stands up for her friend in a way we all wish to believe we would as well. It’s quite an amazing feat to make a ten year’s old courage the crux of such a book, but then, Lois Lowry is clearly an extraordinary author.
The Halloween Legion by Martin Powell
Here’s a creepy Halloween tale that looks like it’s geared at young adults but is enjoyable by all ages. The small town of Woodland has had a hard time of it lately. A few months ago a freak tornado caused a lot of damage and now strange things are happening all around them—the goat boy keeps getting spotted, a brontosaurus crushes a building and kills a man, a barn starts crawling up hill toward a nearby house (that was my favorite), and a ghost keeps making appearances, and well, you get the idea. Creepy things are coming to Woodland and the sheriff and a local high school girl seem to be stuck in the middle of it. But that’s not all because a bizarre carnival run by a very strange woman has come to town and is setting up the show of a lifetime—or maybe that’s the last show of your lifetime.
What I liked most about this story was that I was very deep into the tale before I was certain who the good guys and the bad guys were. The whole tone was unsettling and let’s face it, that’s a lot of what you want in a Halloween story. I also was very pleased at how well plotted this story is. All the strange things are tied together into a very believable problem, and if the sheriff is a little slow to get on board with the supernatural things occurring all around him (even after the events of the first chapter) I’m sure I would have wanted to find another explanation if I were a character in the story as well.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara RobinsonWhen I was in the eighth grade, a substitute teacher read the class the opening chapters of this story instead of teaching us math. I was totally entranced (unlike all my other classmates) and a couple of decades later when I came across the book in the library I had to finish it. Now I read it every year at Christmas. This is a story about why we need to look beneath the surface and think about the things we think we know everything about and how one small town is forced to do this when a bunch of troublesome kids manage to take over the annual Christmas play. This is a book that can bring both peals of laughter out of your throat and tears to your eyes and it can be enjoyed by the whole family from the youngest toddler to the eldest grandparent.
The Best Halloween Ever by Barbara RobinsonI've long enjoyed The Best Christmas Pageant Ever so it was true a pleasure to stumble across this sequel. Like the first book, this story revolves around the horrible Herdman children who despite being bad in most conventional senses of the word always seem to make things come out better by the end of the story. For me, these are nostalgia tales, although they’re actually written about a time a generation or so before my own childhood. But if you want a simple morality lesson that comes just slightly from the side, and you enjoy a few laughs along the way, you’ll like this series.
Spirits of the Western Wild by David Schaub and Roger Vizard
I am a big fan of fully dramatized audio and it’s rare to find one as beautifully performed as this book. A combination of excellent audio performances and wonderful dialogue (like the spirit who tries to sound educated but keeps using the wrong highfaluting words) makes it easy to keep track of a large and dynamic cast. In addition there are great sound effects that heighten the sense of being there and really add some gusto to the visual descriptions within the tale.
The story is equally strong—a very cute coming of age story that was clearly focused on a younger audience but which I (at my more advanced age) found thoroughly enjoyable. I hope this cast will produce other audio books in the near future.
I received this book from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.