Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘reviews of books by young people

Mariana Weber is so passionate about global warming that she used to regularly write letters to the president. Then she realized that his replies were all the same and that a co-worker had probably drafted a form letter for such requests as hers. Undeterred, Mariana decided to both form an organization for environmental protection and to write a book. For the latter, she enlisted her illustrator friend Joanna Whysner, whose colorful drawings add to the charm of The Global Warming Express.

Through an easy-to-read fantasy, Weber entertains while also making a plea for change. Earth is in peril. Several animals and two young people decide to join forces. They ride a magical train to the White House, where they hope their cry will be heard by the president.

The adventure begins in Antarctica, where an emperor penguin named The Fluff has just lost his mom, who died after swallowing a piece of plastic from the ocean. The girls also meet other animals whose stories engage while also drawing upon sympathies: a harp seal named Creamy who almost drowned when the ice she called home melted before she could learn to swim, a bear named Tomas and a salamander named Sally whose homes have been destroyed by fires caused by drought, a polar bear named Flora who found herself separated from her parents due to melting ice, a mountain goat named Edgar who has nowhere left to migrate, a caribou named Lauren who has no place to call home due to the destruction of muskeg, a duck named Zolo whose feathers have been permanently damaged by oil, a fish named Bobbi Sue whose aquatic home is toxic, and a rat named Zingo whose home is being destroyed by hurricanes that have become increasingly severe. One would be hard-pressed to read the tales of all these animals and not be stirred to action.

Weber has done her research. In her introduction, she explains why the Earth is heating up and why we need to slow down the effects. Through a parrot named Inoah, she teaches reading about multiple issues related to global warming such as the burning of fossil fuels, drilling of natural preserves, releasing of carbon monoxide into the air, and dumping of oils. And, on her resources page, Weber provides multiple links to articles and websites related to climate change. Anyone who is stirred to action by The Global Warming Express will have obvious reasons and solutions.

The Global Warming Express isn’t simply a cautionary tale. It’s also a fun story of a cross-country adventure where several animals and two young people visit unfamiliar places and face dangers such as fires and hurricanes. One minor complaint is I’m not sure why the train takes them into Canada, given that their mission is to plead with the United States president to pass environmental protection laws. While on this ride, the train becomes a character too. If the passengers are sad it slows down and even stops, but if the passengers are happy it speeds up.

In addition to writing a book, Weber started The Global Warming Express program. Its website explains global warming, tells how adults can help, and provides updates on small and big goals that young people in the group have made towards climate change.

Encyclopedia Brown. Who in the world of children’s literature hasn’t heard that name? Who isn’t familiar with the boy detective from Idaville and his close friend Sally Kimball? As with the best young detectives, Encyclopedia Brown is famous in his neighborhood for solving mysteries that stump even the chief of police. What about the series, written by Donald J. Sobol and first launched in 1963, has such high appeal? Let’s take a look at the most current title, Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Soccer Scheme to find out.

A huge selling point for me with my students is the series format of ten stories per book, with each story being less than ten pages. For anyone is daunted by reading, even the hundred pages often required of a chapter book with the simplest vocabulary feels like having one’s teeth scraped. In contrast, being encouraged to read just the few short pages of a mystery instead like simply opening one’s mouth and saying “AH” for a dental exam.

In addition to the brevity, I also appreciate how Sobol creates an atmosphere that depicts an average student’s life and activities. For example, in Case of the Soccer Scheme, the settings are as simple and common as a neighbor’s house or yard, a local drugstore, a sports park, the town library, and a home business. Moreover, the crimes often amount to that of false accusations between classmates and attempted fraud in contests. The worse crimes involve a stolen goods and a burnt library book. In contrast, many other popular mystery series including the long-established Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys include kidnapping and murder.

Finally, while all of the above might prove selling points for reluctant readers, Encyclopedia Brown should also appeal to any young person with a penchant for mysteries. Clues are given in the course of each story, with solutions being provided in the back of the book. The mysteries aren’t necessarily easy either, but require readers to hone their observation skills. In one of the Soccer Scheme cases, a teenage girl claims to have seen the newspaper boy bolt shut their front door for an April Fool’s trick. However, doing so would have required her to sit on a couch full of cat hairs despite her wearing a black dress for a performance later in the day. Immediately, I knew this was a clue. In another case, two teens try to convince neighborhood kids to buy stocks in a gold mine the two teens supposedly found. I have to admit that I paid more attention to the lengthy details provided about his thirst and his exhaustion, than to the one line which described the teen as being pale, and so missed the critical clue to the mystery.

During my childhood, I read various Encyclopedia Brown books. Year after year, when I offer my students the choice of a book to read for the last quarter of school, someone inevitably picks Encyclopedia Brown. The series has and should continue to stand the test of time for reluctant and avid young reader alike.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

Over the course of Donald J. Sobol’s career, he has written a number of different kinds of books for young audiences, but he is best known for his Encyclopedia Brown detective series which began in 1963. Over the years, Encyclopedia Brown became one of the most famous young detectives created in fiction. According to NY Times, the series made bookworms of many a reluctant young reader. In 1976, Sobol won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for the Encyclopedia Brown series.

Sobol also wrote at least 65 books on a variety of topics from history and biography to long fiction and fun facts. Other famous series of Sobol’s included a Two–Minute mystery syndicated column. Sobol’s books have been translated into 12 languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide. NY Times reports that Sobol continued to write every day until a month or so before his death. Notable Biographies quotes Sobol as once saying, “I took on writing as a lifetime career on the supposition that I would write until I fell over at the typewriter.”


Born in 1924, Sobol and his siblings had a happy childhood growing up in New York City. NY Times notes that the middle initial of J. apparently didn’t stand for anything. His father owned gas stations, which he later sold to Standard Oil.

Growing up, Sobol attended the Ethical Culture Schools and graduated from the Fieldston School. He spent his youth being interested in baseball. Notable Biographies quotes Sobol as declaring himself not being as smart as his creation, Encyclopedia Brown.

Soon after Sobol graduated in 1942, he joined the U.S. Army and fought in World War II. A member of the Army’s Corp of Engineers, he served in the Pacific Theater and in Europe.

After his discharge from the Army in 1946, Sobol returned to the United States and entered Oberlin College in Ohio. While a student at the small college, Sobol became interested in writing when he took a short story writing class.

His professor encouraged Sobol in his writing, but Sobol still harbored dreams of playing professional baseball. It took several years before Sobol made fiction writing the focus of his career.

After graduation, Sobol returned to New York City where he landed his first job, that of being a copy boy for New York Sun. He was soon promoted and became a writer for the paper. Thus, began a stretch where Sobol worked as a writer, sometimes for newspapers and other times for magazines. He also continued his education at New York City’s New School for Social Research.

In 1955, Sobol married Rose Tiplitz, an engineer and writer. The couple had four children.

According to Publisher’s Weekly, the lure of becoming a book author was strong. At age thirty, Sobol quit newspaper work and began writing full-time. The result was more than 80 books for children and young adults, including several works of nonfiction. Sobol died 2010 in South Miami, in his late eighties.


Sobol’s first books were historical in nature. He also had a syndicated column that was published internationally between 1959 and 1968. Called Two–Minute Mysteries, it was Sobol’s first mystery series. Sometimes Sobol employed the help of his wife.
In 1963, Sobol turned from these primarily non–fictional topics to mysteries, and published his first Encyclopedia Brown book. Notable Biographies states that the book was rejected by 26 publishers before it was accepted by T. Nelson who only insisted on a few changes. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective received praise from the first.

One of the appealing features of the titles is that they each contain 10 mysteries that readers are encouraged to solve; the answers are located at the back of the book. Publisher’s Weekly says this formatting idea came to Sobol when he was doing research at the New York Public Library. A desk clerk mistakenly handed him a puzzle book—featuring puzzles on one side of a page, and solutions on the other—instead of the title he had requested.

Encyclopedia Brown never ages and never charges more than 25 cents an hour for his detective services. Publisher’s Weekly  reports that Sobol once said that his famous character was not inspired by any real boy, but  “is, perhaps, the boy I wanted to be—doing the things I wanted to read about but could not find in any book when I was ten.”

Apparently, Sobol wanted each book to stand alone, so that children could start with any book in the series and read the series in any order. NY Times shares the books included characters named for Mr. Sobol’s children and their friends. In addition, the town of Idaville was named for Sobel’s mother and another town, Glennville, was named for a son who died in a car accident in 1983 at the age of 23.

Sobol later used the Encyclopedia Brown name on a number of nonfiction books featuring facts for young readers. Among the first was 1981’s Encyclopedia Brown’s Second Record Book of Weird and Wonderful Facts. Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown books were also adapted for television in 1989. Later, Encyclopedia Brown: The Boy Detective aired as a television movie on HBO. The series was also adapted by others for film strips and comic strips.

Notable Biographies shares the interesting trivia that soon after the television movie aired, Sobol’s readers caught a mistake he made in his first Encyclopedia Brown book. In 1990, first and second grade readers at a Philadelphia elementary school asked Sobol to explain how in one mystery, the villain was able to slip a boiled egg into a carton of fresh eggs that were purchased at a grocery store by the contestants of an egg–spinning contest before they were used. Sobol admitted the oversight and added a correction in subsequent editions of the book.

Though Sobol continued to produce Encyclopedia Brown books regularly over the years, he continued to create other series as well. In 1967, he began the book series that shared the same title as his earlier syndicated column, Two–Minute Mysteries, featuring a character named Dr. Haledijian who solved crimes. Other mystery books that Sobol wrote included 1981’s Angie’s First Case, which featured a young female detective.

Sobol continued to work late in his life on the Encyclopedia Brown series and other works. He still wrote 40 hours a week while in his late 70s. He had files of clues and solutions for future mysteries yet to be written. Sobol also read a lot for himself, to find further ideas for clues. Notable Biographies quotes Sobol as stating the aim of his books as: “Outwitting you, the reader, is hard, but harder still is making you laugh. I try above all else to entertain. Yes, it is nice to have a message, too. And I have one. It is that all men are brothers….”

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