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Character lessons

Children’s Books

Character lessons

Four middle-grade novels

A Little Taste of Poison 

R.J. Anderson

Coming from a poor and ostracized family, Isaveth Brett accepts a scholarship to the premier school in Tarreton. She proves resilient as bullying and false accusations ensue, but past events and secret ties with the Sagelord’s son Esmond put Isaveth in the middle of a bigger scandal that involves murder, politics—and poison. This fantasy sequel to Anderson’s A Pocket Full of Murder includes suspense, trickery, and magical potions. Parents should be aware the book addresses the Sagelord’s alcoholism and failure as a father, which prove to be his downfall. Friendship and trustworthy adults provide a welcome contrast. (Ages 9-12)

The Last Archer 

S.D. Smith

Jo Shanks leaves his Halfwind Citadel home for Cloud Mountain as a young, orphan rabbit with cunning archery skills and something to prove. He soon finds himself in the middle of surprise wolf attacks and the outbreak of a bloody war where one shot could determine its outcome. In the thick of battle, Jo meets surprising allies and learns bravery and humility, which soon overshadow his quest for personal glory. This small book, part of Smith’s Green Ember series, has read-aloud appeal for a wide audience with its fast-moving chapters, noble themes, and plenty of animal-fantasy fare. (Ages 8-12)

Johanna and Henriette Kuyper: Daring to Change Their World 

Abigail van der Velde

When Johanna meets Abraham Kuyper, or “Bram,” her father warns her not to lose herself. But in marriage she becomes a tempering force for Kuyper, a strong-willed reformist, theologian, and Netherland’s prime minister. Set in the late 19th century, this biographical story follows Johanna’s challenges during a time when a woman’s role was questioned. It also tells of the Kuypers’ daughter Henriette, or “Harry,” who is more progressive than her mother and embodies her father’s passion. Harry travels internationally, championing women’s suffrage, and eventually becomes a war correspondent. Van der Velde’s debut novel follows five other “Chosen Daughter” titles that shed light on little-known women who shaped history. (Ages 8-12)


Darcy Miller

Eleven-year-old Ren must adjust when his parents move outside their small Minnesota town. His plans to run cross-country quickly dissolve when he meets a new neighbor, Sutton, who has a surprising passion—training Birmingham roller pigeons. Ren’s curiosity and a budding friendship with Sutton bring self-discovery and put him at odds with a childhood best friend. There’s some suspense as Ren and Sutton work toward a regional championship. Miller’s debut novel includes unique information on raising and flying roller pigeons—but mostly it highlights for coming-of-age preteens and teens the role of friendship and honesty in the midst of change. (Ages 8-12)

(Shawn Harris/Chronicle Books)

(Shawn Harris/Chronicle Books)


Two recent nonfiction picture books and one oldie but goodie draw in young readers with lively illustrations. In Her Right Foot (Chronicle Books, 2017) Dave Eggers explores the history of one of America’s most iconic symbols: the Statue of Liberty. The book tells where Lady Liberty came from, why she is blue-green, and what is the significance of her lifted right foot.

Adam Lehrhaupt’s This Is a Good Story (Simon & Schuster, 2017) introduces young children to the elements that make an interesting read. Children will learn—albeit briefly—about settings, plots, characters, and climaxes as they follow a little girl writing her own adventure. David Adler’s Fun with Roman Numerals (Holiday House, 2008) has helpful visual aids to teach the basics of reading and using Roman numerals. —Kristin Chapman