A list of kids’ books rated by kids

Each term of my creative writing class, we study ten to fifteen books. I’m not big on analyzing a book to death (as a kid, those weeks of intensive study of a single book eventually sapped all the intrinsic joy out of it), but we do have lengthy discussion about a different title each week.

One of the main things I get my students to do is to rate the book out of ten and to explain their reasonings. I thought I would post the results of one my recent classes. This class consisted of nine kids ranging in age from ten to fourteen years old, and I’ve put the books with their average ratings, starting from the lowest and finishing with the highest.

Of course, this isn’t a perfect science. Different times of year (read busy times) can impact how a student engages with a book. Nonetheless . . . here are some great recommendations, and given the fact that the lowest scoring book received a 6.8/10 tells me they are all kid-approved!



Liar & Spy
By Rebecca Stead
Average rating: 6.8

This book features an unreliable narrator, something which my students didn’t have a lot of experience with. This confused some of them, but by and large, they enjoyed this twist. This book also sparked great conversations—just who exactly is the liar and who is the spy?

* * *


The Cabinet of Wonders
By Marie Rutoski
Average rating: 7.0

I have long loved this book, which is sort of a fictional retelling of the myth of the famous clock in the old town square in Prague. Of course, the real story about the clock doesn’t feature a very cool book-reading mechanical spider—which, no surprise, turned out to be most students’ favorite character.

* * *



Young Houdini: The Magician’s Fire
By Simon Nicholson
Average rating: 7.2

This is another story that riffs off something real—this time a real person, and imagines what Harry Houdini’s early years were like. This book features interesting characters and a  great, action-packed beginning. (If there’s one thing my students complain about, it’s slow beginnings; but this book delivered on that front.)

* * *



Hate That Cat
By Sharon Creech
Average rating: 7.3

This is another long-time favorite of mine, and I wish my students had liked it more. It’s a novel told in poetic format, so a bit of a challenge if you are not in a certain frame of mind. It’s an absolutely beautiful story.

* * *


By Scott Westerfeld
Average rating: 7.4

Action, drama, sumptuous illustrations, and a deliciously-conceived world, this book imagines what World War I would have been like if history had gone a bit differently. As the awesome book trailer states: “Do you oil your war machines . . . or feed them?” I had the chance to meet Scott Westerfeld in person, and really loved hearing about his creative process.

* * *


How To Catch a Bogle
By Catherine Jinks
Average rating: 7.5

This book is a recent favorite of mine. Author Catherine Jinks really captures Victorian era London and has a lot of fun playing with bogle mythology. The lingo and setting details make this story pop.

* * *


The Boundless
By Kenneth Oppel
Average rating: 7.6

It seems we read a lot of books this term that took historical situations and applied a fantastical element. In this tale, author Kenneth Oppel imagines that the Titanic of trains is whisking across Canada. Along the way the characters encounter staples of Canadian mythology, such as the Sasquatch. A lot of fun and action, and told in a compelling present tense style.

* * *


How To Steal A Dog
By Barabar O’Connor
Average rating: 7.7

There is a distinctive and easy-going voice in this book that invites you in and doesn’t let you go. This book sparked interesting conversations about different issues regarding homelessness and ethical dilemmas.

* * *


Inside Out & Back Again
By Thanhha Lai
Average rating: 8.0

I suppose the other thing we read a lot of this year were books told in poetry format. My students loved the way author Thanhha Lai played with language and many of them could relate to the experience of immigrating to a different country.

* * *


The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale
By Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
Average rating: 8.1

This book is based on the London pub (which is still there—I’ve been to it several times) where the likes of Charles Dickens and Samuel Johnson used to frequent. In fact, Dickens is a character in the story, though the main characters are the cats, mice, and ravens. Similar to How to Catch a Bogle, the Victorian dialect really help make this story feel like you are stepping into the world. The illustrations are also gorgeous.

* * *


By Paul Fleischman
Average rating: 8.2

I love this book, but am a little surprised that it rated so high, because in the past I’ve had classes who were turned off by the multiple points of view. Truth be told, some students in this class weren’t crazy about these different voices either—but they loved the symbolism of the community garden and each could relate to different characters.

* * *


The Gospel Truth
by Caroline Pignat
Average rating: 8.3

I picked this book off the shelf long before it was nominated for—and won—the Governor-General’s award, so felt pretty smug about it afterwards for my good instincts. Of course, my students really care if a book is award-winning unless they already like it. This is another book told in poetic form, drawing on the power of different character perspectives and voices. My students adored this book.

* * *


Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s library
By Chris Grabenstein
Average rating out of 10: 9.2

I’ve yet to find a student who didn’t love this book. Inevitably, it grabs you with its fascinating concept, celebration of literature, and fast-moving fun-filled action. You’ve probably heard of this book already, but think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets books. I had the opportunity to meet Chris Grabenstein earlier this year, and he was one of the kindest authors I’ve ever met.

* * *

The Tiger Rising

The Tiger Rising
By Kate DiCammillo
Average rating: 9.4

Well, what can you say? It’s hard to beat Newbery award-winning Kate DiCamillo. I actually thought no book would top Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, but this was the last book we read for the season and it swooped in with its powerful symbolism, poetic language, and snatched away the crown (though just barely). This book sometimes is overshadowed by DiCamillo’s other successful book (Because of Winn-Dixie, Flora & Ulysses, The Tale of Despereaux), but it is beautifully told.








Designing dragon scales


I spent the last few weeks building a dragon egg prop. I had so much fun with this project, and I had enough material left over at the end of it, that I decided to experiment with making dragon scales.

I began by cutting shapes out of a plastic soda bottle, which had a natural curve well-suited for the shape of the scales. I decided that I wanted the scales to be heavy and sturdy, so experimented with different ways to achieve this.

For two of the scales, I shrouded the plastic base with a layer of plaster. For the third one, I glued a layer of leather on top. The leather one still seemed to flimsy, so I coated the back with plaster to give it extra weight.


Once the plastering was done, I coated the scales in modpodge, which helped to smooth out any imperfections.


For one of the plastered scales along with the leather one, I decided that I would just proceed to painting. For the third one however, I decided to texturize it with acrylic beads. After this was done, I gave it another coat of modpodge.


Then it was time to paint!


Here are the final scales. The gold one, which was just painted plaster, didn’t really turn out, but was kind of my base experiment anyway. I’m quite happy with the leathery (green) scale and the more armored (red) one. Into the museum of magical artifacts they go!


The fabulous website for the summer reading program


The BC Library Association recently launched the website for this year’s summer reading program. I had nothing to do with the design or development of this site (all kudos go to Shayne Letain), but it does feature all of my artwork.

What is particularly exciting is how interactive the site is—check it out to click and see some wonderful animation of my characters, vehicles, and settings!

What’s your favorite location?


Advanced dragon egg building ~ the finale

I finally completed my dragon egg prop! Ultimately, the whole project went a bit quicker than I thought it would, even with the many glitches and setbacks I experienced along the way.

Here are some final photos . . . the last one shows the new egg next to the first one that I built. (Which hopefully illustrates why I called this new one the “advanced” one!)

The egg is now on display in my studio, but will certainly make the rounds with me as I visit schools and libraries in the coming months!


Advanced dragon egg building, part 3

I’m finally updating my progress on my dragon egg building. I call it “advanced” not because I’m doing anything that clever, but because this process is more advanced than the one I used for the previous prop I constructed.

After I finished bejeweling the surface, I coated the entire structure with mod podge.


This took a whole day to dry and then I decided to spray paint the entire structure to provide a base color. This turned out to be a disaster. If I had been thinking clearly, I would have tested this paint out on some sample mod-podged jewels. For one thing, I didn’t like the color. I had picked the most metallic red I could find, but it came out too rose colored.


I decided to paint over the whole egg with a burnt orange color. However, the acrylic paint just didn’t bond properly to the spray paint beneath, bubbling in certain areas. It’s hard to see in the photo, but I just wasn’t satisfied!


So, as a solution, I mod podged the whole egg again and then decided I better restart with a dark base and build up color from there.


This time, I painted the egg a dark metallic brown then started adding in different tones of red and metallic colors.


This is always a tricky and time-consuming process. I’m not actually sure what I want the final color to be. What I do know is that I don’t want any flat colors—there needs to be many gradations and textures to bring visual interest to the surface. So now I’m in the phase of adding fine detail and dry-brushing detail.

Almost there . . .