To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. Instead, our system considers things like how recent a review is and if the reviewer bought the item on Amazon. It also analyses reviews to verify trustworthiness.
My daughter is in 2nd grade and read this during our car ride that was a few hours long. She enjoyed the story and was able to get through it pretty quickly. She's currently reading at an end of 3rd grade reading level.
My 5yo and her friends have really been getting into Scholastic's new Branches series, which takes beginning chapter books and illustrates each page. By creating a long story rather than a running theme, Branches are a little more advanced than something like
Frog and Toad
, while still using illustrations to engage early readers who aren't quite ready for pages of prose.
That said, Sparkling Jewel is easily the least interesting of the dozen or so Branches books we have. The girls absolutely love the fast pace plots and chapter-ending cliffhangers of
. In fact, quick character introductions and a quick pace are the hallmarks of the Branches series. Sparkling Jewel trades that away for far too much character development, which means sometimes pages go by without much actually happening - a real deal-killer for youngsters today.
Beyond the pacing problems, Sparkling Jewel wanders constantly. Storied from Tori's point-of-view, the narration wanders incessantly - in a three paragraph spread early on she talks in complete non-sequitur about having to spend the summer at the ranch, her favorite pony, her sister, her mother, her grandmother, the new pony, back to her favorite pony, a cat... While that frantic topic-bouncing undoubtedly sounds like my 5yo's inner monologue, it makes following what the author is actually trying to convey very difficult. I can't help but be reminded of
Miss Piggy's classic line
: "Why are you telling me all this?" "It's plot exposition, it has to go somewhere."
Sparkling Jewel should've been a hit with my girls. It has a great premise, a sisters-as-pro/antagonists, ponies, and pseudo-danger. Unfortunately it gets so mired in its exposition that it fails to drive the plot. Hopefully the author visits some of the other Branches books for an idea of how this can be better balanced. Sparkling Jewel isn't a bad book per se, but it's not good - and there are definitely better early-reader choices even within the Branches family.
This book is mediocre at best. It really has no plot - two sisters who disagree with each other sometimes stay at their grandma's ranch for the summer where in the first few days they break a lot of rules with no real consequences. Tori, the main character, goes on quite a few bunny trails about things that interest her. She's insistent about riding a horse that's too wild, accidentally lets it out of its stall when she should be in bed, then sneaks into its stall again in the middle of the night, and then is rewarded at the end by being able to ride it because the horse trusts her.
I don't think my kids will be tempted to sneak out of the house at the age of 8 after reading this book, but it still made me uncomfortable since the adult response was "well, don't do that again, but since the horse trusts you, you can ride it now." If you care about that kind of thing, pass on this one.
My main issue is that the plot was pretty weak and the writing was unimpressive. It's fine to have around to teach reading but it's not a fine work of literature and it's not something I'd encourage my kids to read.
3.0 out of 5 starsLittle Girls will Certainly Love It, but Be Wary of the Messages Being Given
Reviewed in the United States on 26 July 2015
I wasn't as impressed with this book as other reviewers. Now, as a young girl, I read ANYTHING that had to do with horses, particularly the entire Black Stallion series, Misty of Chincoteague, and other such classics. While this is written for an even earlier reader than those, it still came off as very stilted and simplistic in its writing. It has some nice information on what kinds of things you might have to do at a horse ranch to care for the animals, and certainly young girls will love it regardless because of the ponies and dogs that the story is about as well as the lavish illustrations, but the story just really lacked much creativity and charm, IMO. I compare it for instance with another book I reviewed recently for the same age group, Battle Bugs, which even an adult could read and be charmed with the imagination and inventiveness of the story, while still managing to educate along the way. While that book was more geared towards boys, it was the kind of story I particularly loved as a young reader myself, why is it that books for girls are so often far less interesting, domestic even, while boys are off having grand adventures? Perhaps it was because I reviewed these two books so close together that I could not help but feel let down as a girl that this story had so little of that. Ultimately the story seemed to be mostly about the girls misbehaving and fighting a lot and then in the end getting their way. The protagonist is repeatedly not following instructions and putting herself in very real danger (not to mention the animals which keep getting loose, which in the real world often leads to severe consequences), and then the adults actually just give in and let her have her way at the end. We see a pony that is actually rearing up when being brushed (something that could cause a child very serious harm) and just a short time later in the story, she is actually being allowed to ride the pony. Not only is it unbelievably unrealistic, I think it sends a very bad message to young readers about the importance of following the rules, particularly around animals like horses and ponies that can seriously injure them, and that if they just keep nagging about what they want, the adults will just give in. Not the kind of lesson I would want for a young girl. I hope that future books in the series will take a bit of a different approach and teach some better lessons.