Thursday, July 1, 2010

Book Reports, Second Quarter 2010

It's hard to believe we've finished another quarter of the year, and that I'll have a little one nursing away and wreaking havoc with my sleeping (oh wait, the baby's already doing that) before I post another quarter's worth of books. Here's what I've been reading the past few months.


April

The Empty Cradle by Phillip Longman

Holes by Louis Sachar - a very enjoyable book (which was followed surprisingly closely by the movie script).

Encounter with Mercy (The Catholic Company review)

The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin tells of the blizzard that struck the Midwest on January 12, 1888 (just a few months before the huge blizzard that shut down New York City). He covers the meteorology of the storm, the politics of the Signal Corps and follows the experiences of a number of people and their families (starting with their immigration to America). It may be heart-rending to read of the plight of those who did not survive, but it seems to me to be an important part of the story of the Plains that is often not told: Most families did not make it. They faced harsh extremes in weather, difficulties with crops and many of them packed up and left with less than they had when they arrived. Mr. Laskin argues this storm was the turning point. It's been long enough to have dropped from our national consciousness, but for people who survived it, it was a day burned in their memories just as September 11, 2001 was for those in New York (a comparison presented by the author with which, as someone who lived in New York City at the time, I completely agree). There's a newer edition out (The Children's Blizzard (P.S.)), but my library only had the original hardcover. I'm not sure what the differences are.

First Things First: The Rules of Being a Warner by Kurt Warner and Brenda Warner. The Warner family is lovely, but the book was nothing earth-shattering.

Caddie Woodlawn's Family (Magical Melons)  by Carol Ryrie Brink is a book of short stories, based on notes from her grandmother that were not used for Caddie Woodlawn. It's a wonderful book, despite needing a little comment from parents that "half-breed" is not an acceptable term for people. (I think it's in the book once.)


For the Love of Literature by Maureen Wittmann

The Three R's by Ruth Beechick

Lawn Boy  by Gary Paulsen is a hilarious little book, most appealing to a boy or young man who is learning (or who has just learned) some basic economic principles of capitalism and investment. Kansas Dad read the whole book in about twenty minutes and loved it. It was recommended by one of the young men over at Blessed Among Men, so you don't have to take our word for it.

The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary  by Simon Winchester. I thought the first chapter would never end, but the story after that was quite fascinating. Mr. Winchester provides quite a few amusing asides in the text and, more so, in the footnotes. (I love a book with footnotes instead of end notes.) I would be a terrible lexicographer. Read more about the OED in the digital age here. (The book has a 2003 copyright, so some decisions about printing and going online hadn't been made yet.)

May

The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories (Oxford World's Classics) by Leo Tolstoy. Three stories that confirm for me, once again, of Tolstoy's genius. I really should just read everything he wrote.

American Saints: Five Centuries of Heroic Sanctity on the American Continents by John F. Fink. A very straightforward basic set of biographies of the saints and blesseds of the Americas. I was hoping for something like The Young People's Book of Saints: Sitxty-three Saints of the Western Church from the First to the Twentieth Century, but it's not written in the same vein. There's no attempt to bring to the surface something to be learned. It's also written more for an adult audience than a child's. It was nice to get a bit more information on many of the saints I've read about to the kids, but I wish there were a bibliography or list of recommended books to learn more.

Lily's Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff was better than I feared after reading the back cover. It's a story of friendship in time of war, personal growth and the love of family. I was also relieved to find it is not a romance or other such coming of age story.

Those Who Saw Her: Apparitions of Mary (The Catholic Company review) by Catherine M. Odell

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything  by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: A Novel by Muriel Spark is probably a very deep and meaningful book (at least the Amazon reviews seem to think it's a wonderful novel of character development), but I thought it was just mildly interesting.

June

My Dad's A Birdman by David Almond is, I think, supposed to be a silly book that shows us how wonderful a family's love can be, but I found the father to be a bit too ridiculous. The illustrations are cute, though.

Small Steps for Catholic Moms (The Catholic Company review) by Danielle Bean and Elizabeth Foss

Marco? Polo! #16 (Time Warp Trio)  by Jon Scieszka, a book I previewed for First Son. It was short and amusing, but I don't think it avoids the "magic" issue any better than the Magic Tree House books. It looked a little more challenging, but I think we'll pass on the whole series and find something different for First Son.

Where We Got the Bible by Henry G. Graham

Should I Be Tested for Cancer? by H. Gilbert Welch

Superfreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

My Name Is Not Angelica by Scott O'Dell is a novel of historical fiction set in the time of the slave revolt on the islands of St. Thomas and St. John. I think it was fine, for what it is, but have a feeling there might be better books on slavery than this one. (One of the books I love is Amos Fortune, Free Man (Newbery Library, Puffin) which similarly begins in Africa with someone captured and sold into slavery in the Americas.)

Flat Stanley  by Jeff Brown is a book I never read before. It's quite amusing and I think I'll see if First Son is interested in reading it during his reading lessons next year. If he's interested, we'll also draw a Stanley to mail to his cousins and other family members. That's what school kids do, right?

The Absent Author (A to Z Mysteries) by Ron Roy was suggested by Mazzucco boy #1 for First Son and it's a keeper. Three friends unravel a mystery to find a favorite author who has disappeared. There are, of course, books for each letter of the alphabet and we'll be letting First Son read them...just as soon as he finishes the Magic Tree House books. These are much better! (I don't intend to pre-read them all. Based on the first book and our friend's recommendation, I feel confident enough these are a good option for First Son, if he enjoys them.)

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden: A Novel by Joanne Greenberg (originally published under the pseudonym Hannah Green). After reading just a few chapters of this book, it's easy to see why it has stood the test of time so well and how the author continued on to write a number of other novels and short stories. The book is fictional, but based on time Ms. Greenberg spent in a mental hospital as a teenager and her struggle to choose to deny the world created by her illness and return to the real world. (You can read more about Joanne Greenberg here, and in a bunch of other places online.)

Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth

Escaping the Endless Adolescence by Joseph Allen and Claudia Worrell Allen with posts two and three.

On to Oregon!  by Honore Morrow, another preview for First Son. This book follows thirteen-year-old John Sager and his family as they travel the Oregon Trail with high hopes for the future. It seems pretty realistic in the trials and struggles they face, and therefore not for the faint of heart. All in all, I thought it was adequate and probably an acceptable read, after we explain that "half-breed" and "Injuns" are no longer acceptable terms. It is a shame that every single Native American in the book is depicted as filthy and often untrustworthy. I'm sure that was often true, but certainly not always.

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