Thursday, September 1, 2011

August Book Report

The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds (library copy)

The Hawk and the Dove trilogy by Penelope Wilcock (inter-library loan book)

The House of Power (Atherton, Book 1) by Patrick Carmen is the first of a trilogy of a world created by mankind after Earth's resources were abused and depleted. It begins with a young boy, eleven-year-old Edgar, who discovers a secret book and starts on a quest to find an ally in the powerful land above, the Highlands. The balance of water and of power shift as the land does, bringing war and perhaps even greater dangers. It's a thrilling adventure of loyalty, courage, deception, fear and men's plans gone awry.  Even better, it's wonderfully written. It's recommended for late elementary and middle-school aged children. So far, I see nothing that would preclude First Son from reading it in a year or two. Luckily, I'll have to read to the end of the trilogy to be sure. Be forewarned, the first book ends very much in the midst of the story. (library copy)

Waterfall: A Novel (River of Time Series)  by Lisa T. Bergren is a young adult Christian romance, at least in theory. I was looking for something a little lighter than Charlotte Mason's Towards A Philosophy Of Education and this certainly was. Gabi and Lia, her sister, touch perfectly fitted hand prints in an Etruscan tomb (in Italy) and find themselves back in the 1300s. There, they find adventure, romance, and war. It's definitely for more mature young adults with deadly battles in which the girls participate. Though there's nothing beyond a few kisses physically, there's the hint of more, particularly in a malicious sense. I didn't find that much "Christian" about it, either, other than Gabi's occasional, "God are you real?" and "God please save me" thoughts. At first I thought it was badly written, too, but at the end I decided it was just written in a contemporary voice, something I almost never read outside of blogs. I will say this, it was quite exciting. If the next two books were available from my library, I might even read them. I can't say if or when I'd let the girls read them. I'll have to wait and see how Kansas Dad and I feel when they're teenagers. (Kindle version, which was available free for a limited time)

The Squirrel's Birthday and Other Parties by Toon Tellegen is a delightful collection of stories of animal parties and celebrations. It's silly and lovely at the same time. I'm very much looking forward to reading it with the children this year as a fun read-aloud. The illustrations are wonderful as well. (library copy)

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh is on First Son's reading list for the year. It's a bit below his reading level, I think, but I find I need to push First Son to read anything not in a series so I think it's acceptable to vary the challenges he faces in reading. The rest of us will enjoy listening to this story. Hopefully it will be just the right amount of scary for them as Jonathan discovers there still are bears on Hemlock Mountain. (library copy)

Rivers of Fire (Atherton, Book 2) and The Dark Planet (Atherton, Book 3) by Patrick Carman were both read on the drive home from our Missouri vacation. I battled carsickness the whole way, stopping when necessary to stare out the window for a while, but I couldn't bring myself to stop entirely. The second and last books of the trilogy are fascinating, thrilling and full of the unexpected. Though I'm not sure how I feel about a "created" world, and a "created" boy in particular, the story is otherwise compelling and well-written. (There's also a man-made dragon that plays an important role for good in the last book, for those that are familiar with the arguments in A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind.) Overall, I found the trilogy excellent and intend to let First Son read them himself in a few years. The Patrick Carman website recommends the Atherton novels for ages 9-15 and I will probably wait until about the middle of that range. There are quite a few technical complications in the novels that will be better understood with a few more years. Also, there are battles, children in miserable conditions and the whole "created child" issue to address. (both library copies)

Binya's Blue Umbrella by Ruskin Bond is a book I found while searching for picture books on India. It's not a single-session picture book, so we won't be reading it as part of our Asian term, but it is going on the list for the girls to read in second or third grade, depending on their reading levels. Binya is a ten year old girl who trades for a beautiful sky-blue parasol, completely impractical and desperately loved. She carries it everywhere and quickly becomes the envy of everyone in her rural Himalayan village. The book recounts her adventures with the umbrella, culminating in the attempt theft by the local store-owner. Binya finds herself enjoying her umbrella less, knowing how the store-keeper has suffered for his greed and struggles to find a way to resolve her discomfort. I think it's a nice little story with an enjoyable look at life in India for the young reader. (library copy)

The Big Wave by Pearl S. Buck is a heart-wrenching tale of a tsunami striking a fishing village in Japan.  Jiya is standing with his best friend, Kino, and Kino's father when the wave hits, watching as his home, father, mother and brother are swept away. While descriptions of the "gods" would need to be placed in context, Kino and Jiya learn what it is to live unafraid in a world full of the unpredictable destruction of nature. The themes of the book place it solidly in the realm of older readers (perhaps late elementary or middle school) despite it's short length. I think it could find a place as a read-aloud for younger children, though, if they have faced such fears themselves or have encountered disturbing images of such destruction and death in the news. Pearl Buck is, of course, a marvelous author. (library copy)

Paul Revere's Ride by David Hackett Fischer (library copy)

The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford tells the story of three pets who travel across 300 miles of rugged and dangerous Canadian land to return to their home and owners. Thrilling, tender, well-written, and a wonderful tale set in Canada. Our library has an audio copy so we'll be listening to it. I'll be keeping a close eye on the girls (and the road, of course) to make sure the more frightening parts aren't too scary for them. (library copy)

Pocahontas and the Strangers (Scholastic Biography) by Clyde Robert Bulla is the first Bulla book I've read that I didn't love. It's a fictionalized account of Pocahontas's life. Though it does seem reasonably accurate in the details of Algonquin life, it's difficult to sympathize with Pocahontas. She seems like a spoiled, disobedient princess. I suppose the idea was to recognizer her contributions to the people of Jamestown as heroic, but I was not impressed by her actions. In addition, the writing is surprisingly awkward, not at all what I've come to expect from Bulla. I am not going to ask First Son to read this when we study Jamestown. I may allow him to read it on his own if he likes (which he probably wouldn't). (

Squanto, Friend Of The Pilgrims (Scholastic Biography) by Clyde Robert Bulla is a better book than Pocahontas and the Strangers (see above), but I was not overwhelmingly impressed. Mayflower, while obviously more nuanced than a children's book could be, gave a much more interesting impression of Squanto. I think I may put this book where First Son can glace through it if he likes, but if we read anything on Squanto, it will be Squanto's Journey. (

Mr. Revere and I: Being an Account of certain Episodes in the Career of Paul Revere,Esq. as Revealed by his Horse  by Robert Lawson is an account of the events leading up to the first shots at Lexington and Concord as told by Paul Revere's horse, who conveniently has (literally) a window into the Revere kitchen. It is most certainly not historically accurate. I can't remember if Paul Revere's horse was named Scheherazade, but I do remember from Paul Revere's Ride that on the night of the infamous ride, he borrowed a horse that was subsequently captured by the British and never returned. Paul Revere seems to be a bit of a country bumpkin in the book. Sam Adams spends as much time eluding his debts and insinuating himself into invitations to meals with others as he does concentrating on Liberty. All that being said, it's a highly entertaining book. Rather than reading it aloud, I think I'll wait until the children are older and ask them to explain what they think is accurate or inaccurate after they've read it. (library copy)

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