Tuesday, May 1, 2012

April 2012 Book Reports

Seek First the Kingdom by Cardinal Donald Wuerl (a review for The Catholic Company)

Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam by Huynh Quang Nhuong is a gentle tale of a boy in Vietnam who loved his family, his village, his water buffalo and his life. It is an autobiographical account that gives a wonderful glimpse of his daily life, the joy he found in his home. It is less painful than The Land I Lost: Adventures of a Boy in Vietnam (another wonderful book), but the Vietnam War does touch his life violently near the end of the book. First Son will be reading this book next year as part of our People and Places studies along with mapwork and some geography on Vietnam. Though I will not read The Land I Lost out loud to all the children, I would allow First Son to read it himself after we've finished this book. (library copy)

The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly - We'll be using RC History's Volume 3 next year and this is one of the recommended books for the Grammar level (grades 4-6). I was considering it as a family read aloud because I happen to own it, having grabbed it at a library sale a few months ago. I was particularly interested in it as my grandmother's parents were born in Poland. It's a tale of intrigue and mystery as a family seeks to protect a precious treasure, the Philosopher's Stone, held in trust for the royal family. The Heynal figures prominently, adding more honor to the story. You can listen to the Heynal here as well as learn a little more about the tradition. I think there's a bit too much "alchemy" and discussions thereof in the story which would make it difficult for First Son to understand as a third grader. (I don't think there's a concern with witchcraft being portrayed favorably, just that those scenes in the novel are complicated.) Since he'd get little out of it and the girls would get even less, we're going to wait until the next time we study volume 3.  (purchased copy)

Saint Colum and the Crane by Eva K. Betz - I really liked this little book on Saint Colum (also known as Saint Columba). He shows such fortitude, love of learning, love of educating children, love of country, love of God's creation, obedience and courage. I wish First Son could have read it when we read about Iona in history, but I had to request it from inter-library loan and I'm only allowed three requests at a time. I read it quickly and then handed it to him to read on his own. It took him about an hour, but I think he was playing dinosaurs with Second Son for part of that time. Recommended, if you can find a copy. (inter-library loan)

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. was another novel for the science fiction and theology class. It's a grim story of a post-apocalyptic future. Yet, somehow, a hope in humanity remains, perhaps even grows in the reader. The Catholic Church figures prominently in the novel, a source of courage, constancy and hope. We have hope, not because of anything humanity does in the course of the novel, but because we hope in God and trust in His hope in humanity. I had read this before, about four years ago, but it was much more powerful the second time through. Highly recommended. (desk copy)

What Maisie Knew by Henry James is a typical James novel with lots of long and convoluted sentences. (Oh, how I enjoy them!) This particular book follows the life of poor Maisie, neglected and manipulated by her parents in their divorce and then by her step-parents in their desire to meet freely with each other under the pretense of caring for their step-daughter. It was, not surprisingly, rather sad. I thought often of all the poor children who find themselves in similar situations (though hopefully not so egregious) in divorces today. (free Kindle version)

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien  - Will you believe me if I say I never read this book as a child? Even as I started it this month, with the idea we might read it aloud next year, I was ambivalent. After all, I live in the country; mice and rats are not cute or my friends. I want them to stay out and Kansas Dad takes measures to eliminate the few who venture in. Within pages, though, I was hooked. I wanted desperately to know what would happen. The writing is a little slow at times, but I think we will try it as a family read aloud next year when First Son is in third grade. (library copy)

Uncovering the Logic of English by Denise Eide (purchased copy)

The Adventures of Robin Hood (Classic Starts) edited by John Burrows from the original by Howard Pyle - This book is recommended at the beginner level for RC History's volume 3 which we'll be using next year. I have never read the full-length version and am generally averse to sharing abridged books with my children, but I trust the Sonya at RC History. I think First Son will find this book entertaining next year, in third grade. The short chapters will be perfect for him to read on his own and narrate to me. (PaperBackSwap.com; the full length book is available for free for the Kindle)

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle was a book for my science fiction and theology class. I don't think I had ever read it before and enjoyed it. At times the author seemed to skip over important moments. When Meg, for example, finally accepts the responsibility and the task before her, I felt like the pivotal and transformative moment happened between one sentence and the next. As a reader, I missed it. I would also be cautious about sharing it with my children when they are young. Though it often quotes Scripture, it does so along with other famous authors. It specifically mentions Jesus, but then follows with a list of others who battle the darkness. It's not clear that Jesus is categorically different from the others. Though Michael O'Brien would disagree (here and here), I think a middle school or older child could read this without any great problem. Even a child a bit younger would probably be alright. I won't be reading it aloud to my young ones, though. (library copy)

Madeleine Takes Command by Ethel C. Brill is a tale based on the true story of a 14 year old girl who holds off Mohawks in New France while her parents are away. She and her younger brothers, along with a few others, devise a plan for defending her home and the women and children protected inside. It is a wonderfully written tale of courage, steadfastness and strength that comes from love of family and loyalty to those who look to you for protection. The Native Americans are portrayed as vicious attackers. Madeleine makes exceptions for the Christian Indians, but there is no sympathy for those who are being forced under the control of Europeans. It's a fine line, to show the tenacity of early settlers against the lives of the Indians who lived here before they came. In general, I think this is a worthy book and intend to read it to my children next year. Because there are some frightening scenes, and the tone of the book tends to be stressful and fearful, I will probably read it aloud to First Son at a time when the girls are not listening. (purchased copy)

After Miscarriage by Karen Edmisten (a review for The Catholic Company)

These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 by Nancy E. Turner - I picked up this book at a library book sale thinking it was an actual diary, but it's a novel based loosely on the diary of one of the author's ancestors. The diarist starts as an uneducated 18 year old girl who's better with a gun than a pen. Her writing skills grow as time passes and she reads widely. It is a romance, but it seemed to show rather well what life was like for women in the Arizona Territory at that time. I enjoyed the book but would reserve it for more mature readers. (purchased copy)


  1. I haven't read all your reviews yet, but now I mysteriously have "The Water Buffalo Song" in my head. Is that bad?

  2. Thanks a lot, Monica. Now it's stuck in my head!


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