Monday, July 2, 2012

June 2012 Book Reports

Shades of Gray by Carolyn Reeder was a pre-read for our study of the Civil War in American history next year. Twelve-year-old Will has lost his father, brother, mother and two sisters, along with his home and way of life by the end of the Civil War. He's sent to live with his mother's sister and her family, people he's never met. Struggling with a hatred of the Yankees and of his uncle who refused to fight with the Confederacy, Will has to confront bullies and the loving kindness of his family, especially his cousin, Meg. He learns to be more compassionate and to recognize true courage in one's convictions. The subject matter of the Civil War is a difficult one to present to children, but I think this book does a good job of showing the horrors indirectly. I intend to read this book aloud to First Son in third grade (next year) and won't be concerned if the girls (who will be 6 and 4) hear it as well. (library copy)

Helen Keller by Margaret Davidson is an easy reader on the inspiring life of Helen Keller. I thought it did a good job of showing what Helen's life was like, a difficult thing for children who can hear and see to understand. First Son will be reading this independently next year and narrating it to me. (requested copy from

Jungle Islands: My South Sea Adventure by Maria Coffey with Debora Pearson, photography by Dag Goering is one First Son will read next year in third grade, as recommended by Mater Amabilis Level 1A. It's a fabulous tale of adventure that seamlessly includes geography, culture, language, animals and oceans. First Son will read it on his own, interspersed with other activities I intend to set before him. (purchased copy)

Five for Victory (Kindle version)

Sipping from the Nile: My Exodus from Egypt by Jean Naggar is a memoir of the author's opulent childhood in Egypt and her family's flight in the midst of upheaval when the Suez Canal as nationalized. I really enjoyed it, learning much about how Jewish families in Egypt lived. More than anything, it is Ms. Naggar's memories of her beloved family, of which she is obviously proud. I can only hope one of my children or grandchildren would write so lovingly of their home and family when they are grown. (borrowed for free from the Kindle Owner's Lending Library)

The Great Wheel by Robert Lawson follows Conn from Ireland to New York and then to the Chicago World's Fair where he helps to build the first Ferris Wheel. It's a fun story. We might read it aloud next year. I would certainly be pleased if First Son read it himself. I think it would be cool to read the story and then build a Ferris Wheel. K'Nex has a few of them. (library copy)

From Kansas to Cannibals: The Story of Osa Johnson by Suzanne Middendorf Arruda is a short chapter book on a woman who traveled to the Solomon Islands and Africa with her husband in the 1920s an 1930s to film the people and the animals of those lands. It's an interesting look at life in that era as well as the kinds of attitudes prevalent in those times. The book is adequate and a perfect fit for a Kansas connection to the Solomon Islands which we'll be studying a bit next year (in third grade). So I'll add this local book to First Son's independent reading. Hopefully we'll have lots of interesting discussions about it and may even fit in a visit to the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in Chanute. (library copy)

Sister Noon by Karen Joy Fowler is an entertaining book of historical San Francisco, but it didn't seem like anything special to me. (library copy)

Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata is the story of Sumiko, a young Japanese American who is interned in Arizona on a Mohave reservation during World War II. I'm considering reading it out loud to the children during our American History study of the war. It manages to convey much of the fear, prejudice and racism of the time without any dramatic or extreme violence, though I'm not sure how interesting First Son would find it. Personally, I loved it. The historical aspect is nicely done, but the story of friendship and family is worthwhile on its own, which is what makes the best historical fiction. (library copy)

Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, PhD (library copy)

Blue Willow by Doris Gates is the story of Janey Larkin, a young girl whose family follows the harvests, her father a seasonal worker, during the Great Depression. She longs for a home, a place to belong. It's a gentle story without a great amount of action, but it shows us a family of love, compassion and courage. One of the things I like best about it is how Janey's stepmother is a woman of strength and a good mother to Janey. Sometimes I worry we read too many fairy tales of evil stepmothers and my children (who don't really know any stepmothers) will show a lack of compassion themselves for families in such situations. I really loved this book and am hoping we have time to read it in the coming year as one of our American History read-alouds. (library copy)

By Truck to the North: My Arctic Adventure (Adventure Travel) by Andy Turnbull and Debora Pearson is one of our third grade books on Extreme Environments. A reporter travels with a truck driver along ice roads and permafrost to sell fresh fruits and vegetables to people who live above the Arctic Circle in Canada. First Son will read it himself and narrate it, along with some notebook work. I have a little more work to do on our Extreme Environments plan (which includes Jungle Islands above) and then I'll post the plans. This series is a great one! (purchased copy)

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing: A Novel by Jasper Fforde is another adventure in BookWorld with Thursday Next, though this time the protagonist is the written Thursday. Or is she? All of Mr. Fforde's books are worth reading. This one is at its best when the action is moving along with quips and puns flowing rather than when it's describing BookWorld's processes in minute detail. It was fun, though, and once halfway in, I could barely put it down to feed the kids lunch. (library copy)

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