Tuesday, May 6, 2014

April 2014 Book Report

The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill is a sweet story of a remote school on the Alaskan frontier in 1948. It's historical fiction of the best quality and I think First Daughter will read it during her independent reading next year in second grade. (purchased used)

First Communion Days from Neumann Press is a book of short stories about little children and their relationship to Jesus in the Eucharist. I'm a little ambivalent about this book as a couple of the children die shortly after receiving (which is always a little weird for me, though my children have never commented on such things). There is also a story in which the child talks about buying souls out of purgatory by giving the priest a stipend and asking for a mass to be said. I felt like the practice of saying mass for those in purgatory and the tradition of offering a stipend to the priest are delicate areas, not well explained or understood by little ones. After talking about it with Kansas Dad, though, we decided to let First Daughter read the book because the stories are mostly sweet and it's exactly the kind of book she loves. We're just very careful in how we speak of those practices and explain them to the children. (received as a gift)

Journey to Jo'burg: A South African Story by Beverly Naidoo is one of the books recommended by Mater Amabilis for Level 2's People and Places focus on Africa. It's set during the time of apartheid. I think it's a good book for introducing that subject, but I'm not certain that's the impression with which I want to leave First Son when he's only going to read three books set in Africa. So, while a possibility, I'm not sure we'll be using it. (library copy)

Sand: Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey is a single edition of all the Sand stories. I really enjoyed Howey's Silo saga and thought this one not quite as good. (borrowed for free from the Kindle Owner's Lending Library)

Mamba Point by Kurtis Scaletta is the fictional tale of a boy who moves to Liberia with his family when his father joins the American embassy there. There's a bit of African lore in Linus's unusual relationship with a black mamba, but overall I thought this was a great book of friendship, growing up, and family relationships, as well as a fascinating peek at life in Liberia in the 1980s. The author was the child of a diplomat in Liberia at that time and many of his experiences and memories are reflected in the book. (library copy)

The Good Braider by Terry Farish is the tale of a young woman in Sudan (now South Sudan) who escapes war and repeated rapes to a Sudanese community in the United States and then must learn who she is in this new place. It's beautifully written. A few brief pages at the end of the book give a summary of some of the events in South Sudan in recent years, bringing the reality of this fictional tale into clearer focus. (borrowed for free from the Kindle Owner's Lending Library)

The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John started off very promisingly with a young girl orphaned by a fire moving to a South African wildlife preserve to live with her grandmother. In the end, there was an extensive amount of magical African elements which I thought overwhelmed the better parts of the story regarding her relationship to the land, new friends, and her grandmother. I read this because I was considering it for our African studies next year, for First Son to read, but I think I'll find something else. (library copy)

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park is one I requested from the library as I was looking through books on Africa even though I thought it might be too mature for First Son to read. Based loosely on the life of Salva Dut, one of Sudan's Lost Boys, it shows some of the unrest and trauma of Sudan (and South Sudan). It's written at a middle-grade level but contains much violence and tragedy, in particular a young boy presumably eaten by a lion and Salva's uncle being mercilessly shot, so you'd want to read it yourself before sharing it with a younger child. I think First Son could handle the story but haven't yet decided how much of the harsh realities of some African countries I want to include in his studies next year. One of the things I like about this book is the strategy Salva uses to survive his ordeals and how he translates that into triumph for himself and his goals to improve life in his home country. (library copy)

King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green, from this wonderful list of books for boys, is one I was contemplating for First Son to read next year, in fifth grade. I wanted to read it myself first because of the relationship between Queen Guinevere and Sir Launcelot. (There's plenty of smiting through helmets and cutting off the heads of knights, too, but I wasn't too worried about that.) The language regarding the relationship is vague enough to be appropriate for pretty much any age. It's on his list for next year, but I'll probably put it at the end or ask him to read it the summer after fifth grade. This was my own first introduction to King Arthur proper and I enjoyed it tremendously. (library copy)

Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated into What America Eats by Steve Ettlinger gives the gritty details about all the major chemicals in processed foods. I thought it was fascinating and anyone interested in food chemistry should read this book. Even those who don't eat a lot of processed foods might be interested in reading the chapter on enriched flour. All those vitamins come from China and no one seems quite sure about which companies make them, let alone overseeing the processes themselves. On the other hand, it seems pretty clear the addition of the vitamins has made a measurable difference in the health of Americans. (library copy)

She Touched the World: Laura Bridgman, Deaf-Blind Pioneer by Sarah Hobart Alexander and Robert Alexander is a short chapter biography of a girl from Hanover, New Hampshire, who was the first to learn using the innovative techniques that taught Helen Keller. It's well illustrated with photographs and includes a chapter at the end comparing Laura's education with that of a deaf-blind student today. It's written at a middle-grade level, I think, but I was fascinated. Of course, I have a soft spot in my heart for Hanover and Boston, both of which feature in the book. This book is definitely on our list for independent reading or a family read-aloud when we study this time period in American history in a few years. (library copy)

Martha and Chip by Katharine Sohler is a fantasy book written by a young woman who was homeschooled. I was considering buying it for First Daughter but instead decided to encourage her to read it before I had to return it to inter-library loan. It's a nice little story for young readers. (inter-library loan)

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a tale of magic and romance. It was wonderful. (library play-away)

Legend by Marie Lu is a young adult dystopian novel in which a wicked government is experimenting on their citizens and ruthlessly killing them to maintain control. It's not very nuanced, but an enjoyable summer read. It's the first of (of course) a trilogy. (library copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)

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