Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Family Under the Bridge

by Natalie Savage Carlson
Listening Age: 5+

This was one I read to my younger girls, though 13 year old Fifi might have listened in for the latter half of the book because the story was so compelling.

It revolves around a self-styled Paris vagabond who loves his lifestyle for its freedom from responsibility. But one day he unwittingly befriends a trio of children who have just joined the ranks of the homeless with their mother who works during the day. Before he knows it, he has taken the children under his wing and helps hide them from dangers and authorities alike.

The nature of the story line involves children in distress, but not so much as to scare a young listener. Really, it only opened the eyes of my children to better appreciate what they have been given. There are many opportunities to discuss the choices made by the characters in the book: is the mother right in her assertion that the family stay together at all costs? Or should the children's physical comfort be considered a higher priority? Is she being negligent when she leaves her children alone with Armand as she does? Or is she just doing the best with the situation she's been dealt?

Be prepared that those questions and others might just stump you, the discussion leader, too.

Also be aware that there is quite a bit of attention given to the children's hopes and expectations of "Father Christmas." Acknowledgment of such a character gives some people pause. There is a lengthy interaction with a band of Gypsies which is endearing if not another springboard for discussion about different people, their different belief systems, and the different values that pour forth from them.

The story finishes all too soon, but resolves in a very clever, everyone-lived-happily-ever-after kind of ending.

We give this easy read a "B."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Brighty of the Grand Canyon

by Marguerite Henry
Listening age: 5+ Parental discretion advised for theme and language

We loved this book from start to finish! Truly, some of the best literature for children is wrapped around animal stories. Of course, Marguerite Henry is not an unknown author to the genre; I know there is at least a trilogy of horse stories on my shelf--but until now, I don't think I'd had the pleasure of reading any of them.

The story is about a real burro who lived around the start of the 20th century and helped carve out the path down the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Unknown to me as I read--and confirmed by my on-line research since--is that most every person and detail in the story line is true!

Henry's account of Brighty begins with a story of greed and murder that is so skillfully narrated by the author, that we, the readers, are allowed to connect the dots for ourselves before the other characters in the book feed the discovery to us. There are no gratuitous details of the crime, which I appreciated very much.

Only some portion of the remainder of the book was dedicated to the tracking and capture of the murderer, but as such, included many gritty, suspenseful moments. Don't worry, though! None unduly frightened even my most sensitive girl; I can only imagine that boys will like it even better! (You can preview the suspense for yourself starting in chapter 23; there is some weapon wielding that happens in chapter 28, and again at the end of chapter 30, into 31.)

My advice is that you don't let poor spellers or young students read this book to themselves; there are too many moments of phonetic spelling to confuse them, i.e., "yer" for your; "extry" for extra; "goin'" for going, "ain't" for aren't; "nacherel" for natural.

Another concern in letting children read this book for themselves is the bad language--none that would raise an eyebrow by today's standards, possibly, but there is the occasional mild expletive and the frequent use of the biblical name for a donkey (which I, personally, wouldn't want my young and impressionable child to mimic in today's climate--so I censor).

But enough of the bad!

The storyline weaved some very exciting real-life learning moments into the narrative. There is American history in the form of intersections with the rough-riding Teddy Roosevelt; engineering by way of construction of a suspension bridge over the Colorado River, and first aid and survival skills learned through the hardships of being snowbound.

But my very favorite chapter was chapter 20, titled, "Well Done!" in which a surprisingly bold Christian theme comes to the fore--voiced by the humblest of characters. Beautiful. *sigh*

Oh! And the subtle elements of detective work toward the capture of the murderer gave even my youngest children an opportunity to exercise their logic muscle. Marguerite Henry is a master of her craft, and I'm so glad to have discovered this book.

I give this book an "A."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Phantom Tollbooth

by Norton Juster
Listening Age: 6+
Reading Age: 10

"I loved it...and that's saying a lot [from me] for a "weird" book."
-Fifi, 13 years old, lover of Dickens

Children like weirdness. It's true.

That's why they read things like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland. But, truly? My girls say those books are actually creepy and bizarre, and I'm not sure they really enjoyed them at all.

This book, however, was weird in a most delightful way! It is certainly not poetic or classic, but I can't call it twaddle either.

Let's dub it a fun departure! A breather! What you read after you say, "...and now for something completely different."

The Phantom Tollbooth begins with a 10 year old boy who is bored. He is bored with his stuff, with his life, with his toys and with his schooling. He is just flat. out. bored. Oh yes! And he's an expert at killing time for no good reason.

One day, out of nowhere, a strange gift appears in his room--an empty miniature tollbooth--and little Milo is whisked away (reminiscent of Harold and the Purple Crayon) in his imagination to the far-away land of Wisdom. On his way, his first friend and traveling companion is Tock, the time-keeping dog clock. Together, the two embark on an adventure to the Kingdoms of Dictionopolis where words are grown, and Digitopolis where numbers are mined. By now, they have a mission too: to rescue and return the twin princesses, Rhyme and Reason from the dungeon to which they were banished when they couldn't conclude which kingdom was the more important.

Along the way, inattentiveness gets Milo caught in the Doldrums, assumptions leap him onto the Island of Conclusions (which is so very difficult to leave), and a variety of demons like the Everpresent Wordsnatcher, the Threadbare Excuse and the Gelatanous Giant try, unsuccessfully in the end, to detour and distract the the rescue party from their purpose.

Any child would love to hear this book read aloud rather than be lectured by Mom about any of the many well-intentioned character flaws and consequences--and benefits and pleasures of learning, too--addressed in the storyline.

But, it is weird.

I give this book a "B+," but the children would give it an "A," I'm sure.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Red Sails to Capri

by Ann Weil

Listening age: 5+
Reading age: 9-10

To get every laugh out of your children that this book deserves, you must approach it with no less than 4 European accents for no less than 8 different characters! Count them--8! The laughs are going to come in response to your effort in bringing the dialog between characters to life. This is no time to be shy!

Capri and Anacapri share a tiny island off the western coast of Italy, near Naples. Nothing much happens in the sleepy community--especially not in the winter time. But then, three strangers sail onto shore in their red-sailed boat and the local fishman, Angelo, directs them to the inn of his friends, the Paganos.

The fictional three strangers include a Frenchman looking for adventure, a British painter looking for beauty, and a German bibliophile. Their stay represents a lot of income to the modest Italian family who dedicates themselves to making the traveler's stay happy. Everything is fine until the visitors start making plans to explore a near-by cove that the locals not only avoid, but refuse to even mention for its terrible history and the legend that grew from it.

In the end, the reader gets a wonderful geography lesson out of the story line that will send you to web for a search of pictures and information about this picturesque place.

I will caution you that there are some objectionable adjectives in the narrative--relatively mild words that we don't allow our children to use (st*pido, idi*t, etc.). Sometimes I censored right past them, but sometimes they were necessary in developing the character and relationship of Angelo to the others. Somehow, saying them in the heat of the moment in a heavy Italian accent takes the edge off.

Also, there is an occasion in which the mother of the family rebels against her homemaking duties for a time, but in her defense, she does it because the situation is desperate and she doesn't know what else to do. If you're hyper about such a theme, this might not be the story for you.

My favorite moment in the book came as the young innkeeper's son is faced with the heart-wrenching decision to choose the trip of a lifetime or to keep intact, a life-long friendship with one who is as close as a brother.

I'm happy to report that he chooses well.

I give this book the grade of "B."

The Chronicles of Narnia

by C. S. Lewis
Listening age: 6+

This is the FIRST book in the 7-book series written by Oxford English Professor-but-Christian convert-anyway, C.S. Lewis. It is called The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It was written first. It was published first. It was meant to be read first. Read this one first.

Why? I'll tell you why. Because in the course of the series there are little asides now and then from the author to the reader which more than clearly express Lewis' assumption that you are reading the books in the order they were written. And better yet--because there is a fantastic goose-bump moment at the end of the sixth book that you and your child will miss out on completely if you read The Magician's Nephew first.

This is the SIXTH book in the series. Some people--in fact, the new edition publisher--will tell you to read The Magician's Nephew first because...because...well, because maybe they are ignorant and have not read the series. And because they take themselves and their classical method too seriously. Not everything must bow to the chronological time line. Our great God made us more intelligent than that! And your children too. DO NOT READ THIS BOOK FIRST just because the events in it precede those of the actual 1st book in the series. Read this book 6th. After the 5th book: The Horse and His Boy, (and before the 7th book: The Last Battle). After the 4th book: The Silver Chair. After the 3rd book: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. After the 2nd book: Prince Caspian. After the 1st book: The Lion, the Witch....you get the point.

*sigh* O.k. That said, I must say a bit more before I can tell you of the excitement that these books brought us this summer. I will only acknowledge that there is some controversy in Christian circles about some of the fantasy elements in this book. Again...people taking themselves too seriously. There is much Christian allegory, but the series is not strictly such, and Lewis never meant it to be. There are "nods" to mythology and fairy tales; wicked magic and miracles disguised as magic; good battling evil, and you can read some pretty strong opinions about all that on your own through a Google search. Or you can read this scary condemnation if you can make sense of it past the giant chip on someone's shoulder.

In the end, my advice is to ask the Lord. Remembering that it is not what comes at us from the outside, but rather what bubbles up from our hearts that defiles, I encourage you to pray about your own children--their strengths and their weaknesses. Can they differentiate Truth from fantasy? Can they recognize sin (attitudes, conspiracy, faithlessness) without inviting it to live in them?

Two years ago, I could not say yes. Two years ago I was concerned that reading these books to my youngest girls would be like passing them through the fire. They were not ready. Their knowledge of the Holy One was not steeped enough to rightly divide the Word of Truth.

This summer, I was prayerfully able to say yes, and I have not regretted it.

These books involve different children, across a span of time, and the adventures that bring them to, and through, a place called Narnia. It is filled with talking beasts and the battle between good and evil permeates the land. While I'm fairly sensitive to exposing my girls to gratuitous bad behavior in books or movies, the occasional "rotten apple" child in these story lines always serves the bigger purpose of teaching the reader about reaping and sowing, repentance, forgiveness and redemption--or even sin and judgment.

There is some violence in some battle scenes along the way, and some of the descriptions are graphic enough to have unnerved my 8 year old at bedtime (though we never read these books after dinner). My 6 year old girl was not phased--go figure. My 13 year old girl has been fashioning and sewing Susan Pevensie's quiver and archery dress from scratch ever since. She liked the stories very much, had read them before, but I think really enjoys when I read them to her complete with my sad attempts at Middle-Eastern accents.

And that reminds me...there is another controversy I found during a Google search. *exasperated sigh* Lewis' covert, yet undeniable use of Isl@m as the pattern for the "others"--sometimes friendly, sometimes enemy, but clearly outsiders--has some people (though not actually the supposedly offended people) screaming, "Racist!" because of his acknowledgment of turbans and scimitars.

Blah, blah, blah.

I guess I just don't get wrapped around the axle so easily. Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world--red and yellow, black and white--they are precious in His sight...

But, back to my review: the best thing that came of our adventures in Narnia is a sense of the eternal. Not the actual eternal, mind you, but the ability to imagine the eternal. And that it is not lesser just because it is invisible. Our family believes the Bible and reads it every day, but somehow Lewis' vivid descriptions of Narnia and the children's adventures there served to exercise the faith imagination muscle of my littlest ones who have yet been so unsure, even scared, at the thought of an invisible Jesus. Even though they know He loves them.

When my youngest was just 3 and afraid to go upstairs by herself, I reassured her that she was never by herself because the Lord Jesus was with her. And I believe that with all my heart, and do not just say it to keep the peace or assuage a fear.

But to that, she fumbled around for the words to express, "But I want someone real....someone I can see."

Jesus loves the little children, it is true, but faith is a pretty abstract idea when you're them and it's dark at the top of the landing.

The children would give this series an enthusiastic "A+" for fun, suspense and adventure.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Twenty-One Balloons

by William Pene du Bois

listening age: 5+

This story weaves together fact with fiction so unashamedly that the hope is sure to be realized that your young reader will be intrigued and inspired to do some research on his own about the real volcanic blast at Krakatoa: the late 19th century catastrophe that really did blow up a good-sized portion of the small island in the Sunda Strait.

The story here is about a school teacher, Professor William Waterman Sherman, whose 35 years of experience with unruly school children drives him to attempt a 1-year balloon adventure. (Now, don't get all upset! I don't think he hates children, I just think he grew weary of poorly-parented ruffians.)

The book is delightful in its detailed description of the Professor's preparations. But in the course of his impressively stocked flight, an accident happens which lands him on a strange, uninhabited island--that isn't uninhabited at all!

It an exciting read for the fantastic elements of fantasy. It's very imaginative. The narrative promotes hard work, cooperation, integrity, hospitality and--my favorite--manners. Oh, for the love of good manners! *happy sigh*

When I asked Fifi (who has also read the book) to remind me if there were any offensive or objectionable parts to the story, she could only think of the episode in which the Professor crash lands his balloon in the buff! In his defense, he has to--it's well explained as to why and is not in the least gratuitous.

I give this book a "B."

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Gone-Away Lake

by Elizabeth Enright

Listening age: 5+

All my girls, and me too, enjoyed this book from cover to cover! In fact, I think we finished it in record time because we just couldn't seem to put it down.

The story caught my attention right away with the sweet descriptions of the main characters--cousins--and their ensuing summer friendship forged at the home of the adolescent boy, Julian.

He and his visiting cousin, Portia, spend their days outside on his family's large farm, discovering and collecting all manner of nature. In the course of their adventures, they discover an all-but-abandoned Victorian-era resort community that still houses a couple of elderly, eccentric siblings. And this is where the story really begins to be weaved into a delightful tale of multi-generational friendships, the extinct innocence of kids and clubhouses, and long summer days spent with imaginations instead of wiis and x-boxes.

I recommend you open the vault and use a wide range of distinctive voices as you read this one aloud, as opposed to letting it be an independent read for children not yet steeped and strong in their walk with God; the children in the story often employ mild expletives as exclamations. (H*ck! Dogg*nit!)

Very rarely, there was the mention of a "ghost" that never materialized, and wasn't really part of the story as much as just a term thrown around to enhance the mystery of a 50-year abandoned row of houses. It didn't bother me--I usually just skipped both of the above-mentioned offenses, and didn't take anything away from the story.

My 12-year-old is already looking up the sequel.

We give this book an "A."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

White Stallion of Lipizza

by Marguerite Henry

Listening Age: 5+

There is a death in the immediate family that is handled very quickly and without dreaded detail, though it is for you, the parent, to decide if that is a thematic element that your child can handle.

This was my second time reading this book aloud to my girls, though I think only Fifi remembers it from the first time when she was about 2nd grade. It's a book from the Sonlight Curriculum list, where never a dry read is found!

I. love. this. book!

Behind the Bible, Pilgrim's Progress, and Hind's Feet in High Places, there isn't another book that strikes me so accidentally, allegorically Christian as this one.

The story is about a poor baker's boy who has a passionate dream--a lofty goal--to ride the show horses that are sometimes known as the dancing stallions: the Lipizzaners. Through desire, sheer determination, and remarkable initiative, the boy, Hans Haupt, finds his opportunity.

The story subtly teaches good character qualities through Hans' hardships, loss, sacrifice, and humiliations. Time and time again, he proves himself remarkably mature, responsible and strong.

There are some wonderful opportunities to see God's Word proven true in the narrative of this almost completely irreligious story, but my favorite application is at the end when the mystery of a true master rider is revealed, and the Scripture comes to mind in which John the Baptist answered his followers who had come to him concerned about Jesus' rising popularity--that Jesus must increase, but he (John) must decrease.

I give this book an "A+."

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Golden Goblet

by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Listening Age: 7+

A wonderful supplement to our study of Ancient Egypt. This historical fiction taught the young ones (and me!) things I didn't know--like the conspiracies of the tomb robbers and stone masons during the construction of the pyramid tombs. And the book let us peek into the very hard life of the working class and children. Well, at least the boys and men. Come to think of it, there was not a woman in the story except the queen!

I'm glad I read it aloud to my 12, 7 and 5 year olds. It allowed me to censor some of the unnecessary details with which the main character spooked himself while still allowing the children a general idea of the superstition and false gods that ruled the land and its inhabitants in and around the days of Moses.

The story is full of intrigue and suspense, but also centers on a child in distress. The main character, Ranofer, is orphaned, abused and neglected by his guardian and half brother, and spends a fair amount of the story living in fear of him. He also suspects him of wrong-doing which is what the story centers around--Ranofer schemes with the only two friends he has in the world to try and establish proof to take to the authorities.

The ending of the book does not disappoint! It is very exciting and shows Ranofer to be of noble character--which we knew all along, but is proved in spades at the story's conclusion.

With parental censorship for the spiritual aspects, I give this book an "A."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Around the World in 80 Days

by Jules Verne

Listening age 8+

Oh, we did enjoy this book! It was a stretch for...well, honestly...all of us. There are oodles and oodles of rich, new vocabulary words (of which, I assure you, "oodles" was not considered), and plenty of geography. While not nearly as in-depth as--say, Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates, the story line surely got us around and across the Northern Hemisphere with intrigue, humor and suspense.

There were some thematic elements for which, had I known they were coming, I might have devised a corresponding story line for the sake of moving the characters to where they needed to be, but alas I did not know. One of the main characters is duped into an opium den while in the Orient, so we paused for discussion about the dangers of giving our minds and bodies over to anything or anyone aside from the Lord! I was glad that the episode in the story is treated as tragic.

This book is best delivered with much inflection, many accents (multiple English characters, Americans, Indians, and a French valet) and wild abandon! Have fun!

I give this book a "B."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


by Carlo Collodi

Listening age: 5+

I was a bit hesitant to continue with this book before I had got very far because that Pinnochio--he's some kind of bad character! But, alas, his behavior does not go undisciplined, if only by the harsh consequences that come naturally (if you can call turning into a donkey, "natural").

The book is full of adventure and suspense, and after a horridly malicious start, the author manages to turn our sympathies toward the little wooden puppet.

In the end this rich piece of children's literature was quite enjoyable for all. There were even points in the story that brought Scriptural truths to mind very clearly. I think I'd like to read this one again in a few years, and make a point to research and line up the applicable Proverbs with it.

We give this book a "A-."

Sunday, September 02, 2007

How Yussel Caught the Gefilte Fish: A Shabbos Story

by Charlotte Herman

Listening Age: 4+

I'm not even sure how we came across this one. It was long ago, and if you were to check our library history, I'm sure we've checked and rechecked it several times. All the girls love it, but particularly 7-year old Dumpling.

The story is of a simple Jewish family marking the weeks with the tradition of the Shabbos meal. Christian speak: Sunday dinner. Only, of course, they don't eat theirs on Sunday, but rather Friday night.

Yussel is a little boy who is growing up and surprised one Friday morning at the pre-dawn invitation to join his daddy on the fishing trip that will bring home the catch for that evening's special family meal to mark the beginning of the Sabbath.

While they enjoy a successful outing, Yussel is concerned that none of the fish is the right one; none is the anticipated Gefilte fish! But there is no reason for worry as later he will see how his mother's skill and love brings forth the prized plate amidst a growing crowd of extended family and visitors.

The relationships in the story are adorable, and I especially enjoyed how the storyteller lets Yussel discover for himself the secret of the Gefilte Fish, rather than have his father correct or direct his understanding.

This story is a nice selection for everyone, from the listening three year old all the way to the older teen or adult who has the privilege of finding young ones snuggled up for a story. Enjoy!

We give his book an "A."

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field

Listening Age 5+

Guest reviewer: Fifi

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years is a very entertaining story about a little mountain ash-wood doll that is crafted in the state of Maine for a little girl named Phoebe Preble. This book is written in first person, from the doll's perspective. Hitty recounts 100 years worth of her adventures, and this book skillfully covers the changes in culture, clothing and machinery from 1813 to 1913.

The only down-side of this book is the rare reference to superstition that she (Hitty) will bring good luck because she is made of mountain ash wood.

The author of this book is Rachel Field, who also authored Calico Bush.

Grafted Branch gives this book a grade of "B+."

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hinds' Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard

Listening Age 4+

I don't usually prefer abridged versions or stories "retold," but I chose to bend with this one so that my younger girls could enjoy it. And they did. As did I.

I look forward to reading the original one day, but meanwhile, this sweetly-illustrated analogy was a delightful read and even convicting. Much-afraid is the main character who is challenged to overcome her fear and anxiety to follow the Great Shepherd. Her nemesis on the journey is her family of Fearful relatives; her helpers are Suffering and Sorrow.

Through the journey, the Great Shepherd is always available to her. He is quick to respond to her cry, is kind, patient and firm -- and in the end she learns to trust Him -- completely.

I give this book a grade of "B+."

Monday, February 05, 2007

Bayou Suzette by Lois Lensky

Listening Age 6+

This book is from the same author as is Strawberry Girl. It takes place in the bayous of Louisianna in the early 20th century. It is centered on the young daughter of a large, poor family and the Indian girl she tries to sneak into the family. The Indian girl, Marteel, brings out the worst prejudice in young Suzette's family, but time after time, wins them over with her brave rescues of Suzette, and later of her father.

There is a mild amount of cultural superstition with regard to the dead, but nothing that I felt compelled to censor -- we just saw it as a point of discussion. There is also a lot of French/Cajun-accented dialog, and it made the story a bit fatiguing for me to read aloud.

I give this book a grade of "C."

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

On The Banks Of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Ages 5-13

The Laura Ingalls Wilder series chronicling her childhood in the midwest and plain states seems a "staple" of every young girls literary diet, but it is not the parental instruction guide on raising Godly children that I thought it might be!

Don't get me wrong -- it is very honest and delightfully informative, and I appreciate that. However, I was surprised and disappointed about a couple of episodes in the early chapters of the book in which Laura's sin was not adequately addressed. That fact would not preclude me from reading this or other books in the series, but I would plan on breaking for discussion.

This series is fun for young girls, but older girls can enjoy it tremendously as well with the additional publications made available in the form of timelines and cataloges.

I give this series a grade of "B."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Ages 4+

This was our first read of the unabridged version and it was delightful! The narrative is beautifully composed and easy to read. The story is compelling, and God-honoring...even evangelical.

There is the element of reality brought forth through the character of Peter; he is at times jealous and at least once, acts out his envy through crime. But his behavior is not pictured as acceptable and actually sets a nice contrast to the loving countenance of Heidi in the story.

This book will surely grace our lunch table again in a few years, when the youngest girls are a little older.

I give this book a grade of "A."

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Princess and the Kiss by Jennie Bishop

Ages 4-12

This is a book that Fifi spotted at the checkout of our local Christian homeschool bookstore. What a great find! I'm so blessed that Fifi has the presence of mind to recognize a blessing when it's right in front of me, but I'm too frazzled to see it myself.

This book unapologetically promotes the conviction that purity is important; that those who profess Christ are to be chaste until that day when you covenant with your spouse. And it supports the courtship model, though isn't crystal clear about that until almost the end.

Mrs. Bishop has girls. It's very clear in the little details of this royal-themed tale. In it, the God-gifted "first kiss" of the Princess is bestowed at birth, protected by her parents during childhood and then entrusted to the Princess when she comes of age. While she is assured that the "kiss" (represented as a ball of light kept under glass) is her's to keep or give away as she chooses, she is counseled by the King and Queen to hold it dear, award it only to her future husband and not squander it to a stranger.

Then a procession of prospective suitors visits with the Princess. Each represents one of the knee-buckling, swoon-worthy, fleshly temptations of intrigue and desire that blind so many women as they make the most important decision of their lives, that lasts them for the rest of their lives. When the "right" one comes along, he first humbly seeks the permission of the King and Queen to meet their Princess -- I like that. It's biblical. We see that model exercised in the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah, and then Jacob to Rachel -- parents' permission before the bride-to-be's right of refusal.

This book is beautifully illustrated, full of virtue, wise in counsel and clever in its delivery toward understanding amongst even the youngest girls. I look forward to purchasing some of Bishop's other titles.

I give this book a grade of "A."

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Cheaper By The Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Ages 8+

Usually I will try to make my reviews as soon as I've finished reading the book. This book was one we tried to read together last summer. Despite its age, it was curiously and offensively full of references to the Lord's name -- in vain! It was shocking, frankly!

I censored the language when necessary and forged ahead. A number of friends had read and recommended it for its humor, so I assumed there would be some redeeming quality to it if I just read long enough. There wasn't. It was funny at times, but its ugly elements tip the scale out of favor.

3/4 ths of the way into the book, we decided to skip to the end to tie up loose ends and be done with it. The family in the story simply disintegrated into a group of defiant, ungrateful, rebellious teens and the father succumbed to their pressure.

The lesson seemed to be, "compromise," and it was tragic.

I give this book a grade of "F."

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Adventures of Jerry Muskrat by Thornton Burgess

Ages 3+

This is one of possibly hundreds of easy-read nature books written by Thornton Burgess for children. This particular selection was not my favorite, but that's just because Muskrats aren't my favorite animal! Burgess consistently uses beautifully-crafted phrasing and clever personification elements:

(1) The rising sun is refered to as, "Jolly Red Round Mr. Sun was climbing up the blue, blue sky."

(2) The wind is named, "Old Mother West Wind," and each morning she shakes her children, "the Merry Little Breezes" from her big bag at the far end of the meadow.

Isn't that adorable?

Burgess manages to weave a lot of animal science into his stories. Even the youngest children learn about who is predator to whom, where each animal lives, the ecology of various habitats and other curious behaviors and relationships between animals.

My children have enjoyed these short-chaptered stories as I've read them aloud at the kitchen table from the age of 3. My 11-year old still enjoys hearing them (though she may not choose to read them herself). And best of all, I like them -- a lot! They are fun to read, and that matters.

I give this series of books a grade of "A."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Titus Rules by Dick King-Smith

Ages 5+

Very fun children's read aloud about the British Royals and the Queen's love for corgi dogs. The dialog is laugh-out-loud humorous if you give each character a proper English voice and work it with wild abandon!

This book chronicles the adventures of Prissy's last and lone surviving pup: Titus. His obedience and loyalty wins him a place as the Queen's favorite amongst her many corgis.

In the beginning of the book, I was concerned about the seemingly contentious conversations between Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, but with the proper inflection it is easy enough to show that these two really do love one another, and neither takes offense. It's a good springboard for discussion about how to recognize the error in that man's government does not always heed God's design.

There is some brief name-calling by a would-be robber to the loyal corgi who will foil his plans (chapter 6). There is use of the word, "cocky" by another dog jealous of Titus (chapter 8). And in later chapters, the Prince drinks whisky in the tub and a staffer smokes a cigarrette at his desk; HOWEVER, both wicked indulgences bear consequences (water damage/possible drowning and a fire, respectively) and offer another point of conversation about turning to vices rather than the Living Water for comfort and rest.

I give this book a grade of "C."

Post note: I'm sorry to say that not all this author's books are readable for the Christian family. Our next attempt at a story by King-Smith was about cats (good!) and reincarnation (bad). We did not read it.