(Note on language levels: 1. Nothing objectionable; 2. Common euphemisms; 3. Some cursing or profanity; 4. A lot of cursing or profanity; 5. Obscenity or vulgarity.)
Cooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans (originally published in 1826; republished in 2003 by Barnes and Noble Inc. in conjunction with Fine Creative Media Inc., 322 Eighth Ave., New York City, NY 10001). Cooper introduced the woodsman Natty Bumppo, also known as Deerslayer and Hawkeye, in the 1823 book The Pioneers. In that book Bumppo was in his prime. Cooper returned to the exploits of Natty in the second Leatherstocking Tale known as The Last of the Mohicans, his most popular book and one of the most widely read American novels of all time, in which Bumppo was a few years younger, perhaps forty. After going forward to Natty’s old age in the 1827 book The Prairie, he went back to Natty’s prime in the 1840 book The Pathfinder, and finally all the way back to the youthful beginning of his career in the 1841 book The Deerslayer (reviewed in the 4/08 issue of this newsletter). In The Last of the Mohicans, set during the French and Indian Wars, Bumppo, along with his Delaware/Mohican/Lenape friend Chingachgook and Chingachgook’s son Uncas, help escort Major Heyward and the two young ladies, Cora and Alice, daughters of General Munro who commanded Ft. William Henry, from Ft. Webb to their father. However, their guide, Magua, originally from the enemy Mingo/Huron/Iroquois tribe but having been adopted by the friendly Mohawks, deceptively leads them into an ambush. Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and Uncas escape but return to rescue Heyward and the ladies and take them on to Gen. Munro at Ft. William Henry which is besieged by the French General Montcalm and his Iroquois allies. The English surrender with the guarantee of safe passage, but Montcalm indulgently allows the Iroquois to massacre the retreating English, and Magua captures Cora and Alice. Bumppo, Chingachgook, Uncas, Heyward, and Munro set out to rescue them again, finding them among the Iroquois who are camped next to a tribe of Delawares. Of course, there is a great deal of fighting, and the ending is filled with sadness, but there is little in this book that is objectionable, though it is not for small children. It is about war, and especially the description of the massacre is somewhat gruesome, but not gratuitously so. "For God’s sake" and "Lord" are occasionally used as interjections, and there are a few references to drinking alcohol. Otherwise, there are few problems. However, if you get the Barnes and Noble edition, you might want to skip the introduction by Stephen Railton, who argues that the book is racist, patronizing, and unfair to Native Americans by perpetuating the "myths" that allowed contemporary white Americans to escape blame for the fate of the Indians. Just read the book and appreciate it for what it is, suspenseful historical fiction set in the days of the French and Indian War. Though there are places where the action drags a little, overall the book is very exciting to read, and I enjoyed it. Language level: 2. Ages: older teens and adults. GOOD.
Kipling, Rudyard. Just So Stories (originally published in 1902; republished in 1987 by Puffin Classics, a division of Penguin Group USA Inc., 375 Hudson St., New York City, NY 10014; reissued in 1994 and 2004). In this collection of well-known stories including "The Butterfly that Stamped," "How the Whale Got his Throat," and "The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo," we learn how the camel got his hump, how the leopard got his spots, and how the elephant got his trunk. These are questions that children have asked for centuries around the world, but it took Nobel Prize winning English author Rudyard Kipling to give them answers in these lively, hilarious stories that are drawn from the oral storytelling traditions of India and Africa and filled with mischievously clever animals and people. They have entertained young and old alike for over one hundred years with their intertwined little pearls of wisdom about the pitfalls of arrogance and pride and the importance of curiosity, imagination, and inventiveness. We have previously read and enjoyed Kipling’s The Jungle Books (reviewed 9/07; "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" is one of my favorite stories of all time), and the Just So Stories (recommended 4/04) are a worthy and delightful follow up. It is important, of course, to remember that these stories are just myths or legends and told with a dose of tongue in cheek humor. In fact, there will be a few inside jokes that only adults will understand–nothing risque or inappropriate, just some plays on words that may be over the heads of some children. However, when we explained them to Jeremy, age twelve, he found them funny. In Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Nathaniel Bluedorn noted, "This story of how the leopard got his spots, how the elephant stretched his nose, et cetera. These stories are told in easy flowing language." Language level: 1. Ages: 8 to 12. GOOD.
Lomask, Milton. Ship’s Boy with Magellan (published in 1960 by Doubleday and Company Inc., Garden City, NY). This book, set in 1517, is really good historical fiction for young people about twelve-year-old Pedro Molina whose wealthy parents have died. He is being raised by his greedy and unscrupulous uncle. When the uncle tries to have Pedro killed to seize his inheritance, he escapes and his old nurse, Little Rosa, arranges for him to become a cabin boy with the fleet of ships that Ferdinand Magellan plans to circumnavigate the globe. Based in part on Ser Antonio Pigafetta’s firsthand account of the voyage, the book chronicles the events, including Magellan’s death, that took place on the trip. All of the important characters in the book, except Pedro, his nurse, his uncle, and his uncle’s bodyguard, are real, and even Pedro’s work on ship is based on cabin boy Cristobal Rabela. There are a few references to drinking wine, but otherwise I found nothing objectionable, especially no bad language. While I knew that Magellan and his crew were all Roman Catholics, I did notice what I thought was a lot of emphasis on Catholic practices (saying Mass, praying to Mary, swearing by the Saints). Well, then I noticed that the back said that the book was part of "a new fiction series by outstanding authors featuring exciting events in Catholic world history" for late elementary to middle school level in the late 1950s and early ’60s. If one understands these practices as part of the beliefs and culture of the setting, they are tolerable. I did like one of the historical comments made at the end of the book. Another of the author’s source materials was Charles McKew Parr’s biography of Magellan, So Noble a Captain. "Parr’s purpose in writing the book, as he explains, was to clear up certain misunderstandings concerning Magellan–misunderstandings that loom large in the older studies. After Magellan’s death in the Philippines, his enemies invaded his cabin and destroyed his records. One of them, Juan Sebastian del Cano, piloted the Victoria back to Spain in 1522. There, in an effort to hide his own part in the mutiny on the coast of South America, Del Cano spread an assortment of slanders about the dead captain-general. Some of these slanders were dispelled as early as 1525 with the publication in Spain of Ser Antonio’s diary. But many of them continued to haunt the pages of history until Parr…published his definitive biography. Thanks to Mr. Parr’s labors, Magellan now holds what appears to be his rightful place in history as a creative navigator and a man of high character." Apparently "revisionist" history has been going on for some time! Another historical fiction book by Lomask was Cross Among the Tomahawks about two Huron Indian boys who became Christians under the influence of Jesuit missionaries in early Canada. Unfortunately, these books are no longer in print, but used copies of Ship’s Boy with Magellan are available. A couple of Lomask books that are currently in print are St. Thomas Aquinas: And the Preaching Beggars which is part the Vision Books series of saints’ lives for youth with the story of St. Thomas Aquinas; and Saint Isaac and the Indians which follows the life of French missionary priest, Isaac Jogues, from his arrival in Quebec in 1636 through his work with the Hurons, Iroquois, and Mohawk Indians to his death. Language level: 1. Ages 10-15. EXCELLENT.
Massey, Craig. Twig the Collie (originally published in 1958 by Zondervan; republished in 1970 as a mass market paperback entitled Not Guilty! by Moody Press; revised in 1995 by Moore Books, P. O. Box 325, Somerville, IN 47683). Fifteen year old Gordon Hunt, who lived in Philadelphia, PA, with his parents, older brother Jack and younger sister, was accused of a crime that he did not do and was sentenced to spend the summer working on the farm of his uncle and aunt, where his cousin Willie, also fifteen, despised him, but he was befriended by a kind neighbor, Johnny Blueweather, who talked to him about Christ and forgiveness. However, he was again accused of a crime that he did not do. What was his response, and what did God have in all this for him? Through his experiences and other unfolding events, Gordon became a Christian. How would this heart changing event affect his life? When presented with a challenge, would he be able to win the challenge and make Twig, the collie, his very own? Because of different religious backgrounds, not everyone will agree with the implications concerning what a person has to do to be saved and become a Christian, but otherwise there is nothing objectionable in this book, including no bad language. It is, in fact, a heart-warming story of how faith can triumph over bitterness and self-pity that touched me. I enjoyed it very much and highly recommend it as a wonderful character-building book for young people. The late Craig Massey’s best known book is the prize winning Indian Drums and Broken Arrows, historical fiction set during the Revolutionary War (published in 1952 by Zondervan); its sequel is Brown Shadow. He also wrote The Mystery of the Marsh and a series of "Captain Daley" books (Missing Houseboat, Crew in Danger, The Peg-Legged Tramp, Thunderhead Lake, The Long Eared Taxicab, and The Jungle Ship). Barnes and Noble’s website lists the book as being out of print, but Massey’s books are still available from Moore Books; they do not have a website but they can be reached by mail or at (812) 854-7151. Also, used copies are available from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com. Language level: 1. Ages: 8 to 13. EXCELLENT. [Note: A condensed version of this review appeared in the 5/3/08 issue of the Home School Buzz weekly e-newsletter; for more information check out http://homeschoolbuzz.com .]
Reinhold, Eric. Ryann Watters and the King’s Sword (published in 2008 by Creation House, A Strang Company, 660 Rinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746). With the popularity of The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien and The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis (and in possible reaction to Harry Potter), recent years have seen a rise in "Christian" or Biblical-based fantasy. In recent years I have read the Dragons in our Midst series by Bryan Davis, the Dragon Keepers series by Donita K. Paul, and The Wilderking trilogy by Jonathan Rogers. Homeschooling father Eric Reinhold now adds to the genre with Ryann Watters, your typical twelve-year-old sixth grader in Mt. Dora, FL. Chosen by the angel Gabriel, who gives him a ring, a horn, and a staff, Ryann goes to the land of Aeliana, along with his school friends Liddy and Terell, to find the sword of the King and deliver Aeliana from the evil Lord Ekron and his helper, who just happens to be Drake Dunfellow, another school classmate of Ryann’s. Ryann and his family attend Sunday school and church services, but Ryann has apparently not paid a whole lot of attention to the Word until now when he must study the scriptures to find the clues that he needs to locate the sword–and also to muster the courage that he needs to face his foes. Will their friends in Aeliana, Raz the raccoon, Essy the leopard, and Griffin the fox, be able to help them achieve their goals? Reinhold is a wonderful story teller who has a wonderful story to tell. This book is a page turner that is hard to put down. I usually read a chapter of a book at a time, but with this one I could not always stop at the end of a chapter. Those who hate the Bible will not like it, but I appreciated the use of the plot to underscore and promote godly virtues. Unlike other Biblical-based fantasy, there is no "magic" in this series. In fact, when the ring that Gabriel gives Ryann begins to glow, Liddy asks, "Is it magic?" and Ryann responds, "Come on, Liddy, you know magic isn’t real–this is supernatural!" My only two complaints are relatively minor. The book could have used a little more editing for grammar and usage. Gabriel talks about the one "who you have found favor with." It may be all right for kids to speak colloquial slang in conversation, but I would think an angel should speak correct English, "with whom you have found favor." The attempt to have Gabriel combine Elizabethan English with modern speech produces some odd effects, such as "thou have" (should be "thou hast" or better just to say "you have"). An object is said "to just be laying there, waiting for him to stroll over and pick it up," when any fourth-grade grammar book would tell us that the correct term is "lying." On page 201, "lightning" is spelled correctly, but on pages 202 and 204 it is spelled "lightening." Also, while the use of terms such as "gee" (which is a euphemism for Jesus) and "gosh" (which is a euphemism for God) often represent an author’s determination not to use actual cursing or taking the Lord’s name in vain, which I appreciate, we do not use those terms in our house because of what they mean, and I guess that I would prefer that authors of literature that is intended to be godly not use them. Yet, as I said, these items are relatively minor, and otherwise I found practically nothing which is objectionable and many things which are commendable. The story began in 1999 when Reinhold was telling bedtime stories to his children. He produced an outline in 2000 and had ten chapters written but was sidelined by heart surgery and did not finish it until 2007. He has outlined book two, Ryann Watters and the Shield of Faith, to be released in 2009. The website is www.ryannwatters.com . I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it highly to anyone who likes fantasy. Language level: 2 (barely). Ages: 12-16. EXCELLENT. (Note: A condensed version of this review appeared in the 4/26/08 issue of the Home School Buzz weekly e-newsletter; for more information check out http://homeschoolbuzz.com .)
(Taken from the June, 2008, issue of the Biblical Homeschooling newsletter: email@example.com or http://groups.yahoo.com/group/biblicalhomeschooling/ .)