NOTE: The following reviews come from the Sept., 2008, issue of Biblical Homeschooling ( firstname.lastname@example.org or http://groups.yahoo.com/group/biblicalhomeschooling ).
18. BOOK REVIEWS
(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 Pathfinder (published in 1840; republished in 1961 by the New American Library, a division of Penguin Group USA Inc.; and reissued with a new introduction in 2006 by Signet Classics, a division of Penguin Group USA Inc., 325 Hudson St., New York City, NY 10014). This is the third book of the Leatherstocking Tales in order of plot chronology but fourth in order of publication. Set in the colonial period of American history during the French and Indian War, it continues the exploits of Natty Bumppo, known variously as Deerslayer, Hawkeye, and now Pathfinder. Natty, his Delaware friend Chingachgook, and a local from Lake Ontario named Jasper Western, are engaged to join Mabel Dunham and her Uncle Cap, who have been led thus far by the Tuscora chief Arrowhead and his wife June, and take them to Ft. Oswego on the lake where she will join her father, Sgt. Dunham who is another of Bumppo’s friends, following her mother’s death. The party is attacked by Iroquois, allies of the French and enemies of the English, and Arrowhead and June mysteriously disappear. After they escape the Iroquois and reach the fort, the commander, Maj. Lundie, allows them to go with Sgt. Dunham who is leading a patrol, that includes quartermaster Lt. Muir, to an island outpost in Lake Ontario. However, there is rumor of a traitor, and suspicion falls on Jasper, who along with Muir and Pathfinder himself, are all proposed suitors for Mabel. While Dunham, Natty, and most of the men are searching other islands, the outpost,where Mabel, Cap, and Muir remain, is attacked by another group of Iroquois led by Arrowhead. The location of the outpost must have been compromised, so who is the real traitor? Having finished The Deerslayer and The Last of the Mohicans, I find that these stories by Cooper take a while to wade through with all the descriptive passages and Bumppo’s philosophizing, but I am still enjoying them with their fictionalized history of America’s early days. There is some bad language, but in my edition, the "d" word is usually blanked out, as "d—-d," although inexplicably in a few places it is spelled out. While not excusing it, I have come across much worse in some modern "children’s" literature. Language level: 3. Ages: older teens and adults (most children would find the reading extremely slow going at best). GOOD.
Hermes, Patricia. Christmas Magic (published in 1996 by Scholastic Inc., 555 Broadway, New York City, NY 10012). Christmas is just around the corner, and Katie Potts cannot seem to stop causing trouble at school. Even her best friend Amelia as mad at her. She picks her twin brother Obie’s name for "Secret Santa," and since she knows exactly what he likes, it should be a cinch. Her father keeps telling her that she is a good girl, but down deep she knows what she has done. So she wonders if her dad is right and if Santa will bring presents to someone like her. Those who prefer to avoid stories about "Christmas" and especially telling children about Santa Claus will want to avoid this book. However, there are some good factors in the story. Katie does make some bad choices, but her conscience bothers her about them, she eventually works to make them right, and thus some important lessons are learned. Understood properly in the background of the facts that after all Christmas is a national holiday and that Santa Claus is often used to symbolize the spirit of generosity, this book is probably harmless and teaches the important lesson of unconditional love. One reviewer at Barnes and Noble wrote, "Christmas Magic [is] a great book. I recommend this book to kids my age (12-14) It keeps you guessing. This book is about a girl named Katie Potts; she always gets in trouble in school and even her best friend gets mad at her. Katie is worried that Santa won’t bring her any presents because she doesn’t behave, even though her dad tells her she is good." According to Barnes and Noble, this book is no longer available new. Language level: 1. Ages: 10 to 12. GOOD.
Higgins, Helen Boyd. Alexander Hamilton: Young Statesman (Patria Press Inc., reprint 2008;Website: http://www.patriapress.com). Alexander Hamilton was born in 1757 on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies but, after his father’s death moved, with his mother to her family’s home on the Danish West Indies island of St. Croix. Receiving his earliest education at home from his mother, he later attended a small private boy’s school conducted by a local minister named Knox and then came to New York colony as a young man just as the colonists were beginning to object to the heavy-handedness of the English government. The name may be somewhat familiar to us today because his picture graces our ten-dollar bill, but very few know much about him. His main claim to historic footnote fame is that he was killed by Aaron Burr in a duel. However, he accomplished much more than that in his short life (he was 49 when he was killed), and was one of our nation’s most unheralded founding fathers. As General Washington’s aide-de-camp, Hamilton played a highly significant, though mostly unpublicized, role in the American Revolution. As the head of the Federalist Party, he was largely instrumental in achieving the ratification of the United States Constitution. And as President Washington’s secretary of the treasury, he almost singlehandedly established the independent monetary program that guided this country for nearly 200 years, laying the groundwork for the capitalist economic system that enabled the United States to grow into the freest and most prosperous society that this world has ever known in less than 100 years. While Hamilton was not without his faults as a politician, all these are great reasons for knowing more about him and his part in our nation’s past. In addition, lessons that we can learn from his young personal life include conquering fears, the value of a good education, controlling one’s temper, perseverance, and the importance of hard work. As a man, Hamilton’s adult accomplishments as a military assistant to Washington, architect of the Constitution, first Secretary of the Treasury, and the face on the 10 dollar bill, were in part due to the experiences of his youth, and in Volume 14 of the Young Patriots Series, children can meet this noted personage from our nation’s history as a young man. This slightly fictionalized account of Hamilton’s childhood was originally one of the wonderful "Childhood of Famous Americans Series" published by the Bobbs-Merrill Company in 1942 and entitled Alec Hamilton, the Little Lion. Simon and Schuster publishes the "Childhood of Famous Americans" books now, but many of the older titles have been dropped for newer ones about more recent personalities. Thankfully, Patria Press is bringing back some of these out of print books in their "Young Patriots Series." Language level: 1. Ages 9-12. EXCELLENT.
Johnston, Susan, and Webb, Kimberly. Princess Bubble (Bubble Gum Press, 2006; Website: http://www.PrincessBubble ). Being an "old-fashioned" type of person and having read some of the promotion for this book, I was not sure that I would like it. However, I determined to read it with an open mind. Behold, I found that I did like it. Most every little girl wants to grow up to be a Princess who finds her Prince Charming. And most parents would like this for their little girls. Yet, it is plain that it does not always happen for everyone. For those young ladies who must learn to be content with their singleness, there is Princess Bubble, who graduates from college, gets a job, buys a palace of her own, and watches several of her friends get married. Many of her married friends begin to ask her why she has not found a prince yet, and eventually her mother tells her that it is time for her to find a prince. She does try and makes many new friends in the process, but finally learns from her fairy godmother that "living happily every after is not about finding a prince. True happiness is found by loving God, being kind to others, and being comfortable with who you are already." So, what will Princess Bubble do with what she has learned? This is a lovely story with an important message for girls (and for their parents) who can read it to help be prepared whatever may happen. Language level: 1. Ages: 2-8, but single women may enjoy it too. EXCELLENT.
Leigh, Clifford. The Wordsmith, the Kid, and the Electrolux (Capstone Fiction, 2008; websites: http://www.cliffleigh.com , http://www.capstonefiction.com ). This book is classified as fantasy fiction. Young Corian (Corey) Griffin’s secret life began the day his father refused him a cup of coffee. After his father has to go away for work to save their home from foreclosure, Corey’s growing desires draw him again and again to the coiling dragon on his father’s green Chinese box to steal money kept there to buy from Mr. Good the ice cream man, which begins to rot his teeth. After a visit to an eccentric dentist, Corey is nearly caught by his mother and is forced to hide in a closet to eat his ice cream and there, through the power of a supernatural Electrolux vacuum cleaner, he falls headlong into book of photographs. In this hidden world, where everything is a living picture, he meets several strange people and encounters some extraordinary events. Corey and his new friends go into pictures where a great battle occurs, a huge baby is rampaging in a house, and a being called the Wordsmith creates an amazing tree-machine. They are taken by Kosmo and Fern Kreecher to New Dragenstoy for re-education, where the secret is revealed. In another picture Corey sees The Kid (a scapegoat) upon whose head all the bad pictures are placed before it is sent away. The surreal descriptions are apparently intended to appeal to the young people of today, but the allegorical implications are clear. The book is well written, and I found myself drawn into the story with a motivation to keep on reading so that I could find out what was going to happen next. This kind of work may not appeal to some people, but those who like fantasy should appreciate it. I enjoyed it and hope that it will accomplish its purpose. Language level: 1. Ages: 10 and up. EXCELLENT.
Ludwig, Judi. Twenty People You Meet in Hell (published in 2008 by iUniverse, 2021 Pine Lake Rd., Suite #100, Lincoln, NE 68512). Judi Ludwig is also the author of another book, It Was Never About Books: Conversations Between a Teen and Her Pastor, which I reviewed previously in this newsletter (4/07 issue). Her first book is a subtle, autobiographical story which lays the foundation for the transformation of a troubled teenage girl through conversations with her minister while helping to arrange his library. Its aim is assisting other young people in avoiding the kinds of situations that led to her troubled youth. Twenty People You Meet in Hell is not subtle. It is a frank, straightforward attempt using scriptural principles, current events, and personal illustrations to encourage people, including those who are young, from pursuing a destructive lifestyle. Ludwig tackles such relevant, and sometimes controversial, subjects as adultery (along with divorce), drunkenness, homosexuality, idolatry, murder (including abortion), and magic arts (occultism). However, she does not stop with the repulsive, overt sins of the world but she also deals with the more "respectable" sins of many who profess Christ, such as envy, greed, lying, selfish ambition, and the unforgiving. Please be advised that this book will not necessarily convince atheists that God’s way is best. However, for those who will accept arguments from scripture and faith, it should be helpful in understanding what God’s word says about these things. In today’s relativistic, "live and let live" world, many people would call this book "judgmental." The author replies, "They are absolutely correct; it is judgmental. However, God is the judge. I am simply the messenger." And what are her qualifications for writing this book? "Because I was once the chief of sinners and one of the people you would meet in hell, having been in bondage to many of the sins discussed in this book." While Judi does not mince words, she does offer hope to those who want the Lord to change their lives. Believers from different theological backgrounds may not necessarily agree with every observation that is made in the book, but in general it presents the absolute truth of God’s word concerning His attitude toward the sins discussed. Language level: 1. Ages: older teens and adults. EXCELLENT.
Matulewicz, Elisabeth Ann. Benny and Marshmallow: A Day of Mischief (Ithaca Press, 2008; websites: http://www.bennyandmarshmallow.com , http://www.ElisabethMatulewicz.com , http://www.LapCatDesigns.com ). In this delightful little book, Benny and Marshmallow are two mischievous pet rats who live in a blue cage. One day their master, Sean, has to hurry off to school and accidentally forgets to close their door. Benny wants to get out and find some of the candy that Sean’s mother keeps in her candy dish. Marshmallow doesn’t like the idea and is afraid that they’ll get in trouble but goes with Benny anyway. They are able to sneak past the sleeping cat and get to the candy dish to eat, but Marshmallow accidentally knocks the candy dish over and the noise wakes the cat. Will they make it back to their cage before Sean returns home from school? Will they even make it to safety at all? Pre-readers will enjoy having this clever story about the mishaps of Benny and Marshmallow read aloud to them, and beginning readers will delight in being able to read the book for themselves. It will spark their imaginations, while the colorful illustrations of Kim Sponaugle will bring the tale to life and engage the minds of both young and old. This is Matulewicz’s first book, and it is definitely a keeper! By the way, the name of the author’s son is Sean. Language level: 1. Ages: 4-8. EXCELLENT.
McCallum, Arnot Ross. I’m Not a Brat!: Poems for the Kind in All of Us (Primrose Publishing, 1997/1998). Probably the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions the idea of "children’s literature" is stories written for young people. However, poetry is just as legitimate a form of literature for both adults and children as any other. In fact, a couple of poetry books for children have won the Newbery Medal in recent years. Many different kinds of poetry exist. There is classic poetry. "Listen, my children, and you shall hear Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere." Also, there is devotional poetry. And there is humorous poetry. The poems in Arn McCallum’s I’m Not a Brat! fall into the last category. It contains poems about animals, family, school, and even monsters. Some of them contain serious thoughts embedded in the humor. Many of them are just plain silly. All of them are fun. If you like poetry, I think that you will enjoy this book. Even if you do not care that much for poetry, I believe that you will find something funny to laugh at. Girard’s drawings add to the fun. McCallum is a retired educator living in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Language level: 1. Ages: 6-11. EXCELLENT.
McGonagle, Joanne L. The Tiniest Tiger (Booksurge, 2007; Website: http://www.thetiniesttiger.com ). This delightful and nicely illustrated little book, which will please all animal, and especially cat, lovers, features a young kitten, with a black-stained pink nose, a short striped tail having a black tip, and irregular markings. She chases a butterfly out of the alley where she lives with other cats and gets lost at the zoo. While there, she asks various big cats if maybe she belongs with them, including the tiger, lion, cheetah, leopard, puma, jaguar, bobcat, and ocelot. Are any of them able to adopt her? Or will she ever find a home? The story has enough repetition to make it ideal for young readers. I agree with Jack Hanna’s assessment: "The Tiniest Tiger is an endearing story about a confused little house cat who meets up with some really wild cats." The book is not only fun to read but educational as well because it shows both the similarities and differences between the zoo cats and the kitten and it provides key facts for each of the different big cats, including their status on the endangered list. In addition to its increasing awareness of the need for conservation efforts, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of The Tiniest Tiger, the author’s first book, will benefit projects for the protection of endangered wild cats in Africa, Asia, North America, and South America, through the Conservation Fund of the Columbus (OH) Zoo and Aquarium. I highly recommend it. Language level: 1. Ages: from 3 (read-to age) to 9 (read alone), but enjoyable to children and adults of all ages. EXCELLENT.
McGuire, Jeremy. O’Shaughnessey: A Boy and His Leprechaun (Outskirts Press Inc., 2007; website: http://www.outskirtspress.com/jeremymcguire ). This engaging tale is told as if by a traditional Irish shenache, a traveling storyteller who earned his room and board by spinning yarns in family cottages. Bobby Mahoney is a seven-year-old boy who wakes up one morning to see a leprechaun named O’Shaughnessey sitting on his bedpost. Very few human beings have "the gift" to see the faerie folk. Bobby’s parents are divorced, and he lives with his mother and his sister Maggie, but the children get to be with their father once a week. That same day, Bobby’s dad arrives to take him and Maggie to the fair, but when they return home Maggie is very sick. That night, Bobby and O’Shaughnessey take a trip in the leprechaun’s magic hat to visit another leprechaun named O’Sullivan. While there, Bobby hears a Ban-Shee wail, meaning that someone he knows is dying. It turns out that Maggie has scarlet fever and is not doing very well. So the next night, Bobby and his leprechaun go to the cave of the Ban-Shees so that Bobby can see if something can be done to save Maggie. The Ban-Shee tells Bobby that the Coachman of death will take Maggie unless Bobby can keep it from leaving his fortress at the Mountain of Shadows on time, "when the first light paints the eastern sky…not a moment sooner, not a moment later." So the following night, Bobby and O’Shaughnessey take O’Sullivan to see if they can stop the Coachman. Will they make it in time? Will they be able to achieve their goal and save Maggie? Will Bobby’s actions have any effect upon his family? The author, who has been an actor, director, and teacher, is primarily a playwright. This is his first work of narrative fiction. There is much to appreciate about this book. Anyone who is interested in novels based on Irish folk will surely enjoy it. It might also be helpful for children who are having to deal with a situation of divorce in the family. Unfortunately, not everything in life turns out exactly the way we would want, but we can learn to adapt and try to make things better. While there are lessons about love, courage, truth, self-awareness, discovery, the worth of money, and the importance of family, most of all it is just a fun book to read. It gets kudos from me. Language level: 1. Ages: 8-14. EXCELLENT.
Osborne, Mary Pope. Dark Day in the Deep Sea (Magic Tree House #39; Random House, 2008). The latest "Magic Tree House" book (#39) is now out. This time Jack and Annie are whisked back to the 1870s in the South Pacific to join the crew of the HMS Challenger on their scientific exploration of the dark depths of the ocean. They get to meet some real historical characters, such as scientist Henry Moseley and Professor Charles Wyville Thomson. From 1872 to 1876, the Challenger sailed nearly 70,000 miles around the world and found more than 4,000 new species of sea life. However, will Jack and Annie survive a raging storm at sea and the tentacles of a giant octopus to get back to Frog Creek, PA, with their new secret of happiness for Merlin? We have been reading the Magic Tree House books since they first came out, and both of our boys have enjoyed them. What I like about them is that a lot of history and a good deal of geography, along with a little bit of traditional myth and legend, are included in a fictional story that appeals to children. So the books are educational, but they are also fun! While some of Jack and Annie’s dialogue is a little stilted, for the most part these books do not talk down to children but challenge both their thinking and their vocabulary. Language level: 1. Ages: 6-9. GOOD.
Paul, Alyssa. Meet Daisy (AuthorHouse, 2008; websites: http://www.alyssapaul.com , http://www.authorhouse.com ). This timeless treasury of three stories, each divided into five to seven chapters, was written by a nine-year-old who lives in Deville, LA. Set in 1908, it takes us back to a time when life was simpler. Daisy Anderson is a young girl, perhaps nine, who lives with her parents, big brother Lars, little sister Allie, and her Uncle Tom, Aunt Fern, and cousins Mandy and Gabriella in Missouri. In "Daisy’s Camping Trip," the entire crew is invited to go camping in Virginia with Daisy’s Uncle Farley, Aunt Jen, and their children Eliza, James, Hannah, Freddie, Annie, and Jane. One night, Daisy, Gabriella, and Lars get chased by wolves! The second story, "Daisy’s Uncle Harry," goes back to explain an event mentioned in the first story, how that Daisy stood up for Lars when their "bossy, stern, mean" Uncle Harry was mad at her brother. In "Merry Christmas, Daisy," the compassionate Daisy arranges for everyone in her home to help the needy Crewe family and thus share the joy of Christmas with others. In these stories, Daisy exhibits wonderful character traits such as bravery, courage, and the spirit of giving, and thus serves as a great role model for young readers. Alyssa contributes her own rural upbringing and the importance of her family to her creative writing ability. There might be a couple of items that could be considered historically inaccurate for 1908, but these are minor, and otherwise this is a charming book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Anyone who likes glimpses into how people lived in the past should find these snapshots into Daisy’s activities to be fascinating–especially coming from such a young and obviously talented author! Language level: 1. Ages: 2nd through 5th grades, but can be enjoyed by readers young and old. EXCELLENT.
Smith, William D. Becoming a Superhero: Adventures of an American Superhero (Outskirts Press Inc., 2008; Website: http://www.outskirtspress.com/BecomingASuperhero). This semi-autobiographical children’s novel, set at the end of World War II and the days just after it, looks at a year in the life of Billy Smith, a ten-year-old who lives in a Pennsylvania coal mining town and wants to become an American superhero like the ones he hears about on the radio programs. However, the choices that he makes often have disastrous consequences. In fact, that is one rule that he has been taught by his mother and put in his "Kid’s Book of Rules" for becoming a superhero: "Things have consequences." This story is a tale of morals and values learned by a youngster who is caught between the innocence of childhood and the responsibilities of growing up. It is told as if by a Grandpa who shares stories of what life was like "back in the good old days." The reader will follow the adventures of Billy, along with his parents, his Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop Willingham and Mom-Mom Smith (grandparents), his friends, his teachers, and his "shadow" (alter-ego or conscience) William, as he tries to learn how to fly like Superman, is taken on a tour of his grandfather’s coal mine, goes on "funeral vacations," attends Camp Greenwood (with its outhouse–you will have to read the book to understand it), makes a soap-box derby racer, worries about failing in school, even almost gets arrested, works at his first job, and watches Mom-Mom Smith get blown up. In all of these events, Billy learns some valuable lessons. But will he ever become a superhero–or even a hero of any kind? What I especially liked about the book is the positive conclusion that it leaves for children. It shows that while kids will make mistakes, do foolish things, and even fail in certain areas , they can, with gentle guidance by loving and caring, if imperfect, parents, grandparents, and teachers, still make it to adulthood all right. Billy did grow up to serve honorably in the Marine Corps, have his own family, become a teacher, and, thankfully for us, write this touchingly humorous yet meaningful story. Today William D. Smith (Billy) is an instructor teaching psychology and education courses at Ocean County College in New Jersey. Reason number 10 that "Billy" gives for reading the book is "It’s a good story, and everybody loves a good story." I wholeheartedly agree! Language level: 1. Ages 8-12. EXCELLENT.
Thurman, Safari Sue. Maybe We Are Flamingos (Guardian Angel Publishing Inc., 2008; websites: http://www.GuardianAngelPublishing.com , http://www.safarisue.com ). The author lives in Arizona where as Safari Sue she has entertained millions at the Phoenix Zoo with help from some incredible animal friends. Her "Safari Sue" series of children’s books is inspired by her life experiences. In this one, Flora and Fernando wonder if they are really flamingos because they are the wrong color. At first they are white, and then they turn gray. So they begin to imagine what else they might be–perhaps an ostrich, or maybe a giraffe? As they consider the possibilities and start to investigate, what will they find? And are there any lessons for them to learn? The gorgeous color illustrations by Kevin Collier make this book a feast for the eyes as well as for the mind. In addition to learning a little bit about the growth and development of flamingos, children will gain some insight into their own lives. It is so easy for youngsters to look around at adults and even other children, see the differences between themselves and others, and begin to worry if they are "all right." What Flora and Fernando learn can help set growing children’s minds at ease so they can be content with their own pattern of growth. This is a great book and lots of fun. Did you know that flamingos maintain their pink color as a result of what they eat? Language level: 1. Ages: from 3 (read-to age) to 9 (read alone). EXCELLENT.
Williams, Julia. The Curious Caterpillar (Rose Dog Books, 2008; Website: http://www.rosedogbookstore.com ). This extremely charming little story focuses on the path of discovery that a small caterpillar follows, beginning with being hatched from an egg to becoming a butterfly. Aware of his surroundings but not his purpose, he begins his trek up the nearby redwood tree to see if he can determine his reason for existence. Along the way, he meets several frightening but kind creatures–a grasshopper, a lady bug, a snake, a squirrel, an owl, and an eagle. Each of these new friends asks who he is and where he is going, and the caterpillar responds politely, telling them that he is looking for his purpose in life. They all comment on his slow pace but encourage him with their well-wishing. But will the caterpillar ever find the answers to his questions? There are several things to like about this cute book. First, its good blend of simplicity and just enough repetition along with some challenging vocabulary make it a perfect book for a beginning reader to conquer on his own. Also, while it is obviously fictional, there is still some scientific information about the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. In addition, the story is a modern illustration of the old fable moral, "Slow and steady wins the race." Furthermore, youngsters will be gently encouraged to think about seeking out their purpose in life. Finally, the author’s full-color illustrations are eye-catching and really help the reader visualize the story. This book gets a "thumbs up" from me. Language level: 1. Ages: 3-6. EXCELLENT
[Editor’s note: Many of my book reviews appear on a couple of websites that I would encourage you to check out regularly if you do not already. They are Stories for Children Magazine at http://storiesforchildrenmagazine.org , and Home School Buzz at http://homeschoolbuzz.com . Thank you. WSW.]