BOOK REVIEWS (taken from the March, 2009, issue of Biblical Homeschooling, firstname.lastname@example.org or http://groups.yahoo.com/group/biblicalhomeschooling )
(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.)
Beaumont-Lane, Dawn. Fairy Glade and Other Enchanting Tales (Real Time Publishing, 2008; Related websites: http://dawnbeaumont lane.bravehost. com , author, and http://theebooksale .com ,publisher). This is a book of five short stories intended for children. The title story is about two youngsters, Della (the author’s daughter is named Della) and Kevin James who live in the Scottish Highlands village of Findhorn near the sea. One day they decide to go on a picnic in the nearby woodlands where they meet a fairy named Bluebell, see the Fairy King, and get to attend the wedding of the Fairy Prince and Princess. Dawn says that she wrote this and the next story entitled "Teddy Bear Junction," about a Teddy Bear who drove a train named Tilly Chuff, in 1966 when she had no money to buy a Christmas gift, so she put down the stories so that she would have something to give her daughter. The third story is about "Samantha the Lizard and Arty the Frog" who learn, despite their differences, how to become friends. The fourth story, "The Dove," is about a young dove named Dusty, whose father left his mother and sisters for another lady dove. Dusty believes that it is his fault that his father left, so he flies away but is convinced by a couple of seagull friends that he should return home. Dawn says that the inspiration for the story came from her grandson Dustin’s feelings over his parent’s separation. Certainly there is sadness in the story, but there is also hope, and it might be useful for children who have experienced this sort of thing. In the final story, Della and Kevin, now a couple of years older, come home following the death of their father and two years away in boarding school and "Return to Fairy Glade." These are charming stories that children of all ages should enjoy. Language level: 1. Reading level: ages 3-12. EXCELLENT.
Cadeau, Michelle. My Unique Family with Jay Jay and Totte (published in 2008 by Divas Publishing; www.jayjayandtotte. com ). Jay Jay and Totte are two boys who live with their parents, Dad James from Haiti, and Mom Petra from Sweden, outside of New York City, NY. Because of how they look and the fact that they can speak three languages, the boys notice that people often stare at them and it makes them feel different. Their Mom tells them that they are not really different, but they are unique. She also reminds them of their cousin Rosanna, whose Dad is from Sweden and her Mom is from Thailand, along with other relatives and friends from Iceland, Lebanon, Norway, Mexico, France, England, Puerto Rico, Canada, Australia, Gambia, China, Brazil, Denmark, Chile, Trinidad, Eritrea, Turkey, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Ireland, and Switzerland. What do the boys think about all that? In a world that is becoming smaller and smaller, many children come from a mixed background. It is important for these children to know about and be proud of their ancestry. It is also important for other children to remember that not everyone else is like them. Parents and teachers can use this book both with children who are mixed to answer their questions in a positive way and with children who are not mixed to explain why mixed children need to be accepted. In the back, there is a glossary of languages from different countries with how to say "My name is…" and "What is your name?" in those languages, along with some questions that can be used for discussion. There are also facts about each of the countries mentioned in the text. This is a great educational tool that will be fun to read. I give it two thumbs up! Language level: 1. Reading Level: ages 5-14. EXCELLENT.
Chappelle, Joseph N. Otis, the Musical Owl (published in 2008 by Outskirts Press Inc.; http://www.outskirt spress.com ). "In the State of New York, located between the Catskill Mountains and the Adirondack Mountains, sits a small village by the name of East Worcester." The Chappelle family lives on one of the mountains of East Worcester Township in a little brown log cabin. The daughter, Helwig, and her friend find a baby owl that appears to be injured. The Chappelles take it to a veterinarian, Dr. Wilhelm, and they name the owl Otis. Otis is eventually sent to an animal training center for rehabilitation. While there, Otis learns many unique traits, such as how to fly like a barn swallow, how to understand human language, how to communicate with all the other animals, and especially how to recognize the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and others. When he returns to the area where he had been found, he learns from another owl named Mary that his family had been scattered by the same storm that injured him as a baby, so Otis starts looking for them. Will he ever find his father, mother, sister, and brother People who enjoy animal stories should especially like this book. As a former music student and lover of classical music, I personally am grateful for the fact that an appreciation of the great music of western culture is emphasized. The author plays cello for the Albany Area Senior Orchestra. I also am thankful for the use of Biblical hymns, passages, and principles to underscore the "can do" spirit of the book. The admirable character traits of loyalty to friends, such as Otis’s new ally Pee Wee, the little field mouse, and seeking to be a peace with others are also found in the story. The ending may seem a little fantastic, but then, after all, it is a fantasy book. Middle school age children will find this unique look into the animal kingdom quite fascinating. Language level: 1. Reading level: Ages 9-12
Cioffi, Karen, and Feltman, Robyn. Day’s End Lullaby (published in 2007 by Book Surge; www.childrensbooksb ykarenandrobyn. com ). A child has his favorite teddy bear. The sun has set. The moon is out. The day is over. The child is tired. Now it is time for him to close his eyes and go to sleep. This lovely little book, with its lilting, lyrical poetry and its soothing message, is intended for just such a time. One of the best things that parents may do for their children is to read aloud to them. It can be both fun and educational. Our family has tried to have two read aloud periods each day. One is after lunch, when we have generally chosen historical fiction, and the other is right before bed, when we have used other books which relate to our children’s interests. Reading aloud before bedtime serves several purposes. First, it is an opportunity for personal interaction between parent and child. Second, it is helpful in getting settled down for children who have been playing for a while to have a period of transition between the activities of the day and the need to rest at night. This picture book is perfect for that purpose. It has the additional benefit that the text has been set to music, and the lullaby is included. Author Karen Cioffi says that she wrote the lullaby to the story over 30 years ago for her firstborn who didn’t like sleeping. This is one of those books that wee ones will probably want read over and over to them. Language level: 1. Reading level: Infancy to age 4. EXCELLENT.
Collier, Kevin Scott. Professor Horace, Cryptozoologist (Published in 2008 by Guardian Angel Publishing; www.kevinscottcolli er.com ). The term "cryptozoology" is from three Greek words meaning "hidden," "animals," and "knowledge or study." "Zoology" is the study of animals. So "cryptozoology" may be literally defined as "the study of hidden animals" and generally refers to the search for animals or creatures which fall outside of contemporary zoological catalogues, such as those of myth and legend. That is what Professor Horace does. Through rhyming text and full color drawings, children will follow the good Professor as he searches for the Loch Ness monster, Big Foot, a Ropen, and so forth. This "Academic Wings Book" is not only fun but also educational because there is an index that helps to explain the different cryptozoological creatures depicted in the book. Most children like to read about and see pictures of leprechauns, fairies, mermaids, trolls, dragons, gargoyles, unicorns, extraterrestrials, and other such beings and creatures of folklore. Might some of these things exist, or at least have existed? Of course, that is all conjecture, and people will probably be arguing about it for years to come. However, because of literary references, it is good for young people to be acquainted with such concepts, and this book is an enjoyable way for them to do so. There is the added interactivity of going back through the book and trying to find the pictures of the different creatures or maybe trying to locate them as the story is being read. What a great book! Our 12-year-old son just lapped it up. Language level: 1. Reading level: Ages 5-12. EXCELLENT.
Cooper, James Fenimore. The Prairie (originally published in 1827; republished in 2006 by Barnes and Noble Publishing, New York City, NY). How does one of the first great American epic fictional heroes meet his end? Cooper introduced Nathaniel (Natty) Bumppo, aka The Deerslayer, Hawkeye, The Pathfinder, and Leatherstocking, as a seventy-ish, rather crotchety, but still strong and honest old man living near "Templeton" (Cooperstown) , NY, in The Pioneers. His reading public demanded more about this striking character, so Cooper told stories from his younger days in The Deerslayer, The Last of the Mohicans, and The Pathfinder, then wrote of his final days in The Prairie. After the difficulties that he endured in Templeton, Natty headed west and by the time of the Louisiana Purchase is living on the prairies across the Mississippi river as a "miserable old trapper"in his mid-eighties when the book opens in 1804. He meets a group of squatters, headed by Ishmael Bush, who plans to settle his family, consisting of his wife Esther, her niece by marriage Ellen, and Esther’s brother Abiram White, along with a whole brood of children in the new territory. They are attacked by the Sioux, but later Natty is joined by Paul Hover, who is in love with Ellen; Captain Middleton, who is a descendent of one of Natty’s old friends and whose Louisiana-born wife Inez was kidnapped and is being held captive for ransom by Ishmael and Abiram; and Dr. Obed Batt, who had been travelling with the Bushes but leaves when he discovers what they have done. Natty and friends rescue Ellen and Inez, and try to escape with Chief Hard-Heart of the Pawnees, enemies of the Sioux, but they are recaptured by the Sioux, now in league with Ishmael, whose oldest son Asa was killed and who wrongly blames Natty for it. Eventually, the rest of the Pawnees arrive to defeat the Sioux and all things are settled properly. The final scene in which Natty is striken ill and dies has to be one of the most tender and touching in classic American literature. The language is quite mild. There are only three uses of some form of the "d" word, and Natty does use the term "Lord" as an exclamation several times. Those who like "settler and Indian" stories will especially enjoy this book. While a little complex and slow in the beginning, the latter part is quite exciting and hard to put down. Language level: 3 (unfortunately) . Ages: adults and older teens. GOOD.
Davis, Michele Ivy. Evangeline Brown and the Cadillac Motel (published in 2004 by Dutton Children’s Books, Penguin Group USA; www.EvangelineBrown .com ). Evangeline Dawn Brown, who used her first two initials to come up with the nickname Eddie, lives with her widowed father in an apartment of the gaudy Cadillac Motel (it actually has the end of an old pink Cadillac automobile sticking out the front) which he owns and operates on Celestial Ave. in Paradise, FL. Unfortunately, her father spends most of his time drinking beer and whisky with his old friend Jesse, who had recently moved to town and works on cars at a nearby garage, and has more often than not been in an alcoholic stupor since Eddie’s mother died. It seems as if the only people who care anything about her are Ruby, the motel’s housekeeper, and Angelique, a new resident at the motel who begins working some at the front desk. Because it is on the "wrong side" of town, Eddie has few friends at school. However, the summer before Eddie goes into sixth grade, she and Jesse’s son Farrell become good friends, partially because they have several things in common–grieving over dead mothers, having alcoholic fathers, and playing basketball. Things seem to be going a little better until the new school teacher that fall, Miss Rose, starts visiting the homes of her students. Eddie is almost ashamed for her to visit the Cadillac Motel. After Miss Rose had visited both Farrell’s and Eddie’s homes, the two youngsters overhear her telling the principal that she was going to call social services to get help for some of the families. Farrell had been involved with social services following his mother’s death, was in several foster homes before coming to Paradise, and did not want to go back to that. So he and Eddie hatch a plan to run away to Atlanta, GA, and live with Farrell’s grandmother. Will they make it, or will something happen to keep them from carrying out their scheme? The theme of this award-winning book is how children who live with alcoholic, dysfunctional parents in poverty have many challenges to face but can also be resilient when necessary. Both the characters and the plot are well developed, and the narration flows smoothly for easy reading. Parents, especially of children on the younger end of the reading level, should know that there are some cursing and taking the Lord’s name in vain, though Eddie does wince whenever she says a bad word because her dad had taught her not to "cuss." There is a definite sadness that runs throughout the book, but in the end there is a positive note of hope. One may not always approve of the choices that Eddie makes, but they are understandable given the circumstances, and there are important lessons to be learned from the fact that Eddie is able to find the help that she needs. Language level: 3. Reading level: Ages 9/10 and up. GOOD.
Eckhardt, Kristin. The Catbird Caper (published in 2007 by Guideposts, 16 E. 34th St., New York City, NY 10016). This is another of the "Mysteries of Sparrow Island" series about Dr. Abby Stanton, an ornithologist who gives up her career at Cornell University in New York to return to her home on fictitious Sparrow Island in the San Juan Islands off Washington State, take care of her invalid sister Mary who was injured in a car wreck, and to serve as assistant curator at the local nature conservatory. Abby, Mary, and a group of their Sparrow Island friends go to Seattle to have their treasures appraised for the television show Antiques Adventure. However, while they are at supper, Abby’s catbird print, a suspected Audobon, vanishes from their room and Mary’s guide dog Finnegan, who was left in the room because he was ill from some medicine that he took to help his crossing on the ferry, is missing. Then a valuable teapot belonging to the sister of their friend Thelma also disappears. The hotel detective is sure that because both thefts have a Sparrow Island connection, the thief is one of their friends and goes about to dig up dirt from their friends’ pasts. But there is also that handsome stranger who had offered to buy the painting from Abby. Meanwhile, Abby and Mary also have a mysterious locket from their grandmother about which they hope to learn more. These books are wholesome from a moral standpoint, and they depict people who allow their faith in God to guide their daily lives. Other than an occasional denominational doctrine or practice with which I might disagree, I have enjoyed all of these books thoroughly. Language level: 1. Ages: of interest to teens and adults. EXCELLENT.
Eicher, Jerry. Sarah: A Novel (published in 2007 by Horizon Books, 768 Hardtimes Rd., Farmville, VA 23901). My wife, Karen, likes to read novels about the Amish, such as those by Beverly Lewis and Wanda Brunstetter, so she picked this one up. Set in the Amish community of Daviess County in southern Indiana, it tells the fictional story of Sarah, an eighteen-year- old Amish girl who is genuinely beautiful but is not dating anyone. Lamar, who is engaged to Malinda, is smitten by Sarah’s beauty, and begins eyeing her. Malinda and he have a fight about it, so she tells him to leave. He acts as if the breakup is his idea and asks to start seeing Sarah. Meanwhile, Sarah begins working for an "English" (i.e., non-Amish) woman Rebecca, whose son Marcus tells his friend Philip, a fashion designer in New York City, about how beautiful Sarah is. Sarah sees what a heel Lamar has been and decides to accept Rebecca’s offer to take her to New York to see Philip about modeling. Malinda, wishing to get Lamar back and blaming Sarah for his leaving, gets the local Amish herbalist Esther to do something to hurt Sarah so Lamar will stop seeing her and return to Malinda. While in New York, some pictures are taken of Sarah modeling, but she decides that this is not what she wants to do, refuses to give permission to use the photos, returns to Indiana, and decides to join the church. However, one of the shoots "accidentally" ends up in USA Today (apparently done by Philip’s secretary who is sweet on him and hates his interest in Sarah). Lamar sees it and shows it to her, trying to blackmail Sarah into taking him back. When she refuses, he takes it to the congregation’ s elders, who do not believe Sarah’s story because Lamar tells some lies about what happened, and they remove her from the instructional class. Therefore, she returns to New York to model for Philip after all and see if she might be interested in him. Eventually Malinda feels remorse for trying to hurt Sarah, Lamar owns up to his lies, and they get back together. Sarah decides that the modeling life of New York is not for her, returns home, confesses her errors, joins the church, and finally marries an Amish boy who knew her in fifth grade. All’s well that ends well. Karen said that she did not really care for the book because of all the backstabbing and deceitfulness. I will admit that except for a few places where the plot was a little confusing and the action a might slow, the story is well written and I found it difficult to put down. However, it is really not the kind of book that I find enjoyable either. One quote on the back said, "If you have ever wondered about what goes on in the world of the Amish, this is the book for you." It really does not put the Amish in the best light, almost as if it were written as an "expose" on their lifestyle. I am sure that things like this have happened among them, but it would be interesting to see what Amish people themselves think of the book. Another quote, from a Christian school teacher, said, "Sarah is a delightfully heartwarming novel, a story of love, betrayal, forgiveness, and acceptance." That is true, and the ending is generally satisfying even if somewhat along the lines of a fairy tale, but as I said, this sort of book is not my preference. However, as there is nothing really objectionable in it, others may find it interesting. Barnes and Noble’s website does not list Sarah for sale, but it does list a sequel, Sarah’s Son. Language level: 1. Ages: adults and older teens; probably appeals most to females. GOOD.
Ekster, Carol Gordon. Where Am I Sleeping Tonight? A Story of Divorce (published in 2008 by Boulden Publishing; www.carolgordonekst er.com ). Have you ever been visiting away from home, maybe staying at a friend’s house or in a motel, and wake up with a momentary sense of disorientation, not remembering exactly where you are? Imagine the plight of fourth-grader Mark and his younger brother Evan, who is in first grade. They are children of divorce, spending a couple of nights at Dad’s home, then two nights at their Mom and Stepdad’s house, then back to Dad’s. With all that moving around, Mark sometimes leaves his homework at one place, or forgets when he has floor hockey practice. Will his "pretty cool teacher," Mrs. DeMotte, be able to help Mark and his parents deal with such problems? It is sad that there is a need for books like this, but it is an unfortunate fact of life. Children of divorce often feel confused, frustrated, and even a little angry because they are having to cope with something that is totally beyond their control. Carol Gordon Ekster has been a teacher for over thirty years, so she is well acquainted with such problems and how to assist children in handling them. This book can be very helpful in encouraging young people who are experiencing this kind of situation to work through their feelings and come to terms with their parents’ divorce. It can also be beneficial in making children who may not be in these circumstances to understand better the needs of their friends who are in them and perhaps to be more compassionate. I highly recommend it for these purposes. Language level: 1. Reading level: ages 5-10. EXCELLENT.
Gibson, Sarah P. The Truth About Horses, Friends, and My Life as a Coward (published in 2008 by Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books; www.sarahpgibson. com ). Sophie Groves lives with her parents and sister on an island in Maine. Her mother, who is an artist, decides that Sophie’s sister Sharon should learn to ride, so she buys a pony which they name Really (as in Really Mean). Over the course of time, the family acquires two other horses, and Sophie takes riding lessons too. The only trouble is that Sophie is basically a coward. She is afraid to ride horses. She is also afraid to make friends at school. She is not among the popular crowd nor is she among the smart students. Will Sophie ever learn to deal with the horses and to find friends? This book is written in a breezy, rollicking style that easily keeps the reader turning the pages to see what will happen next. As is usual in books like this, there is a disclaimer, "This book is a work of fiction." However, it is interesting to note that the author has the same initials (S. G.) as the main character in the book, that she grew up on an island in Maine, and that she had to endure the agonies of owning a motley trio of horses. So it seems to this reviewer that it is barely possible that some of the events in the book may have basis in actual facts. When I was in junior and senior high school, most of the girls I knew loved horses. While the book can be enjoyed by anyone, middle school age girls will especially identify with many of the problems that Sophie faces. Readers will laugh aloud as they romp with Sophie; her horses Really, Sweetheart, and Fancy Free; her schoolmates Heidi, Melissa, and Rachel; and her family through wild pony cart rides, visits from the Carpwells, runaway horses, and trick-or-treating on Halloween. Some parents may like to know that there are a few common childhood slang terms for the rear end and a couple of bodily functions, but for most families that will not be a problem. Although I think that they are beautiful animals, I have never been much of a fan of horses, but I had a fun time reading this book. Language level: 2. Reading level: ages 8-12 (grades 4-7). EXCELLENT.
Gould, Terry. The Adventures of Sir Sniffsalot and His Friends (Published in 2007 by Huntington Ludlow Media Group; http://www.atlasboo ks.com/marktplc/ 02457.htm ). Sir Sniffsalot, named because of his very active nose, is a dog who, along with his friends, Dally Polka Dots, Little Miss Lollygag, and the twin bunnies Hop and Squat, has five poetical adventures, such as getting his nose stuck in a pot of cherry pie filling and following his nose to a smelly garbage dump. The full color illustrations of Denis Proulx in this children’s picture book will help youngsters visualize what is going on. They will laugh out loud as Dally Polka Dots gets lost while following her nose, Little Miss Lollygag wonders as she wanders, and everybody tries to figure out which is Hop and which is Squat (can you?). The stories will also encourage children to be fascinated by the world around them. I certainly found the book a good, fun read. While the author was growing up in small towns and on farms across Missouri, he amused his teachers and classmates with his humorous story writing, so he drew upon his "Tom-Sawyer- like" adventures as a child to create these stories with imaginative and mischievous characters. It was his love for his granddaughter MacKenzie that inspired his writing. To her he writes in the dedication, "Your first two weeks on this earth spent in the intensive care unit was meant to gather your family around you and awaken us to the precious and fragile gift of life. And look at you now." Other Sir Sniffsalot adventure books are planned with Snuggly Krinklesnout, Maggie Muggalubub, Sadie MaGradie, Buster Lotsenoffen, and Barker Chew Fetchit. Language level: 1. Reading level: ages 3-5 ("read to"), ages 6-8 ("read me"). EXCELLENT.
Grant, Judyann Ackerman. Chicken Said "Cluck" (Harper Collins Children’s Books, 2008; Related websites: www.harpercollinsch ildrens.com , www.icanread. com , and www.authortracker. com ). Earl and Pearl are planning to grow pumpkins. They dig the garden, plant the seeds, water them, and pull the weeds. All during this time, Chicken scratches the dirt in the pumpkin patch. Earl and Pearl say, "Shoo," and Chicken says, "Cluck." However, one day the grasshoppers come and begin to nibble on the pumpkins. What will Earl and Pearl do? Is there anything Chicken can do? My wife and I have homeschooled our two sons, so we were completely responsible for their early reading material. After putting them through a solid phonics program, we were always looking for interesting and fun books for them to read, and we used quite a few of the "I Can Read!" books from Harper Collins Publishers. The "My First Reading" level of these books are ideal for sharing with emergent readers, and we found them to be very helpful. There is nothing like the accomplishment of being able to read an entire book for stimulating confidence. So whether you are homeschooling your children or just want to give your beginning reader some additional reading skill-building tools, Chicken Said, "Cluck" is an excellent choice. The humorous, poetic text will appeal to young children, and I highly recommend it. Language level: 1. Reading level: ages 3-5. EXCELLENT.
Lloyd, Mary Elizabeth. AIDS Orphans Rising: What You Should Know and What You Can Do to Help Them Succeed (published in 2008 by Loving Healing Press; www.AIDSOrphansRisi ng.org ). The vast majority of the books that are reviewed at Stories for Children are for children. This book is not specifically for children, but it is about children and I believe that it can be helpful to children. Most everyone is aware from the news that one of the worst health crises in our time is AIDS. One of the tragic results of the AIDS explosion is an increase in the number of Child Headed Households (CCH) as parents die from AIDS and leave their children behind. The author is a member of the Religious Teachers Filippini who has for over twelve years been helping the orphans of CCH in Albania, Brazil, Eritrea, India, and Ethiopia. She has a doctorate degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Columbia University, so she is well qualified to discuss the subject. After providing statistics to show the danger of the situation, Lloyd moves on to describe what these children themselves are doing to cope with their plight. She has found them to be resilient and courageous, especially when provided with the means to help themselves. She then explains what has been done to help them, how successful it has been, and what others can do to assist even more, citing examples of various organizations who are working to meet the needs. While pleading for donations, she does not advocate just throwing money at the problem but suggests that those who are interested check out any organizations to make sure that the funds are actually getting to the children in need. In fact, 100% of the profits of this book are dedicated to helping Child Headed Households. Parents want to teach their children to be compassionate toward others. School and youth groups are always looking for worthy projects. Adults can get the book, share with the children whatever information they believe is appropriate for their age, and then work together to come up with ways to assist. The book contains copious footnotes and an extensive bibliography for those who are interested in learning more. There is also a radio interview conducted with the author for Inside Scoop Live by Juanita Watson. This is not a "fun" or pleasant book to read, but it contains information about our world, however heart-wrenching it may be, which we and our children need to know in order to love our neighbors as ourselves. Language level: 1. Reading level: for adults who can share with children information that is appropriate for their age. EXCELLENT.
McCloskey, Robert. Homer Price (published in 1943 by Viking Press, republished in 1976 by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc., 375 Hudson St., New York City, NY 10014). McCloskey is the author and illustrator of the wonderful children’s picture books Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings. Homer Price (not to be confused with Henry Reed, another series of enjoyable books) is a young boy who lives two miles out of Centerburg where Route 56 meets Route 56a. In the six tales of this book, the reader is given a humorous and affectionate look at life in midwestern America during a time when things were a little slower. Find out how a pet skunk helped capture a band of bank robbers, what happened with Uncle Ulysses’s new doughnut machine, and why the old stranger with the beard came to town, among other interesting events. Other than several common euphemisms (golly, gosh, gee, heck, tarnation, etc.), there is nothing objectionable in this book and much to bring a chuckle. There is a "sequel" entitled Centerburg Tales. Language level: 2. Reading level: ages 8-12. EXCELLENT.
McClure, Beverly Stowe. Rebel in Blue Jeans (published in 2008 by Twilight Times Books; http://rebelinbluej eans.wordpress. com ). Rebel Ferguson is a sixteen (almost seventeen) year old girl who lives with her father and mother on a ranch in the country near Whispering Springs, TX, along with various animals. Or did live with her father and mother. As the book opens, her mother, Liz, is leaving the family for her new boyfriend Bo, a drummer in a rock band. With the help of her neighbors and best friends, cousins Will and Sully Garrett, Rebel learns how to deal with her anger towards her mother, her disappointment with her father in not going after her mother, and the attentions of a handsome college guy named Rick who has a less than savory reputation. Will she ever come to terms with her mother’s new life? And will she fall for the charm of Rick or find true love from a better source? I will be honest. This book probably does not appeal to me as much as others have because it would likely fall into the category of "chick lit." It certainly has its sad aspects because the breakup of a home is always regrettable. However, there are situations that are beyond our control and we have to learn how to live with them, even if we do not like them. This, I think, is the main message of the book. The story is put together well and keeps the reader’s interest. The language is not too bad–a few common euphemisms and childhood slang terms for bodily functions, but no outright cursing or profanity. Parents will want to know that there are references to drinking alcohol, taking drugs, kissing, other boy-girl and dating activities, and sexual talk ("make love" and going "all the way"). There is one scene where Rick tries to seduce Rebel, but she rejects him. The book is listed for "10 and up," but on the back, there is a quote from Fran Shaff, romance and children’s novelist, who said, "Rebel in Blue Jeans is a book teens will love," and author Beverly Stowe McClure is said to have written "two other novels for teens." I would tend to agree with the teen novel classification. Because of the subject matter, a lot of parents whom I know would be a little uncomfortable letting their children on the younger end of the suggested reading level have this book. But older teenagers, especially girls, might find it interesting and perhaps even come across something that would be helpful to them in reaching certain decisions. We may not always agree with all the choices that Rebel makes, but she learns some important lessons, and that is what matters. Therefore, my basic reaction to reading the book is a positive one. Language level: 2. Reading level: 10 and up. GOOD.
McNease, Mitzy. Chester’s Birthday Surprise (published in 1008 by Blancmange Publishing LLC; www.mitzymcnease. com ). Chester is an adorable little squirrel who lives with his Mom and Dad in a nice, cozy tree. His birthday is coming soon, and Dad, who seems to be an airplane pilot and apparently must be gone a lot, is not home yet. Chester is worried that Dad might be late and miss his birthday. Mom tries to comfort and assure him, but he and his friend Benny the bunny come up with all kinds of plans for a party that would be so big and grand that his Dad would have to come home for it, including a full-fledged carnival and even a trip to the moon! However, those things are not possible. As the days pass, will Dad make it or not? There are many things to like about this children’s picture book. One is the emphasis placed by the poetic story upon love of family and friends. Another is the lovely full-color drawings of Kim Cox that grace every page and give children help in picturing the action of the text in their minds. But most of all I appreciate the need that it fills in providing consolation and reassurance to calm the fears of small children when a parent must be away for an extended period of time, especially due to work. The book is well-written and moves quickly for short attention spans. It gets a high five from me. Language level: 1. Reading level: ages 4-8. EXCELLENT.
Saint-Lot, Katia Novet. Amadi’s Snowman (Tilbury House Publishers, 2008; Related websites: www.katianovetsaint lot.com , author, and www.tilburyhouse. com , publisher). Amadi is a young Igbo man of Nigeria. His mother wants him to learn to read so that he can have a good job someday, and she has make arrangements for Mrs. Chikodili to teach him without charge. However, Amadi wants to be a trader and feels that he does not have to know how to read. So instead of waiting for Mrs. Chikodili, he escapes to the market. While there, he sees an older friend, Chima, who is reading a book at a stall. The book has pictures of a strange white creature with a nose that looks like a carrot, and Amadi is intrigued. Of course, if Amadi could read, he could learn all about snow. So, is it barely possible that reading could open up a new world for a young Igbo man of Nigeria? This is a truly wonderful story because it not only emphasizes the importance of knowing how to read but also reminds children in this country how fortunate they are in having the opportunity of learning how to read and in having a seemingly unlimited supply of books at their disposal. It has the added benefit of helping children gain a better understanding of life for young people in Nigeria. Author Katia Novet Saint-Lot has lived in Nigeria when her husband’s work for UNICEF took them there, and the father of Dimitrea Tokunbo, whose captivating illustrations add so much to the book, grew up in Nigeria. Teachers and parents can visit the Tilbury House website for a special take home section to use with the book that features activities, discussion points, and further resources. I give this book two thumbs up! Language level: 1. Reading level: Grades 3-6. EXCELLENT.
Smith, Betty. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (published in 1943; republished in 1971 by Universal-Tandem Publishing Co. Ltd., 123 King St., London, England W6 9JG). This book, set in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, NY, opens in the summer of 1912. Eleven-year- old Francie Nolan lives with her father Johnny, who is the son of Irish immigrants and an alcoholic singing waiter; her mother, the former Katie Rommely, who is the daughter of Austrian immigrants and a cleaning woman; and her year-younger brother Neely (Cornelius). It covers about the next seven years of Francie’s life, including her schooling, relationships with neighbors, the death of her father from alcoholism at age 34, her jobs after graduating eight grade, the coming of World War I, and her love affairs, ending with her mother’s remarriage. I have heard of this book for much my life. It was on every high school reading list that I saw when I was in high school, though I never did read it then. A blurb on the back of my copy says, "A novel which was hailed as a potential classic on its first appearance in America." Certainly, there is a message in the book that, following the metaphor of the tree which could flourish even in the midst of the barren ground surrounded by concrete in Brooklyn, there could still be hope in one who was raised in the midst of poverty and despair. However, while this is a book ABOUT the coming of age of a child, it is not a book FOR children. It is what my elders when I was growing up would have called a "trashy book." There are numerous, rather blunt, references to sexual matters–girls engaging in horseplay with boys, a local shop owner who molested little girls, boys sleeping with girls, men and women making love, women having babies without marriage, men having a mistress, dirty jokes, etc. Francie’s Aunt Sissy was married four times without ever bothering to get a divorce, and had numerous men in between. There is a scene where Francie herself is attacked by a pervert who is then shot by her mother. And the language is characterized by profanity, vulgarity, obscenities, taking the Lord’s name in vain, cursing, swearing, and other kinds of crudities. It is generally said that the book is a thinly-veiled autobiography, and I suppose that the author felt that she had to include all this to be "realistic" and to show the squalor and difficulty of tenement life. However, while I finished the book to see how it would turn out, I cannot say that I enjoyed reading the book and I really have trouble recommending it to anyone. Reading through the book to find its message of hope is like rummaging through people’s garbage just in hopes of finding something valuable. Language level: 5. Reading level: for mature audiences only! NOT RECOMMENDED. Note: After I sent this review to a homeschooling e-mail list, Karen Miller sent me the following response. "I certainly agree with you on this! I too heard of this book all my life, and read it when I was in my 20s. It is definitely an adult book! I remember being embarrassed even as an adult at some of the sexual scenes. I guess it is like The Color Purple–which I never read–a factual accounting of events, perhaps, but certainly no redeeming qualities that may be found, in say, The Hiding Place. That book was hard to read, but it had an important message of standing up for what is right. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn seems like a coming of age story for ungodly people. Just my opinion." I agree!
Smith, Doris Buchanan. A Taste of Blackberries (published in 1973 by Thomas Y. Crowell Company Inc, 10 E. 53rd St., New York City, NY 10022; and republished by Scholastic Book Services, a division of Scholastic Inc., 50 W. 44th St., New York City, NY 10036). The boy who narrates the story, and Jamie are best friends. They pick blackberries together, play at the creek together, and work together with other kids to help their neighbor Mrs. Houser get rid of her Japanese beetles. While in Mrs. Houser’s yard, Jamie accidentally stirs up a swarm of bees, and all the kids run out and go home–except Jamie. He is very allergic to bee stings and dies as a result. The rest of the book describes how the narrator deals with his grief. Other than a little childish foolishness (e.g., trespassing on a farmer’s land and stealing apples off a his tree), there is little objectionable in this book. However, while I realize that coping with the death of friends is a part of life and is in fact a perfectly appropriate topic for children’s literature, personally I find the sheer amount of such books available a little depressing. Furthermore, I have read books that address the subject from a Biblical standpoint and find them satisfying, but those, like this one, that simply approach it from a "this-worldly" viewpoint just do not do much of anything for me. A Taste of Blackberries is all right and might serve a useful purpose, but for me Charlotte’s Web is actually a better book to help a child sort out the death of a friend. Language level: 1. Reading level: ages 9-12. GOOD.
Umina, Lisa M. Milo and the Green Wagon (published in 2008 by Halo Publishing International; www.halopublishing. com ). Milo is an angel who looks like this really cute little bear. He wakes up one morning and says, "God, today I want to make a difference." While walking down the street, he sees a beat-up, old, green wagon in the trash. Even though it looks bad, it still works, so he takes it to his friends, Mary, Matt, and Mark. Milo tells them that, since he had seen people at church the previous Sunday giving food for the needy, he has an idea to use the wagon to collect things for people who face difficult circumstances. They all fix the wagon up and, as the ACT (Action Changes Things) Mission Team, start going through the neighborhood to ask for donations. Will the neighbors help? Will the four be able to assist anyone? And what about the man sleeping on the park bench? This is a great book to let children know, in a gentle and age-appropriate way, that there are those who are less fortunate and require a helping hand. One of the great principles of the Bible that young people, as well as those of us who are older, need to learn is what Jesus said in Matthew 25:40. "Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." It is good for them to see in a story such as this that many people are motivated by their Christian principles to assist those who are in need. I give this book a hearty recommendation to help develop in young readers a sense of compassion and a determination to do what they can to help. Other books in the Milo series are Milo Moments and Milo with a Halo. Language level: 1. Reading level: ages 8+. EXCELLENT.
Weldt, Maryann N. Mr. Blue Jeans: A Story about Levi Strauss (published in 1990 by Carolrhoda Books Inc., a division of Lerner Publishing Group, 241 First Ave. N., Minneapolis, MN 55401). This biography tells the true "rags-to-riches" story of Lob (Levi) Strauss, from his days of poverty as a young Jewish dry goods peddler in Buttenheim, Bavaria, Germany, following the death of his father; through the decision of his mother, who heard great things about America from his step-brothers, for the rest of the family to emigrate to the United States, and the hard work that he did selling in New York City and the surrounding area; to his move to the West Coast, where he invented "tough trousers" (blue jeans–originally made out of canvas, then denim) and found his fortune. The book provides a wonderful example of someone who was willing to work hard to make something of himself, and when he did was known for his kindness to his workers and his generosity to those less fortunate. Too bad the Levi Strauss Co. does not follow his example today. Several years ago, the firm cut off its financial support of the Boy Scouts of America just because the organization decided that its purpose before God did not allow it to admit homosexuals. Anyway, the book is a wonderful read for youngsters. I do not know whether the book is still available or not. At the Barnes and Noble website, if you click on one link for the hardcover edition, you can buy it for $10.95, but another link for the hardcover edition says "this item is currently out of stock" (unless these are two different editions). I could find no link for the softcover edition, which I purchased used from Amazon. Language level: 1. Reading level: Ages 4 to 8 (Grades 4-6). EXCELLENT.