Word Search Book Bag Giveaway — OPEN

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This month’s giveaway is this roomy word search canvas book bag, and a pack of Cats in the Box.  The cats are little sticky notes, but they are so adorable that I don’t know if you could bear to use them!  I gave a set to a friend and had to get some for a giveaway, as well.  They’re too cute not to share.  Let the giveaway begin my darlings!

Enter by following the link below.  It’s open to participants in the United States and will end on March 31, 2017.  The winner will be announced on my blog and contacted through email.  Good luck!

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4 Favorite Children’s Books #3

4 Fav. Kids Books #3

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Four more fun children’s books that we really enjoyed!

One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo

This is a really cute story about a boy who brings home a penguin from the zoo as his new pet.  His father is oblivious to the arrangement until the very end of the book.  The illustrations are unique and remind me of the 1970’s for some reason.  It’s a Caldecott Honor book, too.

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

Stellaluna is separated from her mother when she is just a baby bat.  A mother bird raises Stellaluna alongside her own babies, but she struggles to fit in.  One night Stellaluna encounters other bats and discovers the wonderful things that she’s capable of.

How to Build a Museum: Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture by Tonya Bolden

This is a really interesting book which chronicles the journey of planning and building the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.  Kids will enjoy reading it because it’s chock full of informative tidbits and wonderful photos.  It’s astounding how long it took for this museum to come into being!

Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet & Allan Ahlberg

Here’s another charming and simple book from the Janet and Allan!  The text is very simple rhyme and the pictures are an I Spy game featuring well-known nursery rhyme characters.  I’ve always loved the illustrations in the books by the Ahlbergs–they are so quaint and adorable!

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

HP Prisoner of Azkaban

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Title: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Premise:

In Harry’s third year at Hogwarts all heck breaks loose!  Notorious criminal Sirius Black has broken out of Azkaban prison and is bent on seeking revenge.  Meanwhile, Harry, Ron and Hermione are buried in schoolwork as they prepare to take their OWLs (final exams).  Quidditch is just as drama-filled as ever, and Harry learns to defend himself against Dementors–the terrifying Azkaban guards who are keeping guard at Hogwarts.

My thoughts:

This is another wonderfully rollicking Harry Potter story that embodies the elements of fun and adventure.  The Quidditch scenes are just as harrowing as in previous books; the school drama just as satisfying; the mischief just as exciting!

With this book, however, the series seems to have taken a turn into more mature themes.  Not anything inappropriate, but more mature in terms of emotions and motivation.  It deals with themes of hatred, revenge, betrayal, and how people react in adverse circumstances.  Harry really comes to a crisis point in his thinking when he understands how fully somebody hurt him and has to decide whether to embrace his hatred or let it go.  I like that kids get to explore those more complex emotional issues in this story.

The story itself feels like it’s more complex and well-planned than the previous two.  The plot is more involved and interconnected, with some decidedly clever bits that make you say, “Oh, now I get it!“.  I don’t want to give anything away, but Hermione’s “tool” is an awesome plot device.

I love Lupin and wish that he were a bigger part of the story.  It seems like there is so much about his character and history that is only hinted at and I’d love to get a fuller look at that.  One character who I think is portrayed quite differently in the movie is Crookshanks.  In the book he’s much more intelligent and plays a greater role in the story.  The movie Crookshanks is mostly just an ill-tempered cat.  It’s too bad he was dumbed-down for the movie.

Finally, it was very satisfying to learn more about the history of Harry’s parents and friends.  It helps round out the story and characters, and really adds a depth of understanding to everything that happens in the series.  If there’s one thing that J.K. Rowling does well, it’s writing well-developed characters.

I highly recommend Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to kids from elementary school up through teens.  It’s also a great family read-aloud.  It’s definitely a family-favorite at our house!

Possible Objections:

  • 2 uses of the d-word
  • 1 use of the b-word (though it’s used in reference to a female dog)

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

HP Chamber of Secrets

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Title: Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Premise:

Harry Potter is back for his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!  Don’t get too comfortable, though–danger lurks yet again for our dauntless hero and his friends.  Someone is determined to rid the school of students who are from non-wizarding families.  Can Harry, Ron and Hermione stop them before somebody is truly hurt?

My thoughts:

This book is possibly my favorite Harry Potter novel (though I’ll have to go through and compare all of them again to judge fairly).  The story is fun and charming; the characters are engaging and still fresh; the plot elements are fun and adventurous!  If ever there was a satisfying adventure story written for children–this is it!

Chamber of Secrets really capitalizes on the cohesive friendship of Harry, Ron and Hermione, where the first book only touched the surface.  In this book the friends really function as a team and figure out how they work best together.  Also, Hermione’s character became much less annoying and much more fleshed out.

Speaking of characters, I think that this book really did an admirable job of bringing in some very interesting and entertaining new ones–Professor Lockhart, Moaning Myrtle, and even Dobby.  An author should never underestimate the power of good supporting characters, and this story sure does deliver on that front.

As for the story line, it is so much fun–a flying car, the Forbidden Forest, the magical creatures, and the final scene in the Chamber of Secrets–who wouldn’t love it?

If you are familiar with the movie adaptation of this book, you will notice that the book and the movie are nearly identical.  It almost feels like you’re reading the screenplay.  Of course I know that the book came first, but I can picture the movie scenes in my head.  It’s a bit strange.

I highly recommend Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to kids all the way from elementary school up through teens.  It’s also a great family read-aloud.  The story is timeless and would appeal to many ages.

A Favorite quote:

“’So Dobby stopped us from getting on the train and broke your arm….’  He shook his head.  ‘You know what, Harry?  If he doesn’t stop trying to save your life he’s going to kill you.’”  (p. 184)

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

HP Sorcerers Stone

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I read the Harry Potter series years ago, though not when they first came out.  I had a thing back then about reading books which were being talked about non-stop.  The more someone told me, you have to read this book, the less I wanted to read it.  I finally caved and ended up absolutely falling in love with the books.  Now my kids are starting to read the Harry Potter series and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to revisit them myself.  We currently have five people in our family reading through the series.  I think that’s pretty awesome!

Title: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Premise:

Harry Potter has been raised unloved and mistreated by his aunt and uncle who took him in as an infant when his parents died.  Much to his surprise, Harry finds out that he has been accepted into a school for witchcraft and wizardry, and that he is in fact quite famous for having survived an attack by a powerful wizard named Voldemort.  Follow Harry in his first-year adventures–playing quidditch, making friends, and unraveling the mystery of who is trying to steal a valuable and potentially dangerous substance from the school!

My thoughts:

It is a bit difficult to review this book objectively because I’ve seen the movie multiple times.  How do I separate my impressions of the one without talking about the other?  I’m not sure that I can.  Rest assured, I’ll go back and watch the movie to post a review of it at some later date.

I love, love, love this book!  Rowling’s style of storytelling is wonderful!  She balances the dialogue and action well, keeping the story going at just the right pace.  Her characters are well-developed and relatable.  By the end of the book they end up feeling like old friends (and enemies).

The author also has an uncanny ability to inject humor into the story–through interesting and feisty  characters, humorous situations, and the wonderful medium that is British humor.  In the books a lot more of that subtle humor comes through, which unfortunately, doesn’t always make it into the movies.  Don’t get me wrong–I love the movies, but they don’t catch the full personality of the book characters, nor the subtleties of every situation.

There was one section of the book which I thought was really hilarious, which was shortened and condensed for the movie.  The part about the lengths that Harry’s uncle Vernon goes to in trying to escape the letters is absolute gold.  I thought it was one of the funniest parts of the book.

I was also struck by how long it took for Harry and Ron to accept Hermione as one of the gang.  In the book she is much more awkward, talkative, overbearing and disliked.  I don’t think the movie was wrong in speeding up that sequence, it’s just different.  Honestly, I think I prefer the movie version of that aspect of the story because it makes Hermione more likable and less socially awkward.

Another thing I noticed was that in the scene where Harry defeats the antagonist, the person is burned.  I appreciated that they changed that for the movie because I think it would have been a bit much visually for kids to handle.

I highly recommend Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to kids all the way from elementary school up through teens.  It’s also a great family read-aloud.  The story is timeless and would appeal to many ages.

A Favorite quote:

“’Oh, these people’s minds work in strange ways, Petunia, they’re not like you and me,’ said Uncle Vernon, trying to knock in a nail with the piece of fruitcake Aunt Petunia had just brought him.”  (p. 40)

Possible Objections:

  • 1 use of the d-word

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Ugly by Robert Hoge

Ugly

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Title: Ugly by Robert Hoge

Premise:

Robert was born with some major birth defects (a growth in the middle of his face and deformed legs) because of a medication his mother took while he was in utero.  His life is a tale of resilience and the quest to fit in in a world that too often judges people based on appearance.  Though the cards are stacked against him, Robert comes of age as a well-adjusted young adult, demonstrating to all that a person’s looks don’t define who they are as a person.

My thoughts:

Thank you to smile rac for recommending this book!

Wow–what a refreshing and well-timed book!  There is so much talk nowadays about acceptance and mainstreaming children with special needs, but that was not the case back when Robert was a child.  It was even a fight for him to be accepted into his own home!

Robert’s memoir is poignant and entertaining at the same time.  His wry humor helps take the edge off of some very painful experiences and helps the reader to identify with the human behind the hurt.  The narrative is detailed enough to keep the attention of older readers, but simple enough that it’s still accessible to a younger audience.  I appreciate that Robert left out offensive language, etc. which would have been questionable for the younger crowd.

The surgery which doctors performed on Robert’s face took place during the early days of craniofacial surgery.  Truly he underwent a groundbreaking surgery which helped pave the way for so many after him.  I thought that was pretty interesting, though I don’t know that he feels particularly heroic for doctors having experimented on his face when he really had no say in the matter.  I’m not sure how I would feel about that, if I were in his place.

For any child or parent who has a friend or family member with special needs, this is an especially important read.  When you feel different it can be very cathartic to hear from others who have gone through the same experiences.  It leaves you feeling a little less alone, a little more hopeful, and a whole lot more understood.  I highly recommend Ugly to all kids–elementary through teens.  For those with a personal tie to special needs or those who have experienced bullying, I recommend it doubly!

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Sign of the Beaver

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Title: The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Notable: Newbery Honor book, 1984

Premise:

Matt and his father have claimed a homestead in the Maine wilderness, but Matt’s father must return to civilization to bring the rest of his family  back.  Does Matt have what it takes to protect their claim and survive until his father returns?  When Matt experiences misfortune, a couple of members of the local Penobscot tribe help him survive.  But how do white settlers and Native People coexist?

My thoughts:

I’m really conflicted on this book.  I enjoyed the story, Matt’s fight for survival, and the blossoming friendship between Attean and Matt.  On the other hand, there were aspects of the book which I really disliked–the dumbing down of the Native Americans, the offensive language, the almost too subtle social commentary.

I’m not a prude when it comes to offensive language in a book, but this is a book aimed at children.  They won’t know that some of the words are outdated or downright offensive.  If it were just a couple of instances it would be easier to overlook, but it’s pretty pervasive.  I most certainly wouldn’t want my child to think that it’s okay to call a woman a “squaw” or a Native American a “savage”.  Okay, rant over.

Apart from that, there are several passages when Matt’s accepted way of thinking is challenged and he comes to a new understanding.  He entertains the idea that perhaps slavery is wrong…maybe Native Americans aren’t as “savage” as he thought…perhaps the white man’s priorities in life are not always superior.  I appreciate that Matt has those crises of thinking, but I think that they are not always spelled out clearly enough that a child would pick up on them.  I hesitate to introduce racist ideas to a child without a very clear follow-up that shows the child why those ideas are wrong.

I suppose the only way I can recommend this book is if you read it with your child and have some very candid discussions about what you are reading.  Some of the issues that will need addressing are slavery, racial terminology, gender roles and terminology, and a more in-depth look at Native American culture.  You can learn more about the Penobscot tribe here.  Also, this link has some helpful curriculum discussion points to address the issues I mentioned.

Possible Objections:

  • Outdated and/or offensive racial language (i.e. Indians, savages, heathen, squaw)
  • Outdated modes of thinking (racism, slavery is normal, Native Americans are uncivilized, etc.)

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Books Make Me Happy Zippered Pouch Giveaway Winner!

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Congratulations to this month’s winner — Kimberly G.!

I’ll email you to set up delivery and I hope you enjoy your new sassy book pouch!

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Jane Austen Quote #1

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Favorite Book Criticisms #2

More of my favorite book criticisms!  Enjoy!

“I can’t imagine anyone wanting to read anymore about Artemis Fowl. He is a nasty, nasty little boy. The only way I’d ever like to read more about him is if the adventures involve him being given a good smack or two.”

Angie Manfredi

“The plot is full of holes if you’re the kind to bother about that sort of thing. It’s not likely you’ll have the energy to care about the holes, however, as you simply try to overcome plot elements such as a character using projectile flatulence as a weapon. (And I wish I were making that up.)”

DonAthos

“All in all, what a disappointment. I did not pick up this book hoping to hate it.”

DonAthos

“I can only assume that he needed some extra income to pay his sanitarium bill.”

Andreas Udby

“I read this book, only out of respect to my aunt’s money.”

Raphael

“I got this for my grandkids but after reading it, I actually tore it up and threw it into the recycle. It’s that bad.”

Chrissy the Hyphenated

“Guys, i’m warning you, don’t read the book! Books are suppose to catch your attention, well this book did the opposite, I nearly fell asleep!”

Romance Lover566

“Oh and while we’re at it let’s have a protagonist who has the depth of a slice of cardboard.”

Colin Grimmett

“Unfunny at best, dull as dishwater at worst, this Artemis is truly more foul than fowl!”

A. D. Landau

“What the heck was he thinking when he wrote this booK? “let’s try and destroy 5 thousand years of mythology and fantasy, lets make dull characters and obsolet people out of fearies”…its horrible, dont buy it, i dont care about role models, i care about the destruction of fantasy……ban this book from everywhere…”

Maximiliano Schneidewind

“I can’t recall the last time I read a book where I wished the entire cast would get themselves killed somehow, to put them out of my misery. Misery, yes, that’s a good word. All of the characters were utterly miserable in their own noxious ways.”

Liz

“All I can say is this book winning so many awards compares to those tailors who made the emperor’s new clothes being praised for their fashion sense and style.”

Susan K. Schoonover

“Please don’t buy this book . It is a waste of your life.”

MMC

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Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl

fantastic-mr-fox

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My kids recently discovered the joys of Fantastic Mr. Fox.  I read it many years ago when I was a kid and absolutely loved it!  Was it a part of your childhood too?

Premise:

Mr. Fox and his family are being hunted by three greedy farmers who are tired of sharing their bounty with the animals.  Mr. Fox must outwit the farmers and provide for his family and the other animals on the hill who are now in danger from the gun-crazy farmers.  Can he find enough food for all of the animals and keep them safe from the farmers–Boggis, Bunce and Bean?

My thoughts:

This book is super-short and could be finished in one sitting–making it perfect as a beginner’s chapter book.  The illustrations should also help keep it interesting for the younger kids.  The book pictured above is illustrated by Quentin Blake who has a very whimsical style.

Boggis, Bunce and Bean are a bit boorish–what with their nose-picking, gun-toting and general uncouth manners.  Their uncivilized behavior is nicely contrasted with the animals’ more polished manners and speech.  It’s a nice juxtaposition of the two types of characters.

This version is the one that I read when I was a kid.  I much prefer the illustrations in this version over the one pictured above and they are at least half of the reason that I found the book so charming when I was younger.  I’ll have to buy a copy of it for our family’s library once we get moved into our new house.

I recommend Fantastic Mr. Fox to children who are just starting chapter books, to fans of Roald Dahl, and to families who want a fun read-aloud book.  I hope your family enjoys it as much as mine does!

Possible Objections:

  • One instance of somebody saying “shut up”
  • The farmers use guns, though they don’t actually shoot and kill any animals

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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4 Favorite Children’s Books #2

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Here are more of our favorite children’s books coming your way!  Are any of these your favorites, too?

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

This book is an absolutely charming collection of poems which celebrate childhood.  Some of the phrases are dated–such as when it talks about getting dressed by candlelight, but most of the poems talk about things that are familiar to all children.  You can find many different versions of this book, so it might be best to find one with illustrations that you particularly enjoy.

My Truck Is Stuck! by Kevin Lewis & Daniel Kirk

My boys really liked this book when they were younger.  A truck that is hauling a load of bones gets stuck in a giant pothole.  As a whole series of vehicles driven by dogs lines up to help pull get the stuck truck out, a bunch of wily prairie dogs take the bones from the truck.  It’s a cute and simple rhyming book that helps small children learn their numbers.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle

Eric Carle’s illustrations are one-of-a-kind and they are what really make this book special (okay, they’re what make all of his books special).  The simple text and colorful pictures help kids learn their colors.  Our kids can recite the book by memory now–they’ve read it so many times!

Tea Cakes for Tosh by Kelly Starling Lyons

Tosh learns about the history of his grandma’s delicious tea cakes recipe.  His great-great-great-great grandma made them when she was a slave, and she would occasionally sneak them to her kids.  The tea cakes helped remind her children to look forward to the day when their people would be free.  When Tosh’s grandma starts forgetting things, it is up to him to carry on the family’s tea cakes story and tradition.

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Wild Beautiful Places: Picture-Perfect Journeys Around the Globe from National Geographic

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When I spotted Wild Beautiful Places at the library, I had to get it.  Anything by National Geographic is almost certain to be stunning!

Premise:

Readers get to see some of the natural beauty all over the globe through amazing photography, with a section devoted to each continent.  Also, there is a short explanation of each of the places visited, as well as a few travel tips for those who want to visit the locale.

My thoughts:

My favorite part of the book is, of course, the photography.  I’m a sucker for a good coffee table book–one which features amazing photos.  This book doesn’t disappoint in that respect at all!  The photos focus mainly on landscape, with a few photos of animals and people thrown in, too.  Many of the places I had never heard of, so it was nice to see something different.  There were a good number of National Parks featured, and not just in the United States.

I don’t think that I’ll ever travel to any of the featured places (Traveling internationally with a family of seven is completely out of the question!), but it’s a nice thought to include travel tips for those who might want to visit for themselves.

I recommend Wild Beautiful Places to anybody who enjoys a good photography book.  It’s appropriate for all ages and would make an excellent coffee table book.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

mysterious-benedict-society

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I just finished The Mysterious Benedict Society.  Thanks for the recommendation, smile rac!

Premise:

A group of children who are without families are tasked with saving the world from the nefarious Mr. Curtain.  Does this group of kids have what it takes to foil the evil plans of a super-smart adult with seemingly unlimited resources?  Follow them to the Institute where they will have to work together–using their cunning, skill and physical prowess to prevent Mr. Curtain’s domination of the entire world!

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this story, though it’s a bit hard to categorize.  It reminds me of Harry Potter a little bit–with the kids going off to a special school.  Though it’s classified as science fiction, I’d say that element doesn’t stand out very much.  Sure, there’s Mr. Curtain’s invention which definitely falls into the science fiction category, but the remainder of the book seems as though it could happen in a very normal world.

The children whom the story revolves around are each interesting and unique in their own way.  And I enjoyed following them on their adventures and seeing how their group grew closer over time.  However, there seemed to be something missing from their characters.  Maybe it was that they were missing the playfulness and humor that you normally see in children.  There also wasn’t a lot of vulnerability.  They were a little too much like adults for my taste.  The supporting characters were interesting too, but their development seemed a bit stunted, as well.

The story line itself was interesting and inventive.  I would like to have learned more about Mr. Curtain’s plan–specifically why he was going to such great lengths to gain control.  If his back story had been more developed, it would have helped me understand his motivation.  As it was, it came across as Mr. Curtain is evil because he’s evil.  I see that there are additional books in this series, so maybe they will expand on the characters and back story at a more satisfying level.

I recommend The Mysterious Benedict Society to elementary-age kids and preteens.  It would also be a fun read-aloud for families.  I think it’s possibly a bit juvenile to appeal to high schoolers.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Booker T. Washington: Great American Educator by Eric Braun

booker-t-washington

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Booker T. Washington is another educational graphic novel for kids which I found at the library.  I’ll just keep ’em coming as I find them!

Premise:

In graphic novel form, readers learn about the life of Booker T. Washington.  He was born into slavery in Virginia and gained his freedom after the Civil War.  Booker worked tirelessly at the Tuskegee Institute to provide African Americans with the chance to get an education and better their lot in life.  He also secretly fought to gain equal rights for African Americans throughout the United States.

My thoughts:

As you already know, I am loving these historical graphic novels for kids!  It would seem that I read them just as much as the kids do.  I read Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.  So I was curious to see which parts of his life they would highlight in this short kids book.

Booker’s life in slavery is only given a cursory glance and then it jumps right into his life after slavery–mainly focusing on his activities at the Tuskegee Institute.  I agree with his view that both the pursuit of knowledge and training in practical pursuits are important.  While it was wonderful that he advocated for equal educational opportunities for African Americans, he also recognized that in the workforce they would still be mostly relegated to jobs consisting mainly of physical labor.  At Tuskegee they taught students hands-on skills such as bricklaying, carpentry, sewing, and printing.  Of course the students also studied more cerebral subjects such as math, science, and history.  Booker was willing to work within the social confines of his time to set the groundwork for a better life for the next generation of African Americans.

I recommend Booker T. Washington: Great American Educator to families who want to give their kids a fun way to learn about history.  This book is a fairly innocuous introduction to the life of Booker T. Washington, which spares you any of the more unpleasant details. As your kids get older, they will want to read some more in-depth books about Booker T.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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