Nathan Hale: Revolutionary Spy by Nathan Olson

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Here’s another book from my quest to find interesting graphic novels.  Nathan Hale: Revolutionary Spy is a book that can be digested in one sitting.

Premise:

Nathan Hale was a young man who lived in Connecticut immediately prior to the Revolutionary War.  He was a student at Yale and later taught others (even getting up to teach girls for free).  Having grown up amid the colonists’ unrest due to British taxes, he volunteered to join the army.  Nathan’s willingness to serve as a spy and his refusal to betray his country are commendable.  Unfortunately, his life was cut short when he was only 21 years old.

My thoughts:

I think this book is a great beginner biography for elementary-age children.  They get a quick overview of Nathan’s life–just enough to pique their interest.  Once they’re at a higher reading level they can come back to Nathan’s story and read a book that is more in depth.

I enjoyed reading about Nathan and the defining moments in his life.  He sounds like a remarkable young man, and it’s a tragedy that his life was cut short.  I’m sure he would have gone on to do many more commendable deeds had he lived longer.  Particularly gratifying was his view on the importance of educating women.  He was truly ahead of his times!

The book is divided into four very short chapters: Student and Teacher, Soldier and Leader, Daring Spy, and War Hero.  At the end, you’ll find a section with more information about Nathan Hale.

I recommend this book to kids who enjoy graphic novels and would prefer to learn about history through that medium.  This particular book is best suited to elementary-age children.

Possible Objections:

  • Nathan is hanged (while we only see his silhouette, kids may still find it disturbing)

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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A Pirate Cookbook: Simple Recipes for Kids by Sarah L. Schuette

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I love looking at fun cookbooks!  A Pirate Cookbook looked interesting, so I checked it out from the library.

Premise:

This book contains several pirate-themed recipes that are perfect for kids to make.

My thoughts:

When this book says that it is meant for kids, they are not kidding.  Do not think of this as a book that you are going to pick up and plan a pirate-themed menu from.  No, no, no.  This is a book that you would give your early elementary-aged child so that they can make pirate-themed recipes.

The recipes are very simple and use basic ingredients and techniques.  Also, their classification as pirate-themed is questionable.  I don’t think young kids will care too much about it, though.  They’ll probably just be happy to have a cookbook at their level with a fun theme.

The beginning of the book features a conversion chart, and a section on tools and techniques.  I would be comfortable giving this book to my seven-year-old and letting her tackle a recipe on her own (with mom standing by, just in case).  The instructions are quite straightforward.

I recommend Pirate Cookbook to children in early elementary school or kids who are just starting to learn how to cook.  With a little practice they will quickly outpace this book, but this is a fun way to get started in the kitchen.

Recipes Included:

Gangplank Dippers, Chocolate Gunpowder, Scurvy Soup, Peg-Leg Pickles, Blackbeard’s Breakfast, Sea Swords, and Parrot Punch

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Alamo All-Stars by Nathan Hale

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I read Alamo All-Stars over the course of a couple days. This is a super-fun graphic novel that is perfect for teaching kids about history!  I’m excited to check out the other books in this series.

Premise:

Learn about the early history of the state of Texas, its inhabitants, and their relationship with Mexico.  Who fought for the independence of the Texas?  Why?  How did the Mexican government respond?  What happened at the Alamo?  You’ll find answers to all these questions and more in Alamo All Stars!

My thoughts:

I love this book!  It’s a fantastic way to teach kids about history in a fun and engaging way.  Who wants to read about a bunch of stale dates and names in a history book?  Let kids learn history through graphic novels!!

I’m a big history fan when it’s presented in an interesting format.  Alamo All Stars definitely meets that requirement.  My school days were inexplicably absent of almost any information pertaining to U.S. History.  I don’t know how that happened, but it did.  So I learned about a period of American history that was completely new to me.  And now the story makes sense and will stick with me.  If a person can see a story unfolding before their eyes, it’s more likely that they will retain that information.

It was pretty cool to learn about the roles that Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie played at the Alamo.  (Yes, I’m talking about the man who has a knife named after him.)  I had no idea that they were there!

There are a few stock characters who act as narrators in this book (and the others in the series).  They help provide background information and commentary, as well as a little humor.  The illustrations have a somewhat simple style, but I think they’re quite nice.

I recommend this book for anybody in the elementary to teen years who wants to learn about history in an interesting way.  This would also be great for homeschoolers or to augment a history classroom.

Possible Objections:

  • One instance of the d-word
  • Some violence

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Islands of the Blessed by Nancy Farmer

islands-of-the-blessed

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I finished the final book in the Sea of Trolls trilogy–The Islands of the Blessed. I think this was the best book in the series!

Premise:

Jack and his companions must go on another quest to save his village.  A draugr, or undead spirit, has been drawn to the little town by a magical bell.  She is seeking revenge for an old wrong done to her and will harm anyone who gets in her way.  Can the Bard, Jack and Thorgil get justice for the draugr before her patience runs out and someone else is hurt?

My thoughts:

I thought this was the best book in the series!  The characters have gained more depth and the plot has become more satisfyingly complex.

It’s great seeing the old characters again–especially the Northmen.  Skakki, Olaf One-Brow’s son, is an admirable man and a great leader.  The Bard saw much more action in this story and displayed more of his impressive magical skills.  Magic is just so much fun!  Jack and Thorgil also matured in this tale and their companionship finally develops into something safe and comforting.

The fin folk, or mermaids, were a really fun and imaginative people group.  I’ve never seen the concept of merfolk developed so fully, and it was interesting to see how the author imagined their homes, social customs, etc.

It seems like this is a series that could keep going, especially since there are characters whose stories didn’t wrap up–Pega, Lucy, Brutus, Hazel, etc.  I was disappointed that Pega’s character and story line weren’t developed more.  It seemed like there was a really good story wrapped up in her existence, but in the end nothing of great importance happened to her.  Jack and Thorgil’s entrance into the School of Bards sets the scene for another series of stories, but I don’t know that any will be forthcoming.  Islands of the Blessed was published in 2009.

This is a great book for kids in the elementary to teen age range, or as a family read-aloud.  Those who are interested in Norse mythology or the early interplay of Druid and Christian religions will appreciate the subject matter most.

Possible Objections:

  • One instance of the a-word

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan

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My kids are big fans of graphic novels but many of their choices don’t appeal to me.  So I went on a search for some graphic novels that would catch my attention.  Snow White: A Graphic Novel is one of them.  It is exactly what it sounds like–a retelling of the Snow White story in the form of a graphic novel.

Premise:

Snow White’s mother dies and her father marries the “Queen of Broadway.”  Unfortunately, her stepmother is jealous of Snow White and tries to have her killed.  Snow escapes and finds shelter with a group of street boys.  When the “Queen” hunts Snow White down, her new friends come to her rescue.  Alas, they are too late and Snow is poisoned.  Have no fear–a handsome detective, Mr. Prince, comes to her rescue!

My thoughts:

This book was really charming and rather a clever retelling of the traditional Snow White story.  It’s set in 1920’s Manhattan and the whole book has that 1920’s vibe to it.  The characters are reimagined in slightly different roles, but they still work well together.  I love the take that the author had on the dwarves.  As street boys they are so compelling–I just want to wrap them all up in a hug!

The illustrations were simple, but still really nice.  They do an excellent job of conveying a sense of the action and feelings, following a very natural flow.  The darkness and sort of smudged style of illustration ties in well to the 1920’s theme.

I recommend Snow White to anybody who enjoys a unique retelling of a fairytale.  It’s suitable for children, but adult fans will get a kick out of the book, too.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

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As I was browsing my parents’ bookshelf the other day, I came across a 1945 copy of The Red Pony by John Steinbeck. I think that old books are awesome, so I decided to read this short novel.

Premise:

Jody lives on a ranch in the Salinas Valley of California with his parents and Billy, a ranch hand.  Jody’s father is a controlling dictator, but Billy connects with Jody in a way that his father cannot.  When Jody wants a pony, Billy does all he can to ensure that he gets one.

My thoughts:

For some reason, I did not think critically about the story before starting.  This will be a fun story about a pony, right?  I forgot to take into account that John Steinbeck was the author!!  No, no, no–this did not turn into a cute and heartwarming pony story.  Stupid me for even thinking that it would.

If you’re familiar with Steinbeck’s other works, you’ll know that he tells sad, often depressing stories.  Life is hard in his books and this one is no different.  Jody, the main character, has some real set-backs in his childhood.  As the reader, you have to read between the lines to see how he’s coping with those challenges and how they ultimately affect him.

One question I want answered: What happens to Nellie’s colt???  And the old paisano??  Steinbeck leaves you in the lurch, guessing about what happened to these characters whom you thought would be important plot elements.  Oh well–I guess his novels are unpredictable, just like real life.

There are definitely some deep thoughts, feelings, and life lessons to ponder in this novel.  I don’t know if elementary-age kids will really grasp it all, or if they’ll just think it’s a depressing story.  I came away with a sense of how bleak life is and that our actions are ultimately futile and unimportant.  Steinbeck may have been saying something different–but that was my impression.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy reading class literature and would like a fuller knowledge of Steinbeck’s work.  I’m not sure that the average reader would enjoy this book.

Possible Objections:

  • A handful of curse words (d-word & J.C.)

Rating: 3 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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McBroom Tells a Lie by Sid Fleischman

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I picked up McBroom Tells a Lie at the same time as The Dream Stealer.  Notice a pattern here with the same author.  My husband read this one aloud to the kids at bedtime.

Premise:

Josh McBroom and his large family live on an unusually fertile farm.  They can plant a crop and harvest it the same day!  Heck Jones, their jealous neighbor, wants their farm and in this book he tries to outwit McBroom to get it!  Will Josh and his family be able to save their beloved farm?

My thoughts:

This was another fun read-aloud book for the whole family!  The style of the story is countrified and nonsensical, but still very enjoyable.  I like seeing how McBroom’s family uses their ingenuity to overcome the problem with Heck Jones (who, by the way, is rather a low-life).

Throughout the book there are fun, simple line drawings by Walter Lorraine.  They add some whimsy to the story, for sure.

I would recommend this book to elementary-age children and families who want a short read-aloud book.  It would also be good for a child who is just starting to read chapter books.

A Favorite quote:

“His farm was so worn out he had to plant his own weeds.” (p. 9)

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

5 Literary Gift Ideas – #1

I’m starting a new series of posts, probably monthly, to showcase some really fun gift ideas for people who love books and reading.  (Like myself!)  I hope that these posts will be helpful for those of you who have a tough time finding thoughtful gifts for your book-loving friends and family.  Enjoy!

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Just Clip it! Quote Bookmarks – I LIKE BIG Books, BIbliophile, GO AWAY, I’m reading

Agate Geode Halves Bookends

Purple Women’s Hard Eyeglasses Case & Bonus Cleaning Cloth

A Room Without Books 18 X 18 Cotton Pillowcase Cover

I LIKE TO PARTY – Two Tone Black Mug, 11oz.

The Dream Stealer by Sid Fleischman

dream-stealer

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The Dream Stealer is a charming little story that I got to read with the kids before bed.  Though it has chapters, they are very short.  The story could be read before bed, or it’s even suitable for a child who is just starting to read chapter books.

Premise:

The Dream Stealer is a Mexican entity who goes around at night stealing people’s bad dreams.  When he tires of dealing with the monsters in peoples’ dreams, however, he resorts to stealing pleasant dreams.  Susana, who had been having a wonderful dream about her best friend who recently moved away, wants her dream back.  This spirited young lady isn’t going to back down until the Dream Stealer returns it–even if she has to journey to his enchanted castle to get it!

My thoughts:

I think that this is a fun little book, with just the right flavor of Mexico to make it intriguing.  There isn’t much to the tale, but somehow it still manages to be charming.

Though there are monsters in the story, they aren’t scary.  We are told that they’re nothing more than the stuff of dreams and can’t really hurt people.  That’s a relief, as there are vampires, zombies and a giant locked up in the Dream Stealer’s castle!

I would recommend this book to elementary-age children and families who want a short read-aloud book.  It’s simple, but engaging enough to keep your child’s attention.

As a little added bonus, the illustrations are by Peter Sís, who illustrated Madlenka and many other children’s books.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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The Land of the Silver Apples by Nancy Farmer

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I finished The Land of the Silver Apples last night and am happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed it!  It is the second book in the Sea of Trolls trilogy.

Premise:

When Lucy flubs the need-fire ceremony, the slave girl Pega must take her place in bringing pure fire from the Life Force to the community.  Something went wrong at the ceremony and Lucy’s behavior continues to worsen until her family decides to send her to St. Filian’s monastery to be cured.  Things are not what they appear at the monastery, however, and Lucy is stolen away by an elf.  Jack and his comrades must venture into the bowels of the earth to rescue Lucy and call back water to the land.  What they encounter underground is not what any of them expected and they must work together to make it out alive.

My thoughts:

This was another delightful story by Nancy Farmer!  I continue to enjoy getting to know the main character, Jack.  I love how he learns and grows, while still holding onto the traits of a typical youth.  Pega, the slave girl, is a wonderful character.  She is multi-faceted, versatile and isn’t afraid to speak her mind.  The hobgoblins are charming and remind me a bit of hobbits.

I also like what Farmer did with the elves in her story.  They have an entire back-story to explain how they came to be and why they’re so glamorous.  They hold great power and are supremely dangerous, too (like an elf/vampire cross, in a way).  These are not the elves you hear about in most other fairy tale stories.  Get ready to have your perception of elves flipped on its head!

More mythical creatures are introduced in Silver Apples–kelpies, hobgoblins, knuckers, yarthkins, and more.  You will probably want to look up traditional descriptions of these creatures after reading this book.

I believe that the last book in the series will be a continuation of the present story line.  It seems to have left off without fully resolving a couple of issues.  In particular, I believe that Jack’s sister has a major role to play in the next book.  We shall see!

I would recommend this book to elementary-age children up to teens.  It’s full of adventure but tame enough that I’m comfortable with my kids reading it on their own.

Possible Objections:

  • Some violence & scary creatures

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer

sea-of-trolls

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While perusing the shelves on a recent library visit, I found The Sea of Trolls and thought it looked interesting. It is the first book in the Sea of Trolls trilogy.

Premise:

Jack is the unnoticed son of an Anglo-Saxon farmer, until the Bard singles him out as his apprentice.  Jack begins to learn how to harness the life force and use magic.  Though life is looking up for Jack, it doesn’t last when Vikings invade his town.  Jack and his sister Lucy find themselves in the middle of an epic adventure involving magic, trolls, Vikings and dragons.  Can they survive and will they ever return home?

My thoughts:

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this book!  The action is a bit slow in starting, but once Jack leaves his homeland, the pace quickens and the story becomes more cohesive.

Jack is a main character whom I really like.  He’s down to earth, unassuming, and has a knack for blundering his way through all situations.  There are many other likable characters, though they all have their weaknesses and foibles–Olaf, Thorgil, the Bard, Bold Heart, and more.  I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of the Bard, but perhaps he’ll feature more in the other two books.

Norse mythology and some historical facts are interwoven into The Sea of Trolls.  I certainly didn’t take it as a historically accurate tale, but it’s fun to insert fact into fantasy stories.  For those of you who are fans of Norse mythology, Vikings, or European history, this story will give you a kick because it makes reference to all of those things.  Personally, I don’t know a lot about Norse mythology or the Vikings, but I’d like to learn more about them now.

I’m really looking forward to starting the next book in the series and hope that many of the same characters make a reappearance.  Since the adventure seems to have been fully resolved in this book, the next two should have their own independent story lines.  We shall see.

I would recommend this book to elementary-age children or even teens.  (In fact I just recommended it to my picky 11-year-old.)  It’s an entertaining adventure story that is free of bad language and not too descriptive in its violence.  This mama gives it a thumbs-up.

Possible Objections:

  • Some violence

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White

trumpet-of-the-swan

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I found The Trumpet of the Swan on my parents’ bookshelf and decided to give it a read. I had read it as a kid, but it’s been many years.  I didn’t remember the story very well, and I was gratified to find that it will be a great story to share with my kids.

Premise:

Louis the Swan is born without a voice but with the help of his father, he learns to overcome his speech impediment by using a trumpet to communicate.  Louis has a series of adventures–meeting a boy named Sam Beaver, playing music for human audiences, and wooing a beautiful swan named Serena.  Though Louis faces many challenges in life, he learns to get by and thrive by following his own unique path.

My thoughts:

I like this book because it’s a very old-fashioned and wholesome story.  It definitely reflects the values and style of the time period when it was written–the early 1940’s.

The animal characters in this book share an interesting mixture of human and animal traits.  While the swans do all of the normal things that swans would do in the wild, they also talk and reason like humans.  At times they also engage in behaviors which are uncharacteristic of swans–such as learning to read and write, playing a trumpet, staying overnight in a hotel room, and working for wages.  You have to suspend your disbelief to really enjoy the story.

One of my favorite characters in the book is Louis’ father.  He has a very grandiose manner of speaking and tends to rattle on in long monologues until his wife cuts him off.  He also has an inflated sense of pride and feels a lot of guilt over stealing a trumpet for his son.  It’s funny to think of a swan posturing and fretting like the old cob does.

I would recommend this book to elementary-age children or as a good family read-aloud book.  It’s a cute, innocent and charming story.

Possible Objections:

  • Native Americans are referred to as Indians

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori