The Littles and the Perfect Christmas by Joel Peterson

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Title: The Littles and the Perfect Christmas by Joel Peterson

Premise:

It’s Christmas at the Biggs’ house, but things aren’t so merry when Mr. Bigg loses his job!  Despite the depressing situation, Mr. Bigg works on a homemade gift for his son, which ends up being the answer to his employment problem.  The Littles are instrumental in helping to make sure the gift is perfect for when Mr. Winters, the toy company owner, comes to take a look at it.

My thoughts:

My son and I read this book together for school.  We didn’t like it as much as the other Littles books we’ve read.  It was probably because there was very little action in this story.  Mr. Bigg loses his job, the Littles fix a mistake on the toy Mr. Bigg made, and Mr. Winters comes for a visit.  The pace of the story is a bit slow, especially when reading it with a young-ish boy who wants a bit of excitement.

The story is cute and I like the angle they took with Mr. Winters, but I feel like the book would have been better if it were a little shorter.  It would be a fun story to read aloud to your kids during Christmas.

I recommend The Littles and the Perfect Christmas to kids who are reading beginner chapter books, or as a cute family read-aloud.

Rating: 3 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

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Title: Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

Premise:

Sadako is a young girl who lives with her family in Hiroshima, Japan.  She dreams of running on the school’s relay team.  Though she was only a baby when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima during WWII, she later contracts leukemia.  Sadako’s best friend, Chizuko, tells her of a legend that says that if you fold 1,000 paper cranes, the gods will grant your wish to get better.  Sadako makes it her goal to fold 1,000 cranes and tries to come to terms with her own mortality.

My thoughts:

I think this may have been the first book I read as a child that made me cry and made my heart ache.  Sadako’s story is so tragic and it’s simple enough that it’s a good way to introduce kids to the concept of death.  It also serves as an age-appropriate introduction to WWII and some of the lasting effects that it had on everyday people.  The book is based on a true story.

A few years ago, my husband read the book at my suggestion.  I didn’t tell him how sad it was, and he came to me after he had finished, with tears in his eyes, and asked why I didn’t warn him.  Oops–I didn’t know it would affect him quite so much.  So, be prepared for some weepiness if you or your child chooses to read the book.

I recommend Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes to kids in elementary or middle school, or as a poignant family read-aloud.

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

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Title: Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

Notable: Book #1 in the Sarah, Plain and Tall series; Newbery Medal winner, 1986

Premise:

Anna and Caleb live on the Great Plains with their father.  Their mother died after Caleb’s birth, and their father has never quite recovered from the loss.  One day, Papa informs the children that he has advertised for a wife and a lady named Sarah has responded.  Sarah agrees to visit them on a trial basis to see if things will work out.  Anna and Caleb become attached to Sarah, but they’re terrified that she will decide to go back to her brother’s home in Maine.

My thoughts:

I read this book when I was a kid and it’s just as good today as it was back then.  It’s amazing how such a touching story can be contained in such a short book.  My copy is a mere 58 pages.

I feel so sorry for poor Anna and Caleb who are pining for a mother’s love and for their father to recover some of his joy again.  When Sarah sweeps into their lives, she’s like a breath of fresh air.  She tells them about her beloved far-off sea and the creatures who live there.  They go swimming in the cow pond, slide down a hay “dune,” and Papa teaches Sarah to ride horse and drive the wagon.  But when Sarah visits town by herself, the children worry that she won’t return.

It’s that climactic final scene when Sarah returns and reassures the family that she intends to stay, when your heartstrings are tugged the most.  I just love this touching story about loss, hope, family and new beginnings.  It’s a beautiful story.  🙂

I recommend Sarah, Plain and Tall to kids who are reading beginner chapter books, or as a poignant family read-aloud.

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

OTHER SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL SERIES POSTS:

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood by Nathan Hale

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Title: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tale: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood by Nathan Hale

Notable: Book #4 in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series

Premise:

Nathan Hale teaches readers all about World War I through the medium of a graphic novel.  Each nation’s characters are portrayed by a particular animal (i.e.: Britain is the English Bulldog) to help keep the characters straight.

My thoughts:

So far, this is my absolute favorite book in the series!  The author told an amazingly cohesive story, considering it spans years and involves many nations and many battles.  The book doesn’t cover all of the battles or even touch on all aspects of the war, but it gives you a well-balanced overview of the entire war and the reasons behind the decisions that were made.

Prior to this book, I had never read anything about WWI.  This was an excellent introduction to the subject, because it gave me a basic, broad understanding of a very complex subject.  It’s certainly enough to start kids with, and if you’re older you’ll want to do further research.  I will definitely be reading more books about WWI in the future, because now it’s not just this big, confusing war which gets jumbled up in my mind.

The thing that most struck me in this story was the sheer wastefulness that resulted from WWI.  It started from a situation which could have been resolved with some wisdom and diplomacy.  Unfortunately, hotheads won out and 9 million people lost their lives in the end.  NINE MILLION–all because of the assassination of one man!  Think about that for a while.  I think this book is an excellent way to show kids the true nature of war, the huge toll that it takes, and the value of resolving conflict peacefully.  It’s a very sobering story.

I recommend Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood to kids, from elementary through the teen years.  Even for older folks, it’s a fun way to learn about history.

A favorite quote:

“Humanity is mad.  It must be mad to do what it is doing.  What a massacre!  What scenes of horror and carnage: I cannot find words to translate my impressions.  Hell cannot be so terrible.  Men are mad!”  (p. 87, from the journal of a French lieutenant, WWI)

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Phantom of the Opera – Movie 1943

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This is the second movie version of the Phantom of the Opera that I’ve watched.

If you want to know more about what I thought of the book, check out my book review.

I was very surprised to find out that this movie strays far, far away from the original Phantom of the Opera story.  I’d say they took the Phantom theme and decided to tweak it into their own alternative version of the story.  In this movie, all elements of the plot have their beginning and end in Christine.  The Phantom becomes nothing more than a miserable old man whose mind is broken by adverse circumstances.  It’s difficult to feel much horror at his actions when all you want to do is take the poor man and get him some psychiatric help.  I really missed seeing the diabolical character of the Phantom in this movie.

Personally, this wasn’t my kind of movie.  The plot and acting are just a little too campy and dated for me, but I could see my mother loving it!  I just need a little more out of my heroine than the ability to act cutesy and sing like Snow White.  That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with the movie, I’m just not their target market.  I must say that the filming and color were amazing.  The sets and costumes were great, too.  So…my conclusion is that this would be a great movie for some people and for others (like myself) it’s a decent movie that you’ll only need to see once.  Oh, and if you don’t like singing, this is not the movie for you.

I recommend Phantom of the Opera to ladies who enjoy classic romance movies and don’t mind a fair bit of singing.

Rated: NR

Rating: 3 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

OTHER THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA POSTS:

The Help – Movie 2011

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Yesterday I watched The Help, the movie adaptation of the book by the same name.  It was awesome!

For those of you who have never read the book, this is a story about a young lady named Skeeter who wants to become a writer, and the relationship she develops with a couple of maids in Jackson, Mississippi during the Civil Rights era.  All of the women will be in grave danger if they are caught as they work on their writing project — sharing what it’s like to live as a black maid in the South during that time period.  If you want to know more about what I thought of the book, check out my book review.

My thoughts:

I was already a fan of the novel, so I was a bit nervous to see how they had translated it to the big screen.  I’m happy to say that the movie adaptation of the book was strong.  I think a large part of the movie’s success is in its amazing actresses.  Whether they are good or bad, all of the ladies played their parts really well.  Even Hilly, the bat-sh** craziest of the Southern belles, excited a certain fascination in me.  She’s one of those characters you love to hate.

The movie was shortened and simplified somewhat from the book, but that is nothing unexpected.  I don’t think the essence of the story was damaged in any way.  I was glad to see that they took out the scene in which Minny and Celia are accosted at Celia’s house.  I thought that it was out of place in the book, and it would have been even more mystifying in the movie.

The true artistry in this film is the message it shares.  Viewers are shown a story of love, acceptance, betrayal, and hatred–and asked to come to their own conclusions.  Who was right and who was wrong?  Can relationships based on respect, compassion and a desire to do what’s right, overcome the color barrier?  Should we take a risk in working with someone different from ourselves, even at the risk of getting burned?  This message needs to be heard today, just as it did during the Civil Rights era, because our country’s racial issues certainly haven’t gone away.

I recommend The Help to all adults and possibly some mature older teens.  Even if you’re not a history buff, it’s still a wonderful story worth watching.

Possible Objections:

  • A moderate amount of bad language
  • Racially offensive language

Rated: PG-13

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

OTHER THE HELP POSTS:

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad! by Nathan Hale

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Title: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad! by Nathan Hale

Notable: Book #2 in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series

Premise:

In this book, Nathan Hale tells the Hangman and the British Soldier a tale about ironclad ships which fought during the American Civil War.  Both the North and South experimented with covering wooden ships with thick iron, both to make them impervious to enemy fire and to use as a formidable offensive weapon.

My thoughts:

This is a really fun way to teach kids about a lesser known aspect of the Civil War.  When I was a kid I never heard anything about the iron-covered ships that were used during the Civil War.  The designs were ingenious and, unfortunately, caused a lot of destruction.

We also learn about the exploits of Will Cushing, a young man who enjoyed pulling pranks, was kicked out of the Navy, and later went on to do great exploits when his pranks were put to good use in the Navy.  His tale adds the personal element that I think this story would otherwise be lacking.

The way this story is told is a bit meandering and not terribly cohesive, but I think that’s because it’s talking about the concept of iron ships, rather than a specific event in history.  Also, it doesn’t cover the entire story of the Civil War.  If you want your child to understand more about the overarching story of the Civil War, you’ll have to supplement their reading.  With that being said, I still think this is a great book to teach kids about history!

I recommend Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad! to kids who enjoy graphic novels and would prefer to learn about history through that medium.  Even for older folks, it’s a fun way to learn about history.

 

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale

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Title: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale

Notable: Book #1 in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series

Premise:

Nathan Hale is a young man who has enrolled at Yale to become a teacher, however, the Revolutionary War sends him down a different life path.  Hale enlists in the army and is promoted within a short period of time.  Though he commands other troops, Hale doesn’t see a lot of action.  In a bid to prove himself, he volunteers to be Washington’s first spy–to learn what he can about the plans of the British army.  Unfortunately, things take at turn for the worse for this promising young man once he enters enemy territory.

My thoughts:

Since this is the first book in the series, it introduces readers to the three ongoing main characters: the Hangman, the British Soldier and Nathan Hale.  The premise is that while Nathan is waiting on the gallows to be hanged, he’s swallowed by a giant history book and absorbs all of the knowledge that it contains about U.S. history.  When he comes out of the book, he convinces the Hangman and Soldier to wait to hang him until he can tell them his story.  (After his story, they agree to wait so that he can tell them another interesting story from American history.)  I should also mention that the books in this series don’t really need to be read in order.

Hale’s personal story is fairly simple.  He was a young man with dreams of doing something brave for his country and that was largely denied him because he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Once he volunteers to spy for Washington, it’s easy to see that he’s not exactly the ideal candidate, but it’s admirable that he is willing to give all in the service of his country.  A spy needs to be a bit more jaded and cunning than Hale was, and his naiveté worked against him in his role as spy.  It’s sad that his life was cut short at such a young age, but he certainly wasn’t the only young man to die during that time period to secure freedom for America.

At the end of the the book there’s a bit more biographical information about some of the more colorful characters in the story, and a section with the story of Crispus Attucks–both very interesting.

This book isn’t my favorite in the series, but I think that’s because the author was finding his way and experimenting with this first book.  In later books, I think he has managed to hone his style and creativity in storytelling a little more.  With that said, I still think it’s a worthwhile read.

I’ve really come to like the author’s style of illustrations.  They definitely appeal to a younger audience, but I think they’re just as engaging for older folks, too.  I love learning about history this way!  Both of my boys read the book, and they want to read the entire series.  No problem, boys!

I recommend Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy to kids who enjoy graphic novels and would prefer to learn about history through that medium.  Even for older folks, it’s a fun way to learn about history.

Possible Objections:

  • Violence (though the illustrations are not graphic)

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

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Title: The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

Premise:

Colonel Percy Fawcett was a man with a mission–to explore the Amazon and find the lost city of “Z” or what the rest of us would call, El Dorado.  He believed that the Amazon was home to an ancient city of magnificent proportions and untold wealth.  Fawcett took several trips to the Amazon to carry out his explorations, but in 1925, he simply disappeared.  David Grann examines the mystery behind Fawcett’s disappearance and tries to discover what happened to this epic explorer.

My thoughts:

My son picked this book up at the library, but put it down after just a couple of chapters.  If the action doesn’t grab him right away, he’ll often abandon a book.  I read the synopsis and decided it looked really interesting.  I’m glad I decided to give it a go!

This is a truly dramatic story about what it was like to explore the Amazon towards the end of the era of Victorian explorers.  The unifying thread of the story is the adventures and disappearance of Colonel Fawcett, but in reality it encompasses more than just his story.  The reader gets a good overview of his contemporaries, the history of European relations with indigenous tribes, the perils of exploring the Amazon, and the state of anthropological exploration during that time period.

If you like detail and understanding a subject from many different angles, then you  will like this book.  If minutiae drives you nuts, then you will probably see much of this book as unnecessary and boring.  Personally, I enjoyed all of the background information because it gave me a greater understanding of the time period, why characters behaved in a particular manner, and other issues which had an impact on the story.

The story that specifically pertains to Fawcett left me feeling sad.  This man had amazing drive and abilities, and it seems to have been thrown away on his mad quest to find a magnificent ancient city.  Current information shows that he was correct in his assertion that the Amazon was home to an ancient, complex civilization, but during his lifetime he never had the satisfaction of finding conclusive evidence himself.  His life was consumed by this obsession to find “Z” and prove that his theory was correct.  His wife and family sacrificed for many years as he prepared for and went on his explorations.  I wondered about his children and how much time they missed out on with their dad.  That was the saddest part, to me.  While Fawcett made many contributions to the exploration of the Amazon, it came at great cost in his personal life.  I suppose that is fairly common with people who are obsessed with a greater cause.

One thing I’d like to warn you about if you’re thinking of reading this book, is that there are a good number of descriptions of fairly yucky things.  There are many diseases, injuries, and insect-inflicted ailments which are described candidly in the book.  If things like that bug you, you may not be able to stomach this story.  If that sort of thing intrigues you, then you’ll have a heyday!

Also, the narrative skips around between characters and time periods, so that can be a little disorienting.  Having made it to the end of the book, I think it worked in terms of showing how the past and present are intertwined.

I recommend The Lost City of Z to older teens and adults who enjoy detailed historical stories.  If you don’t appreciate a lot of detail, you might get lost in this book.

Possible Objections:

  • Violence
  • Cannibalism
  • Some discussion of sexual things
  • Frank discussion of some awful diseases and parasites

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Circle of Light #1: Greyfax Grimwald by Niel Hancock

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Title: Circle of Light 1: Greyfax Grimwald by Niel Hancock

Notable: Book #1 in the Circle of Light series

Premise:

Dwarf, Bear and Otter cross over Calix Stay, the river which separates the World Before Time from Atlanton Earth.  Though initially unsure of the purpose of their quest, they meet some wizards and a few trustworthy humans who help keep them safe and guide them along their journey.  The three unassuming friends have a pivotal role to play in the fight against the Dark Queen, who seeks to gain control over all the earth.

My thoughts:

We’re going really retro here!  This is one of the books that came in my Books by the Foot sci-fi/fantasy box. It started out on shaky footing from the start, when it stated on the cover, “Beginning a great new saga for all who love THE LORD OF THE RINGS!”  The author was just setting himself up for some unflattering comparisons and critiques.  If the cover hadn’t mentioned The Lord of the Rings, I would have read this with a completely open mind.  As it was, I was too busy trying to compare the two.

Circle of Light is not even in the same league as The Lord of the Rings,  It’s like saying that Palmers and Ghiradelli chocolates taste the same.  Anyone with a modicum of good taste can tell the difference.  In addition to that, many elements of the story seem like a direct rip-off of The Lord of the Rings.  But let’s lay those issues aside and simply talk about the merits of this story.

The plot isn’t bad.  There are a few scenes which have the potential to be interesting and epic.  Unfortunately, the writing is such that even major battles come across as mundane and boring.  FYI–the story ends without any resolution, so you’ll have to read the next in the series to get to a satisfying stopping point.

I like the choice of animals as main characters.  Bear and Otter are probably the two most endearing characters.  Dwarf, the other main character, is a bit of an enigma.  He seems a bit off, as if there are two warring personalities at work within him.  If a character is going to exhibit behavior at both ends of the spectrum, there should be a good reason for it.  Please author, what is the character’s motivation for acting the way he does??  Let me bring up another issue–character names.  Holy cow, this story is chock full of names–multiple names for many characters.  It got to be very confusing and didn’t add to the story at all.

Overall, I was not impressed with this book.  The writing style and execution were subpar, the characters uninteresting, and the events rather boring.  If you’re young and just want a so-so fantasy adventure to read, you might not mind Greyfax Grimwald.  If you have a more sophisticated palate when it comes to your fantasy novels, I’d say skip it.

Possible Objections:

  • Some violence
  • The a-word is used a few times (as in someone is being a dunce)

Rating: 2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Printable “The Phantom of the Opera” Word Find Puzzle – Places

Here’s my places word find for The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux!

Simply click on the link below and either print, or save it to your computer and then print.  Enjoy!

“The Phantom of the Opera” Word Find Puzzle – Places

The Littles Take a Trip by John Peterson

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Title: The Littles Take a Trip by John Peterson

Premise:

The Little family decides that it is time to make a trip to meet up with some other tiny families.  They believe that their children are a little too socially isolated, and they hope that this will help them make some friends.  Cousin Dinky scopes out the route, but when their ride (Hildy, the cat) gets injured and is taken home by Henry Bigg, the Littles find themselves stranded in the woods.  Will they make it to the tiny family gathering?

My thoughts:

My son and I just finished reading this as our homeschooling chapter book.  This book is much like all the other Littles books, so if you’re a fan, you’ll enjoy it.  I’ll confess that it wasn’t my favorite book in the series.  The story and dialogue were just average, with nothing that really stood out as remarkable.  My son really enjoyed it, though!

I think that a child would get a bit more enjoyment out of the book than an adult would.  They can daydream about what it would be like to ride around on a cat in the middle of a giant woods, and later to ride a tame skunk!  In case you’re worried about the Littles getting stuck in the big, dark woods–don’t fear!  It turns out there are actually tiny people living in the woods whom the Littles never even knew about.  Phew!  You can stop sweating now.

I recommend The Littles Take a Trip to kids who are reading beginner chapter books, or as a fun family read-aloud

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale

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Title: Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale

Notable: Book #3 in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series

Premise:

We follow James Reed and family as they journey West to California.  Reed insists on taking a shortcut which he has read about in a book, which results in disastrous consequences.  The traveling party experiences death, illness, murder, the loss of oxen and cattle, and finally being stuck on top of a mountain in the middle of winter.  What they resort to in their efforts to survive are quite shocking.

My thoughts:

Just like the other Nathan Hale books, this one is an engaging way to learn about history.  Kids will love the playful supporting characters, quality illustrations, and interesting way that historical events are presented.  I will warn you, however, that this book is not for the faint of heart!

The story starts off well enough.  The Reed family wants to go out West to seek their fortune and they join with others to form a wagon train.  James Reed convinces others to follow Hastings cutoff, which he read about in a book (written by a lawyer, not a frontiersman).  Despite numerous warnings and indications that it is an unwise course of action, Reed persists, believing himself to be in the right.  That decision leads to horrific consequences.

I’ll give away the shocking bit here, so if you don’t want to know, stop reading.  When the Donner party find themselves stranded for the winter with very few supplies, they eventually have to resort to cannibalism to stay alive.  Thankfully, they don’t show any icky bits in the illustrations.  I still get the creeps thinking about it.  Reading this story makes you wonder what you would do if you were in their shoes.  It’s easy to say, “I would never do that.”  But then again, if you were starving, your thinking would probably be a bit skewed.

I’d say use your discretion in allowing your child to read this book.  Some will have no problem reading about cannibalism, while for others it would be traumatizing.  My 10- and 12-year-old boys read it and were fine, but my 8-year-old girl would probably hate it.

I recommend Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party to kids who enjoy graphic novels and would prefer to learn about history through that medium.  This particular book is best suited to mature elementary-age children up to teens, or even adults.

Possible Objections:

  • Violence (though the illustrations are not graphic)
  • Cannibalism

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Blind Colt by Glen Rounds

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Title: The Blind Colt by Glen Rounds

Premise:

A blind colt is born to a mare who is part of a herd of Mustangs in the American West.  Whitey, a young boy, and his uncle Torwal own a nearby ranch, and watch over the animals within their domain.  Uncle Torwal is in favor of shooting the colt, but Whitey pleads for his life.  He would love to own a horse like that someday.  Against all odds, the little colt survives the winter but gets lost and separated from his band.  He finds his way to the ranch’s other horses, and Whitey finally gets his chance to prove that his faith in the blind colt’s abilities has not been misplaced.

My thoughts:

I’ve had this book since I was a kid and I remember being enamored of it back then.  Though I never had a horse, I dreamt of getting one and even wrote a story in first grade about a horse that was mine (in reality it belonged to my cousins).  So yeah, horses have always fascinated me.  Interestingly, this book is based on a true story!

It’s a bit short for a chapter book, so a child could read it in a day or two.  There really isn’t much to the story.  A blind colt is born and survives in the American West with his mother and the rest of the Mustangs.  However, one day he slips down a ravine and can’t get back to the other horses.  In his wanderings, he finds his way to the ranch’s work horses and sticks with them until he is discovered by Whitey, the boy who kept him from being shot in the first place.  Whitey then gentles the colt and Uncle Torwal says he can keep him.  That’s it!

The writing itself is quality and I think that’s what makes the story enjoyable.  There is a lot of description about the wilderness and the discoveries that the colt makes while he tries to get by in the big, mysterious world.  He faces some perils along the way, such as a rattlesnake, mudhole, blizzard, etc., but with his heightened senses of hearing and smell, and the help of his mother, this tough little guy makes it through.

I recommend The Blind Colt to kids who are just beginning to read chapter books or as a cute family read-aloud.  It would particularly appeal to horse lovers!

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori