Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

This post contains an affiliate link.

Title: Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

Premise:

Phileas Fogg, the stoic and predictable Englishman that he is, decides to go on a trip around the world because of a wager.  He bets his whist companions £20,000 that he can make the trip in eighty days.  Fogg’s servant Passepartout accompanies him, as well as a wily detective who believes Fogg to be a notorious bank robber.  They have many adventures and setbacks along the way, even rescuing a damsel in distress, but will they make it back to London in time to win the bet?

My thoughts:

The first Jules Verne book I read was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  I had my own copy lined up on the shelf in my bunk bed and it was my first introduction to science fiction as a kid.  Ever since then, I’ve loved Jules Verne’s fantastical adventure stories.

Though Jules Verne is best known for his science fiction, this book doesn’t exactly fit into that category.  It capitalizes on elements of the industrial age, such as the great strides made in dependable and quick transportation.  It truly was a marvel how quickly one could traverse the globe, compared to what was possible only a short time previously.

The story is fairly simple — a man travels around the world as quickly as possible, encountering several obstacles along the way.  That’s it in a nutshell.  The character development isn’t stellar and there are a TON of place names, but despite those very slight criticisms, I loved the story.  It’s so very readable and I love a good adventure story!

As far as classic literature goes, this book has fairly accessible language.  It’s also a largely action-driven story, so those two considerations make this a good book to start your journey into classic literature.

I recommend Around the World in Eighty Days to fans of early science fiction and those who enjoy classic literature.

Possible Objections:

  • One character gets high in an opium den
  • Native people referred to as “savages” a few times
  • Overtly English-centric attitude throughout

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Advertisements

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

This post contains an affiliate link.

Title: The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

Premise:

This is the life story of a man named Claus (later known as Santa Claus).  It starts with his baby years, when he was abandoned near the forest and a kind-hearted nymph named Necile adopted him as her own.  Claus grew up in an enchanted forest, but when he reached adulthood, he took his place in the world of man.  From his home in the Laughing Valley, Claus spreads happiness to the children of the world by making and delivering toys.  This story talks about his life’s work and how a few common Christmas traditions came to be.

My thoughts:

My son and I just finished reading this for school.  The first time I read it was several years ago and I was quite taken with it back then.  Though the language is quaint and a little old-fashioned, by son thoroughly enjoyed the book and couldn’t wait until we could read the next chapter.

Baum’s story about Santa Claus is more than just a jolly old elf who likes to eat cookies.  His is an active and philanthropic man who makes it his life’s work to bring joy to others.  I like how Santa serves as a middleman between the world of mortals and immortals in this story, drawing the immortals into helping humanity.  I’m sure I’ll be coming back to this book again in a few years so I can read it with my younger girls.  I know they will love the story and I think this is a great family read-aloud!

I recommend The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus to young readers, families and anyone else who wants to learn more about Santa’s history (at least according to Baum).

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Snowbound Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner

This post contains an affiliate link.

Title: Snowbound Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Notable: Book #13 in The Boxcar Children series

Premise:

The Alden siblings go to a hunter’s cabin in the woods to spend a week out in the wilderness.  When a freak snow storm hits, they are stuck in the cabin, determined to make the best of it until their grandfather can send help.  A local family who runs the small store nearby treks out to the cabin to make sure the children are okay.  While they all await rescue, the Aldens help solve a mystery that the Nelson family has been trying to uncover for many years.

My thoughts:

I feel like the Boxcar Children books are pretty formulaic.  If you’ve read one, you know what subsequent books will be like.  This one is no exception.  Somehow these children end up fending for themselves or at least acting independently no matter what situation they find themselves in.  Their grandfather must feel pretty strongly that they should be encouraged to become independent.  Anyhow, he lets them go off to stay in a cabin in the woods for a week by themselves.  This mama objects!

The major event in the story is when the Aldens help solve a mystery for the Nelson family.  I don’t want to give it away, but the consequence is that it totally transforms their life.  They’re no longer stuck hoping for a brighter future, but can go ahead and realize their dreams.  It’s a feel-good ending.  🙂

I recommend Snowbound Mystery to younger readers who enjoy lighthearted mysteries.  It would also be a good book to read aloud to your kids.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Smurfette by Peyo

This post contains an affiliate link.

Title: The Smurfette by Peyo

Notable: Book #4 in The Smurfs Graphic Novels series

Premise:

In this volume we learn about the origin of Smurfette and witness a Smurf famine.  Includes “The Smurfette,” and “The Hungry Smurfs.”

My thoughts:

I’m so sad to say that this is probably my least favorite Smurf graphic novel.  Boohoo!  I love Smurfette, but her origin tale is messed up!  Most Smurf fans know that the original Smurfette was made by Gargamel to sow discord in the Smurf village.  Though she isn’t evil, she is annoying in her original form.  She also looks a little frumpy, with a simple dress and stringy black hair.  When Smurfette complains about her looks, Papa Smurf comes up with a potion to beautify Smurfette.  Once she’s pretty, the rest of the Smurfs bend over backwards to do her will, even when her requests are dangerous and ridiculous.

The underlying message in this story bugged me so much!  The original Smurfette is “ugly” and annoying.  The male Smurfs see her as a nuisance because she can’t stay out of their business, talks all the time, and tells them what to do.  When she becomes pretty, she’s still portrayed in an unfavorable light as being manipulative, subversive and self-serving.  Either way, Peyo paints the sole female character in a very unflattering light and it feels like he’s making a broad commentary on the female race as a whole.  It felt sexist to me and I couldn’t really enjoy the story.

I recommend The Smurfette to fans of the Smurfs who want to know where Smurfette came from!

Possible Objections:

  • A male chauvinist flavor to the story

Rating: 3 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Love’s Labor’s Lost by William Shakespeare

This post contains an affiliate link.

Title: Love’s Labor’s Lost by William Shakespeare

Premise:

The King and his companions have vowed to spend three years in serious study, avoiding the company of women, among other luxuries.  When the Princess and her entourage show up on a diplomatic errand, the King has to foreswear his vow to avoid female company.  Each man is smitten with one of the ladies and sends her a love letter and favor, trying to keep it secret from the others.  In the end all of their romantic maneuvering is made known and the men come clean about their intentions.  The ladies, however, are not so easily swayed.  They demand more serious proof before they are willing to entertain the men’s ideas of romance.

My thoughts:

I haven’t read Shakespeare for a long time!  Though this story is lighthearted and fluffy, it still manages to make some commentary on the foibles of love and romance.  The King and his men make complete fools of themselves as they pursue the Princess and her ladies in waiting.  The ladies are having none of it and keep their wits about them, even demanding proof of their suitor’s love at the end.  If the men are serious about their love and commitment to the maidens, they must each fulfill a mission given by their respective lady.  This is a refreshing departure from the typical man-wins-woman formula.

I enjoyed the overall tone of the play, which was very playful and upbeat.  The characters have fun with witty wordplay, although I didn’t particularly care for the parts that devolved into suggestive references.  The difficulty of the language and the sometimes suggestive comments make me think this play would be best for readers in high school and older.

It was really helpful to have an introduction to the book and the footnotes throughout.  A good amount of the vocabulary and sayings are completely obsolete in modern English.  Without a bit of help, a lot of the original meaning would be lost on today’s readers.

I recommend Love’s Labor’s Lost to readers who enjoy classic literature and a mental workout all in one!

Possible Objections:

  • Several jokes featuring sexual innuendo

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

This post contains an affiliate link.

Title: The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

Notable: Newbery Honor Book, 1979

Premise:

Gilly Hopkins is in foster care and about to enter a new home.  She wants nothing more than for her mother to swoop in and reclaim her, but alas, it’s not to be.  Gilly’s new home is with a large, motherly woman named Trotter and her foster son, William Ernest.  Gilly’s prejudices come to the forefront when she realizes that she’ll be expected to interact closely with African Americans, and when she passes judgment on Trotter and W. E.  Eventually though, Gilly realizes that sometimes our dreams aren’t what they’re cracked up to be, and making the best of our current situation can turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

My thoughts:

This is a really intense book!  Don’t expect to sit down and just float through it like you’re riding on a big, fluffy cloud.  Paterson doesn’t take shortcuts with her characters and she’s definitely not afraid of giving them flaws.  The main character, Gilly, is one of the most judgmental kids you’ll ever meet in a story, but it’s hard not to root for her.  She’s so miserably unhappy, that Gilly spews her vitriol on everyone around her, picking out traits in others to belittle and make fun of.

She doesn’t like Trotter because she’s overweight; she doesn’t like W. E. because she thinks he’s stupid; she doesn’t like her neighbor or new teacher because they’re black.  In all of these relationships, we see Gilly gradually progress into a new understanding about who they are.  She comes to value each of them and realizes that love and acceptance are possible with people who are different, and not part of your nuclear family.  She never thought she’d come to love these people, but they found a way to infiltrate her heart.  There is no easy fairy-tale ending to the story, but readers are left with the message that we should make the best of our situation in life and look for joy and contentment in what we have today.

As a parent, I have to warn you about the offensive bits in this story.  I wouldn’t want my younger child picking it up and thinking that it’s okay to copy Gilly’s language.  She uses totally inappropriate phrases to talk about Trotter, W. E., Mr. Randolph and Ms. Harris.  In one part the n-word is very clearly implied.  By the end of the book, Gilly’s language has become much tamer, but a child has to be old enough to realize that Gilly’s language is not something to emulate.

I recommend The Great Gilly Hopkins to those who enjoy coming of age novels which tug at your heart strings and are kind of edgy.

Possible Objections:

  • Offensive language (degrading those who are obese, African American, have special needs, etc.)
  • Mild epithets (d-word & hell)

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori