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

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Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

caddie-woodlawn

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I read Caddie Woodlawn years ago, as a child.  I love frontier adventures which feature female heroines.  The fact that this story takes place in the area I grew up in makes it that much more interesting to me.  This is a 1936 Newbery Medal winner, too!

Premise:

The story is about the life of Caddie Woodlawn and her family in the early Wisconsin frontier during the Civil War era.  Her parents came to the Wisconsin wilderness from Boston to make a new life for themselves, settling in the area of Downsville.  The story is rather like a memoir–sharing specific stories from Caddie’s life which she shared with her family.  It was her granddaughter, Carol Ryrie Brink, who put the stories into book form.

My thoughts:

The most enthralling thing about this book, for me personally, is that it took place in the area where I grew up.  It’s fun to imagine Caddie and her brothers traipsing through the wilderness (which is now quite developed land).  Have we walked along the same stretch of river?  Where exactly was her family’s farm?

Caddie is such a fun tomboyish character.  Her father is given charge of her upbringing, in the hopes that more vigorous activities (a.k.a. hanging out with her brothers), will help keep her healthy.  (One of her older sisters became weak and died when she was coddled by their mother in the rough frontier land.)  Caddie and her brothers engage in all sorts of shenanigans, and eventually Caddie matures and realizes that growing up isn’t quite the awful thing that she always thought it would be.

The one criticism I have for the book is its outdated language pertaining to Native Americans.  For its time, this book is fairly forward-thinking, but it will still be offensive to today’s readers.  There are a few instances where the terms “redskins,” “savages,” and “half-breeds” are used.  I recommended the book to my son, but prefaced it with a discussion on terms referring to and attitudes towards Native Americans at that period in history.

There are a couple of circumstances relating to the Native American characters in the story which help teach kids a lesson in accepting others.  Caddie’s friendship with Indian John, and her act of love for the Hankinson kids are two of my favorite scenes from the entire book.  You’ll see why when you read them.  Sometimes it takes a child to know what is right and to follow through, even when the adults around them would rather cling to suspicion and prejudice.

I recommend this book to older elementary-age children, up to teens.  It’s a fun look into U.S. history which gives kids a good view into what everyday life may have looked like for white settlers.

Possible Objections:

  • Some offensive/outdated racial language referring to Native Americans (“savages,” “redskins”)

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

M. C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton

mc-higgins

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M.C. Higgins, the Great is the second book from my Thrift Store Young Adult Reading Challenge.  It’s the 1975 Newbery Medal winner.

Premise:

M.C. Higgins lives on a mountain that his family has owned since his great-grandmother, an escaped slave, made it her haven.  Their home is in danger, though, because of a slag heap left behind by coal miners.  M.C. hopes that his family can escape the mountain when his mother’s heavenly singing voice is discovered.  But will his wishes come true?  Friendship also enters into the tale–with M.C.’s friend Ben, and a mysterious girl who shows up on the mountain one day.

My thoughts:

This book was strange.  It has a unique writing style and the characters’ language is somewhat odd.  Also, I found that I wasn’t very interested in what was going on plot-wise.  It’s very basic, but that doesn’t necessarily make a book boring.  I guess the plot just seemed rather meandering and lacking focus.

The characters were hard to get attached to, as well.  I’m not sure why, but I didn’t care much about what happened to them in the story.  There needs to be an emotional connection with the characters in a book, and that was missing in this story.

I’d say that this is a coming-of-age story, but in my opinion there are coming-of-age stories which are much more engaging, entertaining and meaningful.

I don’t recommend this book, though if you want to try it out it’s aimed at school-age kids.

Rating: 2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

from-the-mixed-up-files

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The boys and I just finished From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as our chapter book for homeschooling.  I read this book as a child, but had forgotten the details.  It’s the 1968 Newbery Medal winner.

Premise:

Claudia and Jamie Kincaid decide to run away from home and hit upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as their home away from home.  They successfully evade detection–sleeping on one of the antique beds, bathing in the fountain, and hiding their belongings in various locations.  When a statue arrives at the museum which could be the work of Michelangelo, Claudia won’t rest until she finds out the truth about the statue’s origins.

My thoughts:

My kids and I enjoyed this book, even though it is not full of rip-roaring action.  The story is more of a meandering tale about a brother and sister who learn how to be self-sufficient and how to function as a team.  Claudia and Jamie partake in the typical teasing banter of siblings, which adds humor and levity to the story.

I think kids who read this book will enjoy the idea of children taking care of themselves and making an interesting museum their home.  Personally, I found the story amusing but don’t feel like I’ll return to it for any subsequent reads.

This is an amusing book for those who are in the later elementary/preteen years.  I’m not certain that it will hold the attention of everyone in that age group, though.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Blue Dolphins

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Island of the Blue Dolphins is a book for younger readers that’s loosely based on a true story.  Karana lives on an island in a small community of native people.  When the Aleuts show up to hunt otter, there is conflict and many in her tribe are killed.  Not too long after, another ship arrives to take the remainder of her tribe to the mainland to start a new life there.  Karana’s brother gets left behind when he goes back for something he forgot, and she jumps from the ship into the sea to swim back to the island.  Because of bad weather, the ship has to leave without them, so she and her brother are forced to fend for themselves on the island.  After only a short time her brother dies and she is left all alone.  The rest of the book chronicles the many tasks she has to do to survive, such as harvesting abalones and building a shelter.  Karana also makes friends with one of the wild dogs who has been injured, and some other creatures.  In the end she is rescued, but not until after eighteen years of seclusion.

I read this book as a child and loved it, so I decided to read it aloud to my boys.  It’s a great story of adventure and survival.  It also draws in themes of resourcefulness, companionship, loneliness, and the need for others.  This story is full of sweetness and sadness, which meld into a perfect blend.  I would highly recommend this book, especially for later elementary-aged kids to teens.

Possible Objections:

  1. There is a little bit of violence, such as when Karana’s brother is killed by the wild dogs.  Other than that, it’s fairly tame.

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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The Giver by Lois Lowry

 

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The Giver is a story about a boy who is chosen to carry the burden of an entire society’s memories and feelings.  People in his community value sameness and following rules.  Jonas (the main character) is chosen as the next in line to carry the heavy burden for the rest of society, so that others don’t have to feel pain, confusion, fear, etc.  As Jonas progresses in his training, he decides that it is not right that the people in his community should not have to help carry the burden.  In the end he leaves to find an alternate type of society, not only to force the people to feel again, but to save somebody who is in danger.  It’s the Newbery Medal winner for 1994.

I read The Giver as a kid, and I remember that it had a great impact on my thinking.  It helped shape my understanding of feelings, the role that we should play in our society, right and wrong, what is important in life.  For that reason, I wanted to share it with my boys.  There were parts of the story where I changed the wording as I was reading.  There were also sections/topics that caused my boys a bit of discomfort or which they didn’t quite understand.  This led to many interesting conversations and some deep thinking.

I would recommend this book for older school-age children or teens.  It depends partly on the child’s maturity level.  There are some parts of the story that would be shocking and/or confusing to some children.  I would also recommend that parents read the book first, to judge whether or not it’s appropriate for their child.

Possible Objections:

  1. Something called “the stirrings”–basically when the main character starts to be sexually attracted to the opposite sex.  It’s in chapter 5, if you want to check it out.  I changed the wording while reading aloud to my boys.
  2. Children are allowed to bathe older people, while fulfilling their volunteer hours.  It is only talked about as a caregiving action.
  3. An infant who happens to be a twin is injected with a lethal drug and dies.  For us, this brought up a discussion about abortion.

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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