Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

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Title: Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

Premise:

Wendy and her brothers go on a fantastic adventure with Peter Pan, a boy who lives in the Neverland and never grows up.  They encounter mermaids, fairies and the infamous Captain Hook.  Though they go on many adventures, eventually Wendy and the boys must return home to grow up.

My thoughts:

My son and I read Peter Pan together for our homeschooling and I must say that it surprised me quite a bit.  I grew up watching Disney’s Peter Pan, so I was expecting a tame and mostly innocent story.  Let me tell you, the original Peter Pan is not all fluff.

Captain Hook and the Lost Boys do plenty of killing and maiming in their fights, though at least it isn’t described graphically.  Even innocent little Michael ends up killing a pirate in the final fight scene.

The Disney version got the story line mostly correct, but the book’s delivery is much more wordy and old-fashioned in its language.  I enjoyed it, but I could tell that my son’s attention was flagging at times because of the side tangents and complexity of the language.  For that reason I’d say this book is best suited to older elementary and up — unless your child has a great attention span.  Overall, I enjoyed the book, but it will be a one-time read for me.

I recommend Peter Pan to those who enjoy classic childhood adventure stories.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene

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Title: The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene

Notable: Book #1 in the Nancy Drew mystery series

Premise:

Nancy Drew, a young lady who lives with her lawyer father, has a penchant for sleuthing.  When an old man dies and leaves his entire estate to a family he disliked, Nancy wants to investigate whether or not a later will was written.

My thoughts:

Nancy Drew mysteries are what you would call old-fashioned and quaint.  I can just picture Nancy zipping around in her little convertible in her just-so prim dresses.  I’m not one for a lot of prim and proper damsel kind of garbage, but Nancy has enough spunk and daring that I’m willing to overlook her prissiness.

The mystery itself isn’t mind blowing or terribly complex, but it’s a fun story for a younger person who enjoys the genre.  If you want your kids to get started on a mystery series that isn’t morally objectionable in any way, you’ll want to check out this series.  Or maybe you read Nancy Drew as a kid and just want to revisit the books for nostalgia’s sake.  Whatever floats your boat, man.

I recommend The Secret of the Old Clock to those who enjoy tame mysteries featuring a teen/young adult protagonist.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman

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Title: The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman

Notable: Book #1 in the Mrs. Pollifax series

Premise:

Mrs. Pollifax is an older widowed woman whose children have left home.  She is feeling unfulfilled in her daily pursuits, so her doctor recommends that she try something out which she’s always wanted to do.  When she was younger, Mrs. Pollifax dreamt of being a spy.  You can see where this is leading, no?

My thoughts:

I was not expecting much of this book–just look at that cover!  When was the last time you saw a book cover quite so absurd?  This book surprised me so much with how well it was written, the charming heroine, and the crazy story line.

Through a happy accident Mrs. Pollifax is chosen for a simple mission, but she ends up getting dragged into a complex and dangerous web of intrigue.  Though she’s naive in the ways of secret agents, Mrs. Pollifax is experienced in life and human nature, and she has to employ all of her wiles and knowledge to make it through a truly harrowing ordeal.

I recommend The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax to those who enjoy an unconventional adventure story with a unique protagonist.  This was a completely unique and refreshing read!


Possible Objections:

  • Some of violence
  • A bit of adult language

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Lost Truth by Dawn Cook

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Title: Lost Truth by Dawn Cook

Notable: Book #4 in the Truth series

Premise:

This fantasy dragon adventure finally wraps up with Alissa, Strell, Lodesh and Connen-Neute going on a journey to find some long-lost comrades.  Alissa and her true love are finally united, though that means one young man is left seriously disappointed.

My thoughts:

After enjoying the previous book so much, this one was a bit of a letdown.  The action was interesting, with several new characters being introduced (which was a welcome relief) and a completely new setting.  Meeting Keribdis brought the story full-circle and it allowed Talo-Toecan to face the foibles of his past which had wreaked so much havoc.

The resolution to Alissa’s love triangle fiasco was sadly disappointing to me.  I didn’t care much for her choice (I tend to root for the underdog), and it didn’t really seem to matter much anymore.  In the previous book her relationship with this particular character had been neglected so much that I pretty much lost interest in it altogether.  There wasn’t enough in this volume to convince me that she was really committed to the relationship.  The other character she had been attached to is basically discarded at the end of the story and that really rankled me.  Oh well.  I’ll get over it.

I recommend Lost Truth to fans of fantasy, dragons and female heroines!


Possible Objections:

  • A bit of violence

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Forgotten Truth by Dawn Cook

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Title: Forgotten Truth by Dawn Cook

Notable: Book #3 in the Truth series

Premise:

Alissa continues to train with Talo-Toecan, but when she practices a new skill it accidentally sends her back in time.  She’s still in the environs of the Hold, but ends us 400 years in the past, when Lodesh was just a young man.  Alissa tries to find her way back to Strell and her own time, but her feelings for Lodesh become much more complicated.

My thoughts:

This is my favorite book in the series so far.  There’s a richness to the Hold and Ese’ Nawoer of the past that is completely missing in the previous two books (probably because they’re unpopulated, no?).  The characters of Connen-Neute and Lodesh were a real pleasure to see developed, and there were several strong supporting characters, as well.

I don’t know what is going to happen with Alissa’s love life, but it seems like she might have three possible suitors now.  I’m rooting for Connen-Neute, though in truth, I don’t even know if he’s a real contender.  Strell was missing for most of this book and the few scenes he was in weren’t very compelling.  I found myself losing my attachment to his character–eek!  Lodesh likewise has lost some of his shine, based on some underhanded dealings on his part.

I didn’t care too much for the end of this book.  The men all seem totally defeated or amazingly oblivious, while Alissa lords it over them and won’t let go of one of them.  That young lady is being awfully selfish!  We’ll see where this story goes in the next volume…

I recommend Forgotten Truth to fans of fantasy and dragons!


Possible Objections:

  • A bit of violence
  • A tiny bit of language

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

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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

Micro by Michael Crichton & Richard Preston

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Title: Micro by Michael Crichton & Richard Preston

Premise:

A group of graduate students is caught up in a web of intrigue, with Vin Drake and his microbiology company, Nanigen, at its center.  The students find themselves alone in dangerous wilderness and they have to use all of their scientific training and knowledge to try and survive.

My thoughts:

The first thing you need to know is that I LOVE me some good Crichton!  I read my first Crichton books in middle school when I found Terminal Man and Andromeda Strain on the school’s bookshelf.  So when I found this book at the thrift store, I was very excited to read a new book by this beloved author.

Honestly, I still haven’t arrived at a decisive conclusion about whether or not I truly like Micro.  The story is definitely Crichton in concept, but the writing doesn’t always match his style.  Obviously this book had input from Richard Preston, and I think that’s probably where it fails in stacking up to Crichton’s other works.  Crichton had a precision in his writing which is missing in parts of this book.  My other criticism is that the characters tended to get preachy about nature at very odd times.  Who would launch into a speech about the superiority of nature when they’re trekking through jungle on a very tight timeline to save their lives?  Well, apparently these people would.

Even though I wasn’t blown away by the writing, the premise of the story was great.  It brings up some questions about technology and the ethics of how we use it, as well as exploring the tiny world all around us.  When you shrink people down so that the ground becomes a jungle, all of the creepy crawlies get a whole lot scarier.

I recommend Micro to Crichton fans.  You’ll want to read it to round out your knowledge of all of his works, but it probably won’t be your favorite.

Possible Objections:

  • Violence & gore
  • 1 sexual encounter
  • Profanity

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Complete Year One by Nick Abadzis & Robbie Morrison

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Title: Doctor Who : The Tenth Doctor Complete Year One by Nick Abadzis & Robbie Morrison

Premise:

The Doctor recently had to leave Donna Noble behind and is currently traveling alone.  During one of his adventures he bumps into a young lady named Gabriella Gonzalez, whose family is caught in the middle of an alien invasion.  Gabby helps the Doctor set things right and accompanies him on several more intergalactic journeys.  Includes comics #1-15 of the Tenth Doctor Year One series.

My thoughts:

I saw this at the library and just had to check it out!  Doctor Who?  Yes, please!  This is my first foray into Whovian comics.  I sort of expected this book to feature characters we had met in the TV series, but it brings in a whole new cast of characters.  At first I wasn’t sure about Gabby, but after getting to know her through the stories, I’ve come to appreciate her spunk and determination.  The storytellers did a great job of capturing David Tennant’s portrayal of the Doctor on the written page–his mannerisms, way of speaking, looks.

Don’t expect a completely seamless artistic experience when cracking open this big, honking book.  It was illustrated by a variety of artists, some of them with widely differing styles.  One of the stories is fairly gruesome as it deals with the subject of WWI.  I wouldn’t want my middle schooler getting his hands on that, but you’ll have to be the judge for your own kids.

I recommend Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Complete Year One to Doctor Who fans.  If you love David Tennant, you will want to see the Doctor’s additional adventures!  I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of these!

Possible Objections:

  • Some violence & gore (particularly in “The Weeping Angels of Mons”)

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Adventures of Hercules by Powell & Ruiz

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Title: The Adventures of Hercules by Martin Powell & José Alfonso Ocampo Ruiz

Premise:

Hercules, the son of Zeus and a mortal woman, is plagued by Zeus’ wife, Hera.  In her jealousy, she robs him of his birthright, and tricks him into serving King Eurystheus by making him think he has committed a heinous crime.  Hercules has epic adventures, battling fearsome monsters and defending mankind.

My thoughts:

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this relatively short graphic novel about Hercules.  Certainly, it’s a simplified version of his life.  It doesn’t touch on his death at all, except in the beginning section where the author gives a general overview of his life.

This is an awesome book to introduce your child to the story of Hercules!  It’s a perfect story to tell in graphic novel form because it’s chock full of action.  In fact, that’s the main gist of the story–you see Hercules jump from one quest to another, usually slaying a monster or conquering some other beast.  There is a fair bit of violence, but it’s not terribly gruesome.  I’d say it’s appropriate for elementary-age kids.  I can see boys really getting into this book.  The artwork is quite impressive, too.

I recommend The Adventures of Hercules to kids who enjoy graphic novels, adventure stories and/or Roman mythology.

Possible Objections:

  • Lots of cartoon violence & some blood

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Littles Go to School by John Peterson

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Title: The Littles Go to School by John Peterson

Premise:

Lucy Little is worried about going to school for the first time.  Her family reassures her that she will enjoy it, but she’s still scared.  When Tom and Lucy find themselves accidentally transported to school in the gerbils’ cage, Lucy gets a chance to explore the school and find out how fun it really can be.

My thoughts:

My son and I just finished this chapter book for school.  I think we may have made it through all the Littles books we own!  For some reason this wasn’t my favorite Littles book.  I think it may be because the action and adventure was very tame, apart from their being transported to the school by mistake.

My son enjoyed it and got a kick out of the silly things Tom and Lucy did while exploring the school, so I suppose it’s a bit more appealing to kids.  It may have also sounded similar to our homeschooling experiences.  Just like us, Tom and Lucy do the majority of their school work at home through mostly child-led activities.  They go to the “big school” for one week per year to meet with their classmates and teacher, Ms. Beta Gogg.

I recommend The Littles Go to School to those who are already fans of the Littles.

Rating: 3 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

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

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

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Title: The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

Notable: Newbery Honor book, 1961

Premise:

Chester cricket is accidentally transported from his rural Connecticut home to the Times Square subway station in New York City.  A friendly cat and mouse help Chester fit into this new and foreign environment, and a boy named Mario Bellini adopts Chester as his new pet.  Chester is instrumental in saving the Bellini’s struggling newspaper stand.

My thoughts:

This book was completely new to me and I’m happy to report that it was an enjoyable read.  The story is very basic, but the animal characters are charming and really the focus of the story.

My two favorite characters are Chester cricket (of course) and Sai Fong, the Chinese gentleman.  Chester is so good-natured and you can’t help but feel sorry for him.  This poor little country cricket finds himself dumped in the big, loud, dirty city without a soul to help him.  Thank goodness Tucker mouse and Harry cat step in!  It’s fun to imagine the scenes when Chester is giving his concerts in the subway and all of the people are standing there rapt.  The child in me wants to go find a cricket now just to listen to their song.  (Incidentally, we had a cricket infestation in our house several years ago, and I can assure you that it’s not too fun hunting loud crickets in the middle of the night when all you want is to get some sleep.)

When we are first introduced to Sai Fong, the man who owns a Chinese laundry and trinket shop, I was afraid that it was going to be another stereotypical portrayal of a Chinese person, hinting at our American superiority.  Thankfully that was not the case.  Sai Fong is a lovable character who is ecstatic about Mario’s lucky pet cricket.  He helps Mario get a cage for his cricket (really a beautiful pagoda), has them over for dinner, and supplies Mario with mulberry leaves to feed Chester.  Although his character doesn’t step outside the bounds of the typical Chinese character, he is presented with a loving eye.

Overall, I enjoyed this book.  Though it has not become one of my favorites, I still think it’s a great chapter book for kids.  The story would need a bit more than pure fluff to put it on my list of cherished books.

I recommend The Cricket in Times Square to elementary-age kids or as a cute family read-aloud.

Possible Objections:

  • Chinese man’s language is garbled and spelled phonetically (if you’re particularly sensitive, you might find this offensive)

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Miss Bianca in the Orient by Margery Sharp

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Title: Miss Bianca in the Orient by Margery Sharp

Premise:

When the Ambassador from the Orient visits, Miss Bianca learns of an unfortunate page boy who is condemned to death for sneezing in the Ranee’s sherbet.  Miss Bianca and Bernard travel to “the Orient” to try and save the poor boy.  But will their plan succeed when nobody seems to know anything about him or his whereabouts?

My thoughts:

I just finished this book tonight and I came away disappointed.  I remember reading it when I was younger, but I must not have been quite as critical back then.  There were some things that I picked up on this time through which really put a bad taste in my mouth.

Let’s start with the good, though.  I love Miss Bianca and Bernard.  They have such lovely personalities and work very well as a team.  Bernard’s devotion to Miss Bianca is so, so sweet.  The premise of the story is also promising.  Our intrepid duo travels to “the Orient” to rescue an unfortunate page boy who has been sentenced to death.  The characters we meet in the palace court are interesting and fairly well developed.  While the plot is very simple, it’s quite adequate for an elementary chapter book.  And the illustrations by Erik Blegvad are very nicely done.

On to the bad.  Throughout the book, the language referring to “the Orient” is exceptionally outdated and imprecise.  Where exactly is “the Orient”?  Why can’t we name a specific country with a specific language?  What exactly is “Oriental writing”?  What does it mean to be “Orientally thoughtless”?  It doesn’t take a genius to pick up on the idea that the writer views “the Orient” as a generic group of people living in the East whose way of life is inferior to that of the West.  Based on the details contained in the book, I believe the author had India in mind as the setting, but it’s never actually stated.  Are we trying to make our children stupid by teaching them that the entirety of the East is one homogeneous and backward group of people?

Quite frankly, I won’t be keeping this book around the house because I would be mortified to have my children read the book and start talking about “the Orient” or “Oriental writing”.  I would rather they learn about specific countries, languages, and people groups.

I don’t recommend Miss Bianca in the Orient to children because of what I perceive as subtle prejudice.  However, if you’re an adult fan of Miss Bianca and Bernard, you might want to read this book to round out your knowledge of all of their adventures.


Possible Objections:

  • Prejudice against “Orientals”

Rating: 2 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori