Caleb’s Story by Patricia MacLachlan

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Title: Caleb’s Story by Patricia MacLachlan

Notable: Book #3 in the Sarah, Plain and Tall series

Premise:

Anna has now left home to finish school and work in town.  It is Caleb’s turn to write in the family journal and the new topic is the appearance of a mysterious stranger named John.  When the family finds out who he really is, it causes some major consternation and Jacob must learn to forgive if their family is to survive.

My thoughts:

The third book in the series is right in line with the previous two in terms of style and subject matter.  In this volume we get to see Cassie (the youngest daughter) as a young girl and Caleb has taken on a much more mature role in the family.  I loved the part that he had to play in teaching John a new skill.  Seriously, if I tell you want it is, I’ll spoil the book for you.

The same overarching theme of family is explored in this book, with the emphasis being on forgiveness and fresh starts.  I still don’t know how MacLachlan does it, but she packs very moving stories into small packages.  Bravo!

I recommend Caleb’s Story to young people who enjoy stories about early American settlers.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

OTHER SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL SERIES POSTS:

 

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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: 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

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

Methland Book Giveaway — CLOSED

My Bookshelf Giveaway: Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding

Read my review here

Enter by following the link below.  It’s open internationally to participants 18 years and older and will end on July 31, 2017.  The winner will be announced on my blog and contacted through email.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding

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Title: Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding

Premise:

The author seeks to shed light on the meth epidemic and the effect that it has on small-town American life, following the fortunes of the small town of Oelwein which is gripped in the clutches of methamphetamines.  Through interviews, research, shadowing, and by reaching out to others for their wisdom, Nick weaves a complex and disturbing tale of how meth became an epidemic in the United States, how it is affecting small towns, and why it just won’t go away.

My thoughts:

If you ever wanted to learn about methamphetamine and the way it impacts peoples’ lives, this is the book for you.  I thought this would be a mostly anecdotal book, but it turns out that the author shares a lot of background information about meth, as well.  Of course it makes sense to educate readers about how meth affects the brain, the effects it has on the rest of your body, and how it changes your brain functions even after you have stopped using, but for some reason I wasn’t expecting to get so much background information.  I really appreciated getting to know more about the drug and what it does physiologically to a person.  That knowledge makes it all the more scary, but it’s better to be well-informed than ignorant.

It’s rather disturbing to learn that the spread of meth could have been prevented were it not for powerful lobbyists and the interference of a pharmaceutical industry who was looking out for the bottom line.  It’s hard to understand how they could feel justified in blocking legislation that would prevent illegal drugs from being made so easily, but then again, when has big business ever shown itself to have a conscience?

The unfortunate result of the government not taking stronger steps to crack down on the drug problem is that thousands of small town police officers, social workers, mayors, and doctors have to continually put out fires (sometimes quite literally).  They are on the front-lines and have to deal with the day-to-day consequences of a lax system which allows meth to proliferate.  In my neck of the woods (the Midwest), meth is a huge problem.  Kids are entering into the foster care system all the time because their parents are addicted and/or cooking up meth at home and the children are being exposed to the toxins (not to mention the neglect and sometimes abuse that accompany it).  Our social worker told us that they really can’t keep up with the increased need for foster families.

One thing that I find highly satisfying about Methland is that the author looks at the problem from so many angles and really tries to get to the root of the problem.  He doesn’t take the easy way out and blame it on a couple of factors, but shows readers how it is really a complex weaving-together of many factors: drug distribution routes, illegal immigration, Mexican DTOs, lax laws, pharmaceutical lobbying, loss of living-wage employment, the profits to be made from meth, and the mental impact the drug has on its users.  There is no easy answer to the meth epidemic and it would require many different agencies working in tandem and putting forth their strongest efforts to make a dent in the problem.

The author did an admirable job of tying together all of the different threads of the story, though the anecdotal stories were not always strictly related.  For that reason it sometimes felt like I was picking up with a soap opera, revisiting a scene which had been left off during the previous week’s episode.  I suppose that couldn’t really be avoided, though.  I enjoyed getting to know the characters in the book.  They were real people, just like the rest of us, trying to make a difference in a world gone mad.

I recommend Methland to adults who would like to learn more about the meth epidemic.  It’s a fascinating and enlightening exploration of a terrible problem that we are facing in the United States right now.

A favorite quote:

“In 2005, when I called Dr. Clay Hallberg, the Oelwein general practitioner, and asked him to characterize the meth epidemic in his hometown, Clay had told me that meth was ‘a sociocultural cancer.’  What he meant, he said, was that, as with the disease, meth’s particular danger lay in its ability to metastisize throughout the body, in this case the body politic, and to weaken the social fabric of a place, be it a region, a town, a neighborhood, or a home.  Just as brain cancer often spreads to the lungs, said Clay, meth often spreads between classes, families, and friends.  Meth’s associated rigors affect the school, the police, the mayor, the hospital, and the town businesses.  As a result, said Clay, there is a kind of collective low self-esteem that sets in once a town’s culture must react solely to a singular–and singularly negative–stimulus.”  (p. 73)

Possible Objections:

  • some disturbing descriptions of violence, injuries, bodily functions & sexual stuff
  • some adult language

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

Walk in the Woods

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Title: A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

Premise:

This is a humorous memoir about Bill’s quest to hike the Appalachian Trail, a good portion of it with his friend Katz.  Additionally, Bill shares his observations and opinions on topics which are pertinent to the story, such as, the National Parks Service, invasive species, conservation, mining, etc.

My thoughts:

It would not be an understatement to say that I LOVED this book!  It wasn’t a page-turner that I just couldn’t put down, but more like an old friend that I would return to for shared jokes and just to appreciate being together.  I wanted to savor my time with this book.  Bill’s wry humor really suits me and I appreciate the way he uses it to draw attention to and poke at issues he cares about.  Sometimes it’s more effective to criticize something through sardonic humor than by railing against it in an angry tirade.

When I picked up the book, I didn’t really think it would be all that exciting.  How can you make an exceptionally long walk entertaining?  Well, Bill figured it out and delivered beautifully.  His comedic timing is like strawberries and whipped cream: perfect.  Let me state again that I am in love with his writing style and I look forward to reading more of his works.  How can I have gone so long without reading any of his books?

The last thing I wanted to comment on was how Bill brought little nuggets of history into his story.  I love history when it’s presented in an engaging manner, and Bill incorporated it seamlessly.  I was particularly intrigued by the opulent hotels which once existed in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the sad history of the town of Centralia in Pennsylvania.  I had previously studied Centralia when I was on a kick about ghost towns, and it is a haunting setting to be sure.  If you’ve never heard of it, do a bit of research.  It’s fascinating.

I recommend A Walk in the Woods to adults and mature teenagers who enjoy a humorous adventure story.  If you like wry humor, you’ll especially appreciate Bryson’s writing.

A couple of favorite quotes:

“’Daniel Boone, who not only wrestled bears but tried to date their sisters, described corners of the southern Appalachians as so wild and horrid that it is impossible to behold them without terror.’  When Daniel Boone is uneasy, you know it’s time to watch your step.”  (p. 63-64)

“The forest we walked through now was really just a strapping adolescent.  In 1890, a railroad man from Cincinnati named Henry C. Bagley came to this part of Georgia, saw the stately white pines and poplars, and was so moved by their towering majesty and abundance that he decided to chop them all down.  They were worth a lot of money.”  (p. 68)

Possible Objections:

  • a decent amount of swearing

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori