Reckless Life: Guns N’ Roses by Jim McCarthy & Marc Olivent

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Title: Reckless Life: Guns N’ Roses by Jim McCarthy & Marc Olivent

Premise:

The history of the sensational hard rock band, Guns N’ Roses, told in graphic novel form.  From the early days of its band members, through their tumultuous yet successful era, to the breakup of the original band and its aftermath.

My thoughts:

I was really excited to read this book!  I grew up listening to Guns N’ Roses, though I was too young at the time to take any notice of their personal shenanigans.  That’s probably a good thing.  Sadly, this book was just so-so for me.  The beginning is really cluttered up by a lot of information that introduces us to the variety of characters who eventually come together later in the story.  It tends to jump (seemingly randomly) between the young characters and can get mighty confusing.

That brings me to my next criticism.  There is almost no overarching narration that would help tie everything together and make it more cohesive.  If there had been a narrator to introduce us to the characters and settings, it would have been clearer.  Switching the first-person narrator (sometimes in the middle of a page) without warning the reader, is just a recipe for confusion.

All of the artwork is in black and white and it has sort of a unique look to it.  It’s something you’ll either love or hate.  Personally, it’s not my favorite style for illustrating graphic novels.  It reminds me of a scrapbook with little captions or stories written to go with each image.  Some of the images literally look like snapshots arranged on the page.

The story itself was interesting once I got past the initial introduction and back story of the main characters.  This band was majorly messed up and all I can say is, “Thank God I’m not a rock star!”  Though I did learn many things about the band, I think I would have preferred learning it from a traditional chapter book.  The band’s history and interconnected stories are too complex to capture adequately in a graphic novel.  I don’t know if I’ll seek out anymore books about GNR, but if I ever feel like reading about a majorly messed up lifestyle, I’ll know where to look.

I recommend Reckless Life: Guns N’ Roses to adult fans of GNR.  I think that unless you’re a fan, the comic won’t be interesting enough to keep your attention.

Possible Objections:

  • Lots of profanity
  • Lots of drug use
  • A bit of sexuality

Rating: 3 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Ghetto Klown by John Leguizamo

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Title: Ghetto Klown by John Leguizamo

Premise:

This is an autobiographical graphic novel about John Leguizamo’s life–from his childhood through the present day.  It includes episodes from his stormy childhood days, through his varied and colorful acting career, to his marriage and family.

My thoughts:

My favorite role of John’s was as Chi-Chi Rodriguez in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything!  So when I saw that the library had this graphic novel about his life, I had to get it.  I was totally unprepared for what I found when I cracked it open!  It’s not for the faint of heart or those who don’t like painful honesty and plenty of potty-mouth language.

Objectionable parts aside, I really enjoyed the book.  It took me a little while to come to that conclusion, though.  After I got to the last page and closed it, I felt like I had gone through some sort of traumatic life experience and needed some time to recover and process what I had just read.  John’s life was pretty intense (often not in a good way), yet in this story he shares his heart and motivation with us.  I’m sure this was a cathartic endeavor for him–a chance to examine his life, come to terms with all of its stages, and accept it for what it is.  Without his past he wouldn’t be who he is today.  As someone who likes getting inside other peoples’ heads, this was a satisfying read for me.  It makes me thankful for my relatively uneventful (and peaceful) life.

I recommend Ghetto Klown to adults who enjoy autobiographies told in a unique way.  Just be prepared for a lot of crudeness and bad language.

Possible Objections:

  • Lots of bad language
  • Cartoon nudity
  • Sexual references & language
  • Drug use
  • Some violence
  • A few racial slurs

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

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Title: The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

Premise:

This is Helen Keller’s autobiographical work covering the first 22 years of her life.  Before her teacher, Anne Sullivan, came to unlock the door to the outside world for Helen, hers was a very isolated and joyless existence.  Learning the manual alphabet opened up the wonders of the world to Helen and she went on to get a college education.  The last part of the book shows a progression of Helen’s thoughts, expressions and skill, as expressed in her letters.

My thoughts:

I finished reading this book a couple of days ago, and for some reason I’ve been struggling to record my thoughts about it.  I first read it as a kid, and I remember enjoying it back then.  Now that I’ve read it as an adult, I’ve developed a new appreciation for the book and probably come away with a bit more understanding.

Helen’s story is so encouraging and touching.  Her early years must have been steeped in frustration and confusion, but her life slowly blossomed as she learned to communicate and learn through the help of her teacher.  She must have had a remarkable mind to forge ahead through so many obstacles and to pursue her dream of going to college.

One thing which really stood out to me was that Helen got to rub shoulders with some pretty famous people.  She enjoyed the company of several famous authors, as well as regular interactions with Dr. Alexander Graham Bell.  It’s neat to hear about their interactions from her perspective.  Helen seems to have had a natural gift for winning people’s hearts with her fresh, novel way of looking at the world and expressing herself.  I’ll confess that I’m just a wee bit jealous that she got to meet Mark Twain.

Helen helped many people both during her lifetime and in succeeding generations.  Her academic achievements helped pave the way for those in the deaf and blind community who would come after.  Not only that, but through her writing, we get a glimpse into the mind of someone who has encountered great adversity and come out victorious on the other side.  That’s an encouragement to anyone who is feeling inadequate, discouraged, or overwhelmed.

I recommend The Story of My Life to teens through adults who would like to know more about this remarkable woman’s life.  It’s an enlightening read which will help you to better understand those who are deaf and blind, and the obstacles they face in everyday life.  Plus, it’s just a really interesting biography.

A favorite quote:

“Gradually I began to find that there were disadvantages to going to college.  The one I felt and still feel most is lack of time.  I used to have time to think, to reflect, my mind and I.  We would sit together of an evening and listen to the inner melodies of the spirit, which one hears only in leisure moments when the words of some loved poet touch a deep, sweet chord in the soul that until then had been silent.  But in college there is no time to commune with one’s thoughts.  One goes to college to learn, it seems, not to think.  When one enters the portals of learning, one leaves the dearest pleasures–solitude, books and imagination–outside with the whistling pines.”  (p. 72-73)

Possible Objections:

  • some outdated references to African Americans & glossed over issue of racial inequities (“crowds of laughing negroes,” etc.)

Rating: 4 1/2 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

California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas by Pénélope Bagieu

California Dreamin'.jpg

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A special thank-you to :01 First Second and Goodreads for providing me with an ARC to review!

Title: California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas by Pénélope Bagieu

Premise:

Explore Ellen Cohen’s (Cass Elliot’s) artistic development before she became a part of The Mamas & the Papas.  Cass’s larger than life personality and talent take her to some very interesting places, but it isn’t until she joins with her now famous bandmates that she truly experiences the fame she’s been seeking since she was a child.

My thoughts:

The format of this book is very interesting.  It’s an adult graphic novel, not in the sense that it’s full of garbage, but because it’s an adult-oriented story.  Through Bagieu’s whimsical illustrations, we follow Cass from her early years growing up in a Jewish home in Baltimore, when she dreams of someday becoming a superstar.  At a young age Cass decides to leave home and strike out on her own to see if she can make a go of her dream in New York City.

This takes her to some interesting places and she encounters a lot of unique characters.  Though Cass performs with several different groups, she doesn’t get a big break until she hooks up with her final bandmates — Denny Doherty, and John and Michelle Phillips.  Unfortunately, their success was not to be long-lived because of in-fighting, jealousy, and a weird love triangle sort of thing.  Really, it was rather tragic that a group that had such a unique and cohesive sound should implode quite so spectacularly.

But really, the focus of this book is on Mama Cass and her journey to stardom, along with the final painful moments when her dreams seemed to have fallen completely apart.  Though the book necessarily left out a lot of details because of its format, I think it was successful in conveying Cass’s personality, her hopes and dreams, and who she really was as a person.  This was a really nice book for letting readers get to know Cass a little better and more fully appreciate her life.

I recommend California Dreamin’ to adult fans of The Mamas & The Papas.  It’s fun to look at the early years of Cass’s development, but because of the language and drug use, I can’t recommend it to younger readers.

Possible Objections:

  • lots of bad language
  • a bit of cartoon nudity (fairly tame)
  • some drug use
  • a couple of homophobic slurs

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Booker T. Washington: Great American Educator by Eric Braun

booker-t-washington

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Booker T. Washington is another educational graphic novel for kids which I found at the library.  I’ll just keep ’em coming as I find them!

Premise:

In graphic novel form, readers learn about the life of Booker T. Washington.  He was born into slavery in Virginia and gained his freedom after the Civil War.  Booker worked tirelessly at the Tuskegee Institute to provide African Americans with the chance to get an education and better their lot in life.  He also secretly fought to gain equal rights for African Americans throughout the United States.

My thoughts:

As you already know, I am loving these historical graphic novels for kids!  It would seem that I read them just as much as the kids do.  I read Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.  So I was curious to see which parts of his life they would highlight in this short kids book.

Booker’s life in slavery is only given a cursory glance and then it jumps right into his life after slavery–mainly focusing on his activities at the Tuskegee Institute.  I agree with his view that both the pursuit of knowledge and training in practical pursuits are important.  While it was wonderful that he advocated for equal educational opportunities for African Americans, he also recognized that in the workforce they would still be mostly relegated to jobs consisting mainly of physical labor.  At Tuskegee they taught students hands-on skills such as bricklaying, carpentry, sewing, and printing.  Of course the students also studied more cerebral subjects such as math, science, and history.  Booker was willing to work within the social confines of his time to set the groundwork for a better life for the next generation of African Americans.

I recommend Booker T. Washington: Great American Educator to families who want to give their kids a fun way to learn about history.  This book is a fairly innocuous introduction to the life of Booker T. Washington, which spares you any of the more unpleasant details. As your kids get older, they will want to read some more in-depth books about Booker T.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

moveable-feast

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I want to challenge myself to read more biographies and autobiographies, so A Moveable Feast is a step in the right direction.  It’s a memoir by Ernest Hemingway.  I haven’t read much else by him, but I will be doing so now.  His writing style is interesting and he’s a master at making you feel like you’re a part of the action.

Premise:

A Moveable Feast highlights the early part of Hemingway’s life, when he and his wife lived in Paris as a young couple.  It talks about writing, food, alcohol, friends, love, sex, reading, art, marriage, horse racing, skiing, and some of his now-famous friends and acquaintances.

My thoughts:

This was a fantastic book!  Hemingway’s writing style is very distinctive, so if you can wrap your head around it, you’re bound to appreciate his stories.  He has a way of drawing the reader into the surroundings and events he’s describing, so that you feel like you’re a spectator just looking over his shoulder.  I find myself wanting to explore the places he’s describing.

Hemingway’s way of life as a young man was so alien to me, and that is probably what made it so interesting.  The way he talked with friends; the food he ate; the alcohol he drank; the things he did in his spare time–they are all outside of my own world experience.  I love learning about what life is like for other people.

I had no idea that Hemingway was friends with such well-known people as Picasso , T. S. Eliot, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It’s neat to get a little peak into their social lives and realize that in a way they were regular people just like the rest of us.

It would be helpful to know some French when trying to tackle this book, but you can get by without it. Some of the place names, food, and drink will be lost on you.

I recommend this book to older teens and adults who are looking for a good biography of Ernest Hemingway.  Though the stories only pertain to his younger years, you get a good sense of his character, motivations, and a fascinating look into his life.

A Favorite quote:

“’We’re always lucky,’ I said and like a fool I did not knock on wood.  There was wood everywhere in that apartment to knock on too.” (p. 42)

Possible Objections:

  • Some bad language (SOB x 1, etc)
  • Sexual-themed talk (an STD, prostitution, homosexuality)

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent

Heaven for Real

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This is the first Friends & Family Top Picks – Reading Challenge book that I read.  (See my previous post to figure out what the heck I’m talking about.)  I remembered reading Heaven is for Real in the past, but I didn’t recall details well enough to do a thorough review.  I’m glad that I got the chance to read it again because it’s such an amazing story.  (If you don’t want the story spoiled, stop reading now.)

In a nutshell, this story is about a young boy who has memories of going to heaven and returning in a near death experience.  At the time, Colton was not quite four years old, and had started complaining about stomach pain.  His parents thought it was the stomach flu and because of a doctor’s faulty diagnosis, failed to get their son the medical treatment that he needed for a ruptured appendix.  This poor little guy ended up having poison pumping into his body for five days before being treated, at which point the doctors had no hope for a recovery.  Miraculously, Colton did survive!

Over an extended time period, Colton shared memories and information with his family which were quite startling.  He described Jesus, heaven, the Holy Spirit, told about meeting deceased family members, and was adamant about sharing God’s love with people.  Over time the many pieces of the puzzle came together for Colton’s parents and they realized that he was describing some type of out of body, heavenly experience.  They finally came to accept that what their son was describing had actually happened–he had actually gone to heaven.  This book is their attempt at sharing that testimony with others.

Personally, I was edified by the story.  I really like hearing about how others are trying to follow God’s path and the lessons they have learned along the way.  I also appreciate a good book that explores the themes of death and loss.  My sister died fourteen years ago and I still find healing by learning about how other people have dealt with loss.

Anyhow, Colton’s claims and descriptions don’t set off any alarm bells in my head, as far as squaring up with Scripture.  I’m not arguing that I absolutely believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that this really happened to him, but I’m open to entertaining the idea.  I don’t ask you to believe it, only to consider the idea and judge for yourself.

If you’re a Christian, you will probably enjoy this book and appreciate its sentiments.  If you’re open-minded, you will likely enjoy reading about this family’s story.  If anything Christian makes you a bit sick to your stomach, this is probably not the book for you.

Rating: 3 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

All Creatures

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I went back recently to read a book from one of my favorite series–the memoirs of James Herriot, an English veterinarian from the 1930’s.  This book is called All Creatures Great and Small.

It starts off following James as he enters practice after just having graduated from school.  He lands a job with Siegfried Farnon, an interesting employer.  The book is full of a series of interesting episodes that happened in Mr. Herriot’s life.  Some focus on his patients, some on the people he interacted with, and some on his colleagues.  One thing they all have in common is that they are entertaining.  It’s not just that the stories are entertaining, they are also touching.  You get caught up with the characters and care about their struggles and triumphs, embarrassments and pride, humor and ill-humor.

Mr. Herriot had a refreshing knack for bringing the stories in his past to life for others to enjoy, too.  His writing is wonderful and I thoroughly enjoy it.  I suspect you will, too.  Just be warned that his books are best for adults or older teens.  They have a fair bit of mature subject matter in them.

Possible Objections:

  • Some bad language.
  • Plenty of talk about animal anatomy.
  • Other adult themes.

 Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber

Hard Times

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I’m not sure where I got My Life and Hard Times–perhaps at a library book sale.  (I love those!)  This is the only book by James Thurber that I own, but I will definitely be reading more of his works!

This book is a short collection of autobiographical stories about Thurber’s life in Ohio around the 1930’s.  The episodes he shares run the gamut–from a biting dog to crazy servants, from a broken dam to a car that had to be pushed.  I can’t do justice to the humor contained in this book.  You just have to trust me and read it for yourself.  The ludicrous situations are just right to make you chuckle, chortle and snort.

Also, Thurber included his simple illustrations throughout.  I think they add a nice touch to the stories.  I highly recommend this book as a fun, short read!

 

Possible Objections:

  1. The b-word makes an appearance.
  2. Thurber’s grandpa regularly takes God’s name in vain.
  3. There is some talk about a “yellow” gal and a “Negro”/”Negress” in the chapter about servants.

Rating: 5 Stars

 

Until next time…

Lori

Tisha: The Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaska Wilderness as told to Robert Specht

Tisha

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Tisha: The Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaska Wilderness is one of my all-time favorite books!  I was introduced to it when I was fairly young, perhaps in grade school.  I believe that I found it on my dad’s bookshelf.  In fact, I still have that very copy, though the binding has completely split by now.

Anyhow, this book is a little difficult to classify because it doesn’t stick to a single genre.  There’s some adventure, some romance, some social commentary, some history.  Since it’s a biography, it is a multi-faceted story.  That makes it especially interesting and entertaining.

The overarching story is about a young woman named Anne Hobbs who goes to Alaska in the 1920’s to teach in the tiny community of Chicken.  She is hoping for some adventure, and boy does she find it!  There is plenty of adventure and action throughout the story, no doubt because of the frontier conditions in Alaska at that time and the inhabitants’ ability to do as they please.  Anne doesn’t understand how things are done in her new community, so she ends up stepping on toes and voicing opinions that are not widely accepted.  Many in the community believe that the Native “Indians” are not as good as white people, and this is where Anne runs into a lot of trouble.  She decides that she will allow the native children to attend school with the white kids, and then she has the gall to fall in love with a man who is half Native American.  There are truly heartbreaking scenes throughout the book, but in the end love wins out.

This story is so charmingly told that you end up feeling like you are a part of Anne’s community.  I love all the details the book gives about what life was like in that small Alaskan town at that particular time in history.  You get a glimpse into history that is both informative and entertaining.  I would highly recommend this book to adults and possibly older teens, depending on their level of maturity.  As you’ll see from the section below, there is quite a bit of objectionable content in the book.

Possible Objections:

  1. There is a lot of racism in this book, whether it’s racial slurs or simply people voicing their prejudices.  Though those views are not advocated, they are presented without apology as the views of some of the significant characters.
  2. Racist terms–more than just against Native Americans.  There are also a few slurs against African Americans and others.  I would not want my children reading those words until they are older and better able to judge that they are inappropriate.
  3. There is mention of one man having tried to start a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the town he used to live in.
  4. A child whose father chooses not to acknowledge him is called a “bastard.”
  5. There is a passage where one of the characters beats the donkeys and horses in his pack train to make them continue.  It could be disturbing for some people.
  6. The squalor and disease that is detailed in the Native American community could be disturbing to some readers.
  7. There are some episodes of violence, with people physically fighting.

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Boy by Roald Dahl

Boy

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Boy is a collection of memories that Roald Dahl shares from his childhood.  It is not an all-inclusive story about his childhood years, but just touches on the particular happenings that stood out to him.  He tells the reader about his parents and family, his preschool years, his time in boarding school, vacations in Norway, and his eventual start in life as an independent young man.  Scattered throughout the text are excerpts from letters that Dahl wrote to his mother as a child, photographs, and illustrations.

I am already a big Roald Dahl fan, so I enjoy reading a book that gives me a little more information about his personal history.  Even if you’re not a fan of his, the stories are quite entertaining and informative.  I really think you’ll enjoy this book.  It’s a fun, quick read.

Possible Objections:

  1. The d-word made at least one appearance in the book.
  2. There is an awful lot of talk about caning boys as a form of punishment.  While the author is simply relaying the facts of how punishment was handled in the school setting, it may be a bit traumatic for some readers.
  3. There are also a fair share of scenes in which the teachers treat students harshly.  This may upset some children.
  4. An incident is described in which the author’s nose was sliced almost all the way off in an automobile accident.  Again, this could be a traumatic idea for some kids.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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