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

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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

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Snowbound Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner

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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 Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

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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

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

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Title: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Notable: Newbery Honor Book, 1998

Premise:

When Ella is born she is given the “gift” of obedience by a well-meaning, but clueless fairy.  No matter the order, Ella must always obey.  After Ella’s mother dies, her father eventually remarries and Ella must go to finishing school with her two obnoxious stepsisters, Hattie and Olive.  When Hattie gives Ella a terrible order, she runs away so that it won’t have to be fulfilled.  Eventually Ella finds her true love and escapes the curse.

My thoughts:

This book was so much fun!  A number of years ago I watched the movie “Ella Enchanted,” without every having read the book.  I thought the movie was really cute, but now I have to say that I like the book even more.  As with most books which have been made into movies, the book far surpasses the movie.  The character development in the book was much more satisfying.

Ella’s character in the book is just so darn likable!  She’s spunky, funny, down-to-earth, affectionate, compassionate, and knows her own mind.  Even though she suffers a lot because of her curse/gift, Ella doesn’t give up and keeps trying to exert her own will.  Her relationship with Char was very satisfying.  It’s deep and meaningful, without any hints at inappropriate conduct between the young people.  It’s so refreshing to see a love interest for young people which maintains its innocence.  That’s a rare thing nowadays.

I recommend Ella Enchanted to anyone who enjoys a good fairy tale!  It’s a unique take on the Cinderella story.

Possible Objections:

  • Some talk about ogres eating people

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

OTHER ELLA ENCHANTED POSTS:

The Aerosmurf by Peyo

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Title: The Aerosmurf by Peyo

Notable: Book #16 in The Smurfs Graphic Novels series

Premise:

In the main story, the Flying Smurf finally comes up with a plan that will allow him to fly–an airplane!  He gets to put his piloting skills to use when Smurfette is captured by Gargamel and Flying Smurf stages a rescue.  Includes “The Aerosmurf,” “The Masked Smurf,” “The Firesmurfs,” “Gluttony and the Smurfs,” “The Smurf and his Dragon,” and “Jokey Smurf’s Pranks.”

My thoughts:

This book contains several different Smurf stories, but my favorite would probably be “The Masked Smurf.”  One of the Smurfs dresses up in a mask and cape and plays pranks by throwing a pie in the other Smurf’s faces.  He even goes so far as to solicit requests for Smurfs to pie.  Papa Smurf gets to the bottom of the mystery by putting white ink on his request and then he checks the Smurfs’ hands to see which one is covered in ink.

All of the stories in this volume are enjoyable, and it’s one of the more strongly entertaining Smurf graphic novels.  Great for kids!

I recommend The Aerosmurf to all Smurf fans!

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Smurfs and the Howlibird by Peyo

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Title: The Smurfs and the Howlibird by Peyo

Notable: Book #6 in The Smurfs Graphic Novels series

Premise:

In the main story, a baby bird accidentally ingests some faulty fertilizer and he grows into a dangerous pest who terrorizes the Smurf village.  Includes “The Smurfs and the Howlibird,” and “The Smurf Express.”

My thoughts:

I am so close to being caught up with my Smurf graphic novel reviews and you have no idea how relieved I am.  Only one more after this one!  In the Howlibird story, the bird ends up being an absolute menace.  He ruins many of their houses, wrecks the bridge, destroys the well and generally tries to hurt the Smurfs.  Eventually the Smurfs are able to get some of Gargamel’s potion to make things small and feed it to the bird.  Even though the Howlibird is still as cantankerous as ever, he’s too small to do any damage.

In “The Smurf Express,” Handy builds a train and track to help haul supplies from the woods back to the Smurf village.  Gargamel discovers the tiny tracks which he changes so that they lead to his house.  He captures some of the Smurfs, but Papa Smurf stages a rescue and changes the tracks so that Gargamel can’t follow them back to their village.

I recommend The Smurfs and the Howlibird to Smurf fans.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Return of the Smurfette by Peyo

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Title: The Return of the Smurfette by Peyo

Notable: Book #10 in The Smurfs Graphic Novels series

Premise:

In the main story, Smurfette returns and announces that she will marry the Smurf who brings her the moon.  Can you guess whether not anyone is successful?  Includes “Romeos and Smurfette,” “The Return of the Smurfette,” “The Smurf Garden,” “The Handy Smurf” “Halloween” and “Smurferies.”

My thoughts:

It’s gratifying to see Smurfette featured in several stories!  This book shows a lot of male Smurfs smitten with Smurfette and trying to get her to marry them.  They show off their skills in a bid to impress her, but she can be a bit fickle in love.  In the end Smurfette decides that perhaps she’s not quite ready for marriage.

I really enjoyed the “Smurferies” at the end of the book.  It’s a series of one-page comics which share short Smurf lessons.  Sort of like Aesop’s fables.  They’re short and pithy, and will make you as wise as Papa Smurf.  The one where they’re having a costume party is so cute and funny!

I recommend The Return of the Smurfette to everyone who loves Smurfette.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Smurfs and the Egg by Peyo

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Title: The Smurfs and the Egg by Peyo

Notable: Book #5 in The Smurfs Graphic Novels series

Premise:

In this book, the Smurfs discover a magic egg, Gargamel becomes a Smurf, and a freak accident results in a new Smurf.  Includes “The Smurfs and the Egg,” “The Fake Smurf,” and “The Hundredth Smurf.”

My thoughts:

In the first story, the Smurfs want to bake a cake but they need to find an egg.  They go through all kinds of shenanigans to get one and then when it gets back to the village, they discover that it’s a magic egg that will grant them any wish.  The Smurfs wish for all kinds of crazy things until Papa Smurf sees the mayhem it’s causing and wishes everything back to normal.

In “The Fake Smurf,” Gargamel makes a potion to turn himself into a Smurf to infiltrate the village.  He follows another Smurf back to the village and quietly tries to sabotage everybody else.  As with most of his plans, this one fails and Gargamel changes himself back to try and capture the Smurfs.  His potion returns him to the right shape, but not the right size — he’s a tiny Gargamel!

I recommend The Smurfs and the Egg to Smurf fans.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Strange Awakening of Lazy Smurf by Peyo

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Title: The Strange Awakening of Lazy Smurf by Peyo

Notable: Book #17 in The Smurfs Graphic Novels series

Premise:

In the main story, the rest of the Smurfs play a practical joke on Lazy Smurf when he’s caught sleeping while the rest of them are working.  The other Smurfs put on costumes and makeup to look old, and stage the town to look like it’s in a state of decay.  When Lazy wakes up, he thinks he’s been sleeping for many years and now it’s his job to take care of all the aging Smurfs.  Includes “The Strange Awakening of Lazy Smurf,” “Gargamel and his Nephews,” “Gargamel’s Twin,” “The Ogre and the Smurfs,” “Disco Smurf,” and “Surfing Smurf.”

My thoughts:

My favorite stories from this book are the ones featuring Gargamel’s family.  His brother ends up being a really nice guy who befriends the Smurfs on his way to visit Gargamel.  The story with his nephews is one of my favorite Smurf stories.  The young boys get lost in the woods and the Smurfs take them in and care for them until they can be returned to their uncle.  The boys know they’ll get in trouble if their uncle finds out they’ve been with the Smurfs and haven’t helped him in his quest to catch the Smurfs.  So they devise a plan to give Gargamel a false map to the Smurf village so that they can escape and return home.  His nephews look hilarious with their little, round, bald heads!

I recommend The Strange Awakening of Lazy Smurf to Smurf aficionados.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Smurf Apprentice by Peyo

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Title: The Smurf Apprentice by Peyo

Notable: Book #8 in The Smurfs Graphic Novels series

Premise:

The main story is about a Smurf who sees Papa Smurf’s awesome ability to make magical things happen with his laboratory concoctions, and wants to do magic himself.  Includes “The Apprentice Smurf,” “Smurf Traps” and “The Smurfs and the Mole.”

My thoughts:

In the first story, the unlucky Apprentice Smurf tries out some magic he stole from Gargamel, not knowing what he’s made, and ends up turning himself into a lizardy Smurf.  The poor guy goes back to Gargamel’s to try and find an antidote, but is captured.  Of course, the rest of the Smurfs come to the rescue and they figure out a way to return him to his former blue cuteness.  🙂

In “Smurf Traps” Gargamel actually uses his noodle to devise some traps that are irresistible to the Smurfs.  Brainy is targeted with a giant book, Jokey with a wrapped gift, and Greedy with an enormous cake.  Papa Smurf finds a way to rescue his little Smurfs and entices Gargamel into a trap of his own.

I recommend The Smurf Apprentice to Smurf fans everywhere!

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

And yes, I did take a picture of the book in a hole in our wall–courtesy of the previous occupants!

Smurf Soup by Peyo

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Title: Smurf Soup by Peyo

Notable: Book #13 in The Smurfs Graphic Novels series

Premise:

In the main story, a giant named Bigmouth shows up on Gargamel’s doorstep and demands something to eat.  Gargamel feeds him, but when he’s eaten everything edible in the house and still wants more, Gargamel tells him he should try Smurf Soup.  Includes “Smurf Soup,” “Gargamel and the Crocodile” and “The Clockwork Smurf.”

My thoughts:

Bigmouth is a fun character and it’s fun to see the different ways the Smurfs try to pacify him while coming up with a plan to make Smurf Soup that won’t actually harm any Smurfs.  Papa Smurf’s plan is ingenious and it totally turns the tables on Gargamel and gets him in trouble with Bigmouth.

“The Clockwork Smurf” is another enjoyable Smurf story.  Handy Smurf builds a Clockwork Smurf to help him with work around the house, but Gargamel captures him and builds an evil replica.  This new Clockwork Smurf feeds the rest of the Smurfs a potion which turns them into ugly-looking little monsters.  Never fear — Papa Smurf cooks up an antidote and they give Gargamel a dose of his own medicine!

I recommend Smurf Soup to Smurf fans everywhere!

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Smurf King by Peyo

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Title: The Smurf King by Peyo

Notable: Book #3 in The Smurfs Graphic Novels series

Premise:

When Papa Smurf goes away on a trip, one of the Smurfs decides that they should vote to decide who is in charge while he’s gone.  This Smurf makes promises to the other Smurfs so they’ll vote for him.  When he gets elected, the power goes to the Smurf King’s head and his subjects start to regret their decision.  Includes “The Smurf King” and “The Smurfony.”

My thoughts:

This is quite a politically charged Smurf story!  Though the story is aimed at kids, any adult reading it will pick up on the subtle commentary made about any political system in which one person holds power over another.  The Smurf King ends up turning into a bit of tyrant and feels that he has the right to rule over the others.  He makes them build a grand palace and throws Jokey in prison.

Eventually the others become so frustrated with his high-and-mighty ways, that they defect to the woods to build a new village.  They no longer want a King to rule over them, and pretty soon Papa Smurf returns and puts everything to rights again.

I recommend The Smurf King to fans of the Smurfs.  If you enjoy political commentary, this is a fun way to get a dose of it!

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Smurfs and the Magic Flute by Peyo

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Title: The Smurfs and the Magic Flute by Peyo

Notable: Book #2 in The Smurfs Graphic Novels series

Premise:

This is a story about a magical flute which makes people dance and how a dishonest man named Oilycreep uses it to steal from others.  He conspires with Lord Mumford to use the flute to start a war and gain additional lands, but the Smurfs save the day by making a new magical flute to thwart their evil plans.

My thoughts:

In my opinion, this is possibly the best Smurf graphic novel.  The story is complex and it brings in a lot of elements that are outside of just the Smurf village itself.  Johan, Peewit and Homnibus, recurring human characters throughout the series, have major roles in this story.  The Smurfs are brought in almost as supporting characters.  Their role is to make the new magical flute and help stop Oilycreep and Lord Mumford.  Their village is definitely in the early stages of its development in this story.  It’s not pictured as this cute little village that you can get to just by taking a nice stroll through the woods.  The landscape around the Smurf village is pretty bleak, and the Smurfs and their houses look quite different from later renditions.

Although the illustrations have more of an old-fashioned look to them, the story is great.  I love the complexity of it and the human characters give it a different kind of flavor from most of the Smurf graphic novels.

I recommend The Smurfs and the Magic Flute to fans of the Smurfs.  It’s one of the best!

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Forever Smurfette by Peyo

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Title: Forever Smurfette by Peyo

Notable: Unnumbered volume from The Smurfs Graphic Novels series

Premise:

This volume follows Smurfette on several classic Smurf adventures.  Includes: “A Kiss for Smurfette,” “Baby Owl,” “Little Red Riding Smurf,” “The Haunted Castle,” and “Bombollino Visits the Smurfs.”

My thoughts:

I really liked this Smurf graphic novel and it has become one of my favorites.  I’ve always been a fan of Smurfette (hasn’t every little girl?), so it’s a real treat to see an entire book full of stories where she features as a main character.  She just brings something special and unique to the stories that you don’t get with the male Smurfs.

My favorite story is “Baby Owl” in which Smurfette finds a baby owl and cares for it until it gets big.  She puts up a home for it in the forest, but one day discovers that her owl has left the nest.  Smurfette is devastated until one day, the owl returns with a mate and two owlets of its own.

I recommend Forever Smurfette to fans of the Smurfs–especially those who love Smurfette!

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori