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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Ella Enchanted — Movie 2004

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A short while ago I watched Ella Enchanted after having finished the book.

If you want to know more about what I thought of the book, check out my book review.

I watched the Ella Enchanted movie before reading the book, so I already knew that I would like the story.  Even though I really enjoyed the movie, I was surprised by how much the story had been changed from the book.  Ella’s movie father is much, much nicer than in the book.  The other major difference is that Char and Ella’s love interest is developed in the movie in a way that it never is in the book.   Also, Char’s evil uncle was completely fabricated for the movie, but we were really gratified to see Cary Elwes in the role.  He must have had fun hamming it up and it reminded us of his performance in The Princess Bride.  The other change which made the movie so much fun was the way it melded modern and old-fashioned, including in costume, dance and singing.  Yes, singing!  Yes, a Queen song!  What more can I say?

Anne Hathaway had a huge part in making this movie the success that it is.  As we all know, she is a superb actress and this film showcases her abilities, even at a young-ish age.  Just like in the book, Ella is a feisty and opinionated Cinderella-type.  Hathaway puts just the right amount of wit, sass and charm into Ella to make her one of the most likable princesses out there.

I recommend Ella Enchanted to everybody who enjoys a good fairy tale.  My boys watched it with me, and even they conceded it was a good movie.

Rated: PG

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

OTHER ELLA ENCHANTED POSTS:

Arcady by Michael Williams

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Title: Arcady by Michael Williams

Notable: Book #1 in the Arcady series

Premise:

Solomon’s childhood home of Arcady is threatened by a destructive and mysterious force known as the Absence.  Though Solomon’s education at the Seminary has caused him to become jaded and cynical toward Magic and religion, he yet has a role to play in the salvation of his homeland.

My thoughts:

This is one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read.  For the first 2/3 to 3/4 of the book, I was pretty much lost.  There were slight connections between events and characters, but not enough to make it seem like a cohesive story.  Not until I was past the halfway mark did the different parts of the story come together and it started to make sense.

I say started, because the narrative never truly came together into a completely understandable story.  This book is absolutely full of half-formed ideas and images — magic, ethereal and difficult to fully grasp.  The characters are strange too, mysterious without adequate explanation of how they came to be that way.  That’s not really my cup of tea, but I muscled my way through the foggy and indistinct imagery and concepts because I don’t like to quit books unless they’re truly awful.

There’s a certain satisfaction to the end of the story.  The baddy is thwarted at least partially, things that were lost can now be rebuilt, the Hawken family isn’t at odds with itself anymore.  Apparently there’s a sequel to this book, but I don’t know if I’ll read it.  It was really tough getting through this one and I don’t feel ready to tackle another tedious read right now.

I recommend Arcady to those who like high fantasy that explores religious themes and imagery.

Possible Objections:

  • A little bit of bad language

Rating: 2 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Shunning by Beverly Lewis

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Title: The Shunning by Beverly Lewis

Notable: Book #1 in The Heritage of Lancaster County series

Premise:

Katie Lapp is a young Amish woman who is set to marry Bishop John Beiler.  Her heart still belongs to her first love, Dan, who tragically drowned at sea.  She hopes that her marriage to John will give her a new start in life and restore some happiness that she’s been missing.  Just before Katie’s wedding, a family secret comes to light that tears her world apart and she must decide which path is the right one to take.

My thoughts:

This is not my normal reading material at all, so I had a bit of a tough time getting into it.  The book starts out fairly slow, so that contributed as well.  Once I got several chapters in, the action and intrigue picked up and then I couldn’t put it down!  The best way I can describe this story is to say that if a Hallmark movie were to become a book, this would be it.  If that’s too feel-good and emotional for you, you would have a tough time with this book.

There is a strong Christian element to the story, but it didn’t seem out of character, given that it’s about the Amish.  I appreciate all of the small details that the author included about the Amish way of life.  You can tell that she really did her homework.  The story itself is pretty good.  I wasn’t expecting rip-roaring suspense, but it kept my interest and made me want to read the next in the series.

I don’t want to give away the plot, but suffice it to say that Katie goes through an identity crisis of sorts.  She has to figure out what her future life will look like and deal with the consequences of her choice.  It’s rather heartbreaking, really.

I recommend The Shunning to those who enjoy tame romantic stories and reading about the Amish.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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

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

The Mystery in the Snow by Gertrude Chandler Warner

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Title: The Mystery in the Snow by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Notable: Book #32 in The Boxcar Children series

Premise:

The Alden children visit a ski resort with their grandfather and get to enter a winter event competition.  When it seems like the contest is being sabotaged, it’s up to the Alden children to figure out who is ruining it and why.

My thoughts:

You can count on The Boxcar Children for innocent and simple mystery stories for kids.  While there’s nothing profound in this book, it keeps kids engaged by presenting a mystery which they try to unravel.  When I was a kid I loved this series and it still holds somewhat of a magical, mystical quality for me.

The story itself is pretty simple.  The kids enter a contest which features skiing, ice skating, sledding, snow sculpture and ice sculpture.  Two teams compete and at the end they hold an awards ceremony.  From the beginning though, the competition seems to be experiencing an awful lot of misfortune, from a missing key to other peoples’ work being ruined.  This would be an especially appropriate story during the Christmas season, or for kids who enjoy outdoor winter activities.

I recommend The Mystery in the Snow to children who enjoy mysteries without any objectionable material.  It would also be suitable to read aloud to your family.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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Title: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Premise:

Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserly old man who hates all things cheerful and unprofitable–including and especially Christmas!  Scrooge’s deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, sends three ghostly spirits to visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve.  Can they help him realize the error of his ways before it is too late and he suffers the same torturous fate as his partner?

My thoughts:

Initially I had thought I’d be able to read this book aloud with my 10-year-old son, but about halfway through the first chapter, I realized that his attention was waning.  The language was a bit complex for him and it just wasn’t holding his interest.  He doesn’t have much patience for stories which take a little while to get going.

I decided to read it by myself and it was a really nice story to complement all of the Christmas festivities going on around me.  The story didn’t propel itself forward for me, but it may have been partially due to the fact that I have a lot on my plate right now getting ready for Christmas, and my attention tends to wander to my to-do list.  My favorite aspect of the story is the way it makes you feel about Christmas–all the nostalgia and the appreciation for all of the wonderful things during this time of year.  Dickens’ story actually had an instrumental and lasting influence on our Western ideals about Christmas, the true meaning of the holiday and how we observe it today.

I recommend A Christmas Carol to kids in middle school and up, or to families to enjoy together during Christmas.  If you share it with younger kids, you’ll have to do some explaining about the more complex language.

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

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Title: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

Premise:

What will happen when the Christmas pageant is infiltrated by the Herdmans, the town’s most unruly and notorious kids?  Hilarity and the most unique retelling of the Nativity story you’ve ever witnessed!  Their unique take on the story ends up producing the best Christmas pageant the town has ever seen.

My thoughts:

My son and I just finished reading this book together for school and it was an absolute hoot!  We laughed so much at all of the Herdmans’ antics–Imogene as a hoop earring-wearing, cigar-smoking Mary, and Gladys as an Angel of the Lord who yells at the shepherds and stomps on their feet.  Though these kids may be lacking in the finer points of politeness, they latch right onto the Christmas story and internalize its true meaning.

If you’re really particular about not letting your kids read books with children who misbehave, this may not be the book for you.  The Herdmans smoke cigars, hit people, burn down a shed, steal and generally act “naughty.”  Their behavior isn’t glorified, though, so I’m not afraid of my kids following their example.

Throughout the book there’s a smattering of drawings which help bring extra life and humor to the story.  The picture of Imogene smoking in the ladies room while she’s dressed up as Mary is just priceless.

I recommend The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to children and families to enjoy together during Christmas.  It’s our family’s favorite Christmas read aloud!

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol by Harper & Almara

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Title: A Christmas Carol: A Graphic Novel by Benjamin Harper & Dono Sanchez-Almara

Premise:

This is a retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in the form of a graphic novel.  A miserly old man named Scrooge is visited by three Christmas Spirits who show him the error of his ways, and what awaits him in the afterlife unless he changes.  Scrooge vows to be a better man and spends the rest of his life being kind and giving to others.

My thoughts:

I really like being able to read a graphic novel version of this story with my kids.  It’s an awesome way to introduce them to the story!  I was a bit unrealistic about my childrens’ ability to understand the original story by Dickens.  I started reading it with my son and he was looking lost, so we opted to read the graphic novel instead.

You should know going into it, that this is a very simple telling of the story.  The language is quite basic and the retelling really just sticks to the main meat of the story.  I thought the illustrations were really nice!  Marley’s ghost and the third Spirit might be a little alarming to small children, but I don’t think they’re too bad.

I recommend A Christmas Carol to children and families to enjoy together during Christmas.  It’s short enough to read in one sitting.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Father Christmas Letters by J. R. R. Tolkien

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Title: The Father Christmas Letters by J. R. R. Tolkien

Premise:

This book shares a series of letters written by Tolkien (as Father Christmas) to his children, chronicling the adventures at the North Pole each year.  The letters are nicely illustrated with Tolkien’s customary pen and ink drawings.

My thoughts:

This book was completely new to me and I fell in love with it!  Tolkien’s illustrations are simply charming and it’s interesting to see how his style, which I’m used to seeing in his LOTR books, comes through in these letters written to his children.

The letters themselves are simple enough for children, but still interesting for older readers.  It’s easy to imagine the antics going on at the North Pole with the elves, goblins and especially the North Polar Bear or N. P. B.  Who knew that Santa was faced with quite so many obstacles and shenanigans while getting ready to deliver presents to children all around the world?  I can’t wait to share this book with my kids–they are going to love it!

I recommend The Father Christmas Letters to children and families as a wonderful book to read during the holiday season.  You should be able to finish it in two or three leisurely sittings.

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Birds’ Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin

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Title: The Birds’ Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin

Premise:

Carol Bird is born on Christmas Day, a wonderful gift to the rest of her family.  Her health is rather poor and never improves throughout her childhood.  This Christmas, Carol makes it her mission to bring joy to someone else and chooses the Ruggles children who live in poverty in a small house behind her family’s mansion.  Carol and her family make grand preparations so that the Ruggles children can have a magical Christmas experience.

My thoughts:

I read this book some years ago and it’s one of my favorite Christmas stories.  I’ll warn you, it does end sadly.  The story is so sweet and old-fashioned, with charming drawings scattered throughout the book.  Carol uses her last Christmas to bring joy to other children, and I believe that’s a thought worth sharing during the Christmas season.

Really, you have to take the story at face value or you could get caught up in a discussion about why the Bird family doesn’t provide aid to the Ruggles family the rest of the year.  That’s a perfectly valid criticism of the story, but the story wasn’t really written as a manual on civic responsibility.  It’s just a feel-good Christmas story which keeps everything surface level.  The one redeeming point is Uncle Jack’s proclamation that should something happen to Carol, he vows to take the Ruggles family under his wing.  Thank heavens for Uncle Jack!

I recommend The Birds’ Christmas Carol as a touching story that’s perfect for the Christmas season.

Possible Objections:

  • In one scene the Ruggles children play “Deaf and Dumb Asylum”

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Grandfather’s Dance by Patricia MacLachlan

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Title: Grandfather’s Dance by Patricia MacLachlan

Notable: Book #5 in the Sarah, Plain and Tall series

Premise:

This story picks up a short while after the previous one left off.  Jack is now a toddler/preschooler and acts just like his grandpa, John.  Cassie has come to terms with the family’s new addition and she can’t help but love her little brother.  Anna and Justin finally marry, which necessitates a visit from the Maine relatives.  The joyous mood is short-lived, however, when tragedy strikes.

My thoughts:

Well,  I finally finished the Sarah, Plain and Tall series!  It’s a bittersweet ending because I always feel sad when a story featuring some of my favorite characters comes to an end.

In this book, little Jack fairly worships the ground his grandfather walks on and tries to emulate him in all he does.  Poor grandfather is finding it harder and harder to keep up with the rest of the family because of his failing health.  Each family member has to confront the prospect of a future spent without their father/grandfather, and come to terms with that eventuality.

This is a good story for introducing kids to mortality and helping them see that death is an unavoidable part of life.  For kids who might be facing the loss of a grandparent, I think this could be a very cathartic read.  I’ll confess–it made me cry.

I recommend Grandfather’s Dance to kids who are reading beginner chapter books, or as a touching family read aloud.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

OTHER SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL SERIES POSTS:

More Perfect than the Moon by Patricia MacLachlan

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Title: More Perfect than the Moon by Patricia MacLachlan

Notable: Book #4 in the Sarah, Plain and Tall series

Premise:

Cassie Witting is now the family member whose responsibility it is to write in the journal.  Cassie enjoys observing others and writing make-believe stories about them.  When Cassie finds out that Sarah is going to have a baby, she thinks the baby will come between herself and her mama.  She hopes that if she makes up her own story about the baby, perhaps nothing will change and that Sarah will still love her best.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this book as a continuation of the previous three in the series.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t my favorite in the series.  I think it was because there was so very little that actually happened in the plot line.  It’s basically about Sarah getting pregnant, the difficulties she has as an older pregnant woman, and Cassie’s resentment about the new baby.  It’s a nicely done story, and I can see it being a good read for a child who isn’t thrilled with the idea of a new baby being added to their family.

Probably the most satisfying part of the story for me, was in seeing Grandfather’s role in the family expand.  In the last book he had just been fully admitted as a member of the Witting family, but in this book he has really found his position in the family.  He’s a confidant and mentor to the children, a helper to the adults, and a patriarch to the whole Witting family.

I recommend More Perfect than the Moon to kids who are reading beginner chapter books, or as a touching family read aloud.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

OTHER SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL SERIES POSTS:

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: