The Smurfs: The Village Behind the Wall by Peyo

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Title: The Smurfs: The Village Behind the Wall by Peyo

Notable: Unnumbered volume from The Smurfs Graphic Novels series

Premise:

The Smurfs discover a whole new village filled with only girl Smurfs!  Wild adventures await as the Smurfs try to keep up with the ladies on their own turf in a more jungle-like setting.  Based on the 2017 movie, Smurfs: The Lost Village.

My thoughts:

Though this collection of stories is overflowing with female Smurfs, it wasn’t my favorite Smurfs graphic novel.  It’s probably because I don’t know the characters well and I haven’t seen the movie that the stories are based on.  While the concept is really cool, I wasn’t that impressed with the stories themselves.  They weren’t very engaging and that’s why I gave this book only 3 1/2 stars.

There are a couple of things which I really like about the book.  The female Smurfs are very much like Amazons in their abilities and way of life.  Unlike the prissy Smurfette, these ladies can fight, ride dragonflies, thrive in the wilderness and aren’t afraid to get dirty.  I also like the way these lady Smurfs look–with their blue hair, purple-blue-green color scheme, and almost Polynesian-looking camouflage.

I recommend The Smurfs: The Village Behind the Wall to Smurf fans.  Girls will probably especially like it because it features a whole cast of female Smurfs.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood by Nathan Hale

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Title: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tale: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood by Nathan Hale

Notable: Book #4 in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series

Premise:

Nathan Hale teaches readers all about World War I through the medium of a graphic novel.  Each nation’s characters are portrayed by a particular animal (i.e.: Britain is the English Bulldog) to help keep the characters straight.

My thoughts:

So far, this is my absolute favorite book in the series!  The author told an amazingly cohesive story, considering it spans years and involves many nations and many battles.  The book doesn’t cover all of the battles or even touch on all aspects of the war, but it gives you a well-balanced overview of the entire war and the reasons behind the decisions that were made.

Prior to this book, I had never read anything about WWI.  This was an excellent introduction to the subject, because it gave me a basic, broad understanding of a very complex subject.  It’s certainly enough to start kids with, and if you’re older you’ll want to do further research.  I will definitely be reading more books about WWI in the future, because now it’s not just this big, confusing war which gets jumbled up in my mind.

The thing that most struck me in this story was the sheer wastefulness that resulted from WWI.  It started from a situation which could have been resolved with some wisdom and diplomacy.  Unfortunately, hotheads won out and 9 million people lost their lives in the end.  NINE MILLION–all because of the assassination of one man!  Think about that for a while.  I think this book is an excellent way to show kids the true nature of war, the huge toll that it takes, and the value of resolving conflict peacefully.  It’s a very sobering story.

I recommend Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood to kids, from elementary through the teen years.  Even for older folks, it’s a fun way to learn about history.

A favorite quote:

“Humanity is mad.  It must be mad to do what it is doing.  What a massacre!  What scenes of horror and carnage: I cannot find words to translate my impressions.  Hell cannot be so terrible.  Men are mad!”  (p. 87, from the journal of a French lieutenant, WWI)

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Littles Take a Trip by John Peterson

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Title: The Littles Take a Trip by John Peterson

Premise:

The Little family decides that it is time to make a trip to meet up with some other tiny families.  They believe that their children are a little too socially isolated, and they hope that this will help them make some friends.  Cousin Dinky scopes out the route, but when their ride (Hildy, the cat) gets injured and is taken home by Henry Bigg, the Littles find themselves stranded in the woods.  Will they make it to the tiny family gathering?

My thoughts:

My son and I just finished reading this as our homeschooling chapter book.  This book is much like all the other Littles books, so if you’re a fan, you’ll enjoy it.  I’ll confess that it wasn’t my favorite book in the series.  The story and dialogue were just average, with nothing that really stood out as remarkable.  My son really enjoyed it, though!

I think that a child would get a bit more enjoyment out of the book than an adult would.  They can daydream about what it would be like to ride around on a cat in the middle of a giant woods, and later to ride a tame skunk!  In case you’re worried about the Littles getting stuck in the big, dark woods–don’t fear!  It turns out there are actually tiny people living in the woods whom the Littles never even knew about.  Phew!  You can stop sweating now.

I recommend The Littles Take a Trip to kids who are reading beginner chapter books, or as a fun family read-aloud

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Littles and the Trash Tinies by John Peterson

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Title: The Littles and the Trash Tinies by John Peterson

Premise:

Uncle Nick is injured by the cat and is convinced that he’s dying.  The rest of the Littles decide that a visit from his dear friends from Trash City would be just the thing to get him out of his funk.  Mr. Little, Tom, Lucy and Mus Mus (the mouse) embark on a dangerous journey to bring Nick’s friends back for a Christmas visit.

My thoughts:

As far as Littles books go, this one isn’t my favorite, but my son and I enjoyed reading it, nonetheless.  The plot is extremely simple–Nick’s family goes to collect his friends from Trash City for a visit over the holidays.  The adventure comes in during their dangerous and complicated journey.

It’s fun imagining what life is like for the tiny people in Trash City.  They are ingenious at using the things discarded by the rest of society to create a functioning and comfortable town.  I like how the author went into such detail about the different components of Trash City and how everything worked.

I recommend The Littles and the Trash Tinies to kids who are reading beginner chapter books, and to families who want a fun and easy read-aloud.

 

Possible Objections:

  • At the end of the story, the cat at the dump is thwarted by having its tail impaled with a dart.  You may not appreciate your child getting an idea like that in their head.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

HP Chamber of Secrets

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Title: Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Premise:

Harry Potter is back for his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!  Don’t get too comfortable, though–danger lurks yet again for our dauntless hero and his friends.  Someone is determined to rid the school of students who are from non-wizarding families.  Can Harry, Ron and Hermione stop them before somebody is truly hurt?

My thoughts:

This book is possibly my favorite Harry Potter novel (though I’ll have to go through and compare all of them again to judge fairly).  The story is fun and charming; the characters are engaging and still fresh; the plot elements are fun and adventurous!  If ever there was a satisfying adventure story written for children–this is it!

Chamber of Secrets really capitalizes on the cohesive friendship of Harry, Ron and Hermione, where the first book only touched the surface.  In this book the friends really function as a team and figure out how they work best together.  Also, Hermione’s character became much less annoying and much more fleshed out.

Speaking of characters, I think that this book really did an admirable job of bringing in some very interesting and entertaining new ones–Professor Lockhart, Moaning Myrtle, and even Dobby.  An author should never underestimate the power of good supporting characters, and this story sure does deliver on that front.

As for the story line, it is so much fun–a flying car, the Forbidden Forest, the magical creatures, and the final scene in the Chamber of Secrets–who wouldn’t love it?

If you are familiar with the movie adaptation of this book, you will notice that the book and the movie are nearly identical.  It almost feels like you’re reading the screenplay.  Of course I know that the book came first, but I can picture the movie scenes in my head.  It’s a bit strange.

I highly recommend Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to kids all the way from elementary school up through teens.  It’s also a great family read-aloud.  The story is timeless and would appeal to many ages.

A Favorite quote:

“’So Dobby stopped us from getting on the train and broke your arm….’  He shook his head.  ‘You know what, Harry?  If he doesn’t stop trying to save your life he’s going to kill you.’”  (p. 184)

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Ugly by Robert Hoge

Ugly

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Title: Ugly by Robert Hoge

Premise:

Robert was born with some major birth defects (a growth in the middle of his face and deformed legs) because of a medication his mother took while he was in utero.  His life is a tale of resilience and the quest to fit in in a world that too often judges people based on appearance.  Though the cards are stacked against him, Robert comes of age as a well-adjusted young adult, demonstrating to all that a person’s looks don’t define who they are as a person.

My thoughts:

Thank you to smile rac for recommending this book!

Wow–what a refreshing and well-timed book!  There is so much talk nowadays about acceptance and mainstreaming children with special needs, but that was not the case back when Robert was a child.  It was even a fight for him to be accepted into his own home!

Robert’s memoir is poignant and entertaining at the same time.  His wry humor helps take the edge off of some very painful experiences and helps the reader to identify with the human behind the hurt.  The narrative is detailed enough to keep the attention of older readers, but simple enough that it’s still accessible to a younger audience.  I appreciate that Robert left out offensive language, etc. which would have been questionable for the younger crowd.

The surgery which doctors performed on Robert’s face took place during the early days of craniofacial surgery.  Truly he underwent a groundbreaking surgery which helped pave the way for so many after him.  I thought that was pretty interesting, though I don’t know that he feels particularly heroic for doctors having experimented on his face when he really had no say in the matter.  I’m not sure how I would feel about that, if I were in his place.

For any child or parent who has a friend or family member with special needs, this is an especially important read.  When you feel different it can be very cathartic to hear from others who have gone through the same experiences.  It leaves you feeling a little less alone, a little more hopeful, and a whole lot more understood.  I highly recommend Ugly to all kids–elementary through teens.  For those with a personal tie to special needs or those who have experienced bullying, I recommend it doubly!

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Sign of the Beaver

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Title: The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Notable: Newbery Honor book, 1984

Premise:

Matt and his father have claimed a homestead in the Maine wilderness, but Matt’s father must return to civilization to bring the rest of his family  back.  Does Matt have what it takes to protect their claim and survive until his father returns?  When Matt experiences misfortune, a couple of members of the local Penobscot tribe help him survive.  But how do white settlers and Native People coexist?

My thoughts:

I’m really conflicted on this book.  I enjoyed the story, Matt’s fight for survival, and the blossoming friendship between Attean and Matt.  On the other hand, there were aspects of the book which I really disliked–the dumbing down of the Native Americans, the offensive language, the almost too subtle social commentary.

I’m not a prude when it comes to offensive language in a book, but this is a book aimed at children.  They won’t know that some of the words are outdated or downright offensive.  If it were just a couple of instances it would be easier to overlook, but it’s pretty pervasive.  I most certainly wouldn’t want my child to think that it’s okay to call a woman a “squaw” or a Native American a “savage”.  Okay, rant over.

Apart from that, there are several passages when Matt’s accepted way of thinking is challenged and he comes to a new understanding.  He entertains the idea that perhaps slavery is wrong…maybe Native Americans aren’t as “savage” as he thought…perhaps the white man’s priorities in life are not always superior.  I appreciate that Matt has those crises of thinking, but I think that they are not always spelled out clearly enough that a child would pick up on them.  I hesitate to introduce racist ideas to a child without a very clear follow-up that shows the child why those ideas are wrong.

I suppose the only way I can recommend this book is if you read it with your child and have some very candid discussions about what you are reading.  Some of the issues that will need addressing are slavery, racial terminology, gender roles and terminology, and a more in-depth look at Native American culture.  You can learn more about the Penobscot tribe here.  Also, this link has some helpful curriculum discussion points to address the issues I mentioned.

Possible Objections:

  • Outdated and/or offensive racial language (i.e. Indians, savages, heathen, squaw)
  • Outdated modes of thinking (racism, slavery is normal, Native Americans are uncivilized, etc.)

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Super Mario Adventures by Kentaro Takekuma

super-mario-adventures

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I found Super Mario Adventures at the library and absolutely had to check it out!  As a child I remember playing the original Super Mario Bros. with my dad and siblings.  They are such iconic characters and make me reminisce about my younger years!

Premise:

Mario, Luigi and friends go on an adventure to rescue Princess Toadstool.  Bowser wants to marry Peach and has taken her captive, with the help of his bumbling children.  As he’s planning the wedding, it’s up to Mario and Luigi to defeat Bowser and get the Princess back.  But she’s no shrinking violet.  This princess knows how to take care of herself!

My thoughts:

If you are a Mario fan, you will really enjoy this book!  It has ‘classic Mario’ written all over it.  The colors and illustration style are fun and true to the original franchise.  And the language used by the characters reminds me of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show cartoon.  It uses the same style of speech and I can hear the characters saying their lines in my head as I read.  Who could ever forget Toad’s voice?  Am I right?

The book was published in 1993, still during the time period when I feel like Mario remained very true to the original.  I’m nostalgic and enjoy classic Mario motifs more than the styles that dominate today.  This one was a big winner for me!

I recommend Super Mario Adventures to Mario fans everywhere.  It’s such a fun book and it really brings you back to the younger heyday of the Super Mario franchise.  It feels like being a kid again.  And for younger Mario fans, it’s a fun glimpse at what the stories used to look like when all the old fogies were kids.  😉

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Children of China by Alethea Gold

children-of-china

I found this visually stunning book the last time we made a library trip.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any for sale.  If you really want to admire it, you may have to find a library that carries it and check it out.

Premise:

This book is a visual record of the children of China.  Alethea Gold and Luca Zordan traveled throughout China to photograph children from a wide variety of locations.  Children are shown wearing widely differing clothing styles, in a variety of settings, and engaging in many different activities.

My thoughts:

This is an awesome book!  It would be a great coffee table book, but it’s probably more important as a culturally diverse look at China’s children.  Children would have a great time looking at what life is like for children in China, and seeing the huge diversity.  What better way to teach them to look beyond stereotypical ideas?

The photography is just wonderful!  I love how they caught kids in the midst of their activities, preventing the book from looking like a series of unnatural portrait shots.  There are kids in Mongolia riding horses, children dressed to the nines in the big city, and children living in a monastery.

In the back of the book there are comments about some of the photos and/or quotes from the children about what they want in life.  The list runs the gamut from wanting a TV to wanting to be an astronaut when they grow up.

I recommend this book to people of all ages.  It’s a great way to learn about the diversity of China through it’s children.  It would be particularly useful as a resource in a social studies class.

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Nathan Hale: Revolutionary Spy by Nathan Olson

nathan-hale-revolutionary-spy

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Here’s another book from my quest to find interesting graphic novels.  Nathan Hale: Revolutionary Spy is a book that can be digested in one sitting.

Premise:

Nathan Hale was a young man who lived in Connecticut immediately prior to the Revolutionary War.  He was a student at Yale and later taught others (even getting up to teach girls for free).  Having grown up amid the colonists’ unrest due to British taxes, he volunteered to join the army.  Nathan’s willingness to serve as a spy and his refusal to betray his country are commendable.  Unfortunately, his life was cut short when he was only 21 years old.

My thoughts:

I think this book is a great beginner biography for elementary-age children.  They get a quick overview of Nathan’s life–just enough to pique their interest.  Once they’re at a higher reading level they can come back to Nathan’s story and read a book that is more in depth.

I enjoyed reading about Nathan and the defining moments in his life.  He sounds like a remarkable young man, and it’s a tragedy that his life was cut short.  I’m sure he would have gone on to do many more commendable deeds had he lived longer.  Particularly gratifying was his view on the importance of educating women.  He was truly ahead of his times!

The book is divided into four very short chapters: Student and Teacher, Soldier and Leader, Daring Spy, and War Hero.  At the end, you’ll find a section with more information about Nathan Hale.

I recommend this book to kids who enjoy graphic novels and would prefer to learn about history through that medium.  This particular book is best suited to elementary-age children.

Possible Objections:

  • Nathan is hanged (while we only see his silhouette, kids may still find it disturbing)

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Alamo All-Stars by Nathan Hale

alamo-all-stars

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I read Alamo All-Stars over the course of a couple days. This is a super-fun graphic novel that is perfect for teaching kids about history!  I’m excited to check out the other books in this series.

Premise:

Learn about the early history of the state of Texas, its inhabitants, and their relationship with Mexico.  Who fought for the independence of the Texas?  Why?  How did the Mexican government respond?  What happened at the Alamo?  You’ll find answers to all these questions and more in Alamo All Stars!

My thoughts:

I love this book!  It’s a fantastic way to teach kids about history in a fun and engaging way.  Who wants to read about a bunch of stale dates and names in a history book?  Let kids learn history through graphic novels!!

I’m a big history fan when it’s presented in an interesting format.  Alamo All Stars definitely meets that requirement.  My school days were inexplicably absent of almost any information pertaining to U.S. History.  I don’t know how that happened, but it did.  So I learned about a period of American history that was completely new to me.  And now the story makes sense and will stick with me.  If a person can see a story unfolding before their eyes, it’s more likely that they will retain that information.

It was pretty cool to learn about the roles that Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie played at the Alamo.  (Yes, I’m talking about the man who has a knife named after him.)  I had no idea that they were there!

There are a few stock characters who act as narrators in this book (and the others in the series).  They help provide background information and commentary, as well as a little humor.  The illustrations have a somewhat simple style, but I think they’re quite nice.

I recommend this book for anybody in the elementary to teen years who wants to learn about history in an interesting way.  This would also be great for homeschoolers or to augment a history classroom.

Possible Objections:

  • One instance of the d-word
  • Some violence

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Islands of the Blessed by Nancy Farmer

islands-of-the-blessed

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I finished the final book in the Sea of Trolls trilogy–The Islands of the Blessed. I think this was the best book in the series!

Premise:

Jack and his companions must go on another quest to save his village.  A draugr, or undead spirit, has been drawn to the little town by a magical bell.  She is seeking revenge for an old wrong done to her and will harm anyone who gets in her way.  Can the Bard, Jack and Thorgil get justice for the draugr before her patience runs out and someone else is hurt?

My thoughts:

I thought this was the best book in the series!  The characters have gained more depth and the plot has become more satisfyingly complex.

It’s great seeing the old characters again–especially the Northmen.  Skakki, Olaf One-Brow’s son, is an admirable man and a great leader.  The Bard saw much more action in this story and displayed more of his impressive magical skills.  Magic is just so much fun!  Jack and Thorgil also matured in this tale and their companionship finally develops into something safe and comforting.

The fin folk, or mermaids, were a really fun and imaginative people group.  I’ve never seen the concept of merfolk developed so fully, and it was interesting to see how the author imagined their homes, social customs, etc.

It seems like this is a series that could keep going, especially since there are characters whose stories didn’t wrap up–Pega, Lucy, Brutus, Hazel, etc.  I was disappointed that Pega’s character and story line weren’t developed more.  It seemed like there was a really good story wrapped up in her existence, but in the end nothing of great importance happened to her.  Jack and Thorgil’s entrance into the School of Bards sets the scene for another series of stories, but I don’t know that any will be forthcoming.  Islands of the Blessed was published in 2009.

This is a great book for kids in the elementary to teen age range, or as a family read-aloud.  Those who are interested in Norse mythology or the early interplay of Druid and Christian religions will appreciate the subject matter most.

Possible Objections:

  • One instance of the a-word

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White

trumpet-of-the-swan

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I found The Trumpet of the Swan on my parents’ bookshelf and decided to give it a read. I had read it as a kid, but it’s been many years.  I didn’t remember the story very well, and I was gratified to find that it will be a great story to share with my kids.

Premise:

Louis the Swan is born without a voice but with the help of his father, he learns to overcome his speech impediment by using a trumpet to communicate.  Louis has a series of adventures–meeting a boy named Sam Beaver, playing music for human audiences, and wooing a beautiful swan named Serena.  Though Louis faces many challenges in life, he learns to get by and thrive by following his own unique path.

My thoughts:

I like this book because it’s a very old-fashioned and wholesome story.  It definitely reflects the values and style of the time period when it was written–the early 1940’s.

The animal characters in this book share an interesting mixture of human and animal traits.  While the swans do all of the normal things that swans would do in the wild, they also talk and reason like humans.  At times they also engage in behaviors which are uncharacteristic of swans–such as learning to read and write, playing a trumpet, staying overnight in a hotel room, and working for wages.  You have to suspend your disbelief to really enjoy the story.

One of my favorite characters in the book is Louis’ father.  He has a very grandiose manner of speaking and tends to rattle on in long monologues until his wife cuts him off.  He also has an inflated sense of pride and feels a lot of guilt over stealing a trumpet for his son.  It’s funny to think of a swan posturing and fretting like the old cob does.

I would recommend this book to elementary-age children or as a good family read-aloud book.  It’s a cute, innocent and charming story.

Possible Objections:

  • Native Americans are referred to as Indians

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

M. C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton

mc-higgins

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M.C. Higgins, the Great is the second book from my Thrift Store Young Adult Reading Challenge.  It’s the 1975 Newbery Medal winner.

Premise:

M.C. Higgins lives on a mountain that his family has owned since his great-grandmother, an escaped slave, made it her haven.  Their home is in danger, though, because of a slag heap left behind by coal miners.  M.C. hopes that his family can escape the mountain when his mother’s heavenly singing voice is discovered.  But will his wishes come true?  Friendship also enters into the tale–with M.C.’s friend Ben, and a mysterious girl who shows up on the mountain one day.

My thoughts:

This book was strange.  It has a unique writing style and the characters’ language is somewhat odd.  Also, I found that I wasn’t very interested in what was going on plot-wise.  It’s very basic, but that doesn’t necessarily make a book boring.  I guess the plot just seemed rather meandering and lacking focus.

The characters were hard to get attached to, as well.  I’m not sure why, but I didn’t care much about what happened to them in the story.  There needs to be an emotional connection with the characters in a book, and that was missing in this story.

I’d say that this is a coming-of-age story, but in my opinion there are coming-of-age stories which are much more engaging, entertaining and meaningful.

I don’t recommend this book, though if you want to try it out it’s aimed at school-age kids.

Rating: 2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

from-the-mixed-up-files

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The boys and I just finished From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as our chapter book for homeschooling.  I read this book as a child, but had forgotten the details.  It’s the 1968 Newbery Medal winner.

Premise:

Claudia and Jamie Kincaid decide to run away from home and hit upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as their home away from home.  They successfully evade detection–sleeping on one of the antique beds, bathing in the fountain, and hiding their belongings in various locations.  When a statue arrives at the museum which could be the work of Michelangelo, Claudia won’t rest until she finds out the truth about the statue’s origins.

My thoughts:

My kids and I enjoyed this book, even though it is not full of rip-roaring action.  The story is more of a meandering tale about a brother and sister who learn how to be self-sufficient and how to function as a team.  Claudia and Jamie partake in the typical teasing banter of siblings, which adds humor and levity to the story.

I think kids who read this book will enjoy the idea of children taking care of themselves and making an interesting museum their home.  Personally, I found the story amusing but don’t feel like I’ll return to it for any subsequent reads.

This is an amusing book for those who are in the later elementary/preteen years.  I’m not certain that it will hold the attention of everyone in that age group, though.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori