Friday, September 2, 2011

The Final Summit

This is a encouraging little book about giving all that it takes to reach the top. This may not mean financial prosperity, but it will give you ideas towards happiness. It was not my favorite read, but I would certainly recommend it as food for thought.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Please Stop Laughing at Me by Jodee Blanco

This story tore to the core of my heart. I was appalled to read the treatment that this young woman endured, some of which under the noses of other Christian adults. I myself was lucky enough to have never experienced bullying to this extent. I certainly had my share of teasing, but it pales in comparision to this.

This story opened my eyes to what I can and should do as a teacher. Students won't tell me everything. Nor will my interference necessarily help the child in the short term. But, I must still have the courage and understanding to know that children can be cruel to each other in their race for acceptance. As a young teacher, I hope to be the person who will encourage children to know that they are loved, and that competition is not necessary, and only wastes time, energy, and skill.

This book is not for the faint of heart. For those who ignore bullying, who are the bullies, or who assume that this sort of treatment has been removed from the lives of youngsters will be thrown out of their comfort zone. There are far too many people today who assume that their thoughts, words, and actions, if said behind the back or with majority support, will not affect the victim. They are wrong, and I think this is the book that will show them how long and how far their words can stretch.

Max On Life: Answers and Inspiration for Today's Questions

I found this book to be very eye-opening and helpful. Each of the entries is about a page or two long, and each one offers a bit of clear and understandable advice. Topics included relationships, sin, church, work, family, children, Scripture, and other such issues that the new and old Christian wrestle with. I highly recommend this book to anyone who needs a place to start finding answers to the everyday questions, as each points back to a bit of Scripture.

The only con to this book that I can see is the lack of historical awareness, and doctrinal knowledge. I know that Lucado has delt with issues of doctrine before, and I was looking forward to hearing his take on different doctrines that the Church is facing today. But the book is for those who have the basic life-questions, not for those who are looking for deep theological discussion. Both have their place, and I certainly enjoyed the book thoroughly.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara

The Civil War devastated American families, changed the American understanding of the Constititution, and was fought by mortal men. These men and women seem larger than life to modern students, and Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels helps to bring the conflict and the human participants back into reality. His format, skill, and understanding each bring each general’s hopes, dreams, and beliefs into sharp reality, all in a format that grips the reader throughout the bloody Battle of Gettysburg.

Michael Shaara walks his readers through every inch of the battle from a different point of view for each chapter. The reader becomes completely engaged in the conflict from the point of view of General Lee, Longstreet, Chamberlain, Buford, and several others. The reader feels the symptoms of Lee’s failing heart, or of Champerlain’s affection for his younger brother, and of Longstreet’s ability to sacrifice all of his men for the war. Each man has his failings, and the reader becomes aware of the mistakes of the war, not as a simple history lesson or an example of stupidity, but as an intricate and familiar part of humanity. Shaara insures that Lee’s mistakes are not opportunities for scorn, but for a better understanding of the men behind the larger-than-life figures of history. No matter which side of the conflict the reader may stand, he will appreciate the struggles and humanity of each of the generals before the book is done.

Each of the chapters tells the battle from the view of a different general, and each chapter is written as if the reader were reading the thoughts of the general at hand. Shaara uses a vocabulary, sentence structure, and thought process that reflects the character of the General. Longstreet feels thoughtful, quiet, awkward in crowds, and completely dedicated to the task at hand. The reader enters into the mind of Chamberlain, capable of great theological ponderings, but obviously disciplined enough to keep those thoughts at bay while in battle, until he can sit and think everything out clearly. The chapters from General Lee’s mind are controlled, sad, thoughtful, tired, with a yearning to return home, and an understanding that ‘home’ will never be the same for him. Shaara’s masterful use of language reflects the personality and thinking style of the man in the spotlight, helping the reader to better understand and relate to the General as a man.

As a reader who is largely unfamiliar with the greater themes and terrain of the Battle of Gettysburg, this book was a tremendous aid to great understanding. Not only did the battle descriptions make sense, but the Generals and leaders all became more human, making the battle all the more fascinating and distressing. The only improvement possible would be in reference to the maps. Each of the regiments and units was marked with the same color and style block, with no differentiation between Confederate and Union troops. This made the maps confusing for someone who was still learning the names and loyalties of each of the different generals and regiments. If the Union were always blocks, and the Confederate positions were marked with striped blocks, then the maps would have been vastly improved. Otherwise, this book cleared up so many confusions of the battle, and helped to establish the different participants as human beings, not simply characters in a story.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Eat Your Peas, Mom: Simple Truths and Happy Insights

Eat Your Peas, Mom is a lovely little book, and would make a perfect gift for Mothers Day. Each page has a short but candid quote, and the opposite page remains empty for writing your own letters. The paper used for the pages are thick vellum-like material, which can survive the wear and tear of writing and reading.

My own mother has been an amazing and quiet influence on my life, and I've only begun to realize the full extent of her touch in my life. She is quiet, funny, wise, human, and an amazing cook. She has taken care of four children, and a husband, and has given one child away in marriage, and is preparing to give away her second as well.

This book is a humorous and lovely book that would be a perfect opportunity to thank that mother in your life, both with the words of the author, and your own.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Conversation with God for Women

I received this book just a few days ago, and so far, I have found it very useful. I would rate this book at about a 3-4 out of 5 stars. The format is well done, the cover is lovely, and the information and intentions are strong and well done.

The book itself is laid out as a series of conversations, where each person, be it God, Ruth, Esther, the Modern Woman, Christ, or Paul, speaks in the first person. Each chapter addresses a different issue that a woman can come up across. I found the chapter on guilt, sin, and forgiveness especially well done. I really liked the method of each speaker referring to the Scriptures as personal correspondence from God to his Church.

The only reason I would not give the book a full 5 stars would be because of personal preference. I'm a bit of a traditionalist, and it's difficult to read a modern book who is speaking for God in the first person. Also, some of the chapters seemed unclear, or redundant.

But, overall, a good book, and one that I will be reading for quite a while as I unpack what the author has to say and figure out the deeper interpretations of the Scriptures.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Ballad of the White Horse, by G. K. Chesterton

In this beautifully composed ballad, Chesterton relives before our inward eye the glorious fight of King Alfred as it is legend, though perhaps not as history. The lack of historical acumen is certainly not a handicap to the book. Far from it. Chesterton made sure to warn his readers in the foreword that he was not attempting to write a historical poem, but a ballad of a legend. King Alfred certainly existed, and the battle certainly happened. And the legends surrounding his life are the subject of ballad.

In this particular ballad, Chesterton proves his flexibility with language, and his keen eye towards human nature. His rhyme scheme varies throughout the poems, generally in 4-12 line stanzas, with predictable patterns of rhyming throughout. In fact, when reading the poem aloud, the listener will probably not notice the changing lengths in stanzas. The listener will instead become fully engaged in the story of King Alfred, who cannot win a war, but who fights on simply because the "sky grows darker yet/and the sea rises higher." In typical Chesterton fashion, the book is filled with quotable sayings, ranging in topics about prayer, bravery, and perseverance, to human nature, pagan men, heroes, the future, and the duty of man to do what is right, despite all odds. But the reader does not feel sermonized. Instead, he finds himself inspired but the stories of Kings who let the bread burn, of Celtic Kings ("For all their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad."), battles against Pagan men, and the battles that occurred on the earth "before the gods who made the gods".

I highly recommend this book as a work to be read aloud to young boys, to anyone interested in the ancient world, the medieval world, or modern journalism. While the book is astounding when read, the full effect is best found when the book is read aloud to a group of listeners, who chime in at the rhymes that they know by heart. (Optional: Read with a glass of wine, by candlelight, on a cold winters eve.)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Sometimes, the smallest of God's creation bring the greatest changes to the world and history. Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1851, was written in small installments to Abolition Magazine, in an effort by the author to cast the harsh realities of slavery into the public eye. Stowe used her writing skills to display the potential in the African American, as well as the horrors of slavery.

Tom and his family live faithful and contended lives as slaves on a plantation in Kentucky. Tom is an older slave who has worked for his master's family since he was a small boy. His master, Mr. Shelby, trusts him completely, even sending him on errands into Cincinnati, with full confidence that the faithful servant will return with a full account of his mission. Mr. Shelby falls into debt, however, and is forced to sell Tom, and another slave, the little boy Harry. Harry is the son of a slave woman, called Eliza, in the Shelby household, who decides to run away when she discovers the fate her son is about to face. She flees, hoping to reach the other side of the Ohio River, and maybe find her runaway husband, another slave from a neighboring plantation. The rest of the book follows the next five years in the lives of the Shelby's, Tom, his family, Eliza and her family, and how they all come to freedom.

Stowe began writing Uncle Tom's Cabin in reaction to the Fugitive Slave Law, which decreed that all runaway slaves were the rightful property of their former masters, even when in the free states. All runaway slaves must be returned to their owners. For even if a black man had lived in a community for decades, if a white man claimed that he was a runaway, and had one signature to support his claim, the black man could not come to trial, could not resist, and could not seek for assistance. Uncle Tom's Cabin was written to show the logical fallacies of such a law, as well as to open the eyes of the North to the terrors of southern slavery.

Stowe does not simply approach a political question in this book, however. She explores the different theological arguments for and against slavery, as well as the hypocritical notions of Northerners, who call for freedom for the slaves, but will not lend a helping hand to them as a neighbor and friend. She describes how faith and scripture can give hope and patience to even the worst of circumstances, through Tom's torturous experience under Legree. She describes the amazing power of love and forgiveness through Evangeline, Topsy, Tom, Eliza, and Cassy, St. Clare, and Miss Ophelia. Every form of thinking and lifestyle and opinion are approached and described in this book, whether it be godlessness, patience, despair, triumph, hope, bondage, and freedom.

In this book, Stowe displays a masterful use of language in her retelling of “Life Among the Lowly”. She calls every opinion about slavery, faith, religion, hard work, patience, kindness, godliness, and humility to account through her different characters. Even readers who do not enjoy her flourishing style are sure to find at least one character with whom they can connect and admire. I personally admire Eva. Her full name means “good news”, and she is a quiet and young reminder of the delicacy of life, and the strength of faith in a good heart. While I cannot claim to understand the political and social arguments for and against slavery, I certainly can understand Eva's call to Topsy “to be good”, regardless of the circumstances. This is Stowe's challenge for us, through her little book: to do good, against all odds, for the good of our brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell

Deep in the Pacific Ocean, there is a small island called St. Nicholas Island. This island once held generations of Indians who survived on fish, birds, abalones, and other natural resources. Scott O’dell pulls from a historical figure who was brought off the island after living there alone for almost two decades. In the epilogue, O’Dell tells the reader that most of the story is fictional, based on the few pieces of information that he could gather about the woman of St. Nicholas Island.

Karana is a young girl who is the daughter of the Chief. Some Aleuts come to their island, seeking to hunt the otters surrounding the island. When the Aleuts try to leave, their Russian leader refuses to pay Karana’s people for using the waters around their island, as well as the safety of the bay. There is a battle, and many are killed. A white man’s ship comes to the island soon after, and the tribe decides to leave with them, since their numbers are so few from the recent battle. Karana discovers, however, that her younger brother never boarded the ship, and she jumps over the side, and swims back to the island to be with her brother. Later on, the brother is killed by wild dogs, leaving Karana to fend for herself. Most of the book follows this young Robinson Crusoe as she survives on the island. She survives a tidal wave, an earthquake, foreign strangers to her land, wild dogs, all by her own wits and imagination. The book ends with her leaving the island that she loves on a missionary ship to find her people.

This book fascinated me, as I have always had an interest in Native American history. The narrative reads as if someone unfamiliar with the English language is dictating to the writer. While the style seems a bit broken, it only adds to the realism of the story. While most of the story is from the imagination of the writer, the reader feels like he is walking and struggling with the character, and learns that change is not always bad, and that one must be willing to face the future, whatever it may hold, with purpose and determination.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Two Collars, by Jeri Massi

A young slave girl is a juggler in a traveling entertainment troupe in the kingdom of Folger. Krea has no memory of her parents. Her memories include her current master, and the rest of the troupe (Betty, Dolly, Jolly, and Piper), and some faint emotions to her life in the Caves. No one has loved her, and she is always cold, hungry, and tired. Then, she meets an old woman, who buys her, cares for her, and raises her to be a healer. She later discovers that the old woman, whom she has come to love, is the Queen of Bracken, who has been forced into hiding by her usurping nephew, the King of Folger. Krea chooses to serve her beloved mistress as a courier for the faithful soldiers to the true King. She comes across many adventures, which all test her loyalty to her beloved Mistress, and to the rightful King, and even to her old troupe.

I first read this tale in second grade, and have kept it ever since. I love the growth that young Krea experiences, as she grows to love and treasure her beloved Mistress. She learns of values that run deeper than hunger and survival. This young girl grows into a woman of learning, respect, and honor, who will serve her enemies rather than betray her conscience.

Jeri Massi is a wonderful story teller who sought to relate the adventurous life of a Christian in her stories to young children. She strives to give examples of honor, dedication, loyalty, respect, and love in this book, which are powerful enough to leave an impact, and simple enough to be understood by young readers. Her style is such that is best understood when read aloud for the first time, making this book a perfect bedtime chapter book for the budding reader. The scenes are never so terrifying, even at their saddest, that the child will be left wondering in fear. Instead, the child will be show the clear distinction between right and wrong, without bypassing the difficulty of making the right decision.

All in all, this story brings high adventure to the life of Christianity at a level that a young girl will understand.The child will grow to understand responsibility, kindness, gentleness, self-control, patience, and all the fruits of the spirit through Krea's adventure.

And, luckily, it is the third in a trilogy. More to come on the first and second books.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry

In this children’s novel, a young girl lives the definition of courage during a time when courage saved the lives of thousands. A young girl named Annemarie Johansen lives in Denmark during the time of the Nazi occupation. She lives with her younger sister, Kirsti, and her mother and father. She had an older sister, Lise, but she was killed in a car wreck several years before the story takes place. Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, is Jewish, and Annemarie learns what kind of courage it takes one me have to save a nation and a people.

Lois Lowry shows an amazing sense of artistry, historical accuracy, and perception in this work. The language is easy to follow, with enough sentence variation to keep the mind moving along the sentence line. While she admits in her Afterword that most of the characters are fictional, she provides information about what was fancy, and what was real about the story. For example, the handkerchief secret towards the end of the book that saves all of the runaway Jews was a historical discovery which the Resistance used to thwart Nazi search attempts. The King Christian X truly was as beloved to his people as Lowry describes. And one can easily imagine the thoughts of Annemarie to have run through the minds of countless men, women, and children during those nightmarish years.

The primary characters and plot of the book are similar to most stories of the Holocaust that actually had happy endings. The Johansen family takes in the Jewish daughter of their good friends and neighbors, the Rosens. Mr. and Mrs. Rosen flee to another secure area when they learn of the coming raids, leaving their daughter, Ellen, in the care of their friends. Annemarie then witnesses the cold brutality of the German SS as they come to search for the Rosens. Annemarie even takes a few steps of her own, in her own act to save her best friend. After this first raid, Annemarie’s mother and sister, and Ellen travel to an uncle’s house who lives on the coast of Denmark, within sight of free Sweden. Through the help, cleverness, and diligence of Resistance workers, like Annemarie’s almost-brother in law, Annemarie sees the Rosens and other Jews leave for the safety of a boat to Sweden. Finally, with Annemarie’s quick thinking, and commitment to her friends and family, she allows for the final step of securing safe passage for the Jews, through the aid of the handkerchiefs.

Lois Lowry tells of the horrors of the Holocaust from the eyes of a young child. She faces the questions that all individuals faced at that time, and struggles to answer them, just as any adult would. While the answers to these questions are different throughout history, Lois Lowry shows what the answer should have been. For courage is not being unafraid; it’s doing what you must, despite your fears, in order to save those you love.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Redwall, by Brian Jacques

Redwall by Brian Jacques begins the growing saga of the adventures of different woodland creatures dwelling in Redwall Abbey. While older readers might complain of the repetitive nature of the plots, children of the proper reading level will devour these books, and will carry these stories throughout their lives.

In this first book, Jacques relates the story of a young mouse named Matthias who must work against insurmountable odds to protect Redwall Abbey from the evil rat, Cluny the Scourge. With the help of other mice, hares, badgers, moles, voles, otters, and squirrels, the Abbey dwellers must fight off Cluny’s band of vicious rats, stoats, ferrets, foxes, and vixens who seek to overthrow the prosperous Redwall Abbey. All of this happens under the watchful spirit of Martin the Warrior, the founder and guardian of Redwall Abbey. Fighting to protect family, friends, and home, Matthias must use all his wit, skill, and bravery to drive away the evil rats that have come to destroy his beloved Abbey.

The books in the Redwall series constantly uphold bravery, dedication, perseverance, love, family, loyalty, home, and hard work as the virtues that make life worthwhile. The characters often must solve riddles, and find efficient and effective ways to protect themselves from their enemies. While the villains always treat their crews and victims in horrible and cruel ways, the Redwallers always try to make their enemies leave instead of killing them in cold blood. But the Redwallers are not afraid to kill in order to protect themselves.

I personally began reading these books when I was in 4th grade. Nine years later, I introduced my youngest sister to them, and she is continuing to collect the books as they come out to this day. She and I, and countless other readers, are drawn to the ideas that good will always conquer evil, that sad things happen to good creatures, but that does not ever provide a reason to ever forget the blessings that we receive every day. In fact, the struggles make the blessings all the more sweet, and all the more worth fighting for.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbit

In this quiet book about living and dying, a young girl struggles to understand what death can do to a life. Winnie Foster, a ten-year-old girl from a prosperous family, wants only to do something meaningful with her life. Through an accidental kidnapping, as well as a villainous man’s greed for eternity and prosperity, Winnie learns that the threat of mortality is a blessing to life, not a hindrance.

Natalie Babbitt’s quiet style provides a comforting and inspiring view of death to young children. Her constant reference to the “deadening” and “smothering” August heat makes the story so much more believable. In this book, all of the adults seem childish to young Winnie’s eyes, regardless of age or experience. In fact, the only human who acts like an adult is the yellow-coated villain. I believe this is because he seems to have no fear of anyone or anything, while Winnie, her family, and the Tucks all know and work with fear in some shape or form. As a book that deals primarily with fear, death, and separation, Tuck Everlasting does not scare a child. Instead, Babbitt provides a stable, acceptable, and settled foundation upon which children can learn about and cope with those fears.

Personally, I was not as impressed with this book, but I believe that is a matter of taste and life experience. I enjoyed almost every aspect of the book, so it’s difficult to pinpoint where my interest falls short. I believe it is because the book is almost too quiet, too normal, too inconsequential for my taste. But I also believe that this book would provide unspeakable comfort for an elementary or middle school student who had recently experienced a death or a great fear.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Blitz on Britain, by Brian Williams

Around the 4th grade, children begin to look for facts about life. This is an age of inquiry that can also be a new jumping point for literature in a child’s life. This particular book will provide a story and view of a more recent event. After reading this book, the mature child can be told who in his family might have fought in this war. While the child might not understand all the underlying facets that caused the Second World War, this book will provide a look at what life was like for a people under attack.

Williams traces life during the Blitz, from the beginning to the aftermath, and describes life in the subways, the different occupations that helped the people to hold together and fight the battle in the air above them. He also provides photos of the destruction, as well as the survivors. While the devastation of the Blitz can be clearly seen in many of these photos, Williams does not focus on it. Instead, his writing and descriptions reflect the mindset of the British people under attack: grim, hopeful, and united. A child looking at these pictures will not remember the book for the destruction, but for the amazing accounts of bravery and survival.

One last point also brings this book in high standing: no where are the Germans degraded throughout the book. There is a cartoon from the era depicting Hitler and his cohorts, but the German people themselves are never vilified. I appreciated this aspect, since I am of German descent. A child of German heritage, or British will both agree that the stories of bravery and survival are fascinating, and they will learn about the true history of a people who came together to fight and survive together.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Perilous Journey of the Donner Party, by Marian Calabro

In the case of the Donner party, the truth is stranger than fiction. The story of the wagon train that left Illinois for California along an ill-fated route has horrified historians and storytellers alike. This is why, at first, I was surprised to see this book for children. Surely such a topic should be taboo for children’s literature. After reading this book, however, I was wonderfully surprised at the level of humanity, dignity, and care which Calabro took to present this tragic story in a way that children will remember the history, and the hardships, but will not come away with fears of cannibalism. Calabro’s language and treatment of the story provided dignity to the members of the Donner party, the author, and the readers. While I would not suggest this book for any child, simply because of the topic, I find this book to be perfectly reasonable for a child of the proper age who has interest in the wagon trains, and the perils of moving west in those days.

This informational book is told mostly from the experience of Virginia Reed, whose father was one of the primary members of the Donner party caravan. It was his stubbornness that pushed the Donner party into the “shortcut” that ended up stranding most of the caravan. The book follows the sad and often disquieting history of the wives, husbands, bachelors, children, and pets who encountered every possible obstacle, roadblock, and decision, and left soo much behind them on their trek.

Again, I was amazed at the dignity and humanity offered to the reader and characters from the author. Calabro obviously wants the reader to understand that these people were human beings who simply wanted to live in the good land of California with their families, and did everything they could to get there. While the deaths are still tragic, Calabro does not brush over the deaths, the cannibalism, or the accusations and hurt feelings of the different members of the Donner Party. She does not dwell on the tragic, but she provides a clear and understanding perception of what real people will do to keep themselves and their families alive.

While I would not keep this book lying randomly around my own house, or in my children’s room, I would certainly recommend it for a child of the right age and maturity. Western Expansion was dangerous, treacherous, and often tragic, and this book displays the glories, adventures, and the tragedies in the same humane and dignified light.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rapunzel, by Paul E. Zelinsky

This Caldecott Award Winner relates the age-old story of the beautiful woman, locked in a tower, visited by a prince, and the adventures that lead to their happily ever after. The author went to great lengths to research the story’s origins, and the writing and illustrating elegantly depicts this work and dedication.

The author dedicates a few pages after his retelling to inform his readers of his research, thought process, and hopes for the book. The child may not care too much about the original “Petrosinella”, or how the story slowly evolved through Italy, France, Germany, and England into the popular tale known today. But the information explains to the parents and teacher exactly what the author hopes the child and reader will gather from his tale. He sought to bring the best mixture of the different variations of the story that reinforced the plot, structure, and characters from the book. His inspiration for the pictures, which are elegant, colorful, almost medieval, and vibrant, draws from the Italian Renaissance, where the story originated. While the strange depth perception might cause some confusion among the more realistic of children, the reader is slowly drawn in to the story, and doesn’t notice the stylistic twist by the end of the book. In fact, the illustrations are very good examples of Renaissance art, with Rapunzel in flowing purples, the witch in black and red, and the prince in browns and golds. The final image is especially powerful and evokes a Renaissance style: the prince and mother lounge easily and pristinely on a bench, with their cherubic children playing at their feet.

There is no doubt, Zelinsky certainly meets his goals of showing the origins of the story, and grabbing the interest of the reader to both the art and the story.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Saint George and the Dragon: A Golden Tale, by Margaret Hodges from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene

The masterful artwork of Trina Schart Hyman combined with the beautiful language of Margaret Hodges provide full justice to the ultimate fairy tale of St. George and the Dragon. In this age old tale, the Red Cross Knight fights through rough adventures with the fair princess, Una by his side. She has asked him to save her kingdom from the ravages of a terrifying dragon. He promises to do so, and the illustrations show the magnificent three-day battle, as well as the journey leading up to it.

The text in this work are in formal prose style, making this book for more advanced readers who can enjoy the language as well as the illustrations. For this reason, I have placed this book as appropriate for older readers. But the pictures would provide enough hints for a reader to tell the story aloud without reading the words, and younger children would more than comprehend the flow of the story. As an avid reader of Shakespeare and Spenser, who were contemporaries and friends, I was thoroughly pleased to find an adaptation of this famous story in a children’s book, with such rich illustrations as well. Hodges remains very true to the basic story of St. George, even including the different ways that St. George recovers from each day’s battle, or the different reactions of the village people to the dead dragon. Her vocabulary is also very closely borrowed from Spenser himself, which made my reading all the more enjoyable.

My favorite part of this book, however, was the illustrations. There is always one page of text, with a tapestry like border surrounding it. This tapestry look is mirrored on the opposite page, where the detailed illustrations seem to grow beyond the pages of the book. The battle with the dragon is done with great imagination, and very little gore, which allows the reader to dwell in the illustrations without any feelings of fear, terror, or beastliness. The greatest touch that Hyman has given to her readers, however, is in the borders of the tapestry around the text. For, one sees that each border is different for every page. Fairies, flora, and fauna of different shapes and sizes are discreetly couched in various stances in every border. And each one follows a theme mentioned in the text within. The reader can get a sense of the story, including the struggles, emotions, and possible outcomes of the main characters, simply by watching the changes in the borders.

A book like this provides a child with ample food for the imagination to feast upon. The reader learns about English lore, virtue, and old storytelling methods. In a sense, the child will come away with a better understanding of medieval English culture and fantasy through this book, simply by absorbing the beautiful artwork and language of the author and illustrator.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Story of Ferdinand, by Munroe Leaf

I first heard this story through a Disney short film. I learned later in my life that Disney was not the most original man ever. In fact, he liked to let other people do the writing, and he simply illustrated with moving pictures. He did a wonderful adaptation of this short story about contentment and a hilarious misunderstanding.

Ferdinand the Bull is quiet, unassuming, and happy to just sit in the shade and smell the flowers. When an unfortunately timed bee-sting sends him to the Bull Fights in Madrid, we find that character rarely changes, even if incited. While the world vents their frustration at the Bull who will not fight, Ferdinand is perfectly happy to return to his pasture, his corktree, and his favorite pastime: contentedly smelling the flowers.

While Disney did a wonderful job of illustrating this story, Robert Lawson provided the obvious inspiration for Disney’s later footsteps. The drawings are both realistic, and cartoonish, in different ways. When Ferdinand is happy, and content, then the pictures seem romantically real. When people are involved, however, the world becomes slightly more cartoonish, though the drawings never stray too far from reality. These black and white drawings seem to jump out of the page for the reader, but never with any violence. Lawson instead seems to draw out the happiness that Ferdinand feels, and make that same contentment more easily touched and felt in the daily life of the reader.

The language is also very endearing and humourous. While the bulls do butt their horns, it’s only in play. The Matador really does want to poke the bull last of all with his sword, but the intentions are humorously outwitted by their own misunderstanding of Ferdinand. In all, the language is very good for beginning readers, who will also be able to keep track of the story simply through the pictures. This books matches illustrations with language to a delightful tale that is just as irresistible to the reader as it was for Disney.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Animals of the Bible, by Helen Dean Fish

Children have an uncanny ability to receive pictures into their minds, linked with a certain phrase, word, or text, and retain that picture well through their adult life. Teachers, parents, and illustrators must recognize this immense power, and few do so better than Dorothy Lathrop. In this short picture book, she brings a quiet, and yet very living portrayal of the popular stories of the Old and New Testaments. These black and white pictures provide images of the stories of the Bible that include animals, where the animals are portrayed with as much dignity as the humans.

I was stunned at the grace, power, and gravity that these pictures hold, while also retaining a memorable simplicity. Eve, with her hair flowing over her body, is as poised and beautiful as the dove in Noah and the Ark. The simplicity of the manger is portrayed with as much common sense, gravity, simplicity, and beauty as the depiction of the leopard and the lamb, and the lion and the child in the Kingdom to Come. One does not see personification in the animals, but does see the realism within the stories simply because the animals are present. I admit, I wish there had been more color in the illustrations, simply because the colors in the cover are very intriguing and welcoming.

I also really enjoyed the Old King James text. As a Christian from a conservative background, the King James Text is still the translation I recite from memory, and it’s the text that brings me the most comfort as an adult. I still have pictures in my mind that are permanently linked to King James, and I can certainly see these pictures providing the same link for children in the future.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mirette on the High Wire, by Emily Arnold McCully

This book tells the story of a young girl who lives in the bright and festive city of Paris, at the peak of the city’s cultural and entertainment climax. Mirette’s mother owns an Inn, and she houses guests of many talents and nationalities, including Monsieur Bellini, the greatest tight rope walker of the age. Mirette cannot help but yearn for the chance to walk the HighWire, and she slowly learns to walk along the wire, with Bellini teaching her. In the end, however, Mirette and Bellini both learn more than just the High Wire.

Mirette accidentally spies the newest of her mother’s tenants walking on a high wire in the alley behind the Inn. Mirette is fascinated, and decides to try it herself. Though she fails at first, she works hard to practice, while still getting her chores done every day. Bellini finally sees her, and agrees to give her lessons, since she is so persistent. Then, one night, Mirette discovers that Bellini had done amazing things, like cook pancakes above a waterfall, cross the Alps with baskets tied to his feet, and other such daring deeds, balanced only on the high wire. She runs in to Bellini, to ask why he had never told her of his adventures. “Because I am afraid… Once you have fear on the wire, it never leaves.” He had refused to try anything outstanding on the High Wire for years. Finally, however, Bellini agrees to try once more over the streets of Paris. But when he steps out onto the wire, he is too afraid. Then, Mirette walks out on the other side of the wire. They meet in the middle and the future is made of the both of them.

In this highly imaginative story, the illustrations match nicely with their impressionistic style. One does not see any clear pictures, but one sees the girl struggling every day to walk the wire. One can see expressions on the faces of the crowds, but the little details are left to the imaginations of the readers. The story would be excellent for reading aloud to children with active imaginations, who would most certainly spend the rest of the day, pretending to perform amazing deeds of skill and courage on a high wire.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Midwife's Apprentice, by Karen Cushman

In this story, a young girl named Alyce comes to the realization that she is called to be an apprentice midwife. She is strong, clever, courageous, and a hard worker. The book describes her adventures from a few short years in a small village in England. Here she deals with a cantankerous old midwife, mocking village boys, and villagers who rarely show any real affection for the young girl. But, despite the mistakes, discouragements, and frustrations, Alyce and her cat, Purr, finally find a home, and a challenge for the rest of their life.

The story begins in a warm dung heap. A girl called Brat has found it a warm place to sleep, but is kicked away by village boys and Jane Sharp, the Midwife. She begins work for Jane Sharp, keeping the house clean, taking care of their few animals, and preparing herbs and such for when needed. But Jane Sharp refuses to let Alyce learn anything about the trade, for fear of competition. Alyce figures this out, and begins to secretly watch and learn what she could. Then, as a poor woman struggles to give birth, Jane gives up on her, and leaves to attend the birth of a rich woman. For Jane was cold and had little heart for those in need. Poor Alyce helps to birth the baby through kindness and gentleness. Later on, however, when a woman calls on Alyce and refuses to have the Midwife, Alyce fails to bring forth the baby, and Jane must do it instead. Alyce then runs away, and works at an inn, where she learns to read. There, she helps an old woman to give birth, after struggling with her own feelings of unworthiness and failure. At that moment, Alyce then knows that she wishes to return to the Midwife, to be a Midwife’s Apprentice.

The story takes place in a small village somewhere in England. The characters vary from Alyce herself, Purr the cat, Jane the grumpy Midwife, to Edward, a small boy that Alyce befriends. The narrator tells the story from the angle of a third person, but still with the language and thought-process of Alyce: as the main character gains greater vocabulary and confidence, the sentence structures also grow more complex. These sentences were filled with descriptions, figures of speech, using language to lead the reader from paragraph to paragraph with ease. The only difficulty in the writing style that I found was Cushman’s tendency to use very long sentences, filled with ‘ands’, which bogged the reader down with all the detail. Overall, however, the language is accurate to the main character, the reader’s comprehension level, and the English setting.

This story provides an insightful story of a young waif, who had a keen wit, a sharp eye, and enough persistence to keep trying. The moral of the story lends itself to a young age group, but long sentences, language, and information content seems to be a bit mature for young readers. So, while it is an easy chapter book, good for 3rd graders, I would probably give it to older readers, especially girls, of the 4th-6th grade age. I greatly enjoyed the story myself, and would certainly recommend it to a child that I thought of the proper maturity and reading qualifications.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tuesday, by David Wiesner

Before pigs will fly, frogs will go sailing. In this Caldecott Award winning book illustrating a funny story about frogs soaring through town on their lily pads, the author also demonstrates a sort of clear passage of time. The only words in the story are times of night and early morning, and then the title, a day of the week. The story traces the adventures and the aftermath of the flight of the frogs as the moon slowly rises above the horizon until the frogs splash back into their pond in the early morning light. The illustrations have a cartoonish feel to them at times, while also retaining a very realistic consistency. This book would be a delight to young children with wild imaginations and yet realistic perceptions of the world around them.

The book begins with a cartoon style strip of a few frogs drowsing as the moon begins to rise. The frogs, much to their surprise and ours, suddenly begin to levitate on their little lily pads. As hundreds of frogs float into the sky, one can see the clock tower in the distance showing the time of “a little before eight P.M.”. The frogs continue on their adventure into town, where hundreds of houses with a few lights shining in the windows. The frogs careen through the sky, terrifying some sleeping birds, performing barrel rolls through the night, and even chasing a dog or two through the yard en masse. While the dog will certainly never forget the incident, only one person seems to have noticed the daring-do of the frogs: a man eating a sandwich at “11:21 P.M.” As the morning draws closer, however, the lily pads suddenly lose their flying ability, and the reader sees the astonished look on the frogs’ faces just before they plop to the ground. They hippity hop back to their lily pond, leaving their lily pads for astonished adults the next day. While the frogs are disappointed to end their fun, the story ends with the shadows of pigs soaring away from their barn on the “Next Tuesday, 7:58 P.M.”

While this book is very enjoyable to read and look at, I did not find myself very drawn into the story. I am not a fan of large bull-frogs, however, and I had trouble registering the emotions of the frogs even after several read throughs. The realistic nature of the frogs and the town, mixed with the cartoonish look of the different expressions left me confused and slightly disappointed with the story. But I certainly believe that this story would be much more enjoyable for all involved if read out loud and walked through very slowly with a very small group of children. Then, I as the reader could make sure the kids were registering what I struggled to notice so that they can see the hilarity, as well as the clear passage of time. One clever hint that I greatly enjoyed was on the inside dust-jacket to the story, where the author states, “The events recorded here are verified by an undisclosed source to have happened somewhere, U.S.A., on Tuesday. All those in doubt are reminded that there is always another Tuesday.” This, I thought is what redeems the confusion and bemusing illustrations in the story, for just as time clearly passed in the story, so time will clearly pass till the next Tuesday. And who knows what is happening late at night when the rest of us are asleep.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Slave Dancer, by Paula Fox

Jesse Bollier is a thirteen year old youth from New Orleans in the early 1800's. The slave trade is booming, but his poor seamstress mother forbids him from going to see the slave market down the street from his house on Pirate Ally. While he is out fetching candles for his mother, Jessie is captured and pressgained into service on the slave ship, The Moonlight, on which he works as a young hand until they reach Africa near the Bay of Benin. After picking up the slaves there, Jessie is made to play is fife to induce the Africans to dance. The cold-hearted and calculating captain forces the slaves to dance under harsh conditions in order to keep them healthy for the market. Jessie watches, unable to act in help to the slaves, or even his shipmates in their cruel conditions. After a long and dangerous journey, frought with punishments, murders, insanity and cruelty, The Moonlight sinks in a storm off the coast of Mississippi. Jessie and another African boy of his own age escape the wreck and are saved by a runaway slave to health, and finally to home and freedom, respectively. Jesse goes on to move himself and his mother and sister to Massachussetts, and he later serves in the Civil War as a Union Soldier, even spending a year in Johnsonville until the war was over.

In this book, children will come face to face with a controversy as old as our country: are any humans superior to others? In his sad adventures, Jessie struggles to retain his own dignity as a human as he strives to simply survive the cruel life on a ship far from home. Jessie comes to the conclusion that he is no better than any of the slaves in the hold, or the Captain, or the other members of the crew. And yet, because of this knowledge, he is able to pity the slaves as fellow- albeit, foreign- human beings. The language of the characters as well as the narrative is varied and strong in most areas, though I often became lost while reading through the more rapid events in the middle and end of the book. I believe this book provides an excellent narrative for the Pre-Civil War period, with amazing accuracy to the history of slaving in America, while also drawing attention to the racial issues prevalent today. Fox does not have a chip on her shoulder, or a message she is trying to beat into the reader's head. She simply has a story of how a terrible tragedy of history can in fact prepare a human for the decisions and events to come.