We go through books around here like toilet paper.
And we go through A LOT of toilet paper!
As noted before, we are always on the look out for good titles – things that speak beauty, truth and goodness, help form morals and are inspiring. Things that stretch our vocabulary earn extra points. And the story must be gripping.
We are appreciative of tips from friends as they know us and know what would fit. Online reviews are questionable. Cold reads are always iffy. But we take them one and all and now, are passing on the most recent reads to you.
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Jac went rooting around online before we left for California and found this series. I had heard rumors of it being good and they were likened to Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy Quartet, so we gave it a go. We listened to an Audible version in the car and had a hard copy from the library for use once we were settled. The kids enjoyed the story – they asked to listen to it and would request more at the end of chapters. In the end, I think it was a satisfying read for them as they wanted to know if there were more books. As parents, we were less than thrilled. The characters are sweet but predictable. We assumed it was general audience fare but there was an awful lot of fantasizing about the 19-year-old gardener by the 12-year-old and odd descriptions about kissing between a mom and “her gentleman friend.” Weird. And disappointing. We edited as needed when we read aloud. It’s reading level was not difficult but I would recommend it for 13 and up.
Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston
It is one of our goals for this year to introduce more poetry into our literary diet. We own a number of fantastic poetry anthologies and books (Polka Bats and Octoslacks is a fave for Ellie at the moment – thanks Conways! – and Tess is loving Shel Siverstein) so I combed through our shelves and collected them all. They now stand at the ready in the dining room for impromptu readings. It was during this process that I ran across Zorgamazoo. It was a book fair find by Mama Syd – the kind where the jacket gets read and you take a risk. But, get this, it’s an entire novel written in rhyme! As the review says, think Roald Dahl (I’m a HUGE fan) meets Dr. Suess. What’s not to love? The vocabulary is fantastic (stygian, obscure, ponderous) and the story is great. It does include some pretty nasty adult figures ( a la Dahl) and some threat of violence. Those parts were over Ellie’s head but she fully grasped the funny parts which were plentiful. It won an award for being a great read-a-loud and it is. I would recommend for 7 or 8 and up. Be forwarned – it is not for the weak of stomach as it includes words like vomit, puke, snot and such. Not a lot, but it’s there. We didn’t edit.
The Prairie Thief by Melissa Wiley
Best book of the summer. Again, Jac found a review online and we took the time to preview it ahead of time (see The Penderwick’s) but enjoyed it so much, we started reading it around the campfire at the lake before we had reached the end. I’m so glad we did. I’ll be honest, the title threw me off the scent of the story. But the text is engaging and some parts are laugh-out-loud funny. It has great vocabulary and really very real characters in addition to *SPOILER ALERT!* a plot twist (or two!) that is great. We found it entertaining for adults and kids alike (Papa Chris lingered by the fire to hear the chapters and made his own predictions of what would happen next, so you know it’s got to be good!). Recommended for 5 and up. (Ellie liked it and would quote from it and she’s four. It has shorter chapters for those who are just starting to make their way into chapter books.) Really, two BIG thumbs up.
Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
I found this one at the library when I went in search of the offerings from a favorite author. Elizabeth Enright is much beloved in these parts but I did not make the connection that it was she that had written Gone Away Lake. I remembered I had purchased it at a book fair myself when I was in elementary or middle school and didn’t love it or hate it. I snagged it for my own kids with the hope it would resonate better with them. We primed the pump by telling them who the author was and they were sold. It was fun to read and have them say, “Hey! Just like Oliver!” or “There is an Oriole in Spider Web for Two, too!” It was far better for me the second time around and the moment it was done, Max asked when we could go and pick up Return to Gone Away. It is good natured fun and, as it was written about kids in the fifties during the fifties, includes things like “Golly!’ and “Keen!” Good times. Recommend for 5 and up.
Nick of Time by Ted Bell
This was a cold read, an accidental stumbling across at the library. While looking for another audio book, the author of this one caught my eye. He writes the Alexander Hawke series (which I CANNOT recommend to anyone because of language, violence, adult themes, etc. etc. It’s one of those Jac downloaded on Audible, said we should listen to, heard a chapter and fell asleep, leaving me somewhere in Wyoming wondering what happened next. Spy thriller stuff.) so to find a child’s novel by him? What? While I read Gone Away Lake during daylight hours, Jac is reading this after supper and before bedtime. It centers around Nick, a twelve-year-old boy in pre-WWII Britain, who comes from a line of great soldiers and wants to be brave but fears he isn’t. Throw some Nazi’s and pirates and time travel in and you have a cliff hanger. The author knows how to tell a story and make characters come alive. He is also graphic. The girls are N-O-T fans but the boys can’t get enough. We have been excusing the girls from the table and putting them to bed before reading this one. Meanwhile, the boys have amassed a collection of spy books from the library, built a sub in the living room and taken to playing sea-faring. It does include LOTS of talk about weapons, some detailed descriptions of wounds (Jac has edited) and recently, when a woman character was introduced there was mention of her bosom. Over the top? Sure. Unnecessary, yes. For this reason we would recommend 8-12, edited, 13 and up fine.
How about you? Any recommendations for us?
Thanks for the low down on your recent reads. Rhys has been reading the Great Illustrated Classics this summer. We picked up a hardcover set at a second hand store and he’s enjoyed Peter Pan, Robinson Crusoe, A Christmas Carol, Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Time Machine, The Secret Garden, Frankenstein, The Last of the Mohicans and a few more I can’t remember off the top of my head. In addition to these titles, he recommends the Oragami Yoda series, Dog Tags (a four pack series) by C. Alexander London, and Gary Paulsen’s Lawn Boy and Lawn Boy Returns.
For the younger kids we read nightly stories, but for “homework” Danny and I read from the four Dick and Jane collections I own. The stories increase in difficulty and the more difficult words repeat throughout the chapters so readers are forced to gain a better understanding before calling it quits. My grandma taught 1st grade for many years and always touted Dick and Jane as the best resource for learning to read – we followed her lead and are happy we did.
I still love Dick and Jane! I need some good chapter book recommendations for reading aloud to first graders. We just read Junie B, toothless wonder, and they loved it. They were amazed that they could follow a story from day to day without pictures. I also need good picture book recommendations. Sooo missing mom right now :-/ I am glad you have found some good ones, and were willing to share a book with the kiddos that didn’t do much for you as a kid.
Ok, I’ll throw out a couple just because I have been talking books with the nephews…Will Hobbs has a bunch of books and reminds me of Gary Paulson, but Jason’s Gold is great with tons of history on the Yukon Gold Rush. It made me want to travel to Alaska and follow in the footsteps of the rushers, with the proper equipment of course. FYI… Tess will not be pleased with the accurate descriptions of the animal cruelty that went on up there, especially the horses:(…might be just for the boys. The Maze is another one of his, it has been awhile, but it is about the California Condor and since you got to see one live this summer, might be a good one. Another one I really enjoyed was Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck. It is set during the depression and has some fantastic characters. There is also a sequel but I haven’t read it.
Syd, Down Girl and Sit books remind me of Junie B. I have them on the list for Bailey but have not read them yet. I hear they are hilarious and are written from the perspective of dogs who think their names are Down Girl and Sit. (Ellie and Tess would probably get a kick out of them too)
Thanks for getting me thinking about kids books, I look forward to reading your recommendations:)