Wednesday, November 05, 2014

September/October Book List

Favorite Chapter Books

The Book Boat's In by Cynthia Cotten, illustrated by Frane Lessac
A library boat on the canal brings books to borrow and buy to a young boy's town. One title catches his eye, and he spends the next couple of weeks earning the funds to buy the book when the library boat comes back to his town. A great story of diligent work for young kids as almost everyone can relate to working and saving for something special.

The Journey by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small
I picked up this one because I recognized the married author/illustrator team from their other well loved books, The Library and The Gardener.  While the actual story seems a bit weak, (young Amish girls travels into the city, but remembers her Amish life back at home), the illustrations provide plenty to enjoy, including the end covers at the beginning and end of the book.

Martha by Grennady Spirin
We have a ton of crows in our area of Ontario which provides many opportunities for us to observe their behavior, so this book seemed like one we would like. It is set in Russia and tells the true story of the author's family who befriended an injured crow and nursed it back to health.  I loved the illustrations and have shared several of my favorites.

The Secret Cave by Emily Arnold McCully
Another true story, this time of French school boys inspired by their teacher to search for cave secrets in their village on the cusp of the World War 2.  The ancient artwork they discovered captured the interest and excitement of the historians and anthropologists around the world.  The underground illustrations provide such a realistic sense that I even felt a bit claustrophobic on those pages.  A very nice book.

Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse by Torben Kuhlmann
I have not saved the best for last, but this is my most favorite for this time. And it's not the story plot, really. It's these wonderful, enormous, detailed illustrations that cause you to stare and stare at the pages. And if I may skip ahead, the German author, Torben Kuhlmann, has a second book due out in Europe next year called Mole City and it looks amazing. I am hopeful that it will be released in North America as well so we can see what the Moles build underground. But back to this current book which relates the efforts of a small mouse to cross the Atlantic by plane and reach the New York harbor just like his human namesake, Lindbergh. If only those owls were not so interested in having him for dinner...

The Animal Hedge by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
A bit of fantasy, a bit of formulaic sappiness, and a lot of hedge-carving make up this fun story of a mythical farmer and his sons. The artwork carries the story along even through the more predictable parts and ends with the sons honoring their father and his true love. It may inspire some hedge trimming or at least a trip to formal gardens to see some real animal hedges, like maybe Longwood Gardens perhaps.

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
This is another book by the same writing/illustrating team as the book above and also gets a pass for being a little bit sappy at times. An Italian grandfather recounts his family's emigration to his granddaughter through the items he kept stored in old matchboxes. The artwork depicting the grandfather's memories is endearing and conveys the emotion of his family's story. It may inspire your children to start their own collection.

Chapter Books

Stuart Little by E.B. White, illustrated by Garth Williams
Having enjoyed reading some of E.B. White's essays, I thought I should actually read his children's novels for myself and not just rely on the movie versions. Well, Stuart Little, the book, was a profound disappointment and theories abound as to what happened to White while he was writing this book. But let's just say, that for me, the movie version outshines whatever White was trying to do with the book.  Oh well, I still love his essays and will go finish Charlotte's Web and end with The Trumpet of the Swan, but for me, Stuart Little was a let down.

Rabbit Hill and The Tough Winter by Robert Lawson
These books form a series which recount the adventures and misfortunes of the animals living in Rabbit Hill. They are short books accompanied by black and white illustrations generously scattered throughout the stories. An acquaintance with St. Francis of Assisi would help the reader to understand what motivates the humans in the story to live peaceably with the animals of Rabbit Hill. I read both of them, but Seth wasn't interested in finishing them. He found them boring which is rare for him, but understandable for these books. Thankfully, they don't require a huge time investment.

Lillipilly Hill by Eleanor Spence
I found this at my annual used book sale and picked it up due to its vintage look. It turns out, the author was a well-known Australian writer and used her homeland as the setting for her books, this one included. In this story, three siblings move from their native England with their parents to live on an inherited orchard estate to determine if they can enjoy this new and different country. I read it first and then passed it on to Seth who really enjoyed it too. If you can find a copy, this is a true adventure story with lessons on growing up.

The Real Thief by William Steig
Another intriguing story line from William Steig which gave us a great discussion time together one afternoon. It made for a great plot to ask should questions from since the plot involves something being stolen, someone being accused, and someone hiding the truth.  It always amazes me how much we get out of a story when we start to think about the story in this way. These chapter books by Steig are short, illustrated and easy to read, yet the story is rich with ideas.

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
It had been a few years since I first read this one, so I put it back in the line-up since my memories of the story line were quite faint.  I know the main character is a girl, but her growing up story is not limited to just girls. Leaving one household and moving to another provides Betsy the opportunity to really live, to be aware of life, to know what she was capable of doing and being.  And this understanding brings her full circle when she is reunited with her original caretaker, her Aunt Francis. Now she knows who she is and what must be done. It is a truly wonderful story and deserves to be read by everyone.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
I read this one often as a young reader, but returned to it now as a mother myself who can totally relate to Mrs. Frisby and the risks she takes to ensure the care and safety of her children. It also brings ideas of the value of work, leadership, and the ethics of using animals as lab tests. There is a lot to consider in this story.

The Good Master and The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy
Having read rave reviews of books by this author, I decided to order some of her titles and see for myself. They are everything that others said and perhaps even more. The interweaving of family life, into village life, into the lives of nations makes for a wonderful and varied story that causes you to long for more. Bravery and compassion blend well into making believable characters while the mixture of ancient history blurred into folklore running into the modern era of world wars makes it stimulating and heart-warming. And it looks like some of Kate Seredy's hard-to-find novels are being republished this year by Purple House Press.


How the Heather Looks by Joan Bodger
This is on the Ambleside Online list for an upcoming year, so I thought I would give a turn now and see what treasures it yielded. While it covered some interesting background on many different aspects of British children's literature, it did not produce a real sense of delight for me. I kept looking for something that would cause me to want to curl up with the book and slow down to enjoy it, but instead I felt myself impatient to just finish it already. The interview she secured with Arthur Ransome was very disappointing and her thoughts afterwards even more disjointed as she looked back at what he had shared with her. Perhaps he wasn't a friendly man, but we can still enjoy his stories and I felt like some of the background information explored in the book, somehow rubbed away some of the magic and enjoyment of these British classics. Anyways, you can decide for yourself, but I likely will not be using this in our future AO years. 


  1. Heather~
    I love your book lists! :) Thank you for posting these! I felt the same way about Stuart Little (sorely disappointed) and Steward/Small's The Journey (weak story. Though I love their other books!) You make me want to read Kate Seredy, too. Ella has read her books but I have not. And I've put some picture books on hold now at the library, thanks to your recommendations here. ~Stacy

  2. I'm always glad that you can share in my book critiques, Stacy. I know you post your most honest thoughts too. :)

  3. Your book lists go directly into my library holds list....

    thanks for the good reads, Heather.

  4. The OPL has quite a few books illustrated by Grennady Spirin. There looks to be some lovely retellings of Bible stories, (Moses and Noah's Ark) Good find. - Kath


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