Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Empire by Orson Scott Card

Reviewed by: Kimball, age 15

This book was an exciting political novel about America's second civil war, fought in the present day. It
opens the eyes to the political biases of present-day America and the premise is very likely given how divided the two major political parties in America are on almost all subjects. 

Genre: Political fiction

Setting: Near future


Reuben Malich is a soldier in the army who is willing to do anything for his country. When he is called to devise a plan to assassinate the president, he reluctantly complies. But instead of being analyzed and prevented, as was the plan, terrorists intercept the plans and carry it out before it can be countered, killing the president and a long chain of officials who would have stepped in to serve the rest of his term in office. With the news defaming Rube and his new protoge, Bartholomew "Cole" Coleman, the terrorists begin their attack on America's government, and reveal that they are in fact not foreign terrorists but disgruntled American radicals who want to "restore" America to its proper state, and make it their mission to overthrow the President and eliminate as many non-civilians as they can. Can two soldiers and their small band of veterans protect America from this new movement? Or will America's history forcefully change course?

Themes: reject extremes of both sides rather than only your own, know the difference between a revolution and a civil war

Recommended Age: 15 and up

Full Disclosure: There is language in this book. It is also very violent and political. There are heroes and villains from both the right and left wing; however, I feel this book is more likely to offend liberals as ultimately the villain mastermind is a radical Democrat.

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck

Reviewed by: Mom (does age really matter?)

Richard Peck had me laughing and engaged from the first chapter of this charming book. We listened to the audio version in the car and everyone enjoyed it (except the 2 year old, who likes to scream for music whenever we turn on our book). I loved that PeeWee wanted to be just like her big brother and yet could see glimpses of herself in the librarians who took her under their wing. Great message about girls being equal without being overbearing and insulting to men. Also lots about cars and racing to keep the boys engaged!

Genre: Historical Fiction

Setting: 1914 small town Indiana


 This delightful story of a young tomboy coming of age at the dawn of WWI, the automobile era, and the suffrage movement. Comedy abounds as their hick town in Indiana becomes the focus of 4 young heiresses who all want to be the town librarian and reform the citizens with books. Throw in a race that is an early version of the Indianapolis 500 and you have a book for everyone.

Themes: Women's rights, family, books inspire change, cars, Indianapolis 500

Recommended Age: 9 and up, but younger will enjoy the read aloud

Full Disclosure: The neighborhood bullies are violent and there may be a few parts that are scary to younger kids, but Peck keeps everything peppered with humor to lighten the mood.

Rating: 4 stars

Other Books:  

Monday, July 20, 2015

Margaret's Corner

Margaret is our sunshiny 6-year-old. She just finished kindergarten and loves books. We try to find books that are well-written but still at her reading level. Here are a couple she has been reading this week:

Amelia Bedelia's tendency to take things literally makes as mess, which is always fun to see. The books also allow us to talk about different idioms and what they mean.

The Frances books by Russell and Lillian Hoban are so adorable. I loved her as a child, and I love reading the books to my kids. This one is at her reading level, so she's read to me! 

Of course everyone knows about Eric Carle. We love so many of his books, but she has been reading and re-reading this book lately, reminiscing about kindergarten.

Margaret says her favorite bedtime read-aloud is still James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl), even though Daddy has finished reading that one and has moved on to Little House in the Big Woods (Laura Ingalls Wilder).

Friday, July 17, 2015

Murder in Retrospect by Agatha Christie (also published as Five Little Pigs)

Reviewed by: Michal, the mom (does age matter?)

I loved Agatha Christie in my teens and read everything that my local library had by her. I have no idea if this was one that I read-- it likely was, but my memory for such things is not good enough to spoil this mystery a second time around (20+ years later)! Hercule Poirot does not disappoint. I recommend Christie's mysteries for high school and up. They are never graphic or crude and I love trying to unravel the mystery along with Poirot or Miss Marple.

Genre: Murder mystery

Setting: 1940's England


Private detective Hercule Poirot is contacted by a young woman to investigate a murder that happened 16 years before, when she was a child. Her father was poisoned and her mother convicted to die, but her mother, on her deathbed, claimed to be innocent. The daughter wants to know the truth. Poirot must recreate the murder so many years after the fact and find out who the real murderer is.

Themes: family history, loyalty, everyone's perspective is a bit different, but if you hear them all then a clear picture will form

Recommended Age: 14 and up

Full Disclosure:

A large part of this case involves infidelity-- not just one love affair, but a habit of infidelity by one character (the murder victim). There is never anything graphic or specific in nature, only references to love affairs. Although some of the characters dismiss this behavior as to be expected from "a man like him", the book does not portray his affairs in a favorable light-- and as it made his family suffer and eventually cost him his life, I feel like there are consequences to his actions that are on par with reality. To me it makes a difference if poor choices are shown to have consequences and not portrayed as a way to happiness.

Rating: 4 stars

Thursday, July 16, 2015

All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown by Sydney Taylor

Reviewed by: Bronwen, age 8

I enjoyed this book even more than the first book in the series, and I read it faster. I think that the characters and their personalities came through and I began to feel like they were people that I know. 

Genre: Historical Fiction

Setting: New York City, early 1900s


All-of-a-Kind Family is a family with five little girls, their mama and papa. They live in New York City and they are Jewish. They are kind to one another. Now they have a baby brother and they are all one year older than the first book.

Themes: loving families, working with each other, doing service, living your faith

Recommended Age: 7-9 years old, 5 and up for read-aloud

Rating: 5 stars

Other Books:  All-of-a-Kind FamilyAll-of-a-Kind Family UptownMore All-of-a-Kind-FamilyElla of All-of-a-Kind Family

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Author Spotlight: Jan Brett

One of our favorite author and illustrators is Jan Brett. Her work is mainly focused on retelling folk tales and fairy tales with incredibly rich and detailed illustrations. Young and old will enjoy snuggling together and reading aloud from these books, taking time to explore the margins, borders, and expressive characters. Some of our favorite Jan Brett books are:

You can explore Jan Brett's website together as well! 

What is your favorite Jan Brett book?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee by Tom Angleberger

Reviewed by: Kimball, age 15

This is the third book in the Origami Yoda series. This book foreshadows the evil Common Core-type program that will be implemented in the next book as a primary antagonist. 

Genre: fiction

Setting: McQuarrie Middle School


Dwight Tharp has changed schools, and that means his friends won't have the guidance of Dwight's paper Yoda to help them get through the school year. And it is a time when they need Jedi wisdom the most. Mysterious things are happening. Teachers are packing up their classrooms more than seems necessary for Christmas vacation. Something about "FUN-damentals" is somehow involved, but none of the kids know what it's about. But the students aren't just worried about that-- they're worried about the mistakes they'll make without Origami Yoda and how bored they are without Dwight's weirdness.
But in a way, they still have Dwight with them. Dwight's neighbor Sara brings a new puppet to school one day, folded by Dwight: A paper Chewbacca. The Fortune Wookiee gives great advice just like Yoda-- but Harvey smells a rat. And from what they hear of Dwight, he's becoming less like Dwight every day. He's almost... normal. Can the kids at McQuarrie save their friend from becoming boring, and find out why everything's changing-- and how the Fortune Wookiee is as wise as Yoda?

Themes: stay weird because being weird is better than being normal, education should not be limited to the fundamentals

Recommended Age: 9 and up

Rating: 4 stars

Other books: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Darth Paper Strikes Back, The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett, Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue, Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Nora's Picks of the Week

What's the 2 year old requesting lately? Here's what she's had on the docket all week:

If you haven't read this one yet, it is rather delightful. The poor little llama gets stuck running errands with his mama and hits his limit. Mama Llama keeps her cool and helps him see that shopping is a necessary evil sometimes. They work together to clean up the mess he has made, finish their shopping, and go get a treat together. We love the rhythm and rhyming in the book, and every 2 year old loves to read about a tantrum!

We have several of the BabyLit books because I just can't resist classic literature. I do wish that the books had more quotes from the original classics, but these introduce characters and are just fun.

We love all things Rosemary Wells around here-- in fact, Nora's name was nearly Rosemary! This one is a library book that we hadn't read before, but it is getting lots of mileage at the moment. 

Barefoot Books has some delightful offerings, including this one, which has been loved at our house since Henry was the baby. Nora loves to recite along with us, and to laugh at the naughty, out-of-place animals.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Newton's Gift by David Berlinski

Reviewed by: Kimball, age 15

Newton's Gift was an educational, inspiring read. Sir Isaac Newton was extremely gifted, and he is an
example of one who finds his true calling. (It definitely wasn't to be a farmer.) This book attempts to not only biograph him, but also explain some of the theorems he discovered in simple language and diagrams. It is a good read for history and math buffs.

Genre: biography, non-fiction

Setting: life of Isaac Newton


Sir Isaac Newton is the father of modern physics and one of the greatest scientists of the eighteenth century. But you wouldn't expect him to be good at much else besides thinking and reading. As an adolescent, nobody recognized Newton's great mind for what it was. Newton often kept to himself; he'd go out to tend sheep and they would wander off while he would be obliviously reading. When his tutors finally convinced his mother to send him to college, Newton was the best student at Cambridge and took his education seriously while others only saw college as a place to live while they spent their college money on other diversions. Newton dabbled in alchemy and Cartesian algebra and a myriad of other subjects, and with that knowledge he would make great discoveries.

Themes: education is important, work smarter not harder

Recommended Age: 13 and up

Rating: 4 stars

Friday, July 3, 2015

All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Talor

Reviewed by: Bronwen, age 8

This book is one of the best books I have read! I like that it's a family of all girls. It inspires me to be kind and more loving in my family, and to read more. I am also learning about Jews-- that they have different holidays, like Purim and Passover.

Genre: Fiction

Setting: New York City, early 1900s


All-of-a-Kind Family is a family with five little girls, their mama and papa. They live in New York City and they are Jewish. They are kind to one another. They sometimes do bad things but they correct them.

Themes: loving families, working with each other, doing service, living your faith

Recommended Age: 7-9 years old, 5 and up for read-aloud

Rating: 5 stars

Other Books:  All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown, All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown, More All-of-a-Kind-Family, Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Of Mice and Men by Jon Steinbeck

Reviewed by: Kimball, age 15

I read this book in ninth grade. It was a good read. The characters are thought-provoking and original.

Genre: fiction

Setting: Soledad California area, pre-Civil War


George and Lennie are two men looking for work. George is a thin, cynical man and Lennie is a mentally handicapped, childlike oaf. Both dream of having their own farm (with soft rabbits that Lennie can pet.) Due to a blunder of Lennie's in which he attempted to feel a woman's dress (because of his love of soft things) the two are thrown out of town for attempted rape. The two bindlestiffs head out to Soledad to find new jobs on a ranch. Though they find the job they are looking for, the boss's son Curly is antagonistic to the newcomers because of his lack of height, posing a threat to Lennie, who could easily hurt Curly by accident if Curly starts to bully him. In addition, Curly's flirtatious wife is very pretty and has soft hair, and Lennie soon incurs Curly's jealousy. George and the two other ranch hands, Slim and Candy, must do all they can to stop Lennie from accidentally hurting anyone so that they can achieve their goals.

Themes: No man is an island, know your own strength, be compassionate

Recommended Age: 14 and up

Full Disclosure: There is lots of profanity in this book, and there is also racism. However, the racism is not glorified. There is also mention of sexual activity but none actually described or taking place in scenes in the book.

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeliene L'engle

Reviewed by: Henry, age 13

A great book that has science and fantasy. I haven't read it in a long time, so I can't remember some, but I remember it was good. With cool time travel ideas, strange worlds, and interesting characters. This was my mom's favorite book as a kid, and she loved a lot of books. Read it.

Genre: Fantasy/ Science Fiction

Setting: Other worlds


A girl's father has not returned. He has not returned from a secret mission. They do not know if he's dead, because the government hasn't told them. He may still be alive. Meanwhile, she is living with her mother and brother. When three strange old ladies come into their lives and offer to help find their father, the girl and her brother follow them on an adventure they never would have dreamed of.

Themes: Family, kids, courage, 

Recommended Age:  9 and up

Full Disclosure: nothing I can think of

Rating: 5 stars

Other Books: A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Reviewed by: Kimball, age 15

This book is an eye-opening, disturbing read. It makes you think about true freedom, the way the founding
fathers would have wanted, as the perfect balance between anarchy and tyranny, rather than right-wing and left-wing. I wouldn't read it again but I would recommend reading it at least once in your lifetime.

Genre: Fiction

Setting: Desert Island


When a bunch of kids get stranded on an island, they must fend for themselves. It's hard, but it's also fun. There are no adults around and they can do whatever they want. They set up an entire system so that they have order while they wait to be rescued. But with no supervision, the kids start to become violent and mindless. As all becomes anarchy, the kids can only hope that a ship will come and save them.

Themes: some government is necessary, don't give into the natural man, know the meaning of freedom, 

Recommended Age: 13 and up

Full Disclosure: This book is violent.

Rating: 4 stars