Tuesday, October 27, 2009

James and the Giant Peach

We've been on a Roald Dahl kick recently, and I hadn't read James and the Giant Peach since I was a kid, so I thought it would be a great one.  What a treat!

The Story:  James Henry Trotter lived with his unpleasant aunts, Spiker and Sponge, and was miserable.  They were cruel and he never got to play with other children.  He was forced to spend all of his time in his miserable house and his miserable yard, with his miserable aunts.  Then, one day, a mysterious stranger gave him a bag of magical pellets, which would give him wonderful things, but only if he was the first thing they touched.  It would have been wonderful... except he tripped and the pellets sunk into the soil by the roots of the old defunct peach tree in the garden.  He thought all was lost, until the amazing thing that happened to the peach tree started to effect him.  An enormous peach grew on the tree, and in the end, it freed him from his horrid aunts, and brought him on a wonderful and exciting adventure, with new friends.

The Good:  James is a wonderful boy.  Though he hated his aunts, he was not mean about it, and he came from a sad place (his parents had died), but he always looks for the positive things.  The bug friends in the peach are funny and love James immediately.  James always comes up with clever solutions to problems.  The adventure is exciting without being too scary.  There is a good amount of humor throughout.  We caught a reference to the Vermicious Knids from Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator!  In the end, James gets everything he could want, even though he dropped the magic pellets.  It all works out in the end.  And isn't that nice?

The Bad:  James' Aunts get run over by the peach, and squashed, and there is nary a word said about it.  Squish, and the story moved on.  That might be a bit much for some kids.  Evalina didn't seem bothered by it. There are some scary parts when the peach is attacked by sharks and ominous Cloud Men, which also might be scary for some kids.  The word "ass" is used in several places.  That's all the bad I can think of.

The Verdict:  Just wonderful!  I can't wait to watch the recent movie with Evalina.  Does anyone know how it compares?  Amazon recommends this book for ages 9-12, but my 6 1/2 year old loved it.  This is a classic that you shouldn't miss.  Roald Dahl is delightful.

Monday, October 19, 2009


When I was a child, the school librarian read The BFG to us.  I still had a great fondness for it, even though I didn't remember much about it, and I was super excited to share it with Evalina and re-read it myself.  What a treat!

The Story:  At the orphanage, Sophie is all alone and none too happy.  She can't sleep, and happens to be awake in the middle of the night and sees something strange out of her window.  She sees a giant.  The giant sees her.  He reaches into her window and snatches her right out of her bed.  Luckily for Sophie, this giant is not the child-eating kind, but a Big Friendly Giant (BFG for short).  He brings her back to Giant Country, where he shows her (carefully, so they don't see her) the nine other giants - who are much larger than he is, and enjoy eating up humans by the dozen.  In his cave, he shows her his collection of dreams.  The BFG travels to the misty dream country with Sophie and shows her how he captures dreams.  At night, he travels to the human countries and blows dreams into children's bedrooms (which was what he was doing when Sophie saw him).   Can he and Sophie put a stop to the other terrible giant's human consumption?  Can the BFG get something to eat other than the horrid snozzcumbers that he is forced to live off of in leu of humans?

The Good:  The BFG is funny, and Sophie is very warm and open with him.  He is protective of her, and he is honorable.  This book offers lots of practice in sounding out words, because the BFG has poor grasp of language sometimes.  Roald Dahl has a way of making scary things funny.  The fearsome giants are undoubtedly evil, and scary, but they never seem ominous.  Sophie is safe with the BFG.

The Bad:  As mentioned, the other giants are terrible.  They snatch children from their beds at night and gobble them up like popcorn.  They beat up the BFG and are cruel to him because he is smaller than they are (he is only 24 feet tall, and they are all at least 50 feet tall).  There are jokes about farting, so if you don't like that sort of thing, you might not like that bit.  Sophie is an orphan, and that might take some explaining.

The Verdict:  Good prevails (sorry for the spoiler), and even the Queen of England is won over by the BFG.  According to Amazon, the book is for ages 9-12, but Evalina was certainly old enough for it (at 6 1/2).  Obviously it made a big impression on me, since I had good memories of it to this day.  It is a great book, and I can recommend it to anyone, no matter the size.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Shakespeare's Secret

I got Shakespeare's Secret for Evalina last year, when the author came to visit her school.  It is a signed copy, which I think is pretty cool.

The Story:  Hero is in 6th grade, and she and her family have just moved to a new town.  Her father is a Shakespeare scholar, which explains her name, and her sister Beatrice's as well.  Where Beatrice makes friends easily and fits in well, Hero doesn't do so well.  Her first day at school, a girl in her class brings up the fact that she has a dog named Hero, and the teasing begins.  Things start to get marginally better for her when her mother sends her on an errand to bring something to their neighbor, the elderly Mrs. Roth.  Mrs. Roth has a story to tell, about a diamond that went missing in Hero's new house, and she thinks it is hidden there.  Mrs. Roth also has a young friend, named Danny Cordova, who is the most popular boy in Beatrice's school.  He befriends Hero, and together they search for the diamond, which holds secrets of it's own.

The Good:  The friendship between the two kids and Mrs. Roth is really heartwarming.  Hero is a likeable character who I, personally, could relate to.  The mystery was really engaging.  There were bits of Shakespearean lore and history throughout the book, and I think it is never too early to start a kid on at least knowing who Shakespeare is.  The characters were all very well developed and well written.  I got Evalina to come to bed on more than one occasion by reminding her that the diamond wasn't found yet.  The relationship between Hero and Beatrice is very realistic.

The Bad:  I think Evalina was a little young for some of the themes in the book - lots of middle school drama, which I hope she never experiences (though she probably will), and since she had never really heard about Shakespeare before, I don't know that a book involving conspiracy theories about whether William Shakespeare actually wrote the plays was the best place to start.  Knowing Evalina, she'll be spouting out that theory all over the place.   There was also a part about Danny's mom taking off when he was a kid, and that made her really sad.   In some parts, Hero lies to her parents and sister.  Not the best role model all the time (but who is).

The Verdict: Overall, a super good book.  It is recommended for grade 4-7, and though, as noted, some of the themes were a bit too old for her, she did well on the actual story and the reading.  She was very engaged in the story (as was I).  I think it would probably be a better one to wait a while for, simply so that there is more historical background for your child, but it is definitely recommended.