Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Necklace of Fallen Stars

I found A Necklace of Fallen Stars in the library when I was a child, and it stuck with me.  I know you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, but the cover on this one is highly memorable.  It's beautiful.  Unfortunately, it's out of print... I found it at another local library a couple of years ago and re-read it for myself, but still couldn't find it for less than $60 on ebay...

Then, last year, I found it on Amazon, used, and not to spendy, either.  Hurrah!  I ordered it immediately for Evalina and decided that it was a good departure from the Little House books, so it was a good time to read it.

The Story:  Kaela is not your typical princess.  She doesn't like the pomp and circumstance of Court, and she likes to spend time with the commoners and tells them stories.  Her father didn't appreciate her free spirit, and in an effort to quash it, he arranges her marriage to an unbearable man, Duke Gavrin.  Unable to face the thought of it, Kaela runs away.  On her travels, she meets a young minstrel named Kippen, and together they flee from Stafgrym, the evil wizard in the employ of Gavrin and her father.  He plays tunes and she tells tales to pay their way across the land, and they become very close to each other in the process.  Meanwhile, Stafgyrm convinces her father to charge her with high treason, and also convinces him to throw her kind sister Melina, and her sometimes unreasonable sister Tamara into the dungeon as well.  Can Kaela somehow manage to get out of marrying Gavrin, escape Stafgrym, and can her sisters be saved?

The Good:  Kaela is strong and spunky and likable.  Kippen is similar, and loyal.  The evil characters, particularly Stafgrym, and really despicable.  Melina would be a good big sister for anyone.  The journey is exciting, and all the while, Kaela tells simply wonderful stories.  And there is a really fabulously described winged horse that Evalina really enjoyed.

The Bad:  The story is sometimes disjointed, and Evalina was disappointed in the rather abrupt ending.  The king's behavior is at times reprehensible, and really difficult to understand.  He is prideful to a fault.  And Stafgrym is rather scary and sinister.

The Verdict:  Evalina didn't love this as much as I did when I was a child, but I believe that parts of it will definitely stick with her.  I hope that she revisits it in the years to come.  It was probably more of a nostalgic love of mine than anything else.  Still, I do think it's a good story, and if you can find a copy, give it a try.  I wish that the ending was better, though.  I can use my imagination and think of what might have happened, but Evalina wanted something more concrete.  I still have a deep seated love for the book, though I wonder if the idea is better than the book itself.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

These Happy Golden Years

We have finished all of the books (*that we are going to read - see note at the end of the post for explanation) in the Little House Series.  What a joy!  These Happy Golden Years is a lovely ending.

The Story:  Laura passed her teacher's examination at the end of the last book, and at the beginning of this one, she is leaving for her first teaching job.  It's her first time away from home, and it is hard.  The family she is boarding with is not warm and inviting - at times, the wife seems close to a psychotic break, the students she is teaching are sometimes difficult, and she misses home terribly. Though she never asked him to, and quite by surprise at first, Almanzo Wilder comes to get her every Friday in his sleigh so that she can spend the weekends at home.  He comes every week, even one Friday when they risked their lives to drive home - it was so cold that the thermometers froze, and Laura nearly got hypothermia on the drive.  Almanzo had to stop several times to break ice off the poor horses' noses.  But still, he came.  After her teaching term ended, he still came for drives on Sundays, though Laura denied he was courting her.  She rode with him when he was breaking (sometimes dangerous) new colts, and she drove with him on Sundays when Mary was home for the summer.  They went to a singing school (really, Friday night community music lessons) together/  And still she denied they were courting.  He went away for the winter to spend some time with his family, and she didn't realize how much she missed him until he showed up, unexpectedly, during a snow storm on Christmas eve!  Though this book involves many other things, including her continued schooling, and teaching several terms at different schools, and getting some fine new clothes, in the end it really revolves around the fact that Almanzo was, in fact, courting Laura, and it ends with their marriage and moving into their own sweet little grey house.

The Good:  The courting is portrayed in an innocent way, so there is nothing scandalous that would be inappropriate for younger children.  Laura deals with her trials during her teaching well, and ends up being a really good teacher (though she didn't intend on teaching any more after she got married).  The descriptions of life in that era continue to be enthralling.  One of our favorite parts was when Pa bought Ma her very own sewing machine.  Another was when they used some of Laura's teaching money to buy an organ for their home, to surprise Mary.  The tone of the book is lovely, and it ended the series beautifully for us.  (*Again, see note at the end of the post)

The Bad:  The part where the wife in the house Laura was boarding at seemed to nearly have a psychotic break was kind of scary!  She was standing over her husband's bed with a knife, begging to go back east.  We felt so badly for Laura, because she had no other choice than to stay there, but she didn't sleep well for the rest of her teaching term.  Who can blame her?  I can't think of anything else really negative about the book.  Perhaps some of the descriptions of the clothing that Laura was buying or sewing got a little long-winded, but Evalina never complained.  There are a lot of songs written into the chapters that I don't know, but we just made up our own tunes and no one cared so much.

The Verdict:  We loved it.  Evalina really enjoyed the rides with Almanzo and loved the spirit of the new colts.  She liked to read about how Laura became a more proficient teacher, and how wonderful it was when Mary came home for visits.  Overall, a really really nice book.

*Now, the note, and why we are choosing not to read The First Four Years.  I read some reviews, and that "final" book was published after Laura's death, and from what I read, the tone is much different.  It focuses on some really tough times that Laura and Almanzo had when they first got married, between illness, the death of a newborn son, and a fire that destroyed their home, among other things.  It also includes the birth of their daughter, Rose, which was happy, but I didn't want to spoil the glow and warmth of These Happy Golden Years.  I spoke to Evalina about it, and told her that she could read it later by her own if she wanted to, but I let her know that I thought we should end on a happy note.  She agreed.  So, we are done with the Little House Series and on to our next book!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Little Town on the Prairie

After the rough time the Ingalls family had in The Long Winter, it was nice to read Little Town on the Prairie, about a calmer time in their lives.

The Story:  After surviving the horrible, blizzard filled winter, life resumes for the Ingalls family in De Smet, Dakota Territory.  In spring, Laura got her first job, and she was able to earn some money to help send Mary to the special college for the blind at long last.  They got the homestead a little more settled, and they got some crops from it (though they had to battle blackbirds and gophers...)  Pa managed to get a hold of a kitten (which were hard to come by out west) to help with their pest problem, after a mouse crawled into bed in the middle of the night and chewed off a hunk of Pa's hair to use in it's nest!  For the winter, they moved back into town, and Carrie and Laura went back to school.  Laura worked towards studying as hard as she could, in order to earn her teacher's certificate once she turned 16, but there were distractions to her studies.  Through the mild winter (welcome after the terrible previous one), the town set up Literaries - meetings where they had entertainments and competitions, to help beat the doldrums.  And all the time, Laura had to work towards her ultimate goal of earning her certificate so that she could earn money and help keep Mary in college.

The Good:  It was a breath of fresh air after the tough times of the previous winter.  Laura and the family were settling in nicely to life in their new town.  The descriptions of everyday life were compelling and thorough.  When Pa went after the blackbirds that had been eating their corn, it was something else!  I can't even imagine that many blackbirds.  Laura is growing up and getting more responsibilities.  She has good friends at school (and her old rival, Nellie Oleson, has moved to De Smet.  That's always fun reading).  It's amazing reading about things that they learned in school - makes you feel humbled at the thought.  Almanzo Wilder started taking an interest in Laura by the end of the book... and we all know how that turned out...

The Bad:  The thread of the story wasn't as strong as in previous books.  It seemed a much longer read than the others, though it was about the same length or shorter.  It was a little sad to know that Laura is going to have to teach school, even though it wasn't really what she wants to do with her life.  But, that's just how it was.

The Verdict:  A lovely book exploring the everyday life of the time, without the strife of the long, terrible winter.  It connected with Evalina, and she began to want to play Laura and Carrie every day when we walked to school.  I am continually amazed by her comprehension.  It makes me happy to know that she understands, and it verifies that she is the perfect age to be reading these books with.  I cannot wait to read the next book in the series!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Long Winter

Next in the Little House Series was The Long Winter, and it was a really good one.  Kind of a tough read, emotionally, but worth it to show how lucky we are to live with modern conveniences, that's for sure!

The Story:  After moving to the shore of Silver Lake to set up their homestead claim, the Ingalls family faces a difficult decision.  In order to survive what is predicted (by an old Indian who visits the town) to be a very long and hard winter, they move from their claim shanty into the building that Pa built in town.  In town, they will be close to the stores, near the incoming trains, and near other settlers, instead of in a poorly built shanty not made to withstand the harsh weather.   When the winter comes, it is harder than any of them could have imagined.  The blizzards come right on top of one another.  The trains can not get through.  No one has any food.  The stores run out of groceries.  There's no kerosene, and no coal for heat, and no trees anywhere in the big wide prairie to burn for heat.  The Ingalls family, and all the other settlers in the town, must do everything they can just to survive until the trains can finally get through again.  The blizzards last from October until April with nary a break, so that is no small task.

The Good:  If nothing else, this book sure makes you appreciate how much comfort we have in modern times.  The Ingalls family works together amazingly to do everything they need to in order to survive.  Laura helps Pa twist hay into sticks to use for heat when the coal runs out.  She then teaches Mary to twist the hay, even though Mary cannot see, she does everything she can.  They all take turns grinding seed wheat in a coffee grinder so that Ma can make bread.  They sing and tell stories to pass the long, cold days and nights.  It goes to show that we shouldn't take anything for granted.

The Bad:  Some parts are really distressing, when blizzard after blizzard hits, and they are going hungry, and when Pa can't play the fiddle anymore because his fingers are too cramped and sore.  The monotony got to Laura after a while, and the reader can feel that.  There are some tense moments when Almanzo Wilder and another young man from the town are out in search of wheat (at the home of a settler who wintered in his claim shanty, with seed wheat in hand) and they get caught in a blizzard on their way home.  The blizzards play the role of an ominous evil character.  The more sensitive reader could be really bothered by the hardships they endure.  I have definitely been thinking about it, as we look ahead at winter...

The Verdict:  An amazing book in an amazing series.  Although it was not an easy read, it was an exceptionally educational and inspirational one.  Amazon recommends this for ages 4-8, and I think that's a bit on the young side for the hard issues dealt with.  Evalina didn't have a hard time with it, but it absolutely got her thinking.  I'm hoping the next one brings more happy moments, though.  That's for sure.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

By the Shores of Silver Lake

We were waiting to start the next Little House book, By the Shores of Silver Lake, until school started, because we could get it out of the library there.  Since then, we've been reading it.  And tonight, we had a marathon reading session to finish it - reading about 80 pages in one sitting!  It was worth it.

The Story:  This one starts with a bit of tragedy, I'm warning you.  Illness has visited the Ingalls.  They all had Scarlett Fever.  Most of them came out of it ok, but weakened.  But Mary was struck blind.  Those of us who had seen the television series knew this was coming, but it was still sad.  And then, to top it all off, the faithful dog, Jack, who had been with them all the way from the Big Woods, died.  Amidst all of this, the Ingalls decided to move again.  After the grasshoppers ravaged their place near Plum Creek, they just couldn't recover well enough.  And, there were homesteads to be claimed further west, and good work preparing for the railroad to come through.  So, off they went - this time by train!   There is no shortage of adventure and historical learning to be had in their journey and their adventure in setting up their new homestead in the brand new town of Desmet in the Dakota Territory.

The Good:  There was lots of great moments to explain some historical facts to the girl while I read - homestead claims, claim jumpers, the process of preparing to build a railroad, and generally how people survived in that time.  The fact of Mary's blindness is not dwelled upon.  It's just another part of life, and one that they learned to deal with.  Laura is growing up, and is still spunky, but is showing growth and maturity.

The Bad:  The part explaining the railroad grading and preparation got kind of tedious and long (for me to read), but the girl didn't complain about it.  The part where Jack died was terribly sad.  We both cried together about it.

The Verdict:  Another chapter in the story of Laura and her family, this one is another winner, even with the sad bits.  Amazon recommends the book for ages 9-12, and I think that if she were reading it on her own, that might be more appropriate, but she liked it all the same at age 7 1/2, and got a lot out of it.  It turns out that her first unit in school this year is on early American history, so it's a great time to be reading this series!  We absolutely are looking forward to reading the next one.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On the Banks of Plum Creek

We are really loving the Little House series, and On the Banks of Plum Creek was no exception!

The Story:  After Laura and her family had to leave their house in Kansas, they made their way North, to Minnesota.  There, they first moved into a dugout house, and eventually built a wonderful new house on the Minnesota prairie.  Laura and Mary began going to school, and they were finally close enough to a town to go to church and Sunday school.  They face hardships (like grasshopper swarms and seemingly endless blizzards), but it's all part of getting used to their new home.

The Good: As with all of the other books, this book teaches some fantastic history in  a fun way.  We really got some basis in what life was like for the settlers, and how different it was - Laura and Mary walked 2 1/2 miles by themselves to school, following only wagon ruts.  They are something like 8 and 10 years old (maybe younger) at the end of the book, and are left at home for a day to take care of Carrie.  The amount of responsibility they have is astounding and somber.  I used it as a learning experience more than once.  We did a lot of talking about the history and the way they lived.  We visited a couple historical places in our area to see some more about it.  This book (and the series) just makes learning about history effortless.  The people are easy to relate to, and it was exciting and fun to read.
Evalina and a friend at a one-room schoolhouse at a local museum.

The Bad:  There are some slightly scary parts.  There's a plague of grasshoppers which moves in and destroys everything.  The winter brings blizzard after blizzard after blizzard.  Then, of course, there's Nellie Olson.  She's such a bully, she serves a good example of how not to behave, that's for sure.  Not much bad, in my opinion.  Just good life lessons.

The Verdict:  This book brings the reader to the place we know from the television series.  The way that it brings early American history into focus is wonderful, because it doesn't lecture or beat anything into the reader.  It just makes it a great story that you want to know more about.  We highly recommend it.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Little House on the Prairie

We just read Little House on the Prairie, the third book in the Little House Series.  We got it out of the library, and I am trying to bust through them to get the series read before school starts again.. we'll see if we make that goal, but this one only took about a week!  Super fun.

The Story: 
Laura's family decided to leave their little house in the big woods, and set out across the countryside in their covered wagon, to settle in the prairie in Kansas.  Pa built a new log cabin for them there, and they set up their new home.  There were challenges, not the least of which was the fact that their new home was in the middle of Indian territory..

The Good:  Wonderful historic detail!  The ins and outs of building a log cabin, complete with chimney and fireplace, forging a homestead in the middle of the wild prairie, traveling cross-country by covered wagon, American Indian-settler relations... there was a lot to learn here, and it was learned in wonderful ways.  As a character, Laura is very easy for Evalina to relate to.  I asked her what her favorite part of the book was, and she said "Laura!"  There were a lot of teaching moments - especially about American Indians.  She hasn't really learned much about native Americans in school yet, so it was good to learn a bit here.  The story is compelling and very well written.

The Bad:  Right in the beginning, there was a near tragedy, and the outlook didn't look so good for a bit (I will not spoil it here), and there were tears.  There are some tense moments - a prairie fire, a bout of malaria, scary moments with the Indians... but, nothing enough to make me not want to read these books to her!

The Verdict:  Love it.  Evalina loved it.  We learned a lot (yes, I learned some, too!) and can't wait to read more of the books.  We plan to make some trips to local places this summer to reinforce some of the learning - I think there is a working farm in the area where she can learn about milking cows and such.  And there's a log cabin in the area as well that we want to go check out.  Totally classics, that I think would be fun for a boy or a girl.  It might be better for a slightly older child, with a little more historical background, but it wasn't too far over her head.  I can't wait until we are all done reading the books, and then I want to get the television series for the kids to watch.  I cannot believe I never read these books myself.  That's one great thing about reading to your kids - you get to read some of the books you always meant to read as a child but never got around to!  The fun is never ending!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Farmer Boy

It took us a while to get through Farmer Boy, the second book in the Little House Series.  It was long, and dense, and Evalina was reading other books at the same time, sometimes with her father (they are re-reading Narnia together.  He's never read them).

That doesn't mean we didn't love it!

The Story:  This is the story of Almanzo Wilder's childhood, in upstate New York, near Malone, when he was 9-10 years old.  It went into a lot of detail about what life on the farm was like.  Almanzo is the youngest of four children, and his family runs a very successful farm.  His father is a very smart and capable farmer, and wants to raise Almanzo to be a good farmer, too.  Almanzo wants the same thing.  He learns all of the tricks of the trade, and works very very hard.  It's a very educational book in that regard.

The Good:  There was lots of information about what it was like to grow up on a farm in the 19th century.  Almanzo as a character was really likable, and he felt very real (I know, based on a true story, so...)  The level of detail was amazing.  We have an illustrated version, so there were some pictures to show Evalina what certain things were.  She really enjoyed the story.

The Bad:  I have never read these books before, but it felt out of flow with the story of Laura and her family.  I enjoyed reading about Almanzo's childhood, but I missed the people from the first book.  I had to do some explaining about the "children not speaking until they are spoken to," and some other bits.. for instance, when Almanzo's parents left them for a week in charge of themselves and the farm and they did a lot of making ice cream and toffee and not a lot of anything else until it was right before their parents came home... I suppose that was the Risky Business of the era.  Of course some of the parenting skills since then have changed, and there were some tanning of hides, etc, that I had to explain.  Still, I think it is good for her to know about.

The Verdict:  Good book, with a lot of historical background and some good characters that I know we will read about later on in the series.  Almanzo's growth throughout the book was palpable.  He matured a lot in the year or so that the book covered, and it was very interesting to see.  I kind of wanted to get back to the "main" story, though, with Laura's family and the story I am more familiar with because of the tv show.  As part of the series, a good part.  Somehow, I don't think it will be my favorite of the series.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Karlson on the Roof

One of our good friends brought over her childhood copy of Astrid Lindgren's Karlson on the Roof, and spent many months reading a chapter every time she came over, until finally it was done.  What a delightful story!  Of course, it would have been better if we had been able to read it all at once, but as it was, it was a special time with Evalina and our friend.

The Story:  Midge (it seems like in later versions, his name is translated to Smidge... or maybe our friend's copy was just the British version... I will use Midge, because that was his name in our book) is alone in his bedroom, when he is astounded and delighted to see a little man hovering outside of the window!  This is his introduction to Karlson on the Roof, the world's best trickster, the world's best babysitter, the world's best dog owner, the world's best crook chaser, and the world's most interesting friend.  Karlson has a propeller and can fly, and he lives (you guessed it) on the roof.  He leads Midge on some wonderful adventures, some downright naughty, and they have a wonderful time.  The trouble is, no one else in Midge's family believes that Karlson exists, because he always flies away at the moment before they are going to meet him.  But Karlson isn't just an imaginary friend, he's real.  By the end of the story, he makes sure that everyone knows he's there.

The Good:  It's Astrid Lindgren, and she is always a winner.  Her writing is clever and witty and funny.  Karlson left us all giggling at his antics many times.  Midge is a sweet kid, and all he wants is a dog of his own, and of course, to have fun with Karlson.  The minor characters are funny, too.  Evalina remembered a lot of details from early in the book that I was sure she might have forgotten, since it took so long for our friend to read it with her.  I always like that.

The Bad:  Karlson is really really naughty and he eggs Midge on to do naughty things, as well.  I think it is written in such a way that it is obvious to children that Karlson is not someone to be emulated. 

The Verdict:  I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and Evalina did, too.  It is 176 pages long, so it isn't a behemoth.  That's nice.  I would say that it's not as clever or fun as Pippi, but it was enjoyable.  A great read for any Astrid Lindgren fan.

Little House in the Big Woods

Some of Evalina's good friends got her the first two books in the Little House series for her birthday.  We just finished the first one - Little House in the Big Woods. I watched the Little House on the Prairie show as a child, but never got around to reading the books, so I'm enjoying this quite a lot as well!

The Story: Laura Ingalls is the young daughter of a pioneer family. She lives with her parents, her older sister Mary, and her baby sister Carrie, in a (you guessed it) little house in the big woods in Wisconsin.  She had never been to a town.  She has no concept of neighbors like we do.  The story of this book lays some great historical basis about what everyday family life was like, how they worked to make and catch their food, and more.

The Good:  The detail is fantastic. I want to make butter and cheese and Johnycakes and tap trees and make maple syrup and maple sugar.  Laura and her family are written vibrantly (not surprising, since they were real people), and I think it got Evalina more interested in history. Really thinking about what it was like before there were cars and electricity and 24-hour grocery stores was a very positive thing.  We take so much for granted.

The Bad:  Some of the things portrayed are a little raw for a sensitive modern kid.  Still, it's good for her to know about them.  She was alarmed by all the hunting (even though her daddy hunts), and some other things led us to some very frank discussions.  The fact that Pa smoked a pipe was a problem for her, but I explained that they had no idea that tobacco was bad for you, so many people smoked.  Good history lessons all around, so these things are not really "bad."

The Verdict: Wonderful, and we can't wait to read the next one!  I truly enjoyed it, and want to try some of the "pioneer" recipes and crafts.  When we get to the Little House on the Prairie, I'm looking forward to sharing the television series with Evalina.  The book is 238 pages long and recommended for ages 8-12, and I would agree with that. Evalina's 7, but a very advanced reader, so it was no trouble for her.  (We did read it together - she read a couple paragraphs per page)  I would recommend this series to anyone.  As you can see with our reading history, most of what we have read is fantastical, and I am thrilled to be reading something more historical, to get some enthusiasm for that into her.  Next!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Cricket in Times Square

I loved The Cricket in Times Square when I was a child, and I was therefore very excited to read it to Evalina.  It was just as charming as I remembered it to be!

The Story:  Chester is a cricket, who was carried in a pile of newspaper from his pastoral home in Connecticut.  He ended up in Times Square, and was taken in by a boy who's family runs a struggling newsstand.  Chester befriends Tucker the Mouse and Harry the Cat, and learns that he has a unique and wonderful musical ability.  He can chirp the tune to any number of songs, perfectly.  His talent does not go unnoticed by the humans in Times Square, and soon, Chester becomes a celebrity, putting on two concerts daily.  But, is he really happy?

The Good:  There are some wonderful friendships in this story!  Harry and Tucker, Cat and Mouse, are best of friends, even though they ought to be enemies.  Chester is accepted by them without a blink of an eye. The boy, Mario, loves Chester with his whole being.  There are lots of details about crickets that are written about with joy.  There is joy in the music, and might get kids interested in learning more about it.

The Bad:  There is a fire at one point in the book, which scared Evalina.  Might take some explaining to kids that most crickets, in fact, only chirp their own songs. I really can't think of anything else.

The Verdict:  Read this book!  It's sweet and fun.  There are sequels, too, I believe.  Amazon has the recommended ages as 9-12, but Evalina had no troubles with it, at 7.  She could easily have read it mostly on her own.  It was fun to read a book that we were done with in a week or so, after the ridiculously long Inkheart and Inkspell!

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Well, that was a really long book!

It took 2 1/2 months, but we finally finished Inkspell, the second book in the Inkworld Trilogy.  While it was really good, we will be taking a break before reading the last book!

The Story:  After the story of Inkheart left off, Meggie and her parents went to live with Elinor, and Darius, Capricorn's failed Reader, went to live with them, too.   They were living a wonderful life, happy and content... except that Meggie couldn't get her mind off of Inkworld.  To her father's great duress, she begged her mother to tell her (in writing and sign language, since she had lost her voice in the magical journey from Inkworld, through Darius' slightly botched Reading...) all about the Inkworld, all the details she could remember.  Her father, having lost Resa to Inkworld for so many years, was none too happy about his daughter's obsession.  Fenoglio, the author of Inkheart (in the book) had disappeared into the story when the Shadow was read out.
At the same time, on their own, Dustfinger and Farid have been traveling on their own, desperately searching for other Readers, someone who might read Dustfinger back home.
Dustfinger meets Orpheus, who claims to be the best reader of all time, and he succeeds in reading Dustfinger in, but leaves Farid behind.  With no where else to go, Farid went to Ellinor's and convinced Meggie to try to read him into Inkworld, to watch after Dustfinger.  She gives it a shot, and manages to read not only him, but herself into the story!
Meanwhile, Orpheus has plans.  With Basta and Mortola at his side, he also finds Ellinor's house.  He reads Mo, Resa, Mortola, and Basta into the Inkworld, and takes up residence in Ellinor's library, using her and Darius as servants and mistreating her books terribly.
And what happens in the Inkworld?  Mortola has a score to settle with Mo, because of his part in her son's death.  She shoots him and leaves him for dead.  Resa, who's voice has come back to her upon her return to Inkworld, works very hard to save her husband.
Dustfinger has reunited with his wife (who knew he was married?) after his 10 year absence, and Farid and Meggie went in search of him.  They find him, and Fenoglio, who is none to pleased of the turns his story has taken of it's own accord.  One of his most beloved characters has died, without his writing of it, and his father, the Laughing Prince, once great ruler of Ombra, is now nothing but The Prince of Sighs, and his health is fading.  The evil Adderhead is gaining ground, and executing strolling players left and right.  Even Fenoglios stories of the Bluejay, a Robin Hood-like character he based on Mo, couldn't make things better.  Fenoglio enlists Meggie's help to set his story right, with his writing and her reading.
If only things had been that easy... the story has a mind of its own, and isn't as easily shaped as Fenoglio might have hoped...

The Good:  I found the characters even more compelling than in Inkheart.  The Inkworld was beautifully written and detailed, and I can understand why Meggie longed to be read into it.  Even the minor characters were incredibly well done.  It was an engaging story, again, I think even more than Inkheart, and I couldn't wait to see how it ended. Evalina also really loved it.  She was picking up little details that I thought she might miss, and that impressed me.

The Bad:  Holy cats, was it long!  It took us 2 1/2 months to read this beast.  Phew.  Parts of it were really sad, and parts of it were really scary.  There was some minor cursing, which I showed Evalina on the page, but told her that I would be censoring while reading aloud.  I just don't need to be saying damn and son of a bitch (which I think was only used a couple times) because I don't want them introduced into her vocabulary.  But, she saw them and knew that they are not nice words for a 7 year old.  There was also quite a bit of romance with Farid and Meggie, which I thought was a little heavy, considering Meggie is only 13 or so.  There was quite a lot of violence and killing.  I found sometimes, we had to read extra pages a night, because the ends of some chapters was just too scary or sad.

The Verdict:  Though super long, it was really really good.  The next one is the same length, and I intend on waiting a while before reading that one.  Amazon has the recommended ages for this as 9-12.  I'd say that's about right.  This was a bit much for my 7 year old, story-wise.  That's one reason I'm planning on waiting on the last one.  All in all, though, I would highly recommend this, but for an older child.  It is engaging and well written, but oh so long, and with more grown up themes than we usually read.  Give it a try, but for an older child, in my opinion.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dr. Seuss: Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!

The nice woman working in the children's section of the bookstore recommended Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! and I decided to give it a try, since I haven't met a Seuss I don't like.

The Story:  The school in Dinkerville is different.  The teachers teach things like poodle identification and painting pictures while hanging upside down.  The students are happy and enthusiastic, until one day, the principal comes and tells them that they have to take a test.  If they fail this test, their school will be closed and they'll be forced to go to the dreary, boring Flobbertown School.  The students are scared, the principal is nervous, but the teacher is sure of the children - because they have been taught, among other things, how to think.  She is sure that they will pass any test, because they have been well-armed.  She was right, and the children get the highest score on the test, saving their fabulous school.  The principal declares it Diffendoofer Day, and everyone rejoices.

The Good:  This book emphasizes how important it is to learn to think for yourself, instead of just memorizing facts.  If you are well armed to use your brain, you can do anything.  The book was finished after Dr. Seuss' death (from some of his notes) and the illustrations are not typical Seuss, but they are fun and colorful.  It's a really fun book.

The Bad:  I can't think of anything, other than the fact that it might make you grumpy about the state of so many schools today, where memorization of rote facts seems to be the norm.  The purist Dr. Seuss fan may have issues with the non-Seussical illustrations.

The Verdict:  I want to share this book with everyone I know.  It's not that long, and it's got a great message.  Learn to use your fabulous brain, and anything is possible!  Thank you, Book Store Lady!

Dr. Seuss: New Books!

We went to the bookstore today and picked up some new Dr. Seuss Books in honor of his birthday (on March 2).

I'll review them as we go through them.

Dr. Seuss Fun: Making Oobleck!

This afternoon, we made Oobleck using this great tutorial.  I made a half recipe, and let the girl have some fun playing with it.

Put water in a bowl, add food coloring
Add in cornstarch

Mix well

Keep Mixing

Play with it


Keep playing!

Then, wash off!

Friday, February 26, 2010

It's that time Again: Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss! (on March 2)

We are still busily chugging along on Inkspell, and it's going to take us a while (though we are nearly halfway through!).  So, I interrupt your regularly scheduled blog to remind you that Dr. Seuss' birthday is coming up on March 2!

Last year, I told you about some of our favorite Dr. Seuss books in honor of his birthday.   This year, I thought I'd share some other ideas to celebrate the day.

I know it's not until next Tuesday, but this will give you some heads up to plan.
  • I found this great site, where you can download your own Seuss Reading Passport.  Yes, I've printed a copy for each of my kids (not all the books are on there, but most of the real classics.  Maybe I'll add some pages for the rest of them....)
  • I'll be making a themed lunch for my daughter on Tuesday.  Check it out on my lunch blog when the day comes.
  • I think we'll make some Oobleck.  Here's a great looking tutorial.
  • You better believe we'll be having Green Eggs & Ham for breakfast.
  • There are some cool game ideas at, too.
  • We have one of the Dr. Seuss board games (Cat in the Hat - I Can Do That!) and I think it'll be obligatory to play a couple rounds.
  • Of course, read one of your favorite Seuss books.  Or two.  Or three.  Or, pick up a new one to expand your horizons - and stamp your Seuss Passport!
Happy (early) Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Witches

I had never read The Witches, but had once seen the movie (though it was long ago), so all I remembered going into this is that it had to do with witches and mice... since we've been on a Roald Dahl mission, we had to read it.

The Story:  The books starts out unceremoniously with the death of the narrator's parents in a car crash.  This tragedy puts him in the care of his Norwegian grandmother, who tries to lighten his somber mood by telling him stories of witches.  When they have to move back to his home in England, and end up taking a holiday at a fancy hotel, they come face to face with a whole slew of witches, who have a devious plan to turn all the children in England into mice!  Unfortunately for the boy, they start with him.  However, he finds that he rather likes being a mouse, and maybe by being a mouse, he has a unique advantage in trying to stop the witches...

The Good:  The boy's grandmother is wonderfully written.  She's compassionate and kind and accepting.  The boy's own acceptance (and even happiness) of becoming a mouse makes the whole metamorphosis a little less disturbing.  As always, Dahl captures joy and humor in unexpected places.

The Bad:  Those witches are scary!  Anyone could be a witch, as they are masters of disguise.  If your child is the nervous kind, this could upset them.  The boy's grandmother smokes a cigar, and while it is always described as "stinking" and "foul," it might take explaining.  The way that his parents are killed off and then never spoken of again except in passing is a little disturbing, too.  It is typical of Dahl, though.

The Verdict:  Very good, and funny, though not my favorite Dahl.  It is recommended for ages 7-12 on Amazon, and I'd say that's about right.  It was a good read, and Evalina liked it, but as I said... not my favorite.  Still, definitely worth the read.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Twits

During our (probably brief) break from the Inkheart series, we are reading the Roald Dahl books that Evalina got for Christmas.  First up was The Twits, which I have never read.  We finished it in one night. 

The Story:  Mr. Twit and Mrs. Twit were dreadful human beings.  They were horrible to each other, and pretty horrible to people around them, too.  They were not kind to animals or children.  They had four monkeys (because they used to be monkey trainers) which they treated terribly and were made to stand on their heads all the time.  Mr. Twit really liked to eat Bird Pie, so he smeared a tree outside their house with super sticky glue, to catch the birds... until the monkeys got together with a visiting bird to turn the Twits world upside-down..

The Good:  It's hilarious (what else would you expect from Roald Dahl) and a super quick read.  The Twits are painted as truly ghastly, and you don't feel bad for them when they get their due.  The illustrations by Quentin Blake match the story wonderfully.  Evalina loved it and couldn't (wouldn't) put it down until it was done.

The Bad:  The Twits are really awful people.  They do really mean things to each other.  However, I wouldn't say that's bad, just that you should be aware, you are not going to be reading about nice characters here...

The Verdict:  Get it!  I was laughing out loud.  It's only about 75 pages long, and filled with wonderful illustrations, so it's really quick.  It's fun to see what the animals do to get back at the Twits, and it is definitely worth a read.  Amazon lists it as appropriate for ages 7-11, and I think a little younger would be fine, too.  (Evalina is not quite 7, and I think she would have appreciated this story even a year ago or more..)  I just don't think you can go wrong with Roald Dahl.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I got Inkheart for Evalina last year, and it has sat upon the shelf, looking large and intimidating ever since.  It's a whopper of a book, at 535 pages.  But that's not all - it has two sequels:  Inkspell (656 pages) and Inkdeath (also 656 pages).  So, reading it was a commitment of near epic proportions.

Evalina insisted, though, and I'm glad she did.  It's taken us a long time (over a month and a half!) to get through Inkheart alone, but it's a really great book, and she has loved it, as have I.

The Story:  Meggie (age 12) lives a content life, alone with her father, Mo, and their books.  He is a bookbinder, and has instilled in her a love of books that is undeniable.  Still, he has never, in her memory, read aloud to her.  A mysterious stranger, Dustfinger, appears in the middle of the night, and tells Mo that Capricorn is after The Book.  Without explaining anything to Meggie yet, Mo packs up their things and heads out of town, to her great aunt Ellinor's house, which is also filled top to bottom with her precious books.  They are there to protect and hide The Book, a book that Meggie has never seen before, but Mo treats like a treasure.  Still not understanding what is going on, Meggie is alarmed when agents of this unknown villain, Capricorn, arrive at Ellinor's house and kidnap her father.  In an attempt to get him back, they set off for Capricorn's village, with The Book in tow.  It is there that Meggie finds out the truth - her father has an amazing ability.  When he reads aloud, sometimes characters from the book emerge from the pages, and come into our world.  That's where Dustfinger, Capricorn, and his men came from.  The only problem is, when someone comes out, someone else goes in.  Meggie had always thought that her mother left them when she was a baby, but it turns out that Mo read her into The Book - Inkheart.  Try as he might, he was never able to read her back out, and vowed to never read aloud again.  That is, until Capricorn forced him to...

The Good:  The story is really engaging, and I love Cornelia Funke's writing style.  She seems to write spunky girls well.  My own spunky girl appreciated that.  The love of books that is evident in the story is nice to see, and the relationship Meggie has with her father is wonderful.  Though the book was long, it never seemed to drag.  All of the characters, good and evil, are well flushed out and believable.

The Bad:  Wow, is it ever long.  And then, facing the two longer sequels, I am more daunted than Evalina I think.  The evil characters are really dark, and there is some violence that is unsettling, and some definite scary parts.  Also, there is the thing with fire.  Dustfinger is a fire-eater and jester, who mainly deals with fire.  I had to spend quite a lot of time talking to Evalina about how she is never ever ever ever to play with fire like he does.  She nodded and smiled at me about it, but I am not about to leave her near any open flames any time soon.  That part made me nervous. 

The Verdict:  It's recommended for grades 5-9, and I think if you are not reading with your child, that holds true.  For reading together, although it takes a long time to get through, Evalina was able to follow and enjoy the story.  It's a really great story, and though they are long, I'm looking forward to reading the sequels.  I've heard that the movie took a lot of liberties, though, and while it is decent, it's not at all like the book.  That's a shame, but I can understand. It is hard to make a faithful movie based on a book that is over 500 pages long.  Overall, though, super good and really really worth reading... although it might be something that you want to let your child read by themselves.  Reading it aloud certainly was a commitment... and now I'm in for the sequels!  I've convinced her that we should read a couple shorter books before hopping into them, though, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next, but I'm glad for a break.