Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma

The third (and final, at least for now) book in The Mysterious Benedict Society series, we finished The Prisoner's Dilemma a couple weeks ago.  I'm just getting a chance to write it up now.

The Story:  After the end of The Perilous Journey, the four kids in the Mysterious Benedict Society were all sequestered in Mr. Benedict's house.  Everyone is worried about Mr. Curtain, who escaped at the end of the last book.  Mr. Benedict has the Whisperer in the house, though government officials are trying to gain control of it.  Through nefarious means, Mr. Curtain manages to steal the Whisperer, and the group has to find a way to get it back, getting taken prisoner in the process.  To defeat Mr. Curtain, they have to find a way to escape and get the Whisperer back... which is no easy task.  But, for outstanding kids like Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance, anything is possible.

The Good:  The characters we've come to love in the past couple of books are back, and wonderful.  Even better, they are maturing as you would expect growing children.  Constance is gaining in her telepathic powers, which is neat.  The others are learning more about their own unique abilities and strengths, and also learning how to deal with whatever weaknesses they might have. The story is exciting.

The Bad:  Sometimes, this book seemed to drag a little.  It wasn't my favorite of the three.  Constance spends a great deal of the book feeling sick from using her telepathy, and I miss her move vociferous presence.  Still a good read, and I wouldn't skip it, but it isn't as thrilling as the others to me.

The Verdict:  Amazon recommends this for 5-8th grade, and Evalina is in 3rd grade... it would have been too much for her to read on her own, I think, and get a lot out of it.  She did like it, though, and always wanted me to read more.  So, I think it makes a good ending to the trilogy and I would recommend it to fans of the other books, for sure.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey

We finished reading The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey a while ago, but I didn't have the chance to blog it until now.  We are halfway through the third book in the series now... hopefully I will be more prompt about blogging that one!

The Story:  The members of the Mysterious Benedict Society reunite for what was supposed to be a wonderful adventure set up by Mr. Benedict, but instead turns into a rescue mission to save their benefactor and Number Two, who have been kidnapped by his nefarious twin brother, Mr. Curtain.  The intrepid children have to avoid capture by Mr. Curtain's henchmen, the Ten Men, and travel around the globe on their search.

The Good:  The characters are as good as ever... and the adventure is exciting.  The search for Mr. Benedict brings them through different countries, following clues left for them on what was supposed to be a kind of scavenger hunt.  They are very engaging as characters.  Evalina particularly likes Constance, the precocious toddler in the group.

The Bad: There are times when it's scary... it's unclear if the children will prevail, and they end up in some tight spots.  But, in my mind, that just makes for a good story.  Adults are often portrayed as untrustworthy, and that could be a problem for some.  The children also do not usually listen to the instructions of the adults in their life.  This could also be seen as a problem.

The Verdict:  I actually think I liked this story better than the first one.  The adventure was more targeted, if you will.  Also, one person mentioned that the first book was basically Mr. Benedict throwing the children into a dangerous situation and hoping that it all worked out for the best... this one is the children taking the initiative to save their friends.  Amazon lists this book as for ages 9-12, and I would agree with that for children reading independently.  Evalina is 8 1/2 and it probably would have been a bit much for her to read on her own.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Mysterious Benedict Society

My sister got the series of The Mysterious Benedict Society for Evalina for her birthday, and we just finished the first one.  So good!  Can't wait to start the next one!

The Story:  Reynie Muldoon is an extraordinary boy.  He is in an orphanage, and is tutored by the kind Miss Perumal, but otherwise, things aren't looking very bright for him.  That is, until he comes across an advertisement looking for extraordinary children to take a test, and qualify for wonderful opportunities.  Thus begins his adventures.  He meets Mr. Benedict, and his life changes forever.  With fellow extraordinary children Kate Weatherall, Sticky Washington, and Constance Contraire, the group of children form the Mysterious Benedict Society, and infiltrate a special institute that is not what it appears to be.  Can they save the world before it's too late?

The Good:  Super exciting!  The children are wonderfully engaging characters (and the adults are, too, but they are really secondary to the plot).  They are brave, but believably so.  They face dangers with creativity and zeal, and their troubles, while exciting, are never really too scary for the reader.  You have a sense that it will all work out in the end, though you aren't sure how.  The chapters were a manageable length to read about one per night (though sometimes we couldn't stop at just one!) and the story was really engaging.

The Bad:  There were some cliffhangers that were a little much for Evalina to handle, and required reading a little more to settle her.  Some things were a little scary, and the "Waiting Room" in particular was really gross to read about (a terrible stench, yucky mud...)  The plot involves a frightening mind control machine, and it's the kids' mission to defeat it.  Mysterious indeed!

The Verdict:  Wonderful.  Can't wait to read more.  In the end, everyone found a way to be happy, and the mystery was satisfactorily resolved.  Love all the characters, really.  The book was long - over 400 pages, and we read it in just about a month.  Super exciting.  Evalina totally loved it and found it funny, exciting, and engaging.  Amazon recommends it for grades 5-9, and I can see that for solo reading, but as far as reading with your child, it was just fine for her age range.    So much fun.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

King of the Wind

My mother got King of the Wind (and a couple other books) for Evalina for her birthday.  I had never read it.  I'm glad that I got a chance to!

The Story:  Agba is a mute horse-boy from the court of the Sultan in Morocco.  When the Sultan decides to send a company of his best horses to France as a state gift, Agba goes along with his beloved horse, Sham.  Unfortunately, Sham and the other horses are ill-treated on the journey, and don't arrive in France looking like the grand and royal Arabian horses that they are, but like malnourished nags.  Sham and Agba are separated from the other horses, and they go through many owners and jobs, but are never truly appreciated.  Then, finally, years later, and after many abuses, they come to the home of the Earl of Godolphin in England.  While at first, Sham's pedigree is not realized, he soon makes his mark on the world of horses and goes on to father a new and glorious line.

The Good:  It's historical fiction, which is fun.  The fact that Agba cannot speak is not even brought up in the narrative until a few chapters into the book.  The relationship between Agba and Sham is beautiful.  Even when the horse is ill-treated and separated from Agba, he always remembers the boy when they find each other again.  Agba is always thinking of the horse, and always wishes he could let the horse's grand origins be known.  He is sworn to be with Sham until he dies, and they do stay together until the end of the horse's days.  Some of Sham's owners are kind to both boy and horse, and it is heartening to see.  Mostly, it's wonderful to see Sham live up to his potential greatness at the end.

The Bad:  Some of the treatment of Sham (and Agba) is really reprehensible.  It's enough to make a horse lover cringe.  The horse is often ill fed, ill taken care of, and under appreciated.  At one point, Agba ends up in prison, and at another time, the two of them end up in a lonely exile.  Might be a bit much to take for younger kids.

The Verdict:  This is a wonderful story about the origins of the Thoroughbred horse, and about the love of a boy for a horse, and of a horse for a boy.  Amazon recommends this book for ages 9-12, and I would agree.  Evalina is 8 and did well with me reading it to her, but some of the language and themes would have been difficult without me there to help her out a bit.  I would recommend this one, and so would Evalina.  There were many nights when she was not satisfied with one chapter, because of how exciting the story was.  If you like horses, you will likely enjoy this book.

Misty of Chincoteague

Misty of Chincoteague was one of my favorites as a child, and I knew Evalina would love it.  She has been on a horse loving kick lately, so this was a perfect pick.

The Story:  Young Paul and Maureen Beebe live on Chincoteague island, and dream of having their own wild pony from Assateague Island off the coast of Virginia.  They have their heart set on Phantom, the most elusive and wild mare of them all.  When Paul finally gets a chance to be part his first Pony Penning Day (where the people from Chincoteague gather many of the wild ponies to keep them from getting overpopulated), he manages to capture the Phantom.  Along with her comes a surprise - a tiny foal!  Paul names her Misty, and hopes that he and Maureen might be able to buy the Phantom and her foal at the pony auction.  They worked very hard and saved a lot of money by doing odd chores for people, and soon, the two ponies were theirs!  Paul and Maureen worked hard to gentle the wild Phantom, and got her ready for the pony races, while Misty grew up, happy as could be, on Chincoteague.  But, while she was somewhat gentled, and ran like the wind itself in the race, Phantom longed for her island home of Assateague. 

The Good:  For anyone who loves horses, this is a wonderful choice.  Paul and Maureen show a wonderful work ethic, doing anything they could to make some money to reach their goal.  The descriptions of the horses are wonderful.  The story is engaging, and made me want to go to visit Chincoteague (where they still have Pony Penning Day).  This is based on a true story, which is really neat.  Evalina just loved the story.

The Bad:  There are a couple tense spots - like a terrible storm in which Paul is stuck in a horse trailer with the Phantom and Misty, along with times when it wasn't certain that the kids would reach their goal.  Some kids might be sensitive about the whole idea of Pony Penning Day, but in my mind, it's a good talking point about why it is something important to do.

The Verdict:  Wonderful.  Simply wonderful.  It really stands up to the test of time.  It is recommended for ages 9-12, and I would say that's about right for the independent reader.  Evalina is 8 and had no problems with me reading it with her, but she might have had a few problems if reading it alone.  Read it.  I want to get the sequels for her.  Overall, a total win.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Justin Morgan Had a Horse

Evalina has recently become quite enamored of horses.  Doesn't every little girl go through that at about 8?  For her birthday, my mother got her some books involving horses.

Living in Vermont, where the Morgan horse is our state animal, I thought a good start to the horse books would be Justin Morgan Had a Horse, about the first Morgan Horse (of course slightly fictionalized...)

The Story:  School teacher and song master, Justin Morgan travels from his home in Vermont to Springfield, Massachusetts, in order to collect a debt owed to him from a farmer.  The farmer did not have money to give him, but instead gave him a stout young foal, Ebinezer.  A small runt of a foal named Little Bub followed along, and the farmer decided to throw him into the bargain.  Young Joel Goss, who was traveling with Morgan, fell instantly in love with the little foal.  He took it upon himself to gentle him, continuing in this endeavor even after they got back to Vermont and Joel was taken in as an apprentice at the mill.  He worked to gentle Little Bub after his night school lessons, and they formed a wonderful rapport.  When the foal was grown, the school teacher rented him out as a work horse.  It turned out that, although smaller than other work horses, he had a strength and speed that could not be matched.  He won a race against some fancy Thoroughbreds, and became famous throughout Vermont.  After Justin Morgan's death, Little Bub, who became known as the Justin Morgan horse, was traded all over Vermont and Joel lost track of him.  Finally, after he was a grown man, and after he had worked in the army as a horse caretaker, he found Little Bub again and was able to make him his own.  When President Monroe came to Vermont, the Justin Morgan horse caught even his eye.  Little Bub became the father of the Morgan horse breed.

The Good:  The descriptions of the horse are wonderful.  The chapters are short and contain some exciting moments.  Joel's love and devotion for Little Bub is palpable.  You root for the little horse, and for his reunion with his old friend.  The descriptions of Vermont at that time, and of the Battle of Plattsburg in particular, are really well done.

The Bad:  I can't think of much that is bad, except perhaps that it is "based on a true story," and not completely factual about the origins of the Morgan horse breed.  But, that's minor.  It's a really good story.

The Verdict:  I can recommend this to any young horse lover.  Amazon's age recommendation is 9-12.  Evalina, at 8, had no troubles with it.  It is not very long (less than 200 pages) and is a pretty quick read.  Anyone who reads it will probably end up wanting to know more about the Morgan horse.  (I anticipate we'll make a trip to the Morgan Horse Museum this summer..

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Peter Pan and Wendy

It's been a while since I've blogged here, but Evalina and I have been busily reading.  We just finished another one of the Ramona books (we only have one left), and we also read a true classic - Peter Pan.  The version we read was called Peter Pan and Wendy, and we read it in e-book form.

Evalina got a Nook for Christmas.

The Story:  Who doesn't know the story of Peter Pan?  Most of us at least know the Disney-fied version.  Peter Pan, a boy who doesn't want to grow up, comes to the window of the Darling house, and flies away with the Darling children - Wendy, John, and Michael.  They fly to Neverland, a place all children see in their dreams.  There, they have many adventures with The Lost Boys (Peter's crew of boys), fighting the nefarious Captain Hook.

The Good:  The story is exciting, and the characters are well developed.  You get a different sense of them from this than from the Disney version.  They are more complex.  Tinkerbell is not a sweet little thing.  She's kind of ornery.  Peter is flawed and you can feel the conflict in him.  Hook is scary and fun to read.  Mr. and Mrs. Darling (and Nana) are flawed, but loving.  Evalina really loved listening to this book.

The Bad:  The language is sometimes a bit old fashioned, and if she had been reading it on her own, it might have been more difficult to wade through.  Since I was reading it aloud, we were able to work through things in context for the most part.  Tinkerbell routinely calls Peter a "silly ass."  Evalina was able to just take those outbursts in stride, and she knows not to repeat language like that. But it might be an issue with other readers.  Some of the parts with the pirates are a little scary, and the children do kill the pirates.  This might also be an issue with some readers.  Some parts are a little intense, as the children are in The Neverland for so long that they begin to forget their parents.  If your child is totally in love with the Disney version of Peter Pan, this book might come as a shock on some levels.

The Verdict:  Overall, a really good read.  A total classic.  It's not the Peter Pan the Disney audience is used to.  I think it's a great read-together book, because the language is sometimes more challenging for the young modern reader.  Evalina really got into the imagery and loves talking about how she sees The Neverland when she closes her eyes at night.  It's great to share such a classic.  Amazon recommends it for ages 9-12, but I think the younger part of that range might need some help getting through it.  I would recommend it, though.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Ramona Series

We are whizzing our way through the Ramona Quimby books by Bevery Cleary, though unfortunately, we are not really reading them in order... so, I'm just blogging the whole set of books instead of each book separately.

The Story:  These books focus on Ramona Quimby, from the time she is 5-8 (I think).  She is a spunky, imaginative, sometimes mischievous little girl.  In other words, a lot like Evalina.  She has an older sister, Beatrice, also known as Beezus, and very loving parents.  She goes through trials and tribulations of being a kid who is trying very hard to grow up.

The Good:  The wonderful thing about Ramona is that she doesn't pull any punches.  She lets you know just how it is to be a kid, worrying about the world around her sometimes.  She doesn't always love school.  She worries that people don't like her.  She sometimes gives in to her naughtier instincts.  In other words, she's a typical kid.  I think it's great to have a series of books that really try to tell things from a kid's point of view, without condescending to the child reading it.  Ramona is a delightful character to read, and her family goes through real family problems that are relevant today.  Amazingly, I just read that the first Ramona book was published in the mid-50's!  I would have thought they were in the 70's or 80's (though I read some as a child in the 80's and they were already classics then, so...)  Ramona's parents go through job loss, financial difficulties, going back to school, childcare issues, and other absolutely familiar things to people today.  And, one thing I like is that the books explore what these things mean to Ramona.  She notices.  But they don't just deal with her issues with the adult problems, they also delve into her own mind.  What if her teacher doesn't like her?  What if people think she's a pest?  What if she has to be nice to a friend's annoying kid sister?

The Bad:  Sometimes, Ramona does naughty things.  She gets so mad that she squirts out an entire tube of toothpaste, just because.  She cracks eggs on her head (and, unfortunately, not always hard boiled eggs...)  She crushes school projects instead of talking to her teacher when another student copies her work.  She goes a different way to school and gets a shoe stolen by a dog.  Still, all of these are good teaching moments, and none of them are implausible situations.  Sometimes, it is obvious that Ramona was written in a different time, when kids were given more freedom (walking to school alone in first grade, for instance..)  Not that it's a bad thing (I personally think that we don't give our kids enough trust nowadays... but that's a discussion for a different time), but it's something to be aware of.

The Verdict:  I think that the Ramona series is utterly enjoyable.  I also think that it's empowering for kids to have a character they can relate to so much.  The writing style is not too difficult, and they are relatively quick reads, I'd say on par with most Roald Dahl books.  Absolutely recommended.  Also, though it would be nice to read them in order, it's not really a necessity, so we are reading them as they become free at the library (and Evalina did get a couple of them for Christmas).  I think they would be great books to own, because they would be good to re-read over and over.  Amazon has the reading level from ages 9-12, but I think that's ridiculous.   I'd say more 6-10 (and I am enjoying them as a grown up, too!)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The King's Stilts

For Christmas, I got the kids several Dr. Seuss books.  One of them was The King's Stilts.  We have read it several times now, and it's a really great one!

The Story:  The King of Binn works very very hard.  He is up at 5 in the morning, working.  He works all day, to keep the kingdom safe from the threat of the horrible Nizzard birds that peck at the Dike trees that protect the kingdom from being flooded.  But when his work is done for the day, the King loves to roam about on his beloved stilts.  All of the people in the kingdom find the King's stilting hobby endearing and love him all the more for it.  All of the people, of course, except for the sour Lord Droon.  He thinks that the stilts are far too much fun, and might cause troublesome smiling.  So, he decides to steal the stilts and orders the King's paige boy, Eric, to bury them.  Eric doesn't want to do it, because he knows how much the king loves his stilts, but he is forced to obey.  Without his stilts, the King becomes despondent.  He can't bring himself to do his work with the same enthusiasm as he had before, without his stilts to look forward to.  The Kingdom is in terrible trouble, without the King working to fend off the Nizzards, and Eric decides to defy Droon and return the stilts to the King.  With his stilts back, the King regains his vigor, the Kingdom is saved, and Droon is duly punished.

The Good:  It's a prose-style Seuss, which I like quite a lot.  The message is clear - All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and King Birtram a poor king.  The illustrations are, of course, wonderful.  Eric is akin to Bartholomew in his rank and determination to save the kingdom he loves.  The kids have asked me to read this book three nights in a row.

The Bad:  I can't think of much bad about it, unless you don't like prose-style Seuss...

The Verdict:  A wonderful addition to any Dr. Seuss library.  It's not a very well known one, but it's worth owning.  I've already gotten the kids to do their chores with a little less argument, reminding them that they can play when they are done working.  That's always a good thing.