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Family Fridays – Jack London

Books: White Fang and The Call of the Wild

Category/Age: Middle Grades, 10+

Blurb – Call of the Wild:

The Call of the Wild is a novel by American writer Jack London. The plot concerns a previously domesticated dog named Buck, whose primordial instincts return after a series of events leads to his serving as a sled dog in the Yukon during the 19th-century Klondike Gold Rush, in which sled dogs were bought at generous prices. Published in 1903, The Call of the Wild is London’s most-read book, and it is generally considered his best, the masterpiece of his so-called “early period”.

Blurb – White Fang:

Half wolf, half dog, White Fang fully understands the cruelty of both nature and humans. After nearly starving to death during the frigid Arctic winter, he’s taken in first by a man who “trains” him through constant whippings, and then by another who forces him to participate in vicious dogfights. Follow White Fang as he overcomes these obstacles and finally meets someone who offers him kindness and love.

Review:

From my reading of these two books as a child, I remembered vaguely that they were a bit violent. I was therefore a little startled at how violent the books are when I reread them. Both humans and dogs (as well as other animals) die and suffer in a surprising variety of horrible ways. I also was not all that impressed by the writing this time around. It’s old-fashioned, yes, but I have no problem with that. It was just a little clunky – it felt like an uneducated man trying to impress with his use of large vocabulary words, and not-so-subtle imagery.

All that being said, they are still both gripping tales. You really care about the characters in the stories and root for them to succeed despite the odds. I think they’re best read together, in the order presented here as you end on a happier note with White Fang. White Fang is also significantly longer. You have more time to come to care about the character, but also more time for bad things to happen to him. And they do, aplenty, which is one of the reasons his redemption is that much sweeter at the end.

I have always been fascinated by survival stories, and these have lots of action and hardship, loyalty and betrayal, sacrifice and love. The things I mentioned not liking about them – the violence and the writing style – I think are less likely to bother children than adults. I was (am) a total wuss about violence in books and movies and I don’t remember being traumatized by it. Perhaps children are more practical about violence in nature than adults. That being said, I recommend these books for children, but I also strongly recommend you read them first to make sure your child is ready for them.

Have you read White Fang or The Call of the Wild? What did you think? Would you encourage your kids to read either?

Get it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

P.S. I read most of these books with my dog curled up in my lap, which provided a hilarious contrast to these noble, savage beasts that Jack London knew as “dogs”. My little terrier mix has about as much in common with these creatures as she does with a banana. We’re pretty sure the tan recliner pictured below is her “natural habitat”.

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Family Fridays – The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Book: The Witch of Blackbird Pond (1958) by Elizabeth George Speare (1959 Newbery Winner)

Category/Age: Middle Grades / 9+

Blurb:

Sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler is marked by suspicion and disapproval from the moment she arrives on the unfamiliar shores of colonial Connecticut in 1687. Alone and desperate, she has been forced to leave her beloved home on the island of Barbados and join a family she has never met. Torn between her quest for belonging and her desire to be true to herself, Kit struggles to survive in a hostile place. Just when it seems she must give up, she finds a kindred spirit. But Kit’s friendship with Hannah Tupper, believed by the colonists to be a witch, proves more taboo than she could have imagined and ultimately forces Kit to choose between her heart and her duty.

Elizabeth George Speare won the 1959 Newbery Medal for this portrayal of a heroine whom readers will admire for her unwavering sense of truth as well as her infinite capacity to love.

Review:

As a child, I was (and still am) endlessly fascinated by learning about the way other people lived, especially if they lived in a vastly different time or place from my own. I’ve always struggled with straight history –dates and rulers and governments and all the rest of it makes me a bit cross-eyed – but give me a good story about a person and I’m hooked. The most mundane details are what draw me in: What did they wear? What did they eat? How did they cook it? Where and how did they sleep? How did they spend their days?

The Witch of Blackbird Pond gives these kinds of glimpses into the life of a teenage girl in the late 1600’s. This story delighted me as a child as I learned about Kit’s new life in the colonies and her struggles to fit in. One of the things I remembered most about the book before rereading it was the strong themes of love throughout: love for family (and the many different forms that can take, whether begrudging duty or total, instant acceptance), love for friends, and romantic love.

I have to admit that when I reread it for this post, I was just a little disappointed. Reading it from the perspective of an adult, I noticed some things that fell a little flat for me. There isn’t a huge amount of character growth for Kit throughout the book, and there don’t seem to be long term consequences for any of her impetuous actions. These often lead her into immediate crises, but these are quickly resolved with hardly any fallout.

It is still a charming book, and I’m recommending it as much based on how much I loved it when I was a girl as much as anything else. There is also the classic “outsider who stays true to who she is and finds happiness because of it” motif, which I think always goes over well – I was going to say “with kids”, but then realized this is possibly even more true for adult literature. I especially recommend this for kids who struggle with history. If you can excuse this lame joke, it really does put the “story” back into “history”, as it excellently balances historical details and references with the plot and characterizations.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Have you read it? Would you give it to your children? Are there any books that come to mind that disappointed you when you first reread them as an adult?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Family Fridays – Pre Christmas Three

Here’s the third Pre Christmas set of recommendations. By the way, how is it already mid-November?!?

A Little House Christmas Treasury: Festive Holiday Stories: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

This enchanting collection of Christmas stories will delight and entertain the elementary school aged crowd. If you have the Little House books, you could of course just find all the Christmas bits and read them together, but if you don’t have them, this might be a fun way to see if your family likes the series. I remember being fascinated by the way children lived in that time and place when I was young, and am hoping my son will enjoy them when he’s old enough. You could also do some subtle, “Hey, Laura was excited to get TWO pieces of candy in her stocking, maybe you could be happy even if you don’t get all of the Star Wars Lego sets this year.” Or you could just enjoy one family’s celebration of Christmas.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965): Amazon, Barnes & Noble

This is where I’m going to get arrested by the Children’s Blog Police…I don’t like Peanuts. There, I said it. I think it’s depressing and painful, not funny. However, A Charlie Brown Christmas might be one of the most powerful, lasting, and succinct (it’s only 25 minutes) movies about Christmas that I’ve ever seen. Though nearly fifty years old, it is more timely today than ever. Here’s the blurb: “Repelled by the commercialism he sees around him, Charlie Brown tries to find the true meaning of Christmas.” That could be written today, and I suspect could be written about a movie in another fifty years. Near the end, Linus quotes the Christmas story from the Bible [spoiler alert: that’s the true meaning of Christmas]. It’s hard to see that happening on a show produced today. Anyways, I think this is a fantastic Christmas movie, AND it’s appropriate for all ages.

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Family Fridays – A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Book: A Wrinkle in Time (1962)

Series: The Wrinkle in Time Quintet

Genre: Children’s Fantasy / Children’s Science Fiction

Ages: 10 and up

Blurb:

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

A tesseract (in case the reader doesn’t know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L’Engle’s unusual book. A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.

 A Wrinkle in Time is the winner of the 1963 Newbery Medal.

Review:

I have loved A Wrinkle in Time for decades. The writing style, which I can appreciate more as an adult, is clean and beautiful. It manages to be simple without being simplistic and never feels like it has been dumbed down for children. Written just over fifty years ago, it will ring just as true to children today as it has over the last half century. The story is a classic, the world building is unique and interesting, and the characters are well drawn. It is particularly wonderful for children who feel like misfits. I do remember being scared the first time I read it, which was well before the 10-11 years old that I see online as age guides, but as previously noted (often) I have always been easily frightened. I sometimes feel that books written earlier (such as Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia – see my review here) end up with higher age ranges than books being written now. Maybe it’s like how older movies had stricter guidelines for what got rated as PG-13, what got rated as R and so on.

There are five books in this series, with some branch off books about the Austin family. The Austin family books are good (at least the couple that I read) but more mature – I would recommend late junior high or early high school. The Wrinkle in Time Quintet is very good overall. I didn’t actually care for Many Waters, but the rest of the books I thoroughly enjoyed (though do be aware the themes get more mature as the series progresses). My second favorite is probably the last book: An Acceptable Time.

In order, the Wrinkle in Time Quintet books are as follows:

  1. A Wrinkle in TimeAmazon, Barnes & Noble
  2. A Wind in the DoorAmazon, Barnes & Noble
  3. A Swiftly Tilting PlanetAmazon, Barnes & Noble
  4. Many WatersAmazon, Barnes & Noble
  5. An Acceptable Time Amazon, Barnes & Noble

The full paperback box set (which is the version I have) is available here: Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

Apparently there’s a movie, but I haven’t seen it. Any of you seen it? Read any of Madeleine L’Engle’s works?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Family Fridays – Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series by Rick Riordan

Genre: Children’s Fantasy

Ages: 9 and up

Blurb for the first book:

The Lightning Thief

After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There’s little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus.

Review:  

I will try very hard to restrain my enthusiasm during this post, or we could all be here for a while. At least I would be, the rest of you would probably give up and head to greener pastures after the first 1,000 words. The Percy Jackson series is one of my all time favorite series. Though written for middle school aged children, the books appeal to children, teenagers, young adults, and not so young adults. They are, quite simply, amazing. The characters are more lifelike than just about any other author’s I can think of (Lindsay Buroker being another excellent example). Percy’s narration is clever, hilarious, snarky, and maintains a very realistic voice for an early teens boy. The world building is interesting, unique, and thorough without being overwhelming or tedious. The plots are well executed and you see characters develop (and not just physically) throughout the series.

Another thing I liked about it: Percy and most of the rest of the demigod children are ADHD and Dyslexic. Riordan takes these challenges and turns them into advantages in Percy’s new reality. I love that – a reminder that not all of us are wired the same way, and that can be a good thing. Also, in a later series, one of the demigods is lactose intolerant. Represent!

Something you see quite often with book series written for this age group is that the themes and characters become more mature and darker as the series progresses. Here there is a little bit of that, but not nearly as much as, say, Harry Potter. A child who can handle the first book emotionally will be able to handle the last book as well, which is not necessarily the case with the Harry Potter series. The bottom line is that I cannot think of anything negative to say about these books. Some books you just read with a big smile on your face, and for me, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books are way at the top of that list.

Random side notes:

The five books in this series in order are:

  1. The Lightning Thief  Get it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble
  2. The Sea of Monsters Get it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble
  3. The Titan’s Curse –  Get it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble
  4. The Battle of the Labyrinth  Get it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble
  5. The Last Olympian –  Get it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble

There is a continuing series, The Heroes of Olympus, which features some of the Camp Halfblood gang as well as some new characters. It is also excellent, but even though the age ranges given for it at various online sources is the same as the original series, it feels older to me (the characters are in high school now and, for example, focuses more on girlfriend/boyfriend relationships) – not a bad thing, but something to be aware of if you started Percy Jackson with children on the younger end of the spectrum.

I debated on whether to make this a regular post or a Family Fridays post. Although I feel like any age of fantasy (or even book) lover would be able to enjoy this series, I decided to post it under FFs because this is something the whole family could enjoy together.

Riordan sold the creative rights to the movies, had nothing to do with them, and claims he hasn’t even watched them. As of now only the first movie is out, with plans to release the second later this year. The first movie was terrible. I cannot even begin to describe how much I hated it. They took much of what made the book so great and either ignored it or did the opposite. In the interests of fairness, I have met people who really liked the movie. Get it, if you must, from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Riordan also has an adult mystery series, which is quite good, but not something I’d care to read with a nine year old. So make sure you know which brand of Riordan you’re getting.

Whew – kept it under a thousand words…but not by much.

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Family Fridays – The Westing Game

Book: The Westing Game (1978 – Newberry Medal) by Ellen Raskin

Series: Not part of a series.

Genre: Children’s Mystery

Ages: Barnes and Noble put it in their 10-14 year olds category, which seems about right.

Review:

This highly inventive mystery involves sixteen people who are invited to the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. They could become millionaires, depending on how they play the tricky and dangerous Westing game, which involves blizzards, burglaries, and bombings. Ellen Raskin has entangled a remarkable cast of characters in a puzzle-knotted, word-twisting plot filled with humor, intrigue, and suspense.

The mysterious death of an eccentric millionaire brings together an unlikely assortment of heirs who must uncover the circumstances of his death before they can claim their inheritance.

The Westing Game is a fantastic mystery for this age group. The large cast is handled very well, with distinct voices for each character, and they aren’t just run of the mill personalities, either.  The main character, Turtle, is someone that you really root for and come to admire. The blurb makes the book sound quite gruesome (bombings, murder mystery, etc.) but the tone is mostly lighthearted. I remember really, really enjoying this when I read it as a kid, and then I found it in a library a couple of years ago and was pleasantly surprised that I liked it almost as much as I did back in the good ol’ days.

Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

Apparently there was a movie adaptation, but I haven’t seen it.

Have you read the book? Seen the movie? What did you think?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Family Fridays – The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I’m starting a new feature here on Lector’s Books: Family Fridays. This will showcase books appropriate for young readers or young to-be-read-to-ers. I’ll try to include a general age range for content/interest. It’s very hard to set a general guideline for what age will be interested in or able to handle the content of any given book (reading abilities and maturity levels vary so drastically between different kids), so I’ll give it a shot and you can use your best judgement.

For my first Family Friday, I’d like to not “feature” so much as “implore you to go out and buy immediately if you don’t have it”.

Book: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) by C.S.Lewis

Series: The Chronicles of Narnia

Genre: Children’s Fantasy

Ages: Online I saw an age range of “12-14 years” on one site, and “8 and up” on another. I would definitely lean more towards the younger end on this – it is a good, clean, fun read.

Review: Four children are sent to live in the country to escape the bombings of London during WWII. While there, they find a wardrobe that is a path to a different country, Narnia, where they must defeat the White Witch with the help of the talking animals and Aslan.

“Magical” is really the only word for this book. Lewis did an amazing job creating this fun world, and his children are very believable characters. Themes of forgiveness, redemption, bravery, and good vs. evil are woven deftly throughout.

There is an audiobook version read by Michael York, which is very well done, and a movie adaptation (the 2005 one) that is also quite good. Anyway you want to experience this, you will not regret it.

Other books in the series:  The series is ordered as follows:

  1. The Magician’s NephewAmazon, Barnes & Noble
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the WardrobeAmazon, Barnes & Noble
  3. The Horse and His BoyAmazon, Barnes & Noble
  4. Prince CaspianAmazon, Barnes & Noble
  5. The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderAmazon, Barnes & Noble
  6. The Silver ChairAmazon, Barnes & Noble
  7. The Last BattleAmazon, Barnes & Noble
Paperback box sets available here: Amazon, Barnes & Noble.
The Magician’s Nephew was written several years after The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I do not like it. At all. If you read all the other books and like it, by all means go back and read it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is my favorite, followed by The Horse and His Boy, then The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The Silver Chair and The Last Battle are both quite a bit darker than the other books. If you enjoy The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, I’d recommend next reading Prince Caspian and then The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as these continue on with the Pevensie children. The Silver Chair has Eustace, who is introduced in Dawn Treader, and introduces Jill, but I’d recommend reading The Horse and His Boy first instead. Its characters are mostly outside the Pevensie story arc, so it can really be read at any time.  So, in short (too late), my recommendations would be to read the books in this order: 2, 4, 5, 3, 6, 7, and 1 (if you must.

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.