Welcome to Book Blurbs!

Book Blurbs is designed to help you navigate the sea of literature available to your children – children’s literature reviewed by authors in the field.

We want to give you reviews to help you choose! 

“Be as careful of the books you read, as of the company you keep; for your habits and character will be as much influenced by the former as the latter.”
Paxton Hood

 

Wolf Hollow

In the vein of To Kill a Mockingbird, Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk is the tale of a young girl in a small town exposed to events which change her life and the lives of her family forever.

Annabelle and her family befriend Toby, a reclusive World War I veteran living in the hills of Wolf Hollow. When Annabelle is bullied by a new girl in town, the unlikely friend comes to Annabelle’s defense. But when children get hurt and the new girl goes missing, all fingers point to Toby – who also disappears. The decisions Annabelle makes to clear Toby’s name don’t have the intended result. In the end Annabelle and her family discover more about Toby, the world, and themselves.

Wolf Hollow was an intriguing story which ended perhaps more realistically than I had hoped. Nevertheless, it would be a valuable tool at home and in a classroom for open discussion about lying, fear, assumptions, justice, and bullying.

Due to the nature of the events in the book, I recommend it for middle grade and older readers. I also suggest parents read the book along with their children. While you’re at it, read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee too!

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk is young adult fiction, just under 300 pages.

Wolk, Lauren. Wolf Hollow: a Novel. Puffin Books, 2018.Lee, Harper.

To Kill a Mockingbird. Lippincott, 1960.

 

The Diary of a Young Girl

From 1942-1944, teenage Anne Frank, along with her Jewish family and four friends, hid in a secret annex in Amsterdam. During the day, they kept as silent as possible so as not to be heard in the rooms below. They stepped around creaky floorboards, kept from flushing the one toilet, and spoke in whispers if they spoke at all. All the time, Anne kept a diary.

At the end of those two years, someone betrayed them and Anne and the others were arrested and sent to Auschwitz, a German concentration camp. Only her father, Otto Frank, survived the camp and the war. When he returned to their hiding place, a friend gave him his daughter’s diary, found the day they were arrested.

Last week, I toured Anne Frank’s house. I ducked behind the bookcase which opened to the narrow stairway leading to their hidden rooms. Following the long line of solemn visitors, I listened to words from Anne’s diary on a headset. Although the furniture was gone, the windows and walls remained just as they had been in August 1944. The windows still blackened, and photographs Anne placed on the wall above her bed were dimly lit in her small room.

I was taken back to the days Anne sat in this room quietly writing in her diary. Had the end of her story been a happy one, I would have felt very different. But Anne died in the concentration camp at sixteen of typhus – just weeks before the end of the war.

After the tour, I sat in a cafe watching tourists amble by and grieved for Anne. I imagined the sorrow and guilt her father must have felt having survived while his wife and two daughters didn’t. A friend of the family found Anne’s diary and gave it to Otto after the war. Anne’s words not only opened her father’s eyes to the thoughts and emotions of his daughter, it also provided a window for all of us.

You may say, lots of young people die of sickness and tragedy, what makes Anne’s story so special?

Her story is significant because it sheds light on the reality of the holocaust. It is a true testimony. It gives us a perspective from which we may determine good and evil, right from wrong. Some people would like us to believe the holocaust never took place – despite the many testimonies of survivors.

But when we read Anne’s diary, we get a glimmer of truth.

Jesus claimed to be truth as well as the light of the world (John 8:12 ESV). He said, nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light (Luke 8:17). When Jesus returns, he will bring light to those things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of our hearts (I Corinthians 4:5 ESV). 

Despite the sadness I feel for the tragic loss of young life in our world’s history, I am encouraged by the words of Christ. There will be justice. Horrible things done in the darkest places of our world will be exposed by the light of Jesus Christ. We should tremble, but for the grace of Jesus extended to us at the cross.

Light will cast out darkness. All tears and sorrow will fade into history. There will be no night – only light and life. Come to the cross today and accept the grace offered, so you may never face the wrath of the one who sees and will one day judge our hearts.

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”  Anne Frank

A Bad Beginning

Reviewed in 2005 by home school student, Stephanie.

“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.” That is the warning given to the reader in the first few sentences of Book the First by Lemony Snicket. What kind of author would advise someone not to read their books, which are said to be filled with absolutely no happiness but only misery and despair? Lemony Snicket, or as he is so-called, does just this.

The warning might sound scary to some, but not forbidding enough to frighten the reader away, in face it increases the reader’s rebellious curiosity and my guess is the word of warning is hardly ever heeded.

In my opinion, the plot is somewhat ordinary – three siblings whose house, parents, and fortune are all consumed in a fire and taken from them in truly an ‘unfortunate event.’ Little do they know they are about to experience a long string of these ill-fated incidents. Violet, the oldest Baudelaire at fourteen, is a right-handed, mechanical genius. Klaus is twelve and like Violet, is extremely intelligent. He, apparently, has a photographic memory and remembers everything he reads. Sunny is the baby and speaks ‘Gloo Gack’ or baby talk. Sunny loves to bite and chomp on anything she can lay her hands (or I guess her mouth) on.

The children are sent to a mysterious unfamiliar relative Count Olaf. After a few moments living in his horrible mansion, the children realize they are in danger. Count Olaf treats them as slaves and is after their fortune.

Although I didn’t enjoy the plot of the story, the ways of the author are very clever and amusing. Snicket assumes we are unintelligent, brainless children who do not know the meaning of every third word in the book, so he takes the liberty to provide the definition for us. For example, “the word ‘rickety,’ you probably know, here means ‘unsteady’ or ‘likely to collapse,’ the word ‘blanched’ here means ‘boiled,’ the word ‘incentive’ here means ‘offered reward to persuade you to do something you don’t want to do.’ ” Some might consider this a great way to learn words they never knew, but I found it bothersome.

Another literary tool of the author is repetition. When Klaus stays up the entire night reading and researching to find some information which might save them from Count Olaf, Lemony Snicket tells us Klaus was so tired he eventually read the same sentence over and over again. He read the same sentence over and over again. He read the same sentence over and over again, and he, okay, okay, we get the point.

A Bad Beginning is a witty work. So, dear readers, if you feel you are brave enough to make your way through these horrific books, then do so, but do not say you were not warned.”

Snicket, Lemony, and Brett Helquist. The Bad Beginning. Thorndike Press, 2000.

The Phantom Tollbooth

The book which changed the way I felt about reading in fourth grade was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. The fun play on words and fantastical adventure of Milo and Tock was the beginning of my love of reading.

Milo, a young boy who finds no wonder or interest in the world comes home after school one day to find a large box in his bedroom. Upon putting together the tollbooth inside, Milo takes his car and drives into the Kingdom of Wisdom. Except since the exile of the Princesses, Rhyme and Reason, chaos and division reign. Milo, a watchdog named Tock, and Humbug, take on the quest to restore the princesses to the kingdom.

Their greatest dangers lie in the Valley of Ignorance where demons, such as Terrible Trivium, set their snares to thwart the rescue.

“If you only do the easy, useless jobs, you’ll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You just won’t have time. For there’s always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing…why if you stay here, you’ll never have to think again, and with a little practice you can become a monster of habit too.”

The Phantom Tollbooth is exciting and humorous for readers of all ages. Younger children may not understand all the play on words, but they will enjoy the adventure. I’ve recently re-read the story and still love it. At just over two hundred and fifty pages, it’s a great read-aloud or chapter book for your third or fourth grader.

Juster, Norton. The Phantom Tollbooth. W. Ross Macdonald School Resource Services Library, 2015.

Navigating the Nautical

I love nautical fiction! Perhaps my fondness is due to the common theme of many of these books – man vs. nature or man vs. God. Nautical classic fiction is never dull – our protagonists are shipwrecked, cast overboard, washed ashore on deserted islands, trapped by pirates, or challenged by mighty sea creatures. The sea is not a respecter of persons and those who live on the sea rely on Providence.

I’m recommending my favorites today, not all of which are pictured. Although admirably a classic, I won’t add Moby Dick  by Herman Melville to the list, because although I’ve begun the novel on several occasions, I’ve never finished it. (Kudos to those who have!) But it is filled with wonderful characters, language, sermons, and lessons about whales.

I’ll begin my recommendations with those for the middle grade readers and work up.

Captain’s Courageous by Rudyard Kipling is perhaps a little known classic of Kipling’s (best known for The Jungle Book). I’ve read and re-read this little novel because of the wonderful characters who make up the story. Harvey Cheyne Jr. is the spoiled son of wealthy train tycoon, who gets swept off the deck of a steamship and is picked up by the crew of a fishing boat heading out for the season. With no identification or money, he cannot convince the Captain of the fishing vessel to turn around. Harvey is forced to become a working member of the crew. The experience gives him a respect for the sea and the men who make their livelihood from the sea.

Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson is a well-known book full of action and danger. Jim Hawkins, the young son of a inn-owner, gets caught up in a treasure hunt when both his father and an old captain die. He goes aboard ship as a cabin boy, but soon becomes unwilling accomplice to piracy. It’s written as a history, by Jim himself and will draw you in from the first foreboding death scene. The story is grisly, but nothing like today’s Hunger Games or Ender’s Game.

In The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss and Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe the protagonists are shipwrecked and the greater part of the books have to do with their survival. These survivors endure storms at sea, fierce animals and hostile people. In both of these classics, God is acknowledged and ultimately revered as sovereign and good despite their circumstances.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham is a wonderful true coming-of-age book about Nathan ‘Nat’ Bowditch, the founder of modern maritime navigation and author of The New American Practical Navigator. Jean Lee Latham introduces us to Nat, who at ten is forced to leave school to help his father, in the cooperage. At twelve he becomes an indentured bookkeeping apprentice. The story shows a young boy with great expectations face obstacles and educate himself. Bowditch teaches himself algebra, calculus, French, Latin, as well as languages spoken at ports they visit all over the world. This is a favorite of mine because of the admirable character and perseverance of the real man, Nathan Bowditch. Wonderful for the homeschooling middle grader.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway can be compared to Moby Dick in the sense it is a tale about a man who goes head to head with a sea creature – in Hemingway’s version, however it is a marlin. Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman catches an 18 foot marlin after a draught of 84 days without catching anything. The old man spends much of the novel battling the marlin, and then the sharks who feast on his catch as he heads back to shore. Pathetically, there is little left by the time the old man makes it home. This book is one of Hemingway’s last works and is fairly short at just under two hundred pages. It may be a little slow for middle grade readers, but could be a good read aloud and presents high level vocabulary. The Old Man and the Sea is a good introduction to Hemingway.

Sea Wolf by Jack London is for a more mature reader as it is often described as a ‘psychological adventure novel.’ Humphrey van Weyden, the protagonist, is a literary critic who survives a collision at sea and becomes a hostage of sorts of Captain Wolf Larson. The brutality of the Captain ultimately forces Hump van Weyden to flee the ship to a deserted island. Unfortunately, Wolf Larsen is shipwrecked on the same island. I recommend Sea Wolf for high school readers because it gives us an opportunity to consider how we respond to immorality and brutality.