Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Review of "Charlotte's Web"

Charlotte's Web, by E. B. White

4 stars

Description: Although it may seem like a spring pig should have known better, Wilbur is horrified to discover he is bound for the dinner table! The world looks like a hopeless and heartless place to live in, but the game isn't over yet; led by the brains and resourcefulness of a remarkable spider named Charlotte, all Wilbur's barnyard friends pitch in to hoodwink the farmers and give their favorite pig a second lease on life. Even the scurrilous rat Templeton gets in on the effort, and from the barnyard to the fairgrounds, crafty creativity reigns!

Concerns: None.

Summary: It's amusing to see the quirks and foibles of humanity brought out and exaggerated in animal characters. Poor Charlotte is endlessly exasperated by her less-than-brilliant accomplices, but in the end -- just like in real life -- they need each other to achieve their goal. From Wilbur's hopelessly comical efforts to spin a web to Charlotte's lucky escape through the help of a rotten egg, the story manages to handle a heavy subject matter in an entertaining way. For those who like animals, this book is a solid win.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Review of "Number the Stars"

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry

5 stars!!!

Description: The year 1943 was a dangerous time to be a Jew. Especially in Nazi-controlled Denmark. The war has taken so much from young Annemarie; food is scarce, pink frosted cupcakes are a distant memory, and the only "fireworks" that the five-year-old Kristi has seen are the explosions from the harbor. But cupcakes suddenly aren't important anymore when Annemarie realizes that her friend Ellen is Jewish -- and the Nazi "relocation" of Jews has just begun. Will the war take her best friend, too?

Concerns: Ethical questions about lying in wartime; a kitten is named "Thor, the God of Thunder"; one swear word towards the end.

Summary: Annemarie, Ellen, and Kristi are everyday girls living in a world of uncertainty, but even though that war-time tension is stark on every page, there is also warmth and laughter of humanity. The story is a fast and suspense-heavy read, but this is no cheap thriller; Annemarie's choice sends a message about life and loyalty, even when things looks hopeless. Lois Lowry has created a beautifully written story of true bravery  in a time when standing up for what was right could -- and often did -- cost that person their life.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book Review of "Peter Pan in Scarlet"

Peter Pan in Scarlet, by Geraldine McCaughrean

4.5 stars

Description: Wendy, John, and the Lost Boys of Neverland have grown up... but darkness is leaking out of their dreams. As they sleep, Neverland is calling them, and that call is a cry for help. Convinced that Peter needs them, the group sets out to do the impossible: turn back into children, find fairy dust in smoggy London, and travel back to Neverland. But when they do arrive, Neverland is no longer an isle of joyous summer. Somehow, their precious island has transformed into a dark, evil, and dangerous place, and the League of Pan must set off on a quest to restore their world before it is too late.

Concerns: The violence isn't nearly as bad as the original, but is still flippantly treated. Also, fairies admire the biggest liars and the children are told a group of women are witches -- which is eventually discovered to be a lie. Tootles turns into a little girl, which is played solely for humor but may still give readers a pause.

Summary: The story hinges around Neverland's link between imagination and reality, so if you liked the original, this is a great sequel -- but if you find play-pretend hard to follow, this book will drive you crazy. Give it a try! The characters (including a marvelously voracious new fairy) are great, and the plot is gripping: there are pirates, treasure maps, wild animals, bands of vengeful ragamuffins, fairy-wars, and a fantastic journey to uncover the poison that is killing Neverland. It's a great yarn -- ravelling good fun!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Book Review of "The Sign of the Beaver"

The Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George Speare

5 stars!!!

Description: Picture a log cabin, rifle and a clearing, lots of wilderness, and one twelve-year-old boy guarding the homestead until the rest of his family arrives. Living alone for one short summer sounded easy enough, but when complications arise and young Matt finds himself making an impromptu treaty with the local Indian chief, he gets into more than he bargained for. Suddenly thrown into comradeship with an Indian boy, the two grudgingly resign themselves to sticking it out... but soon Matt finds out that the discoveries packed into one short summer are beyond anything he could have imagined.

Concerns: Some Indian customs (Attean seeks the spirits).

Summary: Half the fun of this book is discovering Attean's way of doing things, whether carving fishhooks out of sticks or greasing down a bow with oil skimmed off leftover stew. Although they got off to a rocky start, the two boys' mutual distrust grows into an unlikely friendship, and their adventures in the wilderness are not to be missed. As Matt realizes, life on the frontier makes Robinson Crusoe look like a sissy!