It’s that time again! Below are the chapter books I read aloud to the kids, or read because the kids like me to discuss what they read on their own sometimes. To refresh, my criteria for counting these books is that they be longer (about 100 pages or more) and not strictly picture books. We read aloud tons of picture books and shorter volumes in the course of our school days and for fun, but these review roundups are just for the longer ones.
We absolutely LOVED Tuesdays at the Castle, Jessica Day George’s inventive and captivating book about a plucky princess and her mysteriously metamorphosing castle. The story includes much adventure, bravery, siblings who get along and help each other, a villain who is bad but not sinister, and of course the great idea of a castle that has a personality and can change itself and its architecture at will. We found this book enormously entertaining and well written, and were delighted to find out that the author has written a series of which this is the first. If you’re looking for a book to give to an elementary schooler who is an independent reader, or for a chapter book to read aloud to that age group, I’d highly recommend Tuesdays at the Castle.
The Sign of the Beaver is a FANTASTIC book about a young boy in the wilderness of pre-Revolutionary War Maine who befriends an Indian boy and learns about how to take care of himself and how to judge people by their character rather than their heritage. I would highly recommend it for boys or girls of elementary age, and maybe even older–I enjoyed it tremendously myself and Hannah read it three times before reluctantly agreeing to return it to the library. The story is great, the characters are well done, and the action and themes are well matched. This is a great story that also has historical and literary merit.
Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos is a really fun version of the life of Ben Franklin. The story is told through the eyes of Franklin’s pet mouse, so while many familiar tales of the biography are included, they are all told as though the mouse was more involved. So it’s not quite a history book, but if you’ve read about Ben Franklin in other sources you’d probably enjoy this tale. The text is quite simple and the book is punctuated with fabulous line drawings by Robert Lawson, so it’s well suited for a reader who is just beginning to be comfortable with chapter books, or for a read aloud to younger children.
I collect compilations of Mother Goose, folk tales, and fairy tales, because I think they are so foundational to to understanding literature. We try to read some of these every day. It’s always interesting to read how different collections retell the same or similar stories and be reminded of ways that these have influenced other books. This month we finished reading The Random House Book of Fairy Tales, a collection of 19 tales including some common ones and a few less common. It makes a great read-aloud because while the stories are pretty long (the whole book is about 200 pages long) they are sprinkled with great illustrations by Diane Goode, who illustrated several of our favorite picture books like Alligator Boy, Christmas In The Country, and When I Was Young in the Mountains. If you’re looking for a fairy tale read aloud that is a little more involved than a picture book but a little more accessible than the Andrew Lang fairy books, The Random House Book of Fairy Tales would be a good choice.
The Saturdays is a funny story about four siblings who decide to pool their allowances so they can each do something big and memorable in turn. Because it’s set in the late 1940s/early 1950s timeframe, the kids are allowed out alone in New York City to visit art exhibits, the circus, and so forth. They have adventures and get into scrapes and set fires and whatnot, all while being a good example of how siblings can also be friends. We all enjoyed this story, and laughed out loud quite a bit. We’re happy that it’s the first in a series, and we’re looking forward to reading the other stories in the quartet.
Hannah and I (separately) read Lois Lenski’s Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison in the course of learning about the French and Indian Wars, and we had a really great discussion about the different ways that colonial captives reacted to their time in Native American tribes. Unlike the main character in Calico Captive (reviewed last month), the little girl in Indian Captive chose to stay with the tribe that adopted her, and she never returned to life as a colonist. Both books were based on true stories of real women, so we talked about the factors that made each girl choose differently.
When we studied Phillis Wheatley, Hannah and I read Freedom’s Pen: A Story Based on the Life of Freed Slave and Author Phillis Wheatley. The book conveyed historical information well, and gave a good sense of Wheatley’s faith and the awkwardness of her position as a slave yet being treated sort of as part of her owners’ family. It was an interesting time as far as consciousness about slavery was concerned–with many white people at that time not believing that African slaves could be taught to read or even had souls–and the book was sensitive to the contradictions facing slaveholders who were also people of faith. I was astounded to think of Wheatley’s gifts. Brought to America as a seven-year-old, Wheatley learned English, learned to read and write, read extensively in difficult classics, and then wrote her own poetry by the age of 12. More amazing was the way that God used her gifts to change people’s minds about slavery. I’d recommend this book for elementary readers who are studying the Revolutionary War time period, because it gives a different perspective than most history books but is also engaging as a story.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate tells the story of a funny eleven year old girl living in rural Texas at the turn of the twentieth century. As the only girl in a family with seven children, Calpurnia is pretty scrappy, and when her grandfather, a Civil War veteran and amateur naturalist, gets her interested in science, the ladylike activities of making lace and planning to be a debutante become even less appealing. The rapid changes of the time period (telephones, automobiles, etc) parallel the questions of how Calpurnia will find her way in the world. Hannah and I had a good talk about how girls can be scientists and go to college but still need to know how to cook and do laundry (and boys do too!) and how sharpening skills of observation can be helpful for several occupations Hannah is considering, namely being a scientist, detective, and writer.
What great books have you been reading aloud or with your kids? I’m always looking for recommendations!
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