It has been a while since I did a post on read-alouds, so I thought it might be easier to break them up into topics. As usual, the criteria for these reviews is books that are over 100 pages and not picture books, that I either read aloud to the kids or read in order to discuss them with one or more kids who read the book independently. We also still read shorter books together, and the kids read a veritable plethora of other chapter books about World War II, but documenting all of those would take a long time!
You may have noticed that we’ve been reading a lot about World War II. I think these books bring up the tail end, and our school reading has turned to Korea and the Civil Rights Movement, so I figured a wrap-up was in order.
The House of Sixty Fathers makes a fantastic read-aloud for both boys and girls. The story of a young Chinese boy during the Japanese invasion in World War II is based on a true story Meindert DeJong (who also wrote The Wheel on the School–another favorite) observed when he was serving in China at that time. Apparently DeJong tried to adopt the real life boy but wasn’t able to make it happen during the war and then he never was able to find him after the Communists took over. Fortunately, the book has a happier ending! We all enjoyed the adventure and the determination of the little boy.
In The War that Saved My Life, a little girl from London’s East End finds hope and a loving community when she’s evacuated to the country during the Blitz. The story was good, but I thought it suffered somewhat from unbelievable elements–namely a mother who was too entirely villainous. I think it might have been a stronger book had her behavior been more to do with ignorance or superstition or even just being poor and tired, rather than being straight evil. I thought maybe this was just my adult perspective, but Hannah picked up on it too, so maybe not. In spite of that caveat, the story is interesting and might be a good pick if you have a tweenish person studying World War II.
The Cay will probably only work as a read-aloud if you’re able to read ahead a bit and modify text while you’re reading it. We did this one as a family read-aloud and I could not BEAR the spelled out accent of one of the main characters. I like doing voices when I read, but it was like trying to imitate Sebastian the Crab from Disney’s Little Mermaid and that was just so annoying that I had to stop, announce to the kids that I’d be reading in a regular accent, and change some of the pronunciation and diction. I also changed a few words and mentions that I felt were racist or at least not the way I want my kids to think about people. Having done so, the story was great–kind of a less far-fetched version of The Swiss Family Robinson, but with a kid in the Caribbean during World War II.
I’m not a huge fan of textbooks for kids–they are usually dry, dumbed down, and much better replaced with living books. However, I have found a few that worked well, and A History of US: War, Peace, and All That Jazz: 1918-1945 is one. The book has short chapters and takes a story-telling approach, using good photography and art, to form a spine for the covered years. Since so much was going on from 1918 to 1945 around the world, I felt like we needed a spine to hold it all together as we read widely from other living books too. We read this one out loud together and I thought it worked well for that. We’ve also listened to The Story of the World for this timeframe, but I wanted something with a bit more detail and that I could read out loud versus only listening to (since we’ve got the audio version) in the car. I wouldn’t say that this one was better than the SOTW, but I think they complement each other.
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