Some fairy tales for your summer reading list

If you’re starting to compile a summer reading list–either for read-alouds, audio books for car trips, or chapter books to keep your kids racking up points for prizes–you might want to consider some fairy tale-type stories.

Edith Nesbit is one of our favorite authors, and although she doesn’t write strictly fairy tale narratives, she does often weave in magic or fairy tale aspects.  We recently listened to two more of her books on audio–The Enchanted Castle and The Magic World–and were not disappointed.

castleThe Enchanted Castle involves and enchanted castle, naturally, and the adventures of a group of siblings bored on summer holiday plus a friend who is the niece of the housekeeper at the aforementioned castle.  The reader for the audio book was superb, and it’s always delightful to learn new (to us) old-fashioned British slang terms.  We’ve added “look slippy about it!” and “don’t be a GOAT!” to our repertoire thanks to this volume.

 

magicThe Magic World is actually a series of short stories, and it turns out that many of them were inspirational to other famous authors.  You’ll find, for example, a little girl who goes into a wardrobe in a spare room and has adventures. Sound familiar?

Shannon Hale is a modern writer who specializes somewhat in retellings of old and possibly less common fairy tales. Hannah enjoyed reading a number of these and asked me to read two to discuss with her.

princess-academyPrincess Academy  is a well-told tale of mountain girls being trained for potential princess-hood, then working together to bring the best of their village culture to bear in problem solving.  I enjoyed the book–especially the well-written setting–and Hannah and I had a good discussion about whether the ends ever justify the means (the book implies that they do).

 

book

Hannah really liked Book of a Thousand Days since she is partial to diaries and this book uses that frame. Neither of us felt it was quite as strong as Princess Academy, but it was still a good story. The setting, somewhere in Asia, was interesting. After reading these two books, Hannah read a few more, but I didn’t decide to keep going.

 

lion

While not technically a fairy tale, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is fantasy and thus belongs to this post as much as do Nesbit’s books. Plus, after reading the abovementioned Nesbit tale you might be inspired to look up other wardrobe stories too!  We remembered it had been a while since we read of Narnia, so we got the audio book to listen to in the car. It was quite well done and we all loved listening to the story (again). We might go through the series this summer as our library has the audio books available on Overdrive (by far the cheapest and easiest way to get audio books–ask if your library has it!). That said, we do recommend the actual books as well.  This is one of those series where each child in the family needs his or her own set!

And of course, if you are thinking about your own Summer Reading, or have a teen, the Lunar Chronicles are great reconceptions of fairy tale elements.

 

What’s on your list for this summer?

 

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Read-alouds for China, Afghanistan, and Grammar

red scarf girlRed Scarf Girl is a memoir of a young girl growing up under Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China. There are some difficult parts and some profanity, so I’d recommend reading it aloud so you can skip over what you need to, or stop to discuss it with your kids. We had good discussions on how you can know if your government is just or tyrannical, when and why it might be advisable to resist tyranny, and why people don’t speak out or flee when they are persecuted or see others persecuted. Because we study history chronologically, we could also contrast the book with other similar cultural moments. If you’re studying this time period, I think Red Scarf Girl is a good choice, but it might not be one I’d pick up just for fun bedtime reading. If you do pick it up, be aware that you’ll probably want to talk over the themes and issues with your kids–that can be really fruitful, even with younger elementary kids!

breadwinnerSet in Afghanistan just as the Taliban took over, The Breadwinner follows an eleven-year-old girl who must resort to a disguise when her family is devastated by loss. While the subject matter is difficult–Parvana’s father is dragged off to prison, her mother struggles with debilitating depression, the family is in constant danger of starvation or worse–the tone stays hopeful and the setting emphasizes the resilience and humanity of the Afghan people.

The Breadwinner is the first book in a series, but Hannah read the second one and from talking to her I think it might be thematically too much for a ten-year-old, so we skipped the other books.  Again, if you use this as a read-aloud you’ll have more insight into whether your kids are ready for it or if it might be too much.

Book-Cover-the-phantom-tollbooth-1342828-311-475And now for some lighter fare! The Phantom Tollbooth is a funny story built around the humor of language. If your kids are familiar with homophones and can appreciate the hilarity of misused turns of phrase, this book will be a hit.  We used it as a read-aloud, but at times I thought it might have been better as a read-alone, because I had to stop and make a note of it when the jokes were based on spelling. Then again, I also reformatted some words as I read (no real reason to interchange the terms “demon” and “monster” in my mind, so we went with monster, etc).

Still, The Phantom Tollbooth was a fun and silly book that we all liked very much. It would be a good one to put on your summer reading list if you haven’t read it already!

Are you starting your summer reading lists yet? If so, what are you planning to read with or to your kids this summer?

 

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Hannah Reads: Marie Antoinette

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From Hannah, our resident ten-year-old:

Personally, I do not keep a diary, but I have always wanted to do that. I’ve tried before, but I couldn’t keep up with it. My days are often the same old routine, so it turns into writing the same thing over and over again. Also, what I do doesn’t seem that interesting to me–can you imagine if I wrote down the step-by-step way I unload the dishwasher? BORING!

However, I do enjoy reading other people’s diaries in books. You can come to understand their feelings, even if they are really a stinker! That happens a lot in books, that someone seems like a stinker, but then you understand their feelings and then you can start to take their side.

For example, lots of people think that Marie Antoinette was mean to her subjects and cared only for pleasure. However, Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles gives a whole different look at her character and personality. The book is fiction, but written as if it was Marie Antoinette’s diary. I think the author did that so readers might change their minds about Marie Antoinette.

I, for one, sympathized with Marie Antoinette from early on in the book. She had almost no friends in her life, and her mother was busy being an empress rather than taking the time to get to know her children. So I felt bad for her because that seems like a dreadful life. She was also forced to marry a French guy she didn’t know!  And he was fat! She was very disappointed when she saw him. If she had gotten to know him first, she might have come to like him in spite of his fatness and the fact that he did not even know how to make a snowball, if you can imagine that!  Personally, I would rather marry someone who knows how to make snowballs even if he is fat, because I would like to have snowball fights be a part of my life! Or, if I live where there is no snow, perhaps sock ball fights!

Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles is a fascinating book to read, full of interesting facts about French etiquette, not to mention details about fine dresses. If you like historical fiction, I would recommend it.

Hannah’s questions for kids (and adults):

  • Have you ever wanted to be part of a royal family?
  • Do you keep a diary?
  • Would you let other people read your diary?

 

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. When you click through our links and make any purchase, we get a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps to pay for website hosting and also helps to keep Hannah and her siblings supplied with more reading material to review!

Hannah Reads: The Lightening Thief

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A review from Hannah, our resident 10-year-old:

Mythology, as you may know, is not made up of things that actually happened. When I think of mythology, I think it’s like fairy stories–not true but they often end with a good moral of the story. If you’re interested in Greek mythology, I think you might find The Lightning Thief enjoyable.

lightning-thief1The book is about Percy Jackson, who is used to bullies calling him names and treating him horribly. He’s also prone to crazy freak accidents. But when he visits a museum of ancient Greek history, and has a run-in with a creature from mythology, things start getting weird. It turns out that Percy is the son of Poseidon! When Zeus’s master bolt is stolen and he blames Percy, Percy has to go on a quest to find it and is in very great danger.

The Lightning Thief, as you can tell, combines everyday life with Greek mythology. That’s very unusual and interesting to think about! You might find yourself wishing you were part of the story too, except for the part about possibly dying an extremely painful death. You might find this scary depending on your personality. Some people may be afraid of the monsters in the book, although I personally do not have that problem since I know mythology isn’t real.

Hannah’s questions for kids (and adults):

  • Have you ever wanted to be part of Greek mythology stories?
  • Have you ever imagined yourself in the story of a book you were reading?
  • Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do? How did you handle it?

 

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. When you click through our links and make any purchase, we get a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps to pay for website hosting and also helps to keep Hannah and her siblings supplied with more reading material to review!

A few more read-alouds set in Asia

We are wrapping up our study of the 20th century (and I can’t decide if we should start the ancient world again after spring break, or just do lots of random literature read-alouds until August? Thoughts?) and read several more good books set in Asia.  If you’re interested in the area or are studying the Korean and/or Vietnam Wars, these might be good choices.

inside outHannah (10) and I previously decided we didn’t really like verse novels, but Sarah (7) read Inside Out and Back Again and kept telling us how fantastic it is, so finally I read it and yes, it is fantastic!  Hannah grudgingly agreed that it was all right, because she liked the author’s second book (below) better, but we all enjoyed talking about Inside Out.

The book tells the story of a girl whose family has to leave Vietnam near the end of the Vietnam War. Emigrating to the US, the little girl faces all kind of challenges–language, customs, bullies–and yet bravely learns to stand up for herself.  These are such great topics for elementary school kids, both in how to treat others who are different and how to behave when you yourself are different.

Even if you think you don’t like verse novels, I highly recommend you give Inside Out and Back Again a try.

listen slowly

Naturally, we wanted to read Thanha Lai’s second book, Listen, Slowly. The book is a novel rather than a verse novel (I think it was a sound move for Lai to branch out, but also brave since her verse novel won awards and it probably would have been easy to let herself be pigeonholed in that genre) and it is set in Vietnam, so you get more details about the country.  I’m not sure which book I liked most.

Listen, Slowly follows two girls–one born in America to parents who fled Vietnam as children during the war, and one her cousin who grew up in Vietnam.  As they come to understand each other, the reader learns a lot about Vietnamese culture and also gets an outside-in view of some of the silly parts of American tween culture in the process.

The book had some great discussion topics like how we can view our own culture, how to figure out if someone is really a true friend, why we respect our elders, and the like.

One caveat for younger readers: There is an episode in Listen, Slowly when the American tween advises the Vietnamese cousins that they should convert their underwear to thongs.  I wound up having to explain to Hannah what thongs were, which is fine but I wasn’t expecting the question!  She declared the whole idea “completely ridiculous” and later in the book the American tween character does too, but I thought I’d mention it as a heads up.

seesaw girlSeesaw Girl was our read-aloud choice about Korea. Although it’s set in the 1600s, there were a lot of great cultural references that I thought helped round out our understanding.  We read other picture books and shorter chapter books set in Korea too, but really enjoyed Linda Sue Park’s story.

I loved the setting details Park included–sometimes children’s books are light there but Park did a great job of evoking both the historical and geographical settings.

The kids read several other books by Park and enjoyed them all. Jack (8) tried to teach himself Korean from some YouTube videos.  Hannah asked for a hanbok for her birthday. We briefly looked up airfare to Korea (my family lived there when I was in 7th and 8th grades and I would love to visit again) but, to paraphrase Kermit the Frog from a non-Korea-related movie quote, “that would cost as much as an Oldsmobile” so we had to settle for going out to dinner at a Korean restaurant.

water-buffalo-days-cover1To be honest, Water Buffalo Days was a kind of disappointing read-aloud. I think it was partially because the kids had already read The Land I Lost by the same author so they knew more stories and details and they thought this was “a little kid version” and were not super enthused.  As the person reading aloud, I wished the book would have had more setting details.

We didn’t hate it, but the consensus among the kids was that you should read The Land I Lost instead of Water Buffalo Days.

 

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Hannah Reads: A Lunchmeat Book About Cats

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This week’s review by our resident ten-year-old:

Not all books are good literature, but that doesn’t mean they are bad!  If you want to know what good literature is, ask yourself:

  • Does the author write really well? Does he or she use beautiful words and imaginative writing?
  • Is the story captivating?
  • Does it have important ideas that make you understand things better?

If you think about good literature as your favorite meal, like steak or spaghetti, you might want to eat that all the time. But sometimes you might want to eat lunchmeat.

warriors_into_the_wild_frontcover_large_5ApjLPT94NmCZNpInto the Wild is like lunchmeat.  Long lunchmeat.  Even though it may not be good literature, it’s very enjoyable!

The book is about Rusty, a kittypet, which is what the book calls a cat that lives with a human (the book calls humans “twolegs!”). Rusty longs to go into the forest. One day, he does, even though his friend, Smudge, warns him against it. While Rusty is in the forest, he is ambushed by Graypaw, an apprentice warrior of the Thunder Clan. There are four clans of cats who are not pets: Thunder Clan, Shadow Clan, Wind Clan, and River Clan. The clan is a group of cats who live together in the forest. It’s kind of like an Indian tribe that doesn’t move around. The leader of the Thunder Clan invites Rusty to join the Thunder Clan.

Rusty has to choose. Should be join a clan and become an apprentice? Or, will he stay warm and pampered and live a safe kittypet life?

Into the Wild may not be a steak and spaghetti book, but it’s very enjoyable! As long as you read a lot of good literature too, it’s fine to read lunchmeat books sometimes.

Hannah’s questions for kids (and adults):

  • Do you only read good literature, or do you read lunchmeat books too?
  • Do you have a pet cat? If so, do you think the cat secretly wants to join a clan and live in the wild?

 

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. When you click through our links and make any purchase, we get a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps to pay for website hosting and also helps to keep Hannah and her siblings supplied with more reading material to review!

 

Read-aloud Hodge Podge – Feb 2016 edition

And now a hodge podge of longer read-alouds and chapter books I read to discuss with the kids. I’m trying to break these up into topical posts when I can, but these defied my organization for the past couple of months. However, not all odds-and-ends are rewarmed leftovers–these are a proper literary smorgasbord. Let us know if you enjoy them!

moorchildEloise McGraw’s The Moorchild is a fairy story (in the old fashioned sense of the word, not the Disney sort) that weaves in themes modern kids can relate to, such as being different, being made fun of, and not fitting in. This is a great book for discussion. It can be tough to figure out how to talk through scenarios with sensitive kids without them feeling defensive, and I often find that books help. This one gives lots of ways to talk about different strategies, what works and what doesn’t, and helps reassure kids that they are not the only person who has ever felt left out or different. Plus, it’s a great story!

 

Book-BigWoodsOf course everyone has read Little House in the Big Woods, but Sarah, our first grader, just finished reading it for her out loud reading practice with me (I have the kids read aloud to me for a while after they are independent readers so that I can catch any errors in pronunciation and to help them read with good expression).  It was so fun to have little discussions with her along the way, and to see how her ability to read smoothly and expressively improved over the course of the book.  The Laura Ingalls series was one of my favorites growing up, and it’s a delight to share them with my own kids!

 

homeless birdHomeless Bird is a fascinating story about a 13 year old widowed girl in India who finds a way to happiness in spite of many hardships and extremely limiting social conventions. I thought the author did a good job of presenting the reality of a different culture calmly, but without glossing over what makes it terrible for young girls in the protagonist’s position.  The author also handled the ending well–without too much Western sensibility but also without fatalism or outright rejection of the culture.  Note that there are a couple of oblique references to dangerous situations you might want to be prepared to discuss with younger readers, although those might go over their heads.

my_side_of_the_mountain

My Side of the Mountain is one of my all-time favorite children’s books. I have no idea how many times I read it when I was a kid, and it was really fun to be able to read it with the children. We chose this as an evening family read-aloud. Even though the older two kids had both read it on their own, it was still great to experience it together. The story–about a self-sufficient boy who leaves his home in New York City to live off the land in the Catskills–will appeal to any kid who loves adventure. It’s amazing that this sort of thing even seemed possible in the 1950s, when the book was written.  But I like the way the book shows how children can make good decisions and be responsible, and if you ever have to flee to the hills you’ll definitely want this book along as a reference for what to eat! Highly recommended for boys and girls of all ages!

all of a kind

All-of-a-Kind Family is a FANTASTIC read-aloud about a big family from turn-of-the-century New York. Even Jack, who normally looks askance at books about gobs of girls, enjoyed the adventures of this family (and he was pleased at the surprise in the last chapter). The book doesn’t underplay the fact that poor immigrant families faced hardships, but focuses more on the family’s hard work, loyalty, and determination to maintain old traditions with new ways of life. Because the family is Jewish, we learned a lot about Jewish holidays and the kids really, really want to build a succah in the backyard.  Maybe when it gets warmer.  We are excited that this is only the first in a series of books, and we plan to read them all.

What was on your read-aloud list this month?

 

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Hannah Reads: Options For Liking Books

2From Hannah, our resident 10-year-old:

Do you always finish every book you start? Personally, I don’t!

How do you know if you should finish a book, or simply throw it to the wayside? Most times, I’d recommend reading fifty pages, and then if you still don’t like it, stop.

Wildwood_by_Colin_Meloy_coverBut sometimes it takes longer for you to get into a book. For instance, Wildwood took me a long time to get into, but I wound up really liking it. Always bear in mind that just because the first chapter of a book is boring, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the whole book is boring.

Here’s a tip: sometimes certain books are better to listen to than to read. Check to see if your book also comes as an audio book. Then, not only do you get to listen to a good book, but it also passes the time on long car rides!

bad-coverHowever, I do not recommend the audio version of The Bad Beginning from A Series of Unfortunate Events unless you are ten or older! Depending on your personality, the audio version of that book may have too much intensity. The music is in a minor key, which can be scary if you remember it at night. And the narrator uses very evil voices for villains. Actually, I applaud him for using different voices. He is imaginative! But the voices may be too scary for little kids or those with more sensitive personalities.

 

Related Reviews: Hannah’s mama’s take on the Wildwood series and on The Bad Beginning.

 

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. When you click through our links and make any purchase, we get a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps to pay for website hosting and also helps to keep Hannah and her siblings supplied with more reading material to review!

Hannah Reads: The BFG

2Welcome to Hannah Reads, a new weekly feature on A Spirited Mind. Our guest blogger, Hannah, is a voracious reader with strong opinions who hopes her reviews will inspire the younger set. In addition to reading, Hannah enjoys writing family newspapers, producing plays, and creating imaginary games with small odds-and-ends she repurposes as miniature worlds.

Hannah’s Review of Roald Dahl’s The BFG

BFGThe BFG is a wonderful story by Roald Dahl about a little girl named Sophie. The story begins when Sophie is captured by the BFG (Big Friendly Giant). The BFG is actually the smallest giant and is called a runt by the other giants. Unlike the other giants, the BFG does not eat kids. His self-appointed job is to give good dreams to children.

The BFG takes Sophie to the land of the giants, where she sees the other giants who eat kids. One day, Sophie makes a daring plan to destroy all the giants. Will she succeed? Read The BFG to find out!

 

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. When you click through our links and make any purchase, we get a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps to pay for website hosting and also helps to keep Hannah and her siblings supplied with more reading material to review!

A few more World War II books for kids (chapter books and read-alouds)

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.

sixty fathersThe 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.

war saved lifeIn 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.

thecayThe 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.

war peace jazzI’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.

You can read about other chapter books on World War II for kids here and here.

 

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