Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Good books, September 2008

Books I've liked this month:

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 1843, 112 pages.

A great read-aloud book and a good introduction to Dickens for kids. Scrooge has become one of our favorite characters because of his change of heart.

On the Wings of Heroes by Richard Peck, 2007, 148 pages.

Another funny and meaningful book by this good author. It's about a boy in Illinois during World War II and his relationship with his family, especially his father, who is a veteran, and his brother, who is in the Air Force. My favorite parts were the stories of the father's various methods of revenge on Halloween pranksters.

The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne DuPrau, 2008, 285 pages.

This is another sequel to The City of Ember and continues the story of Lina and Doon as they travel back to Ember for badly-needed supplies and discover a carefully preserved gift from before the nuclear war. I liked this book better than the previous sequel.

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, 1954, 291 pages.

This is the first Sutcliff book I've read. I was surprised at how easily I got drawn into the story. It's set in Roman-occupied Britain, where some years before, the Ninth Legion marched north beyond the Wall and was never seen again. The son of one of the commanders feels compelled to find out what happened to his father and the rest of the men. I really like the deep friendship between the two main characters.

The Power of Logical Thinking: Easy Lessons in the Art of Reasoning...and Hard Facts About Its Absence in Our Lives by Marilyn vos Savant, 1997, 228 pages.

The title is very accurate. I've read logical thinking books before that really made my brain hurt. This one just felt like good exercise. And she makes some good points about the application of logic to everyday decisions. It was an enjoyable book to read.

Always Wear Clean Underwear!: and Other Ways Parents Say "I Love You" by Marc Gellman, ill. Debbie Tilley, 1997, 112 pages.

We're using this book right now in our daily school time. Marc Gellman, a rabbi, points out that parents say the same things over and over -- what he calls "The List" -- and explains both the "little reasons" and the "big reasons" behind those familiar phrases. And he does it with enough humor to help the lesson go down easily. Here's a little bit of what he says about "Eat your vegetables":

"It's the great stuff in vegetables that explains why your folks think it's worth it to nag you to eat them. That's the little meaning of this thing on The List. Veggies don't have any fat or sugar or salt or red dye number 92. ... But there is not one single vegetable I know about that tastes as good as chocolate cake with cold milk. That's the fact, Jack! When your parents nag you about eating your vegetables, what they're really trying to do is teach you a big lesson: What you want is not always what you need. ...

"As you grow up, you are going to have lots of other choices that are like the choice between celery and chocolate. ... You may want to watch television, but you need to read books. You may want to play video games, but you need to play outside. You may want to gossip, but you need to mind your own business. ...

"The best way to know you have grown up into a good person is that when you take a deep breath and look around you, you say, " 'Finally, what I want is what I need.' "

Adventures with Atoms and Molecules, Book 1 by Robert C. Mebane and Thomas R. Rybolt, 1985, 82 pages.

I'm teaching a chemistry class for my own kids and a few other homeschoolers who are around junior high school age. I've looked at a lot of books of chemistry experiments, and the 5 volumes in this series are the best ones I've found, by far. The experiments use mostly household materials, they're well explained, and best of all, most of them actually work the first time. Last week we took an empty plastic milk jug, put 1/2 cup water in it, microwaved it (on its side and with the lid OFF) for 2 minutes, then quickly screwed on the lid and set the jug on the counter. (Using a pot holder -- it was very hot.) Almost immediately the jug began collapsing as the steam inside condensed. It was simple but spectacular, and it was from one of the books in this series.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, 1820, 538 pages.

This was September's selection for a women's book group I go to, and I have to admit that at first I wasn't too excited about it. The first pages were hard to get into, maybe because of the somewhat archaic language. But once the story got going, I liked it more and more. I knew the book had knights in it, but I hadn't realized that it's also about King Richard and Prince John and Robin Hood. It's a great story with a lot of adventure. I can see why children 100 years ago would enjoy it and know it well. Which leads to the next book . . .

Knight's Castle by Edward Eager, 1956, 198 pages.

I loved Edward Eager's books when I was growing up. After reading Ivanhoe this month, I vaguely remembered that some of its characters appear in Knight's Castle, which I then got from the library and re-read. Now that I know the story of Ivanhoe, Knight's Castle is about 100 times funnier! A lot of the jokes just went past me before. Now I can appreciate the references to "Brian de What's-his-name" and the conversation where Wilfred tells Rowena that her bandages "aren't like the ones Rebecca used to make" and Rowena says, "I thought we agreed never to mention that name!" Fun, fun, fun.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan, 2007, 128 pages.

This beautiful and moving book has no words, so technically it's a "graphic novel," although it's nothing like other graphic novels I've seen. The basic story is of a man who leaves his country and goes to a foreign land to find work and, eventually, a better life for his family. The drawings show the strangeness an immigrant must feel even in everyday things. Without words, the story can mean something a little different to every reader, and I found this was true for me and my children as we each read it and talked about it together. The thing that struck me most was the way the feelings come through in the pictures. I really think this book is a masterpiece.

1 comment:

Penny said...

Ooooohhhh! Some new ideas for me! I hadn't realized there was another sequel to City of Ember! I am so excited! :) And apparently I am in the mood for exclamation points tonight!