Sunday, February 1, 2009

Good books, January 2009

Ghosts of the White House by Cheryl Harness, 1998, 42 pages

This picture book teaches facts about US presidents in a fun way. A girl on a school tour to the White House is pulled into a portrait of George Washington, who then introduces her to each of the presidents. The conversations among the presidents are the most interesting part, as men from different eras compare experiences and ask each other questions. (I have to admit I had a dense moment when I said to my daughter, "I wonder why some of the more recent presidents aren't in here." She said, "Ghosts, Mom, ghosts. They have to be dead." Aaaaaah. I get it now.)

The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History by Jennifer Armstrong, ill. Roger Roth, 2006, 358 pages

We loved this book. It's full of stories, most of them only 3 or 4 pages long, that are very well written and bring the people and events in history to life. Definitely one we will check out again and maybe even buy. I loved the story of Thoreau going to jail and getting annoyed that someone paid his bail.

How to Take the Grrrr Out of Anger by Elizabeth Verdick and Marjorie Lisovskis, 2003, 120 pages

This is a book on anger management written to children probably ages 8 and up. (There were things in it that would help me as an adult too!) Since I have several children who struggle with this sometimes, I've been looking for a good resource, and this one is better than most I've seen. I like that it gives concrete and simple steps that you can take to handle situations better. I'll probably check it out again and read it with my kids.

Epic by Conor Kostick, 2004, 366 pages

The premise alone is enough to make this book interesting, but it's also pretty well written and enjoyable to read. (Thanks, Angela, for suggesting it!) On a colonized planet, everyone plays a computer game that determines your economic status, your work and educational opportunities, and even who is in charge of the government. A boy named Erik has to use the game to save his family and depose corrupt leaders.

Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones, 1998, 517 pages

Yes, another YA fantasy book. I must have been in the mood for those this month, since I have four on this list. I've read all of Diana Wynne Jones's books before (she's one of my favorite authors) but I enjoyed re-reading this one. It's a parody of fantasy quest novels and a fun story in its own right too. A world where magic works is being thrown into chaos by Mr. Chesney, a man from a different world more like our own. People from his world pay him huge amounts of money to go on an authentic fantasy quest, and he forces everyone in this magical world to help with the tours. This year the wizard Derk has been ordered to play the part of the Dark Lord that the tourists have to "defeat" at the end of their quest. When Derk gets burned by a dragon and his children have to take over the preparations, chaos ensues.

The Sorcerer of the North by John Flanagan, 2008, 295 pages

This is the latest in the Ranger's Apprentice series that M. and I both enjoy. In this one, Will, newly made Ranger to the king, is sent to investigate rumors of an evil sorcerer who is causing trouble. He and a friend go in disguise to check things out and find a plot that might be more than they can handle. This author loves to end books on a cliffhanger and this one is no exception, so I hope he writes the next one soon!

The Journal of Curious Letters by James Dashner, 2008, 428 pages

This is the first in the 13th Reality series by this LDS author. I re-read it this month because I have the neat opportunity to read the sequel before it is published in March, thanks to a friend who knows the author and has a review copy. Before I started the sequel I wanted to remind myself of the story in this first book. And now I remember why I liked it so much. In some ways it's a typical YA fantasy, where a boy and some other children have to solve puzzles and be heroic to save the world. But there's one thing that makes it stand out. In most stories like this, the children who get involved in magical or extraordinary events do it without their parents' knowledge, or they're orphans, or somehow their families conveniently drop out of the picture until the end of the book. But in this story, the main character, Tick, goes to his father for help. His family is an integral part of the book, and the support and love of his father give him the strength to do what needs to be done. It's a theme that is very relevant in these times when families are weakening. Besides that, the book is well-written, clean, and inventive -- a winner all around.

The Twenty-one Balloons by William Pene du Bois, 1947, 192 pages; audiobook by Recorded Books Inc., narrated by John McDonough

This story is just fun all the way through, and John McDonough is a great narrator for it. A retired math teacher sets out over the Pacific in a giant balloon, planning to stay aloft for a year. He's found a month later floating in the Atlantic amidst the wreckage of 20 balloons. The secret of his strange trip involves the island of Krakatoa and lots and lots of diamonds. And as a bonus for homeschoolers, amid all the humor there's a lot of math, science, and geography.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, 1939; audiobook by Audio Partners, narrated by Hugh Fraser

I don't read a lot of mysteries, but once in a while it's fun to read one. And the best thing is when enough time goes by that you can re-read a favorite mystery without remembering exactly what happens. I'd forgotten the details of this one, other than the main idea of ten people trapped on an island, not knowing which of them is the murderer or who will be the next victim. If you've never read it (or seen the movie), treat yourself to this classic spooky story. (There is more profanity than I remembered, so next time I'll probably choose the book over the audiobook.)

Modern Times by Charlie Chaplin, 1936

I have to include this because we enjoyed it so much. I checked it out thinking it might be fun to see, since I'd heard of it before. I figured I could kind of half watch it while I was folding laundry or something. I put it on one evening and told the kids they could come watch it if they wanted. We all ended up entranced through the whole show. (Well, not T., but the rest of us were.) There are some great comedic moments like Chaplin getting stuck in the gears of a machine in the factory, going to jail and not wanting to leave, making up fake Italian words as a singing waiter, and roller skating blindfolded next to a place where the floor drops away. The roller skating scene was hilarious but nervewracking! By the way, very quickly I realized that you can't "half watch" a mostly-silent movie because you have to look at the screen all the time to catch what's going on. We will definitely watch this again sometime.

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