Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Good books, February/March 2009

Lincoln and His Boys by Rosemary Wells, ill. P. J. Lynch, 2009, 96 pages.

This children's book tells Lincoln's story from his sons' point of view. We get to see his love for his children, his worry for his nation, and his struggles to do the right thing. It's a touching book with beautiful illustrations.

All About Sleep from A to Zzzz by Elaine Scott, ill. John O'Brien, 2008, 48 pages.

My kids found this book at the library and we all ended up enjoying it. It talks about why we sleep, what happens to our bodies when we sleep, and where dreams come from. There are some funny stories about sleepwalking and lots of humorous illustrations. Great for a quick science lesson!

We Dare You!: Hundreds of Fun Science Experiments, Tricks, and Games You Can Try at Home by Vicki Cobb and Kathy Darling, 2008, 368 pages.

This is a combination of ideas from two previous books by Vicki Cobb, Bet You Can and Bet You Can't. Most of the activities are quick and use things you probably have around your house. Of the ones we tried, we found that several of them didn't work as well as the book predicted, but most of them succeeded. It's a fun book to look through, and it's impossible to read it without getting up and trying some of the things listed!

The Great Powers Outage (Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy series #3) by William Boniface, 2008, 352 pages.

We've been following this series since the first book came out. It's set in Superopolis, a town where all the inhabitants have some kind of superpower -- except Ordinary Boy, who has none. In this latest sequel, the residents of Superopolis start losing their powers, and it's up to O Boy to figure out how and why. Even though the premise of the series may sound a little silly, the author writes well enough that you can suspend your disbelief and enjoy the stories and the humor.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt, 2007, 272 pages.

This has become one of my favorite books. I re-read it last month for probably the fourth time and enjoyed it just as much as the first time. Holling Hoodhood has just started the 7th grade. Because everyone else in his class goes to either Catholic or Jewish religious classes on Wednesday afternoons, Holling is left alone with his teacher, who decides that they will study Shakespeare together. After a reluctant start, Holling finds that Shakespeare really does have something to say about life -- and even about his life. The story is vast and wonderful, involving cross-country running, professional baseball, the Vietnam War, killer rats, bullies, family relationships, architecture, public humiliation, and cream puffs, among other things. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and plenty of deep truths too.

The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer, 2007, 224 pages.

This is the first in a young adult series about Enola Holmes. When her mother disappears, Enola, age 14, turns to her much older brothers Sherlock and Mycroft for help. But she soon learns that her brothers intend to send her to a "proper" boarding school to cure her of her adventurous and unladylike ways. She escapes, finding and solving a mystery in the process. This book and the other three in the series (so far) are a lot of fun to read, especially if you're familiar with Sherlock Holmes. Enola is capable and brave. Sherlock comes to life too, especially in the later books, and the author does a good job of making you feel what 19th-century London must have been like.

Here, There Be Dragons by James A. Owen, 2007, 352 pages.

This book pulled me in right from the start. Three men are thrown together into an adventure when they are asked to be the caretakers of an atlas of imaginary places. Half the fun of the book is recognizing the places and people from dozens of other stories. Then at the end, there's a revelation that caught me completely by surprise. (Don't let anyone tell you about it if you haven't already heard -- just read the book and see if your smile at the end is as big as mine was!)

I've read the two sequels as well. They're also well-written, although there's more swearing in them than in the first book, and the third book mixes religious themes with mythology in a way that I was a little uncomfortable with. I hope the fourth book, due out soon, will be more like the first.

Happenstance Found by P. W. Catanese, 2009, 352 pages.

This is the beginning of a new children's series, and one that we're already eagerly awaiting a sequel to. Happenstance doesn't remember anything about himself. He awakes in a cavern just in time for a mysterious wizard named Umber to discover him. Hap joins Umber and his companions, not knowing where else to go. Soon it becomes clear that Hap has unusual abilities and that Umber is not quite what he seems. I love when I find a book that's so good I want to read it twice before taking it back to the library. This one definitely qualifies.

Riddle-Master: The Complete Trilogy by Patricia A. McKillip, 1999, 578 pages.

When I was in elementary school and junior high, there wasn't as much young adult fantasy as there is today. There were some good ones, though, that I read over and over. One of my favorite series began with the book The Riddle-Master of Hed, published in 1976. I hadn't thought about it for years, but then I ran across this at the library -- all three books in one volume. Reading it was like rediscovering a favorite place. Isn't it great when you can re-read a favorite book but you've forgotten the details and the ending, so you can enjoy finding out what happens all over again? The basic story is about Morgon, land-ruler of Hed, who has studied riddles all his life and now has to go in search of the answer to the riddle of himself and his destiny. If you like fantasy and haven't read this, you've missed one of the great classics.

The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings, 1938, 416 pages.

My oldest two kids go to a monthly book discussion group, and I think they're going to read this book later this year. I wanted to preview it and see what it was like. I've never seen the Disney movie -- I didn't even know the book was about a deer until I saw the cover! I was pleasantly surprised to find out how interesting the story was. It's set in the Florida wilderness in probably the late 1800s and is basically about a boy growing up. It took me a little while to get into it, but after about 50 pages it sailed along. It does have a sad ending, like so many other animal stories. (And I wanted to yell at the kid: What did you think your pet deer was going to do with your corn crop?) But I still liked reading it.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, 1960, 336 pages.

Somehow I got through junior high, high school, and an English major at college without ever having been assigned to read this book. So I figured I should read it, if only to see whether it was any good. Well, after staying up very late one night to finish it because I had to find out what happened, I can say that it's a great book and deserves the awards it's received. The characters are unforgettable and the messages about prejudice and courage and change are profound. I'll be asking my kids to read it when they're old enough to deal with the themes in it.

The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't -- and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger by Daniel Gardner, 2008, 352 pages.

Irrational human nature, misunderstanding of statistics, and willingness to believe what we hear -- all of these lead us to fear the wrong things. This book has some scary examples of the consequences. One example, which the author points out in the introduction, is the fear of airline travel after the 9/11 attacks, which directly led to thousands more deaths on the roads as more people traveled by car. It's a very thought-provoking book.

Covenant Hearts: Marriage and the Joy of Human Love by Bruce C. Hafen, 2005, 288 pages.

I read this for a book group and I really liked it. I had expected it to be about ways to improve a marriage, but instead, it starts with more of an overarching look at why marriage is so important. It talks about the trends in society that are harming marriage as an institution as well as individual marriages. There's definitely a lot here to think about. And even though it's not a "how-to" book on improving marriages, there are still great suggestions and stories about specific practical things that can lead to greater unity.

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp, 1949, 320 pages.

This was another one I read for a book group. I've read it several times before, but it's definitely worth rereading! The first time I read it, I was amazed to find out that there was so much more to the story of the Trapp family than we see in The Sound of Music. Their history is amazing, especially the events after they left Austria and came to the United States. It makes a great story, but more important, it's a testimony of God's help and love. Everyone should read this book.

Life in the Undergrowth starring David Attenborough, 2006, 250 minutes.

We saw this DVD on the shelf at the library and have ended up spending several evenings watching parts of it. It's a look at the insects and other tiny forms of life that we don't usually get to see close up. The photography is amazing. We watched in fascination as a night-vision camera showed a huge centipede -- I think it said it was around 2 feet long -- crawling up the wall of a cave, hanging on to the ceiling by its back legs, and catching a bat in flight for its dinner. As Mike said, "It shows us where not to go on vacation." The DVD is hours long and there are sections we skipped, but we definitely learned a lot from the parts we watched.

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