Book Review: Adam of the Road

Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray
Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray

Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray in a Newbery Award winner for 1943.  Here we meet Adam, a boy of 11 who is a minstrel’s son in the thirteenth century in England. When we meet Adam, he is staying at a monastery while awaiting his father, Roger, to pick him up after Roger travels to France for his job. Here, Adam has a dog named Nick to accompany him.

Roger returns and Adam and Roger embark together on the road since minstrel’s had to travel to earn a living. Along this road, Adam’s dog, Nick, is stolen by another minstrel who feels he’s been cheated of his horse by Roger. Now, both Adam and Roger are on the trail of the other minstrel to get Nick back.

Along this trail, Adam loses Roger when he goes chasing after Nick in another town. Now, Adam has to find his father, Roger, and his dog, Nick.

Admittedly, this book slows down leading up to the major plot twist (Adam doesn’t lose Nick until almost half-way through the book), and then the pace quickens while one setback after another happens to Adam. This book is good for purely historical reference. An 11 year old boy is galavanting across England by himself, looking for his dog and his father. This, of course, would not happen nowadays (at least not for long before the authorities stepped in), so this fact itself makes this book interesting. Adam is self-sufficient. He takes care of himself. He procures his own food. He is focused on finding his father and his dog and won’t stop he does.

In the end (very end), Adam finds both and all is well. He is offered a chance to stay at Oxford college, but he turns it down to be on the road (not a wise choice). One other little fact that is often confusing to children (and me) as you read this book: Adam calls his father Roger throughout the entire book and since Adam is the narrator, he’s constantly talking about Roger, which is weird to us nowadays and makes the book hard to follow in the beginning.

Adam of the Road is recommended but because it was written decades ago and about 75 pages needs to be cut where nothing happens, it’s not highly recommended as a Newbery winner. It’s got great historical value and the pace does pick up and is exciting to the end.

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I Survived

Image result for i survivedI Survived is a kids book series, featuring a pre-teenish boy or girl protagonist who survives some ordeal (usually a natural disaster) based off real historical events. By Lauren Tarshis, I Survived books are short, easy reads sure to delight and teach at the same time.

The latest in Ms. Tarshis’ series is called “I Survived The Attack of the Grizzlies, 1967.” We follow an eleven-year old girl named Mel whose mother just died in a car accident. She visits her grandfather every year who lives in Glacier National Park. This is the first year they visit without her mother, and Mel is having a hard time adjusting. However, this year, the grizzlies in Glacier National Park are acting strangely, and Mel is determined to find out.

Her Aunt Cassie is a writer, and she visits as well. They meet a wildlife biologist investigating the bear incidents as well and decide to hike to a lodge up in the mountains called Granite Park. There they learn the grizzlies have become a tourist attraction as the lodge is feeding the bears (aka baiting them) with garbage. It’s become quite the show.

Mel herself almost gets attacked by a grizzly, but she is saved by a porcupine. That summer, two teenage girls are attacked and killed by grizzlies, bringing national attention to this problem. Trash was also everywhere, not being disposed of properly, further enticing the bears to change their behavior. These bears had lost their fear of humans and saw humans as a threat to their food source — garbage. The bears were also dying of starvation, having gotten glass in their mouths from all the bottles of food they tried to eat.

In 1967, this truly did happen. Many called for the eradication of the grizzlies (as if it were their fault humans were baiting them and feeding them). Luckily, intelligence prevailed and the National Parks began to clean up their acts. They disposed of garbage properly — including instituting bear proof garbage cans — and launched an educational campaign to not feed animals, approach animals, or litter.

Cleaning up our act has allowed grizzlies to thrive. In 1975, the grizzlies became a protected species and could no longer be hunted. There are now 1600 grizzly bears, living primarily in Montana and Wyoming with 32,000 in Alaska.

I personally had never heard of this in history, so this has been my favorite I Survived book so far. Mel learns to talk about her sadness. Very educational and informative and sure to spark many long conversations about topics such as the conservation of animals and humans’ role in preserving species. I loved this book and learned a lot.

Other I Survived topics include the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, The American Revolution in 1776, The Great Chicago Fire in 1871, and the Japanese Tsunami in 2011. Great, quick reads that I highly recommend.

Book Review: A Dog’s Purpose

Image result for a dog's purposeA Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron is an excellent book about a dog finding his purpose in this world. The book begins with one dog who keeps leading multiple lives and is perpetually re-born until his purpose is fulfilled. In the dog’s first life, he is feral and ends up being taken in by a kind-hearted woman who can’t take care of so many dogs. However, he ends up lame and unadoptable and is put down, but he made the woman laugh.

In the dog’s second life, he keeps having the nagging feeling that there’s something he’s supposed to do. He ends up in a home as a companion to a little boy named Ethan, where his purpose is to comfort the boy whenever the boy needed him. The dog learns humans are so much more complex than dogs and his job is not what he wants but what his master wants. His purpose was to love the boy and be with him and make him happy.

In the dog’s third life, he is trained as a search and rescue dog where he learned his purpose was to find people and save them.

The last life we find the dog abused and runs away. As he’s running, he runs into a familiar smell: that of Ethan’s girlfriend from long ago. The dog is determined to find Ethan who is still living in the same home except he is old now. He realizes his purpose in this world had been to save and Ethan was lonely without his girlfriend. The dog ends up re-connecting the two who eventually marry. He had fulfilled his purpose of rescuing people from despair of their lives.

FINDING YOUR PURPOSE

Ultimately, it is Ethan’s turn to leave this world. But the dog is by his side, fulfilling his purpose:

“The job of a good dog was ultimately to be with humans, remaining by their sides no matter what course their lives might take. All I could do now was offer him comfort, the assurance that he was not alone but was tended by the dog who loved him more than anything else in the whole world.”

I LOVED this book. Having come off of reading The Art of Racing in the Rain, I wasn’t for sure I wanted to read another book where the dog dies (let alone repeatedly). But A Dog’s Purpose is not sad because the dog lives on and the end of the dog’s life is not written as sad. I love how the dog finds his boy again, is 100% devoted to the boy, and is with the boy at the end of his life. I honestly hope I don’t have pets when it’s my time to go because I feel like it’s cruel to leave them without me, but I liked this book.

I love the insights the dog has to human’s lives as well and how the dog’s life just fits in with the human’s. This book is very realistic and not overly sentimental. If you love pets (especially dogs), then A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron is a must-read.

We all have a purpose and our job is to discover it while we’re here. This dog does and it’s encouraging to the rest of us who are still seeking our purpose in this world. Your pet may seem like it’s just being an animal, leading its life, but when it greets you at the end of a long day with love or jumps on your lap and purrs, it’s fulfilling its purpose. Now go and fulfill yours.

Book Review: Esio Trot

Image result for esio trotMore of a short story than a novel, Esio Trot by beloved children’s book author Roald Dahl is sure to leave you with a smile on your face.

Mr. Hoppy, a retiree, is in love with the woman below his balcony, Mrs. Silver. Mrs. Silver is in love with her tortoise (Esio Trot spelled backwards.) Mr. Hoppy has to find a way to ingratiate himself into Mrs. Silver’s heart by replacing the tortoise named Alfie.

One day, Mrs. Silver is complaining to Mr. Hoppy about how she wishes her tortoise would grow. Mr. Hoppy hatches a plan to make Alfie grow, thereby winning over Mrs. Silver. His plan is to tell her to whisper to the tortoise three times a day a ridiculous, backwards sayings. Mr. Hoppy goes out and purchases 100 tortoises with markings similar to Alfie’s and slowly replacing Alfie by stealing him off her balcony.

Every couple of weeks while Mrs. Silver is out at her part-time job, Mr. Hoppy replaces Alfie. Sure enough, Alfie “grows.” Mrs. Silver is forever grateful, and Mr. Hoppy finally has the courage to ask Mrs. Silver for her hand in marriage and she agrees.

This book is literally a 20-25 minute read with pictures on every page. Fun story. The only thing I didn’t like is Mrs. Silver never finds out about the trick and the original Alfie finds a new, loving home. Overall, delightful to read and recommended.

Book Review: The Family Under the Bridge

Image result for the family under the bridgeThe Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson is about an old hobo named Armand who one day discovers a family under his bridge. Three kids, a single mother, and their dog, Armand is taken aback. He can’t stand “starlings” as he calls them. Yet the children quickly endear themselves to Armand.

While the mother is working, Armand takes the children to see Father Christmas since Christmas is only a few days away. They all ask for a house from Father Christmas. The children were taken out of school as well so the authorities would not take them away from their mother if they found out they were homeless. All the children desperately want to go back to school.

However, two women discover the children alone under the bridge and head to the authorities. Armand takes the children and their mother to live with the gypsies. However, the gypsies are soon run off as well when one of the gypsies is sought after by the police for cutting down a rare Christmas tree.

Homeless again, the children desperately want a home. It is here that Armand finally decides to take a real job instead of being a hobo. He happens to find a caretaker job where housing is included. In the end, this make-shift family finally has a home.

Written in 1958, this book won the Newbery Honor Award in 1959. If you keep this in mind and use it to study the times it was written in, then this is a good book. There are some elements in this book that you’d never see in a modern book like the cutting down of a rare tree for Christmas. Also, at one point, Armand uses the children to sing so they can collect money for food. And I don’t agree with the fact Armand is a professional hobo. Also, the mother is racist against the gypsies and looks down upon them the entire book.

However, the underlying story is endearing. The children “stole Armand’s heart” by begging to stay with him. Armand’s character arch is impressive as well, going from a life-long beggar, content to not work and saying so, to
beginning to be ashamed of begging as it takes away a man’s self-respect.” In the end, Armand becomes a “workingman of Paris.”

My kids are old enough that when these parts cropped up, we talked about it, and why those parts of the book are wrong. It’s also interesting and telling of the time period when you read these views from so long ago, which spark a discussion of how our thinking has changed.

Good, short read containing lots of teachable moments. Plus, it shows how people can change no matter how old they are.

Book Review: Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Book Review: Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Hoot.pngHoot by Carl Hiaasen is a must-read 2003 Newbery Honor Book. It follows the story of Roy Eberhardt, the new kid in school who has just moved to Florida. He’s picked on by bullies and hates the heat. But when one day he sees a boy about his age running out the bus window, Roy’s life changes. The boy is not wearing any shoes, not carrying a backpack and not carrying books. Who is this boy?

When strange things start occuring on a new pancake house’s construction site, the whole town is interested. Alligators show up in the porta-potties. Snakes start slithering around. Stakes are moved. Seats removed from heavy equipment. What is going on?

Roy eventually catches up with “the running boy” and learns the pancake house is about to be constructed on top of a protected owl species who burrows in the ground. And the running boy is the only one doing anything about it. Roy, wanting to help both the boy and the owl, gets involved and discovers the Environmental Impact Study done by the pancake house is missing from the courthouse, and the pancake house claims no owls live there.

When the dedication ceremony day arrives for the pancake house, Roy hatches a plan. He enlists the help of his school friends, and they form a protest. The running boy buries himself in a owl burrow, and when an owl lands on his head, no one can deny owls live there.

The theme of the book is stated nicely by Roy’s mother: “Sometimes you’re going to be faced with situations where the line isn’t clear between what’s right and what’s wrong. Your heart will tell you to do one thing, and your brain will tell you to do something different. In the end, all that’s left is to look at both sides and go with your best judgment.”

Great theme of standing up for what’s right even when others say you’re wrong, fighting authority when authority is wrong, and following what your heart says to do. Excellent book. Laugh-out-loud funny (like when Roy comments how adults lie to make themselves look more important). Easy to read and a quick pace. And who doesn’t love owls?

Surviving the Applewhites

Image result for surviving the applewhitesAnother gem from the Newbery Honor books, Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Tolan is an entertaining, funny novel about a delinquent boy who, having been kicked out of school, is forced to be homeschooled by the Applewhite family, themselves an eclectic bunch of misfits.  In fact, there are so many characters that in the beginning it’s hard to keep them all straight!

Destiny, the youngest Applewhite, is 4 years old and ends up idolizing Jake Semple, the delinquent boy, along with the basset hound, Winston.  Both are attached to Jake’s hip despite his disapproval.  E.D, the closest to Jake’s age and the one put in charge of helping him in his education, is the only normal Applewhite.  Studious and industrious, she loves learning and doing the right thing.  Her mother is a successful writer.  Her father a successful director.  Her brother, Hal, is a recluse and never leaves his room except in the middle of the night to eat.  Her sister, Cordelia, is a composer and choreographer.  Her grandpa and uncle make furniture.  Her aunt is a poet.

When her father’s current production of the Sound of Music loses its stage, the Applewhites come together and use their talents to save the play by hosting the play in their barn.  E.D. becomes the stage manager.  Her grandpa and uncle make the stage.  Her brother Hal leaves his room to paint.  Destiny and Jake both are cast in the play and Jake begins to realize he has talent as well.  Her mother and aunt make the costumes.

Throw in a zany wanna-be-film-director and an Indian chef (“passion is necessary to all of life”) along with colorful characters from the small North Carolina town and you have a delightful tale sure to delight and entertain.  The character arc of both E.D. and Jake are great with both learning life lessons, discovering what life is about and what gives them job, and learning how all things are possible.  Highly recommended.  Great for kids of all ages (there’s no love interest or any talk of attraction).  Awesome book showing a family coming together in times of crisis.  Purely a joy to read!