The Witches

The Witches by Roald Dahl

The Witches by Roald Dahl is a fast-paced novel kids will devour eagerly and clamor for more.

A seven-year old boy and his Norwegian Grandmother (known as Grandmamma in the novel) travel to the English coast for a get away.  Unbeknownst to both of them, they are staying at the same hotel as the annual convention of witches for all of England.

Wanting to play with his pet mice, the boy (unnamed in the novel) hides in the hotel convention hall.  In strolls the witches for their meetings and he overhears the witches’ plot to kill all of the children in England by turning them into mice and having them killed by humans.  He, however, is sniffed out (literally) by the witches and turned himself into a mouse.  Returning to his grandmamma, he hatches a plot to take down the witches by giving them a douse of their own medicine.

The boy says to his Grandmamma, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like so long as somebody loves you.”

A master of fast-paced writing for children, Dahl writes a tale full of adventure and fun.  Guaranteed to entertain and make you laugh.  Classic kids literature at its best!

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The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

This Newbery Medal award-winning book is sure to leave you spell-bound and yearning for more.  The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill introduces us to a world of witches, a dragon, a monster, and a baby girl.  The witch named Xan rescues babies who have been left in the woods to die.  She feeds them starlight on her journey to the Free Cities where she places them in a loving home.

One year, so spellbound by a child with a crescent moon birthmark, Xan accidentally feeds the baby girl moonlight instead.  She is enmagicked and her powers grow.  However, she cannot control them.  Hence, Xan places a temporary hold on the girl’s powers until she turns 13.  But as a consequence, her powers will wane and she will die as a result.

The town that leaves the babies to die, the Protectorate, is run by a Sister Ignacia who is really a witch herself who feeds off of sorrow.  A cloud hangs over the place fueled by the ritual of leaving the babies to die.  One young man named Antain starts to question how things are run.

As Luna, the girl who drank the moonlight, approaches 13, both worlds start to collide.  Her powers start to grow inside her and she had no idea she is special.  Antain leaves the Protectorate to stop the witch once and for all.  Sister Ignacia attempts to stop him.  Glerk, the swamp monster who has been around since the beginning of time and Fyrian, a very small dragon who begins to grow all go off to find Xan who is headed to rescue another baby.

Their worlds collide, mysteries will be resolved, and light will return–all while a volcano is about to explode!

A novel insanely hard to put down with all the twists and turns.  Very cute with endearing characters.  Glerk is lovable.  Fyrian is naively happy.  Xan is the protective parent.  Luna is the rebellious child.  A great storyline of challenging the status quo, questioning authority, following your heart and your gut, and doing anything for love lies underneath the surface.  Great read.  Worthy of the 2017 Newbery.  Enjoy!

Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus

Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus

The perfect companion book for the study of John for kids is Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus by John Hendrix.  Beautiful, full-page illustrations tell the stories of Jesus’ life leading up to and including the cross with his resurrection the last page.

Jesus is depicted historically accurate as well as the buildings and the clothes.  He is also drawn larger than those around him, which I love and my kids noticed right away.  It makes him stand out and emphasizes the point that he is greater than us.

Nice summary of the main stories in John and elsewhere.  A quick read.  Highly recommended.

One Came Home

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake

One Came Home is a brilliant story set in 1871 in Wisconsin about a 13 year-old girl whose sister goes missing at the same time a body is found wearing a dress she owned.

Georgie is convinced her sister, Agatha, is alive.  The body is badly decomposed and in a few pieces.  Determined to find out what happened to her sister, Georgie sets off on a borrowed mule with Billy, a boy who loved Agatha, to the town the body was discovered, Dog Hollow.  Agatha was last seen with a pair of traveling pigeoners (people who followed the passenger pigeons before they were extinct).  Georgie starts asking questions and soon discovers a family up in the hills by the name of Garrow.  Their oldest daughter ran off at the same time as Agatha went missing to get married and she looks just like Agatha.  One of the Garrow sisters has a ribbon in her hair matching the Agatha’s dress.  Georgie is convinced it’s the same material so how did the little girl obtain the ribbon?

Before Georgie can find out, she stumbles upon a hidden cave full of counterfeiting plates.  Running from the Garrow men, Georgie finds herself using her sharp-shooter skills to scare them off and break up the ring.  A hero and still doubtful her sister is dead, Georgie returns home when her grandfather unexpectedly dies.  She resumes her life, helping in the family store, still wondering about her sister.

Finally, a letter arrives.  It’s from her sister.  She ran off to attend college to study nature in Madison, WI.  She had seen the articles in the paper about Georgie and wrote to see if all was okay.  She had met up with the Garrow girl and had sold her her dress for her wedding.  The Garrow girl was accidentally shot when she grabbed a shot gun and the trigger went off.  Panicking, her father left her body to be found.

And the ribbon?  The dress had been torn in an argument with her father before she was shot.  Her little sister then took the material for a bow.

Full of every twist and turn you can imagine, One Came Home by Amy Timberlake deserves the Newbery Honor Award it won in 2014.  It may be better suited for older kids just because of the subject of death.  Georgie grows as a person as she learns self-sufficiency and the depth of love.  Extremely well-written, historically accurate, a vivid picture of the passenger pigeon, and an overall great read.  Highly recommended.

I, Juan de Pareja

I, Juan de Pareja

I, Juan de Pareja

I, Juan de Pareja is the 1966 Newbery Winner for Children’s Literature by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino.  Told from the perspective of Juan de Pareja, a slave to the famous painter Velazquez, we see life in the seventeenth century for a slave.  When Juan’s mistress dies, he is transferred to Velazquez as a young boy.  He is always treated kindly, but he is still not free to do as he likes.  Yet, Juan accepts this, knowing he cannot change his lot in life and that God has a purpose for his life here on earth.

Juan secretly teaches himself to paint for it is against the law for a slave to participate in the arts in Spain at the time.  He faithfully cares for Velazquez and his family and mourns when Velazquez’s daughter dies at a young age due to illness.  He travels with his master all over Italy with his master and faithfully nurses Velazquez when he is ill.

In this book we see Juan make the most of his life.  He is faithful.  He is loyal.  He is a good friend to those whom he serves and meets.  He is always cheerful.  He follows his passions.  He is rewarded in the end when Velazquez grants him his freedom and a wife.

Great novel for portraying the 1600’s and life at court.  However, Juan is treated kindly.  For most slaves, their lives were dismal and miserable and they were treated cruelly.  Most did not have noble masters and most struggled every day doing back-breaking work and struggling to find enough food.  Thus, this is a great depiction of a noble’s life and how some slaves were treated.

Juan de Pareja ended up creating works of notable art himself, some of which hang in museums today.  He is the exception of the day for a black slave, but an important one.  Kids will learn the value of staying true to themselves and to God and the value of hard work despite your circumstances.  It’s the age-old story we so value here in America:  work hard and you can do anything.

One more great thing about this book:  it will make you want to know who exactly was Diego Velazquez and what did he paint?  He was the official painter to King Philip the IV and painted many of the royal family’s portraits.  His portraits are considered masterpieces for his ability to capture the sitter’s expressions and personality.  Personally, I had known who he was and some of his famous paintings, but I didn’t know much about him and his family or Philip the IV.  Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, descendants include some of the current royal family of the Netherlands and Spain through his only surviving daughter.

Great historical book.  Great conversation starter and great book to dig deeper about the time period and the characters in the book.  Great insight into painting the in the seventeenth century.  Well-written and true to a slave’s perspective.  All around great book.

Holes

Holes

Holes

Holes by Louis Sachar is a Newbery Winner for 1999–and for good reason.  Stanley Yelnats (Stanley spelled backwards) is fighting a family curse-one that’s been around since his great-great-grandfather.  He’s in the wrong place at the wrong time his entire life–including when he’s accused of stealing shoes and sent to Camp Green Lake (which is anything but green).

At Camp Green Lake, he’s forced to dig a hole every day five feet deep and five feet wide.  When he’s done digging his hole, he’s done with his work for the day.  It’s hot.  There’s no water but what they are given.  He gets a four minute cold shower and food out of cans.

The boys are told if they find anything interesting to report it and then they don’t have to dig their hole.  Stanley finds a fossil (not interesting).  Then he finds a gold casing with the initials KB on it.  This proves interesting.  They boys are forced to dig around the place they found this for days.  Stanley determines they must be digging for something.  But what?

Camp Green Lake didn’t always be dry.  100 years ago it used to be a lake.  Kate Barlow used to be a school teacher at Camp Green Lake.  She falls in love with an onion picker named Sam.  Their relationship is a scandal because Sam is black.  Sam ends up murdered and Kate ends up taking revenge as a thief.  Legend has it she stole money and buried it.  Here.

Stanley ends up finding the buried treasure (which incidentally belonged to his great-great grandfather) and ends up helping his family and his friends at Camp Green Lake.  Oh, and that curse?  Broken!  This story is full of so many twists and turns that my summary is just the surface.  It’s an excellent and quick read that the kids will enjoy.  Sachar is a master of pace and every chapter just has you wanting to read more.

I’ve always wanted to read this book since it’s so famous and it’s fabulous.  You won’t regret your time spent.  Charming characters.  Great twists.  All around good fun.  Funny too!

Heart of a Samurai

Heart of a Samurai

Heart of a Samurai

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus is a novel based on a true story of a 14 year old boy who was shipwrecked on a deserted island in 1841.  After surviving off of the local birds and fish, the boys are rescued by a passing ship.  The problem:  it’s an American ship full of barbarians!  Manjiro fears for his life, but slowly he realizes the Americans are just like him and they are there to help them.  He learns all about sailing and whaling.

After almost 2 years, the ship docks in Hawaii.  His companions disembark here but Manjiro, who is a good friend of the captain’s, decides to travel on to America.  Here, he sees things non-existent in isolationist Japan:  a train, a carriage, kissing in public, free speech, non-existent social classes, a telegraph, a steam engine, and an elected President.  He learns he can be more than just “a simple fisherman”.  He can be whatever he sets his heart to.

After ten years away from home, Manjiro wants to return to Japan.  Knowing he may be killed as Japan’s policy is to kill all those who have left Japan, he picks up 2 of his companions in Hawaii and heads home.  The government holds him for almost a year and a half.  Finally, he is released and returns home.  His village has not changed and his family has grown up.  However, he is summoned by the shogun (the ruler of Japan) back to Edo (Tokyo) to teach others English.  Manjiro ends up translating for Commodore Perry in 1853 on his historic voyage which opens Japan to the outside world for the first time.  He lives a long life, fulfilling his dream of changing the world by helping Japan to change.

On one occasion, Manjiro ends up in San Francisco looking for gold to finance his trip back to Japan.  When he finds gold, he thinks, “So this is what dreams look like.”  I loved this line because for all of us our dreams are usually small lumps of nothingness that we turn into great heaps of something.

Great book.  Historically accurate to the time period and to the real Manjiro.  Goes somewhat in depth into whaling and how even in this time period, whales are becoming scarce due to overhunting.  Manjiro even calls the Americans “barbaric” for killing whales.  Great historical notes at the end.  Inspirational as Manjiro follows a dream to fruition and makes a difference in his world.  Great underdog tale.  Show the prejudices of the day as well.  Shows the difficulties we all must overcome in this world.  Highly recommended.