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.

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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!

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Image result for lizzie brightLizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary Schmidt is on the surface a typical new kid on the block book.  Turner Buckminster has just moved from Boston to the small community of Phippsburg, Maine in 1911.  His father has taken a job as the local pastor.  Turner immediately gets into trouble and trouble keeps finding him.  He accidentally skips a rock into a neighbor’s fence.  He’s caught with his pants down by this same neighbor as he tries to wash blood out of his pants so his parents won’t find out.  And he visits Malaga Island, a place where African-Americans live, and befriends a girl named Lizzie Bright Griffin.

The community wants all the island inhabitants to move so they can build a resort on the island.  And they are giving the residents no choice.  Turner becomes good friends with Lizzie and Turner’s father is beginning to tire of the town trying to force him to side with them.  He’s “somewhere between two worlds and drowning because he couldn’t find his way in either one.”

Turner inherits a house in the town and wants to give it to Lizzie.  The community is in an uproar.  They force the inhabitants to leave and burn their houses down.  Turner, distraught, attacks the sheriff of the town.  His father comes to his defense but in the struggle takes a bad fall off a cliff.  Lizzie has moved away and Turner is left reeling.  Can the soul of a whale help?

Great story with twists at the end I would have never predicted.  Laugh-out-loud funny as Turner finds himself always in predicaments that land him in trouble. “Maybe it wasn’t such a terrible thing to be a dang fool sometimes.  Maybe, he thought, it was just what you were supposed to be.”  Touching story of a forbidden friendship.  Powerful tale of doing what’s right when the rest of society says no.  “Who knows where these ideas will take us.  But wouldn’t it be exciting to find out.”

Newbery Honor Book for 2005.  You won’t want to miss this one!  Highly recommended.  Great historical novel of racial divisions.  Themes are timeless.

Savvy

Image result for savvyA Newbery Honor Winner for 2009, Savvy by Ingrid Law is the tale of a family who have amazing abilities and have to learn to control them.

Upon turning 13, every Beaumont gets a savvy, a special ability.  Mibs is sure her savvy can wake things (including people up).  Just in time because her father was just involved in a car accident, leaving him unconscious in the hospital.  Convinced she can wake him up, Mibs hitches a ride on a bus along with her brothers and two friends, Will and Bobbi.

Upon being discovered, they convince the driver, Lester, to take them to Salina to the hospital–AFTER he finishes his deliveries of bibles.  This leads to one chaotic adventure after another as all the Beaumonts struggle to control (and figure out) their savvy’s.  It turns out Mib’s savvy is not waking things up but hearing ink (tattoos and such) reveal others’ thoughts.  Overwhelmed at times, Mibs causes a ruckus that leads to punches between Will and her brother, Fish, who can control the weather and a scene in a diner where they pick up another hitch-hiker named Lill.

Finally arriving in Salina with a police escort, Mibs is convinced she can still wake up her dad–and she does.  By telling him he never gives up and he has to wake up.  Her dad is not the same–severe head injury has left him with memory problems–but Mibs learns about family, love, being a teenager, and being happy with the life she has.  “When life takes a turn and you can’t step back…all you can do is keep moving forward and remember what you’ve learned” because “the outcome of a choice is almost as hard to predict or to control as a new savvy.”

“You never can tell when a bad thing might make a good thing happen.”

Great coming-of-age tale with tons of action and adventure from the heart.  Life lessons for kids who have great hearts, but still have a lot to learn.  Fantastic tale about your lot in life, accepting it, and finding contentment in it.  Highly recommended!

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg

Image result for mostly true adventures of homer p. figgThe Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick is a delightful tale of a twelve-year old boy who is determined to find his brother who was illegally sold into the army during the American Civil War.  Orphans, Homer and his brother are being raised by their mean uncle, Squinton Leach.  Squint sells Harold and Homer sets out to find him.

“A person has only two options in life, to do something or to do nothing,” Homer is told.  For Homer, “Nothing is not an option.”

He runs into some slave catchers who try to use Homer in their schemes to collect runaway slaves and return them to their owners.  In this process he meets a nice, rich man named Jebediah Brewster, a Quaker, who puts Homer under the guardianship of a preacher and gives him money to find his brother.  On the train ride, the guardian, Mr. Willow, is duped by con artists and the money is stolen.  Homer finds himself thrown into a pig pen.

The pig pen leads to Homer being cast into a traveling medicine show who performs for troops.  They follow the army until the leader, Fenton Fleabottom, is caught as a Confederate spy.  Homer escapes by climbing into an air balloon, which lands in a nasty pond on the side of the Confederates.  Taken as prisoner, Homer is soon freed due to the Battle of Gettysburg.

Homer flees on a horse, through the raging battle, and finally meets up with his brother who has been labeled a deserter.  However, every man is needed in the battle so Harold gets his chance to fight.  Homer, so afraid Harold will die, tries to stop him.  He shoots a bullet at him to scare him but it rickochets into his leg.  Homer ends up being the flag bearer and then the Confederates surrender.  Both are adopted by Jebediah Brewster back in Maine and end up leading a happy life.

Newbery Honor Book for 2010, this book is full of fun and unbelievable twists and turns.  Homer likes to fudge the truth, which lands him in all of these precarious situations but also gets him out of them.  Great historical read that depicts the 1860’s turmoil perfectly.  Highly recommended for all ages!

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Image result for evolution of calpurnia tateThe Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jaqueline Kelly, a 2010 Newbery Honor Award winner, is the story of an eleven-year old girl at the turn of the twentieth century.  She is the only girl in a family of seven kids and is expected to act like one when all she wants to do is play outside with her brothers.  Her chores are around the house.  She must take piano lessons, knit, and cook.  Her expected life is one of a wife and mother.

Enter her grandfather, Captain Tate, who’s a war hero from the Civil War.  He started a cotton gin company, which Calpurnia’s father now runs so Captain Tate spends his days trying to distill liquor from pecans and exploring the scientific world around him.

Calpurnia’s brother, Harry, had given her a notebook to write down her scientific observations.  Confused on the color of grasshoppers, Calpurnia went to her grandfather for help.  Here blossomed over the summer of 1899 a relationship of mutual hobbies.  Calpurnia spent every possible moment with her grandfather, learning, observing, and assisting him in his endeavors all the while learning everything possible she could.  He gave her a copy of The Origin of Species and she plugged through that as well.  The most exciting event is when Calpurnia and her grandfather discover a new species of plant and send off to Washington DC to have it confirmed.

Calpurnia’s mother dislikes all the time she is spending with grandfather and begins to make her take more and more time to learn to sew and cook.  Calpurnia hates every minute of it but slowly begins to understand what her expected role in this world will be.  However, she dreams of going to university and becoming a scientist.

At Christmas that year, Calpurnia is given a book.  She is so excited until she reads the title:  The Science of Housewifery.  She is devastated and defeated.  She begins to wonder if her dream will always be a dream.

Finally, word comes of the plant:  it is confirmed!  It’s a new species and named after them!  Calpurnia realizes then how grandfather had been “the greatest gift of all” and she can do whatever she desires.  “There are so many things to learn, and so little time is given us.”

Instead of resolutions, Calpurnia makes a bucket list of things she wants to see before she dies, one of which is snow.  And guess what?  The next day it snows for the first time in decades in Texas.  “Anything was possible.”

Great read about defining who you are, believing in yourself, and following your dreams.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

In Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin we meet a girl named Minli who is determined to change her family’s fortune.  Both her parents work all day in the fields for just enough food to put on the table.  Her father passes the night by story telling while her mother “sighs” over their misery constantly.

One day a man selling goldfish arrives in their town known as Fruitless Mountain since food here is hard to grow.  Minli spends her precious coin on a goldfish, upsetting her mother.  Hence, Minli decides to release the goldfish into the river.  When she does, the goldfish speaks to her and tells her he knows how to find the Old Man of the Moon who knows how to change their fortune.  With that, she is off on her adventures!

Along the way, Minli meets a dragon who can’t fly.  She tells him about the Old Man of the Moon, and he decides to accompany her on her journey.  She meets villagers who help her and encounters an evil tiger who wants to eat her!  When Minli does finally find the Old Man of the Moon, she is told she can only ask one question.  She is torn:  she can either ask how to change her fortune or ask how the Dragon can fly.

She asked for the Dragon, saying, “I didn’t ask the question because I don’t need to know the answer.”  Minli had discovered the key to her fortune:  family and gratitude.

Minli returns home atop the Dragon who can now fly.  The Dragon decides to stay and he changes Fruitless Mountain from brown to green.  She gives the Dragon’s pearl that had been preventing him from flying to a king who had helped her along the way.  The king gives the village utensils to sow the ground and much more.  All prosper because Minli asked the question for the Dragon.

Great story about putting others first and acting selflessly, which leads to everyone prospering.  Very, very quick read.  The writing style is simple and moves the story along.  2010 Newbery Honor Book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin is a must-read for all!