From Kit Carson, Trailblazer and Scout by Shannon Garst:

“The homemade crib in the snug log cabin of the Linsey Carsons was seldom empty. When on Christmas Eve of 1809 the thin wail of a newborn babe rose from the battered cradle, the little cabin was already fairly bulging with Carson offspring, and the birth of another baby occasioned little excitement.

Linsey Carson, who had to stoop when he went through a door, bent over the crib and made clucking noises at his youngest. ‘He ‘pears to be a mite runty,’ he commented. ‘Reckon we’d best give him a good-sized name to grow up to.’

So the child was christened ‘Christopher,’ an already illustrious name to which the child was to add further glory. However, his physical stature never grew to fit the name, so the name was shortened to ‘Kit’ to fit the boy. Always his father referred to him as ‘the runt of the litter,’ which designation never failed to make the boy cringe inside as though a burning iron had been thrust through his heart. All of his nine brothers were strapping fellows well over six feet when grown to manhood, but Kit never attained even medium height. Yet of the fourteen Carson offspring he was the only one to make the family name famous. Runty, sandy-haired and with pale eyelashes fringing blue eyes, he remained to the end of his days undistinguished in appearance, yet the germ of greatness slumbered in that undersized but sturdy body.”

The runt of the litter who grows up to be the greatest. It’s an old story that never grows stale in the telling. From David, the youngest of his family, who nevertheless kills the giant Goliath and later becomes King of Israel, to Peter the Great, youngest son of Alexey I and his second wife, Natalya Naryshkina, to fictional youngest sons who rise to greatness, there is a something about seeing the “underdog” become the hero that appeals to our sense of rightness and hope.

Perhaps it’s a little like the true story of the baby, born in poverty and obscurity, who became the mighty and resurrected King.

“Stories are holy and nutritious and crucial. Stories change lives…. They crack open hearts; they open minds…. We could change the world if we told the right story.” ~Brian Doyle

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Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

From Tales of the Crusades by Olivia Coolidge:

“Two days before Christ’s Mass, a minstrel wandered into a small town on the outskirts of Vienna. He did not sing in the marketplace, being French-speaking and in any case superior to the ragged crew thumping tabors who were already performing here and there and begging for pennies. This man was warmly dressed, though stained with travel; and he carried a viol on his back, which proclaimed he had some skill. Though he did not my any means look like a court musician, he probably at least could sing for his supper in small baronial castles whose rough owners cared less for music than for novelty.

It was market day when he appeared, strolling casually up to a crowd which was gathering to listen to a man preaching a new crusade. The speaker was a hoarse-voiced fellow, one-eyed and villainous looking, who had taken the Cross, he said, on account of his sins.”

The minstrel in this story turns out to be a spy, looking for King Richard of England who is late coming home from the Crusades. He goes to the court of Duke Leopold, to ask questions and perform for the nobility.

“Duke Leopold was holding Christmas court at Vienna with mumming plays and games of blindman’s bluff or forfeits. Presents were being given and received with gay flirtation. Dishes were brought into the hall preceded by trumpeters and outlined in flickering brandy. Jugglers, minstrels, and fools entertained the company, the court performers striving to add to their repertoire, lest it become stale. These last were not best pleased at the arrival of the minstrel, who had bought himself gay clothing with gold ducats he had concealed in the lining of his viol case. To the lords and ladies a French-speaking man was especially welcome, for the lays of chivalry had their birth in France.”

Read Ms. Coolidge’s Tales of the Crusades to find out what happens next at this medieval Christmas celebration.

Olivia Coolidge was born and grew up in England, but she came to the United States as a young woman and stayed to teach school and eventually to marry an American. As the daughter of an Oxford professor and an Oxford graduate herself, Ms. Coolidge saw the value of a classical education. Her books, about Greek and Roman heroes and other historical figures, are a classical education in and of themselves.
(Information about Olivia Coolidge taken mostly from Jan Bloom’s bibliographic resource, Who Should We Then Read?.)

Pedro, The Angel of Olvera Street by Leo Politi was published in 1946. It’s little picture book that tells the story of Pedro who lives on Olvera Street in Los Angeles with his grandfather. Pedro’s grandfather plays the violin, and Pedro “sings like an angel.”

This talent gets Pedro a special part in the Christmas posadas procession:

This year Manuel thought of something that would make the procession even more beautiful. He had heard Pedro sing and he had heard people say, “Pedro sings like an angel.” So he said:
“We must have an angel to lead La Posada.”
He was so pleased with his idea that he hurried to Tomaso’s presto and asked him to make two little red wings for Pedro.

Leo Politi was an Italian American author and illustrator. He was born in Fresno, California in 1908, but he grew up from the age of seven in Italy, near Milan. At the age of 22, he left Italy and returned to California. Mr. Politi began his career as an artist in Los Angeles on Olvera Street, painting and sketching alongside Mexican American artisans for the tourists and other buyers who came through the Latino part of the city. Mr. Politi began to write books as well as illustrate them with his first book, Panchito or Little Pancho, published in 1938. Pedro, the Angel of Olvera Street was Mr. Politi’s second book, and it gave and still gives children who discover it a wonderful appreciation for the traditional Catholic and Mexican Christmas customs of Las Posadas, the piñata, and the music and food of a Mexican American Christmas.

One hundred and fifty years ago the first dinosaurs were cloned. Who knew that a pandemic disease came into our world with the dinosaurs, bringing the human race to edge of extinction. Now dinosaurs rule the world once again, and humans can only live underground in bunkers with strict laws to force them to work together to ensure their survival. Their leader, who calls himself The Noah, is a benevolent but strict dictator, and no one goes above ground where the dinosaurs hunt unless he has a death wish.

Nevertheless, when she was only seven years old, Sky Mundy’s father did go above ground. In fact, he fled the underground compound and left Sky with no note, no inheritance, and no communication for the past five years. Well, he did leave behind a broken compass for Sky to treasure and an illegal diary for her to write and draw in, but nothing else. Then, Sky finds a cryptic message from her father, and she decides to go up into the “topside” to find him and to carry his message to the middle of Lake Michigan. Will she even survive her first night with man-eating dinosaurs and other unknown dangers awaiting her?

The kids in this novel study Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park in their English class, comparing Crichton’s fictional dinosaur story to their “real” world of dinosaur takeover. I though that was a nice touch. And then when they (Sky and a friend) out and go topside, the action is non-stop, without much time for philosophy or deep thinking. The most pressing question or theme in the book is about “whom can Sky trust” and “will she survive”. Sky is another middle grade character with father issues, and she thinks and talks a lot about why her father left her and where he could possibly be and whether or not he’s dead.

Sky is a feisty, self-reliant female, and her two male friends, Shawn and Todd, are good, well-developed characters in their own right. Although Sky is the narrator, Shawn and Todd play a big role in the story’s development, and the book should appeal to both boys and girls who like adventure stories set in a post-apocalyptic future. Science fiction with overgrown dinosaurs. A daddy hunt through prehistoric dangers. Noah’s Ark meets Jurassic Park.

The only thing I didn’t like about this story was the ending, which wasn’t. The ending is abrupt and unfinished; in other words, it’s a set-up for the sequel. Bummer. At least, I checked the author’s website, and there’s only one more book planned to follow-up this one. So I’m assuming that the loose ends of the story will be tied up in a dinosaur bow in book two, Edge of Extinction: Code Name Flood, due out at the end of May, 2017.

“Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book.” ~Edward Gibbon

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

Ten year old Lottie Bromley and her best friend Kitty McLaughlin are inseparable, friends in the midst of war and deprivation in 1940 Bristol, England. However, when Lottie’s father’s research into the possibilities and uses of time travel does separate the girls, Lottie is determined to find Kitty again—and ask forgiveness for having deserted her friend in a crisis.

Time travel is always a tempting story premise, but tricky to handle. It all sort of becomes mind-bending and gives the reader (and the author, presumably) a headache, as in this epic discussion from LOST:

In Once Was a Time, one character’s idea is that one can never travel back in time, only forward, since you can’t change the past because it would change the present and the future too much. Another possible “rule” of time travel is that you can’t time travel to a time during your own lifetime since that would make two of the same person exist in the same time. OF course, these are all theoretical “rules” since Lottie’s father is just researching time travel, not actually engaging in it. And then danger comes in the form of a kidnapping/hostage situation, and Lottie does see a time portal and get the chance to flee into it. She doesn’t know when or where she’s going, but she ends up in Sutton, Wisconsin on August 20, 2013.

A great many pages after that crisis time travel episode are filled with Lottie’s observations on the differences between England in 1940 and Wisconsin in 2013. I found these cultural and time period differences to be fascinating, but I don’t know if most children will agree. There’s also a subplot/theme about bullying and fitting in with the right crowd that may relate to kid concerns, but conversely, didn’t really engage me. So I liked the historical and time travel aspects, and others may get something else out of the same book.

Whatever draws you in, Lottie’s story about friendship and forgiveness and the power of choosing to be a friend is a story worth reading. The fact that Lottie finds a safe haven and a new friend in the library is just extra sauce to an already good stew of a story.

'Thanksgiving Postcards 1' photo (c) 2010, Minnesota Historical Society - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/” I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.” ~Abraham Lincoln, October 1863.

We are not in an actual civil war, but we Americans certainly are in need on this Thanksgiving Day, 2016, of the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of this nation and to restore it to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union. Amen and may it be so.

Some hae meat and canna eat, –
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
~Robert Burns

“For, after all, put it as we may to ourselves, we are all of us from birth to death guests at a table which we did not spread. The sun, the earth, love, friends, our very breath are parts of the banquet…. Shall we think of the day as a chance to come nearer to our Host, and to find out something of Him who has fed us so long?” ~Rebecca Harding Davis

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.” ~Henry David Thoreau

In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. I Thessalonians 5:18

Psalm 150

Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.

“It is a known fact that the most extraordinary moments in a person’s life come disguised as ordinary days.” ~opening sentence of The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd.

Key to Extraordinary is a lovely, luminescent, literary lodestone of a novel. Okay, so my attempt to write in the style of Natalie Lloyd isn’t exactly great, but this story is beautiful. It’s got heart, and a vivid setting, the Boneyard Cafe in Blackbird Hollow, Tennessee, and a compelling plot, all about buried treasure and finding one’s destiny and saving the cafe.

“Fear is just a flashlight that helps you find your courage.”

The narrator of the story, Emma, is the youngest in a long line of Wildflower Women who fulfilled their destinies by doing something extraordinary to make the world better. Emma is waiting to have her own Destiny Dream and find out how she fits into the heritage of her ancestors.

“You don’t have to go looking for stories across the world. You only have to look out your window.”

Embedded in the story are lots of what I call “nuggets of middle grade wisdom” —proverbs, maxims, and bits of truth that don’t sound too preachy when they’re part of the story. I love that middle grade authors are “allowed” to include these little tidbits of advice and admonition in their stories, and when it’s done well, it makes the story so much more rich and meaningful for me to read.

“Believe your words have power. And use them.”

As Emma goes on a crusade to save her family cafe from the evil, rich developer, Warren Steele, she learns more about the meaning of friendship and family and courage. Yes, the mean developer who is about to take the family business is a trite and over-used plot device, but go with it anyway. I just had so much fun spending time with Emma and her ex-boxer grandmother and her chef-brother and her friends, Cody Belle Chitwood and Earl Chance. The story felt authentically Tennessean and country and as one reviewer wrote (negatively), sort of like a Hallmark special. But I like Hallmark movie specials.

“Sometimes even doing the right thing will leave you with scars. But beauty comes from ashes, too.”

There are so many good quotes from this book that I’ll just leave you with a few more. I’m including these here because there are so many, but look for a second installment of Middle Grade Book Wisdom soon with more quotations from this book and other 2016 middle grade fiction books. Collecting these wisdom quotes is a sort of hobby of mine.

“Everything wonderful is possible.”

“Some books are so special that you never forget where you were the first time you read them.”

“Every lifetime, no matter how long it lasts, is a gift. And to love, and be loved, even by one person during your lifetime . . . that is a treasure no one can take from you.”

I nominated this debut novel for the Cybils Awards, without having read it myself, because Gary Schmidt, author of The Wednesday Wars and Okay For Now, said it was “a journey that every reader needs to go on.” It wasn’t until I read the author’s note at the end of the book that I realized that the inspiration for the story was the The Lais of Marie de France, in particular one story from that collection of twelfth century tales, the story of “Bisclavret”. And that source means something to me because Eldest Daughter, who is a French medieval scholar, wrote her doctoral dissertation and several other academic papers about aspects of the works of Marie de France. So, a serendipitous connection made this middle grade “not-a-werewolf” novel even more meaningful and fun for me.

The book is about a boy named Raul who lives at One of Our Kind boarding school. When the other kids go home on the weekends, Raul takes to the woods and changes into a wolf. But he’s “not a werewolf” because “werewolves are humans who got cursed. I’m not cursed. They have unibrows, and is you cut their skin you’ll see fur, not blood. Two fingertips fit between my eyebrows. I bleed. Werewolves attack people in the woods and eat them. I wouldn’t do that.” Raul is a boy/wolf, but he is determined to keep the woods and the school parts of his double life separated.

However, when a new boy in school also experiences the “woods magic”, and when Tuffman, the sadistic gym teacher becomes involved in Raul’s double life, too, Raul is forced to try to figure out how to reconcile the two parts of his dual nature. This novel is not for everybody. It’s weird. Raul thinks of himself as “not a monster”, but definitely a “weirdo”. Raul also doesn’t talk very much, and his thoughts are somewhat sophisticated and intelligent, but his voice as narrator is characterized by short, choppy sentences and fragments of sentences. He’s alone and a tough guy with a protective nature. And all of those aspects of his personality land him in trouble.

A certain type of kid might identify with Raul and with his story, might wish that they, too, could shape shift into a wolf on the weekends (or anytime). Raul’s wolf life doesn’t take up much space in the story; most of the real plot of the novel takes place in the human weekdays. And I guess that’s appropriate because in the end Raul is a boy who is learning to be human, not a wolf. I enjoyed reading the story of how Raul finds his family and his words and his vocation.