12 British Children’s Books I’d Like to Read in 2018

I’ve been an Anglophile ever since I was a child, when many of my favorite reads were written by British authors: C.S. Lewis, Philippa Pearce, E. Nesbit, JRR Tolkien, Kenneth Grahame, and A.A. Milne.

I also read some lovely award-winning and classic British children’s books last year: The Little Grey Men by BB, Minnow on the Say by Philippa Pearce, The Family From One End Street by Eve Garnett, and of course, four of the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome.

This year I’d like to read:

Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome (and any others of the Swallows and Amazons books that I can get my hands on).

Ameliaranne and the Green Umbrella by Constance Heward. Classic story from 1920. Ameliaranne, “whose family is very poor, goes to a party and tries to bring back all of her food-cakes, tangerines, sweets-hidden in her umbrella to feed her ailing brothers and sisters.” I may not be able to find an affordable copy of this one, and it may not be available from the library. I guess I could read it online, but I don’t particularly enjoy reading books that way.

Autumn Term by Antonia Forest. Classic boarding school fiction. “Twins Nicola and Lawrie arrive at their new school determined to do even better than their distinguished elder sisters, but things don’t turn out quite as planned.”

Borka: The Adventures of a Goose With No Feathers by John Burningham.

The Camels Are Coming (Biggles) by W.E. Johns. I’ve been meaning to read one of the books in this series about a WWI flying ace for a long time. 2018 is the year.

The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden. I have a copy of this book about a Romany (gypsy) girl.

The Little Duke by Charlotte Yonge. Recommended at Ambleside Online.

(something, to be decided) by Enid Blyton. Suggestions?

Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall. Also a part of the Ambleside Online curriculum.

The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden.

Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian.

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit. I had planned to read this particular Nesbit title in 2017 along with an online reading group that I follow, but I didn’t. So this year for sure.

Are there any other British children’s classics that you would recommend?

12 New Books to Check Out in 2018

God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State by Lawrence Wright. Lawrence is the author of Going Clear, an investigation into the origins and actions of Scientology and its adherents, which I read and found absolutely intriguing and appalling a couple of years ago.

Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts by Marilyn McEntyre. (February)

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. A family in crisis in 1974 Alaska struggles for survival. By the author of The Nightingale.

One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both by Jennifer Fulwiler. (May)

The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall. (May) The final book in the Penderwick series.

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser. Sequel to the delightful The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street.

The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd.

Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 by Albert Marrin. (January) I like Mr. Marrin’s writing and his exhaustive yet straightforward presentation of the subjects he writes about.

The Wishmakers by Tyler Whitesides. (February). Middle grade fantasy about a genie who emerges from a peanut butter jar.

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson. (April) Nonfiction.

White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht. (January) A novel about a Korean woman who sacrifices herself for her younger sister and becomes a “comfort woman” for the Japanese during World War II. It may get too graphic and violent for me, but I’m going to try it.

The Traitor’s Game (The Traitor’s Game #1) by Jennifer A. Nielsen.

Are there any books you’re looking forward to being published in 2018?

Best Young Adult Fiction I Read in 2017

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins. Such a good young adult novel about family and cultural heritage and bonds across generations. I read this story of a multi-generational Bengali American family as they both adjusted to and influenced the places and people they became a part of, and Ms. Perkins’ new book quickly shot to the top of my YA list of favorites for 2017.

Deathwatch by Robb White. Something new, something old-ish. Robb White’s 1972 novel about a boy surviving in the desert while being hunted and hounded by a predatory criminal was both exciting and absorbing. Deathwatch won the 1973 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery from the Mystery Writers of America.

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge. Those who inhabit the underground city of Caverna are born with blank faces, and have to learn to put on preset patterns of expression. These learned Faces enable the citizens of Caverna to lie and dissemble and carry on dizzying political intrigues. One girl, Neverfell is different. Her guardian, Grandible the Cheesemaster, insists that she wear a mask whenever she meets with anyone else, though she does not know why. Maybe “Ugly” is the only Face she has been given? Or maybe it has something to with her past before she was taken in by Grandible as a seven-year-old, which she can’t remember. Long, but worth the time.

Downriver by Will Hobbs. Another survival story. This one is about eight teens, four girls and four guys, who ditch their instructor in an outdoor education camp, steal his van and equipment, and drive to the Grand Canyon to paddle the rapids of the Colorado all the way through the canyon.

Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott. A re-read of one of my favorite Alcott stories. Rose in Bloom is the sequel to Eight Cousins.

Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson. This third and final book in Ms. Anderson’s Seeds of America trilogy wraps up the story of Curzon and Isabel, the black teens who have weathered the vicissitudes of the American revolution and of slavery, freedom, and re-capture and are now near their goal: the liberation of Isabel’s younger sister, Ruth, and her restoration to freedom and the only family she has, Isabel.

Only six books on this list because I didn’t read that many young adult books in 2017. But these were all definitely top-notch reads, highly recommended.

10 Favorite Middle Grade Fantasy Fiction Books I Read in 2017

The Little Grey Men by BB (Denys Watkins-Pitchford). I think Tolkien must have read this book. Or Mr. Watkins-Pitchford read Tolkien? Or they both read the same sources? The Little Grey Men was published in 1942, and it won the Carnegie Medal for that year. The Hobbit was published in 1937, and it didn’t win a Carnegie Medal. Not that I think The Little Grey Men is plagiaristic, just somewhat similar in tone to Tolkien, a very British-y Middle Earth tone and setting. B.B. writes about gnomes, not hobbits. But his gnomes are just as British and nature-loving and humble and personable and hidden as Tolkien’s hobbits. This year I want to read the sequel, The Little Grey Men Go Down the Bright Stream.

Race to the Bottom of the Sea by Lindsay Eagar. Pirates and sharks and an eleven year inventor named Fidelia Quail. I thought this book was enthralling.

Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson. An old-fashioned space travel story with a futuristic and apocalyptic twist.

The Silver Gate by Kristin Bailey. Orphaned, Elric and his sister Wynnfrith, who is mentally handicapped, travel together through the fantasy feudal countryside as they look for a safe home where they can live free of prejudice and persecution and where they can take care of one another.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton. Henry draws a chalk dragon on the back of his door, but he’s not prepared for the chaos that ensues when the chalk dragon comes alive and goes to school with him. Excellent writing. Excellent adventure.

Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas. Effie Truelove and her newfound friends—–Maximilian, Wolf, Lexy, and Raven—–must fight off the Diberi both in this world and in the Otherworld, and Effie must find her own way through the most important book that her beloved grandfather gave her, a book called Dragon’s Green.

The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Slivensky. Miranda Regent is the genius thirteen year old from the United States who is one of the six astronauts in training for the international mission to Mars, a peace-keeping mission that will unite the world in a cause that transcends national interests and the recently concluded AEM war. But someone is out to sabotage the mission and the six kids who have been chosen for it. Can Miranda figure out who is behind the threatening emails and the attacks on her and her fellow astronauts before they succeed?

Broken Pride by Erin Hunter. The balance of Bravelands, a fictional version of the African landscape, has been disturbed, and only the combination of a lion cub, a young elephant, and a baboon can set it right. Maybe. If only they can figure out what has happened to make such horrible change come and what they can do to make things right. The First book in a new series by the authors of The Warriors series and The Survivors series of animal tales.

Rules for Thieves by Alexandra Ott. “After twelve-year-old orphan Alli Rosco is cursed with a deadly spell, she must join the legendary Thieves Guild in order to try and save herself in this high-stakes debut.” (Goodreads) I enjoyed this story, and the moral concerns of the protagonist made it a thoughtful and thought-provoking read.

A Chameleon,a Boy, and a Quest by J.A. Myhre. One day on the way to school in East Africa, Mu makes a friend, and everything in his life changes as his talking chameleon friend chooses Mu and calls him on a mysterious quest. I’m looking forward to reading the second books in this African setting fantasy series, A Bird, a Girl, and a Rescue (series title: The Rendwigo Tales).

The World’s Greatest Showman by J. Bryan III

The World’s Greatest Showman: The Life of P.T. Barnum by J. Bryan III.

I’m going with some of the urchins to see The Greatest Showman, the new movie musical starring Hugh Jackman as Phineas Taylor Barnum, the great huckster, advertiser, showman, lecturer, and promoter of nineteenth century America. So I had to pull out the Landmark history book about the life and times of Mr. Barnum so that I could check the movie against reality. I’m told that there’s not much reality in the movie.

If so, that’s probably a tribute to the real P.T. Barnum, who included about as much truth and reality in his shows and his advertisements and media campaigns as the average Hollywood movie mogul does in his, not very much. Everything in Barnum’s shows, first his New York museum, and then his circus, was colossal, unique, amazing, stupendous, prodigious, and/or fantastic—because Barnum said so. He was a liar and a humbug (one of his favorite descriptors), but the public knew it and ate it up. He made a fortune first for himself, but also for Charles Stratton, aka General Tom Thumb, for The Swedish Nightingale singer Jenny Lind, and for numerous other performers and partners who worked with and for him.

He also lost more than one personal fortune. Five different fires destroyed his various businesses and homes at different times, and he never did learn to adequately insure his holdings against disaster. Each time, according to the book, he was under-insured and had to start all over again building up his museum or circus or house to come back from the brink.

The World’s Greatest Showman portrays Barnum as a joker and a salesman, certainly not averse to exaggeration or downright lies as long as he could put on a good show and rope in a big audience. His views and actions in regard to racial issues and and slavery and justice were mixed, as befits the time in which he lived (1810-1891). But he was all-in-all a likable character, generous and a sharp businessman at the same time, a teetotaler and a “religious man”, according to Wikipedia, a dedicated member of the Universalist Church.

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I’ve been to see the movie, and it was a great show, but not at all true to the life of P.T. Barnum. The movie took many liberties with the timeline and events of Barnum’s life, but that’s to be expected. Barnum would probably not have minded a bit or a even a lot of “humbug” in the interest of a good show. However, two elements of the movie plot would emphatically not have been to Mr. Barnum’s taste.

As I said, Barnum was quite dedicated to the temperance movement, didn’t drink alcohol at all, and encouraged others to abstain from alcoholic beverages, too. In the movie, he not only drinks, he’s rarely seen without a drink in his hand or sharing champagne or whiskey with friends, associates, and strangers. In fact, in the movie, alcohol almost becomes a symbol of the joie de vivre that Barnum tries to share with everyone he meets.

Also, Jenny Lind was Barnum’s friend and associate, and he did sponsor, finance, and arrange her American tour. But she would never have kissed him or tried to seduce him, on stage or off. Jenny Lind was, indeed, a devout Christian, and she gave most of her money, if not all of it, away to charities and churches. She and Barnum parted amicably before her contract with him had quite expired because she was tired of his commercialism and relentless promotions, even though she wanted to make as money as she could for her charitable endeavors.

Still, I recommend the movie and the Landmark book about his life. Each tells the story of a different man, one factual and the other fictional. I enjoyed both stories, and the music in the movie and Hugh Jackman’s performance as Barnum were worth the ticket price. (The movie reviewer at EW didn’t cut the movie any slack at all, and that wasn’t the only bad review I found in a cursory search. So you may want to ask yourself how much you can abide in the name of humbug from a fictionalized musical bio-pic.)

Quoting P.T. Barnum:

“Men, women, and children who cannot live on gravity alone need something to satisfy their gayer, lighter moods and hours, and he who ministers to this want is, in my opinion, in a business established by the Creator of our nature. If he worthily fulfills his mission and amuses without corrupting, he need never feel that he has lived in vain.”

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity. I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.”

“Nothing draws a crowd quite like a crowd.”

“More persons, on the whole, are humbugged by believing in nothing, than by believing too much.”

“I am a showman by profession… and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.”

“The bigger the humbug, the better people will like it.”

10 Best Middle Grade Realistic Fiction Books I Read in 2017

Minnow on the Say by Philippa Pearce. Philippa Pearce wrote the fantasy classic, Tom’s Midnight Garden, but before that she wrote this her debut children’s book, a quiet mystery tale about boys messing about in boats on the river Say. It reminded me of my younger son and canoeing on Dickinson Bayou and times past.

Ash Road by Ivan Southall. I read this story about a bush fire in the Australian outback many years ago, and I remembered it as a great read. It was.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. Finally, this year I started this series about children and imagination and free play and sailing. It was fantastic, as you can see from this list. Three out of my ten favorite middle grade fiction books are all about the Swallows and the Amazons, rival “gangs” of children who race their sailboats and have mock battles in and about the rivers and lakes of the Lake District in northwest England.

Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome.

Secret Water by Arthur Ransome.

Almost Paradise by Corabel Shofner. Twelve-year-old Ruby Clyde Henderson’s life changes the day her mother’s boyfriend holds up a convenience store, and her mother, Babe (short for Barbara) is jailed for assisting with the crime. Now Babe’s twin sister, a nun who can’t stand Ruby Clyde or her mother, is Ruby Clyde’s only refuge.

The Family from One End Street: And Some of Their Adventures by Eve Garnett. This book won the Carnegie award for British children’s children’s fiction that same year that The Hobbit was published, a mistake to be sure, but nevertheless, it’s a good story about a large, poor-but-happy family in the 1930’s.

Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter. Aim is a prequel to Ms. Hostetter’s two books about Ann Fay Honeycutt, Blue and Comfort. Aim tells the story of Junior Bledsoe, a secondary, but beloved, character in those other two books.

Cinnamon Moon by Tess Hilmo. Twelve-year-old Ailis and her younger brother, Quinn, having lost their entire family in the Peshtigo fire of 1871, end up in Chicago, a city which is still recovering from its own fire.

So, if there were themes for the year they were: children in boats, adventure, and courage in the face of disaster, especially fiery disaster. Even The Family at One End Street had one chapter in which one of the children stows away on a boat or a ship (can’t remember which) and goes on an adventure.

10 Movies I Want to See in 2018

Goodbye, Christopher Robin. (October 13, 2017) “British biographical drama film about the lives of Winnie-the-Pooh creator A. A. Milne and his family, especially his son Christopher Robin.”

Wonder. (November 17, 2017) Based on the book by R.J. Palacio.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi. (December 15, 2017) No, I haven’t seen it yet.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. (December 20, 2017) Based on the picture book by Chris Van Allsburg.

The Greatest Showman. (December 20, 2017) Starring Hugh Jackman as circus showman P.T. Barnum.

Darkest Hour. (December 22, 2017) If it’s about Winston Churchill, I want to see it.

A Wrinkle in Time. (March 9, 2018) Based on the book by Madeleine L’Engle.

Chappaquiddick. (April 6, 2018) (Has this movie already been released?) Anyway, it’s about Ted Kennedy and his infamous drunk driving accident that killed his young companion, Mary Jo Kopechne.

Solo: A Star Wars Story (May 25, 2018) Directed by Ron Howard. “Han Solo and Chewbacca’s adventures before joining the Rebellion, including their early encounters with Lando Calrissian.”

Christopher Robin (August 3, 2018) “An adult Christopher Robin, who is now focused on his new life, work, and family, suddenly meets his old friend Winnie the Pooh, who returns to his unforgotten childhood past to help him return to the Hundred Acre Wood and help find Pooh’s lost friends.”

Mary Poppins Returns (December 25, 2018) “In Depression-era London, a now-grown Jane and Michael Banks, along with Michael’s three children, are visited by the enigmatic Mary Poppins following a personal loss. Through her unique magical skills, and with the aid of her friend Jack, she helps the family rediscover the joy and wonder missing in their lives.” With Lin-Manuel Miranda! And Dick van Dyke!

Obviously, I like Star Wars and movies that are based on children’s books, with a little bit of history and movie bio-pic thrown into the mix.

10 Best Nonfiction Books I Read in 2017

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. I think I am a “hillbilly” from the flat, desert lands of West Texas, if that makes any sense at all. There were so many cultural and familial traits and traditions that I recognized and identified with in Mr. Vance’s family narrative: the fierce independence, the tendency to eccentricity, the strength, the commitment to faith and family, and even some of the dysfunction.

The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher. The call for community and community-building in Mr. Dreher’s book is a topic dear to my own heart, and I am glad to see it treated with the serious consideration and wide-ranging discusion that it deserves.

Ten Fingers for God: The Life and Work of Dr. Paul Brand by Dorothy Clarke Wilson. Dr. Brand is an inspiration, and reading about his life was both encouraging and challenging.

Different: The Story of an Outside-The-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him by Sally Clarkson. Don’t we all have “different” kids? And isn’t it a gift to be able to appreciate them for who they are, no matter how difficult and challenging the journey? This book and Cindy Rollins’ Mere Motherhood are the best homeschooling/parenting/Christian living books I’ve read in years.

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer. Classic mountain-climbing adventure—and tragedy.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. By living with and among the poor, first in a run-down tailer park and then in a tenement building, Mr. Desmond is able to describe first-hand the plight of a few of these millions whose housing situation is unstable at best and tragic at its worst.

Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard. I’ll read almost anything about Churchill, and Candice Millard is an excellent writer of narrative history.

The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ by Andrew Klavan. I bought this book for my son for Christmas—so that I could read it. And Mr. Klavan’s conversion story did not disappoint. This story of a Jewish boy with father issues who became a writer and a conservative news commentator and also something of a comedian is fascinating and never dull or overtly pious. Full review to come soon.

Mere Motherhood: Morning times, nursery rhymes, and my journey toward sanctification by Cindy Rollins. Except for the fact that I have six daughters and two sons while she has eight sons and one daughter, I almost felt as if Cindy and were twins or doppelgängers or something. Cindy Rollins writes about homeschooling and Christian living and motherhood in this book in a way that spoke to my heart and my mind, and she is able to articulate many of the inchoate and unspoken thoughts that I would love to be able to communicate about these important parts of my life. Thanks, Cindy.

The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard by Kristin Schell. This book shows a way to the kind of hospitality and community I would like to foster in my own neighborhood, but I’m way too introverted and reserved to do it—so far. Here’s to “finding community and connection” in 2018.

Saturday Review of Books, SPECIAL EDITION: A List of Book Lists, December 30, 2017

“Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.” ~Henry David Thoreau

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SATURDAY December 30th, is the annual special edition of the Saturday Review of Books especially for book lists. You can link to a list of your favorite books read in 2017, a list of all the books you read in 2017, a list of the books you plan to read in 2018, or any other end of the year or beginning of the year list of books. Whatever your list, it’s time for book lists. (Links to regular reviews are also welcome, and you can certainly link to more than one review or more than one list.)

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.

Saturday Review of Books: December 23, 2017

“One can never have enough socks. Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.” ~J.K. Rowling

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.

SATURDAY December 30th, will be the annual special edition of the Saturday Review of Books especially for book lists. You can link to a list of your favorite books read in 2017, a list of all the books you read in 2017, a list of the books you plan to read in 2018, or any other end of the year or beginning of the year list of books. Whatever your list, it’s time for book lists. (Links to regular reviews are also welcome, and you can certainly link to more than one review or more than one list.)