Cyber Attack by Martin Gitlin and Margaret J. Goldstein

Well, I certainly know a lot more about cyber crime and computer security and hacking than I did before I read this young adult nonfiction treatment of the history and current state of cyber attacks on the information we keep in our computer networks, thumb drives, hard drives, cell phones and and other internet connected devices. I also don’t feel nearly as safe as I did before I read about worms and viruses and bots and phishing and ransomware and Blackshades and lots of other nasty cyber-stuff.

Cyber Attack provides students and computer innocents (like me) with a basic introduction to the state of the internet, security-wise. Anyone with an interest in the subjects of cyber crime and cyber warfare is going to want to go deeper, and a bibliography in the back of the book provides readers with several avenues for exploration. I was freaked out enough by the information in the 72 pages of this little book to want to go off-grid for the duration.

Did you know that the computer software called Blackshades, which can take over the camera in your personal computer and take pictures of you in your own home, is a reality, not a myth? According to the author, “one Dutch teenager used his copy of Blackshades to take secret pictures of women and girls on about two thousand computers.”

Did you know that the U.S. has been involved in a secretive cyber war with Iran, trying to shut down or damage their nuclear facilities and capabilities, since 2008? And it’s probably still going on.

Did you know that the Russian and Chinese governments are actively engaged in cyber spying and attacks on U.S. companies and government computer networks, trying to get information about our economic secrets as well as military and other governmental information? And they’ve been quite successful in stealing quite a bit of information that has been of use in business negotiations and could be useful in the future if we ever do have a military confrontation with either country.

Did you know that the entire nation of Estonia–government services, banks, media outlets and other computer networks—came under cyber attack in 2007 from hackers located inside Russia? And even when the hackers were identified, Russia refused to arrest them or do anything to restrain or punish them.

Maybe you knew a lot of this stuff and more that’s in the book, but I didn’t. Again, Mr. Gitlin’s little book is a good introduction to the subject of cyber attacks. And how can a simple little old woman keep her herself and her information secure? Well, says the book, “You could cancel your Internet service, ditch your cell phone, close your bank account, throw away your debit card, and turn off your electricity. You could quit school and never take a job, vote in an election, get a driver’s license, or fly on an airplane. Of course, such a solution is completely unrealistic.”

Of course, the information in this book, published in 2015, is already incomplete and out-dated, to some extent. There’s a publisher’s note in the front of the book:

“This book is as current as possible at the time of publication. However events change rapidly and hacks, big and small, occur on a daily basis. To stay abreast of the latest developments related to hacking, check the New York Times and other major national newspapers for current, up-to-date information.”

Here are a couple of hacking-related news items that were not included in the book because they just happened in 2015:

Hillary Clinton, our Secretary of State, kept her emails on a privateserver located in some part of her house. (Hackers’ goldmine!) She says her information was secure, but no one really knows. “Was her server hacked? We don’t know. Private servers are considered more difficult to protect, in general, than the ones big e-mail hosts like Google use.” (Everything we know about the Hillary Clinton emails, September 15, 2015)

A hackers’ group calling themselves The Impact Team stole and published the private information for millions of users of the website Ashley Madison, a portal for people (mostly men) who wanted to commit adultery. Reporters and cyber security insiders keep saying that if it could happen to Ashley Madison, it could happen to any company on the web. So just know that your financial and personal information is not really safe anywhere on the web.

And the cyber attacks go on.

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

Lost in the Sun reminded me of one of my favorite middle grade fiction authors, Gary Schmidt and his book, Okay for Now, and that’s high praise because I loved Okay for Now. A few of the plot developments seemed a little too coincidental or out of the ordinary to be believed, but I was willing to suspend disbelief because I really cared about the characters and wanted to see them come to some kind of resolution, or even victory.

Trent Zimmerman is the middle son of a divorced mom and dad. He lives with his mom and his two brothers, Aaron and Doug, and he visits his dad and stepmom when he must. However, Trent is convinced that everyone, especially his dad, hates him and sees him as a “screw-up” because of something that happened about six months before the opening of the story. That’s when Trent killed his fellow hockey-player, Jared, with a hockey puck to the chest. Although the hit was unintentional and no one knew that Jared had a heart condition that combined with the hockey puck to send him into cardiac arrest, Trent knows that it’s still his fault that Jared is dead. And everyone else knows it, too.

So, we have Trent, a lost kid with anger issues, and then in chapter two we meet Fallon Little, the girl with the scar. Fallon helps to diffuse a situation with Trent and some bullies, and then, she refuses to go away, doing everything within her power to become Trent’s friend. Only Trent is so self-centered and lost in his anger and regret that he barely has time or energy for friendship. And Fallon has issues of her own. Whenever people ask how she got the scar that traverses her face from her left eyebrow down to the right corner of her mouth, she tells a different story. Maybe she was mauled by a a grizzly bear. Or slapped by a manatee. Or maybe she has amnesia and can’t remember how she got the scar.

The book gives attentive readers lots of answers about Trent and how he got to be so frightened and angry and what he needs to do to recover and move on with his life, but Fallon remains a mystery to some extent. Why does she wear such odd clothing combinations? Why does she want to be friends with Trent? Why is her father so silent and unapproachable? How did she really get that scar? None of these questions is really answered satisfactorily, although I could make a guess at some of the answers. Maybe that’s because the story is told in first person from Trent’s point of view, and Trent isn’t the most perceptive or pathetic character on the block. In fact, as the story begins and Trent starts sixth grade (middle school), he’s a smart aleck who picks fights and hates his dad, his teachers, his classmates, and himself.

Some good questions to explore with middle grade readers of Lost in the Sun:

Why does Trent hate everybody? Why does he believe they all hate him?

Who’s right, Trent’s dad who says “sometimes you only get one chance in life” or Trent’s mom who tells him that she doesn’t believe you only ever get just one chance?

Why do you think Fallon wants to be friends with Trent? What does Fallon need from a friend? Can Trent be the kind of friend that Fallon wants him to be?

How do you find the self control to keep your anger from making you do something violent or stupid? How does Trent begin to control himself?

How does Trent try to get other people to like him or trust him? What are some other ways to make up for a past mistake or wrongdoing?

Are there any hints in the story about how Fallon got the scar? How do you think Fallon got her scar?

I won’t give away the ending, but I rather liked it. And I’m not usually a fan of this particular type of conclusion.

Puritan Adventure by Lois Lenski

Lois Lenski was a prolific children’s writer who wrote “a collection of regional novels about children across the United States” and a number of historical novels about children of different periods of American history. In Puritan Adventure, Aunt Charity comes to a fictional colony in New England to live with her sister’s family, and she brings joy and kindness into the oppressive atmosphere of the Puritan colony, and especially to the colony’s children. Aunt Charity, to the dismay of the authorities in the colony, teaches the children to celebrate Christmas and Shrove Tuesday and May Day—with a maypole! Horrors!

Puritan Adventure gives the Puritans of seventeenth century New England a bad rap. The Puritans did outlaw the celebration of certain feasts, particularly Christmas because it was associated with drunkenness, and they did by necessity work hard and expect everyone in the household to work together for the sake of survival. However, the Puritans and other religious pilgrims who came to America in the seventeenth century were not quite the dour, frightened, suppressed people that Lenski’s book makes them out to be. They celebrated their own holidays and family times. They enjoyed their Sabbath rest and worship each Sunday. Puritan Richard Baxter wrote:

“All Christ’s ways of mercy tend to, and end in the saints’ joys. He wept, suffered, sorrowed that they might rejoice; He sendeth the Spirit to be their comforter; He multiplieth promises, he discovers their future happiness, that their joy may be full; He aboundeth to them in mercies of all sorts; He maketh them lie down in green pastures, He leadeth them by the still waters, yea, He openeth to them the fountain of living waters, that their joy may be full.”

Thomas Watson, another Puritan writer, said simply: “The more we enjoy of God, the more we are ravished with delight.”

So, Aunt Charity, with her idealization of Old England and its celebrations would likely have been looked upon as an anomaly in a Puritan colony, but not necessarily hounded and bought before the magistrate as she was in the book. And drunken celebrations would have been discouraged, but Aunt Charity’s child-centered Christmas and Shrove Tuesday celebrations would most likely have been looked upon as odd, but harmless. Neither Old England nor New England had a very child-centered culture. Children were little adults, given as much responsibility as they could possibly handle and sometimes more.

I don’t know what to recommend about Puritan Adventure. I will keep it in my library. Ms. Lenski was a great writer of children’s books, and she tells a good story in her novel of Puritan New England. However, that good story is based on a skewed idea of the Puritans’ joylessness. Maybe it would be a good book to read with children and to discuss. One could discuss the dangers of legalism and also the dangers of lawlessness, as exemplified by Patty, the servant girl. Readers could also talk about the misunderstanding that is prevalent today in regard to the difference between temporal pleasures and eternal joy. We should teach the children (and the adults) to choose joy every time—and to not be afraid of a little innocent pleasure.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose.

The Newbery honor and National Book Award winning author of Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, Phillip Hoose, has chronicled the fascinating true story of a group of Danish boys who jump-started the resistance to the Nazis in Denmark during World War II. Knud Pedersen, a pastor’s son, joined with his high school buddies to harass and subvert the Germans who were occupying Denmark. They stole guns, burned German vehicles, confused signage, posted graffiti,and cut phone lines, among other acts of sabotage and resistance. And they acted when almost no one else in Denmark was resisting the Germans at all. Pedersen says they did it because they were ashamed of Denmark’s easy capitulation to the Nazis and the collaboration that characterized the Danish response to the German occupation.

“I kept asking myself: How on earth could I lie on the beach sunning when my country had been violated? Why were we not as brave as Norway? Had Denmark no pride?”

Eventually, the boys, who after all were just boys with no military or resistance experience, were arrested and imprisoned. But they became an inspiration to the adults of Denmark who began their own resistance movement. Mr. Hoose credits Knud Pedersen and his Churchill Club with “setting the ball in motion” and making Denmark “a hotbed of resistance.”

I would have liked to have read more about the religion “ghosts” (hints about a religious or Christian influence that aren’t fleshed out) in this story. Pedersen’s father was a pastor, but we are never told what denomination or what that fact meant to Knud Pedersen. Pedersen tells how the boys decided that they would have to be willing to kill Germans in order to form an effective resistance cell, but he never says anything about how they reconciled the violence they were willing to commit with their Christian background or faith. In fact, it is hinted, but never stated, that perhaps Knud Pedersen and his brother, who was also involved in the Churchill Club, didn’t have much faith or Christianity to reconcile. However, perhaps they did, but the author doesn’t tell us about it. Pedersen is filled with hatred: for the Germans, for the Danish collaborators, and for his jailers. A struggle with what to do with such hatred in a Christian context is never mentioned.

Religion ghosts in the text:

“Holy Ghost Monastery . . . would host Edvard Pedersen’s Danish Folkschurch and provide living quarters for the Pedersen family.” Folkschurch?

Most of the boys of the Churchill Club attended Aalborg Cathedral School, presumably a Christian private school?

Knud Pedersen: “Each Sunday morning Jens and I practiced shooting the guns in the gigantic open loft at the top of the monastery during father’s church services. We would lie on our stomachs, waiting for the music to swell, and when it did we’d blast away, firing at targets positioned in the hay on the other side of the loft.” So the boys didn’t attend church services?

Pedersen on Christmas in prison: “I wanted to cry, but I had forgotten how. I finally discovered that by softly singing Christmas songs in my cell at night I could make the tears flow down my cheeks. I sang every song I knew and wept the whole next day.”

Knud Pedersen, describing the end of the war for him: “Father distributed hymnals. I ended the war at the monastery chapel just a few meters away from the room in which the Churchill Club was born–singing hymns with the men of my K Company group. I was eighteen.”

Knud’s brother, Jens, “struggled with depression.” “He died in a hospital after a very unhappy life.”

After the war, Knud Pedersen wrote a memoir about the Churchill Club. His father, “Edvard Pedersen, arranged to have a secretary type the finished manuscript, but—unbeknownst to Knud and his club mates–he had the typist cross out all the curse words just before publication. This angered the group when they finally saw the book.”

These ghosts/hints are interesting for what is not mentioned: no prayer, no consolation from remembered Scripture or Biblical truth, no Christ or Christian commitment. Judging from a quick skim of his blog, Mr. Hoose himself seems to have Buddhist sympathies, so it’s understandable that he would not be as interested in the Christian underpinnings or lack thereof of the Churchill Club and its members. But I was. Unfortunately, since Mr. Pedersen died in December of last year, 2014, I can’t ask him whether he rejected or found strength in the faith of his parents or what exactly that faith was.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler is a book about teen heroes, young men who decided that if the adults wouldn’t do anything for the honor of Denmark and the confusion of her enemy, the German invaders, they would. As such it’s an interesting and exciting portrait of youthful zeal and even foolhardiness which can sometimes trump an adult over-abundance of caution and planning. I just would have liked to know more about the boys’ foundational thinking, about what motivated them and sustained them, or didn’t sustain them, through prison and life after the war.

Down Ryton Water by E.R. Gaggin

Down Ryton Water is a 1942 Newbery Honor book about the Pilgrims–published back when children’s books were really meaty and challenging reads. It’s 369 pages of pilgrim wanderings and family building and moving and rearranging and traveling and birthing and marrying.

The (sainted) Pilgrims come across as real people with personalities and foibles and humor and salty language (nothing that’s shocking for nowadays) and full lives. The book focuses on the Over family: Mother Orris Brode Over, a gardener and herbalist; Father Matt Over, a farmer; Young Matt, five years old as the story opens in Scrooby, England; and baby Remember, “the damp woman child” as Young Matt calls her. The family soon grows: Young Matt’s young uncle John Brode, an adopted orphan child named Winifrett, a new baby boy born in Holland and named for the Dutch St. Nicholas, and later a young Native American teen named Wisset, all join the Over family.

It’s a book about family and about continuity of that family amidst pilgrim upheavals and separations and reunions. I found it encouraging and full of wisdom nuggets:

Orris to Young Matt upon the occasion of the Overs leaving Scrooby for Holland: “Strangers and pilgrims on the earth. That’s what we are . . . Because pilgrims, my lad, are strangers in a strange land. And so will we be–and my poor simples! Pilgrims wander about the earth in search of the blessed vision that keeps ever out of reach, just ahead of them. . . . Our vision is a place to live where we may have freedom to think, freedom to worship, and freedom to dig in the muck once more.”

Uncle John, when the Pilgrims are leaving Holland: “Freedom must be earned; it must first be understood and then fought for. It must be forever guarded, lest it slip away. It is the most precious thing in life.”

William Bradford at the first Thanksgiving: “We have been in a race for life. But a halt must be made in such a race sometime. A halt to consider what has been accomplished with God’s help, and to give thanks to Him for His blessings. A halt for–for–well, for laughter and feasting and pleasantry. Both young and old need a bolus of merriment now and then to keep them in good health.”

When Young Matt is building himself a house, his uncle John tells him: “Get some beauty into the design! No dwelling is too simple for beauty! There’s a correctness for every need. In building, as in garments.”

This fictional family of Pilgrims, the Overs, shows young (and old) readers the vicissitudes of life in colonial America as the first Europeans came to settle in the New World. It would make a good November read aloud book for upper elementary or even middle school children. And for skilled readers in that age group who are interested in history, this book would also be a fascinating and challenging independent reading choice. The book is long and descriptive passages abound, so patience and a tolerance for such is required. I found it a good antidote to the internet-based reading that I often get accustomed to and have to wean myself from in order to read deeply and enjoy fully the reading that I do.

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Circus Mirandus is the best children’s fantasy I’ve read in a long time. How do I love this book? Let me count the ways:

1. Circus Mirandus is magical. When Micah realizes that the stories his grandpa Ephraim has been telling him all his life about the Circus Mirandus are real, Micah is sure that the miracle that Grandpa Ephraim has saved up to claim from the circus performer called The Lightbender will also become real.

“Magic is . . . the parts of you that are just too big to keep just to yourself.”

2. At Circus Mirandus, seeing is believing, and believing means seeing. Micah has a friend, Jenny Mendoza, who has a natural explanation for all the magic of Circus Mirandus. But it’s Jenny’s “scientific” explanations that don’t seem very believable or real. The magic is inexplicable, and if one believes in it, it becomes real.

“When you try too hard to hold on to something, you break it. Sometimes, we need to let go so that other people can have their chance at the magic.”

3. Grandpa Ephraim and Micah have the best grandfather/grandson relationship ever. I had grandmother like Grandpa Ephraim, minus the circus, and I’ll bet many of the children who read the book will identify with Micah and his grandfather and their close relationship.

“Grandpa Ephraim was always saying things that sounded so important Micah wanted to wrap them up in boxes and keep them forever.”

4. Circus Mirandus doesn’t shrink away from the hard stuff. The hardest stuff of all is death and dying, and I love Tolkien for making Frodo’s return to the Shire difficult and insufficient because that’s how things really, truly are on this earth. I like the events in Circus Mirandus (which I’m trying not to spoil) for the same reason that I like the ending of Lord of the Rings, because sickness and consequences and incompleteness are a real part of the world we live in. And children can deal with that if it’s presented well.

“Father would want me to do the right thing, he thought. Even if it hurts.”

5. Circus. Magical knot-tying skills. Bird-woman. Flying. Invisible tiger. Treehouse. Danger. Friendship. What more could one ask for?

“Just because a magic is small doesn’t mean it is unimportant. Even the smallest magics can grow.”

P.S. Look underneath the dust jacket.

Julia Ellsworth Ford Foundation Award for Children’s Literature

The book I reviewed yesterday, The Wonderful Year by Nancy Barnes, was a Newbery Honor book. However, curiously enough, the copy I read had no Newbery sticker on it. It did have a medal sticker proclaiming it to be the recipient of the “Award of the Julia Ellsworth Ford Foundation (for) Children’s Literature.”

Mrs. Ford seems to have been a prominent New York socialite and author and patron of the arts. I looked for information about her on the web and found this brief bio at an art website dedicated to the paintings of John William Waterhouse:

Julia Ellsworth Ford, neé Shaw, was a New York socialite, philanthropist, author of children’s books and doyenne of a salon that included the Lebanese mystic Kahlil Gibran, Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats, and American dancer Isadora Duncan. Her husband was Simeon Ford, financier and noted host of the old Grand Union Hotel, New York (co-owned with Julia’s brother Samuel Shaw).

Mrs. Ford “though extremely wealthy, was more interested in meeting famous people, whom she collected as others did stamps or butterflies, than in disbursing her capital: ‘the woman who aspires’ was the way he described her to Florence Farr.” (from a 1905 letter by John Quinn quoted in Prodigal Father: The Life of John Butler Yeats, William Michael Murphy.)

“Mrs. Ford had a great interest in the Pre-Raphaelite painters and later artists such as JW Waterhouse and Arthur Hacker, both of whom she knew personally. She went to Germany to meet the German painter Franz von Stuck and to get photographic reproductions of his work. She created her own wallpaper for her upstairs study by arranging on the walls as a mosaic over two hundred photographic reproductions of pictures by these artists.”

Ms. Ford was the author of the children’s book, Snickerty Nick and the Giant, illustrated by famed artist Arthur Rackham, and also of other children’s tomes, somewhat less well-known than old Snickerty Nick. I couldn’t find a list of the books that Ms. Ford’s foundation gave awards to, but I did find some of them individually attributed here and there across the internet. Apparently, the award was a competition for the best children’s book manuscript submitted to the foundation. Here are a few of the award winners that I could find:

Singing Paddles by Julia Butler (Hansen). Holt, 1937. The story of Sally Ann Blair and her family who travel from Kentucky to Oregon in 1842.

My Brother Was Mozart by Benson Wheeler and Claire Lee Purdy. Harcourt, 1937.

The Stage-Struck Seal by James Neal. Holt, 1937.

Hello, the Boat! by Phyllis Crawford. Illustrated by Edward Laning. E.M. Hale and Company, 1938. The journey of a store-boat down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati. This book won a Newbery Honor in 1939.

Falcon Fly Back by Elinore Blaisdell. Messner, 1939. In medieval France, 12-year-old Anne de Hauteville trains a falcon and later rescues it when it escapes.

The Listening Man by Lucy Embury. Illustrated by Russell Hamilton. Messner, 1940. In sixth century Ireland, Ollave wants to become a “listening man” rather than a fighting man.

Walt Whitman: Builder for America by Babette Deutsch. Messner, 1941.

Journey Cake by Isabel McLennan McMeekin. Messner, 1942. In 1793, the father of the Shadrow family whose mother has recently died goes into the Kentucky wilderness to establish a new life for his family. The children leave their home in North Carolina in the spring to meet their father in Kentucky. Along with their freed slave woman and her husband they face drudgery, opposition and danger along the way. During their travel they participate in a pioneer wedding and meet Johnny Appleseed.

Valiant Minstrel: The Story of Harry Lauder by Gladys Malvern. Illustrated by Corinne Malvern. Messner, 1943. Sir Harry Lauder was a vaudeville singer and comedian from Scotland.

Raymond L. Ditmars: His Exciting Career with Reptiles, Insects and Animals by Laura Newbold Wood. Messner, 1944. Ditmars, according to Wikipedia, was an American herpetologist, illustrator, writer and filmmaker. He wrote several books of his own about snakes and about his adventures as a Bronx Zoo curator and naturalist. Mr. Ditmars died in 1942, so this biography was rather timely as well as informative, I’m sure.

The Wonderful Year by Nancy Barnes. Illustrated by Kate Seredy. Messner, 1946.

A Horse to Remember by Genevieve Torrey Eames. Illustrated by Paul Brown. Messner, 1947. Joker the Pony and Jarvis solve a mystery together.

The Canvas Castle by Alice Rogers Hager. Illustrated by Mary Stevens. Messner, 1948. Ms. Hager “worked as a reporter in Los Angeles, California, and was the Washington editor and war correspondent throughout China, Burma and India during WW II.” I’m not exactly sure what the book is about. A memoir of her travels, perhaps?

Tomas and the Red-Headed Angel by Marion Garthwaite. Illustrated by Laurence J. Borjklund. Messner, 1950. The spirited young Spanish girl, Angelita, befriends an Indian boy, Tomas.

After the first couple of years of the contest, there seems to have been some sort of arrangement with Julian Messner Publishing Company to publish the winning manuscripts. I couldn’t find any award recipients after 1950. Julia Ellsworth Ford died in 1950, so I suppose the foundation and the award died with her.

Is anyone else familiar with this contest/award or with any of the books that won the award? As I said, I just read The Wonderful Year, and enjoyed it. I have also read other books by author Gladys Malvern and would love to have any of her books in my library. Are any of these authors or books familiar to any of my readers? Don’t some of them sound interesting?

The Wonderful Year by Nancy Barnes

I found this book at a local public library, and I was rather surprised to discover it in the middle of the vampires and the magical worlds and the middle school angst: a realistic, turn of the century setting story, published in 1946, about an only child, Ellen, who travels from Kansas to Colorado with her lawyer father and her adventurous mother to start a fruit-growing farm. The family is also in search of a rest cure and healthy situation for Father, who has been prescribed fresh air and exercise to alleviate the pain in his neck. Ellen, who is a worrier like her father, is reluctant to leave her friends in Kansas, but Mother is excited about the the new venture and soon talks Ellen into joining in her eager anticipation.

Ah, I see now why the book is still on the shelves at the library; it won a Newbery Honor in 1947. And I would say the honor was well-deserved. The pace and atmosphere of the story is reminiscent of Ruth Sawyer’s Roller Skates or of the Betsy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, especially the older Betsy books in which Betsy goes to middle school and high school. Ellen is eleven as the story begins, and she has her twelfth birthday near the end of the book, but as only children tend to be, she’s somewhat mature for her age. One of the themes of the novel is about growing up and staying a child and not growing up too fast nor being too impatient to leave one’s childhood behind. Ellen makes friends with a fifteen year old boy, Ronnie, who lives nearby, and there is some understated tension about whether the two can remain friends and comrades in adventure when Ronnie is so much older and interested in girls his own age while still enjoying Ellen’s company as a friend. The interpersonal give and take is very well written, and I would love for my early teen and pre-teen girls to read the story and then discuss the possibilities that are suggested about boys and girls being friends and not having to get jealous of one another or have crushes.

Another area for discussion would be the “sexist” and “feminist” stereotypes that the characters seem to take for granted. Boys don’t cry. Girls need to be more like boys, tough and hardy, if they are to be seen as equal partners in adventure. It’s important for a girl to “find her own place, stand on her her own two feet, and not cling to anyone.” Are these true lessons? How is Ellen “like a girl”? How is she “like a boy”? Are these really even useful descriptions?

At the risk of being sexist myself, I would recommend The Wonderful Year for girls ages eleven to thirteen who want to read more about girls in other times and places. Fans of Betsy-Tacy, the Little House books, the American Girl series, or other girls-in-history realistic fiction should enjoy this coming of age story. And Colorado readers would especially enjoy this look at the history of Colorado settlement and farming. The illustrations in the book are by author and illustrator Kate Seredy, and they are quite lovely in their own right. Pen and ink, or perhaps pencil, drawings show Ellen and her family and friends in the thick of their homesteading experiences, and the expressive faces and captured actions add a lot to the story.

I would love to have a copy of this book for my library, and I’ll be adding it to my wishlist, which is growing much too long for the available shelf space in my library.

What’s New in My Library?

I have a private, subscription library in my home—sort of a school library for literature lovers and homeschoolers. It gives me an excuse to purchase and rescue those treasures of books that I find in the thrift store or at the garage sale. I bought lots of books this week, first at the Books Bloom seminar with Jan Bloom, then at the thrift store. Something for everyone!

Picture books:
Wombat Stew by Marcia K. Vaughan. A dingo captures a wombat and decides to make himself a gooey, brewy, yummy, chewy wombat stew. But the wombat has a few tricks up his sleeve. This is a great Australian classic picture book for those who want to make a quick trip Down Under.

Moy Moy by Leo Politi. Politi was an Italian American author and artist who was both a devout Catholic and a pacifist. His books celebrate cultural diversity and children living within those diverse cultures. Moy Moy is a Chinese American girl living in Chinatown in Los Angeles. Most of Politi’s books are set in California, near Los Angeles and future loving families, ethnic celebrations, and colorful scenes.

Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault. “the slow soft sprinkle, the drip-drop tinkle, the first wet whisper of the rain.” A rain poem, with beautiful illustrations by James Endicott, this book is one of the many recommended in my preschool curriculum, Picture Book Preschool.

Also, I found paperback copies of the Picture Book Preschool books Galimoto by Karen Lynn Willliams, A House Is a House for Me by Mary Ann Doberman, and The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack.

Easy readers:
The Littles by John Peterson. I also bought copies of The Littles Take a Trip, The Littles to the Rescue, The Littles and Their Amazing New Friend, The Littles Go to School. These books about “little people” are for beginning readers who are not quite ready for The Borrowers, my favorite little people series.

Shoes for Amelie by Connie Colker Steiner. The story of a French farming family during World War II who take in and hide little Jewish girl named Amelie, based on the true story of the rescue of Jews by the people of the French region of Plateau Vivarais-Lignon.

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss. I didn’t have a copy of this classic Dr. Seuss romp, but now I do. In fact, most of my Dr. Seuss books were read to death by my eight lovely children a long time ago, so if you have any to donate, they would be well-loved and well read, I’m sure.

Middle Grade Fiction:
The Bobbsey Twins of Lakeport by Laura Lee Hope. The first of the Bobbsey Twins series, and I have a few others in the series in the library, too. If you have any of these books you’d like to donate to Meriadoc Homeschool Library, I’d be happy to have them.

The Fox Steals Home by Matt Christopher. In this sports story Bobby plays baseball and deals with his hurt over his parents’ divorce.

The Thief by Nancy Rue. This episode in the Christian Heritage Series, The Williamsburg Years, shows readers the deep enmity in the 1780’s between loyalists to the British crown and patriots who were determined to make a new nation, separate from England. Can the two sides ever come to agreement on anything, even the meaning of right and wrong?

The Black Stallion Legend and The Black Stallion Revolts by Walter Farley. I now have five of the many Black Stallion books in my library. If you have any others you’d like to donate, I have some horse-loving readers who enjoy these books.

The Rescuers by Margery Sharp. The mice of the The Prisoners Aid Society rescue a Norwegian poet, with Miss Bianca as interpreter and Bernard, the humble pantry mouse, and Nils, his partner, as mice-to-the-rescue.

The Mississippi Bubble by Thomas Costain. One of my favorite history writers tells the story of land speculation and emigration gone crazy in France and French Louisiana in the 1700’s. Speculative and economic bubbles are nothing new, as this true history in the Landmark History series demonstrates.

The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss. A family in the 1950’s adopts a diverse group of children of mixed race and heritage. This book was one of my favorites as a teen, and although we never adopted children, I think the lessons learned of acceptance and indiscriminate love from this book and other similar stories helped me to understand and affirm the multi-racial families of many of my friends and neighbors.

Corn Is Maize: The Gift of the Indians by Aliki.

How Animals Talk by Susan McGrath. National Geographic Books for Young Explorers.

More Than Moccasins: A Kid’s Activity Guide to Traditional North American Indian Life by Laurie Carlson.

Kids Around the World Create! The Best Crafts and Activities from Many Lands by Arlene N. Braman.

Collecting good books is such a fun hobby, or maybe even a calling or vocation. I am immensely thankful that I get to preserve and share these books with my community. (These are only few of the books I found this week. I’ll tell you about more in another post soon.)

Yellow Copter by Kersten Hamilton

For those helicopter and airplane-loving boys and girls in your life, Yellow Copter is sure to please. The story is rather slight: Yellow Copter, the rescue helicopter, rescues the schoolteacher from the top of the ferris wheel. The end.

Still, the pictures are bright and simple. The story is short and sweet—with sound effects and some rhyme and rhythm. So, toddlers and younger preschoolers should enjoy looking at his one over and over again. The blurb in the back of the book refers to Ms. Hamilton’s first “action-packed adventure for young readers”, Red Truck. I haven’t seen it, but if your child likes Yellow Copter, and you’re looking for more of the same, Red Truck might be a good choice.

I wouldn’t give either book to “young readers”, but I would buy it for those who are just past the book-chewing age and who love vehicles of all kinds and shapes. Maybe a toy helicopter to go with the book would make it a perfect gift.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.