Downriver by Will Hobbs

Posted by Sherry on 5/19/2017 in Adventure thriller, General, Young Adult Fiction |

Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 on the Grand Canyon:
“I want you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest and in the interests of the country . . . Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you.”

I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon, but I can imagine it must be an exciting place, especially seen from a canoe deep inside the gorge. I can’t say I’m up for the trip anytime soon, but maybe in eternity when I have plenty of time to train and no fear of death.

In this YA book, eight teens, four girls and four guys, 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. Jessie is the narrator, angry with her dad for remarrying after her mother’s death. Troy is the wealthy, spoiled natural leader of the group, the one who talks them into their wild adventure and keeps them going once they start down the canyon. Rita is a street-smart New York Hispanic girl with a loud mouth and a gift for outdoor cooking. Heather is the one who is most likely to complain, give up, and go home. Star is from a tough background, formerly homeless, but with an ethereal quality that makes her perilously dependent on her superstitions and Tarot cards. Adam is the clown, always ready to diffuse the tension or sidetrack the conversation with a joke or a comedy routine. Pug, aka the Big Fella, is dumb, strong, and maybe dangerous; against the rules, he carries a knife. And Freddy, part Hopi and part Basque, is the best paddler and wilderness survivor of the bunch, but he’s a mystery, a man of few words, and the only one that Troy can’t figure out or dominate.

Of course, Jessie falls for the wrong guy, at first. It’s rather obvious from the outside, looking in, that Troy is a manipulative schemer. As the trip down the canyon progresses, the kids learn all about how much they can depend on one another, who’s smart and who’s not, and what they each have inside themselves. They don’t learn their own limitations nor do they really reap the consequences of their bad choices, but there’s a sequel, or a companion novel, River Thunder, and maybe that’s where these kids really grow up. Although I would never in my life have wanted to canoe anywhere calm and easy, much less in whitewater, I did enjoy reading about it. I’m on the lookout for a copy of Thunder River, to spend some more time with these flawed but compelling characters and see what happens to them next.

Just a note, probably because it was published in 1991, just before all the barriers came down, there is no bad language in the book, except indirectly referenced: “she added a string of New York’s best obscenities.” These are rebellious, delinquent kids, and probably their language would realistically reflect that. But I sure was glad I didn’t have to read a “string of obscenities.” I wish other authors would take note and leave out the particulars of nasty language, too.


The Four Swans by Winston Graham

Posted by Sherry on 5/18/2017 in General |

“In the sixth book in the legendary Poldark saga, Ross is faced with a new battlefield, one involving the women whose lives are intertwined in his own.” The “four swans” are four women: Demelza Poldark, Ross Poldark’s rags-to-riches wife; Elizabeth Warleggan, Ross’s first love; Caroline Enys, the wife of Ross’s friend; and Morwenna Chynoweth Whitworth, the parson’s wife. Let’s take each of the four one at at time and see what’s up with them in this installment of the Poldark soap opera.

Demelza, perhaps for the purpose of plot tension and development, is acting like an idiot in this book. She has an admirer who writes poetry for her, and either the admiration or the poetry or both are enough to turn her head and make her all swoony, even though she knows she really loves her husband, Ross, the best. But, oh my, poetry and compliments and a beach encounter! It all seems out of character for sensible, loyal Demelza, more out of character than her attempted revenge-by-adultery in the fourth book, Warleggan. At least in that one, Demelza had a reason for her seductive behavior, not a good reason, but a reason. In this one, she’s just swayed by a lot of sweet talk and a sad story. She had better wake up and smell the coffee in the next book!

Elizabeth, is her usual wishy-washy self in this volume. She has become a better liar over the years, and in this book she pulls off a whopper and convinces husband George Warleggan that she has always been faithful, even before their marriage, never cared much for good old Ross’s smoldering passion, and has eyes only for George. he stakes are high since George suspects that Valentine, their son, may not actually be their son. I keep wondering what will happen if Valentine turns out to be the spitting image of Ross. Elizabeth and Ross manage, mostly, to keep their hands and lips off each other in this book, except for a brief kiss by the garden gate, which convinces Ross that he doesn’t really care for Elizabeth anymore. (Just when Demelza is “torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool.”)

Caroline Enys doesn’t do much in this book. She is perverse and witty when she does appear, and she and Doctor Enys manage to get married, get pregnant, and have a few marital adjustments to make. But the Enyses have a mainly supporting role in this book, and Caroline doesn’t get much screen time.

Morwenna Whitworth continues to have the worst life of the lot. She has a perverted husband, a scheming little sister, and a houseful of children to care for. And she’s still in love with Drake Carne, Demelza’s little brother, but she can’t do anything about that because she’s too busy dealing with her own depression and physical illness and her husband’s incessant demands and her younger sister’s traitorous schemes. With much drama, Morwenna manages to get the upper hand over her husband, the Reverend Whitworth, but her situation remains fraught with peril. Think if the Reverend Whitworth had the guts he would take a hatchet to the beautiful Morwenna, but he’s a wimp and a pervert. Morwenna’s storyline is disturbing, and some people may want to give up on the books when she starts to be the focus of one of the four strands of the plot.

However, there is a fifth part or set of characters in this novel, title notwithstanding, and of all the characters I like Samuel Carne and his love interest, Emma, the best. Sam is a true Christian, a Methodist lay preacher who is committed to the simplicity and power of the gospel. I like Sam a lot. If the author “messes up” Sam in subsequent novels, I really will quit reading. That’s not to say that Sam must be perfect, but he should remain faithful to Jesus and to his Methodist faith. Some people are authentically committed to Christ and his church. Emma, on the other hand, could afford to get converted, but I’m not sure she will. Missionary dating and conversion by romantic attraction were no more or less effective and real in the eighteenth century than they are nowadays. If you decide to follow Jesus just so that you can marry one of his disciples, you carry a lot of baggage into your marriage and into your spiritual life. Emma seems to know this intuitively, but can she and Sam both find a way to look to Jesus first and to each other second? It seems unlikely.

These books should be read in order. There are twelve novels in the series, so I’m halfway through. The next book, The Angry Tide, is set in the final years of the eighteenth century, and Ross Poldark begins his term as a Member of Parliament. The rebel enters the establishment. What could possibly go wrong?


The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Posted by Sherry on 5/17/2017 in General, Mysteries, Young Adult Fiction |

Before Verity . . . there was Julie.

Billed as a prequel to the popular spy thriller Code Name Verity, The Pearl Thief, set in Scotland and featuring a fifteen year old Julie/Verity, is a coming of age exploration of gender, identity, and bisexuality encased in a murder mystery. Of those three elements—setting, theme, and genre—only two were at all appealing to me. All of the cross-dressing and lesbian awakening stuff which tried to make itself part of the overall theme of confronting prejudice and unkindness instead made me wish the mystery itself were more compelling so that I could skip over the same-sex and opposite-sex kisses and gropings and at least enjoy the plot.

I found it difficult to believe that Julie, an upper class young lady home for the summer from finishing school, could really do the things she did with no compunction or misgivings, no voices in her head screaming that the choices she was making were wrong. She seduces an older man, shares a steamy kiss with a saucy maid while Julie is disguised as a boy, and has an intimate interlude with another girlfriend, all without much inner doubt or moral reflection. There were hints of Julie’s confused sexuality in Code Name Verity, but the hints remained just that and were easily ignored or skipped over. In this one, with a much younger Julie, the intimations have magnified backwards and become blatant and irritating, distractions from a mystery about stolen pearls and attempted murder. However, the mystery isn’t that compelling either.

Anyway, there you have it. The story in this one is subordinate to the message: travelers (gypsies), the disabled and disfigured, and LGBT persons all have to deal with prejudice and misunderstanding, but it’s easier to explore your bisexual impulses because that’s a choice that can all be kept secret and mostly unacknowledged. It’s not a particularly appealing message.

I really liked Code Name Verity, appreciated Rose Under Fire, and enjoyed Black Dove White Raven, but I thought this latest novel by Wein was a dud.


Saturday Review of Books: May 13, 2017

Posted by Sherry on 5/12/2017 in General, Saturday Reviews |

“Printers ink has been running a race against gun powder these many, many years. Ink is handicapped, in a way, because you can blow up a man with gun powder in half a second while it may take twenty years to blow him up with a book. But the gunpowder destroys itself along with its victim, while a book can keep on exploding for century.” ~The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley


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.


Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson

Posted by Sherry on 5/9/2017 in 2017, Children's Fiction, General |

Really good science fiction for middle grade and young adult readers is really hard to find these days. I mean the old-school, space travel, fighting space aliens, survival in a hostile environment kind of science fiction. Not evil corporations are taking over the world, dystopian pseudo-sci-fi. Hunger Games wannabes are easy to find. Old-fashioned Heinlein/StarTrek-type stories are not as popular.

So, Last Day On Mars is one of those old-fashioned space travel stories with an apocalyptic twist. Liam Saunders-Chang is one of the last humans left on Mars. The earth has already been deserted by human beings and destroyed by our sun which is slowly going supernova. What’s left of the human race is on a quest to colonize a new planet in a new galaxy, and Liam and his family along with a few other scientists and technicians are scheduled to leave Mars on the last starliner out of the solar system just before Mars, too, is destroyed by the exploding sun. It’s Liam’s last day on Mars, but “before this day is over, Liam and his friend Phoebe will make a series of profound discoveries about the nature of time and space and find out that the human race is just one of many in our universe locked in a dangerous struggle for survival.” (author Kevin Emerson’s website).

This book is the first in a projected trilogy, Chronicle of the Dark Star trilogy. Science fiction fans will eat it up. I liked all the plot twists and turns, especially the final ambiguity about who the good guys and the bad guys really are. Liam and the rest of humanity seemingly have more than one enemy, and all of them are determined to thwart the plan for human survival in the universe. Maybe. It’s hard to figure it all out when you’re in the middle of a fight for your own personal survival, running from people who want to kill you, and doing all you can to catch up with some adults who can take responsibility for all the craziness that’s coming at you. All Liam can do, really, is follow his Mom’s advice and “take it one unknown at a time.”

” . . . the reality is, when you make your own decisions, you never really know where they’ll lead, or what will come next. All you can do is make choices and move forward. And actually, what ends up happening is, the more you learn, the more you realize you still have to learn. . . . We’ll take it one unknown at a time.”

I don’t know when the next book in the trilogy is coming out, probably next year. So, you may want to wait for all three books. I hate waiting for books in series. But this one was a good start.


The Silver Gate by Kristin Bailey

Posted by Sherry on 5/8/2017 in 2017, Children's Fiction |

This middle grade novel has a medieval, feudal setting, and the author kept me guessing all the way through as to whether it would turn out to be fantasy/fairy tale or realistic fiction. In the story, Elric must take care of his sister Wynnfrith after their mother’s death and protect her from the villagers who think that because Wynn is mentally handicapped, she is a changeling child, switched at birth by the fairies and therefore cursed. The narrative follows the journey of the two children through the 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.

The writing isn’t sparkly or impressive, but the plot and characterization, especially the characters of Elric and Wynn, carry the story. While I was reading I thought a lot about how we treat mentally handicapped or mentally challenged children and adults now in the supposedly enlightened twenty-first century. Throughout the book, while the majority of villagers and strangers treat Wynnfrith with contempt or else they fear her curse, Elric learns that she is a person with her own ideas and her own strengths and weaknesses, even if her ability to express those ideas is limited. And although the children meet with much cruelty and bullying, there are a few kind people who help them along the way.

For all the talk we give to “diversity” and “acceptance” and “tolerance” in our society, our actions speak louder than our words. How many children’s books and movies feature children of average or below average mental capacity? If the child in the book is autistic or differently abled in some other way, he or she must be a hidden or misunderstood genius, not just a kid of average abilities who again, has some strengths and some weaknesses.

Even worse though than the dearth of mentally handicapped kid characters in books is the disappearance of the actual kids themselves from our society. Although the majority of women who carry a baby with Down’s Syndrome continue to carry that baby to term and give birth, a significant minority (30-40%?) choose abortion. What are we as a society missing when we selectively choose death for the mentally challenged? What does it say about the human beings that we value and those that we don’t when a decision to abort a baby with Down’s Syndrome becomes acceptable and even laudable in the eyes of many people?

I don’t know that one children’s book can change the perception that devalues and degrades those among us who are learning disabled or mentally handicapped, but it’s a start. I would that there were more books like The Silver Gate, books that, without preaching, give mentally handicapped characters a place in literature and treat them with respect and dignity.


Saturday Review of Books: May 6, 2017

Posted by Sherry on 5/6/2017 in Saturday Reviews |

“You may perhaps be brought to acknowledge that it is very well worthwhile to be tormented for two or three years of one’s life, for the sake of being able to read all the rest of it.” ~Jane Austen


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.


Summer Reading: High School

Posted by Sherry on 5/6/2017 in General, Reader's Advisory, Romance, Summer reading, Young Adult Fiction |

Shaking the Nickel Bush by Ralph Moody. “Skinny and suffering from diabetes, Ralph Moody is ordered by a Boston doctor to seek a more healthful climate. Now nineteen years old, he strikes out into new territory hustling odd jobs, facing the problem of getting fresh milk and leafy green vegetables. He scrapes around to survive, risking his neck as a stunt rider for a movie company. With an improvident buddy named Lonnie, he camps out in an Arizona canyon and ‘shakes the nickel bush’ by sculpting plaster of paris busts of lawyers and bankers. This is 1918, and the young men travel through the Southwest not on horses but in a Ford aptly named Shiftless.” This book is the sixth book in a series of eight autobiographical novels by Ralph Moody, the author and protagonist who had to grow up fast after his father’s death when Ralph was only eleven years old. High schoolers may want to start with the fist book in the series, Little Britches, or just begin with this one, a gripping tale of a young man’s adventures and growth.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. High school is the right time to be introduced to Harper Lee’s great American novel. And then to the movie, which by my exacting standards is just as good as the novel. The story takes place over the course of more than one year, winter summer fall and spring, but it feels like a summertime novel, as Jem and Scout play with the summer visitor, and as they grow and learn about the realities of life in A good follow-up story is I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora, about a trio of rising ninth graders who spend the summer promoting TKAM and preparing for their big move to high school.

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. In the fictional account of the Philadelphia 1793 yellow fever epidemic, Fever 1793, Laurie Halse Anderson illustrates the deadly nature of yellow fever and its effects on the community with a story about Mattie Cook, a girl of fourteen who lives above a coffeehouse that provides her family’s livelihood. Since Mattie’s father is dead, Mattie’s mother, her grandmother, and the black cook, Eliza, run the coffeehouse, and Mattie and the serving girl, Polly, help. At the beginning of the book in August 1793, Mattie worries about her mother’s temper and about how to get a little extra sleep and avoid as much work as possible. By the end of the story, Mattie has been forced to take on adult responsibilities: nursing, providing food for her family, repelling thieves and intruders, and running the coffeehouse. Take a look at this post on Semicolon for more books about fevers, epidemics, and plagues.

Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins. Light summer reading. Fifteen year old Jazz Gardner’s mom tells her that the family is going to spend the summer in India, helping out at the orphanage that Mrs. Gardner lived in before she was adopted. And at about the same time, Jazz realizes that her feelings for Steve, her longtime business partner, have turned into something more than just platonic friendship. Unfortunately, there’s no indication from Steve that he sees Jazz as anything but a friend and a partner. And other girls are after Steve. And the business needs her. And who wants to go to India, anyway?

A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle. I love Madeleine L’Engle, and Ring of Endless Light is one of my favorites. The Austin family is spending the summer with Vicky’s grandfather who is dying. As Vicky writes her poetry and deals with her grief over her grandfather, she also finds friendship and maybe even romance with three very different boys: Zachary, the wild romantic; Leo, an old friend; and Adam, the dolphin researcher.

Summer Moonshine by P.G. Wodehouse. Sir Buckstone Abbott is an English baron with a house he can’t keep up, so he rents out the rooms in Walsingford Hall to an odd assortment of boarders. Then, Sir Bucksone Abbott goes into debt, then into hiding, and leaves his daughter, Jane, to take care of things in his absence. Wodehousian romantic and monetary entanglements, confusion, and ridiculousness ensue. This one is not Bertie and Jeeves and not set at Blandings Castle, but it’s humor from 1937 that translates into the twenty-first century quite satisfactorily. Many high schoolers should be ready to be introduced to Wodehouse, especially those who became Anglophiles, as I did, while reading British children’s literature.

Nonfiction for High School Reading:

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Subtitled “Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics”, this narrative nonfiction book is for anyone interested in sports stories in general, rowing in particular, the rise of Nazism, the 1930’s, Olympic history, and just plain inspirational stories of perseverance and courage.

Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen. “Over Philadelphia, the air lay hot and humid: old people said it was the worst summer since 1750. . . . In the Pennsylvania State House, which we call Independence Hall, some fifty-five delegates, named by the legislatures of twelve states (Rhode Island balked, refusing attendance) met in convention, and during a summer of hard work and high feeling wrote out a plan of government which they hoped the states would accept, and which they entitled The Constitution of the United States of America.” Catherine Drinker Bowen tells readers, teens and adults as well, all about what took place in “the room where it happened” during that summer of 1787.

Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins. The true story of a young man who decided to walk across the country from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific in search of . . . himself? Meaning? Patriotism? It’s a great story, and I absolutely loved living vicariously through Mr. Jenkins’ journey through the United States of 1979. (Jenkins only made it to New Orleans in the first book, so there’s a sequel, The Walk West.)

More Summer Reading ideas:

Summer Reading, Summer Setting.
Summer Reading: 52 Picks for the Hols.
June: Death in Summer.
Summer Reading: 2006.
Summer Reading List: Summer After High School.


Summer Reading: Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Grades

Posted by Sherry on 5/5/2017 in Children's Fiction, General, Nonfiction, Summer reading |

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. Originally published in 1930, this book is the first in a series of books about a group of adventurous children and a sailboat. Swallows and Amazons introduces the Walker children—John, Susan, Titty, and Roger—their camp on Wild Cat island, the able-bodied catboat Swallow, and their frenemies the two intrepid Amazons, Nancy and Peggy Blackett. The children are living the free range kids’ dream as they camp all by themselves on a small island, cook their own meals, sail their boat up and down the lake, and engage in all sorts of mock-battles and adventures. Sailing, fishing, swimming, camping and piracy form the subject matter, and free-spirited, fun-loving, independent children are the characters.

100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson. Twelve year old Henry York is sleeping in his room in his cousins’ house in Kansaswhen he hears a bump on the attic wall above his head. He tries to ignore the sound in this strange-to-him house, but the next night he can’t ignore the two knobs that protrude through the ceiling: one of them is slowly turning . . . It may looks like a cupboard, in an odd place, but Henry and his cousin Henrietta soon learn that the “cupboards” are really doors to another world. This book is the first in a trilogy of fantasy adventures with lots of cupboard doors to explore.

The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars. Fourteen Sara Godfrey feels responsible for her younger brother, Charlie, since Charlie is mentally handicapped and sometimes the victim of bullies who make fun of his disability. When Charlie gets lost, it is Sara who must find him and bring him home. But she needs help. Can the boy whom she despises because he stole Charlie’s watch be the one who helps her find her brother in the end?

Kavik the Wolf Dog by Walter Morey. “When Andy Evans stumbles upon the snow-covered wreckage of a small plane, he’s shocked to find a survivor. Should he put the gravely injured dog out of his misery? The look in the animal’s eyes says he’s not ready to die. It turns out that Kävik’s a champion sled dog, and soon he makes a full recovery. When his rightful owner finds out Kävik is alive, he wants the dog back. But Kävik has other ideas.”

Holes by Louis Sachar. Stanley Yelnats is sent to a juvenile delinquent camp for a crime he didn’t commit. Call it bad luck. The curse of the Yelnats family. Every day the boys are sent into the hot Texas sun to dig holes. It’s supposed to build character, but Stanley soon discovers that there’s more than character development going on at Camp Green Lake.

Ash Road by Ivan Southall. This one takes place in January, summertime in Australia. A small group of children are cut off by a raging wildfire in the wilds of the Australian outback. They have only two elderly adults to help them, or perhaps it is the children who must help each other to get them all out of danger.

Summer is also an excellent season for nonfiction readers to find just the right books for encouraging their particular hobby or interest. Here are a few nonfiction suggestions, but really, nonfiction covers the world and everything in it. If my library patrons will let me know what they’re interested in exploring this summer, chances are I’ve got a book for that!

The Swamp Fox of the Revolution by Stewart H. Holbrook. In summertime, thoughts in the United States turn to freedom, and the Declaration of Independence, and the American fight for independence. We often think first of George Washington and thomas Jefferson and the other “founding fathers”, and I have a quite an array of good books about those men and events. However, Frances Marion, The Swamp Fox, is a lesser known hero of the Revolution, but one who should appeal to kids who like to read about war and dashing exploits. “With little assistance, he organized a group of backwoodsmen into a fighting brigade that carried on an almost private war against the redcoats and Tories during the American Revolution. Marion’s daring raids on their outposts and supply trains so troubled the British, who could never catch him, that in time they called him The Swamp Fox.”

Guadalcanal Diary by Richard Tregaskis. Journalist Richard Tregaskis was with the U.S. Marines when they landed on the Japanese-held island of Guadalcanal in August, 1942. He was “embedded” with the troops before that was a thing. Mr. Tregaskis spent seven weeks dodging enemy snipers and sharpshooters, eating military rations, sleeping in tents, and chronicling in his diary the island’s takeover by American forces. Guadalcanal Diary is a classic in World War II nonfiction and just the book for challenging your World War II-obsessed child to read over the summer.

Light Action! Amazing Experiments With Optics by Vicki and Josh Cobb. Maybe your middle grade nonfiction reader is more interested in science than in war and revolution. Light Action will give the reader lots of ideas for summer science fun. The young scientist can learn about and experiment with blocking light, bending light, bouncing light, prisms and color, making light waves, polarized light and light waves. These experiments might keep a middle schooler busy for a good part of the summer, using only a few simple materials and pieces of equipment: aluminum foil, paper, glass jars and bowls, a magnifying glass, a light source, sunshine, etc.

Experimenting With Time by Robert Gardner. Or if experiments in light and optics are not your thing, then maybe time and time-keeping devices would be of interest. Investigate body temperature, heart rate, breathing rate and how they relate to time and time measurement. Build an analemma, a water clock, or a sundial. Measure velocity or reaction time. Some of these experiments and demonstrations are a little complicated and require more specialized equipment, but for kids who are interested in the way time works, this book is a treasure trove.

Steven Caney’s Kids’ America. Maybe you just need an all-purpose, stave off boredom, project and information book full of activities, tales, legends, and adventures—enough for the entire summer and more. Tap dancing, magic weather forecasting, panning for gold, hobo sign language, genealogy, frog jumping, jug bands, gardening, whittling, game night and as I said, more. I love exploring this book. It’s sort of like Pinterest, but much more manageable, written for kids, and computer-free.


Summer Reading: Fourth and Fifth Grades

Posted by Sherry on 5/4/2017 in Children's Fiction, General, Nonfiction, Summer reading |

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. The link goes to an interview with my then-eight year old daughter about her impressions of this award-winning book about India Opal Buloni, her smiling dog, and her preacher daddy. First line: “My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”

Some Summer by Jean Vandevenne. Charlie Scott and his friends decide to use their summer vacation and some scrap lumber, nails, and some old tools to build a clubhouse. But Aunt Essie comes to visit from Florida, and she has other plans for Charlie’s time and energies. It’s going to be “some summer” if all Charlie gets to do is mow grass and pull weeds for Aunt Essie!

Half Magic by Edward Eager. What if you found a magic coin that gave you only half of what you wished for—half invisibility, half of a rescue, halfway to wherever you wished to go? Four siblings—Jane, Mark, Katharine, and Martha— do find such a coin, and it propels them into a summer full of adventure and imagination and humor and plain fun.

Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright. Summer has a magic all its own, but this summer is different in many ways. Portia Blake and her younger brother Foster are going to the same place they always go in the summer, to visit their cousin Julian. However, this summer they’re going all by themselves while their parents spend the summer in Europe. And this summer Portia and Julian discover a deserted resort town next to a nearly dried up lake. And this summer the children also become friends with the eccentric Minnehaha Cheever and Pindar Payton, elderly sister and brother who are the only inhabitants of the ghost town across the lake. What other “magic” will the children conjure up as they listen to tales of long ago and explore the remains of Gone-Away Lake?

Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson. My then-ten year old son’s review of this Tom Sawyer-like tale. This take-off on Tom Sawyer, Robinson Crusoe, and The Odyssey should appeal to boys especially. It has caves, tunnels, hidden treasure, wild water rafting, and wilderness (sort of) survival. There are bad guys, good guys, dead guys, blood, raw food, and near-dismemberment. What more could a boy want in a book? (Girls, too)

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit. “The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.” So begins the timeless (really, timeless) tale of Winne Foster who stumbles up on a family, the Tucks, who have discovered the secret of eternal life. Would you want to live forever? Would it be a blessing or a curse to never grow old, never die?

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall. The Penderwick sisters—Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty–along with their absent-minded professor father, are spending their vacation in a cottage called Arundel in the Berkshire Mountains. When they meet the boy next door, Jeffrey, they think they have found a a great new summer friend, but Jeffrey’s mother almost spoils both the friendship and the summer with her arrogant and overbearing ways. The Penderwicks are a delightful family, and Jeffrey does become a good friend, but it takes patience, joy, perseverance, and forgiveness to make the summer both memorable and exciting.

Rules by Cynthia Lord. Twelve year old Catherine just wants a few rules to be followed–for herself, but especially for her younger brother, David, who is autistic. Catherine wants her life to be normal. She also wants a friend, but “normal” and friendship and David may not fit together, may not follow the rules that Catherine has written in her little notebook. Then, she meets Jason, a paraplegic, who does therapy at the same clinic as David and Kristi, the girl next door. Can one or both of them be the friends she has been looking for?

Some kids just prefer nonfiction reading. Don’t make them read all fiction when they are more enamored of the true stories that surround us.

In Woods and Fields by Margaret Waring Buck. This book takes the reader on a walk through the woods and fields in each of the four seasons “to look for wild flowers and to watch the birds and other mammals.” Nature exploration at its best.
In Yards and Gardens by Margaret Waring Buck. Ms. Buck describes all of the most common birds, trees, flowers, vegetables, insects, and mammals that are found in typical yards and gardens. This book is a treasure for the budding naturalist.

Sketching Outdoors in Summer by Jim Arnosky. Nature lovers and artists will enjoy the encouragement and illustration that this book by prolific nature artist Jim Arnosky has to offer. “These summer sketches are about things I love doing, as well as things I enjoy drawing,” says Mr. Arnosky, as he shares pencil sketches of garden, pastures, woods and pond.

Hobby Collections A-Z by Roslyn W. Salny. Summer is a great time to start a hobby or maybe a collection. This older book gives kids lots of ideas for starting a new collection from buttons to keys to leaves to playing cards. At the end of the book, there is an “A-Z List of Additional Things to Collect.” The book is pre-internet, and some of the suggestions about where to find items for your collection reflect that low-tech approach. But that’s all to the good, as far as I’m concerned. Kids have plenty of time to get connected; why not give them a book with some non-internet, low technology things to do. Like collecting coins or postmarks or roadmaps?

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