Well, I think we can all agree that, as always, the end of the horrible, horrible month of February is a cause for joy. But we did read some good books. Our book round up for the month.
The Winged Watchman by Hilda van Stockum
I picked this as a first fiction read aloud for World War II. It is about the final days of the war in Holland. Two brothers, Joris and Dirk Jan, each do their parts to work against the German occupiers. Gentle Joris is so young he cannot remember a time when war was not a way of life and Dirk Jan is just old enough to yearn for the adventure of working for the underground resistance. The brothers help their neighbors, help save their dog, hide people from the Nazis, and deliver secret messages. All around them, Holland is ravaged by the war, but living in a farm community has sheltered the boys from the worst of the starvation that others experienced. It’s a lesser known book compared to some World War II titles, but we found it to be a nice balance between gentle and true for a period that was full of horrors. We’ll dive in with some slightly darker fare next.
BalletBoy’s Required Reading
The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
BalletBoy felt that last month’s book was on the long side so he scoured the Newbery list for the shortest title and promised to balance it with something longer on the next go around. It’s a medieval story with a fairy tale feel that contains a good dose of action and adventure as a prince and a lowly born boy end up thrown together. BalletBoy said the book was, “Okay, I guess.” I really like it, but not a ringing endorsement. Oh well. Last month he was really won over by the required reading book, so I figure you can’t win them all.
Mushroom’s Required Reading
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznik
This was another specific book request for required reading. Clearly, as usual, we’ve drifted away from the required reading list. At this point, I told the kids that any Newbery winner or honor title is fair game. This book tells two different stories, taking place decades apart, simultaneously. One is told in words and the other in pictures. The stories interweave and come together in the end. Just like in The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Selznik uses this unusual form to tell a compelling story. Mushroom was really happy with the book and while the book’s density has to do with the many pages of illustration and not the high word count, he seemed especially pleased to have read something that was so thick.
Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan
We’ve done these as audiobooks because the kids weren’t keen to read them on their own, but were keen to hear them. The narration is good. It fits the story. And I’ve been telling myself that they’re nice light fare to vaguely review for the National Mythology Exam, which the boys are both taking this week for the first time. I really enjoyed this series myself when it first came out. Since Riordan’s various other series have shown him, in my opinion, to be a bit of a one note writer, my love for the books has diminished, but I have been reminded what made them popular in the first place, namely that they’re fun and Percy’s slightly stunned, slightly snarky voice really works well for the plots.
Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Both Mushroom and I read Boxers, and I additionally read Saints. I’ve been a huge fan of Yang’s work for awhile now. This two book set is about the Boxer Rebellion in China. My college major was focused on Chinese history, so I really appreciated the historical side of the story, especially the complex motivations of the characters. Both stories have an element of fantasy in them, but the fantasy also helps to illuminate the way real people felt and thought at the time. The way the books tie together at the end is cleverly done. I think the books stand with Maus as entries into the great tradition of historical fiction in graphic novels. BalletBoy did read Boxers, but it’s not one that I would have suggested to him yet. He was interested and I didn’t feel the content justified me taking it from him, but be aware that there is a good deal of violence in the story.
BalletBoy’s Pleasure Reading
If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late by Pseudonymous Bosch
I’ve been trying to wean the boys off reading and rereading the same few books, so BalletBoy immediately picked this book back up with some relief. It’s a tricky balance to strike between pushing them to read something new and letting them read whatever they like. However, his pleasure at picking this up again after a hiatus and his quick progress tells me I was right to put a temporary kibosh on Wimpy Kid rereads at bedtime reading.
Human Body Detectives by Heather Manley
I had gotten a really good deal on the ebook versions of this series and I assigned them as independent school reading this go around. They are just the right length for that, as the kids can read them in about twenty minutes or less. I’ve written before about my desire for living science books to mesh both quality writing and detailed science together in a way that makes the science feel integral to the story. This series isn’t perfect. I wish the science was a little more in depth and that the writing was a little more engaging. The science is very focused on “healthy living,” which is good, but also as much about lifestyle as science, though certainly it was a lifestyle message I could get behind. The art is okay but certain words in the text get extra illustration around them, which I found distracting and odd. However, it does mesh the story with the science reasonably well and there is solid information in the books, so I’m not complaining too hard. Because the books are sold to the school market as an educational series, I’ve seen them mentioned a lot in the homeschool world. If you can get a really good deal on them, I do think they’re worth it, especially for early elementary. Each book also contains some simple activities about the topic in the story.