100 Chapter Books Project: Matilda

matilda

Number 30 on the Top 100 Chapter Books list, Matilda (1988) by Roald Dahl, might deserve to be higher on the list based solely on how hard it was for me to get a copy of it! I was on hold since May 1 for an audiobook and never ended up anywhere near the front of the list. The two copies in Z’s school library were both out until this week as well and no paper copies were available in our large library system either. I finally had to read an ebook copy on my phone. This is a book that is obviously still very popular even though it’s almost 30 years old.

What it’s about: Matilda is a very bright young girl who has a horrible family. The only thing that saves her are the books she reads. Soon, though, she’ll need to dig a bit deeper to find the magic that will save her and the friends she cares about.

Age level: Grades 3-5

Best part: I loved how Dahl described the way Matilda felt as she was doing magic, for the first time and how it changed as she did it more. She says that she feels like she is “flying past the stars on silver wings”. I don’t know what could sound more magical than that.

Worst part: That the magic didn’t show up until the final quarter of the book! I would have loved much more magic but, in a short book, it’s forgivable, I guess.

Verdict: Buy

I don’t know why I never read Matilda until now, especially when I’ve read just about everything else Roald Dahl ever wrote. This is definitely one of his best and I love that it even has a list of great classics inside it that will hopefully always inspire kids to try one or two!

Next, I’ll be reading Little House on the Prairie for the first time in my life. (I know, I know.)

*****
Schedule – June through September
June 30 – #27 Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1935)
July 15 – #94 Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary (1977)
July 31 – #44 Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt (2011)
August 15 – #76 Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (2007)
August 30 – #34 Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (1961)
September 15 – #89 The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary (1967)

100 Chapter Books Project: The Wednesday Wars

wednesday wars

My next read for the Top 100 Chapter Books list was supposed to be Matilda but apparently that is the most popular book in my library system right now. I had an audiobook on hold for weeks and only got to the 5th spot on it. Then I tried to get an ebook or a physical book and those were all spoken for already as well. But, luckily, the next book on my list, The Wednesday Wars (2007) by Gary D. Schmidt, was immediately available on audio and I was able to listen to it in two days because it was simply fantastic.

What it’s about: 1967, Long Island, seventh grader Holling Hoodhood. Yeah, I don’t know what’s up with that name either. But anyway, on Wednesday afternoons, the kids leave school early and the Jewish students go to temple and the Catholics go to catechism. However, Holling is the lone Presbyterian in his grade so he has to stay behind with his teacher, Mrs. Baker. He thinks she hates him for this but somehow their time together becomes something unique.

Age level: Grades 5-7

Best part: This story took a normally difficult topic, The Vietnam War, and presented it in a way that any kid could understand. There was a young Vietnamese refugee classmate and a few fathers and husbands that were away in the war. These were used in a thoughtful and intelligent way. There was even some discussion about why Bobby Kennedy was a desirable presidential candidate. It actually made me more interested in reading about the war than I ever have been before.

Worst part: Holling’s father was the absolute worst. The way he treated Holling and his sister almost made me want to cry. He was cold, distant, and selfish. I was rooting for the parents to divorce by the end.

Verdict: Buy

This book was an absolute surprise. There were a lot of interesting and unexpected things that happened. I did not expect it to incorporate Shakespeare’s plays or to have so many different types of relationships — friendships, mentorships, and family dynamics. It was honestly one of the best historical fictions on this list. Now I’ve just noticed too that Okay For Now, which I will be reading in July, is a loose sequel based on one of the side characters from this book so that should be another great read.

I’m still waiting for any sort of copy of Matilda to be available but hopefully I’ll find one before June 15!

*****
Schedule – June through August
June 15 – #30 Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)
June 30 – #27 Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1935)
July 15 – #94 Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary (1977)
July 31 – #44 Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt (2011)
August 15 – #76 Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (2007)
August 30 – #34 Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (1961)

100 Chapter Books Project: Island of the Blue Dolphins

Blue_dolphins

In the middle of the Top 100 Chapter Books list is Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) by Scott O’Dell.

What it’s about: An island off the California coast, west of Santa Catalina Island, is inhabited by a group of native people. They end up losing most of their men when Russian and Aleutian hunters come for sea otters and end up trying to cheat the tribe of the promised remuneration. When it is time for the group to relocate to the mainland to the east, Karana is accidentally left behind. This book is her story of survival.

Age level: Grades 4-6

Best part: I loved Karana’s evolution from killing almost every kind of animal on and around the island to finding alternate sources of food and supplies, based on her increased relationships with many different species, including dogs, birds, and otters.

Worst part: I honestly wished Karana would stay on the island forever. When the mainlanders immediately made her a dress that covered her from chin to ankle, it made me sad for the freedom that she was losing and worried about the things she would face in their world.

Verdict: Buy

In case you’re wondering (and because I’ve been kind of grumpy over a few recent reads), this is only the 39th book I’ve given a straight “Buy” to out of 79. This is absolutely one of the best historical fictions I’ve ever read. I think O’Dell did a fantastic job with Karana’s story. Also, the choice of Tantoo Cardinal as narrator for the audiobook was perfect. The attention to detail, the tackling of a lesser known area and culture, and the choice of main character and her evolution through time are all stellar. I felt like I was there watching Karana work and survive. Her breaking of the taboos against women doing certain things in her culture was wonderful. And her relationship with the animals was something that a nature nerd like me dreams of. This story was inspired by the real life story of “Juana Maria”, who was on the island of San Nicolas for 18 years (1835-1853) and who indeed died about seven weeks after her “rescue”, which makes me sad. The people of the time blamed malnutrition but I would guess she contracted a host of diseases rather soon after arriving in California.

Next I’ll be reading Matilda, which is another one that I don’t think I’ve actually read, though I know the story. I’m already terrified of the Trunchbull so I’m wary of delving into this one!

*****
Schedule – May through August
May 31 – #30 Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)
June 15 – #37 The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (2007)
June 30 – #27 Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1935)
July 15 – #94 Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary (1977)
July 31 – #44 Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt (2011)
August 15 – #76 Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (2007)