100 Chapter Books Project: The Children of Green Knowe

Toward the bottom of the Top 100 list, at number 90, is The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston. I read this book (and the rest of the series) for the first time a few years ago because Eva raved about it. I fell immediately in love with the series and lamented that I hadn’t found them as a child. The one thing I didn’t realize was that this first book in the series was written in 1954. It feels much, much older with its castle and ghosts and the easy combining of nature, religion and tradition.

What it’s about: This book introduces us to the stone house which dates from Norman times. Though it has had many names over the years, it has always come back to being called Green Knowe. The story starts with a young boy named Toseland who is coming to live with his Great-Grandmother Oldknow. He has lost his mother and his father has remarried and moved to the East so he is feeling a bit alone. But although there are only two living people in the home, it is alive with the spirits of those who have come before. Over the fireplace is a portrait of three children–Toby, Alexander and Linnet–from the 1800s who have left behind some of their treasures in the home and perhaps a bit of themselves as well.

Age level: Grade 3-6

Best character: Mrs. Oldknow is an amazing lady. She gives Tolly the opportunity to explore Green Knowe and find out most of its secrets on his own. She also still believes in all of the magic of the place so this isn’t one of those stories where only the kid can see the ghosts. She actually sees them more often than Tolly does because she’s known them since she was a child. She’s also kind and gentle and still spry despite what must be her advanced age as a great-grandmother.

Worst character: Green Noah … only because he’s a scary, evil shrubbery that tries to attack Tolly on a dark night during a thunderstorm.

Verdict: Buy/Borrow

Like I mentioned before, this book seems much older than it is. It could be because the Oldknows don’t have electricity or a car or many other modernities even though they exist outside of their small world. It could also be because of the amount of time spent in the past with their ancestors’ stories. The lines of time are blurred giving a quality of agelessness. I love that about this book — the idea that the past, present and future of a place are not linear but layered and can be navigated by a sensitive believer.

This read counts for the Once Upon a Time VIII Challenge as a fantasy title.

I’ve scheduled time off for our (very late) Spring Break, my birthday/Easter (they’re on the same day this year) and Readathon, so I’ll be back in mid-May with The High King, the final book in the Chronicles of Prydain series. I read the first book, The Book of Three, for this project so, as a series completist, I’ll fit in the middle three books before I get to the last one.

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Schedule – May through July
note: dates are not necessarily set in stone – posts may go up a day or two before or after
May 15 – #68 The High King by Lloyd Alexander (1968)
May 31 – #85 Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (1997)
June 15 – #54 Half Magic by Edward Eager (1954)
June 30 – #67 A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck (1998)
July 15 – #72 Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (2009)
July 31 – #6 Holes by Louis Sachar (1998)

100 Chapter Books Project: Bud, Not Buddy

I’m usually not too picky about where books end up on the Top 100 list as long as the good ones get on there somewhere. Sometimes I’m a bit perplexed as to why some are ranked so high but Bud, Not Buddy (1999) is the first book where I really, truly wish it was higher than its given place at number 60. Christopher Paul Curtis has done such a wonderful job of weaving together a compelling narrative based around local and national history that I feel this book deserves all the recognition it can get. I would suggest making this book required reading for kids but that tends to ruin a book quicker than anything, right?

What it’s about: Bud (not Buddy) Caldwell is living in an orphanage in Flint, Michigan in 1936, toward the end of the Great Depression. When a foster situation goes bad, he runs away and sets off to Grand Rapids in the hopes of finding the father that he has never met. Weaving in historical details like Hoovervilles, jazz and labor unions, we see Bud find family in the most unexpected places and get a chance to explore an oft-neglected time in American history.

Age level: Grade 4-6

Best thing: Everything about this book was engaging and really drew one in to explore history and to root for Bud. I especially enjoyed the scenes with the jazz musicians. They were a fun group of people!

Worst thing: I honestly can’t think of anything. Every part of this story was meaningful and essential in building up the time and characters.

Verdict: Buy

I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by James Avery, and it was absolutely fantastic. From the details about Hoovervilles and westbound trains, to the descriptions of Depression era kindnesses and sacrifices, Curtis gives insight into the wide variety of experiences of African-Americans in Michigan at this unstable time. Personally, I have read very few books about the Depression because I was afraid of them being bleak and, well, depressing, but this story was uplifting and, while having moments of sadness, the overall tone was positive and hopeful. So far, I’m two for two on enjoying Christopher Paul Curtis’ fantastic books so I’ll definitely keep reading his works outside of this project.

The next four books I’ve chosen are all fantasies so if you’re looking for something to read for the Once Upon a Time VIII Challenge, join me on any of them!

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Schedule – April through June

note: dates are not necessarily set in stone – posts may go up a day or two before or after

April 15 –  #90 The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston (1954)

April 30 – Spring Break!

May 15 – #68 The High King by Lloyd Alexander (1968)

May 31 – #85 Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (1997)

June 15 – #54 Half Magic by Edward Eager (1954)

June 30 – #67 A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck (1998)

100 Chapter Books Project: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

Number 35 on the Top 100 list is one many of us probably read as kids, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (1972) by Judy Blume. And yet, though I know I read it (probably more than once), I apparently only remembered one thing about it and I remembered that one thing wrong. The rest of it was entirely, and strangely, unfamiliar.

What it’s about: Peter Hatcher is trying to deal with the normal things that come along with being nine but he can’t because of one seriously abnormal thing, his two year old brother Fudge.

Age level: Grade 2-4

Best thing: The only scene that I really enjoyed was when Peter and two other students are dividing the work on a group project. It was so familiar and well-written that it easily reminded me of my school days.

Worst thing: I listened to the audiobook version of this story, read by the author, and it was AWFUL. Her voices were so annoying, most of all her version of Fudge who sounded just like Caillou (parents of young ones will know what I’m talking about). At one point, I almost switched to a text copy because I couldn’t stand listening any longer. Then I saw I had just 20 minutes left and suffered through it just to be done.

Verdict: Borrow/Skip

I know I read the sequel to this book, Superfudge, many more times than I ever read this one so I’m assuming that even as a kid I liked that one better. I would have to reread it now though to find out why because I apparently don’t remember anything about it either. And do you know what? This bothers me because there are books that I read when I was even younger that I remember tons about. It makes me think that these books are ultimately forgettable. Obviously others felt differently, but I wouldn’t have voted for this book. It’s very dated now. Fudge is a nightmare who doesn’t see any real consequences to the things he does and his bad behavior just keeps escalating. The parents are clueless and somewhat stupid, both at home and at work. And Peter isn’t much better, spending more time complaining than anything else.

I really am sad that my sparse but fond memories of this book didn’t hold up on re-read as an adult. I am also questioning why Z’s teacher read the book to them in class as I found very little of value in it. It teaches that parents always give their younger children the benefit of the doubt while their older ones suffer, that bosses are all jerks and you just have to learn to handle them properly and that pets are expendable rather than being treasured members of the family. There are much better books out there, both new and old, that should be shared.

Is this a book that you’ve re-read recently? What was your experience like? Do you read this to your kids/students?

After this sad experience of revisiting this book, I look forward to a first time through my next one — Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. It will be my second of his books and I assume it will be as fantastic as the other.

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Schedule – March through June

note: dates are not necessarily set in stone – posts may go up a day or two before or after

March 31 – #60 Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (1999)

April 15 –  #90 The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston (1954)

April 30 – Spring Break!

May 15 – #68 The High King by Lloyd Alexander (1968)

May 31 – #85 Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (1997)

June 15 – #54 Half Magic by Edward Eager (1954)