100 Chapter Books Project: The Thief

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The Thief(1997) by Megan Whalen Turner is number 13 on the Top 100 Chapter Books list. It is the first book in The Queen’s Thief series, currently at four books.

What it’s about: Gen is a thief who has been imprisoned for stealing from the King of Sounis and then bragging about it in a local wine shop. He has no idea when or if he will ever be free again until The Magus, one of the king’s scholars, requests his help in a mission to neighboring Attolia that will put his thieving skills to the test.

Age level: Grades 4-6

Best part: I enjoyed the mythology of the story and the fact that there was real magic. As all mythology borrows from that of neighboring civilizations, this one borrowed from Greek mythology but wove its own tales from those classics.

Worst part: Some of the actions of party members came out of nowhere and were not supported with the character development up to that point.

Verdict: Borrow

This book was fine. I enjoyed reading it well enough but was never wowed by the plot or enchanted by the characters. Every review of it talks about the “surprise ending” but I didn’t find it that surprising or, once revealed, that interesting. I do think that it has a lot that a teacher could discuss with a class if done as a group read. And I cared just enough about Gen to wonder where the other books in the series will take him but I’m honestly not sure I’ll ever pick any of them up.

Well, I only have a dozen books left to be read for this project and it will wrap up in April. After writing these posts since September 2012, this is a bit strange! Of the final 12 books, seven of them will be rereads for me. To be honest, there are also one or two left that I’m not really looking forward to. For example, next up is The Boxcar Children which I tried to read once but just couldn’t believe enough to get into. I hope I get along with it better this time!

*****
Schedule – October through January
October 15 – #99 The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warren (1942)
October 31 – #82 The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden (1960)
November 15 – #32 Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (1976)
November 30 – #84 The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1940)
December 15 – #96 The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis (1954)
December 31 – break
January 15 – #50 Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (1989)

100 Chapter Books Project: Little House on the Prairie

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I have to admit that there have been a couple of books that I have dreaded having to read on the Top 100 Chapter Books list and one of them was definitely Little House on the Prairie (1935) by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I didn’t want to read this series as a kid, I think because I grew up in Hawaii and Southern California and so the prairie just seemed like an awful, drab place, so far away from anything I had ever known. My ideal survivalist fantasy was the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse (in the Disney film), out on a lovely island with tropical birds and monkeys and a baby elephant that I could befriend. I love the idea of finding your place in an environment rather than forcing it to conform to what you think it should be.

So, I wasn’t very happy when I read Little House in the Big Woods a couple of years ago because of the way that the Ingalls family and others claimed dominion over all the animals (and killed tons of them), the way that they treated their children, and the numerous platitudes about how “good” children should act. Well, I ran into these problems again with this one but, far worse, it added in some horrifying views on the native inhabitants of the prairie. Not only did the family move into Indian Territory without permission, but they actually stated that they were just biding their time until the US Government came and forced the natives out. The mother and the neighbor lady said repellant things about these people that they had never met and the words “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” were used, much to my horror. Once Laura even threw a tantrum because her father wouldn’t take a young native baby from its mother for her to have even though she wanted it. Yes, to her and her family these natives barely even qualified as people sometimes. It was disgusting and a total low point in the history of our country but is totally passed off as normal in this book. I could see having children read it if you were going to specifically have a discussion with them about discrimination and displacement and racism but I can’t see handing it to them as a light, fun read. Honestly, I am having a very hard time knowing that anyone views this as a favorite book. With the rampant racism that is resurfacing both in America and abroad, I would rather find books for my child that celebrate diversity or at least honestly discuss why white settlers and colonists, explorers and pilgrims, were not always on the right side of history.

Anyway, you can probably figure out that I can’t recommend this book except as a guided discussion read. Between Laura being called “greedy” for taking a single lick of her Christmas peppermint stick (which makes NO sense since the author is, essentially, writing about herself!) to the constant refrains of “children should not speak unless spoken to”, etc., I think this book is better left in the past with its outdated views.

Whew! Sorry for skipping my usual format but this book just made me so angry as I was reading it. Hopefully Ramona and Her Father is a pleasant, light read. I honestly don’t remember anything about it though I’m sure I read it as a kid!

*****
Schedule – July through September
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)
September 30 – #13 The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (1997)

100 Chapter Books Project: Ramona the Pest

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So, I had my post for this book all written, blithely telling you all about how I didn’t think readers had actually read Ramona the Pest (1968) recently and that their fond memories didn’t necessarily translate into this actually being a good book, especially for today’s kids. But then Beverly Cleary had to go and have an interview about turning 100 next month and now I feel like a big jerk! There’s tons of BC love out there and obviously there are people who still find value in the Ramona books. So, although I’m still going to share my thoughts, I’m sure there will be those who disagree.

There are three Cleary books on the Top 100 Chapter Books list, two of which are Ramona Quimby books, but I’m going to stick to my cranky-pants guns here and say that I’m not sure the world that these stories are set in is one that teaches kids the right things about how to behave today.

What it’s about: It’s time for Ramona Quimby to start kindergarten and she is both pleased and upset by the workings of school and new relationships.

Age level: Grades 2-4

Best part: I did really like the teacher, Miss Binney. She handled the quirky kindergarteners in just the right way, staying calm and praising even their smallest victories. She would still be most kindergarteners’ favorite teacher.

Worst part: This book is simply from a different age. If a kindergartener was constantly trying to kiss another student, pulling another girl’s hair, and messing around at the street crossing instead of following the rules, that kid would be in quite a bit of trouble, regardless of intent. The things that Ramona does are no longer cute or quirky. She is more than just a pest. When things don’t go her way, she plans to throw a tantrum. Blech. And Ramona’s mom isn’t the best example either. She leaves her kindergartener to walk to school on her own without even bothering to find out if she can tell time properly. This might have seemed cute in the 60s but now there would probably be a CPS call!

Verdict: Borrow/Skip

I just couldn’t get on board with finding Ramona’s behavior cute or silly. She got on my nerves and never got in trouble. She was consistently let off the hook and her only lessons learned were indirect. No adult sat her down and told her to shape up. I haven’t read any of the other Ramona books lately so I’m hoping that this year was just a bad one for Ramona and that the rest of the series is okay. In the meantime, I’m going to stick to Cleary’s The Mouse and the Motorcycle, which Z and I read when he was a kindergartener and both thought was still really fun!

I’m looking forward to my next read, The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan. I know that many of the boys at Z’s school like Flanagan’s books and I’m in the mood for something newer and less realistic.

*****
Schedule – April through June
April 15 – #69 The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan (2006)
April 30 – Spring Break
May 15 – #45 Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (1960)
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)