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)

100 Chapter Books Project: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie_and_the_Chocolate_Factory_(book_cover)

I’m finally feeling okay again about the Top 100 Chapter Books list after reading a truly good, fun book that almost every kid will enjoy reading. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) by Roald Dahl is obviously a story that resonates through the generations. It’s funny, it’s heartwarming, and it makes the reader dream about chocolate.

What it’s about: Charlie Bucket is poor and his family is about to starve when Wonka’s Chocolates, the factory down the road, puts five Golden Tickets into five bars of chocolate, each one redeemable for a tour of the factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate.

Age level: Grades 2-5

Best part: I simply love Willy Wonka. The way he ignores criticism, has unending enthusiasm, and is owner of the largest imagination ever makes him one of my favorite book characters of all time.

Worst part: That the book never actually provides the reader with any chocolate.

Verdict: Buy

This is just such a fun read. I also reread Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator because I remembered getting it out from the library just as often as the original. I don’t know what I was thinking as a kid because that book is strange (most of it takes place in space)! I would just stick to the original Chocolate Factory. It is Roald Dahl at his best.

Next I’ll be reading Maniac Magee. I see his books all of the time in Z’s school library but I have never picked one up so I’m excited to finally take at look at this author!

*****
Schedule – March through May
March 15 – #40 Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (1990)
March 31 – #24 Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary (1968)
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)