100 Chapter Books Project: Betsy-Tacy

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Right in the middle of the Top 100 Chapter Books is Betsy-Tacy (1940) by Maud Hart Lovelace. As this is the start of a semi-autobiographical series that began as bedtime stories to the author’s daughter, it has a lot of heart and obvious love for the characters.

What it’s about: Betsy has been waiting for another five year old girl to move on to her street and soon Tacy’s family obliges by buying the house directly across from them. After a hiccup or two, the girls become fast friends, having fun and helping each other through everything from the first day of school to the loss of a sibling.

Age level: Grades 2-4

Best part: I loved that the story explored the highs and lows of childhood. Nothing was dwelled on over-long but everything seemed to be given the right weight.

Worst part: Possibly the Catholic family with a dozen kids but it was just a passing annoyance and, as the characters were based on real families, I’m not sure it can be considered a stereotype. There really wasn’t much I didn’t enjoy about this story! 

Verdict: Buy/Borrow

This really was a lovely little story. From the girls dressing up and going “calling”, complete with Betsy’s mother’s calling cards, to their entrepreneurial experiments (selling sand in jars that had been colored with leftover Easter egg dye), I found the girls charming. They weren’t faultless but nothing they did or had happen to them was simply for drama’s sake. I’m actually quite intrigued by the fact that the series of thirteen books was written for readers to continue aging along with the characters, ending with Betsy’s Wedding, a YA book. I’m sure that I will end up grabbing the rest of this series at random over the years when I need small, uplifting filler reads.

I think I’ve read The Tale of Despereaux before but I can’t remember for sure because there is a movie version that I know I’ve watched with Z. I do love other Kate DiCamillo books though so I’m sure it will be a good read! Then I have three favorites saved for the end of the project, rereads that I know I will enjoy.

*****
Schedule – January through March
January 31 – #51 The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (2003)
February 15 – #91 Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (1950)
February 28 – #8 Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (1908)
March 15 – #1 Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (1952)
March 31 – Project Wrap-Up!

100 Chapter Books Project: The Horse and His Boy

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It’s kind of strange to see which books in a series made it onto the Top 100 Chapter Books list. Two books from The Chronicles of Narnia did — the first and the fifth, The Horse and His Boy (1954). This is the only one of the series books that is just about characters from Narnia and surrounding countries, with only brief appearances from the Pevensies.

What it’s about: A boy who was raised by a fisherman is about to be sold to a man as a servant. When the man and the fisherman go to sleep, Shasta (the boy) finds out that the man’s horse is actually a Horse, a talking beast of Narnia. The two decide to escape and travel together to Narnia and hopefully find Shasta’s original home as well.

Age level: Grades 4-5

Best part: How Shasta expected the worst of people based on where he was raised but then found that it wasn’t like that everywhere. I think it’s a great lesson both ways — that there are bad people in the world but also good ones and so to be wary but also not to necessarily expect the worst.

Worst part: The heavy-handed religious allegories. “There is no fate, only Aslan” was a bit much for me, especially when Aslan conversely had no problem dishing out Old Testament-type punishments.

Verdict: Borrow

It turns out that a talking Horse is way less interesting than almost any other talking animal. I was bored during the start of the book, drawn in for a bit, and then totally turned off by the religious part and the tidy ending. There were good parts of the story but I would have rather seen them in a different story.

I’ll be taking the rest of the year off and then will be back in January with the last five books of the project! Betsy-Tacy is likely to be one of the titles that made it onto the list because of nostalgia but I’m hoping it’s good anyway.

*****
Schedule – December through March
December 31 – Winter Break
January 15 – #52 Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace (1940)
January 31 – #51 The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (2003)
February 15 – #91 Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (1950)
February 28 – #8 Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (1908)
March 15 – #1 Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (1952)
March 31 – Project Wrap-Up!

100 Chapter Books Project: Number the Stars

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Number the Stars (1989) by Lois Lowry is another of the Top 100 Chapter Books that I’ve happened to read at the perfect time — now, when it is more important than ever that we remember the past in order to (hopefully) avoid reliving it.

What it’s about: Annemarie Johansen lives with her mother, father, and younger sister in an apartment building in Copenhagen in 1943. The German soldiers stand on every corner after the occupation of Denmark three years earlier. So far, everyone has suffered equally but now the eye of the Nazis has turned to the Danish Jews and they are all in danger of being “relocated”. The Johansens immediately begin working to save Annemarie’s neighbor and best friend Ellen Rosen and her family and help them get to unoccupied Sweden.

Age level: Grades 5+

I’ve taken out the “best/worst” part of the post again because this book contains exactly what it needs to be honest in its representation of history. It is not always easy to read but is beautifully written and full of essential truths. Lowry explains that the story is based on the stories she heard from a childhood friend who actually lived in occupied Denmark during World War II. She uses historical facts to frame the story of the Johansens and the Rosens and she did a lot of research for this novella-length chapter book. She says in the Afterword:

“In reading of the Resistance leaders in Denmark, I came across an account of a young man … who was eventually captured and executed by the Nazis when he was only twenty-one years old. … I would like to end this with a paragraph written by that young man, in a letter to his mother, the night before he was put to death.

… and I want you all to remember — that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one. That is the great gift our country hungers for …

Surely that gift — the gift of a world of human decency — is the one that all countries hunger for still.”

Verdict: Buy

It breaks my heart that I needed to read Number the Stars and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry because of the current political and social climate in the United States and beyond. Though both books illustrated some of the worst that humans have done to each other in recent history, they also gave me hope because the characters in them endured and survived. I have come to the conclusion that we shouldn’t simply wait out these hard times but, instead, build our own Resistance forces now, before the abuse and discrimination escalates. I strongly believe that education is necessary for any successful resistance and fiction is a great tool for educating. Simply getting these books into the hands of children could make a world of difference. As a wise woman once said, the children are our future.

Whew. These last two posts have been heavy. Next, I’ll be escaping into fantasy again while reading The Horse and His Boy, the fifth published Narnia book. I’m looking forward to reading about Narnians rather than Pevensies.

*****
Schedule – December through March
December 15 – #96 The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis (1954)
December 31 – Winter Break
January 15 – #52 Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace (1940)
January 31 – #51 The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (2003)
February 15 – #91 Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (1950)
February 28 – #8 Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (1908)
March 15 – #1 Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (1952)
March 31 – Project Wrap-Up!