100 Chapter Books Project: The Bad Beginning

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Half-way down the Top 100 Chapter Books list is The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket, first in the Series of Unfortunate Events. I’m going to keep this short, just like the book.

What it’s about: The three Baudelaire children–Violet, Klaus and Sunny–are orphaned and are sent to the first of their many future homes, that of Count Olaf. It doesn’t take long to figure out that Olaf is a horrible person who has only agreed to take guardianship of the children in order to get control of their vast fortune. I wonder how he could manage that …

Age level: Grade 3-5

Best part: I love that Violet is the one who is a gifted engineer (girl power!) and I really like the way that Snicket endeavors to expand kids’ vocabularies.

Worst part: The writing is a bit choppy and the clueless adults are just a bit too clueless.

Verdict: Buy/Borrow

Though this isn’t one of my favorite books, it’s not bad and one can certainly see how it influenced many stories that have come after it. It was daring in 1999 to have a story without a clear happy ending. No matter how capable the kids are, some things are just out of their control. I’ve never read past book three or four (there are thirteen in the series, naturally) but I know there are still kids at Z’s school that take out the books one after another — and how can you argue with that?

Now, I’ll admit that I’ve chosen a couple of beloved rereads as some of my winter books for this project and the first is The Phantom Tollbooth. I have adored this book since I first read it in 6th grade and I read it with Z a couple of years ago and he loved it too. If you’ve never read this brainy adventure, join me!

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Schedule – November through January
note: dates are not necessarily set in stone – posts may go up a day or two before or after
November 15 – #21 The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (1961)
November 30 – #62 Clementine by Sara Pennypacker (2006)
December 15 – #47 Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)
December 30 – Winter Break
January 15 – #28 The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (1995)
January 31 – #95 The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1943)

 

100 Chapter Books Project: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

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1970’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume came in at number 74 on the Top 100 Chapter Books list. It’s kind of right on that border of middle grade and YA due to lots of time spent talking about puberty and budding relationships.

What it’s about: Margaret Simon is starting sixth grade at a new school after moving from New York City to New Jersey. Her mother is Christian and her father is Jewish and she spends a lot of time thinking about religion — when she isn’t thinking about boys or puberty issues.

Age level: Grade 5-6

Best part: Margaret learns some great lessons about not believing rumors about people and about standing up for herself, even against bullying family members.

Worst part: Margaret’s eventual conclusions about religion are ridiculous. They actually managed to ruin the entire book for me.

Verdict: Borrow/Skip

I really didn’t feel like writing much about this book because it made me so angry. I was actually thinking “hey, this book isn’t too bad — it’s a little weird that these girls are talking so much about their periods since I never once talked about it with any friend because EMBARRASSING but maybe some girls were different than I was” and then BAM! the most ridiculous “moral of the story” showed up in one or two sentences near the end. Margaret spends the entire book researching religion, attending different services and talking to a God that she isn’t even entirely sure she believes in about how she wants him to make her boobs grow. So what conclusion does she come to? That her parents were wrong to leave the choice of her personal religion up to her because it’s just too damn hard to think for herself and that she will just force a religion on her own children from birth and spare them the agony of thought. Yeah. That’s a great message to send to kids. Don’t bother thinking about religion. Pray that you were lucky enough to just have your parents tell you what you are and what you believe. Blech.

Moving on … I’m definitely looking forward to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate! It’s been on my TBR since it came out but I’ve just never gotten to it.

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Schedule – August through November

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

August 30 – #66 The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (2009)

September 15 – #14 The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (1938)

September 30 – Project Update – Two Years In!

October 15 – #79 The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (1967)

October 31 – #48 The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (1999)

November 15 – #21 The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (1961)

100 Chapter Books Project: Holes

holesIt’s been a while since I read a Top Ten book from the Top 100 list. Holes by Louis Sachar is #6 on the list after some super heavy hitters — Charlotte’s Web, A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Giver and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. So what makes this book from 1998 so special besides its Newbery Medal?

What it’s about: Stanley Yelnats is caught with a pair of a celebrity athlete’s sneakers that were destined for a charity auction. Though he swears they fell from the sky and hit him in the head, he is found guilty of the theft. He gets to choose between jail time and a juvenile detention camp, Camp Green Lake (in possession of neither green nor lake). It turns out that it’s a work camp and the only job is digging holes, obviously in search of something but what it is is unknown.

Age level: Grade 4-6

Best part: The relationships between the boys at the camp are really believable and realistic. They are friends and yet not at the same time, looking out for their own interests but also helping each other when necessary. None of them are bad kids even though they’ve obviously made some bad choices.

Worst part: I don’t really have any complaints about this one.

Verdict: Buy/Borrow

I really liked this book but that special something was missing that would have made me love it. I really think that it’s because I’ve seen the movie version a few times and, as Sachar himself wrote the screenplay, it’s very true to the book. This meant that there were no surprises for me. I think I could have loved it if there had been more suspense, more mystery. There must have been a lot of people who read the book first though since this book ended up where it did on the list. This also seems like a great book for reluctant readers because it’s all action. I think Sachar deserved a medal just for making a book about digging holes interesting.

I can’t believe that the next book I’m reading is Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I can still remember being about ten years old and getting it from the school library. I haven’t read it since but I’ve still never forgotten certain parts of it.

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Schedule – August through October

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

August 15 – #74 Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (1970)

August 30 – #66 The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (2009)

September 15 – #14 The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (1938)

September 30 – Project Update – Two Years In!

October 15 – #79 The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (1967)

October 31 – #48 The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (1999)