100 Chapter Books Project: Each Little Bird That Sings

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I’m always thrilled to discover a hidden gem on the Top 100 Chapter Books list and I’ve found another one — Each Little Bird That Sings (2005) by Deborah Wiles. It definitely deserves to be higher than number 71. It’s only ten years old though so there’s still time for it to gain in popularity.

What it’s about: Comfort Snowberger at ten years old is already well-versed in death. Her family owns Snowbergers’ Funeral Home and so it’s her family’s business to take care of the dead of Snapfinger, Mississippi. As it turns out, dealing with the dead is actually easier than dealing with the living, especially friends who are untrue.

Age level: Grades 4-6

Best character: Comfort Snowberger — she is an incredible kid, not flawless but able to find redemption once she figures out which are the things that really matter in life.

Worst character: Declaration Johnson — because the worst bully is the one that used to be your friend.

Verdict: Buy

I’ve never read a book that dealt with death in such a straight-forward and thoughtful way. I think if I had read a book like this as a kid, I would have had a better understanding of death and grief thanks to Comfort and her “Life Notices” (she writes positive, friendly obituaries that never get published in the small local paper because they’re not “just the facts”). Just a warning though — there is a major pet trauma toward the end of the story that may be a bit much for sensitive young ones (or me, apparently). Still, it wasn’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm for this fantastic story.

After a little time off for spring break (yay!), my 40th birthday (boo!), and Read-a-thon (double yay!), I’ll be back with an umpteenth reread of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. If you’ve never read it, join me. It’ll be fun!

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Schedule – May through July
April 30 – Spring Break
May 15 – #31 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
May 31 – #4 The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)
June 15 – #80 The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright (1942)
June 30 – #70 Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (1994)
July 15 – #7 From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (1967)

100 Chapter Books Project: The Golden Compass

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The Golden Compass (1995, Northern Lights in the U.K.) by Philip Pullman is number 28 on the Top 100 Chapter Books list. Sometimes I think that a series book is appropriately listed separately on the list because it’s either the best in the series or is a fantastic standalone. But, in cases like this one, I think that the book is likely a stand-in by voters for the entire series. The His Dark Materials series works best when all three books are read together and they are all rather good.

What it’s about: Lyra Belacqua is an orphan who lives at Jordan College in Oxford (in a world that is not quite ours), always accompanied by her daemon, Pantalaimon. In Lyra’s world, daemons are bosom companions (souls) that take animal form and are changeable when one is a child but choose a fixed form during puberty. Lyra spies one day on the leaders of Jordan College and her uncle, Lord Asriel, and finds out about an elementary particle called “dust” and about another world that exists across the Aurora Borealis. Lyra soon finds herself fighting against a sinister plot to change her world as she knows it, but she also finds that she isn’t alone when she gains assistance from some very unexpected companions.

Age level: Grade 5+

Best part: Lyra is simply amazing. She’s smart and capable and headstrong but she’s also human and she makes several very tough decisions and is willing to face the consequences to help others. Iorek Byrnison, Serafina Pekkala and Farder Coram are also outstanding characters with depth, flaws and very individual world views.

Worst part: This series is constantly challenged or banned. The reasons touch on politics, religion, and violence. The truth is that this is a book that encourages readers to question authority (especially religious and political authority), to make informed decisions based on science and fact, and to protect those things that are important parts of our core beings and our environment. The likely true reason for so many challenges is that Pullman is a secular humanist.

Verdict: Buy

This was a reread for me and I did it on audiobook with a great full-cast version. I’m on the library waiting list now for the audiobook of The Subtle Knife, book two in the series because I can’t remember everything that comes next in the story. I loved this portion of the tale as much as I did when I read the series a few years back. The characters are so vivid and the plot is intense and compelling. It’s an incredibly thoughtful and substantial book which I’m sure dozens of students have analyzed over the years.

Next up is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. This is a re-read for me and it’s a short story so I would like to spend a little time doing some background research and reading on the author along with reading the story itself. There will also be a movie coming out later this year so if anyone hasn’t read this and wants to join me, feel free!

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Schedule – January through April
January 31 – #95 The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1943)
February 15 – #20 Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (2000)
February 28 – #49 My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett (1948)
March 15 – #39 The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (2007)
March 30 – #5 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (1950)
April 15 – #71 Each Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles (2005)

100 Chapter Books Project: Little Women

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The second oldest book on the Top 100 Chapter Books list is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868). It’s a bonafide American classic as it has tons of versions currently in print (including four versions and a mug from Penguin) and multiple movie versions (released from 1917-1994).

What it’s about: Four sisters–Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy–mature from teens into women in an unnamed New England town, experiencing friendship, romance, learning, and loss.

Age level: Grade 5+

Best part: For a Victorian-era novel, this is a very readable book, probably because it was written for children. Also … Laurie.

Worst part: So. Many. Morals. The moralizing was ever-present and quite heavy-handed. It got tedious after a while. Also … Amy.

Verdict: Buy/Borrow

Even after finishing, I still can’t remember if I’ve ever read it before. It seems like I should have but I might just be remembering parts of the story from watching the Katharine Hepburn movie with my mom. Anyway, I’m also not sure that a lot of children would enjoy this story these days. I’m sure there ARE some who would read and enjoy it as historical fiction (as they would with the Little House books) but, at 500 pages, it’s long for a non-fantasy book, and the second half that deals with romance, marriage and the like might just be confusing or boring to a lot of kids.  This really seems like more of an adult read now (except for all of the moralizing). Bottom line — I wouldn’t buy this for my ten-year-old niece but I might suggest she look for it at the library and give it a try!

I’m so excited for my next read, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. In fact, I’m going to reread the whole His Dark Materials series over the holiday break. I’ve been waiting for a good excuse!

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Schedule – January through March
note: dates are not necessarily set in stone – posts may go up a day or two before or after
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)
February 15 – #20 Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (2000)
February 28 – #49 My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett (1948)
March 15 – #39 The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (2007)