100 Chapter Books Project: Walk Two Moons

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Walk Two Moons (1994) by Sharon Creech is number 70 on the Top 100 Chapter Books list. It’s the story of Salamanca Tree Hiddle and her journey across the midwest with her grandparents. While on the trip, she tells them about her recent life in the guise of telling them about her friend Phoebe. I’m going to forego my usual review structure this time because I had some complaints while reading this book and I want to talk about them (at least the ones that don’t require massive spoilers to tell). It is a Newbery Award winner and probably seemed really sensitive and progressive at the time. But now, 20 years later, I’m not sure that it deserves this place on a list of the top books for children.

Not too far into the book, I started feeling uncomfortable about the way that Native Americans were being portrayed in the story (a very “full of mystical wisdom and anger” portrayal). I did a quick Google search and came up with this very thoughtful discussion of it on the American Indians in Children’s Literature website. A few of the criticisms were: mixing up names from different tribes, someone claiming Indian heritage but then not knowing the name of their own tribe, using only white sources for Native myths (the author’s shortcoming, not within the story). I think, as readers, we are becoming more demanding that an author does not speak to a racial experience that they have not had, certainly not under the flimsy pretense of having had a possible Native ancestor (based on what a cousin said during childhood). I frequently found myself cringing and wishing that I was reading a story about an authentic Native experience instead.

There’s also a 1995 article from the New York Times about the book that mentions that it was “panned for its plot contrivances”. If some of those critics thought that it was a ridiculous coincidence that a girl (Sal) whose mother had left to “find herself” moves to a new town where her first friend (and subsequent best friend, Phoebe), within months, has a mother that does the exact same thing, then I agree with them. This drove me crazy. What was even worse, though, is the fact that Sal never once tells Phoebe about her own mother. What’s the point of having a (frankly unbelievable) shared experience if you aren’t going to SHARE it?!

The last major irritant for me was when the students (the girls are 13 so maybe 8th grade?) write summer journals for their English class. The teacher collects them and it’s only at that point that the kids realize that the teacher might read them. This is, of course, entirely realistic. What he actually ends up doing is far worse though and not remotely acceptable. He starts bringing out a couple of journals a day and READS FROM THEM TO THE CLASS! He hides whose journal it is and he changes the names but the kids can tell who would say what and about whom — because all he’s reading out is what one kid has said about another. He ruins friendships and budding romances and allows kids to be teased. It is awful. He only stops when one of the kids writes something that accuses one of his family members of a crime. There is barely an apology and it’s a completely pointless action anyway because none of it has anything to do with the plot. All it seems to do is to convince young readers to hide their feelings and to not trust teachers.

Anyway, this apparently was a contentious choice for the Newbery and I think it’s a contentious entrant on this list. Of the 100 books on the list, I believe that only two are written by an author of color and both are by the same person — Christopher Paul Curtis. This is extremely disappointing. I didn’t hate this book but I am absolutely sure that we could find much better books to speak to a variety of experiences.

Whew! I am really looking forward to From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I know I saw it on the shelves tons of times when I was a kid but honestly can’t remember if it was one I ever read. I guess I’ll find out!

*****
Schedule – July through September
 
July 15 – #7 From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (1967)
July 31 – #65 Wonder by R.J. Palacio (2012)
August 15 – #43 Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (1980)
August 31 – #77 My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (1959)
September 15 – #46 The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (1990)
September 30 – #55 All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor (1951)

100 Chapter Books Project: The Four-Story Mistake

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The Four-Story Mistake (1942) is Elizabeth Enright’s third book on the Top 100 Chapter Books list: Gone-Away Lake at #47, The Saturdays at #75, and this one at #80. This is rather amazing to me as I had never even heard of Enright before this project.

What it’s about: This is the second book of four that Enright wrote about the Melendy family — Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver. The first book, The Saturdays, was about their life in the city (New York) and this book is about their move to the country during World War II. It’s a collection of random events through their first set of seasons in the new house, the one called The Four-Storey Mistake (it actually only has three stories with an attic and cupola on top).

Age level: Grades 3-5

Best part: The adventures were more fun (and realistic) in this book, especially those like finding secret rooms and treasures from the past in the house. Ice skating down a frozen river has been a fantasy of mine ever since reading Tom’s Midnight Garden and I always wanted to find treasures from the past in my homes but, unfortunately, have never lived in a house built earlier than the 1970s or 80s.

Worst part: There were a couple of parts that were a bit too dated — like the handyman giving twelve-year-old Rush a couple of cups of black coffee and then stating that their next step was for him to try chewing tobacco.

Verdict: Borrow

I liked this book and thought it was a fun read (listen, really) but there wasn’t that spark to make me love it. I liked the kids, their sibling interactions, and their individual talents and dreams. I am trying to come up with what was missing for me but I don’t think it was anything specific, just a general contentment while reading rather than excitement. It is still a good book to share with an avid reader though.

Next I’ll be reading Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. I read my first Creech, Love That Dog, two years ago for this project (strangely, right before Gone-Away Lake) and really loved it so I have high hopes for this one!

*****
Schedule – June through September
 
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)
July 31 – #65 Wonder by R.J. Palacio (2012)
August 15 – #43 Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (1980)
August 31 – #77 My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (1959)
September 15 – #46 The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (1990)

100 Chapter Books Project: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

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One of the oldest (1865) but absolutely best books on the Top 100 Chapter Books list is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. It’s only #31 on the list but, based on its influence on children’s literature (and film) and the multitude of new book versions constantly coming out, I’m sure it really should be in the top ten.

What it’s about: Nonsense.

Age level: Grades 3-∞

Best part: The tea party. And the fact that it’s still quite readable after 150 years.

Worst part: The whole duchess/cook/baby-pig chapter. And the “it was all a dream” crap. Wonderland is real and everyone knows it.

Verdict: Buy

The wonderful thing about this book is that there are constantly new versions being put out, both with new, modern illustrations and also with faithful reproductions of the old ones, so that every reader should be able to find a copy that is visually interesting to them. I own at least three versions and have my eye on a couple more because I love almost all of the covers and artwork that this story inspires. But the best thing is that the words never need change because they are perfect as is. There are a few random British history sentences that modern global kids might not understand but the rest is the perfect type of fancy that never goes out of style.

My next read is The Giver which I have always avoided based on the bleak cover (and the fact that it came out the year after I graduated high school so I wasn’t really picking up chapter books at that time). I’m in the middle of listening to it on audio and I am surprisingly LOVING it. I can’t wait to see how it ends!

*****
Schedule – May through August
 
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)
July 31 – #65 Wonder by R.J. Palacio (2012)
August 15 – #43 Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (1980)