100 Chapter Books Project: Charlotte’s Web

charlottes-web

E.B. White’s 1952 classic, Charlotte’s Web, was the number one book on the Top 100 Chapter Books list. I can’t imagine that there are many young readers who manage to get through childhood without reading this book or having it read to them.

What it’s about: Fern Arable finds out one morning that her father is heading out to the barn, intending to kill the runt pig of a new litter. She can’t stand that this is the fate of a little creature and so her father allows her to raise the pig to teach her a lesson. The tables are turned though when Wilbur is a perfect little pig. When he’s a big bigger, he goes to her uncle’s farm down the road where he is now at risk of being killed for food. Luckily, Wilbur makes friends with a talented spider who has an idea of how to save his life.

Age level: Grades 2-4

Best part: The descriptions of the seasons and the patterns of life are wonderful. Also, there’s no dancing around the word kill. It’s an honest description of what happens to animals bred for food.

Worst part: Fern’s mother is a bit harsh at times but thankfully she softens up.

Verdict: Buy

Well, that’s it for the list! Was this the best book of the entire thing? Probably not. But it is certainly timeless, great for all readers, and not lacking in a couple of good lessons for youngsters. But, most of all, it’s special because of the magic of Charlotte, a humble spider.

I’ll have one more post at the end of the month to remind you of all the great books I’ve read over the last four and a half years and then I’ll have to search for my next major reading project, I guess!

*****
Schedule – March
March 31 – Project Wrap-Up!

 

100 Chapter Books Project: The Great Gilly Hopkins

GreatGilly1

I’m having a lot of trouble deciding what to say about my latest Top 100 Chapter Books list read, The Great Gilly Hopkins (1978) by Katherine Paterson, because I have had so many thoughts about it since I finished listening to the story about a week ago. I went back to Betsy’s post about the book and it did help me understand a bit of where the story came from.

What it’s about: Gilly, real name Galadriel Hopkins, was abandoned by her mother to the foster system when she was a baby. She has been through a string of foster homes in her eleven years, all with faults, some worse than others. The latest one is with a widow named Trotter and a foster boy named William Ernest. With all of the emotional damage Gilly has collected over the years, will she be able to open her heart when she is finally placed with good people?

Age level: Grades 5-8

Best part: The change in Gilly’s views on African-Americans and Trotter and William Ernest through the book and the incorporation of a Wordsworth poem into the story.

Worst part: Gilly’s horrid words (and the author’s) about Trotter’s weight, her words about William Ernest (repeatedly calling him a retard), and her use of the “n” word (I assume it was originally written in the book — the audiobook just had a blank pause where it would have been and I would guess it has been taken out in later editions). Also, her stealing from a blind neighbor, her birth mother’s actions, and Trotter’s final words about happiness. Even at the end, I never really came to like Gilly either — which is a problem.

Verdict: Borrow/Skip

Okay. So, this is the fourth book that I’ve given a “skip” in the 70+ I’ve read. Two were by Judy Blume and were written in the early 1970s and two were by Katherine Paterson and were written in the late 70s. I’m conceding defeat as far as these authors go. I would have given this a full on skip if it wasn’t for the fact that it was so honest about what it must feel like to be a foster kid. And, in fact, the book was written after Paterson’s own experience as a foster parent and that authenticity comes through.

There is a movie version that is being released this month with Kathy Bates as Trotter. I’m not sure if it’s being done as a period piece because, honestly, you would have to take out much of Gilly’s racism because it is frankly unacceptable these days and her punishments for the things she does (like mocking her African-American teacher’s looks in a homemade greeting card) would be far more severe. Also, the fat-shaming of Trotter is annoying and unacceptable. Not only does Gilly think of her as a hippopotamus but one of the scenes is written around a flu-weakened Trotter falling on top of Gilly and squishing her. I would only hope that this would be taken out of the story as well because it’s awful. And her treatment of the gentle but slow William Ernest makes me want to vomit in anger. Also, the way she finally bonds with him is to teach him to fight. Blech. I just loathed so much of this story. It’s a product of a decade that wasn’t one of America’s finest.

My next post will be a couple of days early because of BBAW but luckily Flipped is a really short (and hopefully fun) book — although it’s a YA romance so I’m guessing that it probably doesn’t even belong on a middle grade chapter book list. Sigh. Okay, now I’m REALLY looking forward to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!

*****
Schedule – February through April
February 13 – #92 Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen (2001)
February 28 – #61 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (1964)
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

100 Chapter Books Project: The Book of Three

Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three (1964) is the 18th highest book on the Top 100 Chapter Books list. It’s the first in a series of five stories called The Chronicles of Prydain and it’s part of the story of the 1985 Disney film The Black Cauldron.

What it’s about: Taran lives in Caer Dallben where he is a bit bored with his quiet life of tending to Hen Wen, the oracular pig, and learning a bit of blacksmithing. He would rather be learning to fight and have adventures. But when he gets exactly what he dreamed of, he finds that a hero is defined by much different things than he thought and that friendship and loyalty might change the world more than heroics.

Age level: Grades 4-8

Best character: Fflewddur Fflam, the former king and current bard. His harp breaks a string every time he fibs but he’s such a good person, even if he’s prone to exaggeration.

Worst character: Taran … because it takes him the whole story to grow up and stop saying stupid rude things to people (but I still like him anyway).

Verdict: Buy

I thought this was such a great book that I’ve moved up the 5th book (which is also on the list) in my schedule to the spring for the Once Upon a Time challenge, which means I’ll have to read the middle three this winter. Oh darn. It was really everything about this book that appealed to me — the writing, the characters, the pacing, the adventure. I really wish I had picked it up as a kid, especially when I was watching the movie regularly. Unfortunately, the cover might have turned me off to the story (scary skull guy!). But maybe if someone had put it into my hands, along with The Black Cauldron, I would have just read them anyway and then I would have voted them onto this list too.

The next book up is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane which, coincidentally, Z’s teacher started reading to the class on the first day of school.

*****

Schedule – October through December

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

October 15 – #59 The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (2006)

October 31 – #81 The Witches by Roald Dahl (1983)

November 15 – #56 A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1905)

November 30 – #73 The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (1972)

December 15 – #78 Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (1936)

December 31 – Winter Break!