100 Chapter Books Project: Island of the Blue Dolphins

Blue_dolphins

In the middle of the Top 100 Chapter Books list is Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) by Scott O’Dell.

What it’s about: An island off the California coast, west of Santa Catalina Island, is inhabited by a group of native people. They end up losing most of their men when Russian and Aleutian hunters come for sea otters and end up trying to cheat the tribe of the promised remuneration. When it is time for the group to relocate to the mainland to the east, Karana is accidentally left behind. This book is her story of survival.

Age level: Grades 4-6

Best part: I loved Karana’s evolution from killing almost every kind of animal on and around the island to finding alternate sources of food and supplies, based on her increased relationships with many different species, including dogs, birds, and otters.

Worst part: I honestly wished Karana would stay on the island forever. When the mainlanders immediately made her a dress that covered her from chin to ankle, it made me sad for the freedom that she was losing and worried about the things she would face in their world.

Verdict: Buy

In case you’re wondering (and because I’ve been kind of grumpy over a few recent reads), this is only the 39th book I’ve given a straight “Buy” to out of 79. This is absolutely one of the best historical fictions I’ve ever read. I think O’Dell did a fantastic job with Karana’s story. Also, the choice of Tantoo Cardinal as narrator for the audiobook was perfect. The attention to detail, the tackling of a lesser known area and culture, and the choice of main character and her evolution through time are all stellar. I felt like I was there watching Karana work and survive. Her breaking of the taboos against women doing certain things in her culture was wonderful. And her relationship with the animals was something that a nature nerd like me dreams of. This story was inspired by the real life story of “Juana Maria”, who was on the island of San Nicolas for 18 years (1835-1853) and who indeed died about seven weeks after her “rescue”, which makes me sad. The people of the time blamed malnutrition but I would guess she contracted a host of diseases rather soon after arriving in California.

Next I’ll be reading Matilda, which is another one that I don’t think I’ve actually read, though I know the story. I’m already terrified of the Trunchbull so I’m wary of delving into this one!

*****
Schedule – May through August
May 31 – #30 Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)
June 15 – #37 The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (2007)
June 30 – #27 Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1935)
July 15 – #94 Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary (1977)
July 31 – #44 Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt (2011)
August 15 – #76 Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (2007)

100 Chapter Books Project: The Ruins of Gorlan

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Some of the votes for the Top 100 Chapter Books list came from students and I’m guessing that The Ruins of Gorlan (2006) by John Flanagan was one of the ones that they voted in. This isn’t a literary wonder or an instant classic but it was sure a fun start to a series!

What it’s about: Will is an orphan, and for all of his life he has been a ward of the castle of Baron Arald. He’s now fifteen and of an age to become apprentice to one of the Craftmasters and he’s hoping to attend Battleschool, to train as a warrior and become a knight. However, his skills uniquely qualify him to apprentice as a Ranger, a spy/scout. Whether this path will be fulfilling and if he will be successful is up to him.

Age level: Grades 4-6

Best part: I actually loved the hints of The Lord of the Rings in the story and I also enjoyed the way the relationships between Will and the other wards changed through time. Also, nobody (and no horses) died, which was refreshing.

Worst part: I now have 11 books ahead of me to find out what happens in the war and beyond to Will and his friends!

Verdict: Buy/Borrow

This series was written by the author for his own reluctant reader son so it’s heavy on plot and emotion. I definitely found myself reading it faster and faster to find out what was going to happen. It was definitely derivative of a lot of different adventure series but it was still compelling. I really didn’t expect to like is as much as I did. I do hope that the rest of the series is as engaging because I’ll be recommending it to some of the reluctant readers at Z’s school.

Now, I don’t know why I never read Island of the Blue Dolphins but I’m finally getting my chance. I’ll admit that I still don’t know what it is about but I think it’s based on a true story? I guess I’ll find out!

*****
Schedule – May through July
May 15 – #45 Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (1960)
May 31 – #30 Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)
June 15 – #37 The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (2007)
June 30 – #27 Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1935)
July 15 – #94 Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary (1977)
July 31 – #44 Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt (2011)

100 Chapter Books Project: Maniac Magee

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Lots of people voted Maniac Magee (1990) by Jerry Spinelli onto the Top 100 Chapter Books list as it came in at number 40 but, if you read Betsy’s post about the book, you will see that there are a few reviews that are on the fence about this book as well.

What it’s about: Jeffrey Magee, a.k.a. Maniac, was orphaned at age three and ran away from his aunt and uncle’s home at age eight. He turns up a year later in Two Mills, Pennsylvania, a town divided down the middle by black and white, but has trouble finding where he belongs.

Age level: Grades 5-7

Best part: There are a lot of great characters in this story — Amanda Beale, who loans him a book and brings him home, Mars Bar Thompson, who has the best transformation of the book, and Earl Grayson, who is able to reconnect to his past through Maniac.

Worst part: It was a bit difficult to believe that there was never a social services investigation into this kid. He slept in a zoo park, an equipment shed, park benches, and multiple neighborhood houses and porches but nobody ever seems to worry about him. This bugged me enough that I could never quite lose myself in the story.

Verdict: Borrow

This was not a bad story and there were some great scenes — but also some meh ones. I think kids today would benefit from studying the horribly racist McNab family. Many of the things that the father and three sons say are things we’re hearing from a certain political candidate’s supporters and they are just as hateful even though they’re about different ethnic groups. I wonder if the wrongness of these thoughts would be more apparent if readers could see them in a truly “black and white” situation. However, there are too many unrealistic things and actions without consequences to make this a truly great story (even though it has a Newbery Medal).

Moving on … Ramona the Pest is another one that I know I read regularly as a kid but I’m worried that it won’t hold up. Still, it’s a short book so I’m sure I’ll make it through!

*****
Schedule – March through June
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
May 15 – #45 Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (1960)
May 31 – #30 Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)
June 15 – #37 The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (2007)