When Carrie contacted me about being a host for the Reading to Know Bookclub one month, I suggested that she look at my Classics Club booklist and just pick something. She picked Scott O’Dell’s 1960 Newbery Award winning Island of the Blue Dolphins, and at the time I had little interest in it. (Confession: it made my TBR list because I want to read all the Newbery winners and because I felt like I should read it.) Now that I’ve read it, I am so glad she did! This work of juvenile historical fiction is exactly what historical fiction should be, in my opinion: based on historical fact, but detailed and imaginative enough to flesh out what might’ve happened.
Island of the Blue Dolphins is the story of twelve year old Karana, a Native American girl who lives on a small island off the coast of California in the 1800s with her people. Shortly after the beginning of the story, a band of Aleut fishermen under the leadership of a Russian named Captain Orlov land on their island to hunt sea otters. Captain Orlov strikes a deal with Karana’s father, the head of their tribe, to pay for the otters they kill. However, the hunters make moves to leave before completely fulfilling their end of the bargain, and the result is an altercation that leaves twenty-seven of the forty-two Island men dead, including Karana’s father. The Aleuts leave, and the surviving Islanders continue to live on the island, with the women taking over many of the jobs traditionally done by the men. The tribe is deep in mourning, though, so Kimki, the new chief of the tribe, decides to sail east to a land he had visited as a child and make a home for the Islanders. When a ship finally comes to rescue them to take them back to be with Kimki, it looks like this story will take a very interesting turn, with Karana and her people encountering a more “modern” civilization. However, this is not to be, for Karana’s younger brother gets left behind, and Karana jumps ship in order to rescue him. What follows, then, is a young woman’s lifetime of living alone (her brother meets an early demise) on an island: the friends she makes among the animals, how she survives (a tidal wave, an earthquake, loneliness)—a picture of life with no modern conveniences, in an amazing but desolate place.
This is a book that I would not hesitate to hand over to my young daughters, ages nine and seven, and I expect that they would enjoy it greatly. However, it’s a book that also raises questions that are interesting enough for even an adult to contemplate. For example, Karana is very hesitant to make her own weapons because this had been forbidden by their tribal beliefs. This struggle over shrugging off expectations comes up several times early in the story. Another element of the story that I found particularly fascinating is just the descriptions of life on a small island in the Pacific Ocean: the plants, the animals, and how a human being survives dependent on these for food. O’Dell describes the male sea elephants’ fight and Karana’s hunting of the devilfish (the octopus) masterfully. This story reminds me so much of other survivalist/adventure stories I’ve read: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, The Cay by Theodore Taylor, and the Gary Paulsen stories.
Perhaps the most interesting this to me of all about this story is what I learned about a week before I started reading it. I was cruising around on Facebook when I noticed that one of the homeschooling websites I subscribe to via Facebook had posted a link to this article from the LA Times from October 2012. It seems that archaeologists believe they have found the cave of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas, the real woman who inspired Scott O’Dell’s wonderful story. Amazing! This is why historical fiction is perhaps my favorite genre of all.
Many thanks to Carrie for the push to read Island of the Blue Dolphins! I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did!
Today’s Read Aloud Thursday brings you two brand new picture books. Enjoy!
Chu’s Day by Newbery Medalist Neil Gaiman is one of those depends on one of my favorite literary techniques–word play–to tell a fun little story. It’s the story of a cute little panda bear named Chu who has a mighty powerful sneeze–so powerful, in fact, that the whole story revolves around it. The book opens like this:
When Chu sneezed, bad things happened.
We spend the next eighteen pages just waiting to find out what those bad things are. The problem is, Chu feels a sneeze coming on, but it takes a while for it to materialize. Meanwhile, he and his parents visit the library, the diner, and finally, the circus, before this dramatic tension is resolved. I felt a little let down by the ending, really, because all that happens is that his sneeze is so powerful that it blows down the circus tent and back through both the diner and the library, leaving a mess of animals, books, and dining patrons in its wake. The real joy of the story is the simple exchange between Chu and his parents:
“Are you going to sneeze?” asked his father.
No, said Chu.
Read that without chuckling if you can.
Adam Rex‘s illustrations are colorful and visually simple but detailed. I particularly love The Moby Diner where Chu and his dad dine; a whale, quite appropriately, is the short-order cook. This is just a fun story, and the illustrations definitely add to the fun. My only quibble with it is that it plays loose-and-free with quotation marks, but that’s not too much of a problem in a read aloud. I give this one a Highly Recommended and won’t be surprised if it gets some press come Cybils time in the fall. (Harper, 2013)
While Chu’s Day, as simple as it is, might depend on a smidgen of intellectual sophistication to be understood, Eve Bunting‘s new book, Have You Seen My New Blue Socks? is perfect for the preschool crowd. It’s the story of a little duck who quite predictably can’t find his blue socks. He goes around asking all his animal friends if they’ve seen the socks. In the end, the socks end up being on his feet inside his shoes. While I thought this ending was a little, um, silly, it’s perfect for the preschool crowd. I mean, how often have you looked for something for the under five crowd in your house, only to find it hidden in plain sight? 🙂 What makes this book a real winner is not the complexity of the story but the way it’s told: in Dr. Seussian verse. It is a pure joy to read and calls to mind the likes of Green Eggs and Ham or Fox in Socks. Here’s a snippet:
I’m trying not to be depressed.
Without my socks I feel undressed.
I’ll ask the peacocks–they might know.
They’re always strutting to and fro.
Illustrator Sergio Ruzzier does a fine job of keeping the fact hidden that poor duck is actually wearing the socks he’s looking for until later in the story. (I didn’t notice myself until the text revealed it.) This is a fun one from prolific author Eve Bunting that’s perfect for preschoolers. (Houghton Mifflin, 2013)
What’s on your read-aloud shelf this week?
I’ve been in a huge reading slump ever since Benny was born almost two months ago. I keep thinking this will improve, but somehow I always find something else I’d rather do with my time. Plus, I just don’t have as much free time now as I used to. I used to have a devoted hour or so every afternoon during which I could do whatever I wanted to, more or less. (This was ALWAYS sleep during the last half of my pregnancy, but I usually did a bit of reading before I nodded off.) However, now that I have an almost-three-year-old who still needs a nap and an infant who might or might not be asleep at said three-year-old’s naptime, that hour of quiet time I used to have doesn’t happen more often than it does. Reading at night happens, but it’s usually so late when we finally get Benny to sleep for the night that I don’t read for long. (We’re still adjusting. Can you tell? 🙂 ) I am still reading, though.
Here’s what I have read and/or reviewed since last month’s Nightstand. Links below are to my reviews.
- Unglued by Lysa TerKeurst
- Odette’s Secrets by Maryann MacDonald
- Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis–I loved this one but haven’t managed to find enough consecutive minutes (or adjacent brain cells) to finish my review. I hope to finish it soon!
It’s time for a bit of minutiae here at Hope Is the Word. I haven’t just chatted with you in a while, and I miss it. 🙂
In no particular order, here are a few things we’ve enjoyed this week:
1. In anticipation of days at the splash pad, pool, and beach, I bought a sun shelter tent thingy at Aldi last night. The kids, of course, were eager to put it to use. It turned out to be much bigger than I envisioned, but that was all the better for them–they all three fit in it comfortably, and the girls enjoyed doing some of their school work in it today.
2. On Monday we finished up most of our lessons and then headed to the park for some exercise. The girls got new scooters a few weeks ago for Lulu’s birthday (yes, both girls–the grandparents spoil our children!), so we went to one of our favorite parks that has a flat walking trail. The girls enjoyed whizzing around the trail, and the DLM enjoyed chasing after them. I enjoyed the beautiful flowers and trees on the trail and getting some much needed exercise myself. My favorite thing, though, was the delicious Asian salad I picked up at Chick-Fil-A on the way. It was scrumptious! (The kids had the usual–chicken nuggets or strips and fries.)
3. While we’re far from minimalists here at the House of Hope, we have pared down our baby gear to just what we really like or need.
This week I’ve found myself grateful for my Boppy pillow. I love nursing Benny and then letting him sleep on the pillow, curled into my stomach so cozily. It’s also a back, neck, and arm saver for the nursing mother. I tried a different nursing pillow this time around (having already gotten rid of baby gear from my older children), and I ended up sending Steady Eddie to Target for a Boppy, stat. In my opinion, this is a must-have.
4. This week we had something at the House of Hope that I’ve never had in all of my thirty-nine years of existence: a housekeeper. Yes, Steady Eddie hired someone this week to come in periodically to clean our house. While I’ve never been able to do it all, this fact has become more and more apparent to me with the advent of Benny’s birth. What’s more, it has gotten to me more than ever before, too. I’ve learned several things through this experience: a. It’s okay to ask for and receive help. Really. b. A clean(er) house does great things for my morale, while a constantly untidy, grimy house drives me a little closer to the brink. c. I am extremely appreciative of my husband who knows this about me and makes me realize that it’s A-ok.
5. We’re still plugging along at school, though by this point we’ve reached a respectable number of days for the year, despite the six weeks long maternity break we had. I plan for us to (maybe?) tie up a few loose ends next week, and then take off for a while and enjoy some summer fun. Lulu and I still have some work to do to get her ready for fourth grade, mostly in math and writing. We’re going to hit multiplication hard for a while until she knows her facts automatically. (She can skip count like a pro thanks to CC, but the facts themselves are not yet automatic.) I’m gathering fun little games and tools to use for this, so today she tried out an app on the iPad. While I’m not a huge fan of my kids using technology, a little judicious use is motivating. I like this particular one because it’s just-the-facts-ma’am, not flashy and distracting. It’s also simple enough for me to figure out, which is perhaps its best feature.
5. I’m thinking that this summer reading challenge at Redeemed Reader might be just the thing for my girls this summer. This, coupled with various library reading programs, should keep us busy even if we don’t get in as many formal lessons as I hope. 😉
When I chose Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien to read aloud to my children, I had no idea that it was a children’s novel that carries some sort of message. All I knew is that it won the 1972 Newbery Award and that I had never read it. Since one of my lifelong goals is to read all the Newbery Medalists and honor books, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone. While there is nothing inappropriate in this book for my third and first grader, I do think this might be one to revisit it during my girls’ teen years. What they did this time around was simply enjoy the story, which has a lot of heart despite any deeper messages one wrings from it.
Mrs. Frisby is a mouse with a problem: she has a sick child, and their winter home is in imminent danger of being turned under by the farmer’s plow. Timothy, her sickly one, is too weak to move, and the timing is tricky, too–springtime in their summer home would surely kill him. Through an unusual turn of events, Mrs. Frisby ends up asking the rats of Mr. Fitzgibbon’s farm for help. These are no ordinary rats, and the story within the larger story is theirs. They are rats that escaped years before from a laboratory, and they had been injected with some sort of substance that made them grow in intelligence and also increased their longevity. The rats have built their own society in tunnels under a rosebush at Mr. Fitzgibbon’s farm. These highly intelligent rats help Mrs. Frisby with her problem, and in turn, Mrs. Frisby is able to help them. The story has a bittersweet ending. O’Brien does a fantastic job of making the animals come to life, and it’s easy to see why this one was chosen as the 1972 Newbery Medalist.
Of course, as I already mentioned, there seems to be more to this story than meets the eye. O’Brien brings up several philosophical ideas that are (perhaps?) obvious to those over the age of fifteen. The one that strikes me the most is the conflict between two of the rats over their own nature–should they steal from Farmer Fitzgibbon in order to survive, or should they devise their own means of survival? The argument in favor of stealing is that rats have always stolen to survive; those against it think surely they’ve reached a higher level of development that would prevent them from stooping so low as to steal–plus, stealing, even if they looked at it more as taking Fitzgibbon’s leftovers, would make them less than self-sufficient. Obviously, these rats are very sophisticated, and their conversations about these weighty topics are erudite and articulate. My take-away from their conversations has something to do with a Nanny State and the effects of living on government handouts, but I don’t know if that was necessarily O’Brien’s intention. I was interested to learn that this novel is a high school selection in the Sonlight curriculum. I can definitely see why, but again, my girls really enjoyed the story without knowing anything about the politics behind it. This is one of those books children can enjoy now and then enjoy later (or hate, depending on the particular child’s appreciation for literary analysis 😉 ).
What is your family enjoying these days?