Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

(Warning:  this review contains possible spoilers.)

Number the Stars was one of our read-alouds for our World War II studies.  Choosing a read-aloud for World War II was no small feat for me; this time period is one of my own particular areas of interest, so I know of a lot of books that would easily fit the bill.  However, I consider this particular novel by Lois Lowry to be a “gateway novel” for Holocaust literature, mostly because nothing terrible happens in the story, so it isn’t terribly shocking or emotionally overwhelming.  (All of the extreme tragedy happens off stage–before the story begins.)  Also, the fact that there is a Boomerang available for this title was a deciding factor for me; having copywork/dictation passages picked out for me, as well as points for discussion, is a necessity.

I read this story a couple of decades ago I guess, but I remembered it as a simple story about heroic people, and a story in which I learned something new:  I did not know that Swedish scientists developed a method by which Nazi tracker dogs’ senses of smell could be disabled so they could not find the runaway Jews they were searching for.  That’s the one detail I remember about the story, so it obviously stuck with me.  Otherwise, it’s a simple story of friendship between Annemarie, a Danish girl, and her friend Ellen, who happens to be a Jew.  The heroism of the Danish people is exemplified by Annemarie’s family when they take Ellen’s family out of Copenhagen to the seacoast where they can safely escape to Sweden.  The chapters are short and the dialogue is plentiful, making this an ideal read-aloud.  It’s not a complex story, but it’s one I give a Highly Recommended as the perfect starter story to a fascinating, exhilarating, and horrifying time in history.  Lowry is a master storyteller, of course, and her personal note at the end detailing which parts of the story are true and which are fictional made the story even more heart-wrenching for my tender, middle-aged heart.  This one won a well-deserved Newbery Medal in 1990.




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Two by Robert Lawson

Last month I started reading Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson for the 1940s Newbery Through the Decades challenge, and I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to read it.  Difficulty or boredom weren’t the culprits; lack of time, commitment, and organization were–just when I’d reach for it, I’d realize I’d left it somewhere: in the van, in my office, downstairs in the basement, etc.  It accompanied me on trips and on an unexpected (and blessedly short) tenure in the hospital when my dad had an emergency appendectomy.  Despite the passage of an inordinate amount of time and my weak and faulty memory, I did finish it, and I’m glad I did.

It’s the story of a veritable menagerie of animals who live on Rabbit Hill, but the primary focus is on Little Georgie and his experiences as the animals anticipate the arrival of new Folks on the Hill.  Someone new–someone human–is moving into the Big House, and the animals want to know:  will the family be friends or foes?  Little Georgie gets into various scrapes that affect all of the animals, from his own parents to his crotchety Uncle Analdas to Phewie the skunk to Little Willie the fieldmouse.  The end of the story is very satisfying and one that any animal lover could appreciate.  It’s also vocabulary-rich and fairly complex.  What’s not to love?  Obviously the 1945 Newbery award committee thought so, too.  While my girls would definitely think this one is beneath them now, I think it might make a good read-aloud for the DLM:  it’s funny, it’s exciting,it contains Lawson’s delightful illustrations, and it’s about animals.  We might give it a try to see if it piques the interest of the resident five year old who can be a hard sell.

For some reason I don’t think when I picked my 1950s Newbery Through the Decades selection I realized I was picking a book by the same author.   All I knew that is that The Great Wheel is about the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, and because I adore Richard Peck’s Fair Weather, which is about this same world’s fair, I wanted to read it.  It turns out that the two Lawson books are very different, so I definitely didn’t feel bored or fatigued by going from one to the other.  The Great Wheel is about a young man named Conn, who is eighteen or nineteen for most of the story, and who leaves his native Ireland to seek his fortune in the U.S.  Because his Uncle Patrick happens to be Mr. George Washington Gale Ferris’ top foreman, Conn joins the workcrew building the famous wheel.  This tale involves a lot of detail about the engineering and building of the Ferris wheel, and I learned a little bit about ironwork and what went into such a feat before the turn of the twentieth century.  It isn’t so detailed that I couldn’t enjoy it, though.  Delightful illustrations by Lawson himself add to the story.  The PC-police would probably find much to censure in this story, what with all the various nationalities represented in all their various stereotypes and dialects.  I found it delightful and full of snap and color.  Lawson’s characters are fully developed, if they do follow stereotypes.  Of course, what I love the most is the element of romance that the story is tinged with, and I was very pleasantly surprised when the romantic element comes full-circle in the end and comes to a very satisfying conclusion.  This story definitely falls on the upper end of the age-range for Newberys; it would take a fairly mature reader or listener to take in all the detail.  This is a book I’m glad to have read, and I’m glad that I forced gave my eldest the opportunity to read it.  A bonus for me is that one of my favorites, the aforementioned Richard Peck, wrote the introduction to this “biography of the first Ferris wheel,” as he calls it.  Highly Recommended.

Robert Lawson was a well-known and prolific author and illustrator, and the winner of both the Caldecott and the Newbery Awards.  Both of these honors were very much deserved.

Reviews of Lawsons’ books at Hope Is the Word:

newbery through the decades


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Monthly reading report: February and March 2016

Well, so much for making this a monthly event.  My last report was January’s, and while my personal reading has sunk pretty low, I don’t want to forget what I’ve read, and especially what I’ve read aloud.  This Sunday afternoon Steady Eddie encouraged me to take an hour or so to work on my long-neglected blog.  It has thus far been a day of caring for sick children, so it feels good to spend a few moments on something I want to do instead of what must be done.  :-)

What I read in February and March:

    • Finished Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson–review here
    • Ninety Days of God’s Goodness by Randy Alcorn–I intended to share my thoughts on this very thought-provoking devotional,
      but it never happened.  I think I got this one either cheap or free for the Kindle, but if you’re into devotional books, this one is definitely worth the price.  One thing I really like about it that it’s ninety days instead of thirty–that gave me plenty of time to “sit” with the material.  The real message in this book is revealed by the subtitle:  Daily Reflections That Shine Light on Personal Darkness.  This is no happy-happy-joy-joy, rainbows-and-unicorns promise of nothing but “blessings” in this life; instead, it focuses on trials, tribulations, pain–even the unthinkable–and reorients our perspective.  Here’s a snippet from day sixty-nine:

We come into this world needy, and we leave it the same way.  Without suffering we would forget our neediness.  If suffering seems too high a price for faith, it’s because we underestimate faith’s value.

Suffering uncovers our trust in God-substitutes and declares our need to transfer our trust to the only One who can bear its weight.  Richard Baxter wrote, “Suffering so unbolts the door of the heart, that the Word hath easier entrance.”  God uses suffering to bring us to the end of ourselves and back to Christ.  And that is worth any cost.

Highly Recommended

    • Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and and Elaine Mazlish–This is a book that came recommended by Julie Bogart in her coaching community, the Homeschool Alliance, of which I am a part.  This is another one that I am really glad I read and that I fell like I need to turn right around and read again.  The premise of Faber and Mazlish is that the parental response to sibling “issues” is often a determining factor to the health of the relationship between/among the siblings and the parent/child relationship.  One thing I like about this book is that Faber and Mazlish share succinct comic strips in which their takeaways are expressed–sort of a “do it this way, not this way” approach.  I feel like I need to print those out and hang them up around the house where I can see them.  I read this one on the Kindle but would like to have it in print form.  Highly Recommended.
    • Roller Skates by Ruth Sayer–Oh, how I loved this one.
    • The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker
      Bradley–I couldn’t wait to read this one, a Newbery honor book for 2015.  I’m a sucker for WWII books, no matter the plotline.  This one is particularly compelling–Ada, a girl with a clubfoot, is neglected and abused at home, so when children are evacuated from London due to the blitz, she takes her little brother and runs away to the countryside.  They end up in the home of Susan, a woman with problems of her own, and they slowly become a family.  Ada learns that adults can be trusted and that she has something to offer the world.  This is a painful read at times, but beautiful because of the transformation Ada undergoes.  (For the author’s take on something that is hinted at but never explicitly spelled out in the book, go here.)

What I Read Aloud

  • Fair Weather by Richard Peck–review here–this book made me laugh aloud more than anything I’ve read in the past several years
  • War Horse by Michael Morpurgo–loved this one
  • Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery–It pains me a good bit that I never shared my thoughts about this one, but honestly, I don’t think I would’ve done it justice.  When you’ve lived with a series of books as long as I’ve lived with Anne, well, what else can you say?  I will say this:  as always, I loved Mr. Harrison, but this time through I loved Paul Irving a little less and Davy Keith a little more than I did in my childless days.  :-)  We’re currently taking a little break from Anne but will be back with her soon.
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor–not-to-be-missed
  • Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey–I had never read this classic story that’s so popular among homeschoolers especially, but now that I have, I can see why everyone loves it so.

It feels like I’m forgetting something, but this is the bulk of my reading, at least.  I’m going to try to do better in the future about keeping my lists updated.  I hope that that becomes easier as our weekly commitments get fewer as the traditional school year wends to a close.

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Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Our latest bedtime read-aloud for me and the girls was Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.  I chose it because it fit the time period we were studying; the girls loved it because they’ve seen the original movie a few times and so were very familiar with the story.  In fact, they (especially Lulu, who loves movies) are more familiar with the movie than I am since I didn’t see it myself until I was an adult, and I haven’t been what I’d call an attentive movie watcher in years.  (I usually multitask while I watch movies.)

This is the quintessential homeschooling book, even though the Gilbreth children attend school (though, yes, on their father’s terms).  I absolutely love the part where Papa makes the children listen to language lessons on the gramophone while they’re doing things like taking a bath or brushing their teeth–you know, so as not to waste time.  It reminds me of something I would do.  😉

I was surprised a microscopic amount at the amount of language and old-fashioned references to s**, dating, etc. in the book, but I have to also say that all of this made the book feel  more real to me–like it’s a real story told by real people (which it is), and not a made-up story told to please a reader.  The closest thing I can think of that’s like it that we’ve read aloud is the Little Britches series–very engaging and entertaining, but obviously real.  In this story I didn’t love Papa–he’s such a strong personality and he seems like something of a blowhard.  However, I was quite touched by this bit that comes in the last few paragraphs of the story:

There was a change in Mother after Dad died.  A change in looks and a change in manner.  Before her marriage, all Mother’s decisions had been made by her parents.  After the marriage, the decisions were made by Dad.  It was Dad who suggested having a dozen children, and that both of them become efficiency experts.  If his interests had been in basket weaving or phrenology, she would have followed him just as readily.

While Dad lived, Mother was afraid of fast driving, of airplanes, of walking alone at night.  When there was lightning, she went in a dark closet and held her ears.  When things went wrong at dinner, she sometimes burst into tears and had to leave the table.  She made public speeches, but she dreaded them.

Now, suddenly, she wasn’t afraid anymore, because there was nothing to be afraid of.  Now nothing could upset her because the thing that mattered most had been upset.  None of us ever saw her weep again.

I love this because I think I’d feel the same way if I were in her shoes.

I like the very end of the story–it’s abrupt and a wee bit unusual, but it gave me a little something to think about.  That’s all I’ll say about it.  :-)

The girls are already looking for a copy of the sequel, Belles on Their Toes.  I don’t think I’ll read it aloud, though I wouldn’t mind reading it myself one day.  That’s a pretty good recommendation.  (Perennial, 1948)


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Newbery Through the Decades–1950s

newbery through the decadesHappy April! :-) Here are this month’s eligible titles:

1959 Medal Winner: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Honor Books:

1958 Medal Winner: Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith

Honor Books:

1957 Medal Winner: Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen

Honor Books:

  • Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
  • The House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert DeJong
  • Mr. Justice Holmes by Clara Ingram Judson
  • The Corn Grows Ripe by Dorothy Rhoads
  • Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite de Angeli

1956 Medal Winner: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

Honor Books:

  • The Secret River by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
  • The Golden Name Day by Jennie Lindquist
  • Men, Microscopes, and Living Things by Katherine Shippen

1955 Medal Winner: The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong

Honor Books:

  • Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh
  • Banner In The Sky by James Ullman

1954 Medal Winner: …And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold

Honor Books:

  • All Alone by Claire Huchet Bishop
  • Shadrach by Meindert Dejong
  • Hurry Home, Candy by Meindert Dejong
  • Theodore Roosevelt, Fighting Patriot by Clara Ingram Judson
  • Magic Maize by Mary & Conrad Buff

1953 Medal Winner: Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark

Honor Books:

1952 Medal Winner: Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes

Honor Books:

  • Americans Before Columbus by Elizabeth Baity
  • Minn of the Mississippi by Holling C. Holling
  • The Defender by Nicholas Kalashnikoff
  • The Light at Tern Rock by Julia Sauer 
  • The Apple and the Arrow by Mary & Conrad Buff

1951 Medal Winner: Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates

Honor Books:

  • Better Known as Johnny Appleseed by Mabel Leigh Hunt (Lippincott)
  • Gandhi, Fighter Without a Sword by Jeanette Eaton (Morrow)
  • Abraham Lincoln, Friend of the People by Clara Ingram Judson (Follett)
  • The Story of Appleby Capple by Anne Parrish (Harper)

1950 Medal Winner: The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

Honor Books:

  • Tree of Freedom by Rebecca Caudill
  • The Blue Cat of Castle Town by Catherine Coblentz
  • Kildee House by Rutherford Montgomery 
  • George Washington by Genevieve Foster
  • Song of The Pines: A Story of Norwegian Lumbering in Wisconsinby Walter & Marion Havighurst

Unlike the past few months, this month I know which book I want to read, and I have it ready:

The Great Wheel by Robert Lawson caught my attention after I read Fair Weather, and I assigned it for Lulu to read.  She didn’t love it, but that might be more a product of her age combined with my recommending it to her rather than her own lack of enjoyment.  😉

Other than that, we’ll see.

What’s on your list for this month?

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