Book Review: Old Yeller

Old Yeller
by Fred Gipson

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic historical fiction

Old Yeller is yet another children’s classic I’ve never read. I don’t think I’ve watched the movie either, but of course I knew how it ends. However, I didn’t expect the entire book to basically be just about getting to that ending. It’s even stated on the first page that the narrator, Travis, would end up having to kill this stray. For me, that definitely dampened the enjoyment of the story of Travis and Old Yeller becoming good friends. What bothered me the most, though, was Travis’s little brother Arliss. Oh my goodness, that kid is annoying! Every time he gets upset about something, he gets violent, even with his own mother. And it basically goes unchecked. It just all seems extreme and unnecessary. And in the end, I was left wondering what the author’s intention was in writing this book. And would it have been such a classic if it weren’t for the tragic ending? Take that away, and you just have the story of a boy and his dog, which has been done.

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Book Review: The Diamond of Darkhold

The Diamond of Darkhold
Book of Ember #4
by Jeanne DuPrau

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s dystopian

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, The City of Ember.

The people of Sparks are suffering through winter without enough food for everyone and with many sicknesses and injuries. When Doon discovers a book that seems to hold a secret for the people of Ember, he and Lina make a plan to uncover that secret and hopefully help their town.

After liking the first book and being a little disappointed with the second, I enjoyed this one, which I felt brought back the adventure and intrigue of the first book. It helped me to realize that one of the things missing from the 2nd book is Lina and Doon working together, rather than both having their own quests. I also liked the return to Ember, even though much had changed, and how things played out there. The secret of the diamond was underwhelming at first, but as I came to understand it better, I appreciated it more.

The ending was a little strange to me, partly because it leaps forward and then backward at least once, and I had to reread some spots to make sure I wasn’t confused. And the reference to the third book in the series, which I skipped in favor of the next book in sequence (the third book is a prequel) was weird and made me less inclined to even read the third one (though I still will). However, the ending only detracted a little, hence the half point down from 5 in my rating. Overall, it was a satisfying conclusion to a series that I’m glad I read.

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Book Review: The Last Battle

The Last Battle
The Chronicles of Narnia #7 (original order)
by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic fantasy

From the creation of Narnia to the destruction of it. This book seems to be pretty polarizing, and it’s the same in my mind. I appreciate Lewis’s vision of the afterlife, eternity for the world he’s created and the characters in it. I’m a little uncertain about why everyone had to die at the same time to get there. But that’s Lewis’s choice to make. I also like Lewis’s view of God, shown through his writing of Aslan—His love, mercy, and righteousness. I noted that the dwarves that couldn’t see the beauty around them is a pretty clear representation of casting pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). I don’t fully agree with all of the theology presented within the story, but since it’s allegorical, it’s difficult to say for sure what Lewis is saying with certain aspects.

This wraps up my first reading of this series. I wish I could say I liked some of the books more than I did, but others I really enjoyed. I am certain there’s more to get out of the books than I did, though, so I do plan to re-read the series someday.

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Book Review: The Maze of Bones

The Maze of Bones
The 39 Clues #1
by Rick Riordan

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s mystery, adventure

When Amy and Dan’s grandmother dies, her will reading sets off a hunt for treasure that no one in the vast, powerful Cahill family can fully comprehend. The vague prize will make the finder or finder’s team the most powerful members of the Cahill family, which has had some pretty powerful members in the past. Amy and Dan have nothing to lose as they do their best to outsmart and outrace the wealthier, older, and deadlier members of their families.

This book reminded me a lot of some other series I’ve read recently—unrealistic, over-the-top action, characters that know everything they need to know to progress, and one can never be quite sure who to trust. And yet, I enjoyed it more than I feel like I should have. By the time I got to the end, I was invested. I don’t normally enjoy a book where you can’t trust anyone, because characters are betraying each other left and right, but I still couldn’t help but start to trust a couple of the potentially treacherous side characters by the end. And now I want badly to know how it will turn out with those characters. I also can’t help but want to know what the big prize is, even though I suspect it will either be ridiculous or a letdown.

I’ve heard of this series for a long time and considered reading the books years ago, but never have until now. I wonder if I might not have been ready for the style and tone of the book until now, since I’ve read a few other series with the same kind of wildly unlikely storylines—at least one of which I liked and one of which I really didn’t. Now, I’m more able to let some of the things that might have bothered me in the past go and enjoy the story for what it is. I’m not sure how I’ll like the change of authors throughout the series, but I’m definitely going to keep going.

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Book Review: Little House on the Prairie

Little House on the Prairie
Little House #3
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
read by Cherry Jones

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s historical classic

What a change of scenery from the previous book with the Ingalls family, from the woods of Wisconsin to the wide-open prairie. I don’t recall reading the reason for the move, and while I can imagine that Laura never knew the reason as a child, I wonder if she learned it later in life. I suppose it might be due to the woods becoming overcrowded, since, as they’re building their house, Pa says that he’d be content to stay there the rest of his life, even as the area gets more settled, because the area is so wide open, it could never feel crowded. Considering what happens here, it seems a shame that he wasn’t content where he was, but I suppose that’s a mindset most of us these days can’t fully understand (though I know some people who would).

The story continues to be charming, and while there are some unfortunate mindsets that I wish would not have been so common in that day, I appreciate that Pa mostly has a different attitude. My daughter has recently started reading the first book in the series, and I don’t know if she’ll continue to this one, but if she does, I’ll be intrigued to hear her thoughts on the matter.

As before, my enjoyment of the book was greatly enhanced by the audiobook narrator, Cherry Jones, who does a fantastic job, and being able to hear Pa’s fiddle, thanks to Paul Woodiel. If you’ve ever considered reading this series, or have already read it and have occasion to listen to the audiobooks, I say do it!

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Book Review: Addie McCormick and the Mystery of the Missing Scrapbook

Addie McCormick and the Mystery of the Missing Scrapbook
Addie McCormick Adventures #2
by Leanne Lucas

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian mystery, adventure

When Addie and Nick meet elderly Miss T’s new live-in companion Amy, a Japanese-American whose family spent time in an internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, they begin to uncover a secret that Amy wants to keep hidden, but someone else is out to expose.

The first book in the series was good, but this one was on a different level. These aren’t simple, predictable kids’ mysteries. I really appreciated the little bit of history about how Japanese-Americans were treated in America during WWII, as well as a touch on Japanese culture. This book introduces a few new kid characters, one of which I particularly liked. While I don’t know how realistic it is for a pre-teen kid to be as self-assured as Brian is, I suppose given the right circumstances, it would be possible. And since he was my favorite, after all, it clearly didn’t bother me. The conclusion was satisfying, and in the end, I liked this one more than the previous. I’m just sad that I won’t be able to read the rest of the series (except #7), because they’re hard to find. Still, if you do have the chance to read this book or procure it for a 10-12-year-old child, I recommend it.

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Book Review: The Mouse and the Motorcycle

The Mouse and the Motorcycle
Ralph S. Mouse #1
by Beverly Cleary

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic, fantasy

Ralph is full of adventure, and I am full of nostalgia for my younger days. I don’t actually remember if I read this book, but I definitely saw the ABC Weekend Special episode based on the book, probably a few times. This book is fun and exciting, and while it is full of things that modern kids wouldn’t necessarily understand, I think that just makes it all the more of a classic. It’s a great chance to explain about how things used to be, though this book even predates parents of the kids that are the right age for the story. It’s a book I wish I’d read to my kids when they were younger; they would have loved hearing me make the sounds of the motorcycle and ambulance and maybe even an attempted mouse voice. There’s nothing profound here, but it’s a fun adventure for kids.

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Book Review: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Barbara Robinson

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christmas fiction

When the Herdmans, all six of the rowdiest, meanest, unruliest kids in school, volunteered to be in the Christmas pageant, everyone was sure it would be the worst pageant ever. One thing’s for sure—it will be unforgettable.

This is yet another well-known children’s book that was around when I was a kid, yet I didn’t read. I remember some of my sisters talking about it, though, and since I definitely read a lot back then, I don’t know why I didn’t read it. I picked it up this year because my daughter was looking for a Christmas-themed book to read for school, and I like to read what she does so we can discuss it. It’s a short read, but so very good!

After a chapter describing the antics of the Herdman children so we know how terrible they are, the book gets going with the narrator’s mom having the annual church Christmas pageant fall into her lap. The narrator, by the way, never has a name, which is quite uncommon, at least in my reading experience. As the Herdmans join the pageant and try to get a handle on their parts and motivations behind them, it’s clear that they’ve never been exposed to this (or probably any) biblical account. Though this is not specifically a Christian book, it presents a scenario that can really make you think. The Herdman children’s antics seem to me to be a cry for love and attention, and rather than turning up their noses and wagging their tongues, the people of the church should have taken the opportunity to teach them about God. I appreciate the patience the narrator’s mom has with them (though that did wane sometimes), even if it is only just so she can prove she can put on a great pageant.

I know these kids are fictional, but I found myself left with a profound feeling of hope that someone would take them under their wing and teach them more about Jesus. I suppose that that alone means that Barbara Robinson did a great job with the characters and emotions in the book. If your upper-elementary child, even a little older than that (my daughter is 12) it looking for a good Christmas book this season, consider checking this out. Some parents are concerned about their kids reading about the unpleasant things the Herdman kids do, but they’re definitely shown in a negative light. A conversation after reading to discuss the bullying is probably a good idea anyway. If you’re interested in the book, I say definitely read it (it won’t take long).

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Book Review: Addie McCormick and the Stranger in the Attic

Addie McCormick and the Stranger in the Attic
Addie McCormick Adventures #1
by Leanne Lucas

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian mystery, adventure

When Addie sets out to liven up her summer, she meets a new neighbor and an old neighbor and stumbles onto a mystery.

Overall, this is a simple adventure story with a somewhat unique resolution. Throughout the story, though, there’s the addition of Addie, whose father was once a preacher and has recently started working at a local Christian radio station, trying to figure out how to tell her new friends about the God that her parents have helped her to know, without pushing those friends away. This conundrum is near and dear to my heart, because my own daughter has struggled with this in the past as well. And Addie living out in the country, far from her friends, brings back memories of my own childhood.

I read a few of the books in this series when I was a kid and still own #7 in the series. Reading this book again after all these years has made me wonder if this series might have provided some inspiration for my own attempts at writing when I was around 10-12 years old. I can’t say for certain, but one story I started and never finished bears some remarkable similarities to this book (not that I was plagiarizing, mind you). All of these connections I have to the story may have led me to be a bit more biased than normal, but I enjoyed this quick read. Though these books may not be easy to find anymore, if you do have the chance to read this book or procure it for a 10-12-year-old child, I recommend it.

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Book Review: Farmer Boy

Little House in the Big Woods
Little House #2
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
read by Cherry Jones

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s historical classic

Continuing my first ever read-through of this series, I enjoyed this book even more than the first one in the series. Almanzo is an endearing, hard-working boy, and I love how badly he wants to be just like his dad. I find Laura Ingalls Wilder’s focus on how much food the Wilders had, as well as the variety of food, to be interesting, considering that her family in the previous book had just enough. The Wilders still worked hard for their food but this was clearly a comparatively wealthy family. And the ending, involving Almanzo deciding what to do with his sudden windfall, made me tear up. That thread of story culminating in such a great moment at the end is what elevated this book to be a new favorite for me!

My enjoyment of the book was greatly enhanced by the audiobook narrator. I’m still really loving Cherry Jones’s performance in this series, as well as the fiddle music now and then, though it’s not as prevalent was it was in the previous book. I highly recommend this book and series so far, for adults and kids alike.

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