Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Americans before Columbus, by Elizabeth Chesley Baity

I tried.  I tried.  I've had this book for weeks, but every time I pick it up, I can't find the motivation to read it for long.

The book starts with a wide, over-arching summary of the various forms of art and architecture of the native peoples of North, Central, and South America.  Because none of these things are presented in any sort of useful context, only in comparison with each other, this portion of the book is really a mile wide and an inch deep.

Next, the author discusses the migration across the Bering Strait, and then gives several specific people groups a more in-depth treatment, discussing their lifestyles as they were understood at the time.

I don't really think this book would be useful today as a children's reference volume; I would honestly point a child toward something published more recently with more targeted information on a specific topic or people group.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Defender, by Nicholas Kalashnikoff

This book is the story of Turgen, a man who lived alone high in the hills of Siberia.  He was of a different tribe than his nearest neighbors, who for superstitious reasons believed him to be in league with Satan, and therefore largely avoided him.

One winter, this solitary man noticed that the noble rams in the mountains were suffering from hunger and looking weak and thin.  Turgen decided to carry some hay up the mountain on a sled and leave it for them.  Over time the rams grew to accept his presence (although they did not completely trust him), and Turgen was delighted to see the herd slowly grow healthy and produce strong offspring.

In the wake of Turgen's gifts to the rams, he has a dream in which his deceased wife and son visit him, and lead him into the presence of the Great Spirit.  The Great Spirit tells Turgen that He is pleased with his care of the rams, which gives him confidence and joy in continuing this task.

During these months, Turgen is also slowly building a relationship with Marfa, a poor widow who lives down the hill, and her two children, Timofey and Aksa.  Marfa creates a comforting and cozy place for Turgen to rest and visit, and Turgen enjoys the companionship of the mother and the children alike, and helps provide the family with much-needed food in exchange for milk from their cow.

This is such an easy-to-read, gentle story that I enjoyed quite a bit.  The author was actually exiled to Siberia for several years before emigrating to the United States and becoming a citizen, so he speaks of the people there with kindness and affection.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Minn of the Mississippi, by Holling Clancy Holling

Holling Clancy Holling continues his penchant for natural history epics for children.  In this volume, we learn about the landscape and history of the Mississippi River through the eyes of Minn, a three-legged snapping turtle.

We first observe her as the last hatchling to leave her nest, losing a leg to a stray bullet from a teenage hunter (later fined and relieved of his firearm for making use of it on Federal land).  Over time she not only travels downriver, but encounters other wildlife, hibernates on the river bottom over the winter, matures into a large adult, and lays eggs of her own.

The volume is the size of a large picture book (only thicker).  The story is punctuated by full-page color illustrations of Minn and the landscape, and the margins around the text are full of pencil drawings demonstrating cell growth and comparative biology, maps and diagrams, and specifics of other species and technology encountered in the story.

This book is an amazing work of art and knowledge.  That said, I had trouble summoning the patience to read it in its entirety.  I honestly wasn't that attached to Minn that much (the story is so matter-of-fact that it's difficult to summon up emotions for her experiences), and at 86 pages, the story feels very long.  I would have found it easier to cover the same material as a non-fiction work with more chapters.  I'm sure there are plenty of children who would appreciate this volume; I just wouldn't have been one.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson

Twelve-year-old Astrid and her best friend Nicole have been inseparable since first grade.  They do everything together, including getting dragged to "cultural enlightenment" events by Astrid's mother.  But it turns out that the newest event is actually kind of fun- they get to watch Roller Derby!  Astrid learns that there is a youth Roller Derby camp over the Summer and is immediately sold on the idea.  Nicole, however, isn't so much.  While Astrid is making plans for the two of them, Nicole is instead enrolling in the camp she actually wants to attend.  Ballet camp (eww).  With Astrid's arch-nemesis, Rachel.

Suddenly Astrid is left on her own at camp with girls who are more experienced and tougher than she is.  She can barely stand up on her skates.  And she can't tell her mother how she feels; she assumes that Astrid is catching rides home with Nicole, and she'd never be permitted to attend the camp otherwise.

Astrid stinks at Roller Derby, but she keeps coming.  She makes a new friend, and seeks some help by slipping anonymous notes into the locker of her favorite skater, Rainbow Bite.  She is just barely able to keep things together. . . until she overhears Nicole and Rachel talking about her at the amusement park.  And then her mother finds out that Nicole isn't actually attending camp with Astrid after all.  Will Astrid be able to redeem the Summer?

What a fun graphic novel!  I breezed through it in one sitting.  Highly recommend!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Secret of the Andes, by Ann Nolan Clark

Cusi, a young boy, lives high in the mountains of Peru.  With him live a herd of llamas, his faithful dog, and Chuto, an old Indian man.  It never occurs to him to question the nature of his isolated life until, peering into the valley below, he notices a new family camped there.  There are a mother, father, and two small children.  He sees the love and comfort that exists between them and wonders why he has neither mother, father, nor siblings, and longs to experience that sense of family for himself.

When circumstances show that Cusi is ready, he departs from Chuto with a small herd of llamas to find the ancient city of Cuzco, in hopes of finding a family of his own.  Along the way, though, he discovers that much in the city is foreign to him.  Raised in traditional Incan culture, he learns that most people speak an unfamiliar language (Spanish), have strange churches to a foreign God, and live in a way that he doesn't understand.

Nonetheless, he joins a family with many children (the parents' philosophy is generally "the more, the merrier") as they travel the city to trade before heading home.  But his Indian name doesn't fit (they rename him Nicho), and although they're happy and friendly, Cusi never really feels at home with them.  So he slips out in the night and heads back to the mountain.

Cusi learns over the course of his travels that he is descended from Incan royalty and, like Chuto before him, is charged with supporting the Indians of Peru from the background- remembering and teaching the traditional ways, keeping the language, and making gifts from his herd of llamas to keep the culture alive.  Because although the Incans were conquered, they will be part of Peru forever.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Light at Tern Rock, by Julia L Sauer

If the author's name looks familiar, it's because we've encountered her before!

This is a very short book, just 63 pages (including chapters and full-page illustrations) so I won't be able to say too much without giving the plot away entirely.

Ronnie lives with his aunt (circumstances undisclosed), who used to be married to a lighthouse keeper and had lived with him at an isolated lighthouse, the titular Tern Rock, for decades.  The current keeper approaches her one day and asks if she would be able to take Robbie and man (woman?) the light for him for two weeks so he can visit family in Nova Scotia in early December.  He insists that he will return to relieve them well in advance of Christmas.  Aunt Martha loved her time at the lighthouse and, with Ronnie's agreement, makes plans to relieve Mr. Flagg.

Ronnie quickly learns the routines of the lighthouse, and finds his days full between caring for it with his aunt, keeping the house tended, and keeping up with his school lessons.  But when December 15th arrives, the promised homecoming date, Mr. Flagg is nowhere to be seen.  Ronnie becomes more and more bitter as he realizes that he may be stuck at the lighthouse for Christmas.  How can he and his aunt possibly celebrate properly so far from home?

This slim, quick read would be great for beginning readers.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Apple and the Arrow, by Mary and Conrad Buff

I see that this book has been reissued in more of a shorter-height book format and I think that's a good call on the part of the publisher.  This particular edition has the size and shape of a chapter book, with a few full-page color illustrations.  But that leaves entire giant pages with nothing but text on them.  That makes for a rough read!

This book is, obviously, about the legend of William Tell and the beginnings of Switzerland's independence.  What makes it somewhat unique is that it's told from the perspective of William Tell's son, so you learn about the everyday life of the village and what independence (or lack thereof) would mean to a boy in the mountains.