The Trumpet of the Swan
Written by E.B. White
Illustrated by Edward Frascino
Published by HarperCollins Publishers in 1970
Genre/Topics: Animals, Friendship
Ages: 6+, 210 pages
Louis is a Trumpet Swan, however he was born without a voice. His father and mother are concerned, because without a voice he will have difficulty finding a mate in the Spring. Louis is also worried because he doesn’t want to be different from his siblings. Louis’ father takes a risk and steals a trumpet from a music shop, so that Louis will now have a voice. The problem is that his father is in debt from stealing a trumpet and smashing the shop. Louis is grateful for the trumpet, but knows he must help his father repay the debt. As a young swan, Louis met Sam Beaver who is a kind boy and loves animals. Sam takes Louis to school and helps him learn to read and write. With Sam’s help Louis gets paying jobs to play his trumpet and becomes quite famous to repay his father. More importantly, Louis now has a voice and can woo the swan he loves. Although Louis was born different he is determined to be his best and never gives up his dreams.
E.B. White is most famous for Charlotte’s Web, so The Trumpet of the Swan may get overlooked. The Trumpet of the Swan is a sweet book with many powerful messages. There is a fantasy element, since the animals have human-like characteristics and people communicate with Louis however it can still be used as a tool for discussion. Some possible discussions may include being different, never give up, love what you do, friendship, and animal care.
Written by Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Published in 1982
Genre/Topics: Humor, Fantasy
Ages: 6+, 212 pages
Most people don’t even think giants exist and those that do are usually very afraid of them. However, the Big Friendly Giant or the BFG doesn’t want to hurt anyone. Sophie is an orphan who first meets the BFG while looking out her window at night. The BFG notices and reaches through her window to take her away, since nobody would believe her if she said she saw a giant. Soon Sophie realizes that the BFG is friendly and has no plans to eat her, instead he was out at night putting dreams with his long trumpet into children’s ears. It’s not always pleasant, because the BFG is the smallest among other giants who desire to eat human beans every night. When the large and revolting giants are out eating human beans, the BFG captures dreams and stores thousands into jars. Sophie learns where the giants plan to find their next meal and the BFG and her form a plan to stop them before it’s too late.
The BFG has all the standard humor, fun, and zany words that are unique to Roald Dahl. So far I haven’t been disappointed by one of his books. I’m sure you’ll wish you also knew a giant, well at least a friendly one.
Because of Mr. Terupt
Written by Rob Buyea
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on October 6, 2010
Genre/Topics: Realistic Fiction, School, Peer Relations
Ages: 8+, 288 pages
Mr. Terupt is the new fifth grade teacher at Snow Hill Elementary School. The book takes the perspective of seven unique classmates in Mr. Terupt’s class. Jessica is the smart new girl; Alexia is your bully or friend; Peter is the troublemaker; Luke is the class brain; Danielle lacks confidence; Anna has a difficult home life; and Jeffrey dislikes school. Each student has his or her own problems and joys about everyday events and classroom situations told from their perspective. Mr. Terupt is a fresh and new teacher who connects with each student. He tries new things and lets the students think for themselves. Until the awful day when an accident occurs that changes everyone.
I really enjoyed Because of Mr. Terupt. We’ve all had that one special teacher that made a difference in our life. (Hopefully, more than one teacher.) The teacher that made us feel special or we tried something new and exciting for the first time. The students in Mr. Terupt’s class changed because of him. It almost made me cry. It’s a heartfelt book that can spark conversation. I recommend this book.
Jack Calhoun and the Perfect Baseball: A Boy’s Baseball Adventure during the Civil War
Written by P.A. Kernan
Published August 8, 2012
Genre/Topics: Historical, Adventure, Sports
Ages: 8+, 100 pages
Jack Calhoun is a typical 10-year-old boy who lives in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, during the early 1860s. Baseball is Jack’s passion. Jack and his friends simply played casual ‘townball’ until a Confederate solider explained the official rules of baseball. Jack’s days are not always filled with fun baseball games. The Civil War has begun and Jack faces bullies on a daily basis from ‘Scrat the Rat’ and his gang. Jack’s father is a Quaker who doesn’t believe that war is the right choice, so he goes away into the mountains. Before Pa leaves he gives Jack a homemade hog skin baseball that Jack treasures and always keeps with him. Now Jack must be strong with his Ma and younger siblings on the farm. While Pa is away Jack deals with the Home Guard who visit each house to demand all capable men fight against the Yankees and confrontations with his bullies. Jack even plans a humorous revenge on the bullies. Finally, Pa returns when the Exemption Act is passed which allows individuals with religious beliefs against fighting to avoid being in service. Jack’s life is somewhat back to normal with his Pa back and fewer bully situations. Baseball is always in Jack’s heart through all his hardships.
I thought Jack Calhoun and the Perfect Baseball was wholesome, humorous at times, and educational without being boring. Children won’t realize that they’re actually learning about the daily life during the Civil War, instead they’ll gain pleasure as they read about baseball and typical bully pranks. This book can be used to spark children’s interest while teaching about the Civil War.
Visit the author’s Goodreads blog and on Smashwords.
Written by Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Published by Puffin Books on January 1, 1983
Genre/Topics: Humorous, Fantasy
Ages: 8+, 208 pages
The Witches is another wonderful book by Roald Dahl that is sure to delight many readers. The story begins with a young boy who is orphaned when his parents die in a terrible car accident. In their will, the boy is to be cared for by his Norwegian grandmother who is an expert at how to identify witches. She explains that witches are not what people typically think, such as they don’t wear black hats or ride broomsticks. His grandmother states that witches instead appear like ordinary women with ordinary jobs. This is a witch’s motto: One child a week is fifty-two a year, Squish them and squiggle them and make them disappear. Throughout the book, the boy learns more about how to distinguish a witch from a normal woman. His grandmother and him stay at a hotel during the summer and this is when the fun really begins. He had a pet mouse that he tried to teach tricks well the hotel manager was very upset to have a mouse running around. The boy sneaked into an empty room that stated ‘Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’, so it must be a safe place to train his pet mouse. Suddenly women enter the room and he soon learns that they are actually not normal women at all, but witches. I’ll let you discover what happens next.
I highly enjoyed this Roald Dahl book. I believe even adults will get a laugh. The book had me guessing what would happen next and if the boy could save the day.
Tua and the Elephant
Written by R. P. Harris
Illustrated by Taeun Yoo
Published by Chronicle Books on April 18, 2012
Genre/Topics: Realistic Fiction, Thailand, Animal Rescue
Age: 8+, 204 pages
Tua and the Elephant is the story of a young and curious girl who lives in Thailand. She visits the local night market where she often goes and enjoys the tastes, sights, and familiar people. On one market outing she discovers an elephant who is being treated badly. She sets the elephant free and takes it with her. Although, she’s not sure where to take the elephant that she rescued. Men who owned the elephant chase Tua throughout the town as she does whatever it takes to hopefully keep the elephant safe.
The book’s setting is Thailand, so of course Thai is spoken. There are words and expressions that I understood after carefully reading. It doesn’t explicitly state what it means. I enjoyed this aspect, because it made it seem that I was actually there. An illustration is at the start of each chapter. Tua and the Elephant is a sweet book with a girl who doesn’t give up even though she’s small. The book also teaches the importance to take care of animals. The author visited Thailand himself and explains his contact with elephants. I’ll admit, the main reason I picked up this book was because elephants are my favorite animal.
Written by Sheela Chari
Published August 9, 2011 by Disney Hyperion
Genre/Topics: Mystery, Realistic Fiction
Ages: 8 +, 336 pages
Neela Krishnan received a unique and beautiful veena, an Indian instrument, from her grandmother in India. Her grandmother states to always take care of the veena. She brings her veena to show her sixth grade class for ‘Instruments Around the World’ week. Her troubles begin when she walks home from school with her veena when it begins to rain hard. Neela enters a local church to take cover from the rain, but then the veena suddenly vanishes. There are many clues that Neela tries to piece together to discover where her veena has vanished to. Dragons, musicians, legends, and more somehow connect for Neela to try to find her veena.
I really enjoyed Vanished and it kept my interest until the end. It may be a ‘children’s book’, but I couldn’t stop reading it. My review only highlights the first two chapters, since I don’t want to give too much away.
Here is some additional veena information provided by the author. A veena is one of India’s oldest instruments that dates to the eleventh century. A veena’s size ranges from four to six feet and weighs from ten to twelve pounds. Veenas have additional details, such as animals made from wood or paper-mâché, gemstones, and carvings. It is a unique instrument and doesn’t compare to a Western instrument. Here are some veena photos:
Written by Grace Lin
Published January 2, 2012
Genre/Topics: Realistic Fiction, Cultural, Taiwan, Family
Ages: 8+, 272 pages
Pacy Lin travels to Taiwan, for the first time with her two sisters and parents for her grandmother’s sixtieth birthday. Only the parents are excited to return to their homeland. Pacy may look like everyone else, but she feels out of place and has difficulty understanding people. Soon Pacy gains an identity and explores Taiwan. There are delicious foods everywhere, but Pacy falls in love with any type of dumpling. She even states the following: ‘There was no day that dumplings couldn’t make better’. She attends a Taiwan painting class and struggles with the techniques. Eventually, the time in Taiwan quickly ends and the sisters take fond memories of their adventure.
I thought Dumpling Days was a delightful book. It was humorous, but you also gained cultural awareness. There are simple black and white pictures throughout the book. The story is actually based on the author’s first experience travelling to Taiwan as a child.
Written by Cynthia Lord
Published August 1, 2010 by Scholastic Inc.
Genre/Topics: Realistic Fiction, Adoption, Foster Children
Ages: 8+, 192 pages
Tess Brooks is an eleven-year-old who believes that if she acts a certain way luck will follow. For example, she believes that if you touch blue then your wish will come true. She lives on a small Maine island with her family. However, the state of Maine is threatening to shut the school, because there are not enough school children. Her own mother is the school teacher. Tess and her family may have to move to the mainland until the reverend thinks of a creative idea to get more children to live on the island. He thinks of the idea of people taking foster children into their home to expand the school population. Tess and her family take in Aaron, a thirteen-year-old trumpet player. It takes time for Aaron to feel comfortable in the family. Tess hears how wonderful Aaron plays his trumpet and talks to busybodies for him to play at the 4th of July picnic. Every chapter begins with a superstition that Tess follows that relates to the story. I thought this was an enjoyable book about different family relationships.
Titanic #1: Unsinkable
Written by Gordon Korman
Published May 1, 2011 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Genre/Topics: Historical Fiction, Titanic, Adventure
Ages: 8+, 176 pages
This is the first book in a series of three about the Titanic’s maiden voyage. The book switches perspectives to four young characters who eventually all meet abroad the Titanic. Paddy is a stowaway who is running away from danger. Alfie is a junior crew member who lied about his age to work on Titanic. Juliana is travelling with her father, a wealthy Earl, who is often drunk and gambling. Sophie travels with her mother who campaigns for women’s rights and was arrested. In this book, Unsinkable, there is great excitement as the gigantic RMS Titanic Ship is about to set sail for the first time and is supposedly unsinkable. The book is a quick read and ends with a cliff hanger. Luckily, all the books are published so you can read the entire series.
RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Written by C. S. Lewis
Read by Michael York
Originally published on October 16, 1950
Published by Harper Audio
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Audio Edition: 4 hours, 22 minutes
Ages: 8+, 208 pages
Welcome to the land of Narnia. There are two methods to read The Chronicles of Narnia: either by the date published or chronically order. I decided to read the series in the order C.S. Lewis first published them, so The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe makes it the first book. We meet Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie for the first time.
To avoid bombs during World War II in London, the four Pevensie children live with a wealthy professor in the country. The house is large and mysterious. It is during a game of hide and seek that Lucy discovers Narnia through the wardrobe. Next Edmund journeys into Narnia and meets the Queen. Soon all four children magical enter the world of Narnia.
The White Witch has cast an evil spell that makes it always winter. The children begin an adventure quest to remove the Witch. Aslan the brave lion slowly takes back power as winter melts away. The children find themselves in the center of a prophecy when two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve return to Narnia to eliminate the White Witch.
They meet talking animals and mythical creatures in the land of Narnia. I won’t address C.S. Lewis’ Christian themes, but The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a wonderful start for all ages. Please join me as I read the entire series.
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
Written by Roald Dahl
Read by Eric Idle
Published on August 12, 1972 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Audio Edition Published July 6, 2004 by Harper Festival
Ages: 8+, 176 pages
Audio Edition: 3 hours and 30 minutes
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator picks up right where Charlie and the Chocolate Factory concludes. Charlie has won the chocolate factory prize and is now in the glass elevator with his entire family. Inside the great glass elevator are Charlie, Mr. Willy Wonka, Grandpa Joe and Grandma Josephine, Grandpa George and Grandma Georgina, and Mr. and Mrs. Bucket. They are riding high into space. Along the way, they encounter Vermicious Knids, Gnoolies, a space hotel, a strange communication with the President of the United States, unique vitamins that increase and decrease your age, and more crazy adventures with Mr. Willy Wonka. I enjoyed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory more, but you’re in for another delightful Roald Dahl treat with this book.
The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman
Written by Meg Wolitzer
Published September 20, 2011 by Dutton Juvenile
Topics: Realistic Fiction, Competition, Friendship, Moral Choices
Duncan Dorfman, April Blunt, and Nate Saviano don’t appear to have much in common. Duncan Dorfman is the new kid in town who is trying to keep his mysterious power that he can read with his fingertips a secret. Duncan no longer wants to be nobody in middle school, so he shows his talent but a student overlooks and plans to use his power dishonestly in the Scrabble game. April Blunt wants to prove to her sports family that Scrabble is also a game. She desperately wants to locate a boy she met three years ago, but she doesn’t even know his name. Nate Saviano is home-schooled, but would rather be skateboarding. He plays Scrabble, but doesn’t love the game. His father expects him to be the best and win.
Duncan, April, and Nate live throughout the United States, but they arrive with their game partners to compete in the national Youth Scrabble Tournament in Florida. We meet and learn about each character separately then watch them use their Scrabble talents. It is much more than just a Scrabble game as they learn about themselves and make the right choices. It’s a very humorous book loaded with Scrabble information, such as two letter words and tricks to get high scores. The book will keep your interest until you discover the Scrabble Tournament outcome. So, I challenge you to analyze all possible anagrams and make as many bingos as possible, but please no coffee-housing or brailing. I’ve never been a fan of the classic word game, but after reading The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman I may need to play soon. The book had a similar writing style compared to E.L. Konigsburg. The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman was an enjoyable read.
Scrabble Glossary (What is coffee-housing?)
The Story Behind Scrabble
The Lemonade War
Written by Jacqueline Davies
Published: 2007 by Houghton Mifflin
Topics: sibling relationship, economics, realistic fiction
I read The Lemonade War during the wrong season, since I wanted a refreshing drink while reading it. Evan Treski deals well with people whereas his younger sister, Jessie, works better at math. Together they’d make the perfect lemonade team, however they’re at war with each other to sell the most lemonade. The tension began when Evan discovered that Jessie would be skipping a grade and both would be in fourth grade together. Normally, they get along fine as siblings but Labor Day weekend they use any business skill to make the most money. Every chapter starts with an economic term that relates to the chapter. The book changes perspectives between Evan and Jessie. I thought this was an enjoyable book that explains math and business in a fun way. The lemon business gets sour as the war ends with an interesting twist that leads into the next book, The Lemonade Crime. A third book, The Bell Bandit, in The Lemonade Series releases May 2012.