Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Standing in the Light

by Mary Pope Osborne

One of the Dear America books, Standing in the Light is written as the diary of a young Quaker girl in 1763 Pennsylvania. After a few entries setting up her life as a settler in the Delaware valley, she and her brother are captured on the way to school by Lenape Indians. She is inducted into the tribe as a replacement for an Indian girl who was killed by measles and the entries detail her adaption to a new way of life. It's a nice enough book, though Lois Lenski's Indian Captive blows it out of the water as far as quality is concerned. Whereas Indian Captive entranced me, with this book I was always aware that I was reading a dramatization, a collection of true events that happened to a variety of people. Standing in the Light is worth checking out, but only as an introduction to this particular aspect of Native-Colonist relations. I think the real historical accounts would be much more interesting.
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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Indian Captive

by Lois Lenski

This is a fictionalized account of the story of Mary Jemison, a young teenager who was kidnapped by the Seneca Indians in the year 1758. Back then, the custom among the Seneca was to kill or kidnap a white settler for every one of their own people who were killed by the invading pioneers. Indian Captive tells the tale of Mary's capture and her subsequent adjustment to life among the Seneca. I found it to be a fascinating tale, as Mary moves from terror to sorrow to finally finding a place in her new community. To my thinking, the whole concept of an "indian captive" is barbaric, yet the practice does contain an element of justice. The whole book reflects the tension well. The Seneca endeavor to make Mary feel loved and welcome, yet that can't erase the harm they caused by killing her family and kidnapping her in the first place. That Mary finally is able to accept her new people despite their transgressions is an accurate reflection of what it means to live with the flaws of one's family, friends and neighbors. I will definitely look to find a copy of Mary Jemison's actual memoirs once I get back to the States. Until then, I'll just have to make sure this book stays on my shelf.
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Sunday, January 28, 2007

George Washington's World

by Genevieve and Joanna Foster

This is the first of Genevieve Foster's World of... books, where the author not only recounts the life of a famous person, but also takes a look at what was happening around the world during their lifetime. In this case we get a peek into the world between the years of 1732 and 1799. It's an engaging book. Ms. Foster presents the information in a nice, storytelling style. I also enjoyed the illustrations, though they vaguely reminded me of the early Wonder Woman comics. The one odd thing about the copy I read is that it had been "expanded" in 1997 by Genevieve's daughter, Joanna. While the extra information, adding the contribution of non-white guys, makes for a richer book, you can sort of see the "seams" of the expansion. The flow between those sections and the older material doesn't always go smoothly. I think it becomes especially notable when slavery is mentioned. In some parts, a person's slaves are mentioned as a matter of course, in others, the notion of slavery is roundly condemned. But that's a small blemish in an otherwise excellent book. Whether it's for your kids or yourself, take time to check it out.
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Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

by Elizabeth George Speare

I had high hopes for this one. I had read other tales by Ms. Speare and had enjoyed them. My wife and eldest daughter had told me that this book was the best of them all. So I read it--hurriedly, since my youngest needed to start reading it herself for school--and it was a good book. It just wasn't great. The story is about a young lass named Kit, a native of Barbados in 1687. Her parents had died when she was young and she had been raised primarily by her grandfather. But now he, too, has died and she has to move to the wilds of Connecticut to live with her aunt, her closest relative. Well, Connecticut ain't no Barbados. In addition to the obvious differences in climate, Kit finds herself an alien among a group of some of the most superstitious, narrow-minded Puritans one has ever seen. Actually, that was part of what I felt made the book a lesser effort than, say, The Bronze Bow. The characters, for the most part, are flat. The bad Puritans are all stuck up and judgemental. You know that there's going to be a showdown between them and the independent minded Kit. The romances, also, can be seen a mile away. The whole ending is quite predictable. But even though I "knew" the ending, it was fun getting to that point. This book is certainly worth checking out.
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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Madeleine Takes Command

by Ethel C. Brill

I really hate child prodigies in fiction. When some snot nose punk saves the day while all the adults stand around drooling, I just want to close the book and toss it. This book, however, is the child prodigy done right. Maybe it's because the story is true. The Madeleine of the title is Madeleine de Vercères, who lived in Quebec--or New France, as they called it--back in the late 17th Century. Her family lived in and oversaw a manor house and fort on the St. Lawrence River. It was a time when there was frequent skirmishes between the French settlers and the Iroquois Indians. Things had been peaceful for a season in their area, and folks around the fort were pretty relaxed. One day when Madeleine's father was off with the army and her mother had gone to Montreal to conduct some business, a band of Iroquois attacked. There were ten soldiers assigned to the fort, but only two happened to be in the fort when it fell under siege. Madeleine was the eldest member of her family at home and, despite the fact that she was only fourteen, assumed the responsibility of protecting the families that were able to reach the safety of the fort. It was a heroic tale, with the victory won not by any particular genius of the child, but rather through her determination and honor. Y'all should definitely check this one out.
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Monday, January 22, 2007

A Journey to the New World

by Kathryn Lasky

This is the first book of the Dear America series that I have read. My elder daughter has loved the series for years, but apart from peeking at some of the historical information in the back of the book, I've never read one. Until now, of course. My younger daughter is learning about the Pilgrims, so as a dutiful teacher, I feel obliged to read the same books she has to read. This one's the diary of a Puritan lass named Remember Patience Whipple. She's sailing aboard the Mayflower with her parents and young sister, heading toward a new life in America. I had mixed feelings about the book. On one hand, it was a bit heavy handed with the history. In the first entry, Remember gives us the dimensions of the Mayflower as well as a definition of the "Saints", the group to whom she belongs. I find it hard to believe that a twelve-year-old girl would bother to record this information unless, of course, she was secretly trying to entice her reader to learn some history. On the other hand, a few entries later Remember lists synonyms for vomit--something I would expect to find in a pre-teen's diary. So the story's not a perfect disguise for the history lesson, but Ms. Lasky has made a good attempt. The story is good enough for me to let my girls check it out.
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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims

by Clyde Robert Bulla

This one's a kids' biography of Squanto, the Patuxet man who supposedly helped the Pilgrims learn to survive in the wilds of North America. It's an interesting tale, but I was left wondering just how accurate it was. After years of living amongst Englishmen, Squanto is still talking in broken English. One would think that he would have at least learned the verb "to be" in that time. Anyway, maybe this is a faithful recounting of Squanto's life, or maybe it's not. I don't have the knowledge to truly judge it. I do know, however, that it wasn't enjoyable enough to rate higher than waiting room material.
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Friday, January 19, 2007

Samuel Eaton's Day

by Kate Waters

This here's another picture book on life in the Plymouth Colony in 1627. This one follows the day of a boy, seven-year-old Samuel Eaton. It's a big day for Samuel--the first day he's allowed to work with the men as his father and a neighbor harvest their rye crop. Of course, that's not the selling point of the book. The main appeal of the volume is the photographs of the Plimouth Plantation reenactment that show readers what life back then probably looked like. It's a nice little book, worth checking out if you want a quick history lesson for you or your young'un.
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Sarah Morton's Day

by Kate Waters

Sarah Morton's Day is a slim little picture book showing a day in the life of a Pilgrim girl on the Plymouth Colony in 1627. From the notes, I guess there's a living history museum out in Plymouth, Massachusetts where folks reenact the life of the Pilgrims and Wampanoag people in those days. Sarah Morton is one of the characters and the book uses photographs of her reenactment to show readers what a typical day for a ten-year-old girl might be like. There's also a bit of a story as Sarah ponders some relationship issues with her step-father. It's an enjoyable, five-minute read for grownups, worth checking out if you want to educate your kids (or yourself) about life in the old days.
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The Dark Frigate

by Charles Boardman Hawes

From my earliest days, I have had a taste for science fiction. To me, adventure equaled hopping in one's spaceship and blasting off for distant worlds. As I grew older and became aware of other genres of fiction, I gained a vague awareness that the plot of a typical space opera could easily be rewritten--to fit another genre, to be set in the Wild West or on the open seas. I never had an interest in experiencing those other genres, however. The few snatches of westerns or pirate swashbucklers I saw on television never made me hungry for a different taste. I have now learned that maybe I just needed to experience a good story in one of those other genres. The Dark Frigate is a pirate story. It's the tale of Philip Marsham, a young man born and bred to the sea. Left on his own when his father is lost at sea, Philip sets out to seek his fortune. After wandering a bit inland he is drawn to the sailor's life and ships out on The Rose of Devon. Unfortunately, the ship encounters a band of pirates and circumstances force Philip to sail with them. It's a great book. Mr. Hawes made the entire world come alive, so much so that I had to adapt my thinking to the archaic language used by the characters. Conversely, I had no problem picturing scene after scene in my mind as I read it. It's sold as a book for young adults, but I found the story and characters to be quite grown up. We bought the book for my daughter's schooling and, given her tastes, she may not like this one. If that's so, I'll be glad to take this tome off her hands and put it on my own shelf.
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Thursday, January 18, 2007

100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum

by Cathy Duffy

Why did I read this? Oh, yeah, it was my wife's idea. She's on her deliciously long winter break and is looking for something to do. Me, I'm going to be putting in weekend overtime so that we can take a two week trip and not have the kids fall too far behind. So remind me, how is home schooling better than public schools? Seriously, this one is an overview of the wonderful world of home school materials out there. Ms. Duffy picks out what she considers the 100 best packages and offers her reviews on them. We borrowed this tome from a friend and my wife pored over it, comparing Ms. Duffy's reviews with the choices we made all those many years ago. She--my wife, not Cathy Duffy--came away pretty satisfied. For the most part she felt we chose rightly. (Though she is going to make a tweak or two based on what she read.) Now me, I wasn't really interested in re-evaluating anything. I found the book to be waiting room material--worth a quick read, but nothing I needed at this stage in my life. Were I just starting out the home school adventure, however, this would be quite a nifty resource.
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Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Lion to Guard Us

by Clyde Robert Bulla

This one's a fictionalized account of the last voyage of the Sea Adventure in 1609. When en route to the Jamestown colony, it was separated from it's fleet by a storm and ran aground in Bermuda. No lives were lost, but everybody had to spend nine months on the island while they waited for help and eventually built two ships to carry them on to Virginia. The account of the storm and the shipwreck was Shakespeare's inspiration for The Tempest. This story, however, is much shorter. It tells of three children, whose father has gone off to Jamestown to build a new home for the family. Unfortunately, their mother gets ill and dies and the three children face the challenge of either settling down to a life of servitude and poverty or making an ambitious journey across the ocean. It's a simplistic tale, being written for children and all, but an enjoyable one as well. Check it out.
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Friday, January 12, 2007

The World of Capt. John Smith

by Genevieve Foster

Another of Genevieve Foster's World of... books, this one focuses on the years 1580-1631, the lifetime of John Smith. Smith, of course, is the first leader of the Jamestown colony in Virginia. Like the other volumes, Ms. Foster takes a look at events around the world during those years. Or at least around the Northern Hemisphere. Either there was not much happening in South America and Africa during those years, or Ms. Foster has a Eurasian bias. Even so, it is an enjoyable read. Surprisingly enough, part of the appeal is that the life of Captain Smith is an interesting tale in and of itself. If you want to share either his life story or the history of the time with your young'un, I'd advise you to check it out.
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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Pocahontas and the Strangers

by Clyde Robert Bulla

This is just a little biography of Pocahontas for the kiddies. It's nothing spectacular--mere waiting room material. The book has two main sections: the first focuses on the events surrounding her interaction with Captain John Smith, the second picks up a few years later and tells of her marriage and eventual trip to England. She had an interesting life, which makes it worth reading. I was left wanting to know more. I don't know, however, if that's a weakness of the book or more reflective of the fact that I'm a grown up and the book is written for kids.
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Monday, January 08, 2007

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

by Mark Twain

I checked this one out of the English library here on campus. I think I may be the only one here ever to appreciate this copy, as it's full, unabridged 19th Century writing, with many allusions to Malory's L'Morte d'Arthur, which your average Chinese student will probably not have read. Still you never know who might come along. I, at least, enjoyed it immensely, despite the fact that it's a tad nihilistic. It's the tale of one Hank Morgan, a superintendent in a gun factory in 19th Century Connecticut. He gets conked on the head one day and awakens in 6th Century England--the realm of King Arthur. Through his advanced scientific knowledge, Hank is able to discredit Merlin the magician and set himself up as advisor to the King. His adventures and attempts to reform the society are quite amusing. It's a sarcastic romp, in the acerbic Mark Twain style. There's also a dark undercurrent to the tale, however, which makes it like laughing in the face of death. So while I liked the book, I don't think I could ever love it like I do some of the more upbeat retellings of the Arthurian legends.
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Saturday, January 06, 2007

...If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620

by Ann McGovern

A couple of years ago, I wouldn't have bothered to review this. I might have picked it up off of the kids' reading stack, paged through it, maybe even enjoyed it, but then would put it down without further ado. These days, however, since I'm reading all sorts of kids' books and posting my reviews on LibraryThing, I'm more inclined to put in my two-cents worth. Anyway, this is a nice little illustrated book that gives kids a peek into what life might have been like for a Pilgrim boy or girl aboard the Mayflower and later in the Plymouth colony. It gives a good overview of the time, mentioning the hardships and personal conflicts as well as the triumphs of The Mayflower Compact and the first Thanksgiving celebration. It helps make this bit of history come alive and is worth checking out if you have young'uns who need to study their history.
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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Iron Peacock

by Mary Stetson Clarke

This one is the tale of a young woman, Joanna, who is fleeing from Oliver Cromwell's England with her father. Her father dies on the journey over to New England and upon arrival in Boston, she finds herself sold as an indentured servant to cover the cost of their fare. Her service is bought by a Mr. John Gifford, owner of the iron works in the village of Hammersmith. The rest of the book tells the tale of Joanna's adjustment to life as a bondservant in a new settlement in North America. The story itself is somewhat mediocre and quite predictable in places. The characterization is a bit better, but what really makes the book worth checking out is the setting. Ms. Clarke does a good job of making the surroundings come alive, from the forests of Massachusetts to the life of a outsider amongst a community of Puritans. Colonial America in the mid 17th Century is not an era which with I'm familiar. Most history books tend to jump from the landing of the Mayflower to the Revolutionary War. This was an interesting peek into a time in between, as the immigrants slowly began to put down roots and a new society began to form.
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