A nice sister made a comment about my blog in an email (I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that someone actually reads my blog hehe…) She said that she too cannot imagine a world without books. I really love it when I meet someone who shares a passion for books.

Here are some chapter books Ms M and I have enjoyed…

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A beautiful, if painful, coming-of-age story. Set in fictional small town in Alabama, the story talks about life in Depression-hit America. It starts out with an affectionate description of the sleepy southern county. Scout and her brother Jem are raised by their widowed father Atticus and their housekeeper, Calpurnia. Their summers are consumed by grand plans to lure the recluse Arthur “Boo” Radley out of his spooky home. The ladies meet for missionary teas and “bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” As the story progresses, this charming facade is dismantled to reveal ignorance, fear, hypocrisy and prejudice.

Atticus Finch is called on to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell. He is eventually found guilty and, “tired of taking white man’s chances”, attempts to escape and is shot to death. What I love about this story is how the author deftly shows that everyone is human and multi-faceted. Mayella is a pitiful figure, driven by loneliness and abuse; Mrs Dubose, a bigot who screams insults at the Finches, is also a courageous woman who kicks her morphine addict and dies “beholden to nothing and nobody”.

Ms M really enjoyed this book and while I am really strict about her watching any movies or TV, I did let her watch the movie starring the late Gregory Peck (he WAS Atticus, wasn’t he?). The language in the movie was more toned down so it is suitable for children.

2. Number The Stars by Lois Lowry
This is set in Denmark, during the second World War. We see what life was like through the eyes of 10-year-old Annemarie Johannesen. The Danes suffer from food and fuel rations and the menacing presence of the Nazis at every street corner. On 29 September 1943, word got out that the Nazis were going to round up the Jews and send them to death camps. Annemarie had already noticed some of her Jewish neighbours disappearing. And so begins the mission to save their neighbours, the Rosens. Ellen Rosen poses as the Johannesen’s daughter and they travel to Gilleleje, a seaside town. There, the Resistance and the brave fishermen have arranged to transport the Jews to Sweden.

3. Misty of Chincoteague by Margeurite Henry, illustrated by Wesley Dennis
All the events in this book are true although they didn’t happen in the order they were written. Legend has it that a 16th century Spanish galleon carrying horses bound for South America was caught in a violent storm near Assateague Island. After escaping from the hold, the horses swam to the safety of the island. Wild with freedom, the horses adapted to their new surroundings and over the years, became a hardy breed.

Every year on “Pony Penning Day,” the men of neighbouring Chincoteague round up as many ponies as they can and bring them across the water to sell. Paul and Maureen Beebe long to have ponies of their own that they never need sell. They have their hearts set on the elusive Phantom. Paul is finally old enough to join the round-up and in the months preceding the big day, he and Maureen work hard to earn the money for their own horse. Paul not only manages to round up Phantom, but also her colt, Misty. The children struggle with their desire to own the lovely Phantom and their regret at confining such a beautiful untamed spirit. An evocative tale of dreams that come true and which must eventually be let go… A Newbery Honor Book.

4. The Wreck of the Zanzibar by Michael Morpurgo
I discovered 3 of his books in a second-hand bookstore in mint condition, each going for only 125 rupees (that’s about SG$3!). Needless to say, I grabbed them. His books are said to be for children aged 8 onwards but his stories are compelling and clearly, for all ages. This story unfolds in 14-year-old Laura Perryman’s diary entries and watercolor illustrations in 1907 and 1908. Laura longs to row the island gig with the men and pilot ships through the dangerous waters around the Scilly Isles. Her father, however, adamantly refuses to let her. Life on Bryher Island is harsh – the storms have destroyed the islanders’ homes and boats and food supplies are running out fast. The family faces even more bleak days – Laura’s wanderlust twin brother, Billy, runs away with a ship following a fight with their father and their cows, which provide both food and income, fall sick and die in a storm. They pray for a shipwreck, so they can salvage its cargo. Laura finally manages to realise her dream in the story’s dramatic and surprising ending… This book won the Whitbread Children’s Novel Award.

5. Billy The Kid by Michael Morpurgo
Some may not like the adult themes in this book, but this allowed Ms M and I to have a rather fruitful discussion about handling disappointments and one’s purpose in life later on. So, I would advise you to use your judgement. Eighty-year-old Billy is sitting on his favourite park bench and reminisces about his life. As a child, he dreamt of playing football (OK, soccer, you Americans!) for Chelsea FC. He gets what he wanted too, until World War 2 takes place. Billy’s late father, who had died after WW1 due to lung problems sustained in battle, had told him never to fight in any war but when his younger brother Joe fights and dies, Billy feels he cannot stay away.

He joins up as a medic and tastes first hand the pain and horrors of war. A serious injury to his legs means the end of his soccer career and upon returning to England, he finds that his mother, step-father and sister have been killed in the Blitz. Broken in spirit, Billy turns to the streets and drink. A kindly couple later take him in and while it is a long and slow process, Billy eventually succeeds in his search for peace. I enjoyed the football scenes and the ending, which was nothing short of touching. This book made Ms M cry quite a bit!

More in Part 2 in shaa Allah … Kids are up!