I’ve so many books I want to write about but I’ve been really pressed for time. Here are a few gems we’ve been poring over this past month.
Dear Whiskers by Ann Whitehead Nagda is an endearing story – Bear loved it and we finished it in one sitting! Jenny’s fourth-grade class is assigned a second-grade class to write to as part of their English lessons. Each student is to assume the identity of a mouse and their second grade pen-pals are to write back to their mice friends. While all her classmates receive interesting letters, Jenny’s mouse, Whiskers, receives a disappointing one-liner (her second-grader refuses to play along) and then no further replies. Jenny discovers that her pen-pal, Sameera, is from Saudi Arabia and doesn’t speak English well. She tries to help but Sameera seems reluctant and indifferent. Jenny pushes on though and learns more about her younger friend’s religion and culture.
We had a blast with Dominic, another book we got through in one sitting. My kids love William Steig’s mad flights of fancy! This book tells about a heroic dog who travels in search of adventure. He meets with various characters with whom he forges deep bonds of friendship. It’s hilarious though that some of the names don’t really match with who/what they are. Bartholomew Badger (a pig!) is old and sickly. Dominic cares for him in his final days and he inherits the pig’s vast wealth, only to find the Doomsday Gang (oh how my kids love that wicked name!) “who robbed, ravaged, cheated, attacked innocent creatures at large and travelers especially, and did all sorts of damaging mischief.” He helps characters like Matilda Fox (a goose!!), Barney Swain (a hog who was robbed before his wedding) and eventually rallies all the oppressed creatures to rise against the Doomsday Gang. Dominic is completely likeable – heroic, philosophical, kind and generous.
Blue Willow by Doris Gates is a sweet book set in the 1930s about Janey Larkin, a ten-year-old daughter of an itinerant farmer. She longs to put down roots somewhere – so she can have a friend and attend regular school instead of makeshift camp school. Most of all, she wants a home where she can hang her most treasured possession – a blue willow plate that her mother had given her before she died. Things go well for Janey in San Joaquin Valley, California initially but then her stepmother falls ill and her father cannot work. She is then faced with losing her beloved willow plate.
My husband, who also loves History, is fascinated with many things Japanese. When I told him about The Samura’s Tale by Erik C. Haugaard, he urged me to order it. When it arrived though, Mars beat him to it and she’s been absorbed with the book. Set in 16th century feudal Japan, the story is about Murakami, whose parents are murdered by Lord Takeda’s soldiers. Kidnapped, he is then called Taro and becomes a servant in Lord Akiyama’s household. A cook named Togan befriends him but he too is murdered. Taro then decides that he will become a samurai and regain his family’s honour.
Another book by William Steig that Mars enjoyed – Abel’s Island. Abel (Abelard Hassam di Chirico Flint) is a mouse who, in trying to rescue his wife Amanda’s scarf, gets blown away during a storm. He is stranded on an island. Stripped of the comforts and leisure that his inherited wealth afforded him, Abel has to rely on his ingenuity and resourcefulness to return to his beloved wife. It takes him a year but he does rise to the challenge :)
I found The Defender by Nicholas Kalashnikoff quite compelling. Simply written, it is about Turgen, an old Lamut man who lives close to the Yakut people in Siberia. The Lamut are mountain folk while the Yakut live in the valley with their domesticated animals. Turgen is a healer and has an affinity with the mountain rams which he protects. The shaman, jealous of Turgen, spreads rumours about him, saying he consults with the devil who takes the form of the ram. Turgen’s loneliness after his wife and child’s deaths is compounded when the villagers shun him. Only Marfa, a poor widow and her two children offer him friendship. Turgen’s life slowly changes – his kindness gains him a family, returns him the good will of the village and even a heartfelt apology from the village shaman.
I’ve got loads more books to review but… in shaa Allah, another day :)