Umm Nassim, this is for you :)
I know I said that I am not a library person but what is one to do when there are no decent second-hand bookstores (this is the one thing I miss about Pakistan!) and one’s kids read more than one can afford? I got premium membership for Ms M and I and with lil Bear’s membership, we get to borrow 20 books at a time!
I don’t have time to write out reviews/summaries yet – in shaa Allah soon – but these are some books we have enjoyed:
Fiction… some with lovely illustrations!
- Abbie in Stitches by Cynthia Cotten (author), Beth Peck (illustrator)
- Bottled Sunshine by Andrea Spalding (author), Ruth Ohi (illustrator)
- Different Just Like Me by Lori Mitchell (author)
- Dolphin Boy by Michael Morpurgo (author), Michael Foreman (illustrator)
- Finding Joy by Marion Coste (author), Yong Chen (illustrator)
- Kamishibai Man by Allen Say
- Katie’s Wish by Barbara Shook Hazen (author), Emily Arnold McCully (illustrator)
- Martha by Gennady Spirin
- On My Way to Buy Eggs by Chih-Yuan Chen
- Speak English for Us, Marisol! by Karen English (author), Enrique O. Sanchez (illustrator)
- Stranger in the Mirror by Allen Say
- The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco
- The Falling Flowers by Jennifer B. Reed (author), Dick Cole (illustrator)
- The Gardener by Sarah Stewart (author), David Small (illustrator)
- The Memory String by Eve Bunting (author), Ted Rand (illustrator)
- The Prince of Butterflies by Bruce Coville (author), John Clapp (illustrator)
- The Sea Chest by Toni Buzzeo (author), Mary GrandPre (illustrator)
- The Silver Swan by Michael Morpurgo (author), Christian Birmingham (illustrator)
- The Snow Bear by Miriam Moss (author), Maggie Kneen (illustrator)
- The Sound of Colors: A Journey of the Imagination by Jimmy Liao (author)
- The Yellow Leaf by Hasan Terani (author), Mahasti Mir (illustrator)
- Waiting for May by Janet Morgan Stoeke
- Wake Up, City! by Alvin Tresselt (author), Carolyn Ewing (illustrator)
Learning about Other Cultures
- Child’s Day: Bongani’s Day by Gisele Wulfsohn
- Child’s Day: In a Vietnamese City by Jim Holmes & Tom Morgan
- Child’s Day: In an Egyptian City by Khaled Eldash & Dalia Khattab
- Child’s Day: Iina Marja’s Day (From Dawn to Dusk) by Jaako Alatalo
- Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures: Ancient Egypt by Joanna Cole (author), Bruce Degen (illustrator)
- Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures: Imperial China by Joanna Cole (author), Bruce Degen (illustrator)
- Letters from Around the World: France by Teresa Fisher (author)
- Letters from Around the World: Spain by Cath Senker
- Letters from Around the World: Pakistan by David Cumming
- Letters from Around the World: Costa Rica by Patrick Cunningham & Sue Cunningham
- Letters from Around the World: Greece by David Cumming
- Letters from Around the World: Canada by Andy Orchard & Clare Orchard
We’re doing birds now that we are done with mammals (well, just about…).
- Birds: Nature’s Magnificent Flying Machines by Caroline Arnold (author), Patricia J. Wynne (illustrator)
- DK Guide to Birds by Ben Morgan
- Penguins by Lynn M Stone
Books both Ms M & Bear liked
- Can You Cuddle Like a Koala? by John Butler
- Honey Baby Sugar Child by Alice Faye Duncan (author), Susan Keeter (illustrator)
- I Love You Just the Way You Are (Bartholomew & George) by Virginia Miller
- Little Bunny’s Bedtime! by Jane Johnson (author), Gaby Hansen (illustrator)
- You’re All My Favourites by Sam McBratney
1. The Nine Lives of Montezuma by Michael Morpurgo
This chronicles the life of Montezuma, a ginger tom with a white patch on his throat. He has to fight for his life from the outset – as a newborn, he survives despite attacks from a barn owl, the attempts of a farmer to drown his siblings and abandonment from his neglectful mother. He is rescued by the farmerâ€™s son, Matthew, and becomes a permanent and much-loved fixture in the household.
What follows are the many brushes Monty has with death. First, he gets his head stuck in a tin before hurling up a tree and falling in a pond. Then, he becomes involved in a violent fight with the farm dog, Sam, over Sunday roast left-overs. Next, he is stranded in a snowdrift and a brutal fight with a rival tom. He watches over Matthew who grows up and takes over the farm. But all creatures must face death and Montezuma dies, leaving behind fond memories…
2. Under the Hawthorne Tree by Marita Conlon-McKenna
I discovered this gem quite by accident and almost gave it a miss. I bought it for a mere 50 rupees (SG$1!!). This award-winning novel deals with the the Great Irish Famine that ravaged Ireland in the 1840s. The story centres around the O’Driscolls, the average Irish family who are tenant farmers, dependent on potatoes as their main source of food. Tragedy strikes in the form of “the Blight” – a disease that destroys the potato crops – and what ensues is extensive starvation.
Eily (who is 12), Michael (10) and Peggy (7) O’Driscoll have coped with heartbreak upon heartbreak. Their parents left to find work but have gone missing and their baby sister Bridget is dead and buried under the hawthorne tree. Their village is devastated and farmers are being evicted by the landowners. Surrounded by disaster and the threat of being sent to the workhouse, the children are determined to survive and stay together.
Armed with nothing but courage and love, they embark on a perilous journey across Ireland to find their great-aunts, Nano and Lena, whom they have only heard about in their mother’s stories. The children sleep in the open and forage for food in the wild and in the farms of dead tenants. They are confronted with death at every turn. They see bodies of those who died with no one to mourn or pray over them and they see the living dead – those so traumatised that they are but shells of their former selves.
When the O’Driscoll children arrive in Ballycarbery, they see the ships loaded with food bound for England. It is a painful and bitter pill to swallow – the landlords were making money while their countrymen were falling dead from starvation. And indeed, that is the irony of those horrific years – it was only the potato crop that failed; wheat, oats and meat were in excellent supply but they were shipped out to England. It is said that a million and a half people died during these dark years and another million emigrated.
Read about how Eily, Michael and Peggy push every fibre of their being to stay alive and find a better home. This book is part of a trilogy – the other books in the series are Wildflower Girl and Fields of Home. I haven’t read these, but if you have tell me about them! The book has also been made into a film and study guides are available at O’Brien Press.
Update: We found Wildflower Girl in a little bookshop in Islamabad! It is good… review later in shaa Allah…
3. The Akimbo books by Alexander McCall-Smith
Alexander McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe was educated there and in Scotland. A Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh, he is a best-selling author of adults’ books but proves that he is equally adept with younger audiences. I was told about his books by a fellow homeschooler who adores books. We went on a hunt and were rewarded with a box set that was in perfect condition!
The set features Akimbo and the Elephants, Akimbo and the Lions and Akimbo and the Crocodile Man. (There is another book out there Akimbo and the Snakes that we have not read, so if you see it, give me a shout OK?)*
Akimbo is a young, adventurous African boy who lives in a large game reserve where his father is a head ranger. He is passionate about animal conservation and goes through great lengths to protect them. In Akimbo and the Elephants, Akimbo helps to bring down an elephant poaching ring. In Akimbo and the Lions, he helps to raise a lion cub and becomes attached to it. However he knows that Simba belongs in the wild. It is a heartbreaking moment when he releases Simba. (Oh how Ms M cried!) In Akimbo and the Crocodile Man, our resourceful friend is given the chance to accompany John the Crocodile man who is doing research on a batch of crocodiles. During a trip, John is attacked by an angry croc. It is a race against time as Akimbo braves dangerous waters to get help for his friend. Ms M loved the bit where Akimbo hotwires a truck, drives it and barely misses crashing into a tree!
I loved this series just as much as Ms M did. The descriptions are simple and yet incredibly detailed and will transport you to the beautiful African continent. We finished each book in one sitting and liked the charming black and white illustrations by Peter Bailey. I’d recommend this for both boys and girls who are getting into chapter books.
* Update: We have read Akimbo and the Snakes – nice stuff!
OK more in Part 3 – kids are hankering for breakfast!
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!
There are times when I wish ‘well-meaning’ people would just back off and stop trying to add value to my children’s education.
If you cannot impart knowledge to my kids in a positive and encouraging way, then please be so good as to recognise your shortcoming and leave them alone.
Please, before you start quizzing Ms M on the finer points of Geography, check that you can ask her questions without GRILLING her and making her feel as if a wrong answer would diminish her in your eyes. Please do not ask her to repeat things that you had taught her in front of company. She is not a performer and it is certainly not her job to validate you. She is learning and learning a lot each day, so I would appreciate it if you would not act as if there are numerous gaps that you need to fill on my behalf.
She loves you and I know you love her, but really, you must stop this.[Lion image from Pexels]