penny in a castle

A digital chapbook.

Random reads

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I’ve been doing a bit of random reading lately – mostly to try to find books that will be good for the kids to read.

My daughter is finally starting to grow tired of Rainbow Fairies (“Mom, they’re all kind of the same.”  “Yeah, no kidding!”) and my son is now reading chapter books as well as comic books.  My son recently devoured an Encyclopedia Brown book, and my daughter has taken a shine to Nancy Drew.  Interestingly she seems to really enjoy the “older” Nancy books, with their distinctive yellow jackets and paintings on the cover. She asked if they were all written by the same person – I said no, that the new ones were likely “ghost written” by someone else and that Carolyne Keene was likely very old – if she was still alive at all.

Curious, I thought I would check Dr. Google to see what Ms. Keene was up to these days.  I was surprised to discover she had never existed!  Wiki says the Nancy Drew (and Hardy Boy books for that matter) were written for the Stratemeyer Syndicate by a 28 women for $125 to $250 a book!  Mystery solved.

I’d like to have a few other things on hand though that can broaden the kids reading scope beyond the usual suspects.  I won’t always be able to keep up and keep an eye on what they read forever, but I want to make sure that they get a solid base with the good stuff.  Here are a few recent random reads:

By the Shores of Silver Lake, Laura Ingalls Wilder:  I read quite few of the Little House books when I was my daughters age – but not this one.  I picked it up at a book sale at work. The book takes on a darker tone than the others as (spoiler alert) Jack the brindle dog dies and Mary goes blind from fever.  The family has essentially gone bankrupt and has to move away from Plum Creek so Pa can work where they are building the railroad.  The novel takes a few nervous turns as the family settles in among the hard working, hard living men working the rail road. I liked it, but the kids said they found it sad.

The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate: I picked this one up before heading out on vacation this summer.  It’s very loosely based on the real story of a gorilla kept in a run-down shopping mall.  The story is told from the viewpoint of the gorilla, who creates art but doesn’t have much hope.  Things change when a baby elephant is brought the mall by the owner desperate to bring in more revenue.  It’s themes of animal cruelty and seeking a way to a better life are well balanced against a fast moving pace.  The interesting narrative and great writing also make it worth the read.

A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Bad Beginning, Lemony Snicket: I thought I would get this one at the library before buying it – and then my husband purchased it at a book sale!  The book follows the story of the three Baudelaire children.  The children’s parents die in a mysterious fire, and they are taken by their bumbling executor to stay with their Uncle Olaf.  It turns out Uncle Olaf is not exactly what child services has in mind as a good parent, but the other adults in the Baudelaire’s life fail to recognize this as the children fall into mortal peril.  The story is purposely darker than most children’s stories and used to hilarious effect that will amuse both boys and girls.  Imagine the Addams family as retold by Roald Dahl.  The children are clever and their talents make them interesting role models – and it’s nice to see a strong female role in the oldest sister.

Dragonsong, Anne McCaffrey: This is a book I have read many, many times since I was a teenager. It was the first Dragon book I read by McCaffrey and instantly fell in love with the universe (although, admittedly I was really disappointed by her later works).  This is the original I had from when I was a kid – I have no idea where it came from or how I got it but I have kept it over the years.  I wanted to read it again to see if my kids might be ready for it – but I think they are still too young.  The main female character, Menolly, is strong yet sensitive and kind hearted.  She is a musician but her hard-working father can’t accept a girl in a man’s role.  After an accident leaves her unable to play music, she runs away.   I have never understood why the book wasn’t made into a movie – it’s exciting and, well it has dragons in it!

Three Cups of Deceit, Jon Krakauer: This book is the only adult book I’ve read in a while. It was on one of the libraries shelves close to the children’s section so I snagged it on the way out.  I’ve read a couple of Krakauer books – Into the Wild and Into Thin Air.  I found both riveting and hard to put down. This slim booklet was no different.  It essentially deconstructs the myth built by Greg Mortenson in Three Cups of Tea. Mortenson has used this book and his humanitarian organization to raise millions of dollars.  Krakauer uses journalist precision to question the truthfulness of his story, whether or not the schools that are being built are truly useful as well as whether the money being funneled into the humanitarian organization is being spent appropriately.  Having read Three Cups of Tea first, I had thought that there was something more than a little fishy about Mortenson’s story and was glad that Krakauer has written this book. While Mortenson’s original idea seems noble, Krakauer makes a very convincing argument that many people may have been swindled out of their money.

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