All grown-ups were once children

One of my top ten favorite books of all time is The Little Prince. It speaks to my soul. You can read more about why here , but one big reason is because it reminds me how to “become as a little child.” (Matt 18:1-6) In the introduction the author gives these wise words, “All grown-ups were once children, though few of them remember it.”

We started a new read aloud this week as a family, and in the introduction the author writes, “Although my book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls, I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in.”

I read this book when I was in college, and I remember enjoying it. But this time around, reading it with my children has given me a whole other level of joy.

Gems that we read tonight:

“..in order to make a man or boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

“…while he could button the flower inside his jacket, next to his heart – or next his stomach, possibly, for he was not much posted in anatomy, and not hypercritical, anyway.”

So, can you name the book?

Last weekend I overheard one of my 13 year old daughter’s friends ask, “Are Mark Twain and Shania Twain related?” Pretty sure my daughter didn’t know who either of those people are/were. That was the moment I knew that The Adventures of Tom Sawyer needed to be our next family read aloud, if for no other reason than that my children needed to know who Mark Twain was. (An introduction to Shania Twain will likely come at a future date.) But the genius and familiar dialogue between kids, the descriptions of their behaviors and logic, the sense of freedom to be a kid has captivated and enthralled, and we are only 4 chapters in. The prose requires some explanation at times for my younger ones to understand what’s going on, but the consistency of kids and their interactions and behaviors over the last 150ish years makes some things universally and easily comprehended. Full belly laughs have been commonplace.

I am content to be transported to a time when a boy’s treasure and wealth consisted of “a kite in good repair, a dead rat and a string to swing it with…twelve marbles, a piece of blue bottle glass to look through, a spool cannon, a key that wouldn’t unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six firecrackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass doorknob, a dog collar – but no dog – the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange peel, and a dilapidated old window sash.”

I am grateful for the reminders of the value of work and play, and finding worth and joy in the simple things.

The Great Good Thing

The Great Good Thing (The Sylvie Cycle, #1)The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads):

Sylvie has been a twelve-year-old princess for more than eighty years, ever since the book she lives in was first printed. She’s the heroine, and her story is exciting — but that’s the trouble. Her story is always exciting in the same way. Sylvie longs to get away and explore the world outside the confines of her book.

When she breaks the cardinal rule of all storybook characters and looks up at the Reader, Sylvie begins a journey that not even she could have anticipated. And what she accomplishes goes beyond any great good thing she could have imagined…

My Review

Great family read aloud! I read this for the first time several years ago and remembered liking it. I could remember the very basics of the plot and characters, so when I spotted the book again while perusing our bookshelves I wanted to read it again to remember the details. I had been looking for something to read aloud with my kids that would be of interest to a wide span of ages, but also have substance, and possibly be something they may not pick up on their own. From what I could remember The Great Good Thing seemed like it would fit the bill nicely.

It was fun trying to explain to my kids what it was about when they asked. “Well…it’s about characters in a book.” The looks on their faces showed clearly the response, “Duh. That’s what all books are about.” “No really, it’s about characters in a book, in the book. And what they are doing when someone is not reading their book.” The light of understanding began to glimmer.

My description didn’t thrill them, but they were willing to let me read aloud the first chapter and then if they really hated it we’d choose something else. Let’s just say we read 3 chapters that first night. As my 11 and 13 year old daughters were heading off to bed after we finished reading I asked them what they thought. Their silence and little smirks told me all I needed to know. They were intrigued, but they couldn’t possibly admit to their mother that maybe I had been right about this book choice.

So we continued reading, and not one of us, from my 6 year old son to my 13 year old daughter, wanted to miss read aloud each night. It’s an easy read, but not boringly simple in plot, character development, or language. It’s such a satisfying fantasy to imagine favorite book characters as truly living in their own book world and being our friends to help us through good times and bad.

Age Recommendation: The Great Good Thing brings to mind fairy tales which we know and love at any age. For our family it was perfect for 6 years old and up.  If this were being read in a classroom setting or as an independent read I would suggest it for 3rd grade and older.

Appropriateness: Clean as can be. Nothing to worry about in this one. The Great Good Thing provides great classroom and/or book club discussion in relation to how aging and change is a necessary part of life, how creativity can help us deal with difficult circumstances, and what makes a person or an action “great” and/or “good.”

Other Book Recommendations: If you liked The Great Good Thing you might also like Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Frogkisser by Garth Nix, Goblins in the Castle by Bruce Coville, The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamilla, My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand and Brodi Ashton, and The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

A Long Walk to Water

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True StoryA Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

A Long Walk to Water alternates between the perspective of  girl in Sudan in 2008 and a boy in Sudan in 1985. Nya’s life revolves around water and her twice daily walk to a pond that is two hours’ away. Salva is a war refugee who walks the African continent in search for family and for a safe place to stay. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva’s and Nya’s lives come to intersect in a powerful way.

My Review

My 11 year old, 9 year old, 6 year old, and I read this together. I found myself reading aloud through tears more than once. We read together past bedtime for several nights in a row because we just couldn’t bear to leave Salva in such tribulation. The author writes simply but effectively communicates events and emotions. Tragic and tough realities but written so appropriately for children.

My 9 year old said it best tonight when she went to get a drink right after we finished the book. “I feel a little guilty,” she said as she turned on the faucet. “After reading about Nya and Salva it doesn’t seem very fair that I can just come in here and turn a knob and get clean cool water. But I am very grateful that I can.”

Age Recommendation: Clearly at our house all ages were engaged. Reading level might be 3rd-6th grade, but as a read aloud even my 6 year old was riveted.

Appropriateness: Definitely hard facts of life as a refugee are presented, but not in gory detail. The full impact of the tragedy and trauma is expressed but in ways that stays true to children’s literature. So much discussion material for a classroom or book club. The website for the non-profit organization, waterforsouthsudan.org,  has so many great resources including videos, maps, pictures and information on how you can help bring clean water to South Sudan.

Teachers and book clubs should definitely check out the discussion questions found here.

Other Book Recommendations: This book made me think of So Far from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins and Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. I would also recommend Charlotte’s Rose by Ann Edwards Cannon, and I Am Malala.

View all my reviews

It’s Not Easy Being a Superhero – blog tour

It's Not Easy Being a Superhero: Understanding Sensory Processing DisorderIt’s Not Easy Being a Superhero: Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder by Kelli Call

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads

Unlike most superheroes, Clark’s superpowers aren’t a secret. And instead of just one, Clark has five superpowers he must learn to control: super hearing, super sight, super smell, super taste, and super feeling. He uses his five superpowers to defeat sensory triggers, and his arch nemesis Igor Ance. This beautifully illustrated picture book helps parents, teachers, students, and friends understand what it’s like for these superheroes who have sensory processing disorder and the tricks they learn to control their powers.

My Review

I’m so grateful for this book! And excited to be participating in the blog tour.

From infancy we knew there was something “different” about my daughter. The older she got the more apparent it became that she had some unique struggles and strengths to deal with. When a friend told me about Sensory Processing Disorder I started researching like crazy. My daughter has not been officially diagnosed, but what I learned about SPD just fit so much of what we saw in her. Learning about SPD gave us many tools to help her.

So imagine my excitement when I heard about a picture book for kids all about SPD. As a mother and a former school teacher I knew the value of presenting this information in a format that would make sense to kids struggling with SPD and to the children and adults in their lives. So the day the book came I gathered my 4 kids, ages 4-11, and we read it together. All 4 of them were caught up in the ups and downs of the superhero’s powers, and in the illustrations that brought it all to life with exciting colors, movement, and a bit of a classic superhero comic book feel.

When we’d finished reading I asked my kids if they felt like they could relate to Clark at all, or if they knew someone from church or school who maybe reminded them of Clark. I was fascinated that they all could say they related to Clark and having triggers that just set certain feelings or behaviors off. We talked about what things they do now and could do better, just like Clark, to help keep our reactions in check and to calm us down. All 3 of my school age children told me about kids they knew in their current class or in previous classes that they thought had super senses just like Clark, and they felt that the book helped them understand better why they acted in certain ways at times. And it didn’t seem so weird anymore.

My 11 year old, who actually displays SPD behaviors, didn’t stick around too long after we finished discussing. I imagine she felt she was “too old” for picture books, but I loved watching my 7 and 4 year old look through the book again together. When it was time for bed my 7 year old took the book with her. I saw her reading it again in bed. The next morning when I went in to her room she was already awake reading the book again.

I got to thinking about what about it spoke to her in particular. She hasn’t ever seemed to have symptoms of SPD; but she is independent to the extreme. She tends to react suddenly and strongly with her emotions in unpleasant situations, and sometimes even her positive reactions are overly strong or dramatic. We are always working on self-regulation of her emotions, and it struck me that Clark’s sensory superpowers might feel similar to her lack of emotional control. I was inspired to take a new, more positive, approach to her unique struggles; to see her as a future superhero in training, with a lot of strength to offer the world.

I’ll say it again – I am so grateful for this book and the positive discussion it inspired in my family. And for the perspective we all gained. It would be an amazing tool in any classroom or family to help understand the strengths and weaknesses involved in SPD and in all of us. It’s so relatable and understandable. And so very inspiring and positive in a world where we all have hard things, but doing them is what makes us super.

 

The House with Chicken Legs

The House with Chicken LegsThe House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

All 12-year-old Marinka wants is a friend. A real friend. Not like her house with chicken legs. Sure, the house can play games like tag and hide-and-seek, but Marinka longs for a human companion. Someone she can talk to and share secrets with.
But that’s tough when your grandmother is a Yaga, a guardian who guides the dead into the afterlife. It’s even harder when you live in a house that wanders all over the world . . . carrying you with it. So when Marinka stumbles across the chance to make a real friend, she breaks all the rules . . . with devastating consequences.

My Review

If I hadn’t seen this book in a scholastic book order for only $3 I’m not sure it would have ever caught my attention. But I’m glad it did. The idea of guardians who guide the dead each night to the afterlife combined with aspects of Russian culture was very interesting. What I appreciated most was the look into the struggle it can be to feel like you fit in anywhere, especially in those early teen years. And the portrayal of the guilt that comes when we make choices we know deep down are wrong. Add to that having to deal with the consequences of those choices and take responsibility for them and I feel this is a great read for any middle grade to early teen reader (or for an adult who just enjoys children’s literature). The teaching points are effective without being preachy. The characters are likable and relatable in their imperfections, while also being “good.”

This is not an epic story or adventure, so the rules of the fantasy world are not overly explicit, but that didn’t interfere with the entertainment value for me. However, I think I would have given 4 stars if the ending had had a little more umph to it. It seemed to resolve rather neatly rather quickly, without fully explaining how exactly the change in “rules” was possible. The story has folktale/fairytale/fable feel, or like a or a tale that might have fit in the Russian version of Arabian Nights – cute, entertaining, quick to get into and quick to finish.

Age Recommendation: Perfect read for middle grades on up.

Appropriateness: Death is an integral part of the story which may be a sensitive topic for some, but it’s addressed with such warmth and care that there isn’t anything sensationalized.

Classroom Use: This would be an ideal read aloud from grades 3-6. So much discussion material about death, choices, consequences, destiny, family, friendship, loneliness, love, not to mention the Russian culture and the geographical locations of the various story settings.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in The House with Chicken Legs I think you would also enjoy The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The Little Prince by Antoine de St. Exupery, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath,  Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, and The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo.

 

Duck, Duck, Moose

Duck, Duck, MooseDuck, Duck, Moose by Joy Heyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Duck’s best friend Goose is gone for winter and Duck is lonely. The animals try to cheer Duck, but Duck, Duck, Pig is too messy, and Duck, Duck, Moose is too scary. Will Duck be alone until Goose gets back? Or can Duck find a way to happily play until Goose gets back?

My Review

Duck, Duck, Moose has all of the elements of the perfect picture book. The story is entertaining for adults and children alike. There aren’t too many words per page and they are fun words to say and hear. The charming illustrations work with the words to tell the full story. Each time we have read this, my kids can’t wait to turn the page to see what problem Duck will find himself in next. I love Duck’s facial expressions. They tell the story in and of themselves.

This book also has a feel good message about friendship and social skills without being annoying or preachy. I love the example duck shows of turning a disappointing situation around with a little problem-solving and a change in attitude. It’s really a plot and message that is relatable to real life. But most importantly, it’s just a positively enjoyable book!

Age Recommendation: I love reading this book over and over with my kids. This one works for the youngest of readers to the oldest.

Appropriateness: Only warm fuzzies and innocence in this one, along with a good dose of wit.

 

Classroom Use: This book would be great inspiration for creative writing exercises.  Students could come up with their own ideas of what traditional games with combinations of animals might look like. What would work well? What wouldn’t?Students could also write about what they thought Goose was doing while he was away. Would be a great study in point of view.

This book is perfect for studying standards related to “main ideas and details” particularly in looking at describing characters in the story.  Because the illustrations are an integral part of showing characters emotions they actually become “text evidence.” The visual text evidence may be more concrete for some learners and help cement the idea of how to find and use text evidence to support conclusions.  This would also apply to teaching standards related to “integration of knowledge and skills.”

Other Book Recommendations: If you like Duck, Duck, Moose or books like it then you should try The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak, any Elephant and Piggie or Pigeon books by Mo Willems, Cindy Moo by Lori Mortensen, and Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea.

Everything on a Waffle – for teachers

Everything on a Waffle (Coal Harbour #1)Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary

When Primrose’s parents both disappear at sea in the middle of a vicious storm, she is forced into a new life which includes a new home, new friends, new conflicts and adventures, new insights, and new recipes. It really does take a village in this case to take care of 11-year old Primrose. Some of the townspeople thinkthey know best, like the snobbish and socially awkward school counselor Miss Honeycut. While others truly are just what Primrose needs to keep her hope alive, like her impulsive Uncle Jack, and Kate Bowzer, the owner of the local restaurant where all the food is served on a waffle. But the true joy in this story is how Primrose and her hope is just what the town, and all of us, need to approach the world and all of its challenges with courage, wit, kindness, fun, and love.

Teaching Resources

I read this book for a fourth time recently for book club. I already reviewed this book here and included some book club discussion questions in that review. But reading the book this time I thought about more from an elementary school teaching perspective and thought about how I would use it as a read-aloud or small group book. Here are some questions and activities I came up with for using Everything on a Waffle in the classroom.

Read aloud or small group questions:

These can be found in a worksheet format here.

chapters 1-2

1. How would feel if you were Primrose and both your parents had just disappeared? Does Primrose seem upset?

2. How would you describe Miss Perfidy? Do you think Primrose likes her? How do you know?

3. Do you like Miss Honeycut so far? How does Miss Honeycut feel about Uncle Jack? How do you know? 

4. Why is her mother’s memo pad so important to Primrose? How do you know it is important to her?

5. Do you think Uncle Jack will be a good guardian for Primrose? Why or why not?

6. Why do the girls at school tease Primrose?

7. The townspeople think Primrose’s mother made a reckless and bad decision to go after her husband. What does Miss Bowzer think about it? With whom do you agree?

8. What kinds of things have you had on waffles? Would you want to try any of things from the Girl on the Red Swing’s menu? 

9. What does it mean to be a pacifist?

chapters 3-4

10. Why is Miss Honeycut taking such an interest in Primrose? Have you ever known anyone like Miss Honeycut?

11. What do you think of Uncle Jack’s job as a developer? How do the people of Coal Harbor feel about it? What does it mean to be a developer?

12. Why is Primrose writing down all of these recipes? How do you think she chooses the recipes she wants to write?

13. Do you think Primrose’s parents are dead? Why or Why not?

14. What does Primrose mean when she says, “Sometimes you get tempted to make something wonderful even better but in doing so you lose what was so wonderful to being with.” 

chapters 5-6

15. Do you think Uncle Jack could have had a special reason for getting Primrose a dog? 

16. Do you think there are really ghosts playing hockey? What else could it be?

17. Why did Lena go so crazy over boiled potatoes? What does that have to do with Primrose helping Uncle Jack?

18. Why doesn’t Miss Bowzer like Uncle Jack?

19. Have you ever had an experience like Miss Bowzer’s with the whaling ship? 

chapters 7-8

20. What is happening to Miss Perfidy’s memory? 

21. Why do you think Primrose’s sweaters are so important to her? What do you think happened to them?

22. Chapter 8 is called “I lose a toe.” How do you predict that will happen?

23. What does Primrose mean about Miss Honeycut’s relationship with her sister when she says, “THAT’S the type of thing I’m talking about!”

24. Why does Miss Honeycut tell such long and uninteresting stories over and over?

25. How would you feel if some many people didn’t believe you, like how the townspeople don’t believe Primrose when she says her parents are coming back or that she didn’t try to kill herself?

26. Have you ever felt an unexplainable joy or peace like Primrose at the end of chapter 8?

chapters 9-11

27. Why does Primrose keep talking about a solarium?

28. How do you think Primrose feels about the boys getting another goalie?

29. What does Miss Honeycut think about Primrose’s behavior in the rain and also of her cutting the guinea pig’s hair?

30. Why does Uncle Jack not like The Girl on the Red Swing?

31. Why does Uncle Jack start talking to Miss Honeycut about a new townhome in the restaurant?

32. Why does Uncle Jack tell Primrose about the boys who catch fish and sell them?

33. How do you think Uncle Jack’s idea lands Primrose in a foster home?

chapters 12-14

34. Chapter 12 is called “I lose another digit.” What is a “digit?” Which one do you think Primrose loses? How do you think it happens?

35. What do you think of Evie and Bert? How would you describe them?

36. In this chapter Primrose admits to crying for the first time.  Why does she cry now and not at any other time in the book?

37. Are there “good guys” and “bad guys” in this book? If so, who are the good and who are the bad?

38. How is Uncle Jack a hero? Why are the townspeople angry with him?

39. Why does Miss Bowzer cut the vegetables into small bits “BAM BAM BAM” whenever Primrose mentions Miss Honeycut’s name? 

40. How do Evie and Bert feel about the fire? 

41. How does Miss Perfidy dying in the middle of Primrose’s sentence relate to the rest of the book? 

chapter 15

42. What of your predictions turned out to be correct? 

43. Were the characters happy in the end? Why or why not?

44. Have you ever known something in your heart without knowing why?

45. Which of the recipes in the book would you want to try? 

46. What kind of “important things” happen in the “smallest places?” 

Activities:

1. Have a waffle party. Make the recipe from the book or bring in Eggo waffles and a variety of toppings to try.

2. As a science project try making boiled potatoes or cinnamon rolls and experiment with yeast.

3. Study seals and Orcas. Study about tourism in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest.  Make travel brochures.

4. Make a travel brochure as as a book report. Have a section for characters, events, recipes, and the book’s theme.

5. Make a menu for The Girl on the Red Swing. Come up with as many interesting waffle combinations as possible.

6. Research development in your own city or town. Has there been opposition like in Coal Harbor? Come up with a plan that might make both sides of the issue happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Dark to Light

From Dark to LightFrom Dark to Light by Isabella Murphy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary

Readers meet Pumpker, a little boy pumpkin, when he is just a slim white seed being planted along with his sisters.  Follow his journey of hopes and dreams as he grows to a pumpkin.

My Review

My favorite part of this book was the illustrations. They capture the whimsy of a pumpkin longing for a place to belong and to bring happiness to the world while also capturing the color and feel of autumn and the childhood excitement of Halloween.

The idea of this book is very cute. I was interested in seeing how a young 5th grade author would personify a pumpkin and portray his “life’s journey.” I was impressed by the author’s descriptive writing. However, there were too many words on each page for a picture book. Even as an adult I felt bogged down, so I think young readers will find it difficult to get through the words on each page.

Even with all of the words I didn’t feel completely satisfied in the little pumpkin’s journey. I couldn’t really latch on to a theme or purpose for the story. There wasn’t any one element that tied the stages of development of this pumpkin together so it felt too random. The pumpkin’s character traits weren’t consistent, so the story lacked cohesiveness for me. But the author is young; I have no doubt that with time and more writing she will gain more skill in story building and fleshing out plots and characters. She already possesses a true talent with words so I look forward to seeing more work from her in the future.

While I don’t think young readers will necessarily enjoy this story as much reading it on their own, I do think it has great value as a read-aloud and could be used in so many ways in an elementary school classroom. As a read-aloud you could easily skip some of the overlong text and summarize more quickly the main idea. The illustrations will definitely be able to keep children’s interest.

In the classroom I would love to use this book as an introduction to a creative writing assignment in which students would be required to personify an inanimate object, or to write from a unique perspective. The pumpkin’s journey to find his purpose in life would be a great way to get students’ creative juices flowing.

You could take it a step further even and add a social studies or science correlation. From Dark to Light provides a basic and entertaining view of the stages in seed growth. It also gives some material for the study of communities, occupations, and goods and services. You have the farmer who plants the seed, takes care of and grows the plant, then the consumer who buys and uses it. It would be valuable to read this book and then have students come up with their own story about the stages in seed growth about another type of plant. Or, they could take some other product and write a story to show how it is produced and then used in a community.

With Halloween just around the corner, the most obvious use of this book would be just pure fun and getting kids excited about holiday traditions. From Dark to Light definitely got me thinking about just how I want to carve the perfectly orange pumpkin currently sitting on my front porch.

Age Recommendation: This book is written for young readers and I think ages 3-8 would enjoy it most. However, because there are so many words on each page there may need to be some editing and summarizing to make it more in sync with their attention spans.

Appropriateness: Perfectly clean book with a feel-good ending.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in From Dark to Light then you might also enjoy Big Pumpkin by Erica Silverman, The Biggest, Best Snowman by Margery Cuyler, Zombelina by Kristyn Crow, The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams, and Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner.

Frogkisser

Frogkisser!Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Poor Princess Anya. Forced to live with her evil stepmother’s new husband, her evil stepstepfather. Forced to go on the run when her stepstepfather decides to make the kingdom entirely his own.

Aided by a loyal talking dog, a boy thief trapped in the body of a newt, and some extraordinarily mischievous wizards, Anya sets off on a Quest that, if she plays it right, will ultimately free her land—and teach her a thing or two about the use of power, the effectiveness of a well-placed pucker, and the finding of friends in places both high and low.

My Review

I really thought I would love this book after reading the first chapter. It was witty and smart, and the characters were humorous and engaging with their quirks. The first chapter was so clever, in fact, that I decided to try it as a read-aloud in my 3rd grade class. I could tell, however, after reading the first chapter to them that the prose, witticism, and irony was too complex for 8 and 9 year olds. This one is probably better suited for 5 and 6 graders.

I was caught up in the wit, however, so it was easy to read the next couple of chapters on my own. I didn’t get too much further into the book before I began to lose interest. The progress of the storyline just felt slow. A lot of little details were given about this journey the princess and her loyal dog companion are forced to go on to save her little kingdom, details that didn’t seem to help move the story along or aid in character development. They seemed meaningless, aimless, and the book became boring.

I think I had also expected a little more from the princess. I had expected a little more courage and selflessness from the main character. In the first chapter she seemed to be smart and capable, but as the book continued she came across as whiny, naive, and selfish. The development for the supporting characters was lacking so I didn’t really care much about any of them either. Wading through gratuitous detail to find out what happens to shallow characters became a chore, not a pleasure.

I actually put this book down for several months before finishing it because I got busy with moving and other books came my way that I was more interested in reading. I picked the book up again though because one of my students had given it to me and I felt like I should finish it as a matter of principle. And memories of the fun first chapter gave me hope that it might improve.

So I trudged on. The pace picked up slightly in the second half of the book which made it a little easier to read on, but I never felt fully invested in the characters or the problem. Taking a break for several months probably didn’t help in that regard.

Eventually I finished and I can say that it was a unique and interesting adventure with some clever storytelling, like the connections to classic fairytale characters. But overall it moved too slowly and didn’t provide much continuity between events or characters to truly provide satisfying entertainment. Nor was it deep enough in ideas or theme to be influential. It gets 3 stars for decent prose and because I’m sure some readers would love it, particularly younger readers who have interest in epic fantasy. They would likely appreciate all of the detail and the use of a journey that adds characters little by little as the plot progression tool. I am not an epic fantasy fan, so it didn’t do much for me, but I can see how it might for others.

Age Recommendation: The writing was clearly too boring for my third graders, even my advanced readers in the class. So I recommend this for ages 11 to 14, particularly fans of fantasy, or as an introduction to fantasy.

Appropriateness: Totally clean book; nothing to worry about in the content. There is a cruel and ruthless villain but his actions and the description of his actions are appropriate for the age of the target audience.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in this book then you might also enjoy Golden, The Wild Orchid, and other fairy tale retellings by Cameron Dokey. You could also try The Unicorn Hunter by Rachel Kirkaldie, Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt, The Beyonders series by Brandon Mull, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, and Princess Academy by Shannon Hale.

Goblins in the Castle

Goblins in the CastleGoblins in the Castle by Bruce Coville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Toad-in-a-Cage Castle was filled with secrets–secrets such as the hidden passages that led to every room, the long stairway that wound down to the dungeon, and the weird creature named Igor who lived there. William’s own past was mystery to even him, but it was the mysterious night noises that bothered William the most–the strange moans that drifted through the halls of the castle where he was raised.

He wanted to know what caused them.

Then one night they called his name….

My Review

My 4th grade teacher read this book to our class and I remember getting completely caught up in the story and the characters. It was one of the first books I read (or had read to me) that really had me on the edge of my seat.

So when it got to the point in the school year when I knew there would only be time to read one more book to my 3rd grade class I wanted it to be this one. I hadn’t read the book since hearing it for the first time at 10 years old, and I didn’t remember much of the details or the plot really; but with such fond memories of it I was confident none of us would be disappointed.

It turned out to be even better than I expected. It was the perfect read-aloud to end the year with. At the end of every chapter I would hear students either aloud or under the breath pleading, “Don’t stop! Please keep reading!” They (and me) couldn’t wait to unravel the mysteries of Toad-in-a-Cage castle. Bruce Coville has a real knack for humor but he also nailed the action and suspense-building in this one. It’s a quick and easy read, but not dumbed-down. It presents a well-rounded story arc with a variety of colorful characters which makes it so fun to actually read aloud.

There isn’t a lot of depth to the plot or character development that could lead to real analytical discussions, but this one is perfect for practicing the skill in the language arts curriculum of making and revising predictions. Lots of cliffhangers to provide text evidence with which to formulate predictions. You could also explore text structures throughout the book such as Problem and Solution, and Cause and Effect.

We finished the book on the 2nd to the last day of school, so we didn’t have time to do much else with it, but it would lend itself well to book reports and other projects like drawing or modeling what students imagine the goblins or their kingdom to look like. Students could write poetry or descriptive writing to articulate what they think it would have been like to be trapped in the tower like the goblins were.

But it’s important not to overanalyze or overthink this one. It really is just meant to entertain and excite, and it does a fabulous job of it.

Age Recommendation: It was perfect for 3rd graders and I loved it as a 4th grader. I think 5th and 6th graders would enjoy it too, so I’d say the ideal age would be 8-12. Girls and boys alike loved it in my class.

Appropriateness: If you are offended by a fart joke or practical jokes you might want to stay away from this one, but in my opinion it’s all humorous and harmless fun. Nothing offensive here.

Other book recommendations: If you like Goblins in the Castle you might also enjoy the Deltora Quest series by Emily Rodda, Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage, Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Fudge series by Judy Blume, Skinnybones by Barbara Park, Frindle by Andrew Clements, Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer.

Classroom Use: Perfect read-aloud. Use it to practice making and revising predictions, identifying and mapping story elements, discussing problem and solution and cause and effect.