Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer – an entree into societal issues

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer (Theodore Boone, #1)Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I vaguely remember reading one or two of John Grisham’s books more than a decade (or two) ago. Of course I have seen many of the movies.

His adult books are good and his kid books are too. My boys, ten and nine, really enjoyed the series.

The first book is a strong entry. Readers get to know the hero and we learn about how the legal process works. As in Grisham’s other works, it is the stories behind the story that draw the audience in. Here there is plenty of color; sub plot lines are engaging. [Remember, though, this is for kids.]

As with the Encyclopedia Brown and most crime/detective series, there a fair amount of figuring things out and that makes it a great choice for young readers or listeners.

This is no spoiler: I still want to know what happens in the Duffy murder trial! and I’m currently three-fourths of the way through the series.

I don’t really like to prematurely influence anyone’s opinion about characters whom I hope they get to know, but Theo Boone, Teddy, is really likable. His parents, uncle, and the teachers in Strattenburg have a deserved place in my imagination.

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The Little Prince – life puzzles

The Little PrinceThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like this book. I remember trying to read it in French when I was a high school student. I don’t think I got very far (but I didn’t even read that many books in English back then).

It was recommended to me by my colleague as something to read to my kids and the local used bookstore had it, so I got it.

The boys followed along, but this book is really too cerebral for children. This makes it a book for adults to remind them of childhood. It is important to remember childhood.

I am sure that I got more out of reading it to them than they got out of listening to it.

The story is about devotion. When I was in college in a class on Chaucer, the professor asked us a philosophical question about whether we would like to be the one who loves more in a relationship or the one who is loved more.

I think that the story of the Little Prince and his flower with her claws is somehow related. To be honest, it’s kind of hard to figure out. I think the book more presents a problem than any answers.

Even as the book claims to be explicit, it is not easy to figure out.

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – oh, to be a precocious boy

The Adventures of Tom SawyerThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading a children’s version of Huck Finn and it going over well with my boys, I decided to just go for it, the original.

Maybe Mark Twain’s prose would be too difficult, I thought, but, then again, as I read aloud to them, I frequently add information and answer questions. I also figured we could stop if it wasn’t going well.

So I started…I found that I had to skip a few of the longer actionless passages of such beautiful and witty prose that Twain wrote. They were over the boys’ head. But that was just here and there.

For most part, the book is fantastic and interesting. They were captivated. We developed a vocabulary. I got to explain the country to my city boys.

They wouldn’t let me use the N-word, but they knew when it was used in the book. I switched it to negro and explained to them all about it.

It was also great that I found this on I read it on my phone. That allowed me to turn out the lights in the room.

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Junior Classics) – American literature for kids

Adventures of Huckleberry FinnAdventures of Huckleberry Finn by Clay Stafford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Junior Classics for Young Readers version of the classic Huck Finn was just a book that I found at my local used bookstore.

I never would have thought to read Mark Twain to them, but this book was cheap and available. So I tried it out.

It was such a hit that I then went got Tom Sawyer, the original, not any child version, but that’s a different review.

The adapter, Clay Stafford, did a fine job. The story was what I remembered. It moves quicker than the original, which was the intent of the Junior Classics series.

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Uncle Tom's Cabin – a lesson about the sad days of slavery

Uncle Tom's Cabin (Townsend Library Edition)Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I knew the historical significance of the book, and I had read some of the original when I was in college, but I did not remember enough to feel confident talking about it.

So when I found this children’s edition at my local used bookstore, I was very happy because that meant I could read it aloud to them.

They loved it! And so did I.

It may be true that Harriet Beecher Stowe is not a literary marvel, but the story is good. I recall that the original does get a bit weary with the excessive prose, but this abridged version has removed that excess.

The characters are vivid and the story is just so heart wrenching.

I very much enjoy how these historical books allow my kids to develop a conscience.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – such sweet imagination

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Charlie Bucket, #1)Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from the local library. They also had James and the Giant Peach, but I settled on Charlie because I remember the 1971 movie.

How robbed I was to only have ever had the movie version in my imagination. My kids have not seen that movie, nor the Tim Burton one. They were new to the story and only know about Willy Wonka candies, like Nerds.

They loved the story. The morality of the tale makes some sense, but the way the descriptions lead one to imagine the insides of the factory is fantastic.

My kids especially liked the Oompa-Loompas and the poems they sang. The book differs in some interesting ways from the movie versions. I sure am glad that I read it.

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Pinocchio — fabulism is what makes boys real

PinocchioPinocchio by Carlo Collodi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pinocchio — fabulism is what makes boys real

It was a big sale day at the local used bookshop and I picked up The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. I had never read it and only vaguely knew the Disney movie from having seen it about three decades ago and not since. I got it to read it aloud to my kids at night.

The popularity of the story is genuine. It is a strange story. I cannot remember the movie well enough so I came to the book without any notions except that the puppet was lazy (as many boys tend to be), had a nose that grew when he lied, and that in the end he became a real boy.

I can say that it is not at all a great book, but it is interesting and worthy.

Kids love the absurdity of it. We must practice suspending disbelief as we become increasingly aware that reality is all that there is to believe in. This practice is what we get when we consume stories, both real and fiction. In this case, the fiction is so crazy that it is at times a bit tiresome.

Nonetheless, enchanting is a better word for most of it. And my kids agree. They wanted to be done with it, but they also remained for the most part rapt with the story.

My older boy had had the story read to him by his teacher. I thought maybe it had been a shortened version–certainly it was a different translation (e.g. Candlewick vs. Lampwick). Since he knew the story, he would state the next major meeting the moment before it happened. He did this for the evil Fox and Cat and also for the Snail and the Dogfish and…

Well, the point is that my son knew the story quite well, so there is evidence that it is memorable, and for that reason it should be read…even if it’s not really all that great a story.

I found the other Goodreads reviews interesting in terms of the relationship of the story to the movie. I have a friend who loves the movie and hates the book. I think I will now have to watch the movie. Serendipitously, my friend just happened to give us a copy on DVD.

Final comment: The dogfish part is just really too much. It is completely absurd, but without the nod and wink that there is absurdity going on. I think that this is its real strength, and this is why the story is still hugely popular and important for children.

Fabulism is the general term for fiction and we, today, and since Collodi’s time, suffer from entirely too much realism. This story reminds that fantasy is part of life.

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Trumpet of the Swan — a famous bird's music

The Trumpet of the SwanThe Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had of course come across both Stewart Little and Charlotte’s Web before in my life, but I had never come across EB White’s The Trumpet of the Swan.

All three novellas were in a single collection at my local used bookstore and I was about to finish reading Hunger Games aloud to my kids, so I knew I needed something long.

I read the stories in order and finished with Trumpet, a real gem of a story.

Louis is a trumpeter swan born with a disability. He is mute. He cannot make the typical sounds a trumpeter swan can make. His father worries greatly about Louis’s ability to be typical in the future.

His father takes a big risk and gets his son a real trumpet that Louis learns to play. He plays so well that he gets hired as a trumpeter.

The story really reinforces the importance of being able to play music. Louis grows quite famous for his talent, but the music is more important than the fame.

They boy who comes to know and help Louis is also an inspiration. His name is Sam Beaver and he is a real lover of animals.

My kids, of course, pointed out the lack of reality in the story, but who cares?! They didn’t. Louis’s story is so fantastic and cool.

It is hard to say which of EB White’s classic stories my kids more enjoyed, but both Trumpeter of the Swan and Charlotte’s Web ranked a little higher than Stuart Little.

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Mockingjay — the conclusion of the series that started my nightly reading aloud habit

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mockingjay concludes the Hunger Games and it is a fitting conclusion to such a strong opening.

There are real problems presented in this book. It has fighting in it, so it has that intensity from the first book, but it also introduces to us the problems of power and revolution.

Katniss meets people who live a disciplined and orderly life, almost contrary to nature. These rebels need Katniss and she needs them, but everything is confusing…not in how Collins wrote it, but in the reality of such a situation.

Obviously you have to read books one and two first.

The climax at the end is well done and my kids were left with some questions that we discussed.

I considered teaching the series in a developing writing class. Instead, I just refer to it in the hopes that at least my students have read these worthy books, since they usually haven’t read anything more complex.

I am a fan and my kids really got into it. I was surprised, actually, because I thought it would take forever to read so many hundreds of pages out loud to my kids. I am forever indebted for the Hunger Games’s making me adopt the habit of reading at night to my kids.

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The Hunger Games — a critique of capitalism

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am rating all three books in the Hunger Games series equally, though the first one is a little better than two and three.

The story is worthy. It is great. The plot moves in book one. The context for the story is the struggle of teenager Katniss Everdeen to survive a brutal bloodsport.

The book was already super-popular before I read it. The Hunger Games was the first book in my nightly read to my kids series. It will always hold a special place for that reason alone.

Through the story, the entire series, I got to explain a lot about how the world works, the world of us versus them. My kids got it. They would ask me questions. The obvious connections to the kind of economic reductionism and regionalism is easy to understand–this has been called Balkanization.

I did voices, not too hard. I slurred Haymitch a bit…and often had a glass of wine with me while I read.

Before this, I had read some shorter stories, some ancient myths. I was at first worried about reading so many hundreds of pages. But in about thirty minutes a night, we got through the first book more quickly than I originally anticipated.

As soon as we were done with book one, I started book two, Catching Fire.

Not the most significant criticism, but Suzanne Collins writes with a lot of sentence fragments.

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