review of summer reading done

Been meaning to review a few books that I have read/listened to the past month or so. Where did summer go?

The Penderwicks: A summer tale of four sisters, two rabbits, and one very interesting boy
Birdsall, Jane.
Intended Audience: 9-12 years old.

This book was a sweet little tale of four sisters who head out of Boston proper to the Berkshires (where I used to live!) for their summer vacation with their father. The action revolves around the children—as is expected of a children’s book—since their father always seems to be gardening or otherwise occupied; a feeling that looking back on my childhood I found to be true. Parents were the people in your house that you saw at meal times, the days were full of playing with one another or alone.

The four sisters, ranging in age from 12 to 4 years old, watch out for each other and the neighbor boy Jeffrey, while each has their own bit of transformative experiences as the summer progresses--all while they all try and avoid Jeffrey's mother, Mrs. Tifton. The story introduces the girls to first crushes and lessons in bull fighting, and makes you the reader envious of the bonds of these four siblings, those friendships you made when you were 11 years old and the misadventures that happen along a summer day in the country. A fun book that is sure to please the whole family.

Wednesday Wars
Gary Schmidt
Intended age: 10-14 years old

I sometimes dread how books writen in this day and age feature a male main character of little depth. It seems that authors feel that for the book to be something that kids can connect with the male main character has to act infantile or the plot has to consist of ridiculous scheming. Wednesday Wars provided exactly the opposite. This book was so well written that I really looked forward to listening to this book everyday when I headed home from work. The story of Holling Hoodhood begins the September of his 7th grade year in school and we follow along with him as he takes on the usual horrors of adolescence, all while the Vietnam War is waging around him and wars are waging between his “flower child” sister and his father.

Holling begins the year in dread of his Wednesdays, which find him trapped with his teacher while all of his classmates go off to either the Catholic Church for Catechism or to the Temple to prepare for their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. As the year progress Mrs. Baker introdudes Holling to Shakespeare and Holling begins to look at the world in a different way, both because of the bards influence but also because he is becoming more aware of the changing world around him.

This was one of the best books I have read (listened to) all summer!

How the Other Half Lives
Jacob Riis
Intended Audience: YA/Adult

Before Upton Sinclair introduced the world to the horrors of the food packing plants of the early 20th century United States, Jacob Riis pioneered investigative journalism by exposing the slum conditions of New York City’s tenements in the late 1800s. The book is broken down into chapters that reflect both the major immigrant and migrant people living in the slums, while also focusing on the areas of slum New York City that each group lived in. Italians, Irish, Gypsies, Blacks and Jews are all covered (sometimes in stereotypical fashion that can be expected as politically correct if we consider the time period and audience Riis is writing for), as well as are some of the relief organizations that were created to try and aid the huge influx of immigrants into.

This book was a fascinating read which allows the reader to have a better sense of slum conditions, while also providing a sense of how the upper classes may have viewed the slums. Good read, but definitely plan on reading something a little more cheerful after this book. An NPR suggested read!

A Summer of Hummingbirds: love, art, and scandal in the intersecting worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, & Martin Johnson Heade
Christopher Benfry
Intended Audience: Adult

Also, on an NPR list of good reads for the summer, I was not disappointed with this book. A Summer of Hummingbirds, etc. etc. is not for the faint hearted. It is a rigorous look back, delving into the history and society of mostly New England in the midst of what Twain would later coin, “The Gilded Age;” examining some national scandals (as well as quieter) intrigues.

This book is for anyone who loves either the time period or one of the author/artists listed in the title. I was slightly skeptical at first, as a fan of poetry who never understood or cared for most of Emily Dickinson’s works (this after also having a Gilded Age English Lit class in Undergrad with a professor who is an international Emily Dickinson scholar. Talk about being beat over the head with someone else’s passion!) I feel that not only did I come away with an idea of how all of these poet/author/artists came to run in the same circles or intersect (as the title suggests), but I also have a better understanding for what foundations these great people built upon; the society rules, the family, the friends that shaped who they became. Also prevalent is the theme of hummingbirds and nature which influenced many artists during this time; both acting as symbols of freedom, as the country was coming out of The Civil War and again reshaping itself in Reconstruction.

I loved this book. I read it almost like a coming of age story; artists coming into their own right. And, if it is possible to believe, I am going to take my Emily Dickinson poetry book off my shelf. Right after I finish Twilight.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Kate DiCamillo
Intended Audience: 7-10 years old.

I loved DiCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie, but then was unable to get through the Tale of Despereaux—though I swore I would give it another try—so I was a little hesitant about listening to this story. I had nothing to worry about. The story of a self absorbed little bunny named Edward Tulane is nothing short of clever. Edward loses his owner Abilene after a cryptic, foreshadowing story told to him and Abilene by Abilene’s French (the woman who reads the audio book does this great accent!) Grandmother; loses his owner and is taken on by a series of others who change everything about him from his gender, to his attire, to his way of life. The story is one of redemption and finding things that matter the most in people; love matters most. A wonderful story!

Cornelia Funke
Intended age; 9-12 years old.

I also tried to listen to Inkheart, as it was suggested to me in my PPD state (Post Potter Depression). I wasn’t thrilled with the description of the plot so I thought it would be easier on CD. I made it to the second CD and stopped listening to it. The biggest problem is that there is nothing that endears me to any of the characters from the beginning, and that is something important to me. I really didn’t care what happened to any of the characters and that makes something not worth my time.


Kathleen said…
I found the most rewarding thing about Inkheart was the quotes at the beginning of each chapter (which you may not have heard on CD?) and some nice quotes about how wonderful books are, but I agree that there's nothing really gripping about the characters. Unfortunately, I have not read the others, though now I may have to...
you seem to have similar tastes as my girlfriend... I think I saw her reading Penderwicks recently, and she's a huge fan of Betsy-Tacy and dreams of moving to MN.

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