Climbing the Stairs

Have any of you ever thought about what it would be like to live in India? But not just India. India during World War II. And not just India during World War II, but a girl in India during World War II. Have you? I hadn’t, until I read this book, Climbing the Stairs, by Padma Venkatraman. The year is 1941, and as the Allies are warring with Hitler, India is fighting its own battles. Many Indians are sick and tired of being treated like they are inferior to the British who colonized the country, and it is a time of turmoil and change. But to Vidya, a fifteen-year-old with her mind on dreams and college, matters such as this are far away. Far away, that is, until something awful happens to turn her entire life upside down. Vidya finds her family uprooted and taken away to live in her grandfather’s home. But everything is different. The men, including Vidya’s older brother, live upstairs while the women must stay to the bottom floor. This new life seems as if it will be terrible, and Vidya begins to despair. Enter Raman, a friend of the family who treats Vidya with kindness. Vidya also soon discovers Grandfather’s library, rich in its knowledge. Then, just as things are starting to look up, Vidya’s brother makes a choice that shocks the family and leaves her to question what she believes in. I started this book and had a lot of trouble putting it down. This story is very unique, not just in its setting, but also in its characters and events. I learned much about the lives of Indians in those days, more than I expect to in Social Studies. It really made me think, and the writing is great. I strongly advise you to take a look!

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Okay, okay. Yes, I KNOW this took a while. Sheesh. Why don’t you try to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (by Mark Twain) for Banned Books Week, while trying to do all your schoolwork and when you don’t want to take the big old thing to read at school because its Dad’s? Hmm? Yeah, so don’t scold me. Anyway, first things first…

So, I was originally going to just read Huckleberry Finn for Banned Book Week (more on that later…), but luckily, my dad told me I couldn’t without reading Tom Sawyer first. So, here I am. Tom Sawyer is going to drive his Aunt Polly to an early grave with his antics. Skipping school, shirking chores, all manner of mischief…this is no well-mannered, well-behaved boy, no sir. What fence is more famous than the one Tom had to whitewash, but instead tricked the fellow boys into doing for him? Well, Tom may be in a little deep when he and Huckleberry Finn, lurking in a graveyard at midnight (I won’t tell you why) become witness to murder. They know who done it, but they swear they won’t tell, lest the murderer come after them. And Tom can’t help but feel guilty when someone else gets the blame for the crime. But he and Huck swore they wouldn’t tell, and with blood! So Tom tries to forget about it, and occupies himself with regular antics. There’s Becky Thatcher to daydream about, running away to become pirates, and all manner of trouble Tom gets up to. I think I can safely say that I liked this book a bit better than Huckleberry Finn, no offense to him. It might have absorbed me more, I might just have liked the plot better, but I enjoyed it more. But, hey, that’s just me. Now, let’s move on…

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This is what the whole post was leading up to, wasn’t it? Huckleberry Finn is one of the most challenged books in America today, for the frequent use of the notorious “N” word. One case has been taken to a federal appeals court by parents that sued a local high school for the presence of the book on a required reading list. Louisa May Alcott deemed it unsuitable for children. It’s definitely understandable that some people find this offensive, and they don’t have to read it if they don’t want it. But Mr. Twain’s defense was, “Censorship is telling a man he can’t have steak just because a baby can’t chew it.” In other words, just because some people may not like this book, it should not be known as evil or dangerous, and should not be made off-limits to the public. And we have to admit, things were different in those times. Slavery was still legal. African-Americans did not have the rights they do now. It’s sad, but it’s true. I’m not saying the word is at all okay; it’s not. I’m just saying it’s not enough to censor a book. So that’s just my opinion on this matter. Now, onto the actual book!

Huckleberry Finn has a problem on his hands: He’s been adopted, and now people are trying to make him civilized! For a boy that’s run wild his whole life, this is a crisis. And things aren’t exactly peachy when who shows up but his good old dad–the town drunkard. Huck’s life has changed yet again, and now he’s living with a man that’s not what you think when you say “Daddy”. Still, it’s a bit better than being dressed in uncomfortable clothing and going to church and all that. But all the same, Huck’s had enough. So, after much preparation, he’s gone. And he doesn’t plan on coming back. And neither does Miss Watson’s runaway slave, Jim. The two are fast friends, and they’re down the river before you can blink. They get into all sorts of trouble, and all sorts of adventures. Huckleberry Finn is a bit more grown up than Tom Sawyer, so just telling you.

Both books are considered classics, and part of the basis for all American literature. Some love them, some hate them. But I’m glad I read them, and I think they’d be an interesting read for anyone.

The Case of the Missing Marquess: An Enola Holmes Mystery

Watch out, Sherlock! Little sisters are on the rampage! Enola Holmes, much younger sister of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, has just turned fourteen, but it’s not your normal type of birthday. Well, unless you call your mother disappearing without a trace normal. Enola isn’t sure what to do. She and her mother weren’t exactly inseparable, but she’s determined to get to the bottom of this. But of course she should send a wire to her two brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock, right? She was hoping for a bit of affection when they met again, a hug, at least a “Now, how are you?” Well, what does she get? “Enola?” Not what she wanted. And there’s one other thing she doesn’t remember asking for. Boarding school? With corsets?! Well, this simply won’t do. So in the night, when everyone else is sleeping, unaware, Enola is working. With a bit of help from her mother, Enola is able to gather all she needs to embark on the biggest adventure of her life: Running away. Forget about boarding school, forget about older brothers, Enola Holmes is on her way out. But she discovers something along the way that she can’t force out of her mind–the Marquess of Basilwether has disappeared. However, that’s nothing to her. She’s a fourteen year old girl trying to make her way in London, and she wants to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem possible. Before she knows it, Enola is caught in a swirl of danger and conspiracy. This book will drag you in, using the unique voice of Nancy Springer. The plot and characters are great, and I have to say, I’ve read this three times and I’m not sick of it. And if you like it has much as I do, try the sequel, The Case of the Left-Handed Lady.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village

This book is just fun. It is full of monologues/dialogues, all based on everyday life in Medieval times, every one written by the talented hand of Laura Amy Schlitz. There are parts from Nelly the sniggler, Constance, a pilgrim, and even Giles the beggar. And, believe me, there are tons more.This helps children gain insight into what life was like all those centuries ago. Who knows, maybe your ancestor was a tanner, or a glassblower? These witty bits of literature are a great way to get children interested in history, and how people lived before them. Some rhyme, some don’t. Some are for two actors, some are for one. You can read them just to yourself, or get a friend and take turns acting out the various parts. What makes them even more fun (and this is just something cool I noticed) is that they’re all related. Occasionally, a story will be told from two points of view, or you just might learn more about one character while reading about another. It’s just a fun book that’s meant to be…well, fun. I’m confident kids will enjoy it, and it’s not just kids that like books or history. It gives children with a dramatic flair a chance to enjoy themselves as well. I definitely suggest you at least take a look. See you!

P. S. Guess what? Girl Knows Books is approaching it’s 100th post! Yes, that’s right! The countdown starts today. June 13, 2011: 9 posts to go!

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Now, we all know that this blog is for kids. I review kids’ books, I write about kids’ authors, and that’s pretty much because I’m a kid. But attention adults, because this one is actually one for you! The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley. (I mean, it’s fine for the kids, but I found it in the adult section at the library. It’s for both, okay? Let’s get on with it.)  Meet Flavia de Luce, an experienced chemist who is probably one of the most reliable experts on poisons you’re likely to meet. She’s also an eleven year old. Flavia lives at the creaky old estate of Buckshaw in England, and with two decidedly evil sisters, a stamp-obsessed father, and a mother who’s dead, things aren’t always quite as interesting as she would like. But all that changes when Flavia happens upon a dead body in the cucumber patch. She doesn’t know who it is, but she does have a feeling that it might have something to do with the dead jack snipe that mysteriously appeared on Buckshaw’s doorstep recently. Now, why did that bird have a strange stamp stuck on its beak that seemed like it nearly gave Mr. de Luce a heart attack? This mystery has more twists and turns than the craziest maze in the world, and I can guarantee that it won’t turn out the way you think it will. Gripping plot, detailed characters, and great writing will keep you turning the pages. So go grab a copy!

Matilda Bone

If you look at the header when you first bring up my website, you will notice smack-dab in the middle and a little to the left, there happens to be a rather surly looking young girl with yellow braids and a basket on her arm. This, if I may introduce you, is Matilda Bone, who knows a ton about religious things, such as what’s above and what’s below, but hardly anything about the medieval world she lives in. But when the priest who has raised her sends her away to be assistant to Red Peg the Bonesetter Matilda quickly realizes that life will be quite different. She thinks herself superior to all who surround her in this village, and longs for nothing but to return to what she knows. But, slowly, Matilda starts to wake up and embrace the people and surroundings of her new home. This is her story about realizing that prayer and knowledge are not the only desirable things in this great wide world we live in. It is also one of my absolute favorite historical fiction novels, intertwined with interesting facts about the Medieval Ages. Its characters are diverse, and the author’s writing only makes it more enjoyable. Yes, Karen Cushman has created something wonderful. So I strongly suggest you got to the library and check out Matilda Bone at once. Really!

Al Capone Does My Shirts

First thing that came to mind when I read this book–one of the most original ideas I’ve come by. The author, Gennifer Choldenko, did a nice job on this one. Because really, how many books have you read about the adventures of a kid living on Alcatraz? Yes, the Alcatraz. You know, the place where the worst of the worst of the worst go to have fun. In this book you are introduced to Moose, a boy who’s not exactly thrilled to learn that his dad, so desperate for a job during the Depression, is going to become a prison guard. Alcatraz is a far cry from where Moose lived before, but his sister needs to go to a special school nearby, and this is the only way it’s going to happen. So Moose succumbs to his fate. Yet there is more to Alcatraz than meets the eye. Moose didn’t know that he and the prisoners both like to play baseball, and that they even do his laundry. Convict-laundered shirts. Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? And the girl Moose meets there, Piper, seems to have a special need to get in as much trouble as possible. It’s one he doesn’t share. Not only is this book unique and nearly unbearable to put down, it actually has quite a few interesting facts in it. Hey, even my mom liked it! So why don’t you give it a try? Then check out the sequel.

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Just in advance, this book (by Gary D. Schmidt) might make you cry. Seriously. It might, but that isn’t a reason to not read it. Some books are sad and you don’t like them at all, but this book is sad and extremely good. Anyway, enough of my prattle, here’s what it’s about…

Turner Buckminster isn’t in the best of moods these days. He’s left his comfortable Boston home behind, and is now in Phippsburg, Maine, where his father will be the new minister. But Turner doesn’t want to be known as the minister’s son, and he just can’t find a way to be happy in the nearly six hours he’s been there. Even baseball is different, and that just takes the cake. It sucks, and Turner is positive things will never get any better. How can they? But the Buckminster Boy is in for a surprise, which comes in the form of Lizzie Bright Griffin. She’s sassy and feisty, and lives on the nearby Malaga Island with her grandfather. The world isn’t so horrible anymore–Lizzie has opened it up for Turner. But the discovery of the town’s elders’ desire to turn Malaga into a tourist trade center brings everything down to Earth. And the battle to stop it brings a series of calamities Turner isn’t sure he can face. This is the sort of touching book great for both boys and girls, maybe even adults as well. It has good plot and real, great characters. I strongly suggest you take a look. And if you like it, check out another book by the same author, The Wednesday Wars.

Nory Ryan’s Song

I loved this book, by Patricia Reilly Giff. It had strong plot and characters, was written wonderfully, and just plain drew me in. I remember how I found it on my shelf. It was the day before Dr. Seuss’s birthday, and the fourth grade was all dressing up like their favorite book characters. I was frantically looking for something that was good, but obtainable. Then I found this book that centers around the famine in Ireland. I think I couldn’t help but be drawn to it, since the main character has the same name as me. I read a bit, and realized it was what I wanted to do. Of course, I couldn’t help but finish. Nora, called Nory, Ryan has an okay life. The farm on Maidin Bay is doing fine, and her family has enough to get by. Even when she ends up spending time with scary Anne Donnelly, things aren’t as bad as the things to come. Then the sickness hits, and Ireland’s most valuable crop is failing. Life on the bay before wasn’t easy, but now…things are bad. And I mean BAD. This book open the reader’s eyes to what Irish people went through during that time, and a young girl’s attempts to keep hoping and eating. I will warn you, the ending makes you feel a little sad. In fact, I nearly cried. But this book is still something you may not want to miss out on. And if you do enjoy it, there’s a sequel.

Moon Over Manifest

Who hasn’t heard of this book, the Newbery medal winner of 2011, by Clare Vanderpool? That should be enough to convince you to read it. But just in case, here’s a little something to get you started. Abilene Tucker is sent to live in her father Gideon’s childhood home when he goes to work on a railroad job. She can’t wait to find the mark he left on the town. But where is that mark? Abilene is disappointed when she can’t seem to dig up anything about it. But there are the perks and thrills of her new home-the exciting search for the old spy from war days, the Rattler, and Miss Sadie’s Divining Parlor, on the Path to Perdition. It is there that Abilene hears old stories of the last generation, and the town’s old days. If you ask me, this book is certainly worthy of the Newbery Medal, seeing as it’s written magnetically, and has the kind of story that would drag in all fans of mystery and historical fiction, and some who aren’t. So, please take my advice, and GET THIS BOOK.