Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Second Round of Junior Lit

I have so many books that I want to talk about, (and yet, ironically, haven't been blogging much lately,) but I thought I'd better to a recap of the Junior Lit I read last week...especially as I've decided to put that challenge on hold midway through.  I'm planning on completing it next month, but just really needed to mix up the length and complexity of my reading diet!

I already talked about Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman - an enticing overview of Lincoln's life that I'm going to follow up with Team of Rivals.  Thanks for the suggestions!  I read 4 others before I threw in the towel and sank into My Antonia instead:

Mary, Bloody Mary by Carolyn Meyer

We know the story of Henry VIII from just about every angle, but we get to hear Mary's side of the story in this piece of Junior Historical Fiction.  Mary's voice was strong and true, and she told her story in such a way that I couldn't help but identify with her.

The drastic change from being her father's pet to being ostracized and disowned, withheld from her mother and everything she held dear, left Mary wounded and vowing to one day become who she was born to be: the queen of England.

Not only would this be a good introduction to how thoroughly the king ruled in that day and age, but it's a plausible and enjoyable look at a familiar story from a less popular point of view.  I'm no great expert on Tudor history, but all the bits of information jived with everything else I've read. (4 stars)
Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

I was surprised to realized that this was the 3rd book I'd read by Karen Cushman.  First was The Midwife's Apprentice (a delightful Middle Ages tale) followed by The Ballad of Lucy Whipple (California Gold Rush era).  Unfortunately, the delight and novelty didn't survive past my first encounter.

Reading Catherine, Called Birdy seemed to be the dowdy, lesser-developed version of The Midwife's Apprentice.  I liked that it gives you a fun overview of how life worked for the daughter of a lord, and there were some funny parts throughout, but I didn't find it as enjoyable.  After reading Cushman's other stories, Catherine was a rather typical heroine.

Still, for a humorous, somewhat irreverent romp through castle life in the Middle Ages, this quick book is worth the read. (3.5 stars)
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Here's another title that happens to be the 3rd book I've read by the author, and what a different experience than the one above!  I've loved everything of DiCamillo's I've read.  They combine easy-to-read writing with deep themes and characters that are easy to identify with, all within a high-interest plot.  Additionally, all three books of hers that I've read have been rather different in structure and tone - they aren't formula stories.

I'm sure you've heard of this title, but if you haven't read it, I'd recommend giving it a few minutes of your time (it won't take much more than that).  Or better yet, curl up on the couch and read it aloud to a kiddo or two.  I think there's something to enjoy at a variety of ages.  It's a nostalgic,  heartwarming tale grounded in reality. (4 stars)
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

For some reason I always thought this book took place in Russia.  The fur caps, the wolves, and the snow seemed like a perfectly Russian combination.  It doesn't take place there, however, (unless Russia used to be quite easily reachable by train from London, an alternate history that's fun to imagine,) but once I came to terms with that I found a very enjoyable story.

An old-fashioned (meaning there are orphans involved) sort of children's mystery (meaning it's straightforward and not always entirely plausible), this tale kept the interest high throughout.  I enjoyed reading about the places and people involved, even though it was a very black & white/good vs. bad sort of struggle.  It held the magical innocence of A Little Princess and the independent adventure of the Boxcar Children - I would have loved it as a child.  As an adult, it was a bit too simple or innocent or something, but definitely fun enough to have earned a spot on my Junior Lit shelf.  It's one I'd be more than happy to recommend to kiddo or two. (3.5 stars)


  1. My dd loved Mary, Bloody Mary, but I haven't read it. Maybe I'll give it a try! I did love Because of Winn-Dixie. It is a good one to listen to on audio in the car.

  2. I loved Wolves of Willhoughby Chase as a child, but then A Little Princess was may favourite book so I was always going to enjoy it!
    Mary, Blood Mary sounds like a good read. I teach the Tudors in autumn term so I'll be recommending it to the class :)

  3. Wow, Melanie! You're really good at blogging! You probably know my teacher right now, Eric Baland... He's your brother... He showed our class your blog, and we were all so surprised about how well you wrote reviews! You had so many followers too! Hold on to the great work you're doing! :)


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