This book has garnered awards and they are justified. I never expected to come across a biography that read like an adventure novel. I was swept away by the narrative and literally had difficulty putting this book down. The book is well-written with plenty of facts to back up each incident that is retold.
Before Benedict Arnold was reviled in history, before his days as a Revolutionary War Hero, back before he was a merchant with a growing family, he was a young boy dealing with a father’s growing alcoholism and the death of his mother. We can see the see the seeds of his self destruction as they are sown early on. Arnold hungered for attention, was prone to risk taking, ambitious, impatient, and easily offended. But he was also hard working with a need for being appreciated. At times, he could be charismatic, as seen when he rallied his troops to help turn the tide at the Battle of Saratoga. It is easy to believe that if he had lived today he would have his own reality television show.
I did not expect this subject to come alive for me after years of boring U.S. history classes; the author has managed to make this topic feel real and pertinent to today’s reader. I highly recommend this book for Middle School readers on up through adults. It has been a long time since I have been this excited about a biography.
Age Range: Pre-teens on up.
The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin. Flashpoint, imprint of Roaring Brook Press. 2010. 307pp.
When Elodie leaves her home and travels to the country of Lepai to begin an apprenticeship with weavers she was warned about whited sepulchers, ogres and dragons. Instead what she discovers is those who act kind may be liars, evil is not always allied with ugliness and there is more to dragons than their fire. Elodie ends up apprenticed to Meenore the dragon and together they try to sift through the myriad stories that surround the disappearance and possible death of Jonty Um, the gentle ogre of Two Castles.
This story reads exactly like a hard-boiled detective novel of the 1940s but it is set within the fantasy novel. With the dragon as the detective and Elodie as the naive assistant, young readers are given a unique introduction to a genre of writing they might never encounter.
The character of Elodie has just the right feeling of innocence and gullibility for one fresh off the boat. The other characters are all more than they appear making the young readers aware that they have to go beneath the surface to find out what is real. This story was fun to read and I heartily recommend it for Middle School readers on up.
Age range: Middle School on up.
A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine. Harper Collins, NY. 2011 328pp.
In modern day London, a hag, a troll, a boy and a wizard are sent on a quest to rescue a princess on a mythic isle from an evil ogre; the story sounds pretty straight forward doesn’t it? But what happens if the ogre isn’t really evil, the princess doesn’t want to be rescued or the adventurers are too gentle to kill anyone? That is precisely what occurs in The Ogre of Oglefort. From ghosts to marauding armies to an influx of ogres, our quartet of adventurers must face a number of unexpected glitches when trying to achieve their goal including becoming friends with the ogre.
I have never read one of Eva Ibbotson’s books before this but if all her books contain humor and an interesting storyline I look forward to reading them. This lighthearted story enchanted me with its themes of unexpected friendships and the universal need to belong. The story is fast paced, carrying the reader rapidly along to the end. This is definitely a good book to read before bedtime.
Age range: 3rd grade on up.
Eva Ibbotson. The Ogre of Oglefort. Dutton Children’s Books, NY.NY. 2011. 247pp.
This book is a visual delight. Allen Say’s artistic talent is evident throughout in this loving reminiscence of growing up in pre and post World War II Japan. The graphic images help to capture a unique time in Japan’s history when it changed from being an empire to a democracy. Say’s life at this time was equally tumultuous; he had the unusual experience of living on his own in a tiny apartment while attending middle school; a feat that some pre-teens and teens today would envy. At the same time he begins an apprenticeship with his favorite cartoonist to learn the trade.
Say’s life was not easy, his father disapproved of his artistic talent and his mother struggled as a single parent to provide the best she could for her two children. His ability to find a mentor and spiritual father in Noro Shinpei, the famous Japanese cartoonist, allowed him to grow as a person and to develop his talent into a useful skill.
I enjoyed reading this book; it doesn’t take long to get through but makes for fascinating reading. It was easy to understand how Say must have felt as a young boy confronted by the confusing changes all around him. Amazingly, there is gentleness in the telling without any anger or blame being cast at people or events due to his single minded pursuit of a career in art. I think this book would be very good reading for those kids who feel they just don’t fit in to the world. It is nice to know there is more than one way to create a life for one’s self.
Age range: Middle schoolers on up.
Allen Say. Drawing from Memory. Scholastic Press, NY,NY. 2011. 63 pp.
This is based on a true story about a young Japanese boy and his companions who are shipwrecked on a Pacific island during the 19th century. Before Japan became open to the Western world, any Japanese citizens who left the country or had contact with an outsider risked death. When the group is rescued by an American whaling vessel passing by the island, Manjiro and his friends must choose whether to adapt to life on board ship with its alien language and ways or try to return to Japan. Manjiro chooses to stay with the American captain and experience life in New England while his friends are left off in Hawaii. The knowledge Manjiro accumulates during his years in the West stands him in good stead when he ultimately decides to risk returning to Japan in the hopes of reuniting with his family.
This book would be good for school units dealing with racial prejudice, life in 19th century America, or Japanese culture. Manjiro’s difficulties in the Western world are clearly depicted allowing the reader to feel empathy for him. The story is simply told and easily carries the reader along from each new event Manjiro experiences in his life. I greatly enjoyed this story; I was amazed at how Manjiro continued to learn while in a foreign land and then use that knowledge to improve conditions back in his home country. I especially liked the relationship between Captain Whitfield and Manjiro; the Captain was a strong, positive male influence that should appeal to many readers.
Age range: Fifth grade on up.
Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preuss. Abrams Publishing, NY,NY. 2010. 301pp.