Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade

fifthgrade

HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

Book: Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade

Author: Barthe DeClements

Cover Illustrator: Jeanette Adams

Publisher: Puffin Books, republished 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0142413494

ISBN-10: 0142413496

Related website:

Language level: 2

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 8 – 12

Rating: *** 3 stars (FAIR)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Disclosure:  Many publishers and/or authors provide free copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion.  Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library.  No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.

For more information e-mail homeschoolbookreview@gmail.com

DeClements, Barthe.  Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade (published in 1981 by The Viking Press, 625 Madison Ave., New York City, NY  10022; republished in 1982 by Apple Paperbacks, a trademark of Scholastic Inc., New York City, NY).  Jenifer  (Jenny) Sawyer, who lives with her father, mother, and three year old brother Kenny somewhere in the rainy Pacific northwest, is a fifth-grade student in Mrs. Hanson’s class at school.  Her best friends are Diane and Sharon.  One day a new student named Elsie Edwards arrives. Jenny notes that Elsie is “a fat blond girl.”  Diane says, “She’s gross.”  Another boy calls her a blimp.  Everyone hates having Elsie in the room.  She had been expelled from her previous school, and Jenny’s school may be her last chance because if she doesn’t make it here, her mother will send her away to boarding school.  She’s supposed to be on a diet, but she’s always hungry and begs food from the other children, so the boys start calling her “Scrounge.”

Not long after that, various kids start finding that the lunch money which they had left on their desks has disappeared during recess.  Is it fair that the whole class is being punished?  Can you guess who is accused of taking the money?  Can you imagine who actually stole it?  And what happens to Elsie?  Parents may want to know that there is a little “boy-girl” interaction in middle school, a few common euphemisms are used, dancing occurs in physical education class, Elsie’s skirt falls off in class after she loses some weight, and the picture of parenting seems rather permissive.  Without giving the ending away, this is one of those stories where “all’s well that ends well,” but, my, my, my, what terrible baggage there is on the way to getting there.  These children can be really mean, and Elsie experiences some severe problems at home.  One might justify it all by saying that it’s reality, and it may be for many public school students, but I have to say that it’s far from the reality that we wanted for our boys.

I suppose that the purpose of the book is to encourage people to be more sensitive and less judgmental regarding children like Elsie.  But, even though it has won several awards, it may also have other, unintended consequences.  One reader wrote, “I am absolutely appalled by this book. I read it as a child, and it encouraged my extreme fear of fat-ness.…I have been in the hospital for the anorexia I developed as a child,” noting that “No one in this book begins to accept Elsie for who she is until she loses weight.”  And someone else remarked, “Although I loved this book in the 5th grade back in the 80s, I’m pretty sure it contributed in some way to my eating disorder. Be careful who reads it.”  Several others agreed.  Under certain circumstances, the story might be used to discourage bullying, but I think that another reader summed it up well, saying, “No good ending can salvage the damage that would be done by this book!”  And still another “decided that it’s not the kind of message I want to share, even if the story turns around in the end.”  I did not enjoy it, even with the “happy ending.”  There appears to be a sequel, Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You.

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If My Name Was Amanda

amanda

HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

Book: If My Name Was Amanda

Author: Curtis Edmonds

Illustrator: Mat Sadler

Publisher: Scary Hippopotamus Books, 2017

ISBN-13: 978-0988916395

ISBN-10: 0988916398

Related websites: http://www.curtisedmonds.com/ (author), http://www.scaryhippopotamus.com (publisher)

Language level: 1

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 1 – 5

Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Disclosure:  Many publishers and/or authors provide free copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion.  Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library.  No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.

For more information e-mail homeschoolbookreview@gmail.com

Edmonds, CurtisIf My Name Was Amanda (published in 2017 by Scary Hippopotamus Books, Trenton, NJ).  “If my name was Amanda I’d live in Atlanta, And I’d wave hello to a shark….”  A little girl, who is not named Amanda but does have a big imagination, thinks about all the alphabetical adventures that she might have if she had different names and lived in different places.  “If my name was Bonnie Then I’d live in Boston Where I’d chase the ducks in the park.”  These include playing jazz in New Orleans and learning to ski in Vermont.  Which name does she imagine for “Z”?  Where would she live?  And what would she be doing?

This cleverly written picture book for children, with its playful, rhyming text and Mat Sadler’s colorful, engaging illustrations, is a great way to help youngsters who are starting to recognize the alphabet and at the same time to introduce them to different cities and states throughout America.  There is a map in the back of the book to show where the different places are located.  It would also be good practice for early readers.  I do have to agree with the reader who was confused regarding the letter “X.”  Xenia wou!d live in Topeka because “No towns start with X, after all.”  When we lived in Dayton, OH, we were about twenty miles from Xenia, and now we live about twenty miles from Xenia, IL.  Of course, that might require a change in the girl’s name.  Xanthippe?  Xaviera?  Maybe it is best to leave it alone.

Author Curtis Edmonds is a novelist and attorney. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Untoward Magazine, Liberty Island, The Big Jewel, Yankee Pot Roast, and National Review Online. He has written two novels, Wreathed, a humorous contemporary romance set in the beach resort of Cape May, NJ, and Rain on Your Wedding Day, a literary romance set in the mountains north of Atlanta, GA.  If My Name Was Amanda is his first book for children.   It is a cute story featuring a little girl’s journey across America with great facts about 26 places in our country that children can use as a springboard for their own imaginative adventures.

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Spice and the Devil’s Cave

spice

HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

Book: Spice and the Devil’s Cave

Author: Agnes Danforth Hewes

Illustrator: Lynd Ward

Publisher: Dover Publications, republished 2014

ISBN-13: 9780486492872

ISBN 0486492877

Related website: http://www.doverpublications.com (publisher)

Language level: 3 (unfortunately)

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 12 and up

Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Disclosure:  Many publishers and/or authors provide free copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion.  Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library.  No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.

For more information e-mail homeschoolbookreview@gmail.com

Hewes, Agnes Danforth.  Spice and the Devil’s Cave (published in 1930 by Alfred A. Knopf, New York City, NY; republished in 2014 by Dover Publications Inc., Mineola, NY).  It is around 1496, and Abel Zakuto is a Jewish banker living with his wife Ruth in Lisbon, Portugal.  His cousin Abraham Zakuto is an advisor to Portuguese King Manoel, successor of the late King John II who had restored the policies of Atlantic exploration, reviving the work of his great-uncle, Henry the Navigator.  Columbus has already made two trips across the Atlantic for Spain, and other countries are sending out expeditions. Abel is much more interested in mapmaking and sea navigation than banking. His close friends include Bartholomew Diaz, Vasco da Gama, and Ferdinand Magellan.  They are joined by a young man recently arrived from Venice, Italy, named Nicolo Conti, grandson of the famous Italian explorer Nicolo Conti, and are hoping that Portugal can rival Spain and find a way to the lands of spice by sailing around the stormy Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa, called by many “The Devil’s Cave.”

Finally, Manoel decides to send da Gama on just such a voyage, a rough, dangerous trip that may take two to three years.  However, Nicolo learns of a plot involving Arabs to steal Zakuto’s maps, destroy da Gama’s fleet, and give the newly discovered sea route to another country.  Meanwhile, Manoel has formed an alliance with Spain through an engagement which requires the expulsion of all Jews from Portugal.  Will da Gama make it back?  Who is behind this plot?  Can Nicolo do anything to thwart it?  And what happens to Abel Zakuto?  The Age of Discovery springs to life in this thrilling tale of Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama, and other intrepid fifteenth-century explorers.   In 1931, author Agnes Danforth Hewes won the first of her three Newbery Honor awards with this book.  There are a few references to drinking wine.  Besides some common euphemisms (e.g., blasted), the “h” word is used now and then though not for cursing, and the term “Lord” is occasionally found as an exclamation.

However, Spice and the Devil’s Cave is great historical fiction for this time period with a good picture of the political and trade relationships between various nations and people groups in those days.  This well-written book takes place in interesting times and has a finely developed cast of characters, some of which are real, while others were invented for the story.  In addition, the prejudicial mistreatment of the Jews is highlighted, and how the Jews furthered the work of discovery plays a significant part in the story.  In addition, Hewes had tremendous insights into the cultures of the Arab world because she had the fortune to be raised in Syria as the daughter of missionaries. Besides, it’a just a good story.   There is even a touch of romance.  One person wrote, “Highly recommend for everyone, but especially homeschooling families looking for a good family read aloud.”  Lynd Ward, whose enchanting woodcuts illustrate this gripping adventure, also illustrated The Cat Who Went to Heaven, the Newbery Award winner that same year.

Posted in historical fiction, Newbery Honor Books, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Kilrone

kilrone_9780553248678

HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

Book: Kilrone

Author: Louis L’Amour

Cover Illustrator: Gregory Manchess

Publisher: Bantam, reprinted 1981

ISBN-13: 978-0553248678

ISBN-10: 0553248677

Related websites: http://www.louislamour.com (author), http://www.bantamdell.com (publisher)

Language level: 3

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 16 and up

Rating: *** 3 stars (FAIR)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Disclosure:  Many publishers and/or authors provide free copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion.  Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library.  No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.

For more information e-mail homeschoolbookreview@gmail.com

L’Amour, Louis.  Kilrone (published in 1966 and republished in 2012 by Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House Inc., New York City, NY).  Barnes (Barney) Kilrone, a former U. S. Army captain who does some scouting for the cavalry, rides to a post at Cave Springs in the Nevada Territory to tell the officer in charge that a Bannock war party under Medicine Dog has massacred one of his patrols under the post’s commander Col. Webb, and a second patrol under Capt. Charles Mellet riding to meet up with them may be headed for the same fate.  Besides, Lt. Gus Rybolt is returning from Halleck with a guard of six men to escort the pay wagon and is also in danger of ambush.  So the officer in charge is the adjutant, Major Frank Bell Paddock.  When Kilrone and Paddock were dashing young officers in Paris, they both fell in love with the same beautiful woman, Denise de Caslou. But she married Frank, who at first thinks that Barney has come to take her away from him.  Paddock makes a fateful decision to lead his company of soldiers in pursuit of Medicine Dog and hopefully save Mellet’s troop.  But that leaves the post, with its store of ammunition and supplies practically undefended, and Barney is convinced that the Bannocks’ real goal is to take the post.

So, with next in command Sgt. Tim Ryerson sick with pneumonia in the hospital, Kilrone is left behind with a few men, some of whom have to be freed from prison, to guard the post’s women, including Denise Paddock, Stella Rybolt, Betty Considine who is a niece of the post’s doctor Carter Hanlon, and a Shoshone Indian woman Mary Tall Singer who works as a clerk for the post’s sutler, along with the children.  He also finds evidence that someone related to the post has been colluding with the Indians.  Where will the attack take place—on the troops or the post?  What happens to Kilrone and Paddock?  And who is tipping off the Indians?  A few references to drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco occur.  The “d” and “h” words are used quite frequently, and phrases like “My God” are found as interjections.  I can understand why L’Amour was one of my mother’s favorite authors.  His plots are very suspenseful and exciting.  If only the language were better!

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A Really-Truly Princess

really-truly

HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

Book: A Really-Truly Princess

Author and Illustrator: Amanda Kastner

Publisher: StorySeamstress, 2017

ISBN-13: 978-0998311418

ISBN-10: 0998311413

Related websites: http://www.AmandaKastner.com (author), http://www.StorySeamstress.com (book)

Language level: 1

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 8 – 12

Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Disclosure:  Many publishers and/or authors provide free copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion.  Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library.  No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.

For more information e-mail homeschoolbookreview@gmail.com

Kastner, Amanda.  A Really-Truly Princess (published in 2017 by StorySeamstress Books).  Rosellen is a princess who lives in a palace with her King-Papa, Queen-Mama, older prince-brothers Frederick and Albert, and a host of servants including Nurse, Head Gardener, youngest under gardener Thomas, Cook, Housekeeper, and others.  She doesn’t always feel like a princess, and sometimes she is told that she doesn’t act like a princess.  One day, she receives a book entitled Tales of True Princesses: Stories for the Entertainment and Instruction of Young Princesses Everywhere as a birthday gift from her Godmother and decides to use its examples as a guide for her own life to be a “really-truly Princess” just like the ones she reads about in the book.  What happens when she imitates the story princesses’ actions?  Do they really help her to be a better princess?  And are there any lessons that she can learn from the experiences?

When I was growing up, I remember watching and enjoying the “Fractured Fairy Tales” segments of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, and in A Really-Truly Princess author and illustrator Amanda Kastner, who is a homeschool graduate and Eldest Aunt to a Passel of Princesses, similarly puts her own light-hearted spin on five well-known fairy-tale princesses: the Princess and the pea, the Princess and the glass hill, the Princess and the frog, the Princess and the lost slipper (Cinderella), and the Princess and the spindle (Sleeping Beauty).  Yet, in these whimsical escapades, there are some important take-aways, such as it’s usually best to be yourself and you can’t always solve problems in story-book style.  The book is illustrated throughout with charming, old-fashioned pen-and-ink drawings.  Obviously, it would appeal most to young princesses, but I think that even young princes might enjoy its humorous nature.  There is also a companion coloring book of Rosellen’s adventures.

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Zathura

zathura

HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

Book: Zathura

Author and Illustrator: Chris Van Allsburg

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0618253968

ISBN-10: 0618253963

Related website: http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com (publisher)

Language level: 1

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 4 – 7

Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Disclosure:  Many publishers and/or authors provide free copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion.  Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library.  No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.

For more information e-mail homeschoolbookreview@gmail.com

Van Allsburg, Chris.  Zathura (published in 2002 by the Houghton Mifflin Company, 222 Berkeley St., Boston, MA  02116).  Brothers Danny and Walter Budwing live with their parents.  One evening while Mr. and Mrs. Budwing are out, the boys find a game called Zathura which shows flying saucers, rockets, and planets in outer space, with a path of colored squares leading from Earth to a purple planet named Zathura and back again.  They start to, roll the dice, and pick a card.  All of a sudden, the game becomes reality with meteorites, changes in gravity, a defective robot, Zorgon pirates, and a black hole.  Where all do they go?  What happens to them?  And will they ever make it back home? On the last page of the Caldecott-winning book Jumanji, young Danny Budwing is seen running after his brother, Walter, with a game tucked under his arm. Now after twenty years, readers can find out what happens when Danny and Walter play the new game Zathura in which the Budwing boys are taken on the ride of their lives.

There is a little bit of childish horse play, where Walter pulls Danny’s nose and ears and calls his brother a fungus and a baby, and the two boys fight, but nothing really objectionable occurs.  Some people seem to hate the book.  One wrote, “I did not think this book was very good.  The starting was not good at all.  I do not recommend this book to other children.”  Another wrote, “This book definitely does not live up to his other books in my opinion. The story was weak, and even the drawings, which are sometimes the highlight of his other books, were disappointing in Zathura. Perhaps on its own it would be a good book, but I expected much better from Van Allsburg. I do not recommend this book.”  And still another opined, “Please, if I can do one good deed in this life it will be to discourage people into buying this book. This was a terrible reading experience for me and my two bored boys….I was struck by the general ugly nature of it on closer inspection. It is very clumsily written and repetitive. What a dud! Two Thumbs Down!”

Okay, it’s a young kid’s book.  To each his own.  If you don’t like the it, that’s all right, but you don’t have to trash-mouth it.  One person’s trash may be another’s treasure.  Kids who love anything space-related should enjoy it.  Most people seem to feel that the illustrations are beautiful and somewhat wistful, in the same odd way that Van Allburg’s other books tend to be.  Publishers Weekly says that “grouchy Walter comes to appreciate his little brother,” and that “Zathura, like Jumanji, is a satisfying enigma.”  The School Library Journal notes that “the boys find their way to teamwork and even affection.”  A 2005 American science fiction adventure entitled Zathura: A Space Adventure film, directed by Jon Favreau and starring Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, and Tim Robbins, is loosely based on the story.  Unlike the book, the film contains no Jumanji material and mentions no Jumanji events.

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The Great Quest

greatquest

HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

Book: The Great Quest

Author: Charles Hawes

Illustrator: George Varian

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, republished 2016

ISBN-13: 978-1530154401

ISBN-10: 1530154405

Language level: 3 (barely)

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 14-18

Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Disclosure:  Many publishers and/or authors provide free copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion.  Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library.  No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.

For more information e-mail homeschoolbookreview@gmail.com

Hawes, Charles.  The Great Quest (published in 1921 by The Atlantic Monthly Press; republished in 2016 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform).  It is 1826, and Josiah (Joe) Woods is an orphan whose age is never given.  One reviewer says about seventeen, but Joe himself, who narrates the story, implies that it is around twenty.  He lives in Topham, MA, with his late mother’s only brother, Uncle Seth Upham, a wealthy storekeeper.  His best friends are Upham’s two clerks, Simeon (Sim) Muzzy and Arnold Lament, both young men but older than Joe.  One day an old friend of Seth’s, Cornelius “Neil” Gleazen, known formerly as a man of bad reputation who had left decades prior under very unfavorable circumstances, unexpectedly returns to town.  Gleazen begins to exert an odd control over Mr. Upham, eventually convincing him to sell all of his assets, including store, property, and land, and invest in a ship, claiming to be have a fabulous treasure that he had left on the African coast which will make all involved very rich.  So Neil, Seth, Joe, Arnold, Sim, and farmer Abraham (Abe) Guptil, on whose mortgage Neal forced Seth to foreclose in order to raise money to outfit the expedition, all set sail on the brig Adventure, captained by Gideon North, along with second mate Mr. Severance and ship’s boy Willie McDougald, among others.

They stop in Havana, Cuba, where they take on a couple friends of Gleazen’s of questionable character, a hulking first mate named Molly Matterson and a sleazy seaman named Pedro who has a parrot.  Joe and Arnold begin to suspect that the trip might have something to do with the slave trade, but they have no proof.  So they sail to the coast of Guinea where they become involved in a widespread tribal war, suffer through the insanity and death of Seth Upham, witness the killing of an English missionary, rescue the missionary’s daughter who is accompanied by a native African servant, and experience a shipwreck.  What was the real purpose for the trip? Will they ever make it home?  And what finally happens to them?  There is a little bit of bad language.  In addition to a couple of common euphemisms (confounded, blasted), various forms of the “d” word, including the phrase “tinker’s ‘d,’” are used a few times and attacking natives are called “sons of ‘h….’”  References smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol also occur, but otherwise nothing objectionable is found.  The Great Quest (1921) was a 1922 Newbery Honor book.  In addition, author Charles Boardman Hawes (1889 – 1923) was posthumously awarded the 1924 Newbery Medal for The Dark Frigate (1923).

A female reviewer wrote that when the ship arrives in Africa “the book begins to decline in quality at this point,” concluding, “Excellent first half, horrible second half. Such a pity.”  I guess that I might expect a girl to say that.  But this is a boy’s book.  I suspect that every author of boys’ adventure stories hopes that his will be the next Treasure Island, of which Nathanael Bluedorn wrote, “If you look up the word ‘adventure’ you will find listed in the dictionary as its definition, ‘circumstances following the plot of Treasure Island.’”  I would say that The Great Quest is not far behind.  Another reviewer, also a female, said that it is the book which she thinks should have won the Newbery Medal in 1922.  Actually, I would have chosen Cedric the Forester for the medal myself, but The Great Quest would have been a close second—anything besides Hendrik Willem van Loon’s pedantic volume The Story of Mankind.  Furthermore, The Great Quest gives a good historical picture of the horrors associated with the African slave trade. The book is definitely not politically correct, but in spite of its flaws, I give it five stars.  Unfortunately, the CreateSpace edition which I read does not have George Varian’s illustrations and is absolutely riddled with typographical errors due to scanning and lack of proofreading.  This is another reason why I do not recommend CreateSpace reprints.

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