The Railroad to Freedom: A Story of the Civil War

railroad

HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

Book: The Railroad to Freedom: A Story of the Civil War

Author: Hildegard Hoyt Swift

Illustrator: James Daugherty

Publisher: Harcourt, republished 1960

ISBN-13: 9780152651190

ISBN-10: 0152651195

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 12 and up

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

Swift, Hildegard Hoyt.  The Railroad to Freedom: A Story of the Civil War (published in 1932 by Harcourt Brace and Company, New York City, NY).  As the story opens, it is the spring of 1831, and ten year old Araminta Harriet Ross, usually known as “Minty,” lives with her mother also named Harriet but called Old Rit, her father Old Ben, and her fourteen year old brother Benjie.  They are slaves on the Broadacres plantation of Henry Carter in Maryland.  Old Marse Henry is kind, and the slaves like him.  But his son, young Marse George, is taking more responsibility, and he is cruel. A few years later he forces her to marry John Tubman, but she eventually runs away and escapes to freedom in the North.  Wanting to assist her people, she becomes a conductor on the “Underground Railroad” and, known as “Moses,” leads many other slaves to freedom.  She even returns to Broadacres and helps her brother, his wife Lily, and their baby to escape.  For that, George Carter places a reward of up to $40,000 on her head.

Yet she braves the danger to go back and fetch her parents.  Will they make it to safety?  Or will they be caught and returned to slavery?  And what will happen to them when war breaks out?  Today, Harriet Tubman is a heroine, and her story is told in nearly every American history book.  But back in 1932, her exploits were not well known, so Hildegard Swift wrote this book, which received a Newbery Honor Award in 1933, as a fictionalized account of Harriet Tubman’s life from her childhood through the beginning of Civil War.  Swift said, “This is a story, not a biography, but it is based on authentic history.”  One reviewer complained, “I was very disappointed to find that some of the major turning points in her early life were altered with no apparent reason, and other well-known parts of her life were omitted entirely.”  Well, do you want a book that reads like a dry and dusty encyclopedia (and is about as long) or a story that kids will find interesting and want to read?  Another reviewer noted, “One can’t, however, doubt Swift’s scholarship. Although the dialogue is invented and several incidents spruced up for dramatic purposes, Swift completed a remarkable amount of research for her time.”

I was a little amazed at the language for a children’s book.  The “d” and “h” words are occasionally found in dialogue, and terms like “Lawd” and “Gawd” frequently appear as interjections.  Also there are references to using “baccy” (tobacco) and drinking alcohol.  Several reviewers noted that the readers might be slowed down due to the conversations in an “authentic” Negro slave dialect.  And some “racial language” is used.  Swift explained, “The words ‘pickaninny’—‘nigger’—‘kinky’—‘darky’ and all similar words are nowhere used in this book as expressive of the viewpoint of the author.  They are simply used for the purposes of realism, where they would have been used by the different kinds of people whom this book concerns.”   Yes, the book is fictionalized, but it emphasizes many important phases and events in Harriet Tubman’s life and does a decent job of depicting the dangers of life for slaves and those who dared to run from slavery in pre-Civil War America.  I agree with the reviewer who wrote, “Swift communicates the bravery and hope expressed by the desperate blacks seeking freedom. What comes across even more clearly is the courage of the whites who risked their all to assist the blacks en route to freedom.”  The book contains acknowledgements and a full bibliography.

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Children of the Covered Wagon: A Story of the Old Oregon Trail

covered

HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

Book: Children of the Covered Wagon: A Story of the Old Oregon Trail

Author: Mary Jane Carr

Illustrator: Bob Kuhn

Publisher: Christian Liberty Press, republished 2007

ISBN-13: 978-1932971507

ISBN-10: 1932971505

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: ***** 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

Carr, Mary Jane.  Children of the Covered Wagon: A Story of the Old Oregon Trail (published in 1934 by Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York City, NY).  It is 1844, and seven year old orphaned Jerry is out on the prairie.  He has left his home in Osage, MO, to travel with a covered wagon train captained by his uncle Jim Stephen.  Also along are his Aunt Beth who is his late mother’s sister, his eleven year old cousin Jim, and many others.  They are all heading over the Oregon Trail toward the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  However, with hostile Indians all around, quicksand in the river fords, sudden storms, the threat of buffalo stampedes, and alkali deserts, will they make it?  How many precious things will have to be left behind on the trail?  And what happens when young Jim is captured by Blackfoot Indians?

While the story is fictional, the portrayal of the trials and hardships which the pioneers faced moving across the country is historically accurate, and several real individuals are mentioned along the way, such as Marcus Whitman, Jedediah Smith, John McLoughlin, Jim Bridger, and John (“Uncle Jack”) Robinson.  There are a couple of common euphemisms (gosh, golly) and a few references to pipe smoking.  Children (and adults) will love to read this adventuresome account of pioneers heading west on the Oregon Trail during the mid-1800s.  It is a great story from a kid’s perspective and makes the wagon train experience come alive.  An American classic, the book makes a wonderful complement to a study of the westward expansion period in United States history.  Also, it served as the basis for Westward Ho, The Wagons!, a 1956 live-action Disney western film.

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Faithful Under Fire: John Waldron and Torpedo 8 at Midway, A Parable of Gospel Courage

faithful

HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

Book: Faithful Under Fire: John Waldron and Torpedo 8 at Midway, A Parable of Gospel Courage

Author: Jim A. Woychuk

Publisher: Scripture Memory Fellowship, 2016

ISBN-13: 978-1684181544

ISBN-10: 1684181542

Related website: https://scripturememory.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: Suitable for all ages

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

Woychuk, Jim A.  Faithful Under Fire: John Waldron and Torpedo 8 at Midway, A Parable of Gospel Courage (published in 2016 by Scripture Memory Fellowship, P.O. Box 550232 Dallas, TX 75355).  This gripping true story recounts the patriotic heroism of John Waldron and the members of Torpedo Squadron 8 at the Battle of Midway in World War II.  Following their attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese Imperial Navy enjoyed a seven month winning streak.  They planned to lure the American fleet into a decisive confrontation at Midway Island, a vital American base, from which they could then go on to attack Hawaii and even the West Coast.  Fortunately, American cryptologists broke the Japanese naval code, allowing the American navy to prepare.  Part of their strategy involved the use of the Torpedo 8 Squadron led by 41 year old Lt. Commander John Waldron.

Unfortunately, the Squadron’s Douglas Devastator bombers were obsolete and had only one third the speed of the Japanese Zero fighters which would oppose them.  While they were well trained, Waldron’s men, fourteen other pilots and fifteen gunners, were mostly young and inexperienced college boys.  Waldron believed that the Japanese fleet would alter its course, but his advice was ignored.  Therefore, as the battle began on July 4, the escort of Wildcat fighters and Dauntless dive bombers veered off in an incorrect direction, leaving the slow torpedo planes alone and defenseless.  What happened to Waldron and his crew?  Who won the battle of Midway?  How did the Torpedo 8 Squadron contribute to the outcome?  And what lessons can we learn from Waldron’s actions?

The author is simply identified as “J. A. W.”  Amazon gives the author as John Waldron.  I at first thought that his name might have been John A. Waldron.  But the text is clear that Waldron’s middle name was Charles.  Besides, anyone who reads the book will see why he couldn’t have written the book.  I think that the author is the Executive Director of Scripture Memory Fellowship, my good friend Jim A. Woychuk.  There are indeed some important lessons that can be learned from Waldron and his brave men who, when faced with certain death as they opposed Japanese fighter pilots during the Battle of Midway, refused to turn back, believing that their mission was more important than anything else – even their lives.

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Baby Island

babyisland

HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

Book: Baby Island

Author: Carol Ryrie Brink

Illustrator: Helen Sewell

Publisher: Aladdin, reissued 1993

ISBN-13: 978-0689717512

ISBN-10: 0689717512

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

Brink, Carol Ryrie.  Baby Island (published in 1937 by Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc., 866 Third Ave., New York City, NY  10022; republished in 1965 by Scholastic Books Inc., 730 Broadway, New York City, NY).  Twelve year old Mary Wallace and her ten year old sister Jean are on the S. S. Orminta sailing from San Francisco to Australia.  Several years earlier, when their mother died, their father went to Australia to manage a big ranch and, while he was deciding whether he wanted to stay or not, left his daughters with their Aunt Emma, Uncle Angus, and Cousin Alex in Scotville, IA.  Now the girls were heading to meet Mr. Wallace.  However, a huge tropical storm arises, and the boat begins to sink.  Mary and Jean both love babies and have been playing with several on board.  So they go to check on them and see if they are safe.

The two find the three Snodgrass babies, two year old twins Elijah and Elisha and their younger brother Jonah, all alone.  So assuming that the parents must have gone off to see what was happening, the girls rescue the babies.  As they are getting into a lifeboat, Mr. Arlington asks them to watch his baby, one year old Ann Elizabeth, while he goes to find his wife.  Suddenly, the lifeboat is lowered into the water and begins to drift.  Eventually, it washes ashore on a deserted island, which they decide to call Baby Island.  What will happen to the six youngsters?  How can they survive?  Will they ever be rescued?  And who or what made those big footprints in the sand?  As improbable as the plot may seem, this book by Carol Ryrie Brink, who also wrote Caddie Woodlawn, which won the Newbery Medal in 1936, and its sequel, originally called Magical Melons but later retitled Caddie Woodlawn’s Family, is a cute story.

As one reviewer noted, “For those interested this story does have a religious tone. The girls often sing hymns, recite Psalm 23 and Mary likes to preach on Sunday.”  Also, the girls show a maturity not seen very often today.  Another reviewer wrote, “This is the book I read as a child.  However, the cover and the pictures inside do not do the book justice.”  This probably refers to the Scholastic edition, which I also read.  Scholastic replaced the original illustrations by Helen Sewell with newer ones by Moneta Barnett and used a more modern looking cover.  Scholastic often did things like that.  If someone wants to buy the book, I would suggest trying to find the Aladdin reprint of 1993.

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The War That Saved My Life

warsaved

HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

Book: The War That Saved My Life

Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Publisher: Puffin Books, reprinted 2016

ISBN-13: 978-0147510488

ISBN-10: 0147510481

Related website: http://www.penguin.com/youngreaders (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: Said to be for ages 9 – 12, but I would say ages 12 and up

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

Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker.  The War That Saved My Life (published in 2015 by Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group USA LLC, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 375 Hudson St., New York City, NY  10014).  It is 1939, and ten-year-old Ada Smith, whose was born with a twisted foot, lives with her Mam and her six-year-old little brother Jamie in a one-room apartment in London, England.  Ada has never left the apartment because her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s club foot to let her outside and beats her unmercifully.  With World War II starting up and people fearing German bombs on London, Jamie, along with other children, is shipped out of London to escape the war, and Ada sneaks out to join him.  They are evacuated to a small coastal town in Kent where a woman named Susan Smith, who is mourning the recent death of her long-time housemate named Becky, is forced to take the two kids in.  What will happen to Ada and Jamie?  Will Susan and the children ever learn to get along and be happy with each other?  Or will Ada and her brother be forced back into the cruel hands of their mother?

The War That Saved My Life was a 2016 Newbery Honor book and was also the Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award (Middle School).  It is said to be for ages 9-12, but some on the younger end of that scale might find the abuse which Ada’s mother heaps upon the child a little intense.  I would say that it is more suitable for ages 12 and up.  Some common euphemisms (heck, drat) occur, the term “Good Lord” is used as an interjection, and Mam utters the Cockney curse word “‘ell” a few times.  There are also references to drinking wine.  However, the most serious issue is that one reviewer wrote, “Elements of sexuality in this book may be problematic for many parents.”  Having read the book, I found no sexual activity mentioned and not even any talk about sexual things.   I suspect that this reviewer was referring to some other reviews which said things like, “A secondary theme of lesbianism mentioned nowhere on the book summary or description,” and “This book has a character that is a lesbian,” or “Unbelievable that only two of the 400 plus reviews mentioned the subtle lesbianism content of this book.”

Now, I am very sensitive to such charges as these because I know how easy it is for a modern writer to slip unbiblical concepts into an entertaining story.  And I can see how some might interpret the relationship between Susan and Becky as lesbian.  Susan never wanted to marry and shared a home with Becky.  Her clergyman father doesn’t think that she can be redeemed from her evil ways.  The women of the village have never liked her.  And Ada’s mom called her a slut.  At the same time, all of these statements can be explained and understood in a way that is entirely without any connection to      sexuality, and to be honest, unless I missed something, I found nothing which necessitated a conclusion of lesbianism.  In fact, Becky and Susan had their own rooms.  I mean, can’t two good friends of the same gender share a home without being accused of homosexuality—especially in 1939? The story has some disturbing elements to it but ends up with a satisfactory conclusion.

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The Night Crossing

nightcrossHOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

Book: The Night Crossing

Author: Karen Ackerman

Illustrator: Elizabeth Sayles

Publisher: Yearling, reprinted 1995

ISBN-13: 978-0679870401

ISBN-10: 0679870407

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 7-11

Rating: ***** Five 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

     Ackerman, Karen.  The Night Crossing (published in 1994 by Alfred A Knopf Inc., 201 E. 50th St., New York City, NY  10016; republished in 1995 by Scholastic Inc., 555 Broadway, New York City, NY  10012).  It is 1938, and Clara lives with her parents, Albert and Helen, and her older sister Marta, in Innsbruck, Austria.  They are Jewish.  Many years before, Clara’s grandmother had made a night crossing from Russia over the Carpathian Mountains into Austria to escape persecution.  But now Adolph Hitler and his Nazis have taken over in Austria.  They are taking Jews, such as the Jewish baker Mr. Duessel, away to prison camps, so Clara’s family must make a night crossing from Austria over the Alps into Switzerland to escape the Nazis.  They will be using false papers and pretending to be Swiss citizens who had gone to Innsbruck to visit relatives but were now returning home.

However, they can take only so many things with them because they must look like casual travelers.  Clara wants to take her dolls, Gittel and Lotte, which had made the earlier night crossing with Grandma and had then been to her by Grandma.  Can they get away before the Nazis take them?  Will they make it to Switzerland, or will they be caught?  And what will happen to Gittel and Lotte?  This story, now a First Bullseye Book, is an excellent fictional introduction to the Holocaust for young children. It has plenty of drama and suspense, and the danger is clearly portrayed, but there is no overly descriptive gore that can be scary.  With its directness and simplicity, it is easy to digest by transitional readers.  As one reviewer noted, this is a difficult story that must be told to children of this generation and future generations.

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The Missing Head Mystery

misshead

HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

Book: The Missing Head Mystery

Author: Carole Marsh

Publisher: Gallopade International, republished 1980

ISBN-13: 978-0935326017

ISBN-10: 0935326014

Related websites: http://www.carolemarshblog.com/childrens-mystery-books/ (author), http://www.gallopade.com/Default.aspx (publisher)

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: ***** 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

Marsh, Carole.  The Missing Head Mystery (published in 1979 by Gallopade Publishing Group, 108 N. Pearl St., Rocky Mount, NC  27801).  Michele and her younger brother Michael live in Raleigh, NC, with their mother who is a writer.  While Mom is away doing research, Michele and Michael are to spend the summer in the old port town of Bath, NC, with Mom’s friend John and his two children Brian and Jo Dee.  They expect to be bored.  However, Michele wants to be an actress, and they learn that Bath has an outdoor drama based on the life of Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard the Pirate, who lived nearby.  Maybe Michele can get a part in it.  And maybe Michael can hunt for buried treasure.  But then they find out that someone has stolen the elaborate and expensive false head of Blackbeard used in the play, and Mom says that the kids cannot go near the drama as long as there is any threat of crime.

Besides, without the head, the show might have to close.  So Michele’s solution is to hunt for the missing head that the show might go on.  Can the head be found or will the play be cancelled?  Who stole it and why?  And will Michele be able to get on stage?  I have previously read and reviewed three other Carole Marsh mysteries, The Mystery at Disney World (#11), The Mystery at the Kentucky Derby (#15), and The Mystery in Chocolate Town: Hershey, Pennsylvania (#18).  These are all part of the “Real Kids Real Places” Series in which Carole, as Mimi, and her grandchildren, Christina and Grant, solve various mysteries in different places.  However, Marsh had written an earlier “Historic Albemarle Tour Mystery Series,” starring her own children, Michele and Michael, as characters, which apparently are now out of print.  In fact, The Missing Head Mystery was her very first book.

There are a couple of common euphemisms, and one character likes to drink his beer.  Also, Mom and Dad are divorced.  However, the book weaves into the mystery plot a great deal of geographical information about the Bath area and a lot of historical background concerning Blackbeard.  Unfortunately, the used copy which I picked up was missing chapters 12 through 14 and part of 15 (pp. 96-128), so I missed a little bit of the action but was still able to follow the plot all right.  David Brock, age 12, said, “The best mystery I’ve ever read!”  I might not go that far, but it is pretty good.  The next book in this earlier series is entitled The Secret of Somerset Place.  The Gallopade website is currently announcing book #51 in the Real Kids, Real Places Series entitled The Mystery at Hilton Head Island.   There are also 14 International Mysteries now available in which Christina and Grant take their adventures around the world.

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