Diego Columbus: Adventures on the High Seas

Title: Diego Columbus – Adventure on the High Seas
Author: Marni McGee
Illustrator: Jim Hsieh
Pages: 128
Reading Level: 8 – 12
Star Rating: ★★

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A story about Christopher Columbus’ son – how fun! I thought.

The Story.

Diego Columbus is upset. He loves his father very much and is passionately invested in his plans for exploration, but no one else seems to take them seriously! Queen Isabella especially takes advantage of him – baiting him along with partial promises and false hopes.

But then, one day, just as the Columbuses are departing for France, the Queen calls them back to her palace. She offers them three ships and monetary support for their mission! Diego is ecstatic. But he’s also disgruntled – his father refuses to allow him to accompany him on the voyage.

Can Diego convince his father that he is old enough and strong enough to partake in this mission?


I was rather disappointed with this story. I came into it knowing that there would be some degree of tension between Diego and Christopher; after all, Diego wants to sail, Christopher refuses. I figured that this would occupy the first fourth of the story and, though annoying, would become buried in the fun and adventure of the last three-fourths – when Diego and Christopher sail together and explore America.


Instead of occupying only a small portion of the story, this was the story. Now, Diego and Christopher’s disagreement is not savage – there are only two recorded arguments between them, in fact. But the entire plot of the story is how Diego is trying to outsmart his father and join the voyage at the Canary Islands. In order to do this, he sails on another ship which is scheduled to arrive at the Canary Islands at the same time as his father’s fleet, despite the fact that his father has forbidden him to go to sea due to his ill health. He evolves an elaborate scheme to stowaway on his father’s ship, but in the end he doesn’t have to use it because – oh, look how convenient – he unearths a mutiny plot and in gratitude his father allows him to sail.

Now, Diego’s rebellion is different from the typical kid-rebellion story – his rebellion isn’t rooted in a deep disrespect for his father’s person. Instead, he rebels precisely because he respects his father’s vision; he believes wholeheartedly in his father’s quest and wishes to offer his personal support on the quest – stand side by side with his father as he triumphs.

In several ridiculous scenes, Diego defends his father’s mission and convinces adults with his bold words.

After extricating himself from particularly stupid scrapes, Diego thanks God for rescuing him.

Fate and luck are mentioned.

Conclusion. Because it doesn’t focus on Columbus’s journey but rather on a personal (and entirely fictional) quest, I did not find Adventures on the High Seas to be particularly noteworthy.

Sheriff at Waterstop

Title: Sheriff at Waterstop
Author: Andy Thomson
Illustrator: Timothy Davis & Stephanie True
Pages: 125
Recommended Ages: 9-12
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Western for kids!

The Story.

Micah Huggins was used to livin’ alone. As a surveyor, he had done a good bit of solitary riding in his time. Of course, that all changed when Joseph turned up at his door. The boy had lived with both cowboys and Indians, if his manners and cooking were anything to go by. He was quiet and clever – a perfect companion. But when a cowboy comes to the ranch claiming to be Joseph’s cousin – a claim which Joseph acknowledges – there’s nothing Micah can do. Joseph rides off, leaving Micah lonely – a new feeling.

In the nearby town of Waterstop, a search has been conducted – a search for a new sheriff. And the town thinks they’ve found just the man they’ve book looking for – Felix Jensen. He’s just ridden into town, but boy can he fight! He’s quick on the draw, too.

A new Christian, Felix is determined to turn Waterstop into a town of law and order. But some of the ranch hands would prefer a bit of rough-housing to a new, preachin’ sheriff.

Will Micah and Joseph be reunited? And will Felix survive the murderous threats of the unruly cowboys?


Although I didn’t have the chance to mention him in my synopsis, Felix’s son, Bret, is one of the main characters in Sheriff at Waterstop. The relationship between him and his father is a key element of the story.

When we first meet the Jensens, Felix is a new convert to Christianity. Prior to his conversion he worked at a bar, serving liquor to troublemakers, then thrashing them when they started to make trouble. He was a hard man for whom neither his wife or son had any respect.

But then he became a Christian. He realized that he needed to be a better example for his son and a better leader for his wife. He set about trying to win back their love and respect. When we join the story, Felix’s wife trusts him again, but Bret is unsure. He’s been so hurt by his father’s absence and meanness that he isn’t even sure that he wants to try to reestablish a relationship with him. And besides that, he’s sure that it’s just a temporary improvement.

But as the story progresses, Felix’s principled commitment to bringing justice to the community and humble attitude wins Bret over. They become close friends, each respecting the other. They are proud to stand side by side as Felix enforces the law and Bret assists him.

I really enjoyed watching as their relationship progresses. So often stories depict relationships where the children are either unrealistically willing to forgive past abuse or they harbor bitterness for petty wrongs. I thought Sheriff at Waterstop showed a good balance – Bret wasn’t bitter. He just didn’t trust his dad, and for good reason. His father had proven himself unworthy of being trusted. But he wasn’t obstinate in his distrust; as his father became more and more respectable, Bret began to give him the respect he had earned. In the end, resolution has been achieved.

The Christianity in Sheriff at Waterstop feels more modern than is likely would have been preached at the times, but it has several good points. For one thing, no one is ever urged to “ask Jesus into their heart”. Instead, they are urged to repent for the sins that they have committed and place trust in Christ’s promise of salvation. Also, instead of just “becoming a Christian” and moving on with life, those who convert actually begin to implement the word of God in their lives. I appreciated this bit from Felix when he was explaining to his wife why he had excepted the position of Sheriff.

“If a person believes in living decent, Nance, he might just have to make a place decent. If Christian folks want to live where there’s law and order, then some of them Christian folks have got to be the law and order. We can’t let other people do all the dangerous work while we set back at ease.” [pgs. 22-23]

Apart from the bad grammar, I agree wholeheartedly! : )

Conclusion. Good. Boys especially will enjoy this story.

The Loner

Title: The Loner
Author: Ester Wier
Pages: 151
Recommended Ages: 9 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Newbery Medalist.

The Story.

He’s always been an outsider, a loner. He had never known a mother or father, a home, or even a name. He was just ‘Boy’ who hitched rides from state to state picking whatever crop was in season. No one had ever welcomed him. No one had ever loved him.

Then came the day that the woman and her dog, Jup, rounded him in while they were out herding their sheep. She, a large, commandeering woman, is known simply as ‘Boss’. She invites him to stay with her for a while and help out with herding the sheep, but insists that he choose a name by flipping open the Bible and pointing his finger at the page. The name he pointed to was David, keeper of the sheep.

David soon learns that not all has been smooth in Boss’s path, either. She suffered the loss of her son, Ben, just a few years ago – he was mauled by a grizzly bear, the same grizzly bear that she is now determined to hunt down and kill. Will her desire for revenge endanger her entire herd? And has David finally found his place – among the sheep?


David is a boy who has never known the love – or discipleship – of parents. His approach to life is entirely pragmatic – do what you do to get what you can get and keep yourself alive.

Boss is a woman who has never been good at expressing her emotions verbally, and who has become even more reticent since the loss of her son, Ben.

When these two come together, two needs are met; David’s need for a mother, a person to love him, and Boss’s need for a dependent – someone for her to take care of. She trains him to be a good sheepherder and he gives her the vibrancy of young life. Throughout the story their relationship grows and by the end of the book they are firmly attached to each other.

When David chooses David to be his name, he wants to know as much as possible about his namesake. So, Boss reads the stories of David out loud to David and he soaks them in. He often compares himself to the David of the Bible and wonders what he would do in particular circumstances.

Through silence, David tells a lie, of which he later repents.

David and Boss celebrate Christmas.

Conclusion. An excellent story which features a sympathetic protagonist and demonstrates positive relational growth.

Livingstone Mouse

Title: Livingstone Mouse
Author: Pamela Duncan Edwards
Illustrator: Henry Cole
Pages: 32
Reading Level: Read-Aloud
Star Rating: ★★★★★

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When Livingstone the Mouse’s mother informs him that it is time for him to establish his own nest, Livingstone decides that he wants to build his nest in the greatest place in the world. His mother tells him that she has heard that China is a nice place, so Livingstone instantly sets off to discover China. But will he ever fulfill his quest?


This book is just darling. Livingstone, the exploring mouse, dashes around with a snazzy adventurous looking hat made out of a leaf and tries to find China. Each time he thinks he’s finally discovered it, some other creature informs him that he hasn’t found China – all he’s found is a desk, a tennis shoe, and or picnic basket. Finally, as he grows weary of his travels, he finds an old china teapot. When he asks a passing owl what it is, he hears the welcome reply, “An old piece of China.” Livingstone joyfully establishes his home.

Conclusion. Sweet.


The Case of the Baker Street Irregular

Title: The Case of the Baker Street Irregular
Author: Robert Newman
Pages: 216
Recommended Ages: 9-14
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Imitation fiction.

The Story.

Andrew’s always wondered about his parents. They’ve both been a mystery to him – his father dead, his mother absent. And now that Aunt Agnes is dead, it seems that he’ll never discover the secret of his parentage.

He’s just arrived in London with Mr. Dennison, his tutor and guardian. The two of them have never been close, but when Andrew sees Mr. Dennison being forced into a cab driven by a mysterious broken-nosed man, he’s alarmed. His alarm turns to fright the next night when that very same cabman returns for him and chases him through the heart of London…

Why is this man determined to catch Andrew? What is the purpose of the mysterious bombings occurring in London? And can Mr. Holmes solve both of these mysteries in time to save Mr. Dennison?


I’ve read at least five pieces of imitation Sherlock Holmes fiction. These were written with varying degrees of stylistic accuracy ranging from exceptional to outright horrid. The Case of the Baker Street Irregular is not quite as simple to classify.

To begin with, Holmes and Watson are not themselves the main characters – Andrew and his friends, Screamer and Sam (members of Holmes’ band of Irregulars), function in that role. Holmes and Watson follow as close seconds and, in that position, do not receive the same amount of attention that Doyle gave them, and are not the fully developed characters of canon Holmes.

However, the book was saved by the fact that I could hear Basil Rathbone’s voice ringing through the clipped dialogue of Holmes. Newman may not have created the original, more philosophical Holmes of Doyle’s works, but he (purposefully or accidentally, I know not which) conjured up good old Rathbone to the pages.

Oh, and one last quirky positive for me – Andrew comes from a small city which he describes as being ‘near Penzance’. On the last page, Watson regales Holmes with the song “A Policeman’s Lot Is Not a Happy One” from the Gilbert & Sullivan musical ‘The Pirates of Penzance’. HOW FUN IS THAT?!?

One of Holmes’ clients comes to him begging him to find her daughter, whom she says her husband has taken with him to the continent. When asked why he did this, she responds that it was because she wanted to divorce him because she had discovered that he was having an affair, and he took the daughter to keep her from beginning the divorce.

‘Damn’ is used once.

Conclusion. A fun read for detective-oriented children or committed Holmes fans.

The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad

Title: The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad
Author: Thornton W. Burgess
Illustrator: Harrison Cady
Pages: 72
Recommended Ages: 8-10
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Green Forest!

The Story.

Jimmy Skunk and Peter Rabbit don’t know what to think. Why, Old Mr. Toad has just hopped by in the greatest hurry announcing that he is on his way to join the spring choir down at Smiling Pool. What a preposterous idea! Why, ugly Old Mr. Toad couldn’t have a voice worth listening to… could he?

Jimmy and Peter soon learn that they don’t know as much about Old Mr. Toad as they thought…


There were two primary character lessons in Old Mr. Toad – one, never assume that just because you know a person, you know all there is to know about them. Do not judge them based on a limited understanding of them.

“Never think that you have learned
All there is to know.
That’s the surest way of all
Ignorance to show.” [pg. 14]

Two, vanity is destructive, not only to one’s character, but also to one’s reputation and friendships.

“Pride is like a great big bubble;
You’ll find there’s nothing in it.
Prick it and for all your trouble
It has vanished in a minute.” [pg. 66]

““You know nothing can puff any one up quite like foolish pride. Old Mr. Toad was old enough to have known better. It is bad enough to see young and foolish creatures puffed up with pride, but it is worse to see any one as old as Old Mr. Toad that way.” [pg. 60]

I thought that Peter Rabbit showed a marked humility in learning the first lesson. Although he initially mocks the idea that Old Mr. Toad has a fine voice, he later realizes how wrong he has been.

“Funny,” mused Peter, “how we can live right beside people all our lives and not really know them at all. I suppose that is why we should never judge people hastily.” [pg. 39]

“Never again will I call anybody homely and ugly until I know all about him,” said Peter, which was a very wise decision. Don’t you think so?” [pg. 19]

Admit your fault when you’ve done wrong,
And don’t postpone it over long.” [pg. 42]

“The trouble with you, and with a lot of other people, is that you speak first and do your thinking afterward, when you do any thinking at all,” grunted Old Mr. Toad. [pg. 43]

Mother Nature is mentioned / credited three times.

Old Mother West Wind is mentioned twice.

Conclusion. I liked Old Mr. Toad a little less than Chatterer the Red Squirrel and Paddy the Beaver, but it’s still sweet.

The Market Square Dog

Title: The Market Square Dog
Author: James Herriot
Illustrator: Ruth Brown
Pages: 32
Recommended Ages: Read Aloud
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Once upon a time there was a little dog. This little dog appeared every morning in the market square. He would sit up on his back legs and beg for food. He was always very grateful for the snacks he received, but refused to let anyone pet him. Until the day he was found on the side of the road with a broken leg.

Will the Market Square Dog finally accept a master?

Conclusion. A super-cute story with sweet painting-style illustrations. Recommended.


Old Town in the Green Groves

Title: Old Town in the Green Groves
Author: Cynthia Ryland
Pages: 164
Recommended Ages: 8 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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As I started to read this book, I was sure I recognized the author’s name. Cynthia Rylant, Cynthia Rylant… At last I could stand it no longer. I pulled up my data base… and there she was. She was the author of… MISSING MAY? Horrors! But, thank goodness, Old Town in the Green Groves is nothing like Missing May.

The Story.

Laura loves their little house on Plum Creek. She wishes she could live there forever. All they need is for this year’s crop to be successful, and then Pa will be able to pay off his debts, and they can stay there for a good long time.

But the crop isn’t successful. For the third year in a row, the Ingalls’ crop is destroyed – consumed – by grasshoppers. As far as Pa can figure, their only option is to sell the farm, pack up the family, and move to Burr Oak, Iowa, where he’s been offered the job of helping to run a hotel.

Laura is said to be leaving her beloved home. And when she gets to Burr Oaks, she’s not very impressed by its constricting borders. But she trusts Pa, and she hopes that he too will soon be influenced by his love of the prairie and they will soon drive a wagon west, far west…


I have to hand it to Ms. Rylant – she did an amazing job calling up the Little House on the Prairie atmosphere. And she was very careful with her material – about a third of the book was spent recalling incidents that had happened in previous Little House on the Prairie books, and the rest was based on a dozen pages that Laura herself wrote. Her attention to accuracy was impressive.

There was such a sweet family sense to Old Town in the Green Groves. You got the feeling that everyone in the Ingalls family really loved one another.

“Now, flutterbudget,” said Pa, putting an arm around her in the rain, “what could a pot of gold possibly bring you that you haven’t already got?”

Laura stood next to Pa and looked all around her. She looked at their wonderful house full of real glass windows. She looked at the door leading into it and, beyond that, in her mind, she looked at Ma smiling back at her, and Mary and Carrie and little Freddie all well and happy and safe. She looked down at poor soggy Jack besides her feet and at Pa’s old boots, worn from so much work and so many miles to make a good home for his family.

Laura looked at the new barn Pa had built, warm with the smell of hay and oats and strong, fine animals. She looked through the raindrops at the farmland and fields opening all around, promising wheat and corn and potatoes and good-rooted turnips. And on beyond these were the slender little leaves on the willows beginning to bud and the soft green shoots of the yellow star grass and the blue violets and the friendly white daisies set to bloom.

Laura thought about it all there in the steady spring rain. Then she looked at Pa.

“You’re right, Pa,” Laura said with a smile. “I can’t think of anything I haven’t already got.”

Pa hugged her shoulders, and she followed him to the barn. [pgs. 31-32]

Mary, Laura, and Carrie are very industrious little girls who work around the house as a matter of duty. They manage to successfully run the house when Ma is having baby Freddie, and later when she is sick. When the girls themselves are sick, Mary apologizes to Ma for not being able to help her.

After Ma recovers from her illness, Laura “wished to do even more for Ma. She wished she could give Ma everything. Laura never again wanted to think about Ma being sick and thin and yellow.” [pgs. 50-51]

I thought this was sweet.

“May I hold Freddie as far as Nelson’s?” Mary asked Ma as the girls climbed into the back of the wagon.

“Oh, can’t I hold him please this time?” asked Carrie.

Laura wanted to hold Freddie too, but she didn’t say anything. She didn’t want to make it a squabble.

“Mary asked first,” Ma said, “So she may take the baby as far as Nelson’s. Then Carrie may hold him as far as the creek. When we cross the water, Laura may hold him until we reach home.”

All three girls were happy. [pg. 18]

Isn’t that sweet? All of the little girls wanting to hold their little brother – and Laura not wanting to start an argument.

When the Ingalls first move to Burr Oaks, both Ma and Pa work in the hotel in an attempt to pay off their debts. Laura is very saddened by this because she misses the time she used to spend with Ma. This is the girls’ reaction when they hear that Ma is about to stop working.

“Oh, good!” said Mary. “Good, good, good!”

Laura was relieved too. Ma would belong to them again, not to the hotel.

“I can’t wait, Ma,” said Laura.

“Neither can I,” said Ma with a smile. [pg. 116]

Once, when Laura is feeling depressed, she goes to Pa with her problem. He listens to her, talks with her, and gives her the security she needs.

At the end of the story, when little Grace has just been born, Ma looks at the girls and asks them,

“Do you know what ‘grace’ means?”

The girls all shook their heads.

“It means the spirit of God in someone’s heart,” said Ma. And her eyes filled with happy tears. [pg. 147]


After they move to Burr Oak, Laura, Mary, and Carrie meet the Steadman boys. These boys are rough, rowdy, pesky, and generally everything unpleasant. They mercilessly tease the girls, and because both of their families live at the same hotel, it is impossible for the girls to escape them. Laura wants to retaliate to them, but

Ma had instructed the girls never to be mean to him.

“But he’s mean to us, Ma,” Laura had said.

“And you are a lady,” answered Ma, and that ended the discussion. [pg. 91]

And although the boys continue to tease the girls, none of them ever responds in kind. However, when the boys mock them for having the measles, Laura hotly wishes, “I hope Johnny gets them.” A few days later, Ma tells her girls that Johnny did get the measles.

Ma waited to see if any of her good girls laughed. But not one of them did. They all looked solemnly at Ma, and not one cracked a smile. Satisfied, Ma went back to work.

But as soon as she left, Laura looked at Carrie and Carrie looked at Mary and Mary looked at them both and they laughed and laughed and laughed!  [pg. 112]

Although we should not be happy at the misfortunes of others, I could not blame the girls for being happy that their tormentor was temporarily out of action. At the very end of the book, after Johnny hits her with a spitball, Laura sticks out her tongue at him.

Pa tells a story to Ma which Laura overhears.

“What do you mean he ‘burned out his lungs,’ Charles?” asked Ma in a hushed voice behind the curtains of the four-poster.

“The fellow drank so much whiskey,” said Pa, “that he was full of fumes, and when he tried to light a cigar, he breathed in the flame of the match and burned out his lungs.” [pgs. 113-114]

After Laura’s little brother, Freddie dies, Laura tells Ma, “He was an angel.” Ma agrees with her.

Upon seeing a rainbow, Pa tells Laura that there’s a

“Pot o’ gold out there somewhere,” said Pa.

“Really, Pa?” asked Laura.

“Honest truth,” answered Pa. “But only elves can find it. That’s what they say, anyhow.” [pg. 31]

Laura remembers that “Ma had told Laura that if ever she had a dream about clover, it would foretell a happy marriage, a long life, and prosperity. Laura was still waiting for this dream.” [pg. 140]

‘Darnedest’ and ‘by golly’ are each used once.

Conclusion. For anyone who enjoyed the Little House on the Prairie series, this book is for you!

The Kid From Tomkinsville

Title: The Kid From Tomkinsville
Author: John R. Tunis
Pages: 278
Recommended Ages: 12 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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I had just read a mini-biography of John R. Tunis when I found this book. So, of course, I had to buy it…

The Story.

Roy Tucker isn’t a pro. Yet here he is at the Brooklyn Dodgers’ spring training camp, being trained to join the ranks of their pitchers. He would have never dreamed that the workouts would be so intense, the pitching sessions so straining, the pressures so exhausting… Yet, if he can just hold out, he’ll have the chance to play in the Majors!

Will Roy falter under the strain of the professional athlete’s life? Or will he bring the Dodgers to victory?


The Kid From Tomkinsville is a sports story. There’s no denying it. Most of the action occurs either on the playing field, the practice field, or during coaching/recruiting sessions. Passion for the game is communicated and celebrated.

But The Kid From Tomkinsville is, even more importantly, a story of relationships and discipleship. Roy arrives at the Brooklyn Dodgers recruiting camp raw. He knows his own game, but knows nothing of the will-breaking work that is to be done. He knows nothing of the emotional roller coaster ride that will attends the wins and losses. He knows nothing of the dirt. And he knows nothing of how he will long to quit.

But he is not left in this state. Disillusionment sets in almost at once. His insecurities break out. He just wants to go home. And it is at this junction that Dave Leonard, veteran catcher, steps in. He disciples Roy in the tricks of the game. He gives him moral encouragement. He challenges him to face his own weaknesses and overcome them. He urges him to take command of himself; to discipline himself and to not be controlled by his fears.

And this is why I liked The Kid From Tomkinsville. Because even though it was told in the setting of professional sports, it was a story that emphasized character development and self-discipline. Also, The Kid was not fairy tale-ish – there are many hard, sad moments that Roy must face.


Cigarettes are smoked and drinks consumed in several scenes. This is very casually done.

‘Gosh’ is used nine times, ‘darn’ three, ‘shoot’ twice, and ‘God’, ‘dickens’ and ‘son of a gun’ once each.

Conclusion. An excellent, encouraging read for children.

26 Fairmount Avenue

Title: 26 Fairmount Avenue
Author: Tomie dePaola
Pages: 57
Reading Level: 7-8
Star Rating: ★★★

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26 Fairmount Street (along with the other books in the 26 Fairmount Street Series) records the childhood experiences of Tomie dePaola and feature his family as the main characters.

The Story.

In the year 1938, I did not live in the house at 26 Fairmount House. That is because 26 Fairmount House had not been built yet. But Mom and Dad were already making plans to move to 26 Fairmount House. It was all their idea to build it.

I was excited to be moving to a new house, but I didn’t realize how long it would take. Lots of things happened before we were ready to move – a hurricane came through, I started kindergarten, and I helped to put out a fire. So many things happened that I began to wonder – are we ever going to move at all?


I liked the family relationships in 26 Fairmount Avenue. Tomie loves both of his parents – he even declares that his mother is “probably the smartest person in the world”. Tomie and his brother get along well, and the parents obviously love the children. Tomie also has fun relationships with his grandparents!

My biggest concern with 26 Fairmount Avenue is its references to pop-culture. Tomie loves to watch movies. I didn’t mind so much the occasional reference to The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, and Shirley Temple. But the entirety of Chapter Three is spent in the movie theater as Tomie watches Disney’s newest release, Snow White. Now, the chapter is very humorous (Tomie is very disturbed by the inaccuracy of the movie, and shouts out whenever the movie deviates from the real story, much to the chagrin of the other spectators. I laughed while reading it.), but Tomie describes the story from beginning to end, including the magic, and the more grotesque details. I suppose the entire chapter could be taped together…

Whenever Mrs. dePaola’s friend, Mrs. Crane, is scared of a thunderstorm, she insists on being sprinkled with Mrs. dePaola’s bottle of Holy Water. When the hurricane comes through, she sprinkles everyone with the Holy Water.

Aunt Nell tells Tomie that “if you wanted something really important, you could ask your guardian angel, and as long as it wasn’t a bad thing, you’d probably get it.” [pg. 45] Tomie submits his request and it is “answered”.

The dePaolas celebrate Christmas. Their festivities include Santa Claus decorations as well as gifts from Santa. They also set up a manger scene on the fireplace mantle.

Uncle Charles’ girlfriend, Viva, is mentioned three times.

‘Gee’ is used once. Twice, Tomie mentions his dad using ‘bad words’ but the specific words are not given.

Conclusion. Sweet, but not spotless.