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.

The Rooster Crows

Title: The Rooster Crows
Author: Maud & Miska Petersham
Pages: 62
Reading Level: 8 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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Few things expose the character of a people more than their folk songs. This book, subtitled ‘A Book of American Rhymes and Jingles’ serves as a glimpse into the lives of the American people in their earlier centuries.

Here are a few of my favorite rhymes from this book.

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear,
Fuzzy Wuzzy lost his hair.
The Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy,
Was he? [pg. 37]


The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
Sugar’s sweet and so are you.
If you love me as I love you,
No knife can cut our love in two.
My love for you will never fail
As long as pussy has a tail. [pg. 43]

And perhaps my favorite,

As sure as the vine
Twines ‘round the stump,
You’re my darling sugar lump. [pg. 40]



Several of the poems (as is common with jingles) involved exaggeration / tall talishness.

One of the poems refers to kissing. Another involves a little girl who doesn’t want to get up in the morning until her mother promises her a “nice young man with rosy cheeks”.

Conclusion. A nice introduction to the entertainment of past generations, The Rooster Crows features a sweet Dick-and-Jane illustration style and lots of fun verses.

Cousins in the Castle

Title: Cousins in the Castle
Author: Barbara Brooks Wallace
Pages: 152
Recommended Ages: 11-14
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Welcome to a world where nothing is as it seems, and most of the time it’s much worse than you could imagine…

The Story.

Amelia Fairwick lived a life of ease and joy. Although bereft of her mother at an early age, she was pampered by her father and was soon to gain a new mother in the lovely and kind Felicia Charlton. Amelia could not have been happier. Then tragedy struck.

One day, Amelia received news that her father died in a hotel fire while on a business trip in America. Because her Papa had not yet married Felicia, she must be sent to live with her new guardian – a man named Cousin Basil whom she has never met or heard of before. To meet him she must journey to America. America?!?

It is Cousin Charlotte who comes to bring Amelia back to the States. Amelia is scared – if Cousin Basil is at all like his sister, Cousin Charlotte, then she is headed towards a grim existence. But it seems that Amelia is not destined to meet Cousin Basil, for as soon as they have docked, Cousin Charlotte disappears into the crowds, leaving Amelia behind on the dock.

As Amelia faces criminals and kidnappers, she wonders – who has planned out these events in her strange new life? And will she ever find her Cousin Basil?


Ms. Wallace’s story was very well – I repeat, very well – crafted. It was full of twists and turns and read like an actual piece of literature rather than a children’s no-brainer. The characters and setting of Cousins in the Castle actually reminded me a great deal of Dickens’ works – mostly his Nicholas Nickleby and The Old Curiosity Shop. Ms. Wallace’s world is a world in which ninety percent of humans are sly, conniving, grasping, sinister creeps. (That may explain why the story reminded me of Dickens.) This portrayal of adults could have been a stereotype, but I thought it was handled well. It is made obvious from the beginning of the story that some adults are good people and that Amelia loves and respects these.

However, for most of the story, Amelia is having to outwit and escape the evil adults who are trying to kidnap, imprison, and eliminate her. She is helped in this adventure by a young friend who has also been mistreated by those over him.

So here’s the situation. Amelia is placed in the custody of Cousin Charlotte, a grim-faced, harsh, non-relational old battle-axe. She gives strict instructions to Amelia directing her conduct and attitude. These Amelia initially resolves to obey – she is too scared to consider not obeying – but as she considers their unreasonableness and is tempted to disobey them, she decides that she need not listen to Cousin Charlotte.

Now, Cousin Charlotte in an authority figure in Amelia’s life. Granted, she is cruel and disinterested in Amelia’s welfare or best interests. Granted, in the end she turns out to be a bad guy. But at the time that Amelia is disobeying Cousin Charlotte, she does so, knowing that she is under Cousin Charlotte’s authority. This theme was not defiling, and may be used to discuss the correct response to unjust leaders.

While on board ship, Amelia makes friends with a little girl named Primrose who is part of an entertaining troupe. Later, in New York, when Amelia is lost, she finds Primrose again and asks for her help. At this time, Primrose reveals that she is a boy who dresses up and sings like a girl in order to make enough money to stay alive. His idea on how to protect Amelia is to dress her up like a boy and tell an untrue story to his managers about who she is. (If they knew who she really was, they would try to ransom her.) Amelia agrees and they proceed with their plan, although it eventually fails.

Conclusion. As an older reader, I enjoyed Cousins in the Castle immensely. If found its plot to be fresh and engaging while its characters were lively and real. However, the above cautions should be taken into consideration before giving Cousins in the Castle to young readers.

Fiona McGilray’s Story

Title: Fiona McGilray’s Story
Author: Clare Pastore
Pages: 184
Recommended Ages: 9 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Isn’t that a pretty cover? I just love the cover…..

The Story.

A terrible plague has devastated the potato crops of Ireland, leaving many families with naught to eat. The McGilray family is fortunate; Fiona’s Da has a steady job working at Lord Conray’s flax mill and he is able to provide food for them.

But one day, Da returns with terrible news – Lord Conray is shutting down the mill because it has not brought in enough revenue. Da is losing his job.

The McGilray family still has enough food – for the present. But as week after week goes by and Da is unable to find more food, their supplies dwindle. Fiona and her siblings must go to bed hungry at night and wake up hungry again in the morning. They begin to lose their strength and will to work. Is this what starving feels like?

After Fiona’s sister Maeve dies of weakness and typhus, Fiona decides to take action. Kind people from America have sent a ship load of corn meal to the poor people of Ireland, but it is being unjustly held by the English Lords. Fiona manages to slip into the warehouse and extract a small amount of grain without being seen. She returns several times over the next few weeks, bringing Da and her brother Patrick with her. All is going well, until the dark night the guards spot Da prowling near the warehouse. They arrest him and threaten to lock up the children as well. Ma decides that it is time for Patrick and Fiona to journey to America and live with Ma’s cousin Eleanor until the whole family can join them. It breaks Fiona’s heart, but she agrees.

Will Patrick and Fiona make it safely to America? Will they be able to find their cousins? And will the McGilray family ever be united again?


I loved the close family bond that existed among the McGilray family. Rather than drive them apart emotionally, the hardships they face make them even more closely-knit together. When Patrick and Fiona travel to America it is in the hopes that they can all be re-united there and live a better life, away from the starvation and prisons. Fiona often writes and dreams about her family being together again and what a splendid time they will have when that day comes.

When I picked Fiona McGilray’s Story up, I knew that I was taking a big chance. It seems as though all of the fictional diaries and accounts of young girls who lived during the eighteen hundreds are riddled with modern attitudes and dialogue. But Fiona wasn’t. On the contrary, it was refreshingly straightforward and emphasized the values that would have been prominent at the time of the story.


The McGilray family is Catholic. Fiona prays to Mary once or twice, and she and her brother attend a midnight mass on Christmas. On one page Fiona’s father says, “God and Mary be with all in the house” and her mother replies, “And God and St. Patrick be with you.”

When Fiona’s sister Maeve dies, Fiona is made angry and questions why God would do such a cruel thing to her family. Later her brother Patrick declares that God wouldn’t choose to hurt their family and their suffering was due to man’s cruelty.

Fiona has a dream that she returned home and all of her family had turned into skeletons. This dream isn’t described, just stated.

It’s hinted that Patrick likes Peggy.

Fiona discovers that her mother put cow’s blood in their soup for extra nourishment.

Fiona and her family break into a warehouse and steal some grain which was sent from America to the poor, but which the landlords are holding illegally. It’s actually not stealing at all because it rightfully belongs to them.

My last point isn’t really a caution so much as a question of historical accuracy. Fiona comments in one place about the “Londenderry Aire” which her father sometimes calls “Danny Boy”. Londonderry Air did exist in the eighteen fifties, but the Danny Boy lyrics were not written until the beginning of the nineteen hundreds.

Also, the ending reads a wee bit like a fairy tale, not because any magic is involved, but because everything turns out very right.

Conclusion. Fiona McGilray’s Story is a story of historical worth that teaches the value of family relationships. I fully recommend it. Purchase a used copy here.

The Great Wheel

Title: The Great Wheel
Author: Robert Lawson
Pages: 180
Recommended Ages: 10-14
Star Rating: ★★★★

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I thought that this story would be from the perspective of an attendee of the 1893 Chicago World Fair. Instead, it tells the story of one of the men who helped build the Great Ferris Wheel!

The Story.

Cornelius Terence Kilroy has never dreamed of going west – but the west is calling his name! His Uncle Michael has offered for Conn to cross the Atlantic Sea, leaving his home in Ireland to live and work in New York City.

Conn agrees and the next day begins his journey to New York City. He enjoys his life there – living with a doting aunt and friendly cousins is pleasant and makes him feel at home. But one day, Conn’s Uncle Patrick comes to stay with his brother. A passionate man with flaming red hair, he loudly and proudly describes the work of his friend, George Washington Gale Ferris – the marvelous Ferris Wheel that is being built for the 1893 Chicago World Fair. Conn is strangely stirred by Uncle Patrick’s description. He decides to accompany him to Illinois.

The work is hard, but fulfilling. Each day substantial progress is made with the building. But will the Great Wheel be built in time for the fair? And will it actually work?


The most troubling aspect of the story has concerns a prophecy which Conn’s Aunt Honora made. Here is the passage.

When Conn was twelve years old, Aunt Honora read his fortune from the leaves in his cup. She was very old, even then, and the village considered her a Wise Woman.

“Neil, lad,” she said, peering into the cup, “mind well what I’m telling you now. Your fortune lies to the west. Keep your face to the sunset and follow the evening star, and one day you’ll ride the greatest wheel in all the world.” [pgs. 1-2]

This prophecy is referenced around a dozen times in the one hundred eighty page book (which isn’t too bad) and was used mainly as a plot device to make the story seem more Irish. Aunt Honora’s methods of fortune telling – reading a person’s fortune in tea leaves! – is not detailed. The troubling thing is that the prophecy came true. A broken clock is right twice a day?

Conn develops an affection for a young Dutch girl named Trudy while at sea. Because she does not know what her address will be when she gets to America, he is unable to obtain it. During the course of the book he thinks about her and sometimes writes letters to her which he cannot mail. At the end of the story, *SPOILER* she attends the fair where the meet up and agree to marry one another.

Far from being a problem, I thought Conn’s relationship with Trudy to be a sweet addition to the story – none of their interaction or conversations are inappropriate. I thought that (apart from not knowing each other very well) they had a solid foundation for their relationship; they were both level-headed and spoke practically about what their future would be like.

When Uncle Patrick sends some money to Conn’s mother, he specifies its use, adding that whatever money is left can be used to buy masses for her dead husband. Other than one reference to the Saints, this is all the religion in this story.

Uncle Patrick declares that Mr. Ferris “has as great a knowledge of the ways of iron and steel as the god Vulcan himself.” [pg. 33]

Conn’s cousin, Agnes, writes a letter to him, saying,

“Now I will tell you a great secret but you must not breathe a word of it to anyone. Mamma and Stella and I are going to begin to work on Papa to take us to the Fair this summer, instead of that tiresome old Brighton Beach. Won’t that be exciting? Lots of our friends are planning to go but Papa says it is a waste of money. He says that there will not be much to see that is worth while and he wouldn’t ride on the Ferris Wheel if you paid him. He says that he can’t see why this great Fair us being made to honor Columbus who was only an Italian sailor anyway. If it was for Robert Emmet or George Washington there’d be some sense to it he says.

But we will bring him around, never fear, and by the time our trunks are packed he will think it was all his idea.” [pg. 78-79]

Conn later imagines what it will be like for Agnes to be “working” on her father. He chuckles at the idea but considers her to be a bossy girl.

‘By gorry’ is used twice; ‘wish to God’ and ‘holy saints’ are each used once.

Conclusion. Definitely worthwhile, The Great Wheel approaches the story of the Chicago World Fair from a perspective rarely mentioned – the worker’s.

The Doctors

Title: The Doctors
Author: Leonard Everett Fisher
Pages: 47
Recommended Ages: 10 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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An installment in Leonard Everett Fisher’s Colonial Americans series, The Doctors describes the lives, times, and practices of Colonial practitioners

The days of colonialism were tough; they were days when entire settlements could be wiped out from ignorance and neglect of health. Epidemics often swept through towns, ravaging the inhabitants and destroying them. The only men who stood in the way of these tragedies were the doctors.

The doctors of the sixteen and seventeen hundreds lived in a time of growing awareness in scientific and medical discoveries, but they still retained the superstitions of past ages. Bleeding is one example of this. Another, more interesting example is this;

“In many instances, the patient was given a food that resembled the part of his body that was troublesome. If he had a headache, he was given the meat of a walnut, because a walnut meat looked somewhat like a miniature brain. Or if he had a bothersome kidney, he might be given kidney beans, shaped somewhat like kidneys, to cure his trouble. These “natural” would-be cures, which rarely worked, were based on a medical idea that was at least one thousand years old.” [pg. 10]

But the doctors did not merely involve themselves with medicine. They also participated in politics. Did you know that four colonial physicians signed the Declaration of Independence? Their names were Benjamin Rush of Pennsylvania; Matthew Thornton and Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire; and Lyman Hall of Georgia.


On one page, the healing practices of Indian doctors are described. This section is not extended.

Mr. Fisher comments on one page in regards to medical experimentation, “A few persons experimented with ways of preventing the fatal diseases. Certainly the old ideas were not working, and the Almighty did not seem to pay much attention to the prayers of the colonists.” [pg. 36]

Conclusion. An interesting look at the historical position and cultural significance that the medical field held during the Colonial times.

A Treasury of Great American Quotations

Title: A Treasury of Great American Quotations
Editor: Charles Hurd
Pages: 318
Star Rating: ★★★

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By definition, a treasury is a collection of the best material available in a particular genre. Whatever is the ‘best’ in a field will be determined by the worldview of the editor. While wise Christian leaders were included in this treasury, a noticeable emphasis was placed on humanistic philosophers.

I have done my best glean the wheat from the chaff.

The Serious and Instructive.

“Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.” – Jonathan Edwards

“It is easier to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow it.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint.” – Daniel Webster

“A slender acquaintance with the world must convince every man that actions, not words, are the true criterion of the attachment of friends; and that the most liberal professions of good-will are very far from being the surest marks of it.” – George Washington

“Let thy child’s first lesson be obedience, and the second will be what thou wilt.” – Benjamin Franklin

“True repentance always involves reform.” – Hosea Ballou

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above it.” – Washington Irving

“Pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended upon man.” – Francis Cardinal Spellman

“Experience alone cannot deliver to us necessary truths; truths completely demonstrated by reason. Its conclusions are particular, not universal.” – John Dewey

“Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.” – Phillips Brooks

“The bravest battle that ever was fought;
Shall I tell you where and when?
On the maps of the world you will find it not;
It was fought by the mothers of men.”
– Cincinnatus Hiner

“We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“One cool judgment is worth a dozen hasty councils. The thing to do is to supply light and not heat.” – Woodrow Wilson

“As unto the bow the cord is,
So unto the man is woman,
Though she bends him, she obeys him,
Though she draws him, yet she follows;
Useless each without the other!”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“Ideas are booming through the world louder than cannon. Thoughts are mightier than armies. Principles have achieved more victories than horsemen and chariots.” – W. M. Paxton

“Conversation is the laboratory and workshop of the student.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.” – Patrick Henry

“The harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph.” – Thomas Paine

“If, on a full and final review, my life and practice shall be found unworthy of my principles, let due infamy be heaped on my memory; but let none be led thereby to distrust the principles to which I proved recreant, nor yet the ability of some to adorn them by a suitable life and conversation. To unerring time be all this committed.” – Horace Greeley

“Let me make the newspapers, and I care not what is preached in the pulpit or what is enacted in Congress.” – Wendell Phillips

“He that does good for good’s sake seeks neither praise nor reward, though sure of both at the last.” – William Penn

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Stay, stay at home, my heart, and rest;
Home-keeping harts are happiest,
For those that wander they know not where
Are full of trouble and full of care;
To stay at home is best.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 The Incisive and Humorous.

“Common sense is very uncommon.” – Horace Greeley

“Steam is no stronger now than it was a hundred years ago, but it is put to better use.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Compromise makes a good umbrella, but a poor roof; it is a temporary expedient, often wise in party politics, almost sure to be unwise in statesmanship.” – James Russell Lowell

“At the devil’s booth are all things sold,
Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold;”
– James Russell Lowell

“Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever.” – Horace Mann. I was greatly surprised that at his death Horace Mann was a teacher of theology at Antioch College.

“An Idea isn’t responsible for the people who believe in it.” – Don Marquis

“The cynic puts all human actions into two classes – openly bad and secretly bad.” – Henry Ward Beecher.

“Advertisements contain the only truth to be relied on in a newspaper.” – Thomas Jefferson (Sadly, even advertisements are deceptive now!)

“We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” – Benjamin Franklin at the signing of the Declaration of Independence

“It a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it from him.” – Benjamin Franklin

“It were endless to dispute upon everything that is disputable.” – William Penn

He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Next to being a great poet is the power of understanding one.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“I firmly believe that if the whole material medica as now used could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind – and all the worse for the fishes.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

“All one has to do to gather a large crowd in New York is to stand on the curb a few minutes and gaze intently at the sky.” George Jean Nathan


I have included all of the quotes which I felt were noteworthy, even when I did not agree with the teachings of their author.