Unsolved! II: More Famous Real-Life Mysteries

Title: Unsolved II
Author: George Sullivan
Pages: 119
Recommended Ages: 10 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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I find mysteries absolutely fascinating. So, when I found this book of unsolved real-life mysteries, I was more than intrigued.

The Cases.

Murder at Random. On September 29, 1982, a man named Adam Janus took the prescribed dose of Tylenol to relieve chest pain. He died before the doctors could determine the cause of his illness. Later that same morning, Mary Keller felt a cold coming on and took the proper dose of Tylenol to ward off the symptoms. Minutes later she was taken seriously ill and she too died before the day was out. There was a rash of similarly mysterious and unconnected deaths. Unconnected, that is, until someone noticed that each of the cases involved Tylenol… Could someone have slipped poison into the capsules?

The Brief Life of a Superhero. Bruce Lee, the King of Kung Fu, was beloved by millions when he unexpectedly died on the set of his latest film. A few doctors thought that they had explanations – all contradictory – but each explanation left questions unanswered. Why did Bruce Lee really die?

The Hindenburg Disaster. It was a glorious moment. The Hindenburg, the biggest airship ever built, was preparing to land in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Its passengers were waving from the windows, the press was gathered in force to observe the landing of the giant aircraft. And then, the unthinkable happened. While still hovering in the air, the craft burst into flames! How was this fire started?

Movie Star Mystery. Natalie Wood was not an unhappy woman. And she had no enemies – at least none who would’ve had the opportunity to push her off of her husband’s yacht and leave her to drown. But that’s exactly how she was found – floating in the water, dead. Was it an accident? Murder? Suicide? No one knows.

A President’s Mysterious Death. President Warren G. Harding, the first president to be elected after the completion of World War I, found himself in an administration that was being engulfed by corruption and scandal. Rumor had it that he, Warren Harding, was involved in the dishonorable intrigues. Two years into his presidency, Harding was taken violently ill and died. The official report was that he had died from food poisoning, but his wife, a power-seeking woman, refused to allow an autopsy on his body. Many still believe that she poisoned her husband to avert guilt being placed upon him.

Vanished! Helen Brach was a wealthy woman. One day she traveled from a hotel in Minnesota to her home in Glenview, Illinois. Her caretaker, Jack Matlick, reports that he picked Mrs. Brach up at the airport in Chicago and brought her to her home. She remained there for four days before catching a flight to Florida. He is the last person to claim to have seen Mrs. Brach – no one else saw her during the time that he claims she was at home. After her disappearance, the police investigation discovered that Mrs. Brach had written several large checks out to Matlick; but when examined, the signatures proved to be forgeries. Was Matlick responsible for Mrs. Brach’s disappearance?

Death of a Big Shot. Sam Giancana ruled the Mafia in Chicago before being imprisoned in 1965. When he was released in 1966, he found that his power was gone – he had been replaced on the syndicate – no one was afraid of him now. But when the government offered Giancana immunity in exchange for revealing all he knew, the gangsters began to get uncomfortable. The only solution was to get rid of Giancana…

“Remember the Maine!In 1898, the American battleship, Maine, exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. While the cause of the explosion was unclear, it was clear enough to send America into a war with Spain. But experts still wonder – was the explosion of the Maine accidental or purposeful?

Who Killed Karyn Kupcinet? Karyn Kupcinet was an actress; sweet, happy, and definitely not of a suicidal bent. But when she was discovered, dead, in her apartment, there were no signs of a struggle. Therefore, either it was suicide, or her murderer was someone she knew…

Discussion.

As a lover of mysteries, I knew I was going to love this book. And did I? Yes and no. I love the idea of real-life mysteries – real people, real actions – instead of entirely fictional ones. However, in this case, they were unsolved. Yes, that was obvious from the title. No, I didn’t fully realize what that would mean.

For some people, the lack of resolution would fire their imagination, which would thence race at once to seventeen different possible conclusions. (I’m looking at you, Sherlock.) But for me, it just left me feeling a bit unfulfilled. There’s no possible way I can solve the mysteries – experts have tried and failed, I’d have to wade through pages and pages of evidence, conjectures, reports, et cetera, and in the end, I don’t think I’d be smart enough to come up with a theory to fit the facts. However, children love this pursuit of the unknown.

Of the nine mysteries, only two really captured my attention – Murder at Random and Vanished! I would love to do more reading about these two cases.

Cautions.

In the Bruce Lee case, a film is described in which “a murdered rock star, through supernatural power, takes the form of a bird to avenge his girlfriend’s death and his own.” [pg. 25]

In Vanished, it is mentioned that Helen Brach was interested in “automatic writing” – communication with the spirit world.

In Movie Star Mystery, it is mentioned that Natalie dated several famous men and was divorced.

The words ‘hell’ and ‘God’ are each used once. These are in quotations from the actual cases, not inserted by Mr. Sullivan.

Conclusion. Interesting – conspiracy / mystery oriented children will enjoy it.

… If You Lived at the Time of the Great San Francisco Earthquake

Title: …If You Lived at the Time of the Great San Francisco Earthquake
Author: Ellen Levine
Illustrator: Pat Grant Porter
Pages: 64
Recommended Ages: 8 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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The If You… series.

Q & A.

What did San Francisco look like after the earthquake?

Everything was a mess! There were cracks in the streets that looked like giant zigzags. If you stood in one, it might be as high as your waist.

Telephone and electric wires had snapped and were hanging down from the poles. Cable car tracks that were in the ground were suddenly sticking up like huge, bent paper clips. And trolley car tracks lay twisted in the street.

Some trees had been pulled up by the roots. Branches were cracked and scattered around.

Chimneys had broken off rooftops throughout the city. Some chimneys had fallen inside homes; others were lying in the streets. In parts of the city, whole buildings had collapsed.

Walls of the new city hall building had fallen down. The dome was left standing on top of steel pillars. It had been the largest building in the state of California. After the earthquake, it looked like a skeleton.

The front wall of one hotel fell off completely, and the bedrooms looked like rooms in a doll’s house. Can you imagine sitting in your bed and looking outat the street – with no windows in between!

Some buildings that were three or four stories high sank almost all the way into cracks in the ground. One nine-year-old girl remembered that her father took her out of their hosue through the attic window right onto the street.

Houses moved forward, backward, or sideways. If you went to bed on April 17th on one side of the street, you might have gotten up on April 18th across the street.

After the quake, one man climbed to the top of a hill and looked down on the city. From up high, people in the streets looked as if they were “running about like… excited insects.” [pg. 7-8]

Were any babies born during the disaster?

Yes. One man wrote to his relatives outside of San Francisco. He said that more than thirty babies were born in Golden Gate Park on the very day of the earthquake. A newspaper reported that triplets were born in a tent. And every day during the week after the quake there were stories about more births.

Babies were born in the streets, in the parks, in doorways, and just about any place you can think of except hospitals. [pg. 48]

Where would you live if your house was destroyed?

In the first days after the earthquake, more than half of all the people in San Francisco had to sleep outdoors. The quake and fires had ruined their homes.

Many went to the parks around the city, spread their blankets, and slept outdoors on the ground. Some people made tents. They tied ropes between poles and hung rugs, blankets, sheets, or even tablecloths over them.

Refugees are people who leave their homes because it’s not safe to stay there any longer. They find new places to live. After the earthquake and fires, the homeless people of San Francisco were called refugees. Many stayed in camps that were set up in the parks all around the city.

At first, most of the refugees lived in homemade tents. But then President Theodore Roosevelt and the United States Army Commander in Washington, D. C., ordered Army forts all around the country to ship tents and blankets to San Francisco.

The Army also built barracks for some of the refugees. These were large wooden buildings that had a number of small apartments in them. In the fall, in became too cold and rainy to stay in tents. And there were not enough barrack apartments for everyone who had lost a home. So the city built little cottages, which were called refugee shacks. The smallest had only one room, and the biggest had three rooms. The shacks were painted green and were lined up in rows in the parks.

The city let you keep the shack if you would move it out of the camp. You had to get the shack lifted up and wheels put underneath. Then horses or mules would pull it away. By the summer of 1907, more than a year after the great earthquake, many people began to move their shacks. Everywhere you went, you saw little green houses traveling up and down the streets.

People moved their shacks to small plots of land that they bought or rented. They set the houses down and sometimes painted them, or added porches. Some people even put two shacks together to make bigger houses. A few of these old refugee shacks are standing today, and people are still living in them.

But there was housing even more unusual than tents or barracks or shacks. Cable cars!

The earthquake had broken the cable car tracks. They had to be fixed before the cars would run again. The cable car company moved its cars to an empty lot, and the refugees moved in. Your family might have set up house in an empty cable car. The platforms in front and in back of the cars were perfect as porches. [pgs. 36-39]

Could you mail a letter after the earthquake?

The post office was one of the few buildings in the center of San Francisco that was still standing after the earthquake and fire. Ten brave post office workers fought off the fires day and night, and by April 10th, they were ready to send out the mail again.

There was only one problem. Almost no one had paper or envelopes or stamps. But that didn’t stop anybody.

People wrote messages on the collars or cuffs of their shirts and blouses. They wrote on pieces of wood, scraps of newspaper, pages of books, and pieces of wrapping paper. So long as you had written down the correct address, the post office would send whatever you had written. You didn’t even need a stamp. [pg. 52]

Conclusion. Entirely worthwhile and very helpful. Could be read in conjunction with Earthquake! and The Earth Dragon Awakes.

 

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?

Discussion.

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.

…If You Lived in Williamsburg in Colonial Days

Title: …If You Lived in Williamsburg in Colonial Days
Author: Barbara Brenner
Illustrator: Jenny Williams
Pages: 79
Recommended Ages: 8 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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The If You series.

Q & A.

How did people pay for what they bought?

In colonial Virginia, you could pay for goods with coins. The coins had been made in other countries and were brought to Williamsburg by merchants and traders. The most common coins were Spanish silver.

The value of the money was based on the English system. Merchants weighed foreign coins to figure out their value in pence (d), shillings (s), and pounds (L). To make change, they would cut up a coin.

A pound in any form was a great deal of money. It was several weeks’ pay for many people. If you were lucky, your parents might give you a few pence to spend at the market. You could but a pencil for 3.25 pence or a pack of playing cards for 7.5 pence. But a pound of chocolate would have been beyond your budget at two shillings and sixpence (2/6).

The most common way grown-ups made a big purchase, such as a horse, was by using a tobacco certificate. A tobacco certificate was something like a check. But instead of being backed by a certain amount of money in a warehouse. You could buy a horse, a wagon, or a whole set of furniture with a tobacco certificate.

You could also trade, or barter, instead of using money. If you were selling corn and you wanted to buy a rooster, for example, you might give so many bushels of corn for the rooster. [pgs. 12-13]

Did children have storybooks to read?

There were no lending libraries in Williamsburg in 1770. Your parents could order books from England or buy them at the Printing Office on Duke of Gloucester Street. A Bible was the only book some families owned, although others had books for both children and adults.

In addition to nursery rhymes, you might have read classic English children’s stories such as Jack the Giant Killer. As you got older, you would have graduated to popular novels – Gulliver’s Travels and The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. [pg. 49]

What kind of clothes did men and boys wear?

Baby boys and girls of colonial Williamsburg wer dressed almost alike, in a long gown (dress), a shift (a nightgownlike garment), or a shirt. Early on, parents began to train their children to stand up straight. As a toddler, you would have been put into stays, a kind of cloth brace stiffened with whalebone, which would keep your back straight and give you good posture.

When a boy was about four years old, he was breeched. He graduated from babyhood to boyhood by getting his first pair of breeches, pants that came down just over the knees, the way mens’s beeches did. The stays came off, and the boy dressed like a smaller version of his father. [pg. 16]

What was an apprentice?

Being an apprentice was a kind of work-study program. In colonial times, a boy was sent to work without pay for a tradesman – a carpenter or printer, for example. In return, the man taught the boy his trade.

The apprentice lived with his master for as long as seven years. At the end of that time, he was considered a journeyman. He could now get a paying job with another master or go into partnership with the man who had trained him. [pg. 61]

Discussion.

I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but I appreciated a choice of words that Ms. Brenner made. Instead of referring to those in slavery merely as ‘slaves’, she called them ‘enslaved people’. I thought this really emphasized the active nature of slavery – the state of being enslaved – as opposed to the more passive ‘slaves’.

Another very clever choice on the part of Ms. Brenner was to place historic jingles under questions concerning the same topic. For example, underneath the question concerning the duties/occupations of women in colonial Williamsburg was the rhyme –

My Maid Mary, she minds the dairy,

While I go a-hoeing and mowing each morn;

Gaily run the reel and the little spinning wheel,

While I am singing and mowing my corn. [pg. 62]

One question reads,

What happened when a child misbehaved?

A great many parents of the eighteenth century still believed in paddling, spanking, and whipping with a cane. [pg. 69]

While this is true at face value, it makes the practice of corporal punishment sound old-fashioned and obsolete.

One question mentions a few superstitious cures.

Conclusion. Wonderful. A great addition to any study of Colonial American.

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.

 

Can It Rain Cats and Dogs?

Title: Can It Rain Cats and Dogs?
Author: Melvin & Gilda Berger
Pages: 48
Recommended Ages: 9 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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I debated with myself before purchasing this book. Is weather really all that interesting to children? Will the book be filled with stuffy language that might turn children off? In the end I decided to chance the $ .35. I’m super glad I did!

I’ve never been a weather person. My dad can talk for hours about the formation of a hurricane out in the Gulf and areas of ‘low pressure’ or ‘high pressure’. He just loves it. I, on the other hand, only check the weather in order to plan for a vacation – i.e., should I be prepared for temperature in the thirties or the nineties?

But this not-all-about-the-weather person found Can It Rain Cats and Dogs (a very all-about-the-weather-book) to be fascinating. The basic ideas of how our planet functions were explained in easy to understand language but without silliness. Here are a few examples of what was discussed in this book.

Q&As.

What makes the tropics hotter than the polar regions?

The direction of the sun’s rays. The sun shines straight down on the tropics. The rays are very strong, making it very hot.

The rays from the sun strike the polar regions at a sharp angle. This spreads the rays out over a large area. It brings less warmth to the North and South Poles, leaving them very chilly, indeed. [pg. 6]

What is the hottest place on Earth?

The town of Al’Aziziyah, Libya. On September 13, 1922, the temperature in the shade reached a scorching 136 degrees Fahrenheit (58 C)!

The record in the United States is held by Death Valley, California. The temperature there has reached 134 Fahrenheit. Every summer there is a race in Death Valley. But the ground is so hot that it sometimes melts the soles of the runners’ sneakers. [pg. 10]

What is the coldest place on Earth?

Vostok in Antarctica. On July 21, 1983, the temperature hit a bone-chilling -128.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

The lowest temperature in the United States, -80 degrees Fahrenheit, was recorded in Prospect Creek, Alaska. Boil a pot of water in Prospect Creek and fling it into the air. You’ll see the water turn instantly into ice! [pg. 11]

Which animals are “living barometers”?

Frogs. They can feel a drop in air pressure. As air pressure falls they croak more. A study in China shows that frogs are very accurate in sensing oncoming low pressure. So, if you hear frogs making more noise than usual, pack an umbrella! [pg. 15]

Can you smell rain?

Sometimes. Plants always give off a certain oil. When rain is coming, there is a drop in air pressure, and the air picks up a trace of the oil’s odor. One sniff and you may be able to tell that rain is on the way. [pg. 29]

Is snow always white?

No. Red snow fell in Switzerland in October 1755. The color came from red sand that blew over from the Sahara Desert. In January 1925, a layer of gray snow covered parts of Japan. It was probably colored gray by dust from an erupting volcano. [pg. 30]

How often does lightning occur?

At this moment, meteorologists are tracking nearly 2,000 lightning storms around the world! These storms are hurling about 100 bolts of lightning toward Earth every second.

The city of Bogor, Java, holds the record for most lightning. It has lightning almost 9 out of every 10 days! [pg. 34]

Does lightning ever strike twice in the same place?

Definitely. The Empire State Building may be hit as many as 12 times in just one 20- minute thunderstorm! It is struck up to 500 times a year. But no harm is done. The building has lightning rods that carry the electricity safely to the ground. [pg. 37]

What was the most amazing escape from a tornado?

The escape of 12 children in China. On May 29, 1986, the children were on their way to school. As they walked along, a tornado sucked them up and carried them 12 miles (19 km) through the air. But then it gently dropped them down onto some nice, soft sand dunes. No one was hurt! [pg. 42]

Did you know?

Prevailing westerlies [a certain kind of wind] also speed up airplanes. It takes a half hour less to fly from New York to London (with the wind pushing) than to fly back (against the wind)! [pg. 18]

Your sense of smell is sharpest when the air is moist. [pg. 29]

The most costly hurricane to hit the United States was Hurricane Andrew. It roared across Florida and Louisiana in August 1992. Among its effects were 76 dead, 258,000 homeless, and $47 billion in damage. [pg. 39]

“Humid air is better to breathe because it moistens the linings of your nose and throat. The moist linings help to fight off germs that cause colds and sore throats.” [pg. 25]

Cautions.

On one page there are a few Q&As about global warming. Here they are.

Is Earth’s climate changing?

Yes. It is always changing – but very slowly. Over the last 100 years the temperature has gone up abut 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 C). Experts fear that the atmosphere may warm another few degrees in the twenty-first century. They call this global warming.

A few degrees may not seem like much of a change. But even a slight rise in temperature can increase rainfall, heat ocean waters, and melt polar ice. Over many years, global warming could force farmers throughout the world to grow different crops. And rising sea levels could flood the world’s coasts.

What is the chief cause of global warming?

Widespread burning of such fuels as oil, coal, and wood. This adds vast amounts of carbon dioxide gas to the air. The carbon dioxide traps Earth’s heat, which warms the surface and the atmosphere. Global warming is also called the greenhouse effect.

How can you slow down global warming?

Cut back on activities that require the burning of fuels. Walk or bike short distances instead of depending on car rides. Turn off lights when not in use to save electricity. And in the winter, dress warmly indoors so you can keep your house at a lower temperature and burn less fuel for heating. [pg. 12]

This page could be glued to the one next to it (which is a picture), or you could use this opportunity to talk to your children about stewarding – not worshipping – the earth.

In the section about meteors and volcanoes, the question is asked

How can a large meteor affect the weather?

A big meteor smashing into Earth can send gigantic amounts of dust in the air. The results can be the same as an erupting volcano.

Many people believe that a giant meteor crashed into Earth about 65 million years ago. The impact changed the climate so much that it led to the extinction of the dinosaurs! [pg. 45]

It’s true. Many people do believe that. Another fine opportunity for instruction!

One page mentions something about the “imaginary character who is said to cover things with a thin layer of ice”, Jack Frost.

Conclusion. A fun, interestingly informative book. Your weather-minded children will love it!

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…

Praises.

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]

Cautions.

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?

Discussion.

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.

Cautions.

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.

…If You Grew Up With Abraham Lincoln

Title: If You Grew Up With Abraham Lincoln
Author: Ann McGovern
Illustrator: Brinton Turkle
Pages: 79
Recommended Ages: 9 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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…If You Grew Up With Abraham Lincoln, written by Ann McGovern, is unique. It reads neither like a biography nor a pure history – rather, it is a cross between both. Many of the questions dealt specifically with Lincoln while others concerned the general period of history in which he lived.

Q & A.

What kind of clothes did people wear on the frontier?

People on the frontier did not wear fancy clothes. All the clothes were made at home.

Men hunted deer and used the deerskins to make pants and jackets and shoes. They called the deerskin buckskin.

Buckskin breeches were fine – unless you got caught in the rain. Then the breeches would shrink. As they dried, the breeches would get tighter and tighter around your legs. Abe had a blue mark on each leg all his life, from wearing buckskin breeches that shrank after a rain. [pgs. 17-18]

What kind of school would you go to?

You would go to a blab school! The schools were called blab schools because everyone blabbed – that is, everyone said his lessons out loud at the same time. That is how the teacher could tell if each pupil was doing his work.

You might live miles away from a schoolhouse. When he lived in Indiana, Abe Lincoln had to walk about four miles though the woods to get to school. [pg. 33-34]

How would you send a letter?

If you wanted to send a letter, you would give it to the postmaster. Abe Lincoln was postmaster of New Salem for three years.

You would write your letter on a sheet of paper.

There were no envelopes. So you would fold the paper and seal the folds with hot sealing wax. You wrote the address on the outside. There were no stamps either. In the upper right-hand corner, the postmaster wrote down how much it would cost to send the letter. But you wouldn’t pay to send the letter. The person who got the letter paid for it. The farther away he lived, the more he had to pay.

If you wrote a letter on one sheet of paper to a friend who lived thirty miles away, your friend would have to pay six cents. But if you used two sheets of paper, your friend would have to pay twice as much. So people tried to crowd everything onto one sheet of people. [pgs. 55-56]

Cautions.

Lincoln is treated neither as a villainous ogre nor the savior of the world. He is depicted simply as a person who existed and whose life is worth recording. I found this “neutral” position acceptable, but then I am not a die-hard Lincoln hater…

One answer mentions the practice at corn husking events of exchanging a red ear for a kiss.

In the answer to one of the questions, Abe jokes about one of his father’s prayers.

One answer discusses the local beliefs and superstitious healing practices.

One answer mentions The Arabian Nights and its magical stories.

Conclusion. Helpful study of the life and times of Abraham Lincoln.

Wanted Dead or Alive

Title: Wanted Dead or Alive
Author: Ann McGovern
Pages: 62
Recommended Ages: 8-12
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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I’ve already overviewed Harriet Tubman’s life in my review of Harriet Tubman, so I will not here enter into another account. I will only note that Harriet Tubman was written for an older audience than “Wanted Dead or Alive” and thus includes more details of Harriet’s life. “Wanted Dead or Alive” also barely touched on Harriet’s life after the war but focuses more on her exciting exploits during it.

Discussion.

Instead of glossing over Harriet’s deep religious sense, Ms. McGovern depicts Harriet as praying and praising God in several different instances.

Lies are told to save lives.

Conclusion. A solid account that will fire your children’s imaginations and give them a greater interest in the effort to end slavery.