The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West

July 6, 2009

trouble

It’s been awhile since I’ve had a book for nonfiction Monday, but here you go…

Celebrated author Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, comes to life in this fascinating biography.  Newbery medalist Sid Fleischman describes Twain’s child- and adulthood adventures, showing readers how Twain began his writing career and offering insight on how much of Twain’s writing was based on people he knew or experiences he had.  We are introduced to the real-life inspiration for Huckleberry Finn, learn where the celebrated jumping frog was discovered, and share his experience roughing it to the West.  The biography includes occasional photographs, drawings, and newspaper clippings to supplement Twain’s adventures.  As the book’s title (The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West) indicates, emphasis is placed on Twain’s adventures in the Wild West, but his childhood, time on the Mississippi River, and time as a husband and father are also covered at varying extents.  With so much biographical material, readers will really discover who both Samuel Clemens, the subject of the first half of the book, and Mark Twain, the subject of the second half, were.  Assisting the book to become even more interesting is Fleishman’s eloquent and witty writing that truly echoes Twain’s own.  The Trouble Begins at 8 is a great book for anyone reading Twain’s works and wanting to know more about the author.

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Sorcery & Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot

April 10, 2009

sorceryceceliaWritten in letters between two cousins, this 1987 (re-issued in 2003) book by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer is a fresh change from the typical novel style.  Throw in a setting of early 1800s England and some magical elements and the story becomes extremely interesting.  While Kate is off in London for the season, Cecelia is stuck back in the country without her.  The two describe their encounters with new friends, “odious” men, and mysterious events and soon realize their separate adventures are connected.

The story begins a little slow.  I had to start it twice after putting it down for awhile the first time, but it was great once I got into it.  Both Kate and Cecelia are relatable characters despite the time period that may be foreign to readers.  They possess a spunk that will make readers laugh and forget about the (now) strange customs of 19th Century England society.  Sorcery & Cecelia is perfect for readers who love the elements of Jane Austen but have trouble with the language of the classics.  If you like Sorcery & Cecelia, I’ve just discovered that there are two follow-ups:  The Grand Tour or The Purloined Coronation Regalia and The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After.  I’m adding them to my to-read list now!


Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little

January 5, 2009

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little is a cute story.  The nine-year-old main character has to read Stuart Little before the first day of school – the next day.  She’s carried it around with her all summer “in case of in-between” and although she loves to read, “Moxy liked to read what she wanted to read and not what someone told her to read.”  I don’t know anyone who can’t relate.  In her attempt to put off reading Stuart Little, Moxy gets sidetracked deliberately or unintentionally and ends up getting herself in trouble.

This 2007 book by Peggy Gifford is a very quick read.  That’s partly due to the extremely brief chapters – 42 chapters in only 92 pages.  Gifford clearly displays her fun writing style in each chapter title…”Chapter 5 In Which the Word ‘Consequences’ First Appears,” “Chapter 18 In Which Moxy Has the Most Brilliant Idea of Her Life,” “Chapter 34 In Which the Screen Door Slams and Dum…da dum-dum…”

I loved finding out what Moxy was going to do next.  While reading, two things came to mind that reminded me of Moxy.
1 — the book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (and sequels)
2 — the comic strip The Family Circus where son Billy went everywhere else before going home

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little is also illustrated with photographs by Valorie Fisher, which add a unique flavor.  I will definitely be reading Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank-You Notes to see what other kind of distractions Moxy finds.


Molly McGinty Has a Really Bad Day

January 3, 2009

Molly McGinty Has a Really Good Day

In this book by Gary Paulsen, Molly, a sixth grader, has a seemingly bad day.  She’s lost her notebook, which she cannot live without because it keeps her life in order; her eccentric grandmother is coming to school with her; she gets a black eye before school; etc.  Molly’s grandmother is very popular and wins over everyone at school, much to Molly’s horror.  She would must rather have her head buried in her lost notebook and let school continue the way it usually does where she is basically left alone except for the Marys, her three closest friends.

Molly endures a lot during her day, so it’s not hard to see why she’d be in a bad mood.  BUT she never started with a good one.  She sees the negative in everything.  She knows her grandmother’s coming to school is going to be a disaster, she doesn’t want to get to know the detention kids her grandmother befriends, and she would rather learn about the US government than about how government and baseball compare.  Eventually, though, after speaking with her grandmother, she quickly (perhaps too quickly?) realizes her bad day was actually really good.  We’re left assuming Molly will be less uptight from now on.

You may have done a double take when you saw the author was Gary Paulsen.  I did.  He has a forward at the beginning of the book explaining that most of his books have had boys as main characters, but since half of all stories come from girls, this story is about a girl.  Because this note was at the beginning, I couldn’t help but look for instances where Molly’s perspective didn’t seem very girl-like.  I would have prefered the note at the end, where it wouldn’t have distracted me from the story.


Clementine’s Letter

December 24, 2008

So far in Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine series there are three books:  Clementine, The Talented Clementine, and Clementine’s Letter.  I wasn’t that crazy about Clementine, but I have thoroughly enjoyed The Talented Clementine, which I read a few days ago, and Clementine’s Letter, which I finished tonight.  She is a clever, spunky, young girl, who cannot help getting into all kinds of trouble, even though most of the time her intentions are good.  The books are very funny with the various situations Clementine gets herself into.  In the latest, she has trouble at school adjusting to a substitute teacher and the idea that her regular teacher may not be there for the rest of the year.

One of the best parts of the whole series is the various nicknames Clementine uses for her baby brother.  Since she was given a food name, she thinks her brother should have one too.  Every time she refers to him, she has a new vegetable nickname:  Squash, Water Chestnut, Spinach, Scallion, Bok Choy, Cabbage, Broccoli, etc.  I’m not sure his real name is ever used in any of the books.  That’s just a taste of how amusing these books are.  I highly recommend them especially to fans of Judy Moody by Megan McDonald, another great middle reader series.


Diary of a Wimpy Kid

July 7, 2008

I had been looking forward to reading this book by Jeff Kinney for awhile because I knew it would be a quick read.  It was. I started and finished in about an hour. It’s written in the style of a “JOURNAL, not a diary.” I loved the cartoons depicting various situations. The story tells of middle schooler Greg Heffley’s year and the various problems he has, such as with friends, bullies, bad Christmas gifts, etc. As I read though, I really started to dislike Greg. He’s a jerk to his “best friend” Rowley…he’s bossy and eternally ashamed of him. I know Diary of a Wimpy Kid is really popular, so I’m interested to find out if anyone else had any problems with the “hero” of the story. Other than that, I thought it was a fun read. The cartoons are great. I may read the next one since it goes so quickly.


Judy Moody

April 22, 2008

The first book in this series by Megan McDonald begins as Judy is about to enter the third grade. She is a typical third-grader, who lives with her family in Washington, D.C. She has an annoying little brother nicknamed Stink, a best friend named Rocky, and a few classmates she would rather not talk to. Judy’s last name is Moody, which suits her as she is often in a bad mood “…or something.” Judy is sarcastic, excitable, and creative. Kids reading the books should not have a hard time identifying with her. The books are extremely fun to read. I really enjoy them. You can see a taste of McDonald’s fun writing style from the cover of the first book that says “Judy Moody was in a mood. Not a good mood. A bad mood.”

Judy Moody is an extremely fascinating and fun character to read. So far there are seven books in the Judy Moody series. Since they are short chapter books, they are perfect for transitional readers…or older ages looking for a fun, quick read.