January 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 1
Homeschoolers: Tweens Turn the Page
Historical Fiction and Classics Catch Their Fancies
Historical fiction figured large in this month’s books from Harcourt (ToyDirectory), Abrams Books, and Kidz by Dezign (ToyShow). Favorites of the tweens and their moms included the time-travel adventures in “The Golden Hour” and “Hour of the Cobra” (Abrams), and “Each Little Bird That Sings” (Harcourt), a touching story about death that helps kids understand the grieving process.
Roundtable participants were art teacher Lynn Costine, B.A., M.A.T., with Sarah (13 years), Anna (11), Emily (9) and Will (7); Susan Ledford, editor of the "Homeschool Resources Directory for S.C.," with Victoria (11), Joe (7), and Griffin (1); Julie Petoia, R.N., with Cabot Lee (12), Talia (10), Malynne (9) and Jeremiah, Jacob and Gabriel (5); Alison Shanahan with Elizabeth (14), Emily (12) and Katie (6); and Teresa Wilson, editor of “HOMES Newsletter” with Timothy (14), Andrew (11), Elise (8) and Steven (6).
Book Title: The Slumber Girls and the Mystical Dollhouse
Author: Ann Carpenter
Publisher: Kidz by Dezign
Targeted Age: 8 to 12
What it’s about: The four “Slumber Girls” find an antique key that leads them to an historically based mystery involving Queen Mary’s dollhouse in Windsor Castle.
What the moms thought: Petoia likened this book’s reading level to the American Girl series: “You have to be reading well enough to read the book, but not so old that the story is boring.” She thought the reading level was more appropriate for ages 6 to 8, but Wilson thought up to age 10 would be interested. The historical fiction content makes it a good curriculum supplement, according to Wilson.
What the children thought: “Elise (8) liked learning about dollhouses as a hobby and subsequently became interested in learning more about Queen Mary,” said Wilson. Victoria Ledford (11), who loves reading, found this book to read far too young. “Malynne (age 9) enjoyed the book,” Petoia commented.
Roundtable summary: If your market is girls ages 6 to 10, then check out this book and the company’s companion products at their website.
Book Title: Each Little Bird That Sings
Author: Deborah Wiles
Targeted Age: 8 to 12
What it’s about: Ten-year-old Comfort Snowberger finds she is not as prepared to handle death as she had previously thought.
What the moms thought: “This is a good book to read with a child experiencing the death of a loved one,” Costine said. “This poignant story blends in humor for comfort — the girls' answer to ‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ and ‘Old Yeller,’" Wilson added. “The Reader’s Chat Page and Things to Do make this a good selection for a tween girls book club!”
What the children thought: “The Reader Chat questions actually helped me to reflect upon the book,” said Victoria Ledford (11). “This book touched my heart, partly because it has situations that I can relate to.” Costine’s children liked the “interesting, funny characters.” “You feel like you really know them,” they said.
Roundtable summary: A tender coming-of-age story, “Each Little Bird That Sings” is especially appropriate for young girls who are grieving. Roundtable moms gave this book the highest score possible for wanting to read more from the same author.
Book Title: Don’t Be Shy: How to Fit In, Make Friends, and Have Fun, Even if You Weren’t Born Outgoing.
Author: Claude Clement with Melissa Daly
Illustrator: Christian Quennehen
Publisher: Abrams Books
Targeted Age: 10 to 14
What it’s about: This is a self-help manual for preteens who want to overcome shyness.
What the moms thought: Wilson noted that the way the table of contents is organized makes it easy to browse specific topics and find those most applicable to the reader’s query. “Sensitive information for young people encourages kindness and understanding,” said Costine.
What the children thought: The Costine children thought reading this book would help them talk to shy people. Wilson commented, “Some of the topics addressed, such as being clumsy or fear of making a bad impression, are fairly universal teen fears, not just for the introverted.” However, the Wilson boys, Timothy (14) and Andrew (11), found the nude figure in one illustration to be inappropriate and believed it would actually deter some people from signing up for art classes. The Shanahan children suggested adding examples from real life to the book.
Roundtable summary: Whether shy yourself or just want to better relate to shy people, most of the roundtable participants found this book to be a helpful resource.
Book Title: Cyrano
Author: Geraldine McCaughrean
Targeted Age: 12 and up
What it’s about: A re-creation of the big-nosed Cyrano and his unrequited love for the beautiful Roxanne, whom he woos on behalf of another, more handsome, man.
What the moms thought: Shanahan enjoyed the author’s comedy and irony. “While reading the classics in their original form is always preferable, [this version] is presented in an enjoyable style,” said Ledford, who believes exposure to the classics is an important part of developing cultural awareness.
What the children thought: “Elizabeth (14) enjoyed the way Cyrano talked,” said mom Shanahan. Timothy Wilson (14) gave the book a PG-13 rating for language, and suggested that the profanity be replaced. The Costine children said this was “not a sappy love story” but has “action and mystery, too.” Victoria Ledford (11) commented, “The author’s style is advanced enough that it won’t seem ‘babyish,' but not so advanced that you can’t understand it.”
Roundtable summary: The author’s style and the storyline of “Cyrano” was much enjoyed by the roundtable participants, but this retelling of a classic is for older children.
Book Title: 11,000 Years Lost
Author: Peni R. Griffin
Publisher: Abrams Books
Targeted Age: 10 and up
What it’s about: An 11-year-old girl discovers an 11,000-year-old spearhead near her home and is transported to Ice Age Texas, where she must learn to survive the “megafauna” (mammoths, scimitar cats, giant bears, etc.) as well as search for a way back to her own time and place.
What the moms thought: Teresa Wilson called this book “a history lesson in what life may have been like for ancient civilizations.” Ledford praised it for its educational and entertainment values.
What the children thought: Costine’s children (especially 9-year-old Emily) enjoyed “the time-travel theme and the combination of fantasy with real history and science,” she said. The Shanahan children liked “imagining the stone-age perspective,” noted their mom. “Emily (12) enjoyed the coincidences in the plot,” she added. Victoria Ledford (11) noted, “[Author] Griffin mixes fact with fiction just enough so that readers will be interested and learning. This book changed the way I view Clovis people and how they lived.”
Roundtable summary: Roundtable readers found “11,000 Years Lost” to be an enjoyable read and a thought-provoking history lesson.
Book Titles: The Golden Hour and its sequel The Hour of the Cobra
Author: Maiya Williams
Publisher: Abrams Books
Targeted Age: 9 to 14
What these books are about: Thirteen-year-old Rowan and his 11-year-old sister Nina hook up with homeschooled twins Xanthe and Xavier on a time-travel adventure to the French Revolution (“The Golden Hour”) and to ancient Egypt (“The Hour of the Cobra”).
What the moms thought: “I am delighted that two of the children are homeschooled, and this is presented in a positive light,” said Wilson. She found the diversity of the characters appealing. Shanahan’s favorite qualities in these books were the historical information and author Williams’ writing style.
What the children thought: Thirteen-year-old Sarah Costine enjoyed “the original storyline, and combination of fantasy (like Harry Potter and Charlie Bone) and real history,” said her mom. Andrew (11), the history buff in the Wilson home, liked the historical aspects of the plot. Brother Timothy (14) was enthralled by the time travel. The Shanahan children liked the suspense and character development. “Are there more in this series or by this author?” they asked.
Roundtable summary: Our roundtable moms gave these two books the highest scores possible for “rereading by a child,” “encouraging a child to read,” and “how much the children enjoyed reading this book.” They also rated highly its appropriateness for a homeschool curriculum.
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Writer's Bio: Susan Ledford is the writer, editor and publisher of the "Homeschool Resources Directory for S.C." She has been evaluating toys and games for TDmonthly's Roundtable reviews since 2005. She also is a homeschool veteran of seven years. Read more articles by this author
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