Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Wretched Stone by Chris Van Allsburg

I have always enjoyed Chris Van Allsburg's thought provoking story The Wretched Stone. The story is set on board a ship and is written as excerpts from the log of the ship's captain. (I love reading books written in diary form!) The voyage is going well until the crew discovers a mysterious island and brings an unusual rock on board. The men are captivated by the rock and quickly become obsessed with it. They stop telling stories, playing music, reading, and working. When a powerful storm hits, the captain is sure that he and the crew are doomed...that nothing can rescue them from the mysterious power of what he has come to call "the wretched stone."

Read to find out if the captain's morbid predictions are right. What do you think the wretched stone symbolizes in our lives?

Mrs. Norton

The Widow's Broom by Chris Van Allsburg

Because I am considering leading students in an author study on Chris Van Allsburg this year, I am reading as many of his books as I can find this summer. Like most of Van Allsburg's books, The Widow's Broom is a magical tale. In the story Widow Shaw discovers a witch whose broom has failed, causing her to crash land in the Widow's vegetable garden. The witch recovers and leaves during the night, abandoning her broom. The broom becomes a great help to the Widow Shaw, and she grows to love and appreciate its company. Unfortunately, after an incident with the Spivey boys (mean-spirited bullies), the neighbors become convinced that the broom is evil and that the Widow Shaw must get rid of it.

The Widow's Broom has a satisfying, surprise ending. I recommend it as a wonderful Halloween (or anytime) read.

Mrs. Norton

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

This is the story of one year in the life of 11-year-old Calpurnia (Callie Vee) Tate. Callie lives in Fentress, Texas in 1899, the last year in the century. She is the only girl in a family of six brothers. Callie is not your typical 19th century girl; she has no interest in domestic arts such as cooking and sewing. Her passion is observing and experimenting with the natural world. She dreams of going to the university one day and becoming a scientist. Unfortunately, such aspirations are almost unheard of in Callie Vee's time. The only one who really encourages her and inspires her to follow her dreams is her Granddaddy, a grumpy, fiercely independent but forward thinking Civil War veteran who shares Callie's love for science.

Once I got several chapters in, I began to enjoy this book more and more. It has several parts that made me laugh, and Callie is a very likable main character. I must admit that I found myself skipping the scientific information that begins each chapter. It was difficult to understand and tie into the story.

Kids who enjoy reading historical fiction and/or who share Callie's love for nature and science will enjoy this well-written story, which is a Newbery Honor Book. Because the book is rather long and includes occasionally challenging vocabulary, I recommend it to strong, upper elementary readers.

By Mrs. Norton