Reviewed for THC Reviews I hadn't picked up Bridge to Terabithia since I was in fifth or sixth grade when I had to read it for a class assignment. Sinc...moreReviewed for THC Reviews I hadn't picked up Bridge to Terabithia since I was in fifth or sixth grade when I had to read it for a class assignment. Since that was nearly 30 years ago, I only had vague, fuzzy memories of the story itself and of the book being one that I had liked. I am so glad that I decided to re-read it through adult eyes, because I think I probably appreciated it even more now than I did as a kid. That may be due to me experiencing more loss in the last three decades than I had at the tender age of ten or eleven, which makes the plot resonate with me on a deeper level. As I've said in other reviews, it is rare for a book to make me really cry, but Bridge to Terabithia made my short list of ones that have. The story is a simple one of friendship, tragedy, and coping with loss, but it is layered with depth and complexity that is astonishing for its short length. Katherine Paterson writes with a stark honesty that is utterly beautiful. Her characters are very real and ordinary, yet they touched me in a profound and emotional way. None of them are perfect, but to me that made them all the more genuine in their actions and interactions. Jess' family can sometimes seem harsh, but they were there for him when it counted the most. One of my favorite scenes in the book is near the end, when Jess and his father sit on the bank of the creek and talk. When it comes right down to it, they really don't say all that much, but it was just enough to get the point across and re-establish that father/son connection that Jess had been missing.
Jess and Leslie were two kids that I could have easily been friends with when I was their age. Jess can sometimes be rather mean with his sisters and had some rude thoughts about the adults in his life, but I think even the nicest kids do from time to time. What I really liked about him is that underneath it all, it's obvious that he still cares for his sisters, especially May Belle, even though they get on his nerves, and when it comes to the adults, he still outwardly treats them with respect and is a well-behaved child both in school and at home. I also like that Jess has this hidden creative part of himself that no one but Leslie really understands which is what makes them such great friends. Leslie is kind of the oddball who isn't like the other girls in their class, but she has an empathy and understanding of the world around her that is rare in most kids of that age.
In addition to connecting with the characters as a whole, another thing that resonated with me is the teasing they endure which was much like things I experienced as well. The only thing that bothered me slightly was when the abuse of a secondary character was revealed and it seemed that the issue would probably be swept under the rug. However, given the culture and time period in which the story took place, it made sense. Jess and Leslie's imaginary kingdom of Terabithia reminded me of games that I played with cousins or friends. The rural setting also brought to mind the area in which I grew up. It was almost like experiencing my childhood all over again, yet aside from a few pop-culture references, it is really a story out of time and space that could easily take place anywhere and anytime.
I must say that I'm rather surprised that more than 30 years after its original publication, Bridge to Terabithia is still #28 on the American Library Association's Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books list of the last decade (2000-2009). I believe that one of the biggest complaints are the use of some profanities which are quite mild by today's standards. A few are uttered or thought by the kids, but most were said by the adults in their lives. I admit that as someone who had a pretty strict and sheltered upbringing, I was slightly scandalized when I first read the book as a child, but I can say without a doubt that I was completely unscathed by the experience. Now reading it as an adult, I actually felt that the “bad words” were never meant to be shocking or provocative. Instead, they seemed to be carefully placed to give meaning to the story and in my opinion, also added to the genuineness and honesty of the prose. Admittedly, the subject matter of the book could be upsetting to some kids, but if educators or parents are guiding them through the reading experience they should be fine. I would have absolutely no qualms at all about allowing my fifth grader to read it. In my opinion, there is a strong and beautiful message contained within its pages and the positives to be gained from reading it far outweigh any detractors. I would highly recommend the book to both kids and adults alike. To the best of my recollection, Bridge to Terabithia is the only book by Katherine Paterson that I have ever read, but I am greatly looking forward to exploring her other books. I guess it just goes to show that one is never too old to appreciate a good children's book.;-)(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Even though Philip Hall Likes Me. I Reckon Maybe. was a Newbery Honor Book back in 1975 (when I was a kid), for some reason, I...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Even though Philip Hall Likes Me. I Reckon Maybe. was a Newbery Honor Book back in 1975 (when I was a kid), for some reason, I had never heard of it until recently. I probably never would have found it on my own if I hadn't been introduced to Bette Greene through her wonderful young adult novel, Summer of My German Soldier. After reading that and its sequel I decided to check out Ms. Greene's other works. I'm so glad I did, because my exploration led me to this wonderful little gem of a children's book. It is a very light-hearted story that is quite different in tone from Ms. Green's young adult books, and in my opinion, showcases her versatility as an author.
Beth Lambert, the main protagonist and first-person narrator of the story, is cute as a button, smart as a whip with lots of imagination, spunky, determined, and oh, so funny. She had me almost constantly chuckling, if not laughing out loud through the entire book. I just loved reading about all of her adventures, or misadventures, as the case may be. The main focus of Beth's narration is her relationship with her best friend, Philip Hall, “the cutest boy in school.” I was positively tickled by how Philip goes from being “the sweetest boy ever,” to doing or saying something dumb which turns him into, “a dirty, rotten polecat.” Then does or says something nice that gets him back in Beth's good graces. These two also have a friendly rivalry going, each trying to one up the other to be the best or smartest at everything, as well as a bit of a battle of the sexes. It was like reading a love/hate romance between two twelve-year-olds, and it was absolutely adorable and hilarious. However, interspersed between their intellectual and verbal duels are some very sweet, tender moments that are full of heart.
There are lots of other characters too, including Beth's family who are very loving and supportive, her girl's club, The Pretty Pennies, and Philip's boy's club, The Tiger Hunters. Whether she was trying to catch turkey thieves, getting a new puppy only to find out she's allergic to it, standing up for what's right, rescuing Philip from the mountain, or raising a calf for 4-H, Beth was always in fine form. Philip Hall Likes Me. I Reckon Maybe. was a fast-paced and throughly fun read. It had just one mild profanity and other than that was a completely “clean” book that I would highly recommend to kids, parents, teachers or anyone who likes to read a good children's story. Although there doesn't appear to be an official series designation, Philip Hall Likes Me. I Reckon Maybe. is the first of three books about Beth and Philip. The other two are Get on out of Here, Philip Hall and I've Already Forgotten Your Name, Philip Hall!. With yet another winner, Bette Greene is solidifying her place on my favorite authors list, and I can't wait to read the other two books in the series.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Sounder isn't so much a story about a dog as it is the coming of age story of an African American boy in the depression era So...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Sounder isn't so much a story about a dog as it is the coming of age story of an African American boy in the depression era South. There is a beauty in the simplicity of the author's writing which imparts a great deal of meaning in a minimum of words. William H. Armstrong was definitely an author who understood the meaning of the saying, “Less is more” and put it to good use. I never thought a book in which the characters have no names could be so powerful, yet even though I didn't know what they were called and very little of what they looked like, the author made me really care about them. Though spare and unembellished, his narrative managed to convey the hardships of life for a sharecropping family during that time. Loneliness seems to be a running theme throughout a large part of the book, and I could sense the boy's feelings of isolation very deeply. It is also a story about searching for meaning in life. As the boy travels around the countryside looking for his father, he discovers his heart's desire. It is also about the unbreakable bond between a man and his dog that often transcends our mortal understanding. The way this connection was depicted near the end of the book was both joyful and heartbreaking at the same time, bringing tears to my eyes.
From a parental standpoint, I think this book has some wonderful messages to convey to kids. All of the main characters, the boy, his mother, his father, and Sounder, all showed a great deal of determination in the face of adversity. The family exhibits a strong religious faith that was rendered in a very gentle way that I enjoyed. There is also the idea that if we search long enough and work hard enough, we can accomplish what we set out to do. Although I didn't feel that there was anything particularly unsuitable for kids in the book, sensitive readers, especially animal lovers, should be aware that there are a couple of descriptive scenes involving cruelty to animals and details of injuries received by both a human character and an animal. The boy also thought about what it might be like to watch two men die, one in the way that he'd seen a bull strangled and the other in the way that he'd seen a scarecrow torn apart by the wind. It was only his thoughts though, and he never outwardly exhibited any violent tendencies. Not to mention, both men had treated him very poorly, so it was rather understandable. Lastly, there is one use of the “n” word as a racial slur, and two characters die, but of course, dying is simply a part of life.
Sounder, like many other children's classics, may be more easily appreciated by adults, but in my opinion, there is much for children to glean from it's pages, lessons that kids in our modern world need to learn but often don't. Sounder is a beautiful story that has earned a spot on my keeper shelf. I can understand why it won the Newberry Medal. It is a wonderful tale that is truly powerful in its simplicity. Although it isn't really marketed a such, Sounder is the first in a trilogy of books followed by Sour Land and The MacLeod Place. It was also made into a motion picture that received several Academy Award nominations. I'm really looking forward to reading the other books in the series and seeing the movie as well.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Summer of My German Soldier is a poignant coming-of-age story about a young Jewish girl from a small town in Arkansas who help...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Summer of My German Soldier is a poignant coming-of-age story about a young Jewish girl from a small town in Arkansas who helps an escaped German POW, an act which changes her life forever. This short young adult novel is packed with philosophical lessons on human nature that make it very difficult for me to describe, but suffice it to say that it is an amazing little book. I almost wish it had been longer, to give me more time to ponder its depths, but at the same time, it was nearly perfect at its current length. The ending, while not happy, did contain a grain of hope for Patty's future, and I couldn't help but think that it was ripe for a sequel. Imagine my delight, when I discovered that there is indeed one, Morning Is a Long Time Coming, which continues Patty's search for love and meaning in her life. In fact, I probably wouldn't have been able to give this book quite as high of a rating if it had simply ended where it did. That would have been almost cruel.
Patty is very sympathetic as the heroine and first-person narrator of the story. Simply being part of the only Jewish family in town makes her unusual, but she is also a girl with an adventurous spirit and a wild imagination for making up stories. Sometimes I didn't like the way she lied or embellished the truth, but as the story progresses, it becomes quite clear that she is absolutely starving for love and attention from parents who not only criticize and ignore her, but her father is also physically abusive. Sometimes her imagination takes her to admirable places such as dreaming about what it would be like to have her father say he loves and respects her and apologize for all the terrible things he's done to her which was heartbreaking. I thoroughly enjoyed Patty's love of books and words and how she teaches herself a new word from the dictionary every day. At first I thought it rather naïve of Patty to be helping an escaped POW whom she had only met once, but I think that she simply had an open-mindedness and an intuitive sense about the character of the people around her. In this and other ways, she often seemed much older than her mere twelve years, but some occasional careless mistakes and comments (usually brought about by that insatiable need for affection) belied her callow youth. Overall, I thought Patty was very brave to risk literally everything, possibly even her own life, to help a fellow human being in need, and most of all, she was an incredibly strong girl to survive all the hardships that were placed upon her young shoulders.
The two characters who care the most about Patty and have the most influence on her life are Anton, the POW she helps, and her family's housekeeper, Ruth. Anton is a very polite, gentle young man with a very reflective, perhaps even philosophical bent. He truly seems to care about others and had planned on becoming a doctor before the war started. No details on how he ended up in the SS army are given, and I found myself wondering if he was perhaps coerced as he definitely was not a true Nazi. Anton showed his kindness and understanding of Patty when he gave her the most precious gift of all, that of self-worth. In some ways, I wish that the reader was able to get to know Anton more, but it probably would have made later events in the story all the more harder to take. The only other person who truly understands Patty is her African-American housekeeper. Ruth is such a sweet, gentle lady who is nothing but kind and good to Patty. She is a healthy role model and a beacon of light in what would otherwise be a pretty dark world for her.
More than 35 years after its initial publication, Summer of My German Soldier can still be found in the top 100 titles on the American Library Association's list of most banned/challenged books of the past decade. The book does contain a number of mature themes: profanities are used, both a handful of mild ones as well as Patty's father taking the Lord's name in vain several times, but it does fit with his character being an extremely unhappy, violent man; Patty's father brutally abuses her on more than one occasion, but it isn't rendered in a particularly graphic way; on two occasions, Patty's father makes the incorrect assumption that she had sexual contact with a man, but again it is presented in a subtle rather than overt way; there are a number of racial slurs against blacks and Asians which would have been consistent with the time period and setting; Patty briefly wonders when her body will mature and prays to get her “womanly curves”; there are a couple of characters who smoke and the family enjoys some wine with a special dinner, which includes Patty receiving one glass of her own. While I can see how these things might be of concern to some people, I didn't feel that anything was over the top or would be wholly inappropriate for teenagers. I might have some concerns about children younger than middle-school age reading it, although not so much because of the content, but more so because there are many complex elements that might be difficult for them to comprehend. However, with a parent or educator guiding them through the reading they may be OK depending on their maturity level. In general though, I think it is a wonderful book, and it would be a shame to take it out of our youth's hands.
No matter the age of the reader, there are many positive things to be gleaned from this book's pages. There are some solid lessons in tolerance, open-mindedness, and showing care and concern for others who may be in need either physically or emotionally. There was also a wonderful message about how our differences truly don't matter when it comes to love and friendship. Summer of My German Soldier has a strong historical element. In doing some research on the author, I discovered that the story is partially autobiographical as Bette Green's life in many ways mirrored Patty's. I even learned a couple of things I didn't know about POWs being housed on U.S. soil and German U-Boats actually reaching our shores during the war. It was interesting as well how the attitudes of some people were not that much different than those of today, a sure sign that while some things may change others stay the same. Summer of My German Soldier started off a little slow, but it didn't take long for me to be hooked and wondering what would happen next. Overall, I thought it was a great little story. It's not the type that will leave the reader with warm fuzzy feelings, but it is one that can impart some deep food for thought to readers of all ages. I know I'm going to be thinking about it for a while to come. It's a definite keeper for me, and I'm eagerly looking forward to reading the sequel to see if Patty finally finds all that she's been searching for.(less)