Book Review: The Inquisitor’s Tale

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 12.11.00 PMThe Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz is a seriously cool book. One of the best I’ve read this year. It was deservedly a 2017 Newbery Honor book.

Don’t let your kids be put off by the book’s subtitle: “Or, Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog.” Yes, it’s set in medieval France. And yes, the main characters are an oblate of mixed race with superhuman strength, a peasant girl who sees visions of the future, a Jewish boy with the power to heal, and a greyhound who has been resurrected from the dead. And it also has dragons, demons, knights, monks, and royalty.

This book sounds strange, but, believe me, it’s a page-turner. It’s reminiscent of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in that it’s told by a series of characters telling tales in a pub about the three children and their dog. The resulting story manages to be suspenseful, funny, and thought-provoking. And, as a bonus, it’s illustrated (or rather illuminated) by Hatem Aly.

Thank you to Larrabee, who read it first and recommended it to me, and to Grandma and Grandpa, who gave it to Larrabee for his birthday.

Book Review: Paper Wishes

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 9.52.38 AMPaper Wishes by Lois Sepahban is the story of ten-year-old Manami Tanaka, a Japanese-American girl whose family is forced to move from Bainbridge Island to the internment camp at Manzanar in the spring of 1942. Manami can’t bear to leave her dog behind, so she tries to smuggle him under her coat, but the soldiers discover him.  In the desolate prison far from home, Manami misses him desperately and loses the ability to speak.

Although this book deals with difficult topics, it is appropriate for younger elementary school readers. Events are seen through Manami’s point of view, and the story has a hopeful tone.

If you read this book with your child, I also recommend taking a look at Ansel Adams’ photographs of the internment camp at Manzanar.

Book Review: Julius Zebra

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 2.00.06 PMIf you’re looking for a zany adventure to add to your summer reading list, Larrabee recommends Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans! by Gary Northfield.

Julius is just trying to get away from the stinky watering hole and his annoying big brother when he’s captured by Roman soldiers. They take him, along with a warthog and a lion, all the way from Africa to Rome itself. Improbably, he ends up training as a gladiator to fight in the Colosseum on Emperor Hadrian’s birthday.

It’s not a short book — at CCLXVI pages. But it’s an easy read with lots of funny comic-style illustrations.

Along with the wacky cast of animal characters, the story contains nuggets of real historical information. Years later, when Larrabee studies Ancient Rome in school, he’ll probably find himself saying, “I learned that from Julius Zebra.”

P.S. Never call Julius a stripey horse. And check out his next adventure in Julius Zebra: Bundle with the Britons.

Book Review: The Detective’s Assistant

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 8.52.08 AMYou’ve probably heard of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. But did you know that it hired Kate Warne as the first female detective in the United States in 1856? And did you know that she and other Pinkerton detectives thwarted a plot to assassinate President-elect Lincoln on his way to his inauguration in 1861?

Kate Hannigan weaves these fascinating true facts into the fictional story of eleven-year-old Nell Warne in The Detective’s Assistant. 

Nell is an orphan. Her only chance of staying out of the Chicago Home for the Friendless is to make herself indispensable to her Aunt Kate, one of Mr. Pinkerton’s detectives. Luckily, Nell proves to be both clever and brave. She eagerly dons disguises and helps her aunt solve several dangerous cases. Along the way, she uses her new skills to uncover the truth about her father’s death.

The Detective’s Assistant is perfect for kids who like history and mystery.

 

Book Review: The Wild Robot

Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 1.48.19 PMThe Wild Robot is a charming tale of a robot who washes ashore on an island inhabited only by animals. Larrabee and I took turns reading it aloud to each other.

It’s an easy read with short chapters. It took us a little while to get into it, and Larrabee first pronounced it “a little weird.” But he chuckled when Roz the robot addressed the opossum politely as “Madam marsupial,” and he laughed out loud when she invited all the animals to leave their droppings in her garden. Brightbill the gosling and Chitchat the squirrel won him over. And by the time the RECOs arrived to retrieve Roz, he was riveted.

The Wild Robot is author and illustrator Peter Brown‘s first novel. It contains charming illustrations (like the one on the cover) throughout. Larrabee and I are fans of Brown’s picture books, especially My Teacher Is a Monster!

I recently wrote a craft review of this book for the Middle Grade Lunch Break blog. I hope you’ll check it out.

Book Review: Norse Mythology

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Inspired by Gaiman’s book, Larrabee made his own Mjollnir, the lightning-maker (hammer of Thor) out of cardboard.

In Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman retells the stories of Odin, Thor, Loki, and the other gods, goddesses, dwarves, and giants of the nine worlds. It’s fast-paced and funny–a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Larrabee read this book first and then lent it to me. He loved it, although he reported that “The Mead of Poets” was a little scarring for an eight year old. Especially one who’s written some bad haiku. You’ll have to read the book yourself to understand why.

I’m less familiar with the Norse myths than I am with Greek and Roman mythology, so many of these stories were new to me. I’ve encountered some of the characters in popular culture, though, including in Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants, and Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase series, and it was nice to get their full story.