Book Review: The Ruins of Gorlan

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 1.11.13 PMThe Ruins of Gorlan is the first book in John Flanagan‘s popular Ranger’s Apprentice series. It’s an action-packed fantasy in a medieval setting.

Fifteen-year-old Will is an orphan and ward of Castle Redmont. He dreams of being a knight and hopes to be selected for Battleschool on Choosing Day. Instead, he’s apprenticed to a Ranger named Halt to learn the ways of the kingdom’s intelligence force. But before he can finish his training, he and his master are called on to defend the kingdom from the dreaded Kalkara.

I read this book aloud to Blaine many years ago. I remembered enjoying the scenes in which Will learns to use a bow and to hide in plain sight, so I recently read it to Larrabee. It’s really aimed at older kids (12+), though. Blaine has read several other books in this series and in the spinoff Brotherband Chronicles.

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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.