- Carry on Mr. Bowditch– Jean Lee Latham
This is a fictionalized biography about Nathaniel “Nat” Bowditch, a real life sailor and mathematician who published the definitive reference for seamen: The American Practical Navigator. Latham’s book depicts the boyhood and young adult life on Nat, who lived from 1773-1838. The novel ends with Nat’s fifth voyage, which occurs sometime during his early thirties. The book is written for children aged 10 to 14, though this is more an indication of readability and not the complexity of the content. I absolutely loved this novel growing up and still reread it occasionally. Nat is an inspiring character who never gives up and manages to find time to learn something useful. He learns several languages, writes several books, teaches crews improved navigation techniques, and eventually serves as a captain. Throughout the book, Nat shows how hard work and dedication can lead to great things. Latham also explores the early history of Salem and the intricacies of the sailing industry. Due to his drastic breakthroughs in navigational methods, Nat became a New England hero and is considered the founder of modern maritime navigation. Carry on Mr. Bowditch is a compelling story and a great exploration of early American history. I honestly cannot think of a single problem with this novel, it is fantastic.
Carry on Mr Bowditch, 2003, HMH Books, ISBN 9780618250745
- From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler– E. L. Konigsburg
After reading this book, I have always wanted to sneak into a museum and spend the night. As of this moment, I have yet to act on this urge. Mainly because I would get caught before closing. Anyways, this novel is about the time Claudia Kincaid and her younger brother run away. Claudia wants to live in a place that is beautiful, elegant, and comfortable. So she chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Since her younger brother Jamie has money and can help her cash-flow problem, she invites him along. Once in the museum, they become caught up in the mystery of gorgeous angel statue that the museum just purchased. Thus begins a mystery to discover the identity of the artist behind the statue. The two children demonstrate ingenuity when it comes to running away and staying hidden in the museum. Konigsburg manages to make art history quite entertaining as the tow kids experience the art firsthand. The plot is mostly realistic and gorgeously rendered. The mystery is complicated, but the voice of Mrs. Frankweiler allows the author to clarify without the narrative becoming a lecture. An unusual choice for a children’s-book narrator, 82-year-old Mrs. Frankweiler is a wonderfully witty storyteller. She even saves one delicious secret for the very end.
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler, Walker Books, 1967, 9780744583274
- Anne of Green Gables– Lucy Maud Montgomery
Anne of Green Gables is classic novel published 107 years ago, and remains one of the most refreshing and original children’s novels I have ever read. The characters are full of energy and vigor and seem to jump right off the page. This book remains a classic due to the hard to forget heroine, the irrepressible red-headed Anne Shirley. She is spunky and adventurous, though she is generally quick to learn form he mistakes and move to the next disaster. Her flare for the dramatic, both the heights of joy and the depths of despair, make her relatable and sympathetic. The book has several great messages about the importance of love, friendship, family, and ambition. Montgomery had a knack for crafting memorable characters and realistic dialogue that brings her literary world to life. The narrative is extremely readable and the pacing is great. Though younger readers may not enjoy the detailed descriptions of Prince Edward Island’s natural wonders. However, I always enjoyed reading about the landscapes, but I know not everyone enjoys reading descriptions of nature. Anne Shirley is a wonderful heroine and I wish more modern novels had similar female characters. This is the first book in a series and I recommend them all. I also highly recommend watching the 1985 mini-series adaption.
Anne of Green Gables, Signet, 2003, 9780451528827
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer–Mark Twain
Originally published in 1876, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is one of Mark Twain’s best loved novels and depicts childhood during the mid-19th century. Tom Sawyer and his friends are full of wild ideas and antics that almost always get them into trouble. The novel is an extremely enjoyable and is full of humor and suspense. However, it is important to remember that Twain was depicting a different time period. So there are some outdated and derogatory depictions of certain ethnic groups. This book has withstood the test of time, mainly because of Twain’s perceptive portrayal of adolescent boys is universal and still relevant. Tom is a realistic character who could easily exist in nearly any time period and his story is full of adventure and slapstick humor. All the action in the novel takes place in and around the fictional city of St. Petersburg, Mississippi. Huckleberry Finn and Tom run around town playing pirates, looking for treasure, painting fences, and causing a lot of mischief. Twain does an excellent job exploring the innocence of childhood and the horrors of adulthood: superstitions, murder, revenge, starvation, and slavery. One problem with the novel is that Twain decided to write a lot of the dialogue in local dialects. So some of the passages are difficult to read, but the story is worth the effort.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Penguin Classics, 2006, 9780143039563
- Where the Red Fern Grows– Wilson Rawls
This book always makes me cry, I have a soft spot for dogs. And this is one of the greatest boy and dog stories ever written. This charming novel is narrated by Billy Colman, now an adult, as he reflects back on the year he got his hunting dogs. Billy is a young boy who lives in the Ozarks of northeastern Oklahoma during the Great Depression. All he wants his a pair of hunting dogs, but his parents cannot afford to buy them. After praying for assistance, Billy spends two years working to earn and save $50.00 to buy two little puppies. With the help of his Grandfather, his prayer is answered and he get his dogs. Over the following months he trains his puppies to become the best hunting hounds in the hill. Anyways, Where the Red Fern Grows depicts a world that has since disappeared, a rural America where kids could wonder through the countryside all night in complete freedom and safety. Billy is also an excellent hero and role model for young boys. He is strong, brave, emotional, gritty, loyal, and honest. The words jump off the page and depict a mysterious and beautiful land that captures the imagination. Rawls created a beautiful snapshot of boyhood in rural America during the Great Depression. It is a classic for a reason.
Where the Red Fern Grows, Yearling, 2000, 9780375806810