scrounge: /skrounj/ informal verb: to actively seek [books] from any available source
Holes is a book that sat on my to-read pile for a long time, because I'd already seen the movie a few years back, so I wasn't as eager to read a story I'd already heard. Still, not only did I really enjoy the book, but it reminded me how much I really did enjoy the movie as well.
Even though I remembered quite a few of the details, I'd pretty much forgotten the ending, so it was nice that the story added details to what I already knew but saved some surprise for what I didn't.
Stanley Yelnats (yes, his name is a palindrome) is arrested after a freak accident makes it appear that he stole a famous baseball player's shoes. His family's life has generally been unlucky, and they blame it all on his great-grandfather who brought a curse on his family after neglecting to fulfill a promise he made to a friend.
Stanley is sent to Camp Green Lake, which was once a lake but is now a desert, and the boys at the camp are required to each dig a hole in the ground every day.
It's an odd premise, but I love how the story occasionally flashes back in time to build layers of story until things gradually begin to make sense and you start to see how different characters are interrelated -- dare I say, it's a bit like an onion. Due to the complexity, it's not surprising that the movie doesn't deviate very much from the story, and it's neat that the author wrote the screenplay as well.
Sachar doesn't waste words as he describes the odd characters and their interactions, and so the book flows quickly along. I really enjoyed the story, and now it makes me want to watch the movie again.
Scrounged From: A local flea market
Author: Louis Sachar
Content Advisory: A couple scenes involve violence -- some descriptions of death but not gratuitous.
Many girls love horses, and while I was not as intense as some (I never sought out riding lessons or anything like that), if my eventual fascination can be traced back to anything, I think it would have to be this book. King of the Wind is definitely my favorite of Marguerite Henry's many horse stories.
On the surface, it is the story of a boy and his horse, and the ups and downs (and eventual triumphs) of their journey together through several countries. But I feel that Henry has captured more than just a story here -- it feels like a legend, and Sham, while remaining a non-anthropomorphized horse, portrays a little something beyond just an animal -- he really feels like a historical figure who has since become larger than life.
I remember how much this book gripped my imagination as a girl -- I felt Agba's innocence, loneliness, and occasional despair, and felt so keenly the connection between the horse and the boy. This was aided by Wesley Dennis's superb illustrations, which capture the beauty of the horse characters throughout their many movements (if you can get a copy of this book that has the full color illustrations, do it!).
On another level, I think this book reminds us all that we are more than our "pedigrees." Sham proves himself by what he does, not by what is written down about who/where he comes from.
Scrounged From: PaperbackSwap.com
Author: Marguerite Henry
Illustrator: Wesley Dennis
Content Advisory: There are some depictions of cruelty to horses and people.
I had fairly high expectations for this book, and was not at all disappointed with The Giver after reading it as an adult. Lois Lowry's world-building is both subtle and thorough, creating a believable futuristic community in which the seemingly trouble-free lives of the inhabitants are tightly controlled. Everything seems harmonious at first glance, but there are cracks of course, and Jonas, the main character, finds that his eventual "assignment" involves learning about some of the more unpleasant aspects of life, so that those around him don't have to.
He has to decide what to do with his new-found knowledge, especially when the life of a child hangs in the balance. I found it to be a very compelling, layered story -- though I would definitely recommend it more to young adults and adults than middle grade even though it won the Newbery Medal (due to some violence and thematic elements).
It was another sixteen years before this became a series and Gathering Blue was published. I liked this one too, also for the similarly intriguing world-building (in a different location than Jonas's), but while I loved the characters and most of the story, I thought the plot was ultimately a bit anti-climactic. Still, the introductions to the characters and place are important for the rest of the series.
Next is The Messenger which is set in the same place as Gathering Blue (with a different main character), but helps to widen the scope of the series' world. This one is bleaker than the last, with a sad ending, but I still really liked it.
The last book, Son, is my favorite of the sequels (though I would recommend all of them) as it gradually ties all the threads of the different locations of the world together (and introduces a new one), with a good mix of new characters without forgetting the familiar ones. The characters show love and determination, and experience a wide range of difficulties and triumphs by the end.
Scrounged From: PaperbackSwap.com and our local flea market
Number the Stars is a book I know I read in middle school or high school, but since I couldn't remember much about it I decided to read it again, and I'm glad I did -- it's not a long story, but manages to portray a concise and moving picture of a family living in Denmark during the Nazis' "relocation" of the Jews. They may not be part of a resistance movement, but when their friends' lives are in danger, they know they must act to help them. The climax involves ten-year-old Annemarie who is faced with a task of delivering a necessary item to people who are trying to flee.
I was especially interested in the Afterword at the end which confirms that, while the families portrayed in this story are fictional, it is closely based on many events that actually happened (broadly) and inspired by brave people who did actually risk their lives (and some died) to save others. Definitely recommended.
Scrounged From: Our local flea market
Author: Lois Lowry
Content Advisory: Murders of a sister and others are mentioned, and peril and suspense while Jews are smuggled away, people encounter soldiers, etc.
The Twenty-One Balloons is one of those books that I'm glad to have read, but wish I had read when I was younger -- sometimes the magic and mystery is a bit stronger at younger ages.
I did enjoy this story that features a fair amount of absurdity, but it balanced that out by anchoring itself in an actual historical event -- the violent explosion of the volcano Krakatoa in 1883. After a ballooning accident maroons him on a seemingly deserted island, Professor Sherman is introduced to a secret society built around the volcano -- made possible due to the abundance of diamond mines about the place (also secret).
This brought back memories of Gulliver's Travels though easier to read and not nearly so strange or complicated, and also reminded me a lot of the science fiction and mystery of some Jules Verne stories. In modern times, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the movie Up was inspired by this book.
Scrounged From: A homeschool book sale
Author: William Pene du Bois
Content Advisory: There is a violent explosion and a bit of peril, but nothing too scary.