1949 Newbery Medal: King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry

King of the Wind, by Marguerite Henry, was published in 1948 by Simon & Schuster.

When Agba, a simple horse boy in the royal stables of the Moroccan court, is selected to accompany his stallion to France he is beside himself with pride. Sham, along with five other horses, is the golden bay named for the Arabian sun, and meant to sire a stronger race of horses throughout Europe. But when Sham and Agba arrive, the king sees them as nothing more than a carthorse and his charge and sends them away. Bound by the orders of the Sultan, Agba knows he must protect the pedigree of Sham at all costs. A duty that will change the history of thoroughbred horses—forever.

Rating: 4/5

I think I’ve found the book that inspired The Black Stallion, or at least, the book most likely to have influenced it. King of the Wind reads far too similarly to Farley’s series for it to be a coincidence (unless I’m crazy and making things up, which is also possible).

King of the Wind traces the lineage of the great racehorse Man O’ War back to “The Godolphin Arabian,” the horse from Morocco that traveled all the way to England through various methods and sired swift racehorses. Besides The Black Stallion, the book also read like Black Beauty, especially in terms of all the predicaments Sham found himself in (though the book isn’t told from his perspective as in Black Beauty). It’s basically a story about how Agba, Sham’s groom, never gives up on believing that his horse will accomplish great things despite all the terrible things that happen.

It’s a beautiful book, especially with the illustrations, even though it does a lot of hand-waving some times. For example, I completely missed when Agba and Sham got to England from France, and things definitely progressed at an unrealistic rate and setting. But the book is, at its heart, a horse book, and so it can more easily get away with things like that, in my opinion.

I’m also impressed that Henry seemed to do a lot of research on this book, judging by the lists of books she gave at the end. It’s obvious that the majority of it she made up, but knowing that there’s a seed of truth in it somewhere helps make the whole book seem more meaningful somehow.

My one disgruntlement is that the marvelous horse race that’s beautifully illustrated inside the cover never happens. In fact, Sham never races at all. It’s actually a little harder to sell the title, in my opinion, if Sham never actually runs, but I mean, I suppose he lives on through his super-fast children.

King of the Wind is so reminiscent of mid-twentieth century horse stories, combining danger and adventure in the basic story of the love between a boy and his horse. It’s a great starting point to talk about differences in culture and in religion, and the frequent dismissals of Sham as being too weak/little/etc. to be a good breeding horse can certainly be related to present day topics. I just wish that horse race that was so gorgeously illustrated on the front and endplates had actually taken place because it would have been awesome.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2Bcb1Kv


Series Week IX (The Great Brain): The Great Brain Is Back

The Great Brain is Back, by John D. Fitzgerald, was published in 1995 by Dial.

Tom D. Fitzgerald—better known as The Great Brain—has turned thirteen, and pretty Polly Reagan has put a spell on him. But when it comes to swindling his younger brother J. D. and all the other kids in Adenville, Utah, Tom hasn’t changed a bit. From thinking up the slippery soap deal and the numbers game to outwitting a band of murderous outlaws, The Great Brain is at the top of his form. And one thing’s for sure: life is more exciting when he’s around!

Rating: 2/5

The Great Brain is Back was published posthumously, cobbled together from the late Fitzgerald’s writings. It is the last Great Brain book (obviously) and ends fairly well for being so—Tom goes off to high school in Pennsylvania, leaving John and Frankie bemoaning how boring it will be with him gone. It’s a good end, though in my opinion, the series ended best after book 5, when Tom reforms. The last three books weren’t anything special.

This book starts with perhaps the meanest trick Tom has ever pulled on his brother. John is occasionally at fault for falling for Tom’s cons, but the first chapter of the book details Tom maliciously and purposefully undermining his own brother. I became so irritated that I almost stopped reading, to be honest. It ends with Tom getting his just desserts, though, so that at least makes up for it, but the ending pales in comparison to the trial at the end of The Great Brain Reforms, mostly because there’s no indication that Tom will actually change.

Perhaps it’s because this was published after the author died, or perhaps it’s because even Fitzgerald was getting tired of these books, but this book (and the two before it) most prominently displays how quickly this series fell apart after having to explain away Tom’s reform. There’s no longer any lessons, no development—just story after story of Tom swindling people and mostly getting away with it. It’s always clever, occasionally heroic, and sometimes amusing, but there’s nothing connecting the stories to each other anymore. Tom has become a villain in his own series, in a way, because all the good things he does pales in comparison to the heartlessness he shows his friends and brothers.

I’ m glad I revisited this series, but now I’m glad it’s over. Tom was becoming too annoying for me to enjoy the books, and all of the lovely learning and development was tossed aside for more of the frustrating shenanigans. I would recommend to stop reading the series after book 5.

Series Rating: 3/5

Ranking (best to worst, or most favorite to least):

1. Me and My Little Brain

2. The Great Brain Reforms

3. More Adventures of the Great Brain

The Great Brain at the Academy

5. The Great Brain

6. The Great Brain Does it Again

7. The Return of the Great Brain

The Great Brain is Back

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None. 

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

You can buy this here: https://amzn.to/2Ba3Jah

Series Week IX (The Great Brain): The Great Brain Does It Again

The Great Brain Does It Again, by John D. Fitzgerald, was published in 1975 by Dial.

Here he goes again! Tom, a.k.a. the Great Brain, comes up with many more schemes, most of them concerned with earning money.

Rating: 3/5

I really don’t know how Fitzgerald keeps coming up with original stories for this series. The Great Brain Does it Again is a familiar mix of Tom the Exasperating and Tom the Helper incidents, with the Great Brain being praised just as much as he is criticized for his antics. Though there are new stories, the core of the book is the same as the others, and Tom is equal parts frustrating and brilliant, as always.

One of the best moments in this book doesn’t revolve around the Great Brain. The story of Frankie and his missing rocking horse is heartwarming and a great lesson of sacrifice and sharing. Too bad Tom makes it worse at the end, but the contrast is striking and highlights just how crass Tom can be at times. Of course, we can’t have a bad!Tom story without having a good!Tom story, like how he catches the people swindling the Indians because he does have some good morals underneath all that greed.

I do feel as if Tom gets in trouble a little more in this book than in others. His schemes rightly get called out by his father and he rightly gets punished for them. And then, there’s the great chapter at the end that details J.D.’s horror that Tom might actually be growing up and putting his swindling ways behind him, perhaps even starting to—gasp!—date girls. It’s a good reminder that the reader, in a way, is like J.D.—hating Tom’s swindles, yet thinking life is boring without them. The thought of a normal Great Brain is as strange to us as it is to J.D.

There’s only one more book in the series, and I’m looking forward to it, not only because I think it will be a little more different now that Tom is hard at work doing more responsible things, but also because it is the end of a series that has gotten a little tiring.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None. 

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

You can buy this here: https://amzn.to/2MFfgj2

Series Week IX (The Great Brain): The Return of the Great Brain

The Return of the Great Brain, by John D. Fitzgerald, was published in 1974 by Dial.

Tom Fitzgerald, alias The Great Brain, is back, struggling to stay reformed now that his friends have threatened to ostracize him if he pulls even one more swindle. But his brother J.D. knows the new Tom is too good to be true, and as a reformed Great Brain makes for a dull life, J.D. isn’t exactly unhappy—or blameless—when his brother’s money-loving heart stealthily returns to business as usual. Under the watchful eyes of parents and friends, Tom has to be craftier than ever, and indeed he is. Whether he’s cleverly pulling an out-and-out swindle so as to not be caught or solving a train robbery and murder, Tom’s Great Brain never fails.

Rating: 2/5

Six books in, the Great Brain series is starting to wear a little thin. Even Fitzgerald seems to be struggling, as The Return of the Great Brain is a little lackluster and repetitive. We have the same Tom shenanigans, the same J.D. who constantly is getting guilt-tripped by Tom and is easily tricked by him, and even some of the same sort of non-swindling events that have happened in previous books.

I will say, it was nice to see that for the most part, Tom actually does things that aren’t necessarily considered swindles. The threat from the last book of the kids refusing to talk to him is still very real. He makes lots of money, sure, but he does it honestly—minus one or two things he does that are a bit eyebrow-raising. It’s a good reminder that Tom is actually quite smart and could be very successful if he can stop conning people into giving him things.

Besides Tom’s swindles/half-swindles/games, there are a few other things that happen that once again serve as a vehicle to show off Tom’s intelligence. He helps start a school, thwart a train robbery, and saves a boy’s life. Fitzgerald does include one amusing incident that neither Tom nor any of the other boys can solve or understand: romance.

I liked the glimpse of “honest Tom” that we got in The Return of the Great Brain, but the formula is starting to get too repetitive and boring for me. I like that Fitzgerald is able to come up with new things every book, but he also reuses a lot of things, such as J.D.’s gullibleness, and is pretty repetitive in terms of writing. I’m glad there are only two books left, because I don’t want to get as tired of this series as I did another repetitive series (Redwall).

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None. 

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

You can buy this here: https://amzn.to/2M7ihwl

Series Week IX (The Great Brain): The Great Brain Reforms

The Great Brain Reforms, by John D. Fitzgerald, was published in 1973 by Dial.

The year is 1898, and the best con man in Adenville, Utah, is the infamous twelve-year-old Tom Fitzgerald, “The Great Brain.” A year at the Catholic Academy for Boys certainly hasn’t dulled Tom’s love for money—he’s no sooner off the train than he begins scamming his own brother! By the end of his summer break, Tom has tricked all his friends out of everything they own. He even outwits three professional crooks who come to swindle the whole town. Tom thinks he should be the most popular kid around: He has all the good toys, and he’s saved his townspeople. Tom really begins to rake in the dough when he sets up business as a raftsman. But when he endears the lives of two friends, his brother J.D. decides it’s time for the Great Brain to reform. And that’s how the case of The Kids of Adenvillev s. The Great Brain is tried in the Fitzgeralds’ barn one summer day.

Rating: 4/5

My favorite Great Brain books are the ones where Tom gets a little slap of reality. It’s good fun to see the way he tricks and connives his brothers and friends out of their belongings, but there’s a sort of bittersweet feeling that comes along with it, too. There’s lots of good fun in The Great Brain Reforms, and lots of that bittersweet/aggravated feeling when J.D. continuously falls for his brother’s shenanigans, or Tom sweettalks his way out of trouble. But, as the title promises, there’s also moments where Tom realizes that he’s taken things too far.

The Great Brain has had times in previous books where his schemes have failed him. There’s the moment in More Adventures of the Great Brain where Tom insults the town through his newspaper, and later cries alone in the barn. In The Great Brain at the Academy, Tom is put in his place several times by the priests at school. In The Great Brain Reforms, two whole chapters are dedicated to Tom’s downfall.

Fitzgerald illustrates in this book, to an extent that he never reaches in the previous books, the cost of Tom’s greed, and once again shows the difference between Tom using his brain to help others and Tom using his brain to fill his wallet. Tom is faced with what his actions have cost him—the loss of his friends, the disappointment of his family, and a terrible reputation.

There’s a lot of nuance in this book, and a lot of buildup—Tom slowly gets more and more reckless and greedy in his endeavors. He’s at his most outrageous in this book—and yet, there are moments when normal, brotherly Tom shines through. The ending is inevitable, and there’s a sense of satisfaction to it, even as J.D. reminds us that Tom is the Great Brain, after all, and he’s not likely to reform for long.

The Great Brain Reforms has many aggravating Tom moments, but Fitzgerald is much harsher on Tom in this book than in previous books, as fits the results of his conniving. Tom at last comes face-to-face with the results of his own greed, and it’s satisfying even as the reader feels slightly sorry for Tom. I’d say this is one of the best Great Brain books in terms of displaying consequences, and also in terms of showcasing the difference between when Tom helps people and when he’s just being greedy.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None. 

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

You can buy this here: https://www.amazon.com/Great-Brain-Reforms-John-Fitzgerald/dp/0440448417

Series Week IX (The Great Brain): The Great Brain at the Academy

The Great Brain at the Academy, by John D. Fitzgerald, was published in 1972 by Dial.

Everyone knew that Tom Fitzgerald, alias the Great Brain, would get into trouble when he went off to school at the strict Catholic Academy for Boys in Salt Lake City. But no one—including Tom—knew just how much. His tongue got him into fifteen demerits’ worth of difficulty the very first day, but his great brain refused to be defeated as Tom set out to outwit the eighth grade, the superintendent, and finally the bishop of the state of Utah. Whether it’s running an illegal candy store or earning a reputation as the fastest potato peeler in the world or introducing the newfangled sport of basketball at the academy, Tom’s great brain never falters. And his money-making schemes rise to new heights—or depths—faced with the challenge of rigorous boarding-school life.

Rating: 3/5

The Great Brain at the Academy is the first time we see Tom without the filter or perspective of John, the narrator. John is still narrating (and is dramatic as ever, bless him), but it’s more of a “here’s what happened to Tom at school,” so most of the book is really third-person from Tom’s point of view. And boy, without that filter, it’s a little hard to handle Tom in all his Great Brain glory.

Tom continues to swindle/trick/outsmart his peers out of their money in this installment, and though there’s some moments of maturity, for the most part Tom continues to be as arrogant as ever about his shrewdness. I do like how Fitzgerald has never portrayed the adults as inept or foolish, and how even when Tom pulls the wool over their eyes, there’s always a moment when he goes too far and the adults step in and prove why Tom’s still a kid. That happens here, too, kinda, though it’s shrouded by Tom pretty much saving his school with some quick thinking and clever wordplay.

 This is one of the Great Brain books I remember the most, though after this read, I’m not sure I like it as much as I remember. Tom is just a little too much for me to handle by himself, and there’s also a point in the novel where I realized that Fitzgerald had made several mistakes—like placing Rory, the eighth-grader, in the seventh-grade dormitory. There’s also a bit too much of Tom being smug and not enough of him being (rightly) scolded for his actions, though at least he gets caught enough times that it evens out slightly in the end. I like these books, but I can only take so much of Tom’s antics.

The Great Brain at the Academy is a good look at what sort of things Tom would get up to at school, though without the usual narrator to be alongside of him, Tom seems even more smug than usual. There’s a good balance of tricks that work versus tricks that don’t, and some glimmers of maturity showing themselves in Tom, though some of his biggest tricks are never found out. I do like how Fitzgerald points out the difference between Tom using his great brain to help people and using it to help get him money, since that distinction is even clearer in this story. Tom is at his best when he’s being selfless, and at his most annoying when he’s not—a good message, perhaps, but it sometimes doesn’t make for a very enjoyable, or evenly paced, read.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None. 

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

You can buy this here: https://amzn.to/2Ok6lnm

Series Week IX (The Great Brain): Me and My Little Brain

Me and my Little Brain, by John D. Fitzgerald, was published in 1971 by Puffin.

Tom, a.k.a. The Great Brain, has gone off to attend boarding school in Salt Lake City, leaving little brother J. D. to follow in his ingenious and conniving footsteps. Since all of J. D.’s attempts at profitable endeavors fail miserably, he soon realizes that he just doesn’t have that crafty Great Brain knack. But when his young adopted brother is kidnapped by a desperate outlaw, J. D. finds that his little brain may not be so ordinary after all.

Rating: 4/5

Me and My Little Brain (which drives me crazy since it should be My Little Brain and I) is a much-needed addition to the Great Brain series. It dials back on Tom, since he’s off to boarding school, and focuses on the narrator, J.D., as he tries to figure out who he is apart from his brother.

The first couple of chapters deal with J.D. as he tries to follow in his brother’s footsteps—and soon finds out that trying to be like someone else doesn’t work out the way you want it to. The rest of the book deals with J.D. figuring out who he is and coming to terms with the fact that he only has a “little” brain.

The plot mainly revolves around Frankie, a young boy who the Fitzgeralds ultimately adopt, and his relationship with J.D. Then, of course, there’s a part at the end where J.D. really gets to show off all his “little brain” can do—and also give himself confidence in his own abilities, and make him realize that he can be his own person and that he doesn’t revolve around Tom and Tom’s escapades.

It’s a very refreshing entry in the Great Brain series, especially if you find Tom’s cons in the first two books tiring or annoying. There’s very little “Great Brain” exploits in this book, and it deals much more with character development than the first two books as well. It’s far-fetched at times, but the whole series is that way, and it fits with the nature of the books as a whole.

Me and My Little Brain focuses the spotlight on J.D. and is all the better for it. J.D. really comes into his own, and his journey is realistic—his struggle to be like Tom, his disappointment when he finds out he can’t be, and then his realization at the end when he understands that even though he may just have a “little brain,” he can still accomplish great things and reap priceless benefits for doing so. It’s a good break from the cons of Tom, and a defining character moment for J.D. It may not be as fun as reading a book about Tom’s tricks, but it has much more substance to it.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None. 

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

You can buy this here: https://amzn.to/2OYlWKK

A Daring Venture by Elizabeth Camden

Disclaimer: A Daring Venture, by Elizabeth Camden, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

My rating: 4/5

I really like Elizabeth Camden. She has a knack for making compelling stories with characters that don’t fit the same old outline of the majority of other Christian historical romances. She also tends to have strong stories that aren’t pushed to the side for the romance. This story is about the battle to chlorinate water—a true story—and deliver clean water so that water-borne diseases, such as cholera, aren’t as frequent. The two main characters, Rosalind and Nick, do have a sort of insta-love, which I never really like, but Camden made it super cute and emphasized aspects of it that made me actually like it this time.

I also liked that the romance was void of a lot of tired tropes. That may also have contributed to my liking of it, since it seemed so new in comparison to the past books I’ve read. And I liked that Rosalind and Nick got to shine as characters, rather than as vehicles for romance. The characterization was really good, though Nick’s turn-around in terms of his view of chlorination was abrupt. And I liked all the court intrigue and the drama that revolved around the plot, though some of it was a little too over-the-top, such as pretty much everything that went on with Aunt Margaret.

This book is the second in a series, but luckily it’s not necessary to have read the first (I didn’t). It would have led to much greater insight into two of the characters, as well as Nick’s background, but overall it wasn’t too bad to fill in the blanks with what Camden gave.

A Daring Venture had a compelling plot, a romance that was sweet (and not annoying, so it gets bonus points from me), and solid characterization. A few elements were a miss for me, such as some of the more dramatic moments and Nick’s abrupt change of mind, but overall, I really enjoyed this book.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here: https://amzn.to/2MsuGac

Series Week IX (The Great Brain): More Adventures of the Great Brain

More Adventures of the Great Brain, by John D. Fitzgerald, was published in 1969 by Puffin.

Has Tom Fitzgerald, a.k.a. the Great Brain, given up his con-artist ways for a bicycle? Not for long. Soon the Great Brain is back to his old tricks, swindling and trading, even convicing the whole town there’s a prehistoric monster on the loose. The citizens of Adenville, Utah, can count on the Great Brain’s genius, from finding the ghost of Silverlode to helping Britches Dotty act like a lady. Then someone robs the bank, and even the police are stumped. Can the Great Brain solve the crime and put the crooks behind bars?

Rating: 4/5

More Adventures of the Great Brain brings back the outrageous schemes of Tom, narrated by the ever-innocent, completely gullible JD. While the first book dwelt more on Tom’s swindling of kids, as well as some of his stunts that involved adults, this second book focuses a little more on the times when Tom falters.

It’s good that Fitzgerald knocks his hero down a peg or two at times, because otherwise Tom’s antics would be unbearable. Someone who gets away with everything and is always outsmarting everybody else makes for not only a boring hero, but also an unrealistic story. However, Fitzgerald includes enough humble pie for Tom to eat that it makes his true successes stand out even more. His underhanded negotiation to get money out of doing a good thing for Dotty is followed by his selfless devotion to his father. The devastation Tom feels after “scooping” his father’s newspaper is followed by his heartwarming funeral arrangement of a beloved dog. Tom is more flawed, and thus more human, in this book, yet he also accomplishes some of his best moments.

I am looking forward to the book where JD comes into his own, because at the moment he is so gullible it is difficult to feel sorry for him when he falls for Tom’s tricks. He has a tendency to make things worse for himself by opening his mouth. The end of this book sets up the next, by sending Tom off to school (the book which covers that, by the way, is probably my favorite), and leaving JD feeling like he can step into his brother’s shoes easily, and you can already tell that things aren’t going to work out that way.

More Adventures of the Great Brain brings back Tom’s swindling antics, but humanizes him more than the first book, giving him failures to remind both the reader and himself that he’s still just a kid, but also heartwarming successes to show that even swindlers can do good things. In this book, Fitzgerald seems to be saying that a great brain, put to a good use, is a good thing to have, but a great brain put to bad use is damaging to everyone. It’s a theme he will repeat later on in the series, and it’s a great message to include.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None. 

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

You can buy this here: https://amzn.to/2vmqxOD

Series Week IX (The Great Brain): The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald

The Great Brain, by John D. Fitzgerald, was published in 1967 by Dial.

J. D. idolizes his older brother Tom, a.k.a. the Great Brain, a silver-tongued con man who can turn even the most unlikely situation in to a profitable one. When Papa is the first in town to install indoor plumbing, Tom thinks of a way to make money off of it. When the Jenkins boys get lost in a cave, Tom saves the day—and lines his pockets in the bargain. And when the new teacher paddles him for not being a tattletale, the Great Brain comes up with an ingenious scheme to get rid of the paddle and the teacher.

Rating: 3/5

Quick note: This may very well be the last Series Week I ever do. I’m more used to now just reviewing each book in a series as I read it, rather than waiting and publishing them all at once. Plus, these are quite difficult to do and post.

Perhaps it won’t surprise you to hear that I read The Great Brain and its sequels over and over again as a child. I’ve said that many times before about many different books. However, this may be the first book series I’ve reviewed where the reason I read the books in the first place is not because I liked the cover or the subject, but because I wanted to read whatever my brothers were reading.

My brother was the one who had three Great Brain books, and that’s how I got started on this series. I’m not sure how many times I’ve read them, to be honest—at least three, but probably closer to five or six. Like Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, these were “easy reads” for me; books I would pick up that I knew I could read fairly quickly, for the times when I was bored and had an hour to kill and didn’t know what else to do.

The Great Brain is perhaps a stronger type of historical fiction than most; I mean that in the sense that it really shows how different things were in 1896 (you’d think this would be obvious, but there is a bit of culture shock that goes on). Perhaps I noticed this because the book is so male-focused and much of the historical fiction I read is female-focused, so it was more jarring to me than some other things I’ve read.

I like the entire premise of the story: the conniving older brother who fools the kids and adults around him. Tom is an interesting character in that you both love and hate him; you love him when he does great things with his brain like saving the Jenkins’ boys and helping Andy cope with his peg leg, but you hate him when he swindles his friends and his brothers into giving him what he wants. Tom is manipulative, and J.D.’s innocence makes him an easy target, so J.D. is constantly being tricked by his brother.

Fitzgerald also manages to sneak in some sort of important theme in almost every chapter. The most sobering one is, perhaps, the chapter about Abie Glassman, which is basically a repudiation of antisemitism. It also features, however, one of the more annoying conversations J.D. has with Tom, where Tom pretty much says “everyone’s at fault except for me; he died because of people like you, J.D.” Although, knowing Tom, he may very well have been saying that to alleviate his own guilt. Who knows? The kid’s only about ten years old, after all. Kids do dumb things at age ten.

The Great Brain was a fun read, and an enjoyable reminder of me going into my brother’s room and grabbing the book from the shelf. Tom takes a little getting used to, as does the setting, but the messages are good and the story-telling itself is very strong.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

You can buy this here: https://amzn.to/2M10BTb