Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls, was published in 1961 by Delacorte.

Rating: 4/5

Starting out right from the gate with spoilers, so be warned! I always knew Where the Red Fern Grows as “the one where the kid falls on an axe and dies.” I didn’t know it was a dog book, since I never actually read the book. But I’ve heard it compared to Old Yeller, so perhaps that should have been my first clue.

My fourth-graders read Old Yeller, and I have to say, I think Where the Red Fern Grows is far superior—so it baffles me that it doesn’t have any kind of award. The book is poignant and sweet, with a determined, likable protagonist and a gritty realism that is only lightly coated in nice things.

It also presents an attitude that is far underrepresented in children’s literature today, which is, of course, the prominence of religion and its role in someone’s life. Billy prays a lot, and his family talks about God a lot, and while there are a couple of inaccuracies (“God helps those who help themselves” is not in the Bible), it helps give a realistic tone to an area and a time that would have said and done those things. And it combines the religious aspect with a more superstitious, “legends of the hills” aspect, which also makes sense for the area and the time.

Since this is a dog book, yes, it is sad, and yes, the dogs do die, but this is a story about love, first and foremost, and even the death of the dogs shows that. This book has a lot to say about purpose and meaning and why things happen and love and sacrifice, which is why I think it’s superior to Old Yeller, which doesn’t have much of that. Where the Red Fern Grows is poignant and powerful and I’m sad that I never read it sooner.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: Little Ann, one of the dogs, is called a “bitch” at one point, which is, of course, the word for a female dog.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2Wfs08a

2001 Newbery Medal: A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

A Year Down Yonder, by Richard Peck, was published in 2000 by Dial.

Rating: 4/5

A Year Down Yonder is technically a sequel, but luckily it’s not at all necessary to have read the book that comes before it—which is good because I didn’t. The book is about Mary Alice, who goes to live with her grandmother for a year during the Great Depression, due to the financial situation of her family. It’s pretty much a “city girl goes to the country” type of a book, except with less school drama. Instead, Mary Alice learns the ins and outs of the town, including all the small-town shenanigans you might expect. There’s secret family histories, women’s committee drama, and, all right, a small amount of school drama.

But the star of the show is, of course, Grandma Dowdel, who is a fierce and formidable woman. She manipulates the people around her so that she gets the results she wants, but she also shows a soft side when it comes to her family and friends. The story revolves more around her than Mary Alice, for better or for worse.

Peck manages to expertly capture the oddities and charms of small-town, country life. Though the scenarios are often outrageous, there’s an undercurrent of believability underneath them that makes them that much more appealing. Grandma Dowdel steals the show with her boots and her shotgun, though Mary Alice has her moments, too. A Year Down Yonder is a charming read, and what it lacks in memorability and depth, it more than makes up for in good, plain fun.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2LSgT0T

My Face to the Wind by Jim Murphy

My Face to the Wind: The Diary of Sarah Jane Price, a Prairie Teacher, by Jim Murphy, was published in 2001 by Scholastic.

Rating: 2/5

Dear America picks some odd topics to focus on. My Face to the Wind is about teaching school in the West. And it’s about as interesting as it sounds.

I’m sure that topic could be made interesting—Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story in These Happy Golden Years comes to mind—but the book takes way too long to get  to the actual teaching part, and there isn’t enough conflict or tension to keep things interesting. Oh, sure, Sarah Jane has some problems with her pupils, but not that much, and there’s very little of the novel actually focused on teaching. Most of the time Sarah Jane is only briefly describing what she does, while expounding on the tension at her boarding house or on brief clashes with the students.

There’s also such a strange inclusion here of a Reverend character. In the Historical Note, Murphy talks about religion, so it’s not strange to have a Reverend. What’s strange is that the Reverend’s actions are contrasted with that of the boarding house owner, Miss Kizer, and there’s an odd scene where Sarah Jane observes Miss Kizer reading her Bible and thinking and smiling, and Sarah Jane thinks, “Hmm, I wonder what she’s thinking about.” Then it never comes up again. So whatever comparison Murphy was trying to make falls a bit flat amidst all the other preachiness.

A lack of conflict in My Face to the Wind, coupled with a lack of focus on the actual teaching and weak student confrontations, makes it very boring. What saves it from a 1/5 rating is some interesting revelations about state law, hiring teachers, and other historical details. Yet, it’s still another random topic, uncompelling Dear America book to throw on the pile.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

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

1980 Newbery Medal: A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-1832 by Joan W. Blos

A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-1832, by Joan W. Blos, was published in 1979 by Atheneum.

Rating: 4/5

A Gathering of Days reminded me quite a lot of Dear America, if Dear America dedicated itself a bit more to accurate writing style and language. It’s a collection of journal entries detailing Catherine’s life at school and home, and while it’s a simple book at its heart, there’s a lot of charm and character hidden in each entry.

The book doesn’t have too much action in it; the action is developed through character rather than through plot. There’s a runaway slave, along with some abolitionist talk, a new mother and brother, and lots of school and home activities. Through it all, Catherine shares poems, little bits of her thoughts, and other things that help her shine as a character. The novel does a great job of showing how hard life was in those days and how much work everyone had to do, and it also does a great job of giving the appropriate amount of balance between religion and daily life that was in those times.

To be honest, I think I only would have given this book a 3 rating if it hadn’t been for one line towards the end of the book: “Trust, and not submission, defines obedience.” What a great theme to end the book with, and such an important one to discuss even today. While I wouldn’t say A Gathering of Days was as interesting as some of the better Dear America books I’ve read, some of the themes that Blos develops are far more profound and important.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2JdSQq8

1954 Newbery Medal: …And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold

…and now Miguel, by Joseph Krumgold, was published in 1953 by Harper.

Rating: 3/5

…and now Miguel is a bit of a ponderous, slow read, due to Miguel’s long inner monologues and descriptions,  but ultimately the book is a heartwarming tale of a boy trying to show his family that he is grown up. There’s a bit more to it than that, especially at the end, but mostly the book is about Miguel’s journey, both literally and figuratively, to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

The book is also about sheep, as Miguel’s family are sheep farmers, and boy, did I learn a lot more about sheep than I ever thought I wanted to know. Miguel explains a lot about sheep and the raising and tending of them, but of course it’s filtered through his desire to be useful to his family and to be seen as capable and grown in their eyes. There’s a great humor underlying some of the dialogue and the descriptions that might be a little hard to catch, but helped make some of the ponderous scenes a little more bearable.

I think I would have liked …and now Miguel better if it hadn’t been so unevenly balanced in tone and pace. There’s some parts at the end that are perfect, but spoiled by being dwelt on for far too long. There’s some great stuff having to do with wishes, and change, and why things work out the way they do. Miguel is left both pleased that he gets to go to the mountains at last, but also sad that it is at the expense of his brother being sent off to war. There are some great lessons to learn from this book, but it might take a while to get to them. I didn’t really enjoy reading the book due to the length and the way everything felt it was taking forever to get to the point, but I enjoyed the message behind the story and the way it communicated change in the end.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2Vq7rFy

My Family for the War by Anne C. Voorhoeve

My Family for the War, by Anne C. Voorhoeve, was published in 2012 by Dial.

Rating: 3/5

World War II remains my absolute favorite setting for historical fiction. There’s so much courage and heroism and patriotism present, even among the terrible things happenings, that’s really uplifting. I mean, it’s “The Greatest Generation” for a reason.

My Family for the War is about Ziska, a Protestant with Jewish ancestry, who leaves Germany on a kindertransport right before the outbreak of WWII and stays with a Jewish family in London, who quickly become her family. The novel chronicles the entire length of the war, separated into three sections. It’s definitely a story about family, but it’s also a story about being adrift in the world, separated from your family, your culture, and your religion, and the things people do that help you reconcile all that change.

Since this is a translated book (it was originally published in German in 2007), some of the writing is a bit clunky, a bit more like reading a report or an essay on someone’s life than an immersive novel. I am blaming the translation for this, since I have nothing else to go on. Besides the writing, my one other complaint is that the book is way too long. It starts off really interesting, but towards the middle, things start dragging on and on, and it doesn’t start picking up again until towards the end of the novel. To be honest, both the writing and the length combine to make this book 3/5 rather than 4/5, as the strength of the story was not enough to overcome those.

However, this really is a great book, and it’s an especially good WWII children’s book. It pulls no punches in the German treatment of Jews—even people who do not even claim Judaism as their religion—and Ziska’s exploration of her heritage while staying with the Shepard family is well done. I really just wish the writing had been a bit more fluid, and that things hadn’t started dragging in the middle. It would have caused My Family for the War to be more cohesive and more powerful, and less like reading a report.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2XO1Kij

Across the Puddingstone Dam by Melissa Wiley

Across the Puddingstone Dam, by Melissa Wiley, was published in 2004 by HarperTrophy. It is the sequel to The Road from Roxbury.

Rating: 4/5

Across the Puddingstone Dam, the last Charlotte Years book, is the best one. Dealing with issues of death, loss, family, change, and maturity, it’s the most serious of all four books, but there are still moments that are heartwarming and uplifting. One of those is the reunion of Martha and Duncan. The benefit of Wiley having written both the Martha Years and the Charlotte Years is that there’s no retconning or mistakes made—stories and characters and situations are true to what was revealed earlier.

This book is the last Charlotte book, but it’s also so closely related to Martha that it’s almost as if it’s a continuation of the Martha Years. We learn much more about Martha in this book than we ever did in the first three Charlotte books. Perhaps this book was written with the knowledge that HarperCollins was killing the series, so Wiley wanted to give as much information about her characters as possible. The book is still definitely about Charlotte, but there is a strong focus on Martha—even to the extent of sacrificing the characterization of Charlotte’s brothers and sisters.

I’m really not sure how historically accurate Wiley’s books are (in terms of the real-life people they depict, not the events), but if there’s one thing I can appreciate about this book, it’s the love and dedication Wiley clearly has for these characters, particularly Martha. And while the maturity of this book is quite a step up from the previous titles, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, as it shows that Charlotte is growing up, too. The Charlotte Years were not my favorite, but Across the Puddingstone Dam was a highlight.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: Death, mentions of attempted suicide.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2XsRf3N

The Moffats by Eleanor Estes

The Moffats, by Eleanor Estes, was published in 1941 by Harcourt.

Rating: 4/5

I am a huge fan of continuity and chronology, so when I saw that Ginger Pye was on the list of Newbery Medal winners, I knew that I would first have to read the Moffat books that came before it, if only to familiarize myself with the characters. (Note: I now of course realize that Ginger Pye is a completely separate book, but in the moment I forgot!)

I have, of course, read The Moffats before—they were right up there with the Melendy family as my favorite childhood “family.” And even now, after all these years, this book is familiar to me—the hitching post, the sailor’s hornpipe, and the Salvation Army truck were all things that I remembered. Then, of course, there were the things I didn’t remember, like the ghost, the For Sale sign, and the adventurous trip to get coal.

I’m not sure why I enjoy books that are so centered on childhood adventures. Perhaps it’s because I love books that focus on family. Perhaps it’s because the adventures are usually things that are so close to what could actually happen, and yet seem as if they would never happen to anyone. It’s that dance between reality and fiction that I like, I think. It matters that I can see it happening, even if I know it probably would never happen.

I feel as if I am much more familiar with some other Moffat books than this one, but some I have no recollection of at all, so I’m excited to revisit them. I think, perhaps, I enjoy Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy family more—Enright is a better writer—but I can tell that I will really enjoy the Moffats.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

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

The Edge of Mercy by Heidi Chiavaroli

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Welcome to the Blog Tour and Giveaway for The Edge of Mercy by Heidi Chiavaroli, hosted by JustRead Publicity Tours!

ABOUT THE BOOK

Edge of Mercy final large fileTitle: The Edge of Mercy
Author: Heidi Chiavaroli
Publisher: Hope Creek Publishers
Genre: Split Time/Women’s Fiction
Release Date: April 9, 2019

Two women, three hundred years apart, must face the devastation of all they hold dear…

Suspecting her husband is having an affair, Sarah Rodrigues fights to appear unbroken while attempting to salvage her family. Though distracted by her own troubles, Sarah is summoned to an elderly friend’s deathbed for an unusual request—find a long-lost daughter and relay a centuries-old family story.

Determined not to fail her friend, Sarah pieces together the story of her neighbor’s ancestor, Elizabeth Baker, a young colonist forced into an unwanted betrothal but drawn to a man forbidden by society.

While Sarah’s family teeters on the edge of collapse, her world is further shaken by the interest of a caring doctor and a terrible accident that threatens a life more precious than her own.

Inspired by the unconditional love she uncovers in Elizabeth’s story, Sarah strives to forgive those who’ve wounded her soul. But when light shines on the dark secrets of her neighbor’s past and the full extent of her husband’s sins, will looking to a power greater than herself rekindle lost hope?

PURCHASE LINKS: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository


Disclaimer: I received a free copy from the author. All opinions are my own.  

My rating: 4/5

The Edge of Mercy, by Heidi Chiavaroli, is a bit deceptive in its cover art. All right…a lot deceptive. The cover art implies a Regency or Victorian-era setting. However, instead the book is predominately contemporary, with the journal entries of a Puritan woman running throughout. So, it took me a little bit to reconcile my expectation of the book from the cover with the actual content.

However, I must say this book exceeded my exceptions by a large margin. I wasn’t quite sure what to think with the opening pages. I was worried about the writing style, and confused about the setting. It only took twenty pages, though, for me to get swept up in the story of Sarah, Matt, and Kyle.

I wasn’t expecting this to be a Christian book, but it is. And it’s actually really well done. Chiavaroli deftly describes the relationship between Sarah and Matt and it’s easy to see where things are falling apart. What I liked best was how Sarah feels realistic, seesawing between anger at Matt and guilt about her own actions, so that it paints a clear picture that the crumbling marriage is in large part due to failure on both ends. I also really liked how even though Matt went further than Sarah in terms of rebellion and breaking down the ties between them, it’s clear that Sarah did things that were equally as damaging (if different in action). There’s blame placed on both sides, and Chiavaroli handles it with nuance and skill.

I’m not sure how I feel about the subplot. To be honest, Elizabeth Baker’s journal entries were the least exciting part of the book. I practically shuddered when I discovered that the journals were about Elizabeth’s relationship with a native. It’s such a romanticized, overdone stereotype. I must admit, though, that I was pleasantly surprised when things took a different direction, even though I was already checked out in terms of enjoyment of that particular story. I found myself rushing through the journal entries to get back to the story I was actually interested in.

Misleading/terrible cover art aside, I really enjoyed The Edge of Mercy. It was much better than I expected it would be, and I was way more invested than I thought I would be. Chiavaroli manages to avoid many of the pitfalls of Christian novels and produces a compelling, emotional story of a failing marriage and the effort Sarah puts in pulling it back together. The ending is, perhaps, a bit rushed—I felt that Matt’s turnaround was too abrupt and wasn’t explained very well—but I had trouble putting the book down, which is one of the highest praises I can ever give a book.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

heidi chiavaroli

CONNECT WITH HEIDI: website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram


the edge of mercy blog giveaway

TOUR GIVEAWAY

(1) winner will win this beautiful prize pack from Heidi Chiavaroli, including:

  • Rustic Metal Lantern
  • Bordeaux Journal
  • Country Potholder
  • Colonial-Inspired Hand Glazed Mug
  • Simple Life Notepad
  • Be Still and Know Magnet
  • Plymouth Rock Bookmark
  • Fresh & Clean Goat Milk Soap
  • Handmade Rustic Book Decor
  • Signed Copy of The Edge of Mercy

Enter via the Rafflecopter giveaway below. Giveaway will begin at midnight April 9, 2019 and last through 11:59 pm April 16, 2019. US Mailing addresses only, due to shipping costs. Void where prohibited by law. Winners will be notified within 2 weeks of close of the giveaway and given 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen.

Giveaway is subject to the policies found here.

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The Road from Roxbury by Melissa Wiley

The Road from Roxbury, by Melissa Wiley, was published in 2002 by HarperTrophy. It is the sequel to On Tide Mill Lane.

Rating: 3/5

The last two Charlotte Years books are the most interesting, in my opinion. Perhaps it’s because Charlotte is of a more relatable, readable age—8 and 11, respectively—and so the problems and lessons of the book are more directly related to her, as opposed to simply something she observes. The Road from Roxbury is still not a great book, but it’s at least better than On Tide Mill Lane.

The Road from Roxbury deals with new babies, new schoolteachers, new technology, new friends, and new responsibilities. Each chapter is still more “slice of life” than anything else, but there are some plot threads running throughout to unite them. My favorite is perhaps the schoolmaster plot arc, though the plot arc that deals with jealousy, sullenness, and a near-death scare is also quite good. The rest is typical Wiley and typical Charlotte Years—vaguely interesting, but ultimately lacking in charm. It ends on the cheesy sort of note that Wiley is fond of striking—grand pronouncements and dreams that seem to come out of nowhere and are triggered by the most random things.

Having an older Charlotte makes the books more relatable and less observational, but there’s still something lacking from the Charlotte Years that I can’t quite pin down. Charm, or quality, or depth, or something. The Road from Roxbury is an improvement on the first two books, but it’s still a far cry from a good, solid, timeless children’s book.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2ON3Yv3