Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Read Aloud Handbook Project: Book Blasts

I don't have time for lengthy reviews this afternoon, so the following mentions will be short and sweet.

If you know a preteen girl who's into fantasy or anything Celtic, check out A Stranger Came Ashore. After a major shipwreck off the coast of a Scottish island, a handsome and mysterious stranger appears. He calls himself Finn Learson; he quickly charms his way into the hearts of the islanders, including the beautiful Elspeth. Everyone, that is, except for Elspeth's (thought to be) intended and young Robbie Henderson, Elspeth's younger brother, who remains very suspicious of Finn's intentions.

Robbie soon figures out Finn's true identity and his plans to take Elspeth away from her family forever; working with the island's eccentric, he creates a plan to thwart Finn's plans. Will he succeed against the mighty Finn? The book concludes with a pulse-racing confrontation.

The Celtic myth of the Selkies plays heavily into this story, so Celtic and/or myth fans will definitely enjoy this book. This is a romantic book, but it's very tame.

Barbara Park is known for her humorous novels, but she takes a decidedly different approch in Mick Harte Was Here. The death of a child is a very delicate subject matter for children's authors to attempt, yet Park handles the situation with great care, grace, and restraint. There's little plot in the story; the bulk of the story is the immediate aftermath after the death of Mick in a bicycle accident. Through thirteen year old Phoebe's eyes (Mick's older sister), we see the family react to the news, endure his memorial service, deal with people's reactions, and deal with the finality of the situation. Along with great sadness is great humor, as Phoebe recalls Mick's goofy ways. Phoebe's mother can't bear to hear her son's name, while all Phoebe wants to do is talk about him. The book ends with the one month anniversary of Mick's death. This could serve as a great conversation starter on the different ways people grieve, as well as the importance of bicycle safety (a helmet could have saved Mick's life).

If you're looking for something along the lines of Anne of Green Gables, yet your reader is not quite ready for that series, check out Understood Betsy. Betsy isn't too happy about going to live with her country relatives; she was accustomed to her life with her (nervous) and proper town-mannered aunt. Luckily, Betsy quickly falls into a life of horses, household chores, and a cozy one room schoolhouse. A mishap of an adventure is cause for much excitement at a local fair. Although the book is old-fashioned, the language is not as off-putting to modern readers as it is in other books from that era. For readers looking for a gentle read, Understood Betsy is a fine choice.

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