The Book Jam Blog
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We asked a fellow Vermonter, friend, and local historian - Lauren Pidgeon - to review some of her favorite books to share with Book Jam readers. Bonus -- she is a High Schooler and represents a different demographic than either "slightly" older Book Jam Lisa. There is an important fact relevant to her reviews -- Lauren volunteers each week doing research at the Norwich Historical Society. She recently worked with the 1865 diary of Mary Slack, a 15-year-old schoolgirl from our hometown of Norwich. Lauren's exploration of Mary's diary was recently featured in excellent blog posts - just click here to read. It was this initial "book" review by Lauren that inspired us to ask her to review some of her favorite books from more recent centuries for us.
Now, back to today's selections. We love the fact Lauren's book reviews speak to to finding books through overseas travel, relatives, and a trip to our town dump. (In Vermont Pre-Covid-19, book shacks at town dumps were excellent sources of books to treasure.) And all you teachers out there -- please note Lauren highlights a class from seven years prior at our local elementary school as part of her reviews; your work matters so much, even if you don't see or hear appreciation in the moment.
Victoria’s Daughters by Jerrold Packard (1999) - When I saw this book sitting on top of the pile of books my dad had found at the dump, I was instantly drawn to it. I love history. And, I especially love Victorian history; so of course, I had to read it. It’s a non-fiction book recounting the lives of Queen Victoria and her five daughters (her four sons are occasionally mentioned). I discovered how her daughters’ marriages spread Victoria’s influence around Europe. It was also interesting to see how Victoria impacted her children’s lives because she wasn’t the most stereotypical mother. Coincidentally, last summer I had actually made a family tree of Victoria and her children because I love making family trees and it was easy and incredibly interesting to research. I used this tree while I was reading the book, but the author has also provided a family tree at the beginning of the book. ~ Selected by Lauren
Horrible Histories by Terry Deary (assorted years) - The Horrible Histories series were the first history books I ever read. I had started watching the Horrible Histories TV series in England when I was 6 or 7 years old and I loved how funny and gory it was, but also how it taught me a lot. When I moved to America I wasn’t able to to watch Horrible Histories so instead I had my grandparents bring a huge box set of Horrible Histories books when they came to visit. I loved, and still do love, the way Terry Deary says he writes about “history with the nasty bits left in!” He satirizes people like Queen Victoria and Shakespeare and creates comical conversations between historical figures from all periods of history. ~ Selected by Lauren
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (2009) - Remarkable Creatures is a historical fiction based on the life of Mary Anning, a young woman who finds some of the first fossils, and even whole dinosaurs, on the beach at Lyme Regis, England. The story is told by both Mary and another woman in the town who becomes interested in fossils and befriends Mary. When I visited Lyme Regis a few years ago, I had only heard of Mary Anning through kids books or maybe a brief lesson at school. Visiting her town made me see how important she was to natural history and I soon realized that hunting for fossils on the beach was a true talent. When I read this book, Mary Anning came to life as a young, poor girl who spent her days searching for fossils on the beach for money, not realizing the importance of her work. ~ Selected by Lauren
Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan (assorted years) - Studying Ancient Greece in Mr. Fenton’s 5th grade class was the highlight of all my years at the Marion Cross School. I especially loved reading the myths about the Gods. I would often imagine what it was like to be part of the big, crazy, and wonderful family of the Olympian Gods. Reading Percy Jackson for the first time let me see how cool it would be to actually be a part of the myths. I dreamed of going to Camp Half-Blood with Percy and Annabeth and taking part in their adventures. They fought titans, mythical monsters, and other Gods and made close bonds with their friends from camp. ~ Selected by Lauren
For many students in New England, it’s April vacation week. This year, the things that families usually do during their spring time off may look markedly different. With say at home orders in place in most states, there won’t be the much anticipated trips to visit relatives or to take in new sites. Instead, there will most likely be many hours spent in familiar surroundings without the structure of new zoom classes and dedicated homework time. We thought families might want some additional inspiration so we asked a few students from our local elementary school - the Marion Cross School (and some of their younger siblings) - to recommend great books for reading aloud with their families or for just a good “curl up” on the couch. We hope this post finds you all well, and that many kids (and adults) will enjoy “traveling” to fun new places in their minds with these varied and well-curated titles.
Witches by Roald Dahl (1983) - I think this book is probably, definitely for 7-year-olds. I liked it because the author is really good and because I like scary stuff and it's really scary. When the boss of the witches takes off all of her witch clothes and she's all slimy, it's pretty cool. My teacher read it to me at school and I liked how she read it. She made really good scary witch voices. When my dad read it, he made the same kind of voices and it was good too. There aren't a lot of pictures but there are enough. Twice as much pictures as a chapter book. ~ Selected by Arlo, preschooler who is also 5 years old
Explorer Academy Series by Trudi Trueit (assorted years) - I like these books because they are very adventurous stories. I also like these books because they are very suspenseful. The main characters are Cruz, Emmet, and Sailer. Their school is called Explorer Academy. I think kids ages eight through twelve would like it. ~ Selected by Ben, grade 4
Greetings from Somewhere: The Mystery of the Gold Coin and other books in this series by Harper Paris (assorted years) - This book series is about a set of twins named Ethan and Ella. They travel all over the world and solve mysteries. Grampa Harry gave them each a gift that helped them find clues to solve the mysteries. You will find out what his special gift is in book 1. I never wanted to put the book down because there was a new clue or discovery in each chapter. I hope you enjoy the books as much as I did. ~ Selected by Annabel, grade 4
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (1954) - This book is about a ring that hypnotizes people and turns them into zombie monsters. A hobbit named Frodo has to destroy the ring, but it’s very hard because there’s so much violence. It has evil monster orcs who are after Frodo. They want the ring to control Middle Earth, where everybody in the book lives. My favorite characters are hobbits Merry and Sam because they are afraid but also brave. There is a King of Horses named Shadowfax who is superfast. I recommend this book if you little kids like violence, but your parents should read it with you. ~ Selected by Malcolm, grade 1
Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland (2012) - I think Wings of Fire is an amazing story with imaginative characters & lots & lots of dragons.
Each dragon has its own personality & has its own skill. My favorite dragon is Peril, in book 8 & she is a Sky Wing dragon. She was born a twin. Her twin brother didn’t have enough fire & she was born with too much fire & burning hot scale’s.
My other favorite dragon is a Sand Wing dragon, named Qibli. I like to think he’s a bit like me. He’s always focusing on more than one thing. In the 5th book, when Moon reads his mind, she can tell that Qibli is focusing on at least 3 different things.
Wings of Fire has 15 books in the series. You‘ve got to give book 1 a little bit of time, as it takes a while to get exciting. It’s about a Mud Wing, called Clay. He can only breathe fire when he’s warm & loves mud. ~ Selected by Harrison, grade 5
The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy (2019) - I would recommend this book for many reasons, but one of the big ones is the inclusivity displayed in the characters. The plot not only incorporates the struggles of being Indian-American in the small, almost all white town of Greenfield for the main character, Rahul Kapoor, but also the hardships of coming out. The writing is top quality, and the voices of the kids featured are very genuine. So if you need or want a diverse, realistic, middle grade book featuring queer characters, this is a good one to read.
Not only is the content interesting, the plot is outstanding. While dealing with an increasing habit of checking things, which evolves to be OCD-like, Rahul has just started 7th grade, and is subject to bullying and teasing. So when his grandfather advises him to “Find something you like and become the best at it,” Rahul decides he knows how to combat social pressure and anxiety: Follow this piece of grandfatherly guidance, and begin a quest with his best friend, Chelsea, to seek out and conquer the talent that will put him at the top. Read this book to find out what he comes up with!
Special note: The author of this book also played Jonathan in 30 Rock. ~ Selected by Roxy, grade 5
Don't forget you can access most public libraries (and thus these books) on line. Check out this article - https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2020/03/public-libraries-novel-response-to-a-novel-virus/609058/ - for some ideas.
Also, Hanover High School (NH) Football players recorded themselves reading picture books in an effort to help entertain young children for long enough that parents can throw in a load of laundry or perhaps just sit. Here is the video link - http://www.hudl.com/v/2DRrr8.
As we progress through this period of self-isolation to help "flatten the curve," we notice that our ability to concentrate varies tremendously from day-to-day. It can actually be quite challenging to read an entire book. In a recent text thread with each other, we discovered that both of us have instead found ourselves flipping through large volumes of books about art collections that, until recently, have sat collecting dust on our shelves. So today, we each discuss one such book that has captured our imagination since being homebound. Because one of these is out of print (remember the comment about how much dust they had been collecting?!), we added two classic titles for kids that revolve around an art museum, each of which are still available for purchase (ideally from an indie bookstore near you). We have also included links to some virtual museum tours that we hope offer some inspiration and innovation as we all (except those of you who are medical professionals, first responders, grocers - you we THANK) stay home.
French Paintings from the Barnes Foundation by the Barnes Foundation (1993) - Once upon a time, I was lucky enough to have a job that involved working in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. One of the exhibits I was privileged to work with was a collection of around 100 pieces from the Barnes Foundation. This 1993 exhibit was the first time any of the works had appeared outside the Foundation's home in Pennsylvania. Because the Foundation had previously banned color reproductions of their collection, this book was the first time any Barnes images appeared in full color in print. The book discusses the paintings (e.g., works by Manet, Renoir, Monet, Cézanne, van Gogh, Gauguin, Modigliani, Picasso, and Matisse) I saw each day as I worked, and tells the fascinating story of the Barnes Foundation itself. Flipping through its pages has reminded me of my younger self, and of the beauty artists offer us each day. ~ Lisa Christie
The Foundation is currently offering Barnes Takeout, daily virtual tours on YouTube.
Uffizi: Art, History, Collections by Gloria Fossi (2004) - It almost feels as though I briefly visited Italy today. Flipping through this little gem of a book (which sat on my shelf, a souvenir from a trip taken decades ago) was like taking a walk through the resplendent halls of the Uffizi gallery in Florence. Its pages are infused with the tawny and jewel tones of the Renaissance and I was struck by how many treasures reside in this museum. From “Primavera” by Botticelli, to “Annunciation” by Leonardo daVinci, to “Medusa” by Caravaggio, there were so many mythical creatures, madonnas, and magi to visit. A tour of this particular collection of masterpieces reminded me once again how between thirteen and sixteen hundred, painting developed and leapt off of the canvas into three dimensions. Spending time with these magical works and with the artists who brought them to life also inspired me to think, as I have many times during the past month, about the remarkable human spirit and its ability to be creative during turbulent times. (Because this book is out-of-print, we can not link to a bookstore. Those who wish to try to find a copy from your favorite out-of-print source may need the ISBN - 88-09-03676-X.)
This “Uffizi experience” truly felt like a balm for the April 2020 soul. And to think it all started by opening up a book, one which ended up taking me across time to far away and beautiful paintings. As I closed the book and returned it to its spot on the shelf, the image of one of my very favorite pieces “The Birth of Venus” lingered with me. In it, as is now the case for us in the northern hemisphere, it is also springtime. And, as they are for Venus in this picture, the winds are also blowing us towards a new shore. Hopefully we can receive our new season as Botticelli’s Venus does: with our hands resting on open hearts and eyes also open, soft, and full of wonder. ~ Lisa Cadow
Note: After admiring the prints in this gorgeous book, I was moved to explore the art on its pages more deeply. I decided to embark on a free virtual tour of the sunlit corridors of this famous gallery — but first I needed to download the Google app “Arts and Culture” (very easy - you, too, will be able do it). Once it was installed on my iPad, I ‘walked” through the actual halls of the Uffizi, directing my steps with my finger tips. Though, sigh, there were none of the hushed, awed tones of fellow museum goers to keep me company nor the sounds of feet clicking and echoing along the marble hallways, I could almost feel my neck craning to admire the portraits lining the upper edges of the walls and the frescoes on the ceiling. All of this virtual beauty, yet with none of the lines to wait in, no tempting gift shop at the end of the tour where one might be lured into spending Euros on post cards, and no need to find a spot on a crowded bench to rest a weary traveler’s body. Below is the link for your own Italian experience. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow
For those who wish to see more are, we found additional virtual sites for museum "strolling": The Art Institute of Chicago (especially liked the El Greco exhibition), AVA Galleries, Hopkins Center, The Tate Britian, The J Paul Getty Museum, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Louve.
And now, two novels for kids (and kids at heart) with museums at their core. They both would make a great family read-aloud during these days of isolation.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konisberg (1967) - Yes, this is probably the first book we all think of when we think of books that take place in museums. And there is a reason for that -- it is FABULOUS. To quickly sum -- Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, to somewhere elegant and chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. She also chooses her younger brother, Jamie, and his money to accompany her. They then get caught in the mystery of whether a statue in the museum is actually a work by Michaelangelo (bringing us back to Lisa Cadow's book from the Uffuzi).
It's a great family read-aloud, and honestly there are new 4th graders each year who probably need a copy of their own. Previously recommended by us in a list of great chapter books for kids. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (2014) – This is perfect for kids who loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and are looking for something similar. Again, this would be a great family read-aloud. As we said in a previous Book Jam review - In this novel, Theodora Tenpenny of Manhattan tries to solve the mystery of a painting she uncovers (literally) once her grandfather dies. It includes her eccentric mother who has spent at least fifteen years doing nothing but completing her mathematical dissertation and consuming very expensive tea. It also shows how two amazing, but lonely girls can make great friends. And, along the way it introduces young readers to the world of art and the importance of asking for help when you need it. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow