Monday, July 2, 2012

How to Train Your Dragon

Title:  How to Train Your Dragon (#1 in a series of 9)

Author:  Cressida Crowell

Rating:  *  (1 star out of 3 possible, "C")
             Recommended with Reservations

Audience:  8 years old and up

If you're finding it hard to engage your kids in reading you may find Cressida Cowell's How to Train Your Dragon a helpful prescription.  While I can't vouch for the entire series yet, we just completed reading the first book out loud with good results.

Being a book about barbarian Vikings, there will be the expected lack of manners and violent lifestyle to deal with.  The reason we can tolerate this in this particular book is that the main character, Hiccup, triumphs with brain over brawn.  By writing and illustrating a caricature of Viking lifestyle, Cowell and Hiccup automatically make opposing behaviors more attractive.  For example, by making dragons selfish and undependable, readers are more likely to cheer for Hiccup's thoughtful, responsible personality.

A Long Way from Chicago

Author:  Richard Peck

Rating:  ***  (3 stars out of 3 possible, "A")
             Highly Recommended

Audience:  4th Grade and up

Part of the summer our family is reading books with serious themes (see reviews for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963) and part of the summer we're spending on good, clean fun!

A Long Way from Chicago is set in rural Illinois during the Depression years.  Joey and Mary Alice take the train each summer from Chicago to spend a week with their unconventional Grandmother Dowdel.  Grandma can fix a mean breakfast and a mean gooseberry pie just as easily as she can wield a shotgun, trespass, brew beer at home or blackmail the local banker.  The townspeople are just as colorful and hilarious.  Visits generally find Joe and his sister slack-jawed at what will happen next in the usually sleepy hamlet.