Books We Are Using This Year
  • The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    by Jeff West,S. Wise Bauer,Jeff (ILT) West, Susan Wise Bauer
  • Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    by Bernard J Nebel PhD
  • Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    by Steven P. Demme
  • First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    by -Author-
  • Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    by Mona Brookes
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Entries in read aloud 2011 (4)


The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo (our reviews)

A mouse and a rat both fall in love with a princess and a story of chivalry, revenge, and heartbreak ensues. Despereaux is a misfit in his own mouse world and is banished to the dungeon where he expects to meet his death. Roscuro is a misfit in his own rat world, but finds only rejection in the world of light above, and returns to the dungeon thinking only of revenge. Mig, the unloved peasant who is too simple to either love or seek revenge, wishes only to trade places with the princess. We hear their stories separately first, then they all come together to finish the tale. The story is generally charming, but while the beginning seems promising DiCamillo continually interrupts the flow of the story either by jumping without warning to another time, place, and character, or by playing the interrupting narrator. With so many disruptions it can be hard to stay interested, but the underlying messages, such as "have courage" and "dare to be different", are obvious enough and the rich language makes the book a pleasant read.

As a parent I think this is a fine book to read to a young child, but I was disappointed by the quality of the story and writing. At age five Calvin was completely capable of understanding the the story as read to him, but would not have been able to read it fluently enough to make it worth while.

Interview review with Calvin
I didn't ask Calvin to journal a response to this book because he is reading and journaling books like it on his own now and I didn't want it to become a chore. Instead I interviewed him on his feelings about the story:

Can you tell me what the book is about?
Despereaux is a small mouse who never grows big. He likes light and he can read and he loves Princess Pea. The mouse council sends him to the dungeon because he doesn't act like a mouse, but he escapes. A girl named Mig works in the castle. She is fat and not happy because she is without her parents. Roscuro is a rat who causes the queen to die of fright, so Pea is angry with him. But Roscuro does not want to be in the dungeon with the other rats, he wants to be in the light upstairs. He wants revenge because eh people won't allow him upstairs. Mig and Roscuro steal Pea and take her to the dungeon and Roscuro wants to keep her there forever, and Mig wants to be the princess. But Despereaux saves them.

What did you like or not like about the book?
I like that there were different parts in the book because they were like little stories about each character.


The Royal Book of Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson (review)

First of all, this book, in most forms, is credited to L. Frank Baum, but this is not merely misleading, but completely incorrect: The Royal Book of Oz was written by Thompson after Baum's death. This is what I've read in many places, and certain newer versions of the book do properly credit the real author, but even without having been told nothing could have been more obvious than Baum's absence upon reading the book. If the writing style alone hadn't been a dead giveaway, then the characters having gone through complete personality changes probably would have done the trick. Ozma as cross? Dorothy as annoyed? The Wogglebug as rude and haughty? Though there were hints of their former selves, these were not the characters that we'd come to know and love, a change that was our biggest disappointment. And this was not the smooth and enchanting writing style to which we had become accustomed, either. Though Thompson does include some witty remarks and word play that will be enjoyable to older readers, some of her sentence formation—especially around the speaking of characters—is on the complex side for younger readers to follow. This is a far cry from Baum who, though writing at the turn of the century and with a style did reflect this, was still accessible for the younger set. And you might be tempted to wonder if the book would have been better were I treating it as its own thing, but first, she didn't write it as its own thing—she even published it under Baum's name!—and second, her style is choppy even when held up entirely on its own. This book was a huge disappointment to me, and though Calvin said he enjoyed it fine, for the first time Calvin he not asked me to get the next Oz book "right away", so I think we'll be taking checking out a new series for now.


Glinda of Oz, by L. Frank Baum (our reviews)

This was the last Oz book written by Baum. He died shortly after writing it, and I wonder if perhaps some of it was even finished by another writer, because in places it sure felt like he was filling space by repeating facts and introductions well known to all Oz fans, and never before revisited. But that really didn't take away from the book much, it just made for some pages I would have skimmed quickly if I hadn't been reading it out loud. Otherwise, I'm still very in love with this series, and worried about how that might change when we read our first non-Baum written book next.


The Magic of Oz, by L. Frank Baum

The penultimate book in the series as written by Baum. If there weren't another twenty-some more books widely considered as part of the Oz canon I think I would be very sad. As it is, I think I still am. I think it's possible to make these books feel fresh and new, even twelve books into the series, because anything, and I mean anything, can happen in Oz, so there are no contraints, natural or artificial, binding the author's creativity. Of course the plot line doesn't change all that much from book to book—there's only a handful of those to choose from here—but the intriguing and unique characters that fill in the bare bones of the plots are what make the books enjoyable one right after the other. The Magic of Oz is another winner for me, full of just enough adult-size humor to give depth to the child's fairy story. This is children's fantasy at its best.