Review of Fahrenheit 451

fahrenheit 451 cover

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

Fahrenheit 451

With a memorable first line, Ray Bradbury introduces his classic dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. In a world where books are forbidden and houses are fireproof, “firemen” prowl the streets and pump fire into any homes where books remain. But fireman Guy Montag finds an open book one day and sees the words “Once upon a time…” And his life begins to change.

Fahrenheit 451 is timely

For a book written three quarters of a century ago, Bradbury’s novel rings eerily true in our current day. Bradbury imagined a world where people were isolated by earbuds, entertainment devices, and a constant stream of entertainment. Looking at you 21st century teens- and adults!

Bradbury portrays a society which chose to abolish books because they made people uncomfortable. His imagined society began by censoring then turned to burning. Instead of books while rile people up, his world pushes pleasure and forgetfulness. These are the two remedies his world chose to the problem of pain and unhappiness.

Did it work? Not at all. In the opening pages fireman Guy Montag shows us a world where suicide is so common it’s become the norm. It’s socially acceptable for teens to drive at high speeds in an attempt to kill others or themselves. No one notices- or remembers- when their neighbor dies.

The Power of History and Education

Bradbury had a powerful message that his generation didn’t heed: whoever controls the education of the young and historical narrative controls the future. In the world of Fahrenheit 451 no one knows what is true or false because they have lost the ability to remember much of anything themselves and have no written records to help them. Guy Montag can’t even remember how he met his wife a decade ago. He is amazed when someone tells him that firemen haven’t always set fires but used to put them out.

But there’s hope. Guy’s life is changed when he meets two outliers. First, an old professor who has secreted away books both physically and in his memory. Then, a teenage girl who is awake to the beauty of nature and open to learning from the memories of her ancient uncle. Awakened himself, Guy can’t unsee the disorder of the world he lives in. He sets out to set a new kind of fire and wake up those around him.

A Warning and a Hope

Fahrenheit 451 is a warning. But it’s also a hopeful book. Guy finds other rebels and learns their plan to preserve the knowledge of the world in memory and oral recitation until people are ready to hear wisdom again. Like the monks in ancient times, Guy joins the ranks of the preservers of ancient wisdom.

Older Teens Should Read It

Because this book is thought-provoking and hopeful, it’s perfect for high schoolers. Any content? Well, it’s wonderfully clean from all sexual content. Bradbury says the romantic interest is “a man falling in love with books.” There’s a few instances of taking the Lord’s name in vain by characters in moments of crisis, though these could also be interpreted as genuine cries for help.

The most important thing for parents is to make sure their kids are mature enough for the stark despair of the early chapters where one suicide attempt is dwelt on in detail. There’s also some violence later including one man setting another on fire and watching him burn, described in some detail.

Despite these caveats, I think most older high schoolers will appreciate and take away a lot from this book! The symbolism is very rich and rewarding to track down. (Why the salamander? Why the snake? Why the hearth?)

But Also Adults

But if you’re an adult who hasn’t read it yet, Fahrenheit 451 is worth the time even for busy moms! It’s short: less than 200 pages. It’s fast-paced. And it’ll make you think! My moms book club really enjoyed our discussion on this.

You can buy a copy through my affiliate link: Fahrenheit 451

To find more books your high schoolers may enjoy, check out my book lists, especially Good Books for Catholic High Schoolers Part 1 (Age 14 and up) and Good Books for Catholic High Schoolers Part 2 (Age 16 and up).

Review of “Armor of God” Series

armor of God book 1 cover

Chivalry and Catholic Virtues meet in Theresa Linden’s Armor of God series, specially written for First Communicants.

Have or know a child who’s preparing for or just made their First Holy Communion? This series is just for them! Theresa Linden explores the six parts of the Armor of God listed in Ephesians 6 against a interest-catching backdrop of knights and quests. These books are sure to captivate 6-8 year old Catholic children and help them internalize and desire the virtues!

In the first book, Belt of Truth, George, a young page, has a lying problem.

George wants more than anything to be a knight. When he learns that Truthfulness is a necessary virtue, he’s dismayed. How can he stop lying when it seems like the best way to solve his problems and keep out of trouble? Watch George grow and practice virtue throughout this first book so that when he really gets in trouble, he is able to stand strong and tell the truth. He earns his first piece of armor: the Belt of Truth.

As the series continues, George learns about the other parts of a knight’s armor and other virtues including Righteousness, Peacefulness, and Faithfulness.

There’s also plenty of scuffles, sword fighting, horses, dragons, and more. Parents can feel good about giving this clean, virtue-driven series to their young kids to read. And kids can enjoy the fun of the chivalric era while imbibing some good morals.

Is the Armor of God series just for boys?

Nope! Girls will enjoy the fact that the knight school is for boys and girls! Boys train to be knights, and girls train to be dames. But they all get to practice all the fun parts of training. A girl is one of the three main characters that carry the series.

To buy the Armor of God Series, you can use my Amazon affiliate link to Belt of Truth or buy directly through the author’s website TheresaLinden.com!

BritNotes on Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie

She’s brilliant, she’s insightful, she’s tricky. Agatha Christie is truly the Queen of Mystery.

Agatha Christie wrote over 80 mysteries and detective stories during her long and productive writing career. You can find a full list of her books in order of publication here if you’re curious about the scope of her work. I adore mysteries in general and Agatha Christie mysteries in particular, so over the years I’ve tried to read as much of her body of work as possible.

Why murder mysteries, you may ask?

What good can reading murder mysteries bring to our soul? Well, when we’re talking about detective stories from the Golden Age, we’re actually reading books written as a powerful response to and spiritual antidote for the post-World War era.

In a true Golden Age mystery, you have an environment such as a home or village that is shaken to the core by disorder: a murder. The mystery story is a quest for justice, an unravelling and labeling of the unimportant and important, a journey of restoration. Thus in the end a right order is restored to the environment and family: a mini-triumph of truth over evil and chaos. You can see how this formula appealed to a post-World War readership. And personally I still feel this quest for justice and order appeals to me deeply.

That’s why I advocate reading a good mystery- if you’re the right age and maturity.

Are all Agatha Christie mysteries equally well crafted?

No. She grew as a writer, and certainly some of her mysteries have much more depth than others.

Are all Agatha Christie mysteries clean?

Well, you’ll never find graphic bedroom scenes. But the careful parent will want to be forewarned that plenty of these mysteries involve plot elements of casual affairs, out of wedlock pregnancies, and adultery. Sometimes, you’ll also find disturbing motivations, twisted narrators, and questionable ethics.

So let’s take a look at some individual Agatha Christie books and what you want to know about as a parent. Note that I will be adding to this list frequently as time allows and I get through my Christie notes.

IMPORTANT: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!

Crooked House

This is one of my favorite standalone Christie novels. A young man finds himself unwillingly investigating his fiancée’s grandfather’s murder. The whole family is suspect, but if you’re like me you’ll miss-guess the culprit. A masterpiece of distraction.

Parents want to know: disturbing solution to the mystery; a schoolgirl committed the murder. Situation is revealed and resolved when the girls’ aunt intentionally drives off a cliff killing both herself and the child. This is portrayed as more merciful than letting the child be accused of the murder.

Amazon affiliate link: Crooked House

Death on the Nile

Let’s start with the novel that just came out as a major film in theaters this year. Death on the Nile is one of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries. This eccentric Belgian detective solves crimes by focusing on the little details.

In Death on the Nile, Poirot goes on a cruise down the River Nile with a diverse assortment of shipmates, including a newly married heiress. When the heiress is murdered, it’s up to Poirot to unmask the killer.

What parents should know: This is a particularly disturbing crime in its motivations. The husband and his lover between them accomplished the wife’s murder. The husband had only married the heiress so that when he killed her he could inherit her money.

Although there is no sexual content in the book, be aware that the new 2022 movie does include some content.

Amazon affiliate link: Death on the Nile

Elephants Remember

Hercules Poirot takes on a cold case that might be a double murder, murder/suicide, or even a double suicide of a husband and wife.

Parents want to know: there’s a suggestion that the husband or wife or both might have been having adulterous affairs. This is a suggested in passing a few times but not dwelt on too much.

Amazon affiliate link: Elephants Remember

Endless Night

This is probably the most disturbing Christie I’ve ever read, so be warned. It’s also a brilliant example of the “Unreliable Narrator.” It’s told in the first person by a bereaved husband who turns out to be both insane and the killer.

Parents: be warned that this is a psychological journey through the mind of a murderer who killed his wife in order to marry her best friend, his mistress.

Amazon affiliate link: Endless Night

Five Little Pigs

The daughter of a woman who murdered her husband 16 years before asks Hercules Poirot to take a second look at her parents’ case. He can’t resist the challenge.

Parents will want to know: this murder revolves a scandalous situation in which a married artist brings his mistress/model to live in the same house with his wife. It’s stated the artist has had a series of adulterous affairs previously. Positive: it turns out that the artist planned to repent and return to his wife so the mistress actually killed him.

Affiliate link: Five little pigs

The Moving Finger

Miss Marple is called in to help the police solve a Poison Pen case in the sleepy town of Lymestock. When letters turn into murder who is on the right trail to the real serial killer?

Parents will want to know: the poison pen letters accuse recipients of sexual misconduct such as affairs, illegitimate children, adultery, etc. A young man mourns a beautiful woman lacks “sex appeal.”

Affiliate link: The Moving Finger

A Murder is Announced

A dinner party invitation in a small English village announces a murder. Intrigued, the guests come expecting a party game. Instead, they find themselves murder witnesses- and suspects. Fortunately Miss Marple, spinster-detective extraordinaire, is on hand to unravel the mystery.

Parents will want to know: that this is a fairly tame murder mystery involving two deaths, one by gunshot and one by strangling.

Amazon affiliate link: A Murder is Announced

Peril at End House

Hercules Poirot meets a young girl who describes three recent brushes with death. Knowing her life is in danger, Poirot rushes against time to prevent a murder. Or so he thinks.

Parents will want to know: drug use plays a major role in this novel, but drugs are clearly a bad thing that lead to misery. Very subtle implications of casual affairs between unmarried people.

Amazon affiliate link: Peril at End House

A Pocketful of Rye

When a rich businessman is poisoned, no one in his unhappy family seems very upset. Miss Marple sifts through a cast of thoroughly unlikeable characters to find the killer.

Parents will want to know: the wife of the deceased was engaged in an adulterous affair, though this is a minor plot point with no details given.

Affiliate link: A Pocketful of Rye

The Secret Adversary

Here’s a fun and light espionage style mystery! Two young and penniless friends agree to form the Young Adventurers company and do anything to earn money. Quickly recruited by a mysterious employer, they find themselves deep in the world of spies. This one is not as well written as other Christies, but teens usually enjoy the touch of romance and young hero and heroine in this novel.

Parents want to know about: mild suspense and danger.

Amazon affiliate link: The Secret Adversary

Sparkling Cyanide

In Sparkling Cyanide, George Barton is on the hunt for his wife Rosemary’s murderer. He recreates the circle of guests and dinner she died at…. and then dies himself. It’s up to Colonel Race to figure out what really happened to Rosemary and George.

Parents will want to know: there are implied adulterous affairs between some of the party guests. A secretary secretly tries to ruin her employer’s marriage.

Amazon affiliate link: Sparkling Cyanide

They Do It With Mirrors

Miss Marple visits an old friend who runs a reform school for troubled youth and immediately feels a sense of foreboding. She isn’t surprised when three murders soon follow.

Parents will want to know: two young men pursue a young married woman and try to convince her to leave her husband. A young man kisses a married woman by force. An older woman shares her ex-husband left her for a notorious “dancer.”

Affiliate link: They Do It With Mirrors

For ideas of great books, check out My Book Lists!

Review of “The Melendy Quartet”

Recently, I’ve been sharing one of my childhood favorites with my 7 and 9 year olds at read-aloud time. I love everything I’ve ever read by Elizabeth Enright, but The Melendy Quartet holds a special place in my heart. In a truly unique way, these books capture the magic and wonder of a childhood lived with reasonable freedom and endless imagination.

Meet the Melendy Quartet

In The Satudays, you meet the four Melendy children: Mona, who can’t wait to grow up; Rush, who plays the piano remarkably well; dreamy and creative Randy; and young Oliver, full of curiosity and determination. You see the streets of mid-nineteenth century New York City through their eyes as they venture forth singly and together in a series of magnificent adventures. You’ll love how these children have the capacity to listen and learn from the adults they meet, whether it’s an old French aristocrat or a Bronx hairdresser with a big personality.

But it’s in The Four Story Mistake that the Melendy adventures really come to life with the family’s move to an eccentrically constructed old house in the country. In this book and its sequel And Then There Five, the Melendy kids enjoy the freedom of country life and make new friends young and old. Building their own swimming pool, trying to surprise the adults by doing all the canning alone, helping an orphan, and building tree houses are just a smattering of their excitements.

Spiderweb for Two is my absolute favorite and, sadly, the end of the series. With the older Melendy kids away at boarding school, Randy and Oliver look forward to a dismal year alone. But then a mysterious blue letter comes with a riddle that starts them on a rollicking book-long treasure hunt from clue to clue and adventure to adventure.

Why We Love Them

My kids immediately fell in love with these books and the characters. Elizabeth Enright creates real kids, kids you could see meeting at your local park, in the four Melendys. They’re quirky and creative and fun.

The Melendy kids show us that having a curious mind and an imagination can make everyday life intriguing whether you live in the city or country. They teach today’s kids that you don’t need video games or cell phones to have heaps of fun. Adventure isn’t in a screen; it’s outside your doorstep.

These books also celebrate sibling relationships without glossing over the inevitable squabbles that come with living in close proximity. Despite their occasional quarrels, the Meledy kids find genuine joy in being together and go out of their way, as in Spiderweb for Two, to show each other they care.

They’re beautifully clean and content-free. The only violence is that in And Then There Were Five, the kids befriend Mark Herron, a boy who lives with a mean relative. Said mean relative dies in a fire eventually; no graphic description.

I recommend them as a read aloud for 7-9 year old or for independent reading at 8-12 years old.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links which means that if you buy through my product link I receive a small fee at no additional cost to you.

If you’re looking for more great books for Middle Grade Readers, check out my lists: 60 Classic Books For Middle Grade Boys and 50 Classic Books that Middle Grade Girls Love!

white and brown animals near fence

Homesteading Picture Books

In 2019 our family made the big decision to leave military life and settle down to live in our homestate and start a small homesteading style farm. The last year and a half have been a whirlwind of planting, building, and learning. Many sheep, goats, ducks, dogs, and cats later, we’re thriving and so is the farm! Part of the joy of farm life for me has been discovering new (mostly old actually) homesteading picture books that capture the joy of farm life. Here are some of the homesteading picture books that we’ve grown to love this last year!

Homeplace is a wonderful exploration of a 6 generation farmstead. Each spread describes and pictures how the farm changed as each generation added on to the tiny log cabin and expanded farming operations.

Ox-Cart Man features pictures by the marvelous Barbara Cooney. This story follows a homestead family through the year as they grow and prepare products for the yearly market visit.

Yonder is a moving multi-generational story about a family who begins a homestead on a mountain. They plant a single tree in their orchard to begin, and add another for each birth, death, and important family event. Watch their orchard grow with the family as the circle of life continues.

In Apple Tree Christmas, a family lives above the farm animals in the barn. Poor but happy, the children take delight in the ancient apple tree- until one day a storm blows it down. Can their parents save Christmas?

Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm was the book that made me want a homestead complete with all the animals when I was about 5 years old. Alice and Martin Provensen charmingly describe their array of animal friends with all their unique personalities and quirks.

Also check out The Year At Maple Hill Farm which takes you through each month of the year on the farm and the work that happens as the seasons change.

Head across the Pacific Ocean to a New Zealand farm with Days on the Farm. Author Kim Lewis lovingly paints and narrates simple stories about farm animals and children.

Have a child who doesn’t have the attention span for Little House on the Prairie yet? Check out the Little House Picture Books like Sugar Snow and Winter on the Farm that tell some of the best loved stories from the Little House series with lots of illustrations.

You may also enjoy my list The Best Farm Animal Picture Books!

wood landscape water summer

BritNotes on Jane Austen

Catholic Book Review of Jane Austen

You can’t get much more classic and classier than Jane Austen! But busy moms ask: when should my kids read Austen? And is she really squeaky clean? Here’s a short and sweet skim through Jane Austen’s six finished novels in order of publication.

Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility, published in 1811, is the story of the two Dashwood sisters, one emotional and extroverted, the other sensible and introverted. Their loves and disappointments are recounted against the backdrop of their family’s failing fortune and fall in the eyes of the world. Will they find true love and financial security? Will they learn to balance their different gifts?

Content: Marianne Dashwood loves a no-good philanderer who it is revealed has previously seduced, impregnated, and abandoned at least one other girl. Of course this is all recounted very properly with no unnecessary details.

Recommended reading age: high school and older

Buy through my Amazon affiliate link: Sense and Sensibility

Buy through my Good News Book Shop link: Sense and Sensibility

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen’s best-loved novel, Pride and Prejudice is a masterpiece of subtle comedy, character development, social commentary, and beyond all that an amazingly enjoyable story. The five Bennet sisters face a bleak future until two rich men join their neighborhood. Will their family’s lack of propriety ruin the two oldest daughters’ chance at happiness? Can Lizzie and Darcy overcome their pride and prejudice?

This is a wonderful book with so many Catholic themes about virtue and happiness! Check out a podcast I did with Elevate Ordinary about this fantastic book: Elevate Ordinary: Pride and Prejudice from a Catholic Perspective

Content: sixteen year old Lydia Bennet runs away with the villain Wickham. The implication is that they enter a sexual relationship but no details, as is Austen’s norm in this situation. Eventually Wickham is prevailed upon to rectify the situation and marry Lydia.

Recommended reading age: high school and older

Buy through my Amazon affiliate link: Pride and Prejudice

Buy through my Good News Book Shop link: Pride and Prejudice

Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park is often rated least popular among Jane Austen’s works. Fanny Price, a poor dependent in her rich cousins’ home, quietly watches as the cousin she loves is tempted to turn aside from his calling to the clergy by a sophisticated city girl. Fanny is an introverted, quiet girl: not at all the typical heroine type. On the one hand, introverts everywhere rejoice. On the other hand, this makes for a slower book lacking in the conversational repartee which makes Pride and Prejudice and other Austen novels so memorable. There’s a fantastic talk that really opens up this book available for free on The Literary Life Podcast page. It helped me see that Fanny’s quiet conviction and patience show that she is representing the virtue of Temperance in this book.

Content: Fanny’s cousins insist on staging a scandalous play about infidelity and an illegitimate child. This is, as always, subtle. The point is that the play is scandalous so Fanny refuses to participate.

Recommended reading age: high school and older

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Mansfield Park

Emma

Emma is young, rich, beautiful, and very clever- at least she considers herself so. She manages her father, her neighbors, and her friends’ lives with perfect happiness and confidence. Until her best laid plans to matchmake go comically and tragically awry.

In many ways Emma is a coming of age story. It’s also a story about friendship: true and false, deep and superficial, lasting and ephemeral. I find it one of Austen’s best crafted stories and a great reflection piece for high school aged girls.

Content: none that I can find.

Recommended reading age: high school and older

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Emma

Buy it through my Good News Book Shop link: Emma

Persuasion

Persuasion is one of Austen’s two posthumously published novels. Years ago, gentle Anne Elliot broke off her engagement to the man she loved due to his lack of fortune. When they meet again, will they find true love? Can they forgive each other?

A novel about second chances, forgiveness, and seeing past lies. Austen often structures her novels on the characters’ increasing abilities to see reality truly. Seeing clearly leads to happiness in life. Willful blindness leads to unhappiness and misfortune.

Content: an implied affair.

Recommended reading level: high school and older.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Persuasion

Northanger Abbey

The other posthumously published Austen novel, Northanger Abbey is actually one of Austen’s earliest book in order written. This Gothic satire is funny and fairly fast moving. Young and naïve Catherine Moreland visits “the city” for the first time and finds true and false friends surrounding her. She learns to trust her own values and good sense and stand firm for her convictions in this coming of age style novel.

Content: none that I can find.

Recommended reading age: high school and older

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Annotated Northanger Abbey

city skyline during night time

BritNotes on Amor Towles

Amor Towles is a contemporary American novelist whose historical fiction has been topping charts in recent years. He’s notable for his ability to capture the spirit and emotional quality of a time and place in his novels. I think his second book in particular has the staying power and universal appeal which will make it stand the test of time.

rules-of-civility-by-amor-towles

Rules of Civility

Towles’ first book, Rules of Civility, plunges the reader into 1938 New York City nightlife. Katy, a secretary with social ambition, rides the ebb and flow of New York social life, rubbing elbows with millionaires, playboys, and beggars. A coming of age, rise and fall type of story.

I appreciate how Towles captures the spirit of his historical setting. The reader feels a part of the aimless, pleasure-seeking New York nightlife scene of the rich and troubled.

Content: promiscuous relationships, a man engaging in sexual relationships with women for their money, the main character engaging in a sexual relationship with a man she doesn’t love. Their is some explicit sexual content and some fade outs.

Recommended reading age: adult only, and you’re not missing much by skipping this one.

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A Gentleman in Moscow

Simply put: I loved A Gentleman in Moscow. This one is in a whole other class than Towles’ other two novels.

This may be because it’s got a unique storyline going for it. In 1922 amidst the outbreak of the communist revolution, aristocrat Count Alexander Rostov is placed on house arrest in the attic of the Metropol, a magnificent hotel across the street from the Kremlin. The entire book takes place in the Metropol. You’ll meet an unforgettable cast of characters who live in the hotel. You’ll learn how Rostov keeps his sanity for decades of imprisonment. You’ll learn about Russian cuisine and etiquette and emotions. You’ll fall in love with the Metropol and Rostov’s adopted family there. There’s even a devious villain to hate. This is a beautiful, lyrically told, memorable story.

Content: Rostov eventually begins an affair with a famous actress. Although it’s clear they are engaging in a sexual relationship, there is nothing too explicit or offensive.

Recommended reading age: adults.

Buy it through my affiliate link: A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel

amor-towles-lincoln-highway

The Lincoln Highway

The Lincoln Highway is the poignant story of a wide cast of characters who are brought together in one memorable road trip along the Lincoln Highway, the first continental highway. A young man released from prison early, his bookish little brother, his estranged sweetheart, his two escaped prison buddies, their families, the drifters they meet… this book peeks through the windows of their lives in mid-twentieth century America.

This is not an easy book to read. There’s death: intended and unintended. There’s manslaughter and straight up murder and suicide. There’s mental illness and child abandonment and sin and broken families. But there’s also friendship and sacrifice and glimpses of hope. Once again, Towles manages to capture the emotional atmosphere of a particular place and time.

Content: one unfortunate (and needless) description of a “circus” at a brothel with naked women riding horses and other scantily clad women. One teenage boy tries to force another to go to bed with a prostitute.

Recommended reading age: adult only.

You may also enjoy my list Good Books for Catholic Adults.

happy ethnic children lying on bed

Classic Chapter Books that are Funny!

My 9 year old was laughing so hard the other night over a book that he woke up his youngest sister. He just loves a laugh out loud funny book, and I bet he isn’t the only one! Depending on who you ask, laughter keeps us sane, is good medicine, and makes life worth living.

“Life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.”

Lucy Maud Montgomery

It’s Robert Frost who said laughter keeps us sane by the way. And Byron says it’s cheap medicine.

Anyway, here’s a list of the funniest chapter books for 8-12 year old middle grade readers.

Homer Price captures bank robbers- with a little help from his pet skunk Aroma. He watches the donut shop for his uncle- and ends up making thousands of donuts. Robert McCloskey’s wry illustrations help make this comic classic memorable. Our world is so much more complicated, but kids still laugh about Homer Price’s small-town escapades.

Speaking of McCloskey, he also illustrated Henry Reed, Inc.. Diplomat’s kid Henry Reed speaks several languages and has traveled the world, but knows very little about America. He returns to spend the summer in suburbia at Grover’s Corner and mayhem ensues. We love all the other books in the series: Henry Reed’s Babysitting Service, Henry Reed’s Journey, Henry Reed’s Big Show, and Henry Reed’s Think Tank.

Tom Sawyer: American legend. Kids would have to read this book anyway for cultural literacy, but it’s so funny they read it voluntarily. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer still have charm.

Life is an adventure on McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm where beanstalks grow sky high overnight. Sid Fleischman tells original American tall tales about a large family on a miraculously productive farm.

Good Old Archibald is a vintage schoolboy story of accepting differences and forging friendships through sports and pranks. Reprinted and available from Bethlehem Books.

My kids loved and laughed at Owls in the Family from about age 3 onwards. It’s got that universal appeal that makes all ages laugh out loud. Farley Mowat humorously recounts his childhood complete with a menagerie of pets including two Great Horned Owls that thought they were human.

In The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking, you get a three books in one volume! This illustrated edition of the beloved Pippi stories brings the irrepressible red-head to life for today’s kids.

Speaking of today’s kids, Adventures with Waffles is a modern day Scandinavian author’s Pippi-inspired comedy story. You can read my in-depth review here: “Adventures with Waffles” Review.

Edward Eager’s Tales of Magic series follows sibling groups on unlikely magical escapades usually with a twist. Like in Half Magic the children find a magic charm that gives them get exactly half of whatever they wish. Of course general hilarity ensues and they learn the hard way to be careful what they wish for!

The “magic” in Eager’s books is in the the Nesbit tradition: fairy-tale like magic that just happens to everyday people. The children are not trying to be witches or wizards. The magic happens through a toad that grants wishes in one book, a magic penny in another.

The Mad Scientists’ Club is vintage boys’ fiction with lots of science, pranks, and brainy kids saving the day. Overall I recommend these books for older middle grade readers with a few reservations. Things I don’t like: outsmarting domineering adults such as the Mad Scientists’ archenemy the mayor of the town is a common part of this collection of stories. There’s also some “fibbing” and disobedience to parents without real consequences.

But on the other hand, there’s a lot of positive themes about loyalty, friendship, problem-solving, and good clean fun. It’s quite funny and will inspire kids to explore and delve deep into STEM. This review from First Things captures the positives and negatives of the series well.

BritNotes on Steinbeck

John Steinbeck, 1902-1968, was a famous American writer and Nobel Prize winner for his work in literature.

Today I’ll fill you in as concisely as possible on what a parent wants to know about some of his more popular novels.

Of Mice and Men

Two men, drifting cowboys, one of them mentally handicapped. Friends with a dream. It sounds sort of sweet, but this is a brutal book to read. When the mentally handicapped giant can’t control his strength and keeps killing animals, then people, what should his friend do?

Steinbeck raises some good questions about racism, mental illness, culpability, and justice. But he also creates a scenario where euthanasia seems like the best option. Of course as Catholics, we believe that euthanasia is never the right answer to dealing with mental illness or any other human failing. But in Of Mice and Men it’s hard to come up with a different solution for the situation Steinbeck creates.

This is difficult moral ground for high schoolers to think through. So if your high schooler is assigned Of Mice and Men, be prepared to discuss euthanasia- and why it’s never the right solution. Also be advised that Of Mice and Men is heavy on the language with almost daily instances of swearing and cursing. There’s also a sexually promiscuous female character who is married but trying to seduce the single cowboys. No sex scenes or graphic violence.

The Pearl

The Pearl is the Steinbeck gem I think should be assigned in high school. This is an equally thought-provoking story of similar short length as Of Mice and Men. But without the language and super hopeless theme. In The Pearl, a poor but happy couple finds a rare pearl and vistas of wealth and social ascension rise before their naïve eyes. But what will they have to sacrifice as they pursue a better life for their son? Themes about greed, poverty, peace, happiness, and human nature predominate.

Unlike other Steinbeck books, there is no sexual content or language. There is some violence though: domestic, shootings, and the death of an infant.

East of Eden

My favorite Steinbeck, but not an easy book on multiple levels. East of Eden is very long: a saga of several generations. Steinbeck called East of Eden “THE book” and his best work. Allegorical at many places, East of Eden explores Biblical themes and tropes against the breathtaking beauty and daunting hardship of life in the Salinas Valley of California. With characters as unforgettable as a Dickens cast and themes that keep you up thinking at night, East of Eden is one of those books you should read in your lifetime if you possibly can.

But not at 12. Or 14. Or 16.

East of Eden has some monsters, as Steinbeck labels them. One is Cathy, a prostitute who takes pleasure in shocking others with her coarseness and committing the most offensive acts possible. Steinbeck intends to shock the reader with her evil so there’s some dwelling on the details of prostitution. Other plot points include adultery and fornication. For most teens from fairly sheltered backgrounds, East of Eden‘s sexual content would probably shock so much it would overshadow the great themes this book really explores.

In re other parental concerns, there’s some language, some violence, but nothing too graphic. There’s quite a lot of questioning of God: his existence, his goodness, his love. There’s also an overall disparaging of organized religion as a path to heaven or true happiness.

But to end on a positive note here: a big theme in East of Eden is facing reality. Two sets of brothers a generation apart each are faced with the reality of sin and darkness in human hearts. Do they pretend, avoid, shun, accept, participate? This is a novel about blindness and sight, the existence of free will, and the power of our choices.

Thou Mayest Choose

Review of “Brave Books”

The Island of Free Ice Cream - Book 3 - Jack Posobiec

Discover Freedom Island, where “The Brave” citizens fight against the villains who strive to take away their freedoms and corrupt their culture.

This new series presents issues like Communism, Critical Race Theory, the Sanctity of Life, and 2nd Amendment Rights in a way that 4-10 year olds can understand. Each book contains an animal story in the time-honored tradition of Aesop.

An animal on Freedom Island confronts a tricky situation in each book. For example, in “Elephants are Not Birds” Kevin the elephant loves to sing. A “friend” suggests that this means he is actually a bird. But will trying to be a bird make Kevin happy and fulfilled and free?

In “The Island of Free Ice Cream,” the animals of Freedom Island discover that when something is presented as “free” they need to be skeptical. In “Little Lives Matter” Mother Bear refuses to give up on her disabled bear cub Mobi. And when she is old he won’t give up on her either. In “Paws off My Cannon,” the animals keep losing their cupcakes to the aggressive hyenas and can’t agree on whether the cannons or the hyenas are the problem until they try an experiment.

A story, games, missions, and more!

Each book contains a story, family or classroom game ideas, missions, discussion points for further clarification, and more! There’s even a giant map of the island so you can really immerse your kids in the “Brave” universe. These books would be great to use as a framework for a weekly or monthly class. I think they’re best for 6-10 year olds although a mature 4-5 year old would also understand most of the stories.

So far, there are 7 books in the The Brave series with many more planned. This is an inspiring effort by a collaboration of established writers and media figures who believe strongly in core American values and freedoms. There is no specific political agenda being pushed here per se. Rather, the focus is on individual issues such as sanctity of life, cancel culture, truth, gender identity, and so forth.

The author and publisher clearly put a lot of thought and work into creating a quality teaching product with Brave Books. I think you’ll be impressed!

You can order Brave Books as a monthly subscription or as single books through the publisher: Brave Books.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Saga One from Brave Books in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

You may also be interested in some of my other Book Lists and Reviews such as: