The Escape of Oney Judge

oney judge

The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington’s slave finds freedom. Originally published in 2007. Hardcover, 32 pages.

The Escape of Oney Judge is a children’s book, which as the title indicates, recounts the story of the escape of the female slave of Martha Washington, wife of founding father and first president George Washington. Oney was the daughter of an enslaved seamstress named Betsy, and an English tailor indentured servant by the name of Andrew Judge.

There are more detailed and extensive literary accounts of Oney Judge’s story, but this is the book our 9-year-old picked up from the library on a recent trip. She has written two book reviews for this blog, but this is one she wasn’t quite sure how to review, so it falls to me.

It’s a good, balanced historical children’s book. Rather than engage in hyperbole and theatrics, it reveals the complicated relationships and emotional connections that developed between slaves -particularly house slaves- and their masters and mistresses.

In Oney’s case, the realization that when all was said and done, she was still property to be bought, sold, or gifted was the impetus for her dramatic escape and time of hiding. Despite the constant dread of being found and sent back into slavery, Oney Judge decided the rewards and hardships were well worth the risk.

This is a very good book for kids between 7-10. I chose that age range based not only on reading level, which is well in hand of a literate 10-year-old, but content.

This was the 2008 Bank Street Best Children’s book of the year.

Grade: A

Content advisory: Nothing to be alarmed about here, but it is a story about the intersection of slavery and our country’s most beloved founding father.

 

 

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Adam and His Kin

adam and his kin

Adam and His Kin, by Ruth Beechick. Originally published in 1990. 176 pages.

When our sixth-grade student was assigned this book for her literature class, I’d never heard of it. It is basically the characters and stories of Genesis framed as historical fiction. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it when I picked it up. Apparently, it is well known in homeschool circles, and opinions on it are mixed. A positive take can be found here, a negative one here, for those interested in both sides of the issue.

As I began to read it, my initial reaction was a mixture of apprehension and horror. It seemed sacreligious to me to fictionalize Scripture. What, I thought, would possess anyone to do such a thing? However, I kept reading and allowed our daughter to keep reading primarily because I fancy myself open to new ideas and I genuinely trust the heart, intentions, and faith of the administrators and staff of the program where we have  our kids enrolled and taking classes.

After I got over my initial reluctance to the very idea of Ruth Beechick’s project, I began to see it differently. It gave us opportunities to go back and study Genesis closer, note contradictions and parallels, and remember that what we were reading the author’s attempt to help the reader see these people as more than just Bible story characters.

On the whole it was a decent read, when kept in proper perspective. The literature teacher who assigned it was careful to make the distinction between the Bible and this book, and even gave the children opportunities for class discussion on the pros and cons of reading such a book.

If there was one thing I appreciated about the book more than any other, it was that the author tried to capture the universality of human nature, that it is as it has always been over time. The sin nature that motivated Adam, Eve, Cain, Ham, or the builders of Tower of Babel was as evident then as it is today. Greed, jealousy, lusts for power and self-aggrandizement are as old as humanity itself, despite our tendency to believe that people are uniquely horrible in our time compared to times past.

That said, it certainly needs to be read with caution, and an eye toward the Scriptures.

Grade: B-

Content advisory: I wouldn’t recommend this book to any child under middle school age and certainly not to anyone without an in depth knowledge of the Book of Genesis.

 

Farmer Boy

farmer boy

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Originally pulished in 1933.

This review was written by our 9-year-old daughter. I do minimal editing to her writing when I post her reviews. Like Paddington, this book was part of assigned reading for her literature class.

Farmer Boy is a nonfictional classic by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It is about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s husband Almanzo Wilder, and his childhood.

It is very engaging and entertaining. I have not read many classics yet but this has to be one of my favorite’s. Once you start it is very hard to stop.

It is also very easy to read. Some of my favorite chapters are Birthday, Independence day, and also The Fair.

In The Fair Almanzo enters the biggest pumpkin contest. He fed his pumpkin milk  everyday. It was so big Father had to put in the wagon the night before.When he got to the fair he won the contest and everbody asked him what he had done to make it so big he was going to lie but his father was standing there he thought that he would get disqualified and get his ribbon taken away but he had to tell the truth so he did. He had a wonderful day at the fair.

I highly recommend this book. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

 

 

A Bear Called Paddington

A Bear Called Paddington, by Michael Bond. Originally published in 1958. 176 pages.

This is a guest post written by our 9-year-old daughter.

paddington

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond is a funny, peculiar and entertaining book. It is one of my favorites.

Some of my favorite chapters are “A bear in hot water”, “A shopping expedition” and my all-time favorite, “Adventure at the seaside.”

In the “Adventure at the seaside”, Paddington gets lost at sea with only a bucket and a shovel. With his shovel he paddled, while he sat in the bucket. Luckily a fisher man saw him, caught him with his hook, and returned him to shore.

I would highly recommend this book.

Captains Courageous

Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling. Orignally published in 1897. 144 pages.

Our 11-year-old had to read this book for her middle school literature class, so I read it also. It was at times a hard read, as dialect heavy books tend to be for me, and this one was heavy with various dialects of both the American seamen from the northeast and foreigners from various points around the globe.

However, I make a point of not being dissuaded by dialects when reading a book and pushed forward. Our daughter tackled this problem by listening to several of the chapters on Librivox as she read it, and it helped her grasp Kipling’s style -in this book- much better.

Captains Courageous is a very masculine book. In fact, if I have to answer the question, “What is Captains Courageous about?” my answer is manhood.  In fact I was asked this question. It’s about a boy, coddled, spoiled and entitled by his mother:

“Like many other unfortunate young people, Harvey had never in all his life received a direct order—never, at least, without long, and sometimes tearful, explanations of the advantages of obedience and the reasons for the request. Mrs. Cheyne lived in fear of breaking his spirit, which, perhaps, was the reason that she herself walked on the edge of nervous prostration.”

One day, as Harvey and his mother (his father is busy managing and increasing their multi-million dollar fortune) are sailing from America to Europe, he falls off the boat and is believed to be lost at sea. He isn’t lost but instead is rescued by a pasing fishing boat filled with men based on the New England coast. Men who are not scheduled to return to the east coast (where Harvey can be reunited with his parents) for another four months. He is eventually presumed dead..

Stuck on the fishing vessel with a crew of sea-hardened sailors from all over the globe, away from his father’s money and his mother’s coddling, Harvey has to work for his keep. He initially balks, but it doesn’t take long before the ship’s captain, Disko Troop, literally beats it into his head that he isn’t in New York anymore, he won’t be for several months, and that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

This book is ultimately about a boy coming of age, and becoming a man of character as he is influenced by the crew of the We’re Here. The rather obvious dichotomy between the understanding the two fathers represented (Disko Troop and Harvey Sr.) and the two mothers represented drove home to me how much Kipling was driving home the reality that there are things about manhood that women will never quite be able to grasp.

Lots of seafarer terminology is here and I had to look most of it up, and there Kipling spends pages describing the experience of ocean life. So much so, our daughter thought it would be valid to categorize the sea as a legitimate character, which I found very interesting and insightful.

This… This is a good book. It may have been a children’s book in 1897, but given the decline in most American’s level of reading, I feel completely comfortable recommending to anyone from age 12 to 92. Besides, what was it that C.S. Lewis said:

No book is really worth reading at the age of 10 which is not equally- and often far more- worth reading at the age of 50 and beyond.

Grade: A

Content advisory: Some racial slurs and religious slurs. Some murkiness on matters of faith that would probebly be best explored with children under 12. Death, violence, and peril are included as well.

Age recommendation: 12 +

 

 

 

Mary Poppins

mary poppins

Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers, originally published in 1934. 224 pages.

“Don’t you know that everybody’s got a Fairyland of their own?”
Disney, especially, as one of the first things we noticed was that the book P.L. Travers wrote is pretty different from the movie Walt Disney produced.
Our third grader decently read this one and enjoyed it a great deal. She read large portions to me throughout the book, but I myself have not read it. The grade at the bottom will be hers, not mine.
This is a story we all know well by now. A chipper, cheerful, magical nanny floats into the banks household and whips the children into shape. It wasn’t long before our daughter noted, “Mary Poppins was much nicer in the movie!” There were also more children in the book than in the movie.
In fact, there were quite a few differences between the book and the movie. However, since we have had numerous occasion to dissect the differences between real books or fairy tales and sanitized Disney versions, our kid took the differences in stride.
The book was well written, stretched her eight-year-old vocabulary, and left her looking forward to reading more Mary Poppins books. It was a win.
She gives it an A.

 

Little House on the Prairie

little-house-prairie

Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Published in 1935. 352 pages.

After my review of Little House in the Big Woods, I decided to skip Farmer Boy, the second book published in the series, and proceed with reading Little House on the Prairie as our nightly read aloud. The girls were very interested in what happens next with the Ingalls family and Farmer Boy is a bit of a digression from the series.

Little House on the Prairie chronicles what happen as the Ingalls family leaves their home in the Big Woods of Wisconsin and set out to build a new home on the prairie in Kansas.

Along the way they experience challenges small and great, but there is always love, solidarity, and Pa’s protection (not to mention his gun) to get them through. In this installment, Jack the family dog plays a prominent role, which the kids enjoyed.

The Native Americans (Indians) in that part of the country were an ever-present fear,  which Wilder handles with a fair amount of tact and finesse.

As this is a very well known series of books, I will keep this brief. The kids love it and are eagerly anticipating the next books which tell the saga of the Ingalls family.

It has taken a while to get through this one, as some nights -particularly during basketball season- leave us too tired to keep our eyes open. In addition, on a recent trip to the library, the girls talked their father into checking out Phillip Reeve’s Cakes in Space to read to them. We ended up alternating the two stories at night.

My kids knew I would never be interested in reading that particular story to them, but it worked out well. He not only read it but included appropriate sound effects, both human and technological.

As for Little House, if you haven’t read them do. Whether you’re 8 or 80, they are good books.

Grade: A