Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Swiss Family Robinson, by Johann David Wyss

“The Swiss Family Robinson” is an exciting adventure story about a large family who survives a terrifying shipwreck, only to become stranded on an uninhabited island!  At first the Robinson family is forced to focus on their immediate survival in the wild, but they quickly adapt and become quite comfortable living on their own.  Eventually, they make a shocking discovery when they learn that their island might not be as deserted as it appeared!

I had never read this book before, but I had seen Walt Disney’s movie version of the story.  It was exciting to notice areas where the book differed so much from the movie.  That’s one of the neat things about these older, classic books--- if you’ve got an exciting plot with some interesting characters, it can be told in an unlimited number of ways.  This book was written nearly 200 years ago, and it’s been re-printed in dozens of different versions for different age groups.  Feel free to shop around a little and choose the best version for you, even if it’s one of the comic books!  I decided to read the English translation of the original book for this review.  The author was careful to detail all of the steps that the family took to build their new home.  It was very cool to read about their ingenuity, but at times I almost felt like I was reading a survival manual!

I’ve since learned that Mr. Wyss may have been inspired by Daniel Defoe’s novel “Robinson Crusoe”, which is about a man who spends years alone on a desert island.  The family’s last name could be a clue to observant readers, pointing them towards another excellent book that the author enjoyed.  While these two books might sound similar, being stranded by yourself would actually be a very different situation from being cast away with your entire family.  But what do you think?  If you were cast off on a desert island, would you prefer to be by yourself or in a group?  Can you think of any specific people that you might want to face these hardships with?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Candy Corn Contest, by Patricia Reilly Giff

Even though I prefer reviewing full-length novels aimed at middle-grade and young adult readers, I definitely don’t want to overlook some of the outstanding chapter books aimed at younger boys.  Patricia Reilly Giff’s “Polk Street School” series is an excellent example of these.  One great advantage of this series is that if you like the characters, you can pick up the next book and follow your new friends into their next adventure!

In “The Candy Corn Contest”, Mrs. Rooney hosts a contest with her second grade class to see if anyone can guess the number of candy corns inside a jar on her desk.  No one is successful, and during the week Richard “the Beast” Best accidentally discovers that the magic number is written on the bottom of the jar!   Richard doesn’t want to be a cheater, so he has to find a way to get out of the contest without ruining everyone else’s fun.

This situation might seem simple, but it’s probably a major ethical dilemma for a second-grader!  I think that the intended audience would really identify with Richard, especially if they thought he might get in trouble for being honest.  What do you think you would do if you were in his position?  Have you ever had to admit that you’d done something wrong, even though you knew that your honesty might get you in trouble?