Sunday, January 25, 2015

Soldier's Heart, by Gary Paulsen

“Soldier’s Heart” is the story of Charley Goddard, a fifteen-year old boy from Minnesota.  This excellent book follows Charley from the beginning of the Civil War, when he lies about his age in order to join his state’s militia and fight the Confederacy.  The reader follows Charley through his training and several major battles, until the odds eventually catch up with him and he sustains life-threatening wounds.

These days it seems like authors consciously try to tone down the amount of graphic violence in their work, and I have to give Mr. Paulsen a lot credit for going in the opposite direction.  Reading this book, along with its realistic (but not TOO traumatic) descriptions of the casualties and the horrors of war, a person is able to get a much better idea of what combat might have been like.  The continual deaths of Charley’s fellow soldiers help to remind us exactly what war is, even though it might have seemed like nothing more than an exciting adventure when Charley first joined up.

In an afterword, we learn that a young man named Charley Goddard actually did exist, and that he was present at almost all of the battles described in this novel.  When you consider the fact that at least 620,000 soldiers died during the Civil War, the idea of telling a single person’s story through fiction seems like a great way to give some perspective to that staggering statistic.  If every soldier that died in the Civil War was represented by a book, most libraries simply wouldn’t be large enough to hold all of their stories…

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Journey to an 800 Number, by E.L. Konigsburg

The late, great E.L. Konigsburg wrote at least fifteen books during her time.  She’s best known for “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler”, which is a staple on school reading lists.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved that book too, but today I want to highlight my absolute favorite book of hers, “Journey to an 800 Number”.  This is one of those books where I got to the end and couldn’t tell exactly what I had just read, but I sure knew that I had enjoyed it!

Maximillian “Bo” Stubbs is a prep school student who lives with his mother, who recently remarried.  He’s excited about moving in with his rich stepfather and living a life of luxury…but not until the month-long honeymoon is over!  In the meantime, Bo will be staying with his father Woody, a traveling man who owns a camel and makes a living by showing the animal at trade shows and carnivals.  To complicate matters even more, Bo keeps bumping into a girl named Chloe, whose mother bounces between trade shows and forges checks to pay their way!

This is one of Konigsburg’s lesser-known novels, so it might be a little hard to find at first.  Check your library for a copy, or maybe your local used book store.  It’s worth the search, though, since this book seems to be all about people who are searching for their identities.  I don’t want to ruin any of the ending with spoilers, but it almost seemed like Woody was the only one who was really at peace with himself.  He knew that he would always be nothing more than a man who owned a camel, but he seemed to be content with that. 

This book is offbeat, quirky, and definitely worth the short amount of time it takes to read.  Even if you don’t enjoy it as much as “Basil E. Frankweiler” or “The View From Saturday”, that’s completely okay.  Just because it’s my favorite of her books, that doesn’t it has to be yours too.  Remember, the whole point of this project is to highlight those books that young men might not have heard of!  If you’ve opened yourself up to reading something new, then our mission has been accomplished!