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How to Train Your Dad–the art of dumpster diving

How to Train Your Dad

by Gary Paulsen

Carl is the twelve year old narrator of this middle grade book which has a very conversational style. The vocabulary is somewhat advanced for a twelve year old, but that is because Pooder, Carl’s best friend who helps him write the story, goes through phases of interest (British, Navy seal, etc.). His various fascinations show up in his speech. Pooder admires Carl’s dad who, besides a few odd jobs, lives by bartering. Carl’s dad is very intelligent, mechanically inclined, and very kind. He trades energy (labor) for goods. He considers himself rich as he recycles from dumpsters or his neighbor Oscar’s junk piles. He built a whole truck from discarded spare parts. He prizes function over form; so if an invention works, it doesn’t matter how it looks.

His dad’s philosophy has been fine with Carl until he reaches middle grades and suddenly becomes aware of Peg as “the” girl. His summer goal is to become “lookatable” by the time school starts which is hard to do when your dad barters for XL camo T-shirts and pink bib overalls decorated with words like “juicy.”

The book explores Carl’s efforts to train his father using the methods in a puppy training pamphlet. His efforts are hilarious as are the contraptions his father builds and the objects he brings home. A lot of the dumpster diving food goes to the pigs and chickens. Carl and his dad have a rescue pit bull Carol who is an integral part of their family and, despite her stinky habit of shredding skunks, is allowed to accompany them everywhere.

How to Train Your Dad is a fun story that tweenagers will enjoy. Its casual style and over the top anecdotes are sure to appeal.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grades

Notes: Contains a very small amount of cussing

Intended ages: 10-14

Publication: October 5, 2021—Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

Memorable Lines:

She’s in my grade at school and everyone likes her and I have never ever ever seen her be catty or crabby or phony to anyone ever which is something like a miracle in middle school, if you ask me.

Sometimes Pooder jumping from phase to phase without warning can be a little confusing. He might start things off an English lord before suddenly becoming an advertising mogul looking to make some coin and then turn into a Viking biting deep on a tomato-apple so the juice runs down into his beard-if-he-had-one while he’s thinking of pillaging a coast somewhere.

My father loved to barter. To trade, as he thought of it, energies, abilities, knowledge. Trade everything he could so as not to use money. “I have a widget,” he explained to me when I was very small, “and John Doe has an extra electric frying pan he doesn’t need, but he needs a widget and so we trade. We barter. Simple and clean. It’s the very best and purest way to do business.”

The Coat–sacrificial giving

The Coat

by Séverine Vidal and Louis Thomas

The Coat is a children’s picture book that tells the story of Elise who waits longingly for the day when her big sister Mia will outgrow her perfect red coat and pass it on to Elise. It also is the story of a homeless child dressed in a few layers of summer clothes sitting with her mother on cardboard on the sidewalk…in the snow. Elise passes her by the first day she wears her new red coat, but after a restless night, she can’t look away again. The second day she is late to school, coatless, and happy.

The Coat is a touching way to teach children about sacrificial giving. The homeless child is not given a name in the story which seems appropriate because there are so many “nameless” children who need help and hope. The pictures are colored line drawings, simple and almost cartoonish with an appeal to the reader to join the story. The snowy scenes and dialogue about “penguin cold” are perfect for this story. It is a book that children will request rereads on, and as they hear it again and again its message will make its way into their hearts.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: Reading age: 3 – 7 years
Grade level: 1 – 2

Publication: October 11, 2022—Flyaway Books

Memorable Lines:

It was bitterly cold. Penguin cold!

But now when Elise thought about the warm, soft, red coat, it hurt a little, kind of like a pinch.

Her thoughts were enough to keep her warm.

The Princess and the Goblin–multi-layered fairy tale for all ages

The Princess and the Goblin

by George MacDonald

Ready for another, good-for-all-ages fairy tale? My book club read The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, a Scottish minister, poet, and novelist, who inspired and influenced many authors through the ages including C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, and Madeleine L’Engle. Like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Princess and the Goblin is first and foremost a fun fantasy tale, beautifully written. As it progresses, layers of symbolism are added with themes of courage, honor, belief, trust, virtue, and faith. As any good fairy tale does, The Princess and the Goblin differentiates between good and evil. Children and adults are living in a rather messy world today where ethics often are blurred, but there are still truths that need to be valued. There are morals that hold us to a standard that forms a good society.

With the author’s great descriptive powers, all of the characters are detailed both physically and morally. The goblins are all evil with designs on the full destruction of the human race. The humans in the story are not perfect, but demonstrate character development based on their experiences.

Irene is a little princess who lives in a country castle. Her noble king-papa visits her regularly as he tours his kingdom staying in touch with his people. Irene discovers her great-great-grandmother living in a section of the castle. No one else has seen her or her rooms. She acts as a God figure in the story, guiding Irene to safety and to belief. A very wise woman, she helps Irene understand that not everyone is ready to believe at the same time. This is apparent in Lootie, Irene’s nurse, who has responsibility for the child’s safety and in Curdie, a clever and brave young miner who befriends and helps Princess Irene. The goblins desire the little princess as a mate for their prince.

There is a lot of adventure in this tale as Curdie works underground (literally) to discover the goblin plots and thwart them. The Princess and Curdie are at odds as he does not initially see what Irene sees because the great-great-grandmother does not actually disclose herself to him.

The settings include a castle with lots of hallways, some beautiful mountains, a small miner’s cottage, pitch black caves where miners toil away picking out ore, and goblin caverns and tunnels. These are the backdrops for the dramatic action of the goblins’ convocation, the Princess’ wanderings, and Irene and Curdie’s courageous rescues of each other. The battle scenes are well played out as Curdie defeats them with poetry and foot stomping.

This is a book that I am sorry I missed earlier in my life. I would love to have shared it with my children and grandchildren when they were younger, but I am happy to pass on the word now to new generations looking for well-written books with substance and value. I look forward to reading The Princess and Curdie, which was written eleven years later, as well as some of MacDonald’s other works (numbering over 50) which encompass a variety of genres. I believe that even reading a biography of this author’s life and influence would be quite interesting as his work did not take a straight forward path. He and his family were plagued with health issues, and despite his success and the admiration of his colleagues, he was not always financially solvent.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fairy Tale, Fantasy

Publication: November 16, 2010—Project Gutenberg (which includes beautiful illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith from the 1920 version.
First published by Strahan & Co. 1872
Also published by David McKay Co. 1920

Memorable Lines:

Her fear vanished: once more she was certain her grandmother’s thread could not have brought her there just to leave her there…

“But it wasn’t very good of him not to believe me when I was telling him the truth.” “People must believe what they can, and those who believe more must not be hard upon those who believe less. I doubt if you would have believed it all yourself if you hadn’t seen some of it.”

…Lootie had very foolish notions concerning the dignity of a princess, not understanding that the truest princess is just the one who loves all her brothers and sisters best, and who is most able to do them good by being humble toward them.

The Last Battle–the end

The Last Battle

by C.S. Lewis

The final installment of The Chronicles of Narnia is as interesting, exciting, and thought provoking as the other six books. I read the last part slowly, eager to know what would happen next but not wanting to arrive at the end of the magnificent tale by C.S. Lewis, the consummate storyteller.

There are many important and timely themes including freedom vs. socialism, manipulation, deception, power and control, sacrifice, good vs. evil, and seeking God. Lewis brings together the characters and elements of all the books into a grand and surprising, but satisfying finale.

There are new characters added to the series. Shift is an ape who keeps Puzzle the donkey controlled by undermining his self-confidence. Old characters are present too as King Tirian calls out to Aslan the lion for help and “the seven friends of Narnia” from our world are whooshed into Narnia where they prepare to do battle against Shift, the Calormenes led by Rishda, and Tash the Calormene god. Shift devises elaborate schemes to deceive the Narnians and convince them that Puzzle, dressed in a lion’s skin and only appearing in the dark, is Aslan. This false Aslan through Shift’s directives is a cruel ruler, unlike the real Aslan. He enslaves the Dwarfs and Talking Horses making them work to accrue wealth for himself. Shift and Rishda convince the Narnian Talking Animals that Tash and Aslan are the same god and that they should now worship “Tashlan.”

Speaking further of the plot would disclose too many events that readers will surely want to discover on their own. The Last Battle is an adventure story replete with easy to understand symbolism and ageless themes. Quoting the last paragraph of the book would be the ultimate spoiler, but don’t fly to it first when you read the book. When you reach the ending, having experienced adventures alongside the characters and learned more of the attributes of the real Aslan, you will smile and savor the thoughts in that last beautifully composed paragraph.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction, Christian

Notes: 1. #7 in The Chronicles of Narnia series. This is the final book in the series and should be read last.
2. This series is often listed as Children’s Fiction, but is really appropriate for all ages with adults reading it on a different level from children. It is perfect for a read-aloud.
3. I can’t believe I had never read the full series. If you are in a similar position, I urge you to delve into this treasure of a series. You will not regret it.

Publication: Original copyright is 1956. My copy was printed by Scholastic in 1995.

Memorable Lines:

“I was with him in his last hour and he gave me this message to your Majesty: to remember that all worlds draw to an end and that noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy.” “So,” said the King, after a long silence “Narnia is no more.”

And then she understood the devilish cunning of the enemies’ plan. By mixing a little truth with it they had made their lie far stronger.

“They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”

The Magician’s Nephew–another C.S. Lewis masterpiece

The Magician’s Nephew

by C.S. Lewis

I entered The Magician’s Nephew not really knowing what to expect. It was written by C.S. Lewis the year prior to the publication of the last book in the series, The Last Battle, which I have not read yet. At the suggestion of a member of our book club who was actually rereading the series, we inserted The Magician’s Nephew immediately before The Last Battle—not because it belongs there chronologically, but because it could perhaps be appreciated better at that point in our reading. I don’t think you could go wrong with any sequence of these books! C.S. Lewis intended it to be read first in his Chronicles of Narnia, but by the time it was first published, many of his readers would have already greedily devoured the first five books. It is indeed a prequel to the delightful The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, but for those who have already read that first classic tale, you will enjoy the “ah ha” moments that arise as Lewis gives you a backstory that renders both subtle and obvious connections. It never has the feel of a book written at the instigation of a publisher who just wants to squeeze more out of a popular series. It seems that it is Lewis’ desire to bring the pictures he has painted in his novels together with cohesion and forward looking vision.

In The Magician’s Nephew, a story which begins in London, you will learn of the creation of the world Narnia, meet Aslan the Lion, and witness the awakening of the Witch. There are many connections to the creation of Earth and its population as found in the Bible; but of course it is Narnia and in this fictional realm we learn how the animals came to talk and see the never changing character of Aslan who reigns with power and love, who grieves for the things that grieve us, and gives us hope during times of devastation.

This book has sad and fearful moments as well as happy and triumphant ones. The humor as the animals plant and water Uncle Andrew in hopes that the poor “plant” will revive is more refreshing to the reader than to Uncle Andrew! The pure evil of Jadis the Witch is the stuff of ancient fairy tales as is the conflict of good and evil. The characters are ones you can feel strongly about. The setting, as always with C.S. Lewis, is so vividly and well described that you can visualize both the “real” world of London and fictional worlds to which the children (main characters Digory and Polly) can transport themselves. As to plot, it constantly throws in surprises, but events are always connected. It becomes a quick read, not because it is short or light reading, but because it is so much fun to read. As with all the books in the series, it can be read as a child enjoys fiction or as an adult looking for deeper meaning. I suggest you read it both ways at once. Come to the story for entertainment and leave with the enrichment of a well-told tale imbued with rich symbolism.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction, Christian

Notes: #1 in The Chronicles of Narnia series, but can be read at any time in the reading of the series. Warning: If this book is your first experience with this series, you will probably want to read more!
This series is often listed as Children’s Fiction, but is really appropriate for all ages with adults reading it on a different level from children. It is perfect for a read-aloud.

Publication: 1955—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are.

She has won her heart’s desire; she has unwearying strength and endless days like a goddess. But length of days with an evil heart is only length of misery and already she begins to know it. All get what they want; they do not always like it.

For the rest of that day, whenever he looked at the things about him, and saw how ordinary and unmagical they were, he hardly dared to hope; but when he remembered the face of Aslan he did hope.

The Horse and His Boy–excellent storytelling

The Horse and His Boy

by C. S. Lewis

Herein lies the tale of Shasta, abused son sold as a slave. He joins forces with Aravis who is trying to avoid marriage to a much older, ugly, powerful, rich man. Shasta and Aravis devise a plan of escape that includes their Narnian horses who can, of course, talk.

There are many complications on their adventure including mistaken identity for Shasta and recognition of Aravis by an old friend. Lucy and Edmund, characters from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, play minor roles in this book as does their big sister Susan. Her rebuff of a suitor, Prince Rabadash, could cause a war.

Aslan, the Lion, appears and disappears, always a part of events as they occur. The characters learn that there is more to happenings than luck or chance. Even those who don’t already know about Aslan immediately feel there is something special about Him when they first encounter Him.

The Horse and His Boy includes characters who are noble and heroic and also those who are traitors. Aslan gives the despicable Prince Rabadash a second chance, and the outcome is perfectly constructed. It is fitting, but I certainly couldn’t have predicted it.

The Horse and His Boy is another storytelling triumph by C.S. Lewis who again has written a book that can be enjoyed on two levels. It is a fascinating fantasy, but it can also be read with religious themes in mind. Regardless of your reading goals, you will enjoy this entertaining fantasy without the intricate world building of current fantasies.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to HarperCollins Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Christian

Notes: This book is #3 in The Chronicles of Narnia. This series is often listed as Children’s Fiction, but is really appropriate for all ages with adults reading it on a different level from children. The series begins with the highly popular The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but many readers find each one of the books in the series to be their “favorite” as they encounter it.

Publication: 1954—HarperCollins Publishers

Memorable Lines:

Aravis immediately began, sitting quite still and using a rather different tone and style from her usual one. For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.

“I must have come through the pass in the night. What luck that I hit it!—at least it wasn’t luck at all really, it was Him, and now I’m in Narnia.”

“Child,” said the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.”

The Gingerbread House–Christmasy picture book

The Gingerbread House

by Laura Gia West

Do you like gingerbread? Laura Gia West has cooked up a sweet treat with her rhyming tale of The Gingerbread House. You’ll want to read it aloud to enjoy the rhymes. There were a few places that seemed a little forced and not as predictable as I would like to see in a children’s book. It also had a font feature at the beginning of some lines that made reading difficult for me, so I’m sure it would give trouble to a younger reader. The illustrations are bright, colorful, and fun, and I think children would enjoy reading this picture book with their favorite grown-up, especially during the Christmas season.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Victory Editing NetGalley Co-op for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Publication: November 1, 2020—Victory Editing NetGalley Coop

The Silver Chair–the rescue of a prince

The Silver Chair

by C. S. Lewis

Eustace, who became a changed person for the better in C. S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is given another opportunity to visit Narnia. He and Jill, a school friend, escape bullies by slipping through an unlocked gate at the school. Aslan, the Lion, has orchestrated the adventure to send them on a mission to locate the missing Prince Rilian who has been under the spell of a witch for ten years.

They are accompanied by Puddleglum, a Marsh-Wiggle, a delightfully morose character who can always find the potential bad in any situation. Despite his melancholy disposition, he proves to be a loyal, trustworthy, and brave companion. He also provides some levity for the reader during the perilous adventures.

Aslan gives the children four signs to follow. Their intentions are good, but they are not entirely successful. They escape from deceptive, hungry giants and are captured by Earthmen who take them to the Deep Realm in the Underland. When they find Prince Rilian, they have to decide on following his instructions or relying on the signs Aslan has given them.

As in all of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair can be enjoyed as a fantasy or with little effort as a tome replete with symbolism. In this allegory, Aslan represents Jesus who is both the Lion and the sacrificial Lamb in the Bible, and the children are his followers. He provides direction and guidance, but his followers still have choices. One outstanding example of the Biblical parallel is when Prince Rilian declare to the children that “Aslan will be our good lord, whether he means us to live or die.” This same sentiment is uttered by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Old Testament when they are threatened by King Nebuchadnezzar with being thrown into a furnace. They respond “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3: 17 & 18 ESV).

The Silver Chair is the fourth book in The Chronicles of Narnia for me. I expected that I would not like any as much as the first, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. To my surprise, I have enjoyed all of them almost equally. Each one is fresh and engaging. The setting and characters overlap, but each adventure has the addition of new characters and stands on its own merits.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Christian

Publication: 1953—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

“The bright side of it is,” said Puddleglum, “that if we break our necks getting down the cliff, then we’re safe from being drowned in the river.”

And though you might have expected that the idea of having a good time at Harfang would have made them more cheerful, it really made them more sorry for themselves and more grumpy and snappy with each other and with Puddleglum.

“And the lesson of it all is, your Highness,” said the oldest Dwarf, “that those Northern Witches always mean the same thing, but in every age they have a different plan for getting it.”

Out, Mouse!–cute Irish tale

Out, Mouse!

written by Valerie L. Egar

audio narration by Paul Collins

Finn, an elderly Irish man, has unwelcome visitors as a mice family makes themselves at home in his cottage. Finn takes advice from Professor Dunderbutt’s book and writes a series of kind letters to Mr. and Mrs. Mouse making suggestions of places they would probably prefer to live. Unfortunately for Finn, they always find something unsuitable about the places he suggests. I won’t spoil the ending, but I’ll say that it did make me smile.

I was referred to this book by blogging book reviewer Carla at Carla Loves to Read. She mentions in her review that she listened to the audio version while reading the printed text. I have been wanting to dip into the many audio versions of books currently offered. With an actor reading this with an Irish accent, this book seemed like the perfect one to begin my listening adventure. Although I will probably continue to prefer the written word, I did enjoy listening to this narration which was very well performed.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Whistle Oak for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Humor, Multicultural

Notes: 1. Publisher Recommended Ages: 6-9 years
2. Includes a section that encourages students to create pictures of what they imagined as they read the story.

Publication: April 6, 2021—Whistle Oak

Memorable Lines:

Finn knew something was wrong as soon as he opened the door to his cottage. Something or someone, had made a mess of the breakfast he’d placed on the table before taking his morning walk.

If the mice don’t like your first idea, keep writing letters. Sooner or later, one of your letters will work and they will move. This method NEVER fails.

He found a scrap of red cloth and tied it around his neck. A tiny brass nail became a make-believe sword. He held it tightly in his hand, waving it back and forth.

Prince Caspian–the return to Narnia

Prince Caspian

by C. S. Lewis

A year after the events of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis returns Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy to Narnia. In Prince Caspian, pulled there by a magical force as they are waiting for their trains to take them to boarding school, they suddenly find themselves in the ruins of their old castle Cair Paravel, hundreds of years later in Narnian time. 

Through many adventures, the children meet Prince Caspian, the rightful king of Narnia, and enthrone him, replacing his usurper, his Uncle Miraz. There is a wonderful cast of characters in this novel. Prince Caspian’s tutor, Dr. Cornelius, is instrumental in helping him escape certain death. The creatures of Narnia range from mythical, such as Bacchus, Dryads, Dwarfs, and Centaurs, to talking animals of a larger size than normal. Reepicheep is a valiant and honorable leader of mice. Trufflehunter is a kind and friendly badger. The mighty lion Aslan appears to Lucy first and the other children don’t believe her. What follows is each one of them coming to believe in Aslan in their own way and a great battle between the Narnians and the Telmarines. 

As the fantasy continues, so do the fun and adventure. I am excited to read another tale by the master storyteller C. S. Lewis. He excels in creation of characters, setting, and plot, and most especially in weaving adventure and theology seamlessly leaving the reader with much to contemplate. 

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Christian

Notes: This book is a part of The Chronicles of Narnia. There is debate even today over the order one should read these books in as the series contains a prequel and a book that relates to Narnia but does not include the children as major characters. Having not read the whole series yet, I can not chime in on that debate, but I do strongly encourage the reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which I suspect will be my favorite, prior to reading Prince Caspian.

This series is often listed as Children’s Fiction, but is really appropriate for all ages with adults reading it on a different level from children.

Publication:  1951—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

“Where do you think you saw him?” asked Susan.  “Don’t talk like a grown-up,” said Lucy, stamping her foot. “I didn’t think I saw him. I saw him.”

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”  “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.  “Not because you are?”  “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

The sort of “History” that was taught in Narnia under Miraz’s rule was duller than the truest history you ever read and less true than the most exciting adventure story.

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