Happy Birthday to the Boy Who Lived

Harry Potter is one of the most famous and beloved characters of juvenile fiction, and today, July 31st, is his, as well as his creator’s, birthday.  J. K. Rowling crafted incredible tales of bravery, cunning, and heroism, but she has stated that the books’ main theme is death.  If you’ve had the pleasure of reading all seven books, you will agree with her statement.

I’ll admit that I bought into the conservative view that we shouldn’t allow our young people to read books promoting the fascination of wizardry when the books were first released.  I was teaching sixth graders at the time and saw them with the thick books at school, but I didn’t understand the hype.  I later read in The Read-Aloud Handbook that these books inspired a whole generation of kids to read thicker books than they had ever read before, but that didn’t squelch my misgivings. 

This past March, I took my children to the library over spring break, and my ten year old son asked if he could check out the first Harry Potter book.  Not having read it myself, I wasn’t sure if he should read it, but I agreed as long as we read it together.  Little did I know that this would begin a wonderful time of reading and discussion between my son and myself as we raced through all seven books in three months. We couldn’t believe previous readers had had to wait a year between books when they were first released.  We devoured them and returned to the library often, searching for the next book in the series and borrowing the DVDs to watch after we had finished each book. 

What I quickly learned in reading that first book is the stories are full of good versus evil, choices between doing what is right or what is easy, much like other popular book and movie series.  We are avid Star Wars fans, and I believe the “force” in the movies is just as magical as the spells in the Harry Potter books.  Many in my generation grew up with Star Wars and have no qualms in believing that Luke Skywalker is a good guy and should use the force to battle the Dark Side.  However, those same people (myself included) are frightened when our children want to read about a young wizard who uses magic to fight the Dark Lord.  I have read books and articles expounding ways to talk about Christianity as it relates to both Star Wars and to Harry Potter, and I discussed some of these with my son as we read.  

That being said, the Harry Potter books are some of the most exciting books I have ever read and are definitely the most interesting and enjoyable my son and I have read together.  We laughed together, and I cried at times as we followed Harry and his classmates through their years at Hogwarts.  In this coming-of-age series, Harry discovers who he is, makes friends and enemies, maintains relationships, suffers loss and humiliation, stands up for what is right, experiences joy, sadness, triumph, defeat, and love.  It offers lessons for children of all ages and even adults. 

Having read the books and loved them, my son and I were greatly disappointed in the movie versions, so don’t judge the books by the movies.  If you haven’t read any of the books, start with the first one and read all seven because the complete resolution to the problem in the first book doesn’t occur until book seven.  We have had difficulty finding any comparable books to read together since finishing the last Harry Potter book.  A new book came out today, and we can’t wait to read it.  

Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to Lindsey F. who won my first blog giveaway! You can read my review of Willie’s Redneck Time Machine here. My son has been reading this book every day and discovering new adventures each time.
Thank you to those who participated in this giveaway, and thank you to Tyndale House Publishers for the complimentary books.

The Mess Detectives and the Case of the Lost Temper by Karen Poth

This I Can Read level 1 book is a cute VeggieTales story about self control. I ordered this book for my six year old to read on her own, but there were several words she didn’t recognize, so I read it to her. She enjoyed the story, but it was very simple.

Bob and Larry are detectives who are trying to find a door slammer. Bob starts out in a bad mood and gets more angry when Larry does silly things while they are supposed to be undercover. Bob loses his temper, and Larry calms him down by simply telling him to stop. Bob thinks about what he did and apologizes. It’s a nice little story but not very realistic. The door slammer turns out to be the wind, so Bob is the only one who lost his temper. The book ends with Proverbs 29:11, which talks about self control.

The Mess Detectives and the Case of the Lost Temper would be a good book for a child who can read on a first or second grade level, but I believe it would be best used as a springboard for a deeper conversation on self control with a younger child. The book does not discuss ways to control your temper or ways to calm down once you are angry (other than Bob stopping to think). This is a short and simple level 1 reader, so I guess I shouldn’t expect too much from the plot and resolution, but the title led me to believe it would help me teach my child to control her temper.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Harper Collins Christian Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Be sure to check out my review of Willie’s Redneck Time Machine and like, comment, or follow to be entered to win a free copy of the book.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

My First Giveaway–Willie’s Redneck Time Machine by John Luke Robertson

Willie’s Redneck Time Machine is an interactive adventure book written for children and teenagers, but I enjoyed reading it too. My eight year old son was very excited to receive this book and has been reading it every day since we got it. He has chosen four different adventures so far and really gets into them. He wrote a reading response for school on this book and said, “It was so silly, it made me dizzy.” I’m not sure exactly what that means, but he liked it. My son is reading above his grade level, so this book is probably written for middle school aged children. I asked him if there were any words he didn’t know, and he said “mullet”, but he figured out that it was a hairstyle based on the context clues.

Willie’s Redneck Time Machine is the first book in John Luke Robertson’s series of interactive adventures. The others are Phil & the Ghost of Camp Ch-Yo-Ca, Si in Space, and Jase & the Deadliest Hunt. In each book, the reader gets to be one of the Duck Commander crew and make decisions every few pages that lead to the next part of your adventure. It took me about thirty minutes to complete an adventure, so this would make an excellent read for someone who has a shorter attention span, doesn’t want to get into a thick book, or just wants to be entertained for a little while.

I thought the adventure I chose was a little silly, but I can see how boys would love it. There were several references to how Willie was raised that reinforce what we are trying to teach our children–show respect for your elders, do not hit out of anger, stand up for what you believe in, fight for your family, show compassion for others, etc. I love how they incorporated respect and manners in this humorous adventure.

Tyndale House Publishers has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book and a copy for me to give away, so one lucky reader will receive this book for free! You may enter the contest in one of three ways: “like” this post, comment on this post, or sign up to follow this blog. I will draw a name on Wednesday, September 24th at 8:00 am and announce the winner that day, so get your name in the drawing before 8:00 am Wednesday. Thank you for participating!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

I was at the library with my kids when this unusually thick children’s book caught my eye. Someone at the library had placed a Caldecott sticker on the spine, and I thought it was odd that a novel would win an award for its pictures, so I picked it up and was fascinated by the vivid pencil drawings throughout the book. I soon realized that the pictures tell parts of the story instead of merely providing illustrations. The story looked interesting enough for my eight-year-old, and the pictures would keep my almost-six-year-old engaged, so I checked it out.

All three of us loved this book. There was a bit of a mystery, and there was suspense throughout the story in that you weren’t sure what would happen to Hugo in the end. He is a likable character despite his secrecy, and you don’t want any harm to come to him.

We learned a great deal about early theater and how magicians made some of the early movies. The story takes place in a train station in Paris, which provided a unique setting and a behind-the-scenes look at how some parts of the station worked. This book is based on the work of a real person, so we were able to do a little research and find out more about him.

I would highly recommend this book as a read-aloud for younger kids and for older kids to read on their own.

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

I’m not sure what I was expecting this book to be about, but it was full of surprises. I read this aloud to my older two children, and they both enjoyed it. I don’t care for dogs, but my children like them, so we checked out this book for the kids, but I enjoyed it as much as they did. Just in case you are worried that my kids won’t ever have a dog because of me, don’t be concerned. My in-laws (with whom we share land) have two dogs that can often be found sleeping on our front porch or in our flower beds. Our 16 month old twins absolutely love the dogs, and the older kids play with them too.

Because of Winn-Dixie is a poignant story told by a young girl as she chronicles what happened the summer she moved to Naomi, Florida, and met a dog that she named Winn-Dixie. Opal befriends a variety of people throughout the book and learns some things about herself in the process. She gives credit to the dog (thus the title) for everything that happened that summer, but she had more to do with it than she realized.

The story moves quickly and keeps you engaged throughout the whole book. It is rich with dialogue, and I couldn’t help but read it aloud with a southern accent. My children learned a little about the South during the Civil War and were introduced to Gone with the Wind. Maybe one day we will read that one together. I plan to always read books aloud to my children, so why not?

We thought this Newbery Honor book was fantastic. It is a great read for young (around 6 years and up) and old, dog lovers and the rest of us, children and parents. Kate DiCamillo is a talented author. I also read her book, The Tale of Despereaux to my son a few years ago, and we believe the book is always better than the movie, although “The Tale of Despereaux” was great. We haven’t watched “Because of Winn-Dixie” yet, but we plan to do so soon.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella lives in a kingdom with giants, elves, ogres, centaurs, and fairies. One unthinking fairy gives Ella the “gift” of obedience when she is born. Any order she is given must be obeyed immediately or she suffers physical distress. She feels cursed and rightly so. She is not allowed to tell anyone about her curse, but someone catches on and uses it to her advantage. Ella is strong-willed and seeks her freedom from constant obedience throughout the book. Towards the end of the book, the story has many similarities to the traditional Cinderella story, but Ella is still bound to obedience.

I read this book aloud to my eight and five year olds, and the older one thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the final two chapters. My five (almost six) year old has a shorter attention span than her big brother had when he was four, so this book might work well with other children her age and even up through middle school. I enjoyed reading this book myself and read ahead because I couldn’t wait to finish. One or two chapters a day isn’t my speed!

Ella Enchanted was the author’s first novel, and she received a Newbery Honor for her story. This work is a fresh take on a timeless classic.

Update: We checked out the movie version of this book from our local library, and it wasn’t nearly as good as the book. The movie portrayed Ella as more of a puppet who was controlled by any and every command others made with no struggle to disobey. It was very unrealistic, which is saying a lot since the book is a fantasy to begin with. There was also an evil character to oppose Ella and the prince, whereas the main antagonist in the book is Ella’s curse to always be obedient.