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Judy Bolton mystery series

  • September 26, 2009 8:01 am
Vanishing Shadow

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The 38 books in the Judy Bolton mystery series, written by Margaret Sutton, sold millions of copies from 1932 to 1967. These books are now being reprinted by Applewood Books. I was curious to read The Vanishing Shadow, the first in the series, because the publisher claims that “Judy is a feminist in the best light — smart, capable, courageous, nurturing, and always unwavering in her true beliefs — a perfect role model.”

All of the Judy Bolton books are based on actual events. The Vanishing Shadow involves a new dam in a small Pennsylvania town. Judy, a high school girl, overhears some suspicious remarks regarding the dam construction, and she is kidnapped early in the book in an attempt to prevent her from revealing what she knows. The plot moves along briskly, with plenty of suspense.

I also enjoyed the varied and complex characters in this book. Judy is indeed fearless and intelligent. Yet she is also fallible. For example, she dares her meek brother to ride a dangerous horse, and when he takes her up on the dare and ends up lost when the dam breaks and floods the town, she experiences remorse at her rash words.

I don’t want to reveal too many of the plot features, because this really is a fun book, and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s enjoyment. Readers will also learn something about the social life and culture of small-town America in the 1930s.

The Judy Bolton mysteries are apparently the longest lasting juvenile series written by one author. There is even a web site for Judy Bolton fans.

You can buy this book from my girls list.

Little Zizi, by Thierry Lenain

  • September 19, 2009 7:04 am
Little Zizi

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This funny picture book deals with a subject that many little boys think about, but that is rarely written about in children’s books. One day, while Martin is changing his clothes after swimming, another boy, Adrian, makes fun of Martin, saying that his “zizi” is too small, and that he will never be able to make babies with a little zizi. Martin is worried because the girl he likes, Anais, wants to have 10 babies! How will he possibly make all those babies?

To make matters worse, Adrian decides that the boys should have a peeing contest to decide who will be Anais’s boyfriend. Despite hours of practice, Martin loses the contest, Adrian wins, and Adrian declares himself the boyfriend of Anais.

But Anais has other plans. She rejects Adrian and writes a love note to Martin. The book ends with a reassurance: “love isn’t a question of a zizi — large or small.”

This book was originally written in French and published in Canada. The author says he wrote the book because he believes that “much of the world’s misfortune comes from men thinking they have to assert their manliness,” according to the jacket copy.

My two boys found this book a bit shocking, but fascinating. The illustrations are very tasteful (the story takes place in an old-fashioned city), and the book makes its point without preaching.

You can buy this book from my Boys list.

Elizabeth’s Song, by Michael Wenberg

  • September 12, 2009 7:11 am
Elizabeth's song

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This picture book for ages 5 and up is based on the true story of Elizabeth Cotten, who composed the well-known folk song “Freight Train” at the age of 11.

Elizabeth was born in 1893 in North Carolina. She loved music and taught herself to play her brother’s guitar — but since she was left-handed, she played it upside-down and backwards. When her brother left to look for work and took his guitar with him, Elizabeth saved money from odd jobs and bought herself a guitar.

While the story ends with the composition of “Freight Train,” in fact Cotten was not “discovered” as a musician until much later in her life. According to the epilogue, from her mid-teens until her early 50s, Elizabeth almost gave up music — she was busy with work and raising a family. In the mid-1940s, by chance she got to know the folk-singing Seeger family, and they encouraged her to pick up her guitar again. She released her first album in 1958, at the age of 66.

After my kids and I read this book, we wanted to hear her music. We bought the album Freight Train, which includes her famous composition as well as other folk songs that she learned as a child.

You can buy Elizabeth’s Song from my Girls list.

Gray Wolf’s Search, by Bruce Swanson

  • September 5, 2009 3:04 pm
Gray Wolf's Search

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This beautiful picture book tells the story of Gray Wolf, a native boy of the Pacific Northwest who is given a task by his uncle, Raven’s Head: Gray Wolf is to find a very important person, and get to know this person well.

Throughout the next year, Gray Wolf asks various animals if they know of this important person. Sister Bear, Brother Whale, and Sister Eagle claim never to have seen such a person. To them, all humans look and act alike. 

Gray Wolf meets with Raven’s Head again, but sadly tells him that he has not found the very important person. Raven’s Head advises him to “look within.”

As I was reading this book, at this point I assumed that the “very important person” would turn out to be Gray Wolf himself. But my 7-year-old son guessed that the important person would turn out to be everyone. And, in fact, my son was correct. Gray Wolf comes to realize that his family and friends are all equally important, and he brings this message back to his clan.

This book provides an interesting message of community to balance the message of individuality that we often get from mainstream culture. We are all important.

I also like the fact that both female and male animals are included. So often, animals in pictures books are almost exclusively male. The paintings in this book are absolutely gorgeous.

I highly recommend this story for ages 5 and up. You can buy this book from my Boys list.