Archive | Children and Youth

The Skeleton Tree | Iain Lawrence

The cover of Lawrence's The Skeleton TreeAh, the old bait-and-switch.

I ordered this book expecting a good survival story that I could share with my son. The Skeleton Tree is about two boys stranded in the Alaskan wilderness. Visions of Lost in the Barrens danced in my head. Unfortunately, much of the book was taken up with the relationships and broken family history of the two boys. Survivalism took a back seat.

Lawrence is a Governor General’s Award winning author of young adult fiction, so I’m aware that this opinion reflects my own biases more than the quality of the writing. Lawrence’s prose is crisp and descriptive. Still, if this reflects the state of young adult adventure writing, I’ll stick with the classics.

—Iain Lawrence, The Skeleton Tree: Only the Wild Survive. (Toronto, ON: Tundra, 2016).

The Curse of the Viking Grave | Farley Mowat

It’s an old story. An author produces a singular work of genius that receives rave reviews and awards, only to follow it up with a weaker sequel.

The Curse of the Viking Grave is not a horrible book. It’s just can’t compare to the grandeur of its predecessor, Lost in the Barrens.

The biggest problem I found was the lack of singular direction in the plot. The first 70 pages tell a different story than that rest of the book. Combine that with a slower pace and a distracting romantic sub-narrative and you’re left with a decent-yet-unremarkable adventure story.

I should note that the charcoal illustrations by Charles Geer are stunning. He’s able to capture the movement and excitement of a canoe in rapids perfectly.

If you’ve read the first one, you should read this too—just don’t set your hopes too high.

Lost in the Barrens | Farley Mowat

This is juvenile fiction at its finest. Mowat used his experience of life in the Barrens of Northern Canada (see: People of the Deer & The Desperate People) to tell an adventure story about a white city-boy and a young Cree making big decisions and surviving off he land.

The pacing is perfect, and the content’s meaty enough to enjoy this book even as an adult. I dare you to read it without imagining yourself in those situations. The book certainly deserved its 1958 CLA Children’s Book of the Year award.

As I read it I had this vague sense of déjà vu. I suspect one of my grade-school teachers might have read this to our class. I can hardly wait until my three-year-old son is old enough to enjoy it when I read it to him.

The Tallest of Smalls | Max Lucado

I snagged this book for my two-year old son. He’s addicted to books—seriously addicted.

The Tallest of Smalls is a brief story about a neglected boy who got to play with the cool kids for a while before falling (literally) back into his own insignificance. The story concluded with Jesus entering to emphasize  the moral: the uncool are valued. Lucado used stilts to represent the difference between high and low on the social scale.

I’ll start with the good: The lines of poetry flow well. You don’t have to work to figure out which syllables should be emphasized. Further, the artwork is interesting. Monescillo used a distinct colour palate to add value to the work.

Here’s why I was disappointed: The story’s just not creative—in fact, it’s painfully predictable. There’s no danger, no real action—just a mind-numbing morality-tale. The front cover calls this story a “parable”. They use the term loosely. Seriously: Jesus makes a cameo! The story wasn’t compelling enough to make his point, so he brought in the ultimate Sunday-School-answer to drive the message home.

If you enjoy Hallmark Greeting Card-style Christianity, give it a try. Otherwise, spend your $16.99 (that’s 60 cents per page!) elsewhere.

. . .

Disclaimer: I received this book as a member of Thomas Nelson’s Book Review Blogger program.

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More | Roald Dahl

They say that you can never go home. The memories of your childhood always pale in comparison to reality. That’s true in a lot of cases, but not with Roald Dahl. He is as fascinating a story teller as you remember—and then some.

This book of short stories is incredibly diverse. There are shorter stories and longer stories, true stories and fiction. The thread that ties them all together is Dahl’s compelling style of story-telling that’s evident even in the first story he wrote (published here).

For a boy who was told he was useless in English composition (also recounted in this collection), he did quite well for himself!

Ranald Bannerman’s Boyhood | George MacDonald

What an innocent book. This book tells the tale of Ranald Bannerman from his earliest memories to the moment his boyhood ended. It was so captivating, I read it through in three sittings.

There were a number of highlights for me:

  • Realizing how intelligent children’s literature was in the late 1800s
  • Hearing Ranald’s father’s views on theology
  • The thought process of Ranald as he processed sin and guilt and came to forgiveness on issues we would consider non-consequential

This is a refreshing book. I’ve included an Amazon link to a currently in print paperback edition, but I prefer reading Johannesen’s versions of MacDonald’s stories.  The binding is superb. If you want, you can read the full text online also.

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