I remember the joy of visiting relatives and finding amazing books in their shelves: "Tom Swift," "Tarzan," "The Hardy Boys." So I've started a collection of books that I could read to my grandchildren,
or that they could discover and read when they come to visit.
Naturally I've retained a lot of my daughters' kiddy books ("Dr.
Suess," "Judy Blume," etc.), but I've also begun to collect some
titles that should be exciting for them. I don't want to be a
grandfather with a dull bookcase.
The excitement of reading came to me when I was in the fourth grade. The secret was the way Miss Berry presented it. She took a bit of time every day after lunch to read us a chapter. When she'd begin we'd all wiggle in our desks and get comfortable in expectation of Toby Tyler's new adventure.
Those were also the days of network radio and those great after school serials: "Sky King," "Straight Arrow," sometimes even "Gunsmoke" (Matt was a bad dude on the radio! My mother was very strict.)
Maybe all this is why I still love serials and radio kids' shows and books on tape. Dear Miss Berry and Shredded Wheat et al set us up to love stories of high adventure and the spoken word. I have visions of continuing that great tradition with my grandchildren and my library...some day.
The first two reviews in this issue are grownup books that children would love and probably be able to read as early as seven years old. I know they'd love them, because I do; and my friends say I'm still a kid. Not too surprisingly both books are about the outdoors, about ordeals and ideals, and about adult/child interaction. To find copies, check your local public library or our Online Bookstore on our Store page.
Two Books For Everybody
(Books #2, October 17, 1998)
The Old Man And The Seaby Ernest Hemingway
The Old Man is a Cuban fisherman way past his prime. He doesn't
bring in the great catches he did when he was young. He's still
regarded by his village, but his luck has gone. The Boy loves The
Old Man and loves to fish with him. He's not concerned that their
catches are small; he loves The Old Man's company and to listen to
him talk; he learns from him. He loves him with the love of a boy
for an old man—not as he loves his father.
But, as the story begins, The Boy's father needs his help on his boat, so The Old Man leaves the beach that day to fish alone. In parting concern, The Boy has prepared some special baits for The Old Man.
Several days later The Old Man returns. The beach is dark, and he is exhausted. No one meets him as he trudges to his small shack, stows his mast and sail, and falls into his bunk.
Early the next day, before The Old Man awakens, the village has seen what he has to show for his days and nights alone at sea. Lashed to his skiff are the remains of an immense marlin longer than the boat—the skeleton of the largest fish ever caught by anyone in the village. The events between The Old Man's leaving and his returning are his greatest adventure and challenge. He has met and faced alone great joy, great fear, a great test of skill and endurance, loneliness, anger, sadness, and his memories.
The Boy helps The Old Man recover from his ordeal. He prepares food; he stays nearby as The Old Man regains his strength. This is his part of the adventure. The Boy faces and accepts responsibility and love and duty as a young man. Both he and The Old Man have grown much in a short time.
Hemingway's words are simple; his sentences are direct and short. The story, though very simple, is complete. He was old when he wrote it, and it won him the Pulitzer Prize. It's Hemingway at his very best—a consummate editor who packs much of life into much economy of expression. That is what first made me think this would be a great book for children. It's easy to read, simple, but deep with the issues that adults and children instinctively understand.
My older, Lib, read this book easily before she was eleven. She understood it and liked it. We talked about it later. It was good—she still is a constant reader, and we still like to talk about books.
Two Old Womenby Velma Wallis
The People were slowly starving. They continually moved their camp, but they found no game, at least not enough for everyone to eat.
In the camp were two old women, Ch'idzigzaak and Sa', who contributed little to the band's welfare. In softer, better days they had become used to being treated with deference. They had become spoiled and grumpy, and they complained about everything.
But these were not the better days. Now catering to the two old women was a burden to The Band, who had become malnourished and weakened by the lack of food.
Finally the chief and the council made a difficult decision. They would leave the two old women behind so The Band might survive. It was surely a death sentence, but The Band quickly packed and left the two old women sitting alone in their shelter in the snow.
At first the two could not really believe it; but finally they had to face the truth—they could either die sitting in their shelter, or they could die trying.
From a very halting beginning, over many days, the two old women first survived, then began to regain confidence and recover lost skills. They remembered from childhood an old camp where there was game and fish. With this new direction they traveled toward the old site with hope.
Months later The Band had not improved their luck. They still felt guilty for leaving the two old women behind. They sent scouts back to their old camp. Perhaps they were still alive, after all.
Ms. Wallis writes with classic simplicity that makes this myth (or was it real?) come alive. She also betrays her great respect for her elders as she ends the story with a surprise that brings order and harmony back to The People.
I have lent Two Old Women to friends, and their reactions were mixed. Mine were simple: there is both triumph and tragedy concealed in hard times. Which shall I seek there?
I anticipate pulling one of these little books from the shelf and saying "Now here's a good little book!" Ah, Miss Berry! Will my grandchildren snuggle down by me anticipating our next chapter?
One Book for Nobody
Play With Fireby Dana Stabenow
I first met Kate Shugak in the Arctic in "Nooses Give," a spare
little mystery story with a very chilling ending. I liked her. An
investigator for the DA's office, she was colorful, reasonably
believable, and perfect in her setting.
I followed her to a fishing boat, to the Alaskan oil fields, and to a Native American Conference. As long as there was action, she was great. It was during the scenes of her everyday life that I first noticed she was becoming a caricature, the product of a formula.
In Play With Fire Dana Stabenow has achieved two remarkable things: (1) converted Kate Shugak to an indecisive, unpalatable piece of cardboard; (2) wrapped all of her previous books' clichés in a thin film, somewhat like a story, with which she beats us over the head. Her causes:
And it's poorly written. For example, get this: Kate Shugak and her dog actually communicate with each other on the judgment/approval level by eye signals. It's just two gals, doing what they do best—pal around, share secrets, gossip, and quietly criticize each other. And this is written by a grown woman (I've seen Ms. Stabenow's picture in the book jacket.) I can't wait for the Hanna-Barbera version, sort of a Scoobie-Doo at the Iditerod.
And how's this for a story: Fundamental Christian preacher Dad plots to kill his son by allergic reaction to mosquito bites—really, I'm not kidding! You see, Sonny Boy, a local school teacher, believes in evolution. This is supposed to make us readers jump up and shake our fists at them pesky dang fundamental Christians. Thing is, I am one of them pesky Christians, and I can't recognize Ms. Stabenow's version of Christianity as anything I've ever seen outside the pages of disgruntled authors.
Ms. Stabenow quotes a lot of scriptures in this book, but it reminds me of those chimps with the typewriters—eventually they'll type all the great books. If she had actually read the Bible in paragraphs she'd have realized that she was way off base with her references.
One of the appealing characters in the book is the son of the dead teacher. He hires Kate Shugak to find out what happened to his Dad. Gutsy kid—but not for long. Ms. Stabenow manages to cut off his cojones early and make him as wishy-washy as she and her main character. He reverses his strong character and begins to look like one of the fanatic conspirators. It's literary hara-kiri, folks.
Hey, it's her book! I don't mind the bad scriptural references. I don't mind that Ms. Stabenow hates God, men, and southerners. I don't even mind watching her stumble around trying to find a story in this mess. What bothers me is that she's so inconsistent in her vicious attacks on everything she hates. She just doesn't seem to know what she is or who her characters are. Biggest crime of all, she's now just writing for the money—there's certainly no story here. Where is all the talent I thought I saw in her earlier books.
In her behalf I'd like to say...nothing! This is just a plain piss-poor pad of 350 sheets of paper spoiled for practical use by having been printed on. Oh well, the title gives me an idea of what I can do with the book. (Not really, it's a library book. I'd never pay for this stuff.)
And One From The Good Book
The First Epistle of Johnby John, Son of Zebedee
John was Jesus' closest friend. Where the other apostles wrote about what Jesus did, John wrote about what He thought. John was also
what Eric Hoffer would have called a true believer. It's no surprise,
then, that John could (1) understand the essence of Jesus' mission
and (2) write that essential mystery in clear, encouraging terms for
other believers to use.
Are you concerned about your inability to stay free from sin? See John's encouraging solution in Chapter 1. Not sure of your status with God? Read Chapter 2. Concerned about the Anti-Christ? Again—Chapter 2.
I John is clear, concise, and poses simple tests that help me resolve my questions about my relationship with God and Jesus—tests seemingly too good to be true.
For decades authors and savants have lambasted a harsh God. I wish they'd read and understood I John, which tells us of His amazing love for us and the provisions He has made to keep us in His family.
In the end, I John is a tiny manual about staying in fellowship with our Creator and adopted Father. When I occasionally lose my way in life, I'm glad I can always find I John.
If you're seeking to understand the Bible better, may I suggest you read a good American English translation like
The Holy Bible—New International Version. It's accurate,
and it's written in easy-to-understand words. See our
for both hardback and paperback editions.
All of these books are available from our
See you next time for some more interesting book reviews.
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