Welcome to Edition 1 of 12 in my Vintage Kidlit Summer Reading reviews! (You can learn more about this summer reading challenge that Anna Rose Johnson and I are hosting in this post.) This week's theme is Summer Vibes—it was NOT easy to choose just one vintage book for this theme (and I may have cheated—overachieved?--a little by reading other summer stories with my kids. But today I'm spotlighting my official read and new discovery: Seacrow Island, by Astrid Lindgren of Pippi Longstocking fame.
Don't get me wrong: I enjoy Pippi very much. But I can't understand how so much of Astrid Lindgren's reputation seems to rest on that one character. If you haven't read Ronja, the Robber's Daughter or The Children of Noisy Village, for example, you're missing out on much of Lindgren's humorous and emotional depth and breadth. Seacrow Island took me in a very different direction, but no less delightful, as it's a story that was contemporary when Lindgren wrote it, and solidly in the realm of realism. The mention of blue jeans and polo-neck sweaters and motor boats made me forget temporarily that I was in a Lindgren novel—until the humor hit. And Seacrow Island really is one of the funniest realistic fiction stories I've ever read.
Some of that humor is situational, but for the most part, it's all about the people. Much like Jane Austen or L. M. Montgomery, Astrid Lindgren has the ability to write characters that make you laugh out loud while still being essentially human and deeply real. We laugh at them, but we never mock them—perhaps because we see in them a bit of ourselves or of someone we love.
Seacrow Island is inhabited by a cast of intensely lovable and mostly humorous human beings—with a few animals thrown in for good measure (I have never had such a warm feeling toward wasps as I did when reading this!). At the center of the action is the Melkerson family: Melker, the dreamy and ever-so-slightly pompous-in-a-lovable-way writer; Malin, Melker's oldest daughter, who at nineteen is the mother figure for her motherless brothers and the irresistible love interest for any nearby young men; Niklas and Johan, the 11- and 12-year-old adventuresome and trouble-making brothers; and Pelle, the 7-year-old, tenderhearted baby of the family. When the Melkersons rent a tumbledown house on Seacrow Island for the summer, the children are quickly befriended by the locals, particularly Tjorven, the six-year-old "queen of the island," who has the entire population wrapped around her chubby and charming finger.
There is little intense drama in the story, and yet I found myself unable to put it down. The everyday drama of forming friendships and falling in love and fearing change and wanting a pet—all these familiar situations were so adeptly crafted that they held my attention with the magnetism of a thriller. Besides the characters, Seacrow Island itself was such a well-drawn and delightful setting, I wanted to book a plane to Sweden before I'd turned the last page.
Thank you so much, Anna Rose, for recommending this book!
Now, friends, what have you been reading? If you've joined in the Vintage Kidlit Summer, please share! I'd love to read your own book recommendations; if you've highlighted one for this week's theme, please leave a link in the comments—or use the comments section to share a one or two sentence spotlight here. :)
As a treat for my kindred spirits, I'll be giving away a paperback copy of one of my vintage favorites. Just leave a comment here about what you've read, or share on instagram with the hashtag #vintagekidlit summer (and, if possible, tag me and Anna Rose in your post @faithhough42 and @annarosewriter). I'll choose a winner on Wednesday 6/7, and can mail a copy within the United States. Good luck!
All right, friends, get your pre-order buttons ready. Today I’m reviewing a soon-to-be-released middle grade book which jumped right onto my “Top 10” and “Better at least get a Newbery Honor” lists.
Here’s what the publisher had to say about Jacqueline Kelly’s The International House of Dereliction:
In this not-so-scary ghost story from Jacqueline Davies, bestselling author of the Lemonade War series, quirky, tool-wielding Alice Cannoli-Potchnik begins to repair the dilapidated mansion next door—only to discover the old house is home to ghosts, and they need mending, too!
Home is where the heart is. But can a house have a heart of its own.
Ten-year-old Alice is moving for the eleventh time.
She’s lived in so many houses, each more broken than the last, that home to Alice is nothing more than a place you fix and then a place you leave. After all, who needs a permanent home when you’re a whiz at fixing things
But when Alice arrives at her new home, she can’t take her eyes off the house next door, the stately dark house that hulked in the dimming light. The once-grand mansion, now dilapidated and condemned, beckons Alice; it's the perfect new repair job!
As Alice begins to restore the House to its former splendor, she senses strange presences. Is there a heartbeat coming from the House’s walls? Is someone looking at her? Soon she realizes she’s not alone. Three ghosts have been watching, and they need Alice’s help to solve their unfinished business.
Will Alice be able to unravel the mysteries of the House and find her forever home ... before it’s too late.
Quirky is the right word! I loved Alice and her eccentric Cannoli-Potchnik family. I loved the lighthearted touch with the ghosts. I love the crazy, old house, and the interesting neighbors. It’s all very eccentric and quirky and lighthearted—and yet. The International House of Dereliction is somehow the most believable portrayal of homeschooling I’ve recently come across in a work of fiction. Alice’s education is clearly well-rounded, but she has immense amounts of freedom to pursue her passions. She repairs the International House by herself, and quite capably—and if this sounds unbelievable to you, I invite you to meet some ten-year-old homeschoolers. Admittedly, I only know a couple who’d be capable of home repair (I do have a few nephews who probably could have accomplished this when they were ten), but I know many who have achieved incredible levels of proficiency at the things they are passionate about.
I’m not saying all homeschoolers are like this. Guess what? There’s some totally average and completely below average homeschoolers, too—just like students you’d find in school. But what makes me excited is to finally see this side of homeschooling represented in a work of fiction. It feels like for many years we’ve been bombarded in fiction with the idea that homeschoolers need to be saved from their social ineptitude by a timely entrance into public school. Are there socially inept homeschoolers? Sure. Are they the majority? Let’s just say I know more homeschoolers who can capably put up drywall at age ten than homeschoolers who are socially inept.
I won’t devote all my review to the positive homeschooling rep, much as I could. But Jacqueline Davies deserves mention of her spectacular characterization, her deftly-handled descriptions, and her perfectly-timed and developed humor. I will never use this comparison lightly: at moments, the humor reminded me of P. G. Wodehouse. And I really can’t give any higher praise.
The International House of Dereliction releases in July, but is available for pre-order now. Be sure to add it to your TBR lists!
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, check out Greg's blog at Always in the Middle!
Happy Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, everyone! I had planned to write a review of the first book in The Wingfeather Saga, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, for you all today. But it seemed a bit redundant for me to review it when the series' biggest fan lives in the next bedroom over from mine. So please welcome back my fifteen-year-old daughter, Lucy, to introduce you to her newest obsession.
When people ask me about The Wingfeather Saga, I usually say something along the lines of ‘The Wingfeather Saga is a four book series by singer and songwriter Andrew Peterson. It focuses on Janner Igiby, a bookish twelve-year-old boy who lives in the world of Aerwiar. Nine years before, the vicious Fangs of Dang, a race of snakey, lizardy beings, took over most of Aerwiar, from the beautiful Shining Isle of Anneira, to the entire continent of Scree, which is where the Igiby family lives, in the town of Glipwood. But, despite living under the scaly thumb of the Fangs (and through them, a darker, nameless evil, named Gnag the Nameless), Janner, along with his brother, Tink, and his sister, Leeli, live fairly happy lives… as long as they don’t have any weapons (including garden tools), or stay out after dark, or complain too loudly about the smelly Fangs.’ At that point, I pant heavily.
Assuming that you are one of those listeners who is begging me to continue, I will take a deep breath, and go on. 'As revealed secrets and increasing danger take the Igibys across Scree and beyond, they each must learn to trust each other— and themselves. With delightfully funny companions, such as Peet the Sock Man and the bookseller Oskar N. Reteep, and with the love and support of their mother, Nia, and their grandfather, Podo (a retired pirate!), can the Igibys resist the Fangs' attempts to steal the mysterious lost Jewels of Anneira and avoid the many dangerous creatures in Aerwiar?'*
*such as Quill Diggles (spiky!), Horned Hounds (sharp teeth!), and Toothy Cows (also have sharp teeth! Beware!)
The Wingfeather Saga has rocketed to one of the top five spots in my ‘favorite book series list,’ and I’m fairly certain it’s going to stay there for a while, if not for life. It’s a wonderful series for children (and adults) who love The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter. I love the humor, and I love the world building. I’d recommend this series to anyone who has started to read novels (or listen to them! There are audiobooks!). All my younger siblings, down to my seven-year-old brother, have been going through the series, and loving it! We also have been loving the new animated series of Wingfeather from Angel studios. Oh, and the soundtrack! And the poems! And the companion books!
‘Beware the Toothy Cow!’
Feel free to leave a comment with any questions, and I'll tell you more! It was hard to narrow it down to just this much. :)
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews, check out Always in the Middle!
By popular demand! Mainly the demand of my own children. :) Today I'm reviewing the new graphic novel by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle See Nutter, Squished. Because it's about a large family (not a blended family, but several siblings with the same parents), of course I had to read this as soon as I could! I read with some trepidation, as the description (below) sounded somewhat negative about big family life, but overall I loved this!
From the publisher:
Eleven-year-old Avery Lee loves living in Hickory Valley, Maryland. She loves her neighborhood, school, and the end-of-summer fair she always goes to with her two best friends. But she's tired of feeling squished by her six siblings! They're noisy and chaotic and the younger kids love her a little too much. All Avery wants is her own room -- her own space to be alone and make art. So she's furious when Theo, her grumpy older brother, gets his own room instead, and her wild baby brother, Max, moves into the room she already shares with her clinging sister Pearl! Avery hatches a plan to finally get her own room, all while trying to get Max to sleep at night, navigating changes in her friendships, and working on an art entry for the fair. And when Avery finds out that her family might move across the country, things get even more complicated.
Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter have once again teamed up to tell a funny, heartfelt, and charming story of family, friendship, and growing up.
While Squished didn't shy away from some of the hard parts of big family life, it did an excellent job of showing how much joy and love and growth and companionship can be squished into life right alongside the squabbling and jealousy and bedroom sharing.
My three oldest kids all read this as well, and I was surprised that they didn't like it as much as I did. My 11-year-old wondered why Avery cared so much about having her own room (she, perhaps, related more to Avery's younger sister who always wanted someone else around). My teens thought it strange that Avery's friends would tease her about her family size. I realized that my children, with their support system comprised of so many other big families, don't think of us as anything strange. Their homeschooled peers don't fall into teasing about family the way school children can be more likely to. This is all a bit different from my own childhood, where my family of five children was often looked at askance. The themes of moving away and starting a new life in a new state also felt (sometimes painfully!) familiar. So I suppose it makes sense that we'd feel differently about this story, with so many different parallels to our own lives. And even where we disagreed, we absolutely loved talking about it!
Bottom line: we all recommend this graphic novel, whether for large families looking to see themselves in a story, or those curious what big family life might look like. My favorite part was seeing the way all the children worked as a team to take care of the most important thing in their life: their family. The Lees were loving, supportive, creative, and just very normal, and I really appreciated seeing that!
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, check out Always in the Middle!
I'm not sure what happened from 2020-2023 (is anyone?), but clearly my head wasn't screwed on straight, because I missed that my favorite living British author had not one, but two new books released. The advantage of this was that suddenly, just when I needed a pick-me-up, I had an amazing book to read, all at the ready! If you've been following the saga of The Hough Children Get Sick Once Again, you'll know just how valuable that pick-me-up was... After all, there's nothing like a new book to help you feel better about cancelling all plans for two weeks while your children catch and recover from a stomach bug.
Frank Cottrell-Boyce is my favorite living British author for good reason. His books are all laugh out loud funny, true. And they're paced to perfection, yes. But what really stands out is the juxtaposition of humor and gut-wrenching pathos. The pathos is all the more effective because of the humor it's sandwiched between...which means I can rarely get through a Cottrell-Boyce novel with a dry eye. Certain ones (Millions and Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth) leave me absolutely bawling. And it's no mere writer's trick. It's the deep truths about human nature that he tucks into rollicking adventures like treasures for you to find.
Speaking of treasures... Noah's Gold. :) Here's the publisher's description:
Being the smallest doesn't stop you having the biggest ideas.
Eleven-year old Noah sneaks along on his big sister's geography field trip. Everything goes wrong! Six kids are marooned on an uninhabited island. Their teacher has vanished. They're hungry. Their phones don't work and Noah has broken the internet. There's no way of contacting home . . . Disaster!
Until Noah discovers a treasure map and the gang goes in search of gold.
I love a good kids-on-an-island story. What made this stand apart (besides the aforementioned humor and pathos), is the recurring question of what role our phones and technology should play in our lives. It's never answered for you, and even the characters likely have mixed feelings. But the question is there for you to ponder and consider on your own.
Have any of you read this one yet? I'd love to hear your thoughts...and then I need to go get my hands on Cottrell-Boyce's other book (Runaway Robot) that I missed...!
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, check out Always in the Middle!
Hi! I'm Faith. I blog about books and creativity, family and faith. Welcome!