Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Book Review: Donner Dinner Party, by Nathan Hale (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales), Abrams, 2013

Recommended for ages 8-13

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Colonial spy Nathan Hale is sentenced to death by hanging – but WAIT! He’s got stories to tell! His executioner and the British soldier standing guard are intrigued. Off he goes into yet another Hazardous Tale from history, this time, about the infamous Donner Party.

You’ve heard of the Donner Party, if only as a horrific joke. During the Westward Expanion, they were a group of pioneers headed for California who got caught in the brutal winter of 1846 and resorted to cannibalism to survive. Nathan Hale’s book tells the story of the Donner-Reed party, focusing primarily on James Reed, whose “shortcut” caused the doomed wagon train to stray off course into brutal territory.

Written as a graphic novel, this book is a great read for middle schoolers and even the reluctant high schooler. The story cuts between Nathan Hale, the British soldier and the executioner as Hale tells the story, and the story of the Donner-Reed party. The characters are detailed, and kids will love the executioner, who really, REALLY doesn’t want to hear bad news about any of the animals in the story. There are well-drawn diagrams and graphics teaching readers about the members of the party, maps of the territory traveled, and informational bits that enhance the story for all.

Hale doesn’t shy away from the more brutal aspects of this story, but he doesn’t glorify them, either. He presents the facts, even illustrating a specter of death coming for the travelers, with their names, as they pass away, listed on Death’s cloak.

This was my first Hazardous Tale from Mr. Hale, but it certainly won’t be my last. Stock this book in your bookshelves, teachers and parents, and watch kids scramble to learn about history.

Mr. Hale’s website offers information about his other books, his blog (which includes sneak peeks at his artwork for future books!), and a section dedicated to Correction Baby, who helps edit all of his books. Check it out!

DonnerSpread

Posted in Fantasy, Humor, Tween Reads

Book Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl (Bantam, 1977)

Recommended for ages 8-12 (and ageless)

This was one of my favorite books growing up, and reading it again all these years later, I find that I love it as much now as I did when I was 8. Having spent the last few years watching multiple viewings of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Gene Wilder is Willy Wonka), I ended up surprised on a few occasions when I realized that scenes from the movie – such as the Fizzy Lifting Drinks scene when Charlie and Grandpa have to belch their way down from certain doom – were not in the book after all! While the movie retained much of Roald Dahl’s dark comic humor, nothing beats the book, and Dahl’s wry observations on rude children and the parents who indulge them, and how the meek inherit… well, if not the earth, at least a lifetime’s supply of chocolate.

Charlie Bucket is starving – no, really, he is. He lives with his mother, father, and four sickly grandparents, who are so old and sick that they never get out of bed. Father has a menial job screwing the caps onto toothpaste tubes, and they family is very poor. They are so poor, all they can eat is cabbage soup, and Charlie refuses to take more than his share. Every day he walks past the famous chocolatier Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and lifts his nose, inhaling the delicious smells; the only time he gets to enjoy a Wonka bar is on his birthday.

It all changes when Willy Wonka announces a contest where five winners will be allowed to tour the chocolate factory – and Charlie is holding one of the Golden Tickets. Grandpa Joe, his elderly grandfather who retains the joy and wonder of youth, jumps out of bed and insists that he go with him, and they’re off. Charlie meets the four other winners – the gluttonous Augustus Gloop, spoiled brat Veruca Salt, TV addict Mike Teavee, and boorish Violet Beauregarde – and their overly indulgent parents at the gates of the factory, and when Willy Wonka’s gates open for the first time in years, the fun really begins. Who will make it through the factory tour?

Dahl’s writing weaves words into pictures that are enhanced by Joseph Schindelman’s black and white illustrations. From Willy Wonka’s mysterious origins to the Oompa Loompa’s cautionary songs, this book is Mr. Dahl’s morality play. It’s a great reminder of the golden rules as children enter into the middle grades: be polite. Don’t be a bully. Share. Don’t be a glutton or have bad manners. Modesty and a humble demeanor reap their own rewards. Reading Dahl is like Emily Post for kids, but with chocolate rivers and candy flowers.

Roald Dahl is a well-known classic children’s author. There is an inactive wiki that appeared to be the start of a comprehensive body of work  with 106 articles; there is a call to revive it on the home page. There is also a wonderful Roald Dahl website that is animated and features links to the Roald Dahl store, museum, and his children’s charity. The site features a “book chooser” that will match kids with a “splendiferous read” of his, a biography on the author, and a “Wonkalator” – a calculator game that asks kids to help Wonka with his latest magical formula.