Category Archives: Juvenile Fiction

The Home Ranch by Ralph Moody

In keeping with our accidental 2014 read-aloud theme of “let’s finish the series, or at least read another installment in it,” we closed out the read-aloud month with The Home Ranch by Ralph Moody.  This is the fourth of Moody’s books we’ve enjoyed together, and at this point, I can’t say which one is our favorite; we’ve loved them all.  For us, this one followed The Fields of Homeand I actually think we read them in the wrong order.  I think we should’ve read The Home Ranch before The Fields of Home, for according to the back of our copy of The Home Ranch, this story develops an episode that happens near the end of Man of the Family.  (This site has a good list of the books in order and with a brief synopsis for each one.)  At any rate, this story “feels” younger to me than The Fields of Home, and I like that.

In The Home Ranch, Ralph “Little Britches” has been hired by Mr. Batchlett to work as a hand on his mountain ranch for the summer.  Ralph is twelve years old but is quite the accomplished horseman, so this is not quite as unusual as it seems to our modern sensibilities.    The story unfolds as a summer of hard work and fun, with Ralph doing all the normal ranch hand things:  choosing his string of horses, cutting cattle from the herd for trading or selling, going on the trail with the ranch foreman to trade cattle, etc.  Plenty of adventures are to be had, too, for Ralph makes friends with Hazel Bendt, the ranch foreman’s daughter, who is quite the ranch hand herself. Hazel knows the inner workings of the ranch, so she advises Ralph in many arenas, including his choice of horses for his string.  One of the horses he chooses on his own is Blueboy, a half-wild beauty of a stallion.  One of the running storylines in this book is Ralph’s relationship with Blueboy and his hard work at learning the ways of this beautiful horse.  Of course, there are other stories here, and lots of them.  A few of the chapters develop the personalities of a couple of the other ranch hands:  mild-mannered Zeb, known for his constant singing of “She Wore a Yella Ribbon ‘Round Her Neck,” who walks softly but carries the proverbial big stick; and Hank, the ornery old cow poke who gets on everyone’s nerves with his boasting but who manages to save his crew from being swept away in a cloudburst (what I suppose we would know as a flash flood).  There’s a lot of excitement in this story, too, including a chapter in which Hank and Ralph get lost in the mountains and one in which Ralph and Mr. Bendt are caught in a dust storm.  Some of the excitement comes in the form of violence:  a new hand named Trinidad comes to the ranch, and he tries to “beat the time” (as my granny would’ve said) of one of the other hands with the pretty school ma’am, Jenny, and that tension eventually erupts into a bunkhouse brawl.  The book ends on a high note, and everyone from the forty year old reader down to the four year old listener loved the ending and would’ve been happy to plunge right into the next “horse book,” as the DLM called it.  The best way I can describe this novel is that it’s all the best parts of an old-timey Western, all written from the perspective of a twelve year old boy.  It’s chock-full of cowboy vernacular, too, which is interesting since Lulu and I have been hitting standard English usage pretty hard this year.  The novel has given me lots of examples to cite for Lulu.  ;-)  We love the Little Britches books and give them all (or at least all of them that we’ve read) a Highly Recommended.

Other Little Britches books we’ve read:

WWW: Greenglass House by Kate Milford

I requested Greenglass House by Kate Milford at my library after reading Sherry’s review of it.  It’s a 2014 Cybils nominee in the middle grade speculative fiction category, so I’m also reading it as a part of my Armchair Cybils challenge.  I love how the story begins:

There is a right way to do things and a wrong way, if you’re going to run a hotel in a smugglers’ town.

You shouldn’t make it a habit to ask too many questions, for one thing.  And you probably shouldn’t be in it for the money.  Smugglers are always going to be flush with cash as soon as they find a buyer for the eight cartons of fountain pen cartridges that write in illegal shades of green, but they never have money today.  You should, if you are going to run a smugglers’ hotel, get a big account book and assume that whatever you write in it, the reality is, you’re going to get paid in fountain pen cartridges.  If you’re lucky.  You could just as easily get paid with something even more useless.

Milo Pine did not run a smugglers’ hotel, but his parents did.  It was an inn, actually; a huge, ramshackle manor house that looked as if it had been cobbled together from discarded pieces of a dozen mismatched mansions collected from a dozen different cities.  It was called Greenglass House, and it was on the side of a hill overlooking an inlet of harbors, a little district built half on the shore and half on the piers that jutted out into the river Skidwrack like the teeth of a comb.  It was a long climb up to the inn from the waterfront by foot, or an only slightly shorter trip by the cable railway that led from the inn’s private dock up the steep slope of Whilforber Hill.  And of course the inn wasn’t only for smugglers, but that was who turned up most often, so that was how Milo thought of it.  (1-2)

Intrigued yet? :-)

Thanksgiving links of the bookish sort

It’s that time of year again, the time when I attempt to link up all the Thanksgiving books I’ve ever reviewed here at Hope Is the Word.  Some of these are about Pilgrims; others of them are just silly fun about eating lots of turkey.   If you’re looking for some good Thanksgiving reads or read-alouds for your family, look no further!

I think that’s it.  I’m looking forward to pulling out our Thanksgiving book collection and spending some time the next couple of weeks with some old favorites.

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving book?

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage

I requested The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage at my library because it has gotten some attention over at Heavy Medal and I anticipated its nomination for a Cybils (and I was right).  If I hadn’t already been introduced to both Turnage’s writing style and the characters in this book thanks to its prequel, her 2013 Newbery-honor winning Three Times Lucky, it’s unlikely that I would’ve picked this book up on my own.  I don’t like ghost stories as a general rule, and since I have a very limited amount of time to read nowadays, I generally try to read things that are sure-bets for me.  Well, I did enjoy this one, which is odd considering that it’s a ghost story through and through.  It took me a while to warm up to Mo LoBeau and her sidekick Dale Earnhardt Johnson III in Three Times Lucky, but thankfully the hard work of deciding whether or not I like Mo in all her quirkiness and larger-than-life personality was already done, so I could just enjoy the story.   In this latest case for the Desperado Detective Agency, Mo and Dale have taken on the formidable task of interviewing the resident ghost at the inn Miss Lana and Mo’s honorary grandmother, Grandmother Miss Lacy, buy.  Mixed up in all this is Tupelo Landing’s ne’er-do-well, Mr. Red Baker, and the newest and most enigmatic member of Mo and Dale’s sixth grade class, Harm Crenshaw.  This is a poignant history mystery, too, involving Tupelo Landing’s oldest residents.  I thought for a long time this story was a Scooby Doo mystery–not a real ghost story at all, but one that would be resolved by the Desperado Detective Agency discovering that the real culprits are clothed in flesh and blood.  It turns out that when the last page is read, this is a real ghost story, with a real, live (?) ghost.  If that’s really not your thing, you might not like this one.  However, if you’re like me and can enjoy the strong characterization and snappy Southern dialogue and descriptions, you just might find the ghost story isn’t so bad.  This is what makes Sheila Turnage’s stories memorable:

Most days, Mr. Red looks like a bundle of throw-away clothes.  Today he wore shoes fresh from the box, creased chinos, a blinding white shirt, and a red bow tie.  “Hey,” I said, and his pale eyes flickered over me like lizard eyes over a fly.

Mr. Red looked Dale up and down.  “You’re Macon Johnson’s boy,” he said, his voice splintery as just-sawn pine.  “I hear he’s doing time in Raleigh for a murder he didn’t commit.”

“You almost heard right,” Dale said, very smooth.  Dale’s family’s jail prone.  To him, jail time is as normal as clean socks.  (25)

There’s a lot between the lines in this story, including family dysfunction and family love:

She [Miss Rose, Dale’s mother] stretched the tape across the faded countertop.  “Lavender’s installing a dishwasher for me,” she said.  “I’m deciding how I’d like my kitchen to flow.”  Miss Rose is one of the last in Greater Tupelo Landing to get a dishwasher.  Dale’s daddy used to say if he had a dishwasher, he wouldn’t need a wife.  That’s before Miss Rose kicked him out.

“Good.  A dishwasher beats Dale’s daddy any day,” I said.  The words went rancid the instant they hit the air.

Miss Rose didn’t look up from her tape measure, but a shadow darted across her face.  “Macon is my ex-husband,” she said, smoothing the sharp from her voice.  “Not Dale’s ex-father.”  (59)

Turnage manages to package the sort of story I wouldn’t usually enjoy much so well that I forgot that the main point of the whole thing is a haunted inn.  This is a good one, and one that I imagine has lots of kid appeal.  Since I have some pretty sensitive middle graders myself, I’m not sure this is the book for them (if we want to sleep, that is), but if ghosts aren’t a problem for your middle grader, give this one a shot.  (Penguin, 2014)



Read Aloud Thursday–October 2014


What a busy month of reading aloud we’ve had!  We’ve settled into a nice routine of reading aloud most weekdays at lunchtime, and then again from a different chapter book at bedtime.  The lunchtime book is usually related to history (mostly from Sonlight Core D) and the bedtime book is one I’ve picked.  I’ll be honest in stating that the lunchtime read-alouds haven’t been favorites of mine.  I’m realizing how much I value freedom of choice in what we do in our homeschool.  I don’t always like our history read-alouds.  Well, that’s not true.  I do think each one of them would make a perfectly fine okay book to read independently, but they’re not exactly ideal, at least to me, as read-alouds.  The two books I have in mind as I compose this blog post are two of the ones we’ve finished since last month’s Read Aloud Thursday:  Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen and Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare.

I’m no stranger to Gary Paulsen’s stories, having at least read Hatchet in the nebulous past of my pre-blogging days.  Lawn Boy is nothing like Hatchet, at least plot-wise.  It’s the story of a boy who starts a lawn care business and by the end of the summer ends up very rich as a result of one of his customer’s investments on his behalf.  It’s a story about economics–each chapter has as its title an economic term.  The novel isn’t without its excitement, too, because he also manages to attract the attention of some thugs as well as a protective professional boxer.  What I found difficult about reading this story aloud, aside from the fact that I read this one only once a week (and hence would often forget myself what exactly was happening in the story) is that it is chock-full of dialogue.  This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, though I am noticing that stories that rely on dialogue and not much else tend to be more recent stories, and that’s probably one reason I’m not so crazy about them.  My main problem with dialogue is that I don’t do voices, so I always think the storyline gets sort of muddled because of that.  The Sign of the Beaver is a 1984 Newbery honor book, but again, it’s chock-full of dialogue.  It’s not quite as dialogue dependent as Lawn Boy, but the kicker for it is that the Native American characters speak in that terrible, stilted, stereotypical way that we associated with bad Westerns.  I’m usually not bothered much by stereotypes and being politically correct, but I found this one almost painful to read and actually found myself correcting the grammar of the Indians’ speeches.  Also, in my opinion it’s not a very complex story, and I really appreciate a story with a little more nuance as a read-aloud.  All of this actually surprises me because Elizabeth George Speare is a favorite author of mine from childhood–I loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond and read it multiple times, and then when I read The Bronze Bow as a young adult, she rose even higher in my estimation.  It is interesting to note that both of those title won Newbery Medals in 1958 and 1961 respectively, while The Sign of the Beaver came about twenty-five years later.  That makes me wonder if it’s just the “dumbing down” effect that we’ve seen over time.  At any rate, I mostly wished that I had just handed both of those books to my girls to read alone and had picked up something else.  We’ve now moved on to The Witch of Blackbird Pond as our lunchtime read, so we’ll see if my good opinion of it remains untarnished.  :-)  For our bedtime story, we’ve come back around to the Little Britches series by Ralph Moody after finishing the Melendy Quartet with its last book, Spiderweb for Two.  We were sad to see it end but so happy to have spent so much time with the Melendys this year.  Highly Recommended!

As for picture books, well, I always think to myself, “Oh, this is a good one to share for RAT,” but then I run out of time before the books are due (usually after being rechecked at least once) at the library.  A couple of books stand out in my mind from the past month that have been favorites of the DLM.  The first one is Lightship by Brian Floca.  Although it isn’t quite as detailed as his 2014 Caldecott Medal-winning Locomotive, it’s still not exactly a book I would expect a four year old to love.  The DLM does love books about vehicles of almost any kind, and this one has the thing the DLM loves the most:  a list!  He loves lists of information.  In this case it’s a list of people who work on a lightship, and the DLM loved to point at the worker’s picture and say his title.  Whatever the reason he loved it, he did–enough to make it a nightly read-aloud for a couple of weeks.  The other winning title for the toddler and preschool crowd here at the House of Hope is the newest Kate and Jim McMullan title, I’m Brave!  I’ve written before (& here) how much we’ve enjoyed their books over the years, so when I saw this one in the new books bin in the library, I almost gave an audible gasp of delight!  I knew it would be a winner, and it was is.  I read it to the DLM’s class at co-op first before reading it to him.  They’re a pretty hard crowd, and even they got caught up in it!  It has not one but two pages of equipment listed to identify (oh, joy!), so it’s perfect for my detail and list-loving little fellow. We’ve read it at least a half dozen times since Saturday.  It’s humorous and full of bravery, swagger, and onomatopoeia, so it’s just perfect for brash and blustery preschool crowd.  I’m considering this one for a Christmas present for the DLM.  Highly, Highly Recommended.

Other picture books I’ve reviewed since last month’s RAT are

I apologize for the length of this post.  This should’ve been more than one post, but as always, time escaped me and I had to just cobble it all together.  Thank you for reading and participating in RAT!  It’s truly a monthly high point for me!

Link up below, or share in the comments.  :-)