Category Archives: Juvenile Fiction

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

We just finished up the fourth book in the Chronicles of Prydain, and as I told my girls, I think it’s my favorite so far.  Taran Wanderer is the penultimate book in the series, and we can finally sense that Taran is nearing the end of his quest to figure out who he is in the world of Prydain.  It actually might be argued that the chronicles are just one really long story, but of course, we’re just glad that Lloyd Alexander chose to break them into manageable bites.   I think the reason I love this one so much is because in it we see Taran’s maturation, and his quest to find out who he really is intensifies:

Taran shook his head.  “I give it up.  My quest has brought only grief to all of you.  And for me, it’s led me not to honor but ot shame.  Taran?  Taran makes me sick at heart.  I longed to be of noble birth, longed for it so much I believed it was true.  A proud birthright was all that counted for me.  Those who had none–even when I admired them, as I admired Aeddan, as  I learned to admire Craddoc–I deemed them lesser because of it.  Without knowing them, I judged them less than what they were.  Now I see them as true men.  Noble?  They are far nobler than I.”

“I am not proud of myself,” Taran went on.  “I may never be again.  If I do find pride, I’ll not find it in what I was or what I am, but what I may become.  Not in my birth, but in myself.”  (160)

In this story he is on a journey to find the mystical Mirror of Llunet, which is purported to be able to show the gazer his true identity.  Of course, this journey is not without its roadblocks, pitfalls, and actual villains that stand in the way of its completion.  It is full of action and even contains some slightly scary parts.  (I made the mistake of reading it at bedtime one night before I fully realized that it might not make the best bedtime story for those–like my children–who can be easily excited or scared.)  The themes in this story are universal, as are the symbols and tropes.  I love the ending so much–Taran continues to look for who he is, which in Prydain means he is searching not only for his parentage (which he hopes is noble, if not royal, so as to win the hand of the fair Eilonwy) but also his vocation.   He meets a metalsmith, a weaver, and a potter, and they all teach him about life, but ultimately he realizes that none of these vocations are his rightful one, so his quest continues.  As is true for the entire series, there are moments of sheer loveliness in the story:

The farmstead Taran saw to be a tumbledown cottage, whose walls of stone, delved from the surrounding fields, had partly fallen away.  Half a dozen ill-shorn sheep grazed over the sparse pasture.  A rusted plow, a broken-handled mattock, and a scant number of other implements lay in an open-fronted shed.  In the midst of the high summits, hemmed in closely by thorny brush and scrub, the farm stood lorn and desolate, yet clung doggedly to its patch of bare ground like a surviving warrior flinging his last, lone defiance against a pressing ring of enemies.  (135)

Although this entire story takes place away from Caer Cadarn, it is still peopled by a few of our favorite characters:  everyone’s favorite Gurgi, with his “crunchings and munchings” and the hyperbolic Fflewdur Fflam with his tattletale harp.  The only one of our favorites that is missing is Eilonwy, but now that Taran’s intentions towards her are known, it was sort of nice to not have her complicating the adventure.  ;-)  This is a fabulous series.  We’re on to the final book, The High King, tomorrow!  Highly Recommended.  (Macmillan, 1967)

Reviews of other books in The Chronicles of Prydain at Hope Is the Word:

Hokusai, Manjiro, and making waves

We’re still making our slow way through volume three of Story of the World.  We’ve settled into something of a routine this spring:  the girls read the sections and Lulu and I work on a narration together, going back and forth, until she has one or two paragraphs that we’re (er, I’m)happy with.  Louise, our resident second grader, and I often just discuss the sections using the suggested review questions, or at least we do when I have my act together (which is maybe half of the time?).  I often have some supplemental reading to offer them–usually from the literature section of the activity guide, and often something I’ve had to purchase since many of those books aren’t to be found in any of our four local public libraries.  Such is the case with The Old Man Mad About Drawing by François Place and translated from the French by William Rodarmor.  I decided to read this one aloud mostly because I was interested in it myself.  My girls and I had looked at Hokusai’s The Great Wave for a picture narration in FLL 2, so we were already a little bit familiar with Hokusai.  This is a short, somewhat pedantic book that written from the perspective of a young boy who becomes something of an apprentice to the elderly Hokusai.  We learn about the printmaking process, Japanese society and customs, and the phases of Hokusai’s career.   Despite the fact the book works a little too hard to teach us something sometimes, it’s still quite an enjoyable read.  The chapters are short and the illustrations are plentiful, colorful, and noteworthy.  (Place was shortlisted for the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen illustrator award.)  All in all, this story was the perfect short read-aloud to inspire us to take out our own art supplies, which is something that has been sorely lacking in our homeschool the past few months.




I saw several art lesson plans based on Hokusai’s most famous piece of art, but this homeschool-mama plan from Harrington Harmonies was simple and just what I had in mind.  We did this with very little preparation on my part, so it didn’t turn out quite as well as it would’ve if I didn’t fly by the seat of my pants quite as much.  We drew our waves ourselves (instead of tracing them or having a pre-made copy, as according to the lesson plan), so ours are a little more “creative.”  ;-)  One change I’d definitely make to the plan is I would’ve used an oil pastel to outline the waves instead of a marker.  It was fun, though, and that’s the most important thing!

Mama's art
Mama’s art



Lulu’s related assigned reading was Margi Preus‘ fabulous, Newbery honor-winning novel, Heart of a Samurai, a fictionalized account of the life of the young man instrumental in re-opening Japan to the West.  (You can read my review of this novel here.)
I also had her read a nonfiction account of Manjiro’s life, Shipwrecked!:  The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy by Rhoda Blumberg.  She enjoyed both books a lot and was quite taken with Manjiro’s story.  I love how all of this–the history, the stories, and the art–all worked together.  We don’t achieve synchronicity too often lately here at the House of Hope, but I love it when we do.

Read Aloud Thursday–April 2014



Is it just me, or has this been a short month?  Whew!  It seems like March’s Read Aloud Thursday was just a week or two ago.   We’ve been reading, of course, but I haven’t had a whole lot of time or energy for blogging this spring.  Life is happening!  :-)

Because it is National Poetry Month, my focus this month has been on sharing a poetry book each Friday.  We have read and enjoyed poems from these books (and others!) during our poetry tea times this month:

We also finished the fourth book in the Chronicles of Prydain, The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander.  This one picked up almost immediately where The Black Cauldron left off and took Taran on a quest to rescue Princess Eilonwy.  There’s obviously the beginning of a romance in this one (or at least one-sided feelings of affection on the part of Taran), and that tickled my almost-ten year old.  I don’t really particularly like reading books with a romantic element to my girls just yet, but somehow this one seems okay.  I think it’s the theme of honor and nobility that runs through the series that gives it a very mature and upright feel.   After we finished it, I gave my girls the option of picking up with the next book in the Little Britches series, the Melendy Quartet, or the next Prydain book, and they both chose Prydain.  It’s a winner!

I also read aloud My Father’s Dragon this month.  I read it to my girls 4 1/2 years ago (!!!), and it is this month’s mother-daughter bookclub pick, so it was time to revisit it.  Plus, I really thought it time I give the DLM some intentional read-aloud attention, and what better book to start off with than My Father’s Dragon?  (I’ve shared some chapter book picks for the youngest listener here.)  Truthfully, the DLM listens along with the girls to whatever I’m reading to them, but I have a pretty massive amount of mama-guilt over what I’m not doing with him that I did with the girls (lots of things!), so My Father’s Dragon helped assuage that just a tiny bit.  :-)

I’m not sure what’s next after we finish Taran the Wanderer.  I’d really like to read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland because the Huntsville Botanical Garden is featuring Alice’s Garden of Wonders this spring, and we hope to visit.  I also still have the next Little Britches and Melendy books waiting in the wings.  :-)

What have you been reading with your children?  Please link up your blog posts below or share in the comments!

Happy Read Aloud Thursday!


Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus

I picked up Shadow on the Mountain immediately when I saw it at the library because I recognized its author, Margi Preus, as the author of Heart of a Samurai, which I loved.   While this one didn’t wow me quite as much as Newbery-honor winning Heart of a Samurai,  I greatly enjoyed this novel based on the real-life heroics of a Norwegian teen who joined the resistance against the Nazis.   The fictionalized hero, Espen, is a young teen when the story starts out, and is mostly interested in antagonizing the Nazis with his friends.  The only illegal activity he’s involved in is delivering illegal newspapers.  However, his involvement in the Resistance increases as the story progresses, and we see how it affects his life.

This is one of those stories that is written from multiple viewpoints.  We get Espen’s point of view, his younger sister Ingrid’s, and that of a  Nazi collaborator named Aksel who is out to get Espen.   I don’t particularly care for this particular way of telling a story, and it doesn’t really add anything positive to this story in my opinion.  Actually, it seems to me that it might’ve detracted a little bit from it because there were a few times that I lost the thread of the action because of the back-and-forthing of the points of view.   Really, though, this is my only criticism of the book, and it’s more a personal preference than a criticism.  The story was slow to get started, but once it did I quickly became very interested in Espen’s life and how things turn out for him.  Of course, this is only a small portion of his life; the story begins in 1940 and ends in 1945, with Espen escaping to overland to Sweden (via skis, mostly) with the Nazis hot on his trail.  Preus follows Espen’s fictional story up with fairly extensive backmatter, including an author’s note about the real Espen, Erling Storrusten, as well as a section of color photographs, a timeline, and a selected bibliography.  I think this might be my favorite part of the story–knowing that it’s based on facts.  Of course, such heroic tales of the World War II era abound, and this one is a good one to add to the list.  I’ll definitely be handing this one over to my girls when the time is right.  Highly Recommended.  (Abrams, 2012)

Read Aloud Thursday–March 2014


Today I wanted to share an alphabet book I’ve had for a couple of years but that I recently pulled out to read to the DLM.  I first learned of this book when I heard Sonya Shafer of Simply Charlotte Mason speak at a homeschooling conference.  She cited it as an alphabet book she likes because of its open-ended nature–plenty of room for the discussion of ideas.  Well, I’ve never been a huge alphabet book fan, so I had to have this one.  It’s actually kind of funny that I bought it since both my girls were well past the typical age to “need” an alphabet book.  So, there it sat, until one day I decided to just go for it with the DLM.  (My lightbulb moment was that I’m probably never going to have the planning time I crave to make well-coordinated preschool “lessons” for him.)  I was surprised at how much he enjoyed The Alphabet Room by Sara Pinto.  We read it twice in one sitting and then he requested it again the next day.  It’s a colorful lift-the-flap sort of book, about the size and heft of a square board book.  The only words are the alphabetized ones that accompany the letters:  A-apple; B-bowl; C-cat; and so on.  The upper-case letter is on a contrasting field of color with the word in lowercase just below it.  On the facing page is the object (apples, a bowl, etc.), and that brightly-colored panel opens up to reveal the alphabet room.  At first the room only contains the apples, but with each succeeded letter, more objects are in the room.  Each picture is different, so it’s fun to point out the different objects.  Some of pictures are humorous; some are like a hidden object puzzle.  I imagine you could spend all sorts of time with this book and your pre-reader.  This one is definitely a cut above the usual.  Highly Recommended.  (Bloomsbury, 2003)

Of course, the DLM and I have been reading other books, but nothing else really stands out.  I’d have to say that his favorites right now are the Froggy books by Jonathan London.  (My girls went through this phase a few years ago.)   Marc Brown’s Arthur books are also usually a hit, as is anything involving heavy equipment.  :-)

I did start reading the DLM his first official chapter book last week.  He has demonstrated surprising attention to detail for some while now during the girls’ chapter book read-alouds, so I thought, why not?  I picked My Father’s Dragon because it’s also next month’s mother/daughter Bookclub pick at the library.  I read it aloud to my girls when they were 4 1/2 years and almost 3 years, so the DLM is right in the middle of that at 3 3/4 years.  Of course, the girls are listening in again, too.  If all goes well with this one, we’ll follow up with Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland.

I finally hit the wall with reading separate books with each girl.  I was attempting to read Thimble Summer to Lulu and Caddie Woodlawn to Louise, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
However, we did finish The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander and The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright (who also wrote Thimble Summer).  We all loved both of these books and are eager to move onto the next in each of these series.  (In fact, we’re already about a third of the way through the next in the Chronicles of Prydain, The Castle of Llyr.)  This year is shaping up to be the year of the series as far as our read-alouds go.  Of course, I still sneak in a picture book or three with the girls, so check the links below for a few more links from moi.  :-)

Also of read-aloud interest–I am a sometimes reader of the blog Amongst Lovely Things, so naturally this announcement of a Read Aloud Revival podcast coming in April caught my attention.  This post also has a list of archived links that look interesting.

How’s reading aloud going in your home?  Chat with me in the comments, and/or leave your link in the linky list below.

Happy Read Aloud Thursday, friends!