Ashtown Burials – N. D. Wilson

Up until the summer of 2015, my children and I were living under a rock and oblivious to the author, N. D. Wilson. The rock was rolled aside when I brought home Boys of Blur and read it aloud. We all enjoyed it and “Read a book, yo!” is still a favorite family slogan.

It has been a year since we spent time with Charlie and Cotton. We jumped right into The 100 Cupboards series and had quite the adventure with Henry York. It is continually brought home from the library to be enjoyed again and again. A little Crazy Berry Juice was called for after a reading of Leepike Ridge. We just recently finished the three books in the Ashtown Burials series.

Cyrus, Antigone, Nolan, Rupert, Niffy…they have become treasured friends. Reading the Ashtown Burials was a time of “read, read, and read because we have to know how this book ends” and “I don’t want this to end!”  While targeted at the 8 to 12 year old readers, this series is perfect for a family read aloud.

Ashtown Burials gives the perfect blend of excitement, adventure, history, family, and friendship. All of this brought together by a wonderful cast of characters that will soon be like old friends. Conversations about the Smiths happens regularly around our table.  There have been discussions on good vs evil,  immortality and death and what living truly means. We have laughed over the antics of Cyrus and love his relationship with Rupert.

Not to ruin this series for those who have not read it, but the ending of Empire of Bones (Book 3) was bittersweet for me. It was what I expected for one character but it still was tough one to take. It led to some of the above mentioned discussions.

Don’t ask my children to choose between Ashtown Burials or The 100 Cupboards. Some will groan in distress and other will refuse to answer such an unfair question. It gets even better if you ask them to choose between characters: Cyrus or Henry? Rupert or Uncle Frank? It is great fun as a parent to have this small moments of torture.

Across the board, Mr. Wilson has become a treasured author in our home. Wilson’s writing “makes you feel like you are right there watching everything happen”.  One of my teens has declared Wilson one of the best authors ever. We might be some of his biggest fans.

If you happen to live under a rock like us and haven’t read the Ashtown Burials, we highly recommend it. Hopefully it won’t be long before Book IV: The Silent Bells will be published.

Tractors and Weapons – Books for the Boys

As much as we love fiction, I do think reading non-fiction is important. Children are naturally inquisitive and engaging biographies, science books, and other non-fiction selections can serve as great tools to feed those minds. And, well, sometimes they are just downright cool! The past week or two has brought a few excellent non-fiction reads into our home that my boys have loved.

When I visit the library I always take a quick peak at the children’s non-fiction section. I was actually looking for a Lego book my son wanted and Total Tractors caught my eye. I grabbed it thinking it would appeal to my six year old son and it was definitely a hit. Total Tractors is published by DK and is quite the encyclopedia of tractors. 141 pages of tractors. Fabulous, bright, sharp pictures of tractors: modern tractors, steam powered tractors, diggers, forestry tractors, and more and more!  Among the photos little blurps of information are scattered on the page. There is enough information to answer some basic questions and share fun tractor facts. The pictures are definitely the draw of this book.

The soybean fields around our home were recently harvested. My son searched the book until he found the harvester he saw at work in the fields. We had a great discussion on how the harvester worked and other ways tractors were used. I have a lovely stack of his own drawings of tractors on my desk.

The surprise is how much my 17 month old son loves Total Tractors. He loves to grab it, sit on the couch, and flip through the pages. If you listen closely, he will even make a few tractor sounds. He loves to have someone sit with him and look at the pictures. I may have to hide it to give his older siblings a break from Total Tractors.

Tommy: The Gun That Changed America (Karen Blumenthal) shares the history of the Tommy Gun. The goal was to create a light weight, rapid fire gun for American soldiers to use on the battlefield. John Thompson, however, found that there was no marker for his gun in the military. It did become the weapon choice of outlaws such as bank robbers and bootleggers. You not only learn about the Tommy Gun but about significant names in history and the beginning of gun laws.

I had this book on my desk to read but never seem to have the time. My 14 year old son needed some new reading so I handed the book to him. He found it very interesting and would definitely recommend it  Discussion on guns, gun laws, gun control could definitely come about from reading Tommy: The Gun That Changed America. It could also serve well to round out studying this time period in history. If you have a reader who enjoys weapons, guns, history, this could be an excellent selection.

The Illustrated History of Weaponry (Chuck Willis) is exactly what it says it is.  A huge collection of weaponry photographs from the Berman Museum of World History.  Swords, clubs, daggers, guns…..most basic to the most elaborate weapons…page after page of photographs. My 14 year old son grabbed this from the adult non-fiction section. The content is photographs with a tiny bit of commentary here and there. If you are looking for information on weaponry or history, this is not the book. This is more like a quick visual tour of a museum. My son has enjoyed looking at the various weaponry and how different weapons changed over time. Definitely not a book for everyone and would likely be classified as a “coffee table” book. From a teenage boy’s view, it was pretty cool.


Escape from the Library

Well, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (Chris Grabenstein) to be exact.

Kyle Keeley is a twelve year old boy who loves games, especially video games. Reading a good book? There is definitely no interest for Kyle. Why read when he could be playing the latest Lemoncello game? All of this changes with a contest to play Mr. Lemoncello’s most amazing game yet: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

Kyle’s town of Alexandria, Ohio lost their town library twelve years ago. Mr. Lemoncello lived in Alexandria as a boy and loved nothing more than an afternoon in the library with a good book. To celebrate this love of reading, Mr. Lemoncello has built a new library complete with holographic images, hovercrafts for reaching those high shelves, and an intense game room. And now the great game of escape begins…..

To celebrate the grand opening of the library, twelve 12 year old students enter and the first one to find the way out (not the door they came in) will be the big winner. Who can be the first to find and decipher the clues? Who will be the first one to find the way out that wasn’t the way in?

My kiddos and I enjoyed Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. It was a fun, lighthearted read perfect for those hot, summer afternoons. My older ones enjoyed catching literary references (and there were many) and we all enjoyed the game aspect.  My children were all trying to follow the clues and figure out the path of escape before the end. Those who are familiar with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory might get a sense of familiarity. I think fans of The Westing Game would be at home with Mr. Lemoncello as well.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is an enjoyable read for ages 9 – 12. While we read it aloud and enjoyed it,  I think it is best suited to individual reading. It would make a great book club  selection as there is lots of opportunity for discussion on game play, sportsmanship, teamwork, etc. Your reader might just ask for another book or two.

And…I just discovered that Mr. Lemoncello is coming back! Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics should hit the bookshelves early 2016. I know it will be on our to read list.