The Big Wave (Book Review)

The Big Wave (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you like morality tales or anything set in Japan

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Big Wave

By Pearl S. Buck

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Lots of potential for discussion here. But not a favorite of mine.

Pearl S. Buck’s novel The Good Earth was a formative reading experience for me in my 20s, so anything with her name on it gets my attention.

This story, however, was…hmm…

I’m not sure exactly what it’s trying to say. What was Buck, a Christian missionary, trying to capture here? I get the sense that she’s not necessarily portraying her own view as a Christian but perhaps giving a snapshot of an alternate cultural viewpoint…

The story (which is very short) takes place in a Japanese seaside village. The fishermen and their families have a deep fear of the ocean, even though it’s what sustains life for them. They know that, at any moment, a storm or tsunami can devesate them and take their lives. They build homes with no ocean-facing windows because they don’t want to…face the fear, I guess? Inland, there’s an active volcano that causes earthquakes. The people know that, between the ocean and the volcano, it’s just a matter of time before disaster strikes. This is true of life, no matter where you live or how safe you may feel.

The characters conclude that living in a dangerous place makes them brave and helps them better appreciate times of peace and happiness. I guess this is true in a general sense. We can see the light because of the darkness kinda thing. I just wish there was a clearer, firmer foundation to build on than what Buck offers here. The ending of the book sees one of the main characters literally building a house on sand. What are we supposed to make of that?

The best element of the story, for me, is when Jiya must decide whether to live with the poor farmers or the rich old gentleman. On the one hand, he can claim a life of safety, plenty, and opportunity. On the other, he can live humbly but also in the midst of uncertainty and possible privation. Most people don’t get to make this choice, but if they did, what would they choose?

3.5
The Black Cauldron (Book Review)

The Black Cauldron (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you want to read a high fantasy rescue story filled with dramatic dilemmas

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Black Cauldron

By Lloyd Alexander

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Everyone’s favorite assistant pig-keeper is off on another adventure, but this one will test him to the core.

Dilemmas. That’s why this book is so good. The characters are faced with one impossible choice after another until the very last chapter. My boys and I really enjoyed this second installment in the Prydain Chronicles.

The evil Arwan is gaining power. To stop him, Gwydion gathers a crew of loyal Prydainians to sneak into his fortress and steal the black cauldron—the wicked pot he uses to create undead warriors for his army. Naturally, everything goes wrong, and Taran must learn what it means to make hard choices—all by himself.

This book was better than the first one, and I think it’s worth reading the first book in order to experience this sequel more richly.

This is HIGH fantasy in the same vein as Tolkien. It’s hard to miss the parallels between LOTR and these books. But, these books are much shorter and accessible to a younger audience. My 7- and 8-year-olds wouldn’t be able to read them solo, but they can understand them perfectly well when I read aloud (and clarify some of the high-brow vocab). The books are written in a lofty, grand tone.

Again, this book was great because of the series of difficult choices that the characters faced. I felt like the plot was tight and economical. Overall, YES.

Content warnings: Nothing overly concerning. Several characters die, and one must sacrifice him/herself in one scenario.

4.9
What the Moon Said (Book Review)

What the Moon Said (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you loved Sweet Home Alaska or any of the Little House books.

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

What the Moon Said

By Gayle Rosengren

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

How will 10-year-old Esther survive now that her family must move from the city to a farm due to the Great Depression?

What a sweet, heartfelt book! I read it in just over a day, and it’s perfect for kids who love pioneer or homesteading books.
It’s the Great Depression, and we see one year in the life of 10-year-old Esther. All she wants is to earn her mother’s love. Her Russian immigrant mom is exacting and superstitious. She scolds easily, worries constantly, and hugs not at all. What can Esther do to make Ma love her?

When Esther’s dad loses his job in Chicago, the family moves to a Wisconsin farm to try country life. How will Esther adjust?

This story has two strong journeys: the outer journey: Will the family make it on the farm? And the inner journey: Will Esther at long last receive her mother’s love? This makes it a simple yet layered growing-up tale.

It is a sweet story, with lots of emotion. I got teary-eyed a few times. I appreciate how the book doesn’t villainize the city or the country. I also love how there is a faith element. The family prays and goes to church. Ma and Pa also carry a lot of superstitions from the Old Country, and it’s interesting to see how that’s handled.

The reading level is low, so younger kids should be able to tackle it. The plot touches on many universal “kid dilemmas” that anyone can relate to, and it also opens a window to a distinct time in history and how people lived back then.

I got this book recommendation from this list of page-turners.

Content warnings: Nothing graphic or overly scary. However, one character has a medical emergency that requires hospitalization. One character chokes on food.

4.6
The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry (Book Review)

The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’re craving a short middle-grade book that feels like L. M. Montgomery

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry

By Anna Rose Johnson

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

An awkward orphan girl is adopted by a big family who lives on a tiny lighthouse island

What a delightful story. Like Anna Rose Johnson’s debut, this book has that classic, vintage feel. What’s more, Lucy Landry is Anne Shirley reincarnated. She’s dreamy and inattentive, but it’s obvious that her behavior is a coping mechanism, and so, even though she makes us cringe, we FEEL for her.

This is one of those stories where the young protagonist is plopped into a completely new life. Think Sara Crewe, Mary Lennox, and, of course, Anne. Lucy Landry has lived primarily alone with an elderly caretaker. When she’s adopted by a couple with six children who live on a tiny lighthouse island, she’s utterly unprepared for the chaos and conflict. I’m glad that the author didn’t shy away from this conflict. It was HARD for Lucy to fit in, and this constant tension made the story interesting.

I loved the mystery of the long-lost necklace that’s woven through the story. While this is a subplot and not the point of the book, it adds a layer of interest to liven up the main plot, which is Lucy’s transformation. Plus, finding the lost necklace gives Lucy a goal and deepens her connection to her past.

This book is short and easy to read. It’ll appeal to kids (and adults) who want a quick win.

Also, Lucy deals with some debilitating fear. Since so many kids struggle with fears, this is another touchpoint that will appeal to anxious kids without triggering them (I think).

And a huge WOO-HOO to the depiction of a homeschooling family. This is rare! (But spilling stuff all over our school supplies is, sadly, not. Haha.)

Thank you to NetGalley and Holiday House for a digital ARC of this novel.

Content warnings: Lucy is afraid of sailing on the water. The book shows her getting anxious about the prospect of (and the reality of) getting on a boat. She and one other character freeze up in panic, but it’s not depicted as a detailed panic attack. Mentioning this just in case it’s relevant for your youngster.

4.5
The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams (Book Review)

The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
only the most creative of children’s books will do

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams

By Daniel Nayeri

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

It started slow.

Reading this at night as a fabulous yet decidedly middle-aged mommy who is worn-out tired by the end of the day…I will admit that I found myself nodding off during the first half of this book.

But the second half is worth it!

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a kids’ book with such a grand payoff at the end. I almost don’t want to write anything more so that you can enter this book as blindly as I did.

Now, I will say that the first line of this book is a knockout, but after that, I was a little disoriented and unsure where it was all going. It took me a few chapters to get my bearings and figure out which characters were important. This book isn’t nearly as disjointed as Everything Sad Is Untrue, Nayeri’s debut. It’s much more cohesive with a linear plot and all that. It just took me a bit to sink in.

The plot picks up greatly after we learn that Samir, who is not the protagonist, is being pursued by several colorful bounty hunters. What could be a tense chase is rendered by Nayeri into a thumping frolic along the Silk Road.

I’m a sucker for a solid theme, and this book has one. Friendship and family—what are they, and is life worth living if you have none? What are friendship and family worth, and what would you trade them for? The worldview is not overtly Christian, but there is good moral soil here.

HOWEVER, this book does not shy away from the truth that people are complex. For example, Samir is kind and loyal, but he’s the folkloric version of a used car salesman, exaggerating and outright lying on the regular. Most characters are a mix of good and bad, which makes them interesting, but some young readers will need guidance here.

Content warnings: Samir is almost assassinated six times, but these encounters are not overly gruesome or graphic. As long as your kids are mature enough to understand what a bounty hunter is, then they’ll be fine. Some parents will want to know that a mix of faiths are shown here, and none with great reverence. Samir often lies that he belongs to a certain religion so he can butter up a customer. I find this good material for age-appropriate discussion with kids.

4.5