All posts by Colleen Mitchell

A Change of Focus: A Review of ‘Surviving the Applewhites’

“Embrace everyone and everything that helps you become a better version of yourself and you will live a life uncommon.” – Matthew Kelly [The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic]

Reading Level

AR 5.5 [7 points]

Grades 6-12 [Scholastic]

Review and Comments

The Applewhite family can be described as unique or extraordinary, but those words really don’t capture the nature of the family well enough.  Idiosyncratic is the word that expresses the dynamics of the Applewhites much better.  A few members can even be described as egocentric.  Each person in this extended family has such a distinctive personality that their individual stories are quite interesting.  Their creative passions seem to divide the family, but when a theatrical crisis occurs, the Applewhites have to pull together and eventually resolve those problems.

The reader is introduced to the family by twelve year old Edith Wharton, or E.D., as she prefers to be called. She describes her family as “a spontaneous group of people who love chaos and crave freedom.” Her family even decides that the children’s education should be different because after all they are not like other people.  Their motto is:  “Education is an adventurous quest for the meaning of life, involving an ability to think things through.” So, they start the Applewhite Creative Academy where “creativity and individuality are paramount,” and the children develop their own study programs to accommodate their personal interests. 

Continue reading A Change of Focus: A Review of ‘Surviving the Applewhites’

A Reason For Everything: A review of ‘Danger! Tiger Crossing’ (#1 of the Fantastic Frame Series)

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”  -Aristotle

Reading Level

Grades 2-4, (Ages 7-9) 3.8

Interest Level

Grades 1-5

[128 pages]

Review and Comments

Danger! Tiger Crossing is the first book in the Fantastic Frame series.  This exciting story is filled with mystery, interesting characters, and a bit of a Jumanji flavor that will surely attract the reader from the first chapter.

The main character, Tiger, is an interesting boy who thoughtfully observes his surroundings, analyzes clues, and then works to solve problems.  And the problems he faces in this adventure are extraordinary.   His story begins when his little sister reports that she has seen an orange pig in the backyard.  This statement is so unbelievable that Tiger resolves to prove the pig lives in his sister’s imagination.  While he is examining the scene, he actually sees the pig in his neighbor’s yard wearing a top hat and a bow tie.  He also meets Luna, a neighbor.  Tiger and Luna approach things from different angles, but these differences come in very handy as complications present themselves.

Continue reading A Reason For Everything: A review of ‘Danger! Tiger Crossing’ (#1 of the Fantastic Frame Series)

Emptying Oneself: A Review of ‘The Legend of Bluebonnet’

“Let us remember that love lives through sacrifice and is nourished by giving.  Without sacrifice, there is no love.” – St. Maximilian Kolbe

Reading Level

AR4.2 [0.5 points]

Interest Level

Grades 1-3

Review and Comments

The Legend of the Bluebonnet is definitely my favorite Tomie dePaola book.  This beautiful story shows how the selfless giving of an ordinary, little Comanche girl accomplishes something quite extraordinary and saves her people.

The Comanche people, especially the young and old, are suffering greatly during what seems like an endless drought.  They pray to the Great Spirits and ask what they must do to end this devastating trial.  The shaman also prays to the Great Spirits, and when he returns from his private prayer time, he tells them the drought is a result of their selfishness. They must sacrifice their most valued possessions as an offering, and then spread the ashes to the points of the earth.  If they do this, the drought and famine will end.  The People are relieved they have an answer.  They acknowledge their most prized possessions and talk about why each article is special, but in the end each person decides that the Great Spirits surely isn’t asking forhis or her particular item.

Continue reading Emptying Oneself: A Review of ‘The Legend of Bluebonnet’

A Restless Imagination: A Review of ‘My Life in Pictures (Bea Garcia)’

“Artistic talent is a gift from God and whoever discovers it in himself has a certain obligation: to know that he cannot waste this talent, but must develop it.” – St. John Paul II

Reading Level

Grades 1-4, Ages 6-9

Review and Comments

Beatrice Holmes Garcia is a budding artist who illustrates her actual life experiences along with some very original daydreams.  Her drawings are not always restricted to her trusty journal however.  She has been known to draw on her little brother, the walls, and even the television.  Her family is usually very supportive of her enthusiasm unless her art extends beyond her notebook. 

It is obvious that Bea’s family and home are very important to her – the center of her world. That expands a bit when she happily meets her first best friend on her 5th birthday. The girls are kindred spirits from their first introduction.  They do everything together: draw, learn new things, and even share a magic tree in the backyard where their imaginations are truly free. 

Continue reading A Restless Imagination: A Review of ‘My Life in Pictures (Bea Garcia)’

Enchanted Summer: A Review of ‘Half Magic’ (Tales of Magic, #1)

 “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

Reading Level

AR:  5.0 (0.5 points)

Grade 6-8 (According to Scholastic)

Interest Level

Grades 4-8

Review and Comments

Summers are always very special for Jane, Mark, Katharine, and Martha, but everything changes after their father dies. They attempt to fill their summer days by playing with one another and going to the library often, which is the high point of their week. Each child searches for books in different genres, but they all love to read stories that inspire creative discussions about magical events.  However, these exchanges tend to leave them yearning for something extraordinary in their own lives. Little do they know that their summer is about to transform into something quite enchanted when Jane finds a shiny coin stuck in the sidewalk.

Continue reading Enchanted Summer: A Review of ‘Half Magic’ (Tales of Magic, #1)

A TESTED FRIENDSHIP: A REVIEW OF ‘THE MINIATURE WORLD OF MARVIN AND JAMES’

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying good-bye so hard.” –  Winnie the Pooh [A. A. Milne]

Reading Level

Ages 8-10

Grade 2 [Scholastic]

AR 2.6

Review and Comments

 James Pompaday and Marvin are the best of friends even though James is a boy and Marvin is a beetle.  They truly enjoy each other’s company and devotedly support one another.  Their friendship is tested when James spends a week at a summer camp and Marvin has to stay home. Marvin is troubled and wonders if James will think about him while he’s gone or even find a new friend to replace him, which would be the worst outcome.

Continue reading A TESTED FRIENDSHIP: A REVIEW OF ‘THE MINIATURE WORLD OF MARVIN AND JAMES’

A PROACTIVE PLAN: A REVIEW OF ‘GOOD PICTURES BAD PICTURES JR.’

“God desires from you the least degree of purity of conscience more than all the works you can perform.”
–St. John of the Cross

Interest Level

3-6 years

Review and Comments

Reviewing Good Pictures Bad Pictures was challenging because of the subject matter.  The message is meant to introduce children to a “safe and healthy media experience.”  I feel the book handles this very serious topic with simple honesty and an effective, valuable plan. We want our children to be safe especially in today’s world, but this grandma’s heart is ever so sad and troubled that very young children must be armed against such an evil reality.

Continue reading A PROACTIVE PLAN: A REVIEW OF ‘GOOD PICTURES BAD PICTURES JR.’

TREASURED MEMORIES: A REVIEW OF ‘NANA UPSTAIRS AND NANA DOWNSTAIRS’

“You have taught me, O God, from my youth, and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds. And now that I am old and grey, O God, forsake me not, till I proclaim your strength to every generation that is to come.” – Psalm 71:17-18

Reading Level

3.4 AR [0.5 points]

Grade 3

Interest Level

Pre-K – Grade 2

Review and Comments

Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs is a true story based on Tomie dePaola’s early life.  His close relationship with his grandmothers is very touching.  Besides the obvious love Tommy has for his grandmothers, he also experiences the sad reality of grief from their deaths, which may be difficult for sensitive children.  During his healing however, he begins to understand that the love of his grandmothers is never lost or forgotten.  It will always be a cherished memory in his heart. 

Continue reading TREASURED MEMORIES: A REVIEW OF ‘NANA UPSTAIRS AND NANA DOWNSTAIRS’

The Fruits of labor: Review of ‘Ox-cart man’

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

Reading Level 

Grade 3

AR 4.5 (0.5 points)

Interest Level  

 K – 3

Review and Comments

Ox-Cart man is the father of a very industrious family. Their story is a wonderful lesson about the hard work required in early nineteenth century America.  It is definitely an instructive glimpse at the important jobs the family had to accomplish over the course of an entire year.

The lesson begins in October when the family loads all the products they have made from their farm’s resources into a cart pulled by an ox.  Products such as: wool and linen, brooms, fruit and vegetables, candles, honey, and even goose feathers are carefully packed for the trip to the market.

Continue reading The Fruits of labor: Review of ‘Ox-cart man’

Love From One Generation to the Next: A Review of ‘Being a Grandparent, Just Like Being a Parent…Only Different’

“The crown of the aged is their children’s children….” – Proverbs 17:6

“Love multiplies.  It doesn’t divide.” – Dr. Ray Guarendi

Review and Comments:

Dr. Ray’s book, Being a Grandparent, is a wonderful resource for those who are seeking advice and direction while adapting to the role of being a grandparent. It’s also a good choice for anyone who just wants to see if they are “on the right track.”  Dr. Ray addresses many issues and recommends very practical solutions along with considerable wisdom and a good bit of humor.

I think most people will agree that being a grandparent is a huge blessing! That doesn’t mean the road is always smooth, however.  Problems arise, goals differ, and personalities and egos clash.  This book is organized into short chapters – each one addressing a concern from differing viewpoints. Dr. Ray then skillfully addresses each concern.  He poses thoughtful questions, makes astute statements, and sometimes gives examples from his own family. Continue reading Love From One Generation to the Next: A Review of ‘Being a Grandparent, Just Like Being a Parent…Only Different’