The Beginning of a Friendship: A Review of ‘Hi! Fly Guy’

“The only way to have a friend is to be one.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Suggested Reading Level:

Grades K-1

Review and Thoughts:

Hi! Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold is the first book in a continuing series, and what an enjoyable beginning it is!  The story introduces the two main characters, Buzz and Fly Guy, on a quest to find different things.  Buzz, the boy, is searching for an amazing pet to enter into a pet show while Fly Guy is searching for amazing food.  Their lives change when they literally bump into each other.  Circumstances aren’t perfect for Fly Guy at the start, but those change rather quickly.  Buzz has one purpose for Fly Guy and that is to confine him and make him a pet.  At first Fly Guy is mad, but after he makes it known he can say “Buzz,” everything changes.  Buzz thinks he is the smartest most wonderful pet because he can say his name.  The fact he can say “Buzz” also convinces Buzz’s parents that he is truly a pet – an amazing one.  Fly Guy is happy and comfortable because of the care Buzz gives him, but the food doesn’t hurt with his settling in either.  The final challenge is to convince the judges at that contest that Fly Guy is truly a real pet.  Persuading the judges however is more difficult.  Fly Guy is rejected as a contestant because a fly cannot possibly be a pet!  Buzz tearfully decides to let Fly Guy free when he doesn’t measure up to the standards of the show.  Fly Guy is a faithful friend and does not abandon Buzz but does tricks and again says Buzz’s name to try to convince the judges. He performs his final trick and is accepted as a pet.  He even wins a prize in the contest.  Buzz and Fly Guy are now a team and great friends. Continue reading The Beginning of a Friendship: A Review of ‘Hi! Fly Guy’

Of the Golden Future Time: A Review of ‘Animal Farm’

“The historical experience of socialist countries has sadly demonstrated that collectivism does not do away with alienation but rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency.”—Saint Pope John Paul II

“Unless the Lord build the house, in vain do the builders labour.”—Psalm 127:1

Suggested Grade Levels:

Grade 7-9

Review and Thoughts

Animal Farm by George Orwell is one of those novels that every student will most likely read in their lives.  One of the books in the current literary canon, it has helped demonstrate the evils of communism through an allegorical depiction of the Russian Revolution.  By using a seemingly innocent setting, Orwell tells the horrific story of a group of animals as they attempt to overthrow human rule.

The novel begins with an alcoholic farmer who has long neglected his farm.  The great boar, Old Major, starts teaching his new philosophy to the animals.  His philosophy points out the uselessness of humans.  The animals on the farm begin to feel a sense of pride and one day, when the farmer has forgotten to take care of the animals for too long, they fight Farmer Jones and take over the farm. Continue reading Of the Golden Future Time: A Review of ‘Animal Farm’

Inside the Imagination of an Eight-year-old: A Review of ‘Ramona Quimby, Age 8’

“The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”  St. Thomas More

Suggested Grade Level

Grades 2-3

Review and Thoughts

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary is a realistic fiction story about a girl named Ramona, her sister Beezus, and her parents. We are allowed a close up look at this family as they handle the pressures of everyday life, adjustments to new schools for the girls and the dad, money issues, and family responsibilities.  All of this is seen through the eyes and imagination of Ramona.

Ramona is a lively and dramatic character.  Throughout the story the reader gets an intimate glimpse into her thoughts and interpretations about the events in her life. Many times these thoughts are humorous and may sound familiar and at other times they are not very nice, like those of an upset eight- year-old.  What’s fair and not fair is always an issue with children, and Ramona is no different.  She just desperately wants to be “the clever young daughter who is doing her part to help the family,” but life and her perception of things seem to get in the way, and she struggles to uphold that promise to herself. Continue reading Inside the Imagination of an Eight-year-old: A Review of ‘Ramona Quimby, Age 8’

The Price of Disobedience: A Review of ‘Strega Nona’

“Never bother about people’s opinions.  Be obedient to truth.  For with humble obedience, you will never be disturbed.”–Blessed  Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Suggested Grade Levels:

Grades 2-3

Review and Thoughts:

The story of Strega Nona may sound familiar because it is a retelling of a familiar folktale.  It can be compared to such stories as “The Porridge Pot”, a German folktale, or even The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  In this version Tomie dePaola retells the story with an Italian setting and flavor.

The people of Calabria frequently visit Strega Nona , Grandma Witch, because she helps them with problems using her very special potions.  She conjures remedies for their difficulties , and  everyone is happy and satisfied with the results of their visits to her.

At this time in her life however, Strega Nona feels she is getting old and needs help with household chores.   A citizen of Calabria named Big Anthony applies for and gets the job even though he is known as someone who doesn’t pay attention.  Strega Nona explains the list of chores he will have to do.  She also tells him that the one thing he must not touch is her pasta pot. Continue reading The Price of Disobedience: A Review of ‘Strega Nona’

Let Us Not Forget: A Review of ‘Inside Out & Back Again’

“Dear friends, let us not forget the flesh of Christ which is in the flesh of refugees: their flesh is the flesh of Christ.”—Pope Francis

Suggested Grade Levels:

Grades 6-8

Review and Thoughts

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai is a beautifully written coming-of-age story about a young Vietnamese girl named Ha.  While Ha is a young girl in Vietnam, she witnesses the fall of Saigon, escapes with her family to Alabama, and struggles to learn to adapt to a new life in America.  The innocent viewpoint of the young girl is a stark contrast to the seriousness of the war and of her position as a refugee.  The novel, which is written entirely in poetry, is simple and delicate and tells a story of survival and growth for Ha and her family.

The novel is broken into four parts.  Each part speaks of a different portion of Ha’s journey.  She tells about her life in Saigon before the North comes and her eventual escape from Saigon.  Next, she describes her terrible journey on boat floating at sea and nearly starving until she and her family are rescued by the Americans.  Her family’s “adoption” by a man in Alabama and their struggle to adapt to a new culture is a difficult one.  Finally, she accepts her family’s fate and learns to live as a young girl in Alabama. Continue reading Let Us Not Forget: A Review of ‘Inside Out & Back Again’

Lessons In Love: A Review of ‘Little Bear’

“You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.”–St. Therese of Lisieux

Suggested Grade Level:  
Grades K-1

Review and Thoughts:

Little Bear by Elsa Holmelund Minarik is one of those chapter books that beginning readers are drawn to and excited to read.  This story is told through simple vocabulary and captivating pictures.  I have always enjoyed reading stories about fictional bears (Corduroy, Winnie-the-Pooh, Paddington) because of their innocence, and they are just so adorable.  Then again, it might be that these stories bring back memories of my own little brown Teddy who was a constant companion for a time in my youth.

The four chapters in this book tell a story of a mother’s love for her Little Bear – simple, giving, and sacrificial – through actions and special endearing words.  It also tells the story of Little Bear responding to and reflecting on the love from his mother. Continue reading Lessons In Love: A Review of ‘Little Bear’

Making the World More Beautiful: A Review of ‘Miss Rumphius’

Suggested Grade Level:

Kindergarten -2nd Grade

Review and Thoughts

 “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

This was the advice given to the main character, Alice, by her very wise grandfather.  Alice was just a little girl with big dreams, but she took his advice to heart and made it the third goal she hoped to achieve in her lifetime.  But she wasn’t sure exactly how she would do that.

When she grew up she traveled and experienced marvelous sites, adventures, and friendships.  She lived happily by the sea.  “She was almost happy.”  It took Alice a long time to discover how to accomplish her third goal – the challenge given to her by her grandfather.  As an old woman living by the sea Alice saw that the little garden next to her house had scattered its seeds to new and surprising locations.  She saw the beauty and it renewed her effort to spread this beauty.   She began to scatter handfuls of seeds wherever she walked.  The next spring exploded with lupine beauty.  The promise to her grandfather was accomplished.  She had made the world more beautiful. Continue reading Making the World More Beautiful: A Review of ‘Miss Rumphius’

Conquered by Love: A Review of ‘Left to Tell’

“Darkness can only be scattered by light, hatred can only be conquered by love.” —Saint Pope John Paul II

Suggested Grade Levels:

Grade 9-12

Review and Thoughts

Truly, Left to Tell is one of the greatest books I have ever read, not only from the perspective of a teacher, but also from the perspective of a young Catholic woman.  This book has touched me more than any other Catholic nonfiction because of the simple and innocent testimony of Immaculee Ilibagiza.

This book tells the story of Immaculee and her family who are devout Catholics living in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.  She is a member of the Tutsi tribe that is mercilessly hunted and murdered by the Hutus during what is one of the most devastating genocides in modern history.  Immaculee is fortunate enough to find a hiding place with a nearby Christian minister and lives in his private bathroom with seven other woman.  It is through her prayer and faith in God coupled with the bravery and charity of the pastor that she is able to survive and emerge from the bathroom a whole woman both physically and mentally. Continue reading Conquered by Love: A Review of ‘Left to Tell’

Literature reviews from the Catholic side