The Castle Corona, by Sharon Creech

Long long ago, and far far away, there was a castle, high on a hill….

For the royalty that live in the castle, life is not easy. The king, queen, and their three children are tired of always having duties and obligations, never able to do whatever they would like. Constantly dreaming of what it would be like to be a peasant, their sleepy lives are turned upside-down when a thief breaks into the castle and several things are stolen.

And there was a village, down in the valley….

Pia and Enzio, two peasants who have always worked hard for their master, have always wondered what it would be like to live in a castle, have lots of money, and never have to clean another dirty dish or make another watery stew or sweep another filthy floor. In other words, to be able to do whatever they liked. The never-ending pattern of chores is broken when they, too, are changed when they find a pouch, containing unusual contents that might change their lives forever and take them to places they never dreamed of.

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To be honest, this is one of my favorite books to this day! Yet when I go to think about it, I can’t figure out precisely why. Maybe it is just because I am a huge fan of Jennifer Wiltsie, the narrator for the audio (which I highly, highly recommend!). This is the only book I have heard her narrate and she is, in my opinion, some of the most original and entertaining voices for the characters.

It is not exactly the deepest thing Sharon Creech has written. If you have read some of Sharon Creech’s other stuff like Walk Two Moons or The Wanderer, you may notice a pattern in her books: her main character is always a 13-year old girl who has something to prove or a journey to take. While this particular book went off her usual track, it still echoes the usual things she adds.

My sister doesn’t care for Sharon Creech’s other books, except for this one. She usually adds in a lot of symbolic ‘scenes’, if you will, but this one she chose a little more witty plot and chose to have a more subtle character change. Her characters have a lot less to prove, which helps, because character change wasn’t the whole plot like some of her other novels.

The characters are the real gem of the story. Very memorable (especially with Jennifer Wiltsie’s unique voices), they are so creative. For example, the King is constantly complaining about his itchy, heavy robe and just wants a nap. The queen just wants some privacy and a chance to love her children. The hermit, which is a stroke of genius and is one of the best parts of the story, gives out advice the shallow king never understands.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Violence: 1/10

Language: 0/10

Innappropriateness/Romance: 0/10

Audience: 6 and up (enjoyable for older kids as well).

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Mandy, by Julie Andrews Edwards

Mandy, a girl whose parents are dead, has lived in an orphange her entire life. Her life is not wholly bad; on the contrary, she has friends, a safe place to live, and is always treated fairly. But something is lacking, something she can’t put her finger on.

Her life changes when she starts taking an interest in the curious, high wall along the back of the orphanage that seperates the orchard grounds from the mysterious forest beyond and what it may be hiding. When Mandy chances to sneak behind it, she is surprised to find a cottage, completely abandoned. Maybe it’s the way the house has been left behind and forgotten just as she has, or maybe the loneliness that she has in common that pushes Mandy to question the way she lives, and finds a longing for something to call her own, and the need to be needed.

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First of all, along with Nancy and Plum, I was given this book when I was maybe nine or ten. Unlike Nancy and Plum, I read it right away and fell in love with it! It awoke a lot of different ideas and dreams in me that gave me something to think about outside of what I normally thought of. If you happen to read someone else’s description of it, you may happen to notice how they always choose to talk more about the house. I am so familiar with the story that some of the lesser themes struck me more than the overall plot.

I know that there are a bazillion other stories about orphans who are in similar situations, but Mandy is particularly special to me because of Julie Andrew’s spectacular story-telling. Her character, Mandy, is very believable. In fact, every time I read it, (which I still do), when it gets to the part in which she is being discovered (don’t worry, it’s inevitable), I yell “No! No! You’re spoiling everything!” right along with Mandy. She says exactly what anyone would say, which is what makes her so real.

I think this book really appeals to all ages, boys and girls, but especially the 8-12 range.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: 0/10

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 0/10

Audience: Ages 7 and up.

Nancy and Plum, by Betty MacDonald

Nancy and Plum live in horrible Mrs. Monday’s Boarding House, dreaming about their uncle who sent them there after their parent’s deaths. Every day they hope he may save them from their miserable lodgings. Little do they know how little their uncle knows or cares for children.

The poor orphans live with all the other children whose parents dumped them at Mrs. Monday’s, wanting to be rid of them. This story follows the two sister’s who try to make life a little easier for all the abandoned kids while scheming to one day escape and start again with new parents.

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I can’t remember exactly how long ago it was that I received this book with a whole box full of others (it was a long time ago), and it took me even longer to actually pick up the book to read it. Let me tell you, I loved it! I went back and read it again with my sister, who liked it even more than I did.

It is quite funny, a lot of good, funny dialogue and interesting predicaments. It was a good read-aloud, and some of the side characters were really memorable. My sister and I still to this day laugh about the ‘evil’ Sunday school teacher, Miss Gronk.

The only complaint I have about this book is that the beginning and end were a little extreme. The story begins with them out in the cold, complaining about not having any parents and being hungry (which was a little over the top), and the end is just dripping with sweetness that makes you feel a little sick, like when you have just one piece of candy too much. All in all, this is a children’s book and if it hadn’t been that way it might not have been as satisfying for the kids who wanted to see justice done.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Violence: 1/10

Language: 0/10 (although there was quite a lot of name-calling)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 0/10

Audience: Ages 7 and up

The 39 Clues Series

Siblings Amy and Dan Cahill never expected to inherit anything but a little money when their wealthy grandmother died. They were her favorites, so why shouldn’t they? All these other people at the funeral don’t seem to even be related to the dead woman. But both are shocked and surprised when they, along with select few other ‘relatives’, are given the choice to have either one million dollars, or a clue. A clue that supposedly will lead to unimaginable power and fortune.

Of course, how could the two orphans turn down the opportunity to get away from their boring aunt and travel around the world? There are 39 clues in all, but they are only given the first clue to many in a dangerous game. Each of the other clues must be fought for and earned, through blood, sweat, tears, brawn, and brains. With power-hungry cousins, aunts and uncles, Amy and Dan are pushed to use every resource possible just to survive.

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First off, I started to write individual posts for each book, but then I decided they were all alike enough (and there were too many) to include them all in one post. Sorry to all who have already read about this!

What is great about these books is they are never boring. Traversing the world, these kids are always searching through history to help them with the clues. While some of the books are a little more exciting and danger-filled than others, all are about even in the adventure aspect.  It is sort of like the Amazing Race meets The Westing Game.

I would definitely describe this book as the next step up from Magic Tree House for kids who might want something a little more suspenseful from that series, but not necessarily creepy. While there definitely are some scary parts in each book (hanging over the water with sharks right below them, trapped in a room and running out of air, climbing in a coffin on top of a skeleton to hide), the authors have an incredible way of making something a little less disgusting than it actually is. They are good at not elaborating on the gross.

Something I’ve always appreciated about them is they are fairly clean in the language and romance department. Other than name calling and a small crush, that is about it.

The only thing that bothers me is that the series is written by several different authors. I didn’t even notice until afterwards that several of the books were more well-written than others, which made them less consistent. Of course, your kids probably won’t even think twice. The other problem with multiple creators is that it felt like in each book, they were trying to out-do the last one in the ‘that was the scariest thing I’ve ever done!’ moment. Towards the end of the series, they definitely get more creative in coming up with peril-stricken scenarios and even seem to go out of their way to include them.

We listened to these on audio, and the narrator is pretty good. The voices are very good, and some narrators suck at accents and differentiating voices, but he pulls most of them off fairly well.

Here is the order in which they are to be read:

#1: The Maze of Bones, by Rick Riordan

#2: One False Note, by Gordan Korman

#3: The Sword Thief, by Peter Lerangis

#4: Beyond the Grave, by Jude Watson

#5: The Black Circle, by Patrick Carman

#6: In Too Deep, by Jude Watson

#7: The Viper’s Nest, by Peter Lerangis

#8: The Emperer’s Code, by Gordon Korman

#9: Storm Warning, by Linda Sue Park

#10: Into the Gauntlet, by Margaret Peterson Haddix

 

Overall Rating: 4/5

Violence: 4/10 (Some books are less)

Language: 1/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 8 and up? Unless you have particularly sensitive kids.