What We’re Reading: Mailing May (and more!)

We are welcoming November with a fresh crop of book reviews for you from the Simple Kids Book Review Team:


from Trisha at okieOLIO

Leo the LopThe short, meaningful stories in the Serendipity Series by Stephen Cosgrove have long been some of my most cherished books. For three decades the whimsical characters have shown children how to find positive solutions for difficult problems with gentle moral lessons. Cosgrove’s simple but clever writing is easy to understand and engaging.

My personal favorite is Leo the Lop, the tale of a floppy-eared rabbit who is teased because his ears don’t stand up straight like the other rabbits. Leo is sad because he looks different and makes several attempts to change his appearance to blend in and be “normal.” Through the help of a possum with a different perspective, he and the other rabbits eventually learn that “normal is whatever you are.”

The story is truly enhanced by the endearing drawings by illustrator Robin James. The soft and natural color palate and large expressive eyes on each character convey the story perfectly. In the style of the series, we are treated to a new picture on each spread, with the left page displaying the text and the right side filled with an illustration.

If you haven’t already serendipitously (wink, wink) discovered these lovely and valuable books, I promise you won’t regret inviting them into your library.

Early Elementary

from Emily at The Pilot’s Wife

mailingmayEven as a child, I loved reading about history.  There was just something about the resurrecting of other times and places that riveted me.  The rational part of me knows that the lack of running water and infrequent bathing would really put a damper on the fun of living in the past, but it still holds a strong appeal for me.

I spent many a happy hour delving into the worlds of Laura Ingalls, Anne of Green Gables, and the American Girls.  So when I stumbled upon Mailing May by Michael O. Tunnell, I immediately fell in love.

This lovely picture book is the tale of May, a little girl who wants to visit her grandmother who lives far away, but her family can’t afford the train fare.

With a little creative thought and coercion, May’s Pa finds a solution and “mails” May to her grandmother.  The book chronicles her adventure riding the rails and the illustrations are a beautiful accompaniment that give children a glimpse into life in the early 1900s.

This short story is a great way to get children interested in learning about the past.  There is just enough information to initiate conversations about differences in how people lived, without feeling like a text book. There would also be many opportunities to talk about the vocabulary words specific to that time period.

If you’re wanting to pique your child’s interest in things of the past or perhaps fuel a budding historian, Mailing May is perfect way to do it.

Upper Elementary

from Katie at This Natural Life

viewfromsaturdayWhile browsing at my local bookstore recently, I ran across the book The View From Saturday, and was instantly intrigued.  I recognized the author’s name, E.L. Konigsburg, from her 1968 Newbery Medal-winning book From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, but I couldn’t recall ever hearing about The View From Saturday.  It turns out that there is a good reason for that: it was published in 1996, long after I left grade school.  I snatched up a copy and eagerly devoured it this past weekend.

The View From Saturday tells the story of four sixth-grade students and their teacher, Mrs. Olinski, as they compete in their state Academic Bowl.  The students are Noah, Nadia, Ethan, and Julian, and they call themselves “The Souls.”  None of them are what you would call “popular”; they are smart kids, and each has their own set of challenges.   As the reader, we watch the friendship between these students as it unfolds from its inception, when they first regard each other with the initial wariness and hesitation that is typical of many sixth-graders.  As circumstances continue to draw the students together, they eventually form a very unique and tightly bonded friendship.  Their relationship with Mrs. Olinski, and the challenging circumstances of her own life as a paraplegic, also plays a significant role in the lives of each student.

One of the most interesting things about this book is the shifting point of view.  The author begins the book from Mrs. Olinski’s perspective, but then shifts to Noah’s first-person experience.  The second chapter returns to Mrs. Olinski’s point of view, but then it changes again, this time to Nadia’s story.  This pattern continues throughout the book.  The chronology of the story is not linear, either.  The book begins in the present, which is the spring semester of their sixth-grade year, but it often flashes back and forth between the present, the summer before sixth grade began, and the fall semester, as we learn how The Souls first met and how they are intertwined.

While I personally feel that these elements add a lot of interest to the story, some students could potentially find it confusing, especially if they don’t read very often and/or haven’t had much exposure to these kinds of literary elements.  In fact, many of the negative reviews on Amazon are from young students who had a hard time with the point of view and chronology.  These students would greatly benefit from a parent’s willingness to read the book alongside of them and help them navigate through these turns and twists.

In addition, one young reviewer pointed out that as the reader, we know what’s going to happen from the beginning of the book, and therefore he/she didn’t feel much motivation to read to the end.  But of course, the story has really very little to do with who wins the Academic Bowl, and everything to do with the journey along the way – the questions, the relationships, the moments of grace and personal triumph.  The View From Saturday is a rich, complex story of value, worth reading and re-reading.  I hope it finds its way into your child’s personal library, as it has into mine – it is worthy of a permanent place for many years to come.