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The Wind in the Willows–endearing children’s classic for all ages

The Wind in the Willows

by Kenneth Grahame

My book club decided to read The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, a children’s classic written in the early 1900’s by a British author. As a retired educator, I felt like this is one of those books I should have read. I downloaded a free copy from Project Gutenberg. It has some illustrations, but I found I would have liked more. The other readers in my group had various ways of reading this classic tale. One had a particularly beautifully illustrated version that I adore. Another friend listened to an audio version recorded on YouTube. At least one group member expressed disappointment that her version was an adaptation. Regardless of the version, however, we all enjoyed reading it.

The Wind in the Willows is a charming tale of a water rat, mole, badger, otter, and toad. With its exquisite language and intricate descriptions, this book is perfect for reading as a family. It was a staple in A.A. Milne’s family which I consider high praise indeed. The pace moves back and forth between quiet reflection and raucous adventure. The tale has themes of home, friendship and satisfaction. The characters move through life together with commonalities and differences that serve to make the story even more interesting.

Toad is a favorite character with moods ranging from manic to subdued and intentions to reform that often seem genuine, but sometimes are quite insincere. He has a passion for the latest and greatest “toys” and is always on the lookout for a new adventure. Fortunately, he has supportive friends who will do anything for him. He is a source of humor for the reader.

If you have never read The Wind in the Willows, I strongly recommend it, especially if you enjoy beautiful word pictures. I like researching unfamiliar words, but those who don’t will have no problems as the general meaning of words of a botanic nature, Britishisms, and words no longer in common usage are certainly easily understood from context. The Wind in the Willows is a great read, and I am so glad to have added it as part my literary heritage.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: Ages 7-14

Publication: 1908 & 1913—Charles Scribner’s Sons

Memorable Lines:

Toad talked big about all he was going to do in the days to come, while stars grew fuller and larger all around them, and a yellow moon, appearing suddenly and silently from nowhere in particular, came to keep them company and listen to their talk.

He increased his pace, and as the car devoured the street and leapt forth on the high road through the open country, he was only conscious that he was Toad once more, Toad at his best and highest, Toad the terror, the traffic-queller, the Lord of the lone trail, before whom all must give way or be smitten into nothingness and everlasting night.

Toad sat up slowly and dried his eyes. Secrets had an immense attraction for him, because he never could keep one, and he enjoyed the sort of unhallowed thrill he experienced when he went and told another animal, after having faithfully promised not to.

Mr. Finchley Discovers His England–going on holiday

Mr. Finchley Discovers His England

by Victor Canning

Mr. Finchley Discovers His EnglandEdgar Finchley, a clerk in a law firm, has not had a vacation in ten years when his new boss surprises him with a three week holiday. This mild-mannered, middle aged bachelor anticipates trading his typical, longstanding daily schedule for a different holiday routine, but is surprised to find himself wrapped up in a series of adventures.

Victor Canning’s Mr. Finchley Discovers His England was originally published in 1934 before WWII when the author was twenty-three. A best seller upon publication, it is a humorous work reflective of a more innocent time and makes a fun read. I enjoyed all of Finchley’s exploits. Despite the light-hearted nature of the book, the character of Finchley develops as he finds courage and flexibility he never knew he had. This book is full of well written, vivid descriptions and many British terms. I enjoyed learning words such as “roach” (a type of fish)  and “rean” (a varian of reen, an irrigation ditch). Mr. Finchley Discovers His England is a delight to those who enjoy an author who can craft superlative descriptions and has an extensive vocabulary.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Ferrago for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Humor

Notes: 1. The first in a series.

2. There is a chapter which devotes itself to a cricket match This part of the book  would be more interesting to a reader who is familiar with the game and terminology.

Publication:   April 18, 2019—Ferrago

Memorable Lines:

The sun tipped the edge of the hills in a blazing tiara and every copse and thicket, each barn and cottage, sprang into a bold relief, white wall vivid against chestnut green, and a church clock, black and gold against the grey of the stones.

…he came slowly to see what until now he had never realized; that danger, the wonder of the unexpected, the exhilaration of living and not knowing what one would be doing or where one would next be were the only thing that gave colour to life.

He was beginning to see that McGrath was the type of man who bullied and stormed at people—and was surprised when they accused him of losing his temper.

The Library of Ever–unforgettable library adventures

The Library of Ever

by Zeno Alexander

The Library of EverLenora is a rich, privileged, eleven year old, cared for by a nanny in the absence of her vacationing, neglectful parents. With a nanny absorbed by shopping and tech devices, Lenora is understandably bored, but that changes quickly when she escapes the nanny’s unwatchful eye in the LIBRARY. To her delight, she is hired to work there. What follows is a series of magical librarian adventures. With each one of them, Lenora proves her worth and advances from Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian up through the ranks.

The adventures are fun and scary in this amazing library created by Zeno Alexander in The Library of Ever. Lenora is set on tasks by Malachi, the Chief Answerer, and she bravely confronts the Forces of Darkness who want to destroy Light in the world by destroying knowledge. The scary features are appropriate to Middle Grade readers with transporting by tubes, shrinking and unshrinking, dark caverns, holes that suddenly appear, evil men in bowler hats who can chill a room, and robots with spinning swords for arms.  There are lighter moments too. Lenora becomes a cat in a diorama to rescue a lost kitten. Lenora is ever helpful, for as a librarian that is her job. Her good deeds include resettling a colony of penguins and helping a kindly robot find a lost memory. The plot moves quickly from adventure to adventure and is an appropriate length for Middle Grade readers. As an adult reader I enjoyed it too, smiling over antics and anticipating each new adventure along with each promotion for Apprentice Librarian Lenora who has always enjoyed the adventures to be found in books.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grades

Notes: Ages: 8-11

  Grades: 4-7

Publication:  April 30, 2019—Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

Memorable Lines:

Malachi burst onto the scene looking rather disheveled, meaning a wisp of hair had escaped from her bun and her badge was ever so slightly askew.

“This isn’t the Complaints Desk,” said Lenora shortly. “The Complaints Desk is down the stairs, across the hall, over the bridge, past the waterfall, then you take the fifth left after the third right and straight on ’til morning.” Lenora had no idea if there was a Complaints Desk. “You’ll also need ice skates.”

Remember, Lenora, you are not alone in this fight, even if it will feel like that sometimes. You have allies, and you can rely on them to help you with the battles you are not yet ready to fight.

Hot on the Trail in Ancient Egypt–young time travelers

Hot on the Trail in Ancient Egypt

written by Linda Bailey

illustrations by Bill Slavin

Hot on the Trail in Ancient EgyptHot on the Trail in Ancient Egypt is a juvenile graphic novel that kept this adult interested from beginning to end.  In this book, which is part of The Time Travel Guides, the bored Pinkerton twins chase after their little sister Libby who has entered the rather creepy Good Times Travel Agency. Opening the owner’s personal guide book catapults the three children into Ancient Egypt. They learn that their adventure will not end until they finish reading the book.

The layout of the book is very appealing. The fictional story is told in comic book style at the top of the page. At the bottom of the page is a drawing of an aged book (Julian T. Pettigrew’s Personal Guide to Ancient Egypt) containing nonfiction text that explains and elaborates upon what is happening in the story. For example, when an Egyptian woman invites them into her home, the nonfiction text describes the house, food, and clothing of Ancient Egypt.

I can’t stress enough the current importance of books like this to interest children in history for three reasons. First, most people are familiar with the saying attributed to George Santayana that “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” There are many horrific events in history most can agree should never be repeated. Second, sadly to say, most children are not exposed to history in their younger years in school. The school day and curriculum in public elementary school is so regimented that the focus is reading, taught in a boring and uninspired way, math, and standardized testing. I am not kidding or exaggerating when I say that as a teacher I had to sneak in science and history and hope the principal didn’t catch me. Third, history is interesting and FUN. in an age when teachers do their best to incorporate games and movement activities called “brain breaks” (to replace the recess that was taken away), we need to restore the intrinsic fun that comes through learning interesting things. In that way we create life long learners.

In addition, a book of this type actively demonstrates reasons for reading—to learn more about something you are interested in and to be carried away by a story. I particularly appreciate that Bailey gave a belated shout out to her high school history teacher: “Great work, Mr. Visch—you made it fun!” She dedicated the book to her daughter who “once did a school project on the Sphinx and has been in love with all things Egyptian ever since.” Teachers and projects do make a difference.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kids Can Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Nonfiction

Notes: 1. new edition of an older book

  2. Grade Level: 3-7

  3. Age Range: 8-12 years

Publication:   May 1, 2018—Kids Can Press

Memorable Lines:

For drinks, try the national beverage—beer! It’s made from half-cooked bread and river water, and it’s thick, dark and sometimes a bit lumpy. You’re supposed to strain it well before serving, but not everyone does.

Down at the bottom are the farmers and laborers. Most people in ancient Egypt are at the bottom of the society—where there’s plenty of room!

Sightseeing in the middle of a getaway? This was a very bad idea. Emma and Josh tried to lure their little sister out of the pyramid.

The Eye of the North–children’s fantasy adventure

The Eye of the North

by Sinéad O’Hart

The Eye of the NorthThe Eye of the North is a fantasy adventure tale intended for children in grades three through seven. The interest level would be appropriate for that range and maybe a little higher, but the reading level is too high for most third graders as it contains some fairly advanced vocabulary. It would make a good read aloud with a parent. The chapters are short. Within each chapter, when the two main characters are apart, the story jumps from one character to the other in a well-defined fashion which keeps the plot moving and the reader involved in the action of both characters.

The main character is Emmeline Widget whose parents are immersed in secret scientific research which endangers both them and their daughter. The storyline follows Emmeline’s adventures through apparent abandonment, solo sea travel, kidnapping, attacks and rescues by extraordinary creatures, and near death experiences. Along the way she meets Thing, a most unusual and self-sufficient boy. She saves his life and he repays her by following her north to lands of snow and ice to rescue her.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House (Knopf Books for Young Readers) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: Age Range: 8-12 years
Grade Level: 3-7

Publication: August 22, 2017— Random House (Knopf Books for Young Readers)

Memorable Lines:

Even worse, a roaring river ran right at the end of their property, sweeping past with all the haughtiness of a diamond-encrusted duchess.

…her gaze was caught by a dusty head emerging from a grating in the wall. This head—the color of whose hair was impossible to determine—was swiftly followed by a grubby body dressed in overalls. The fingernails of this creature were clotted with dirt and oil, and his—its?—face was smeared with grease. As Emmeline watched, he slithered out of the hole he’d been hiding in, until all of him—and there wasn’t much—was standing in front of Emmeline with a hand held out in greeting.
“Mornin’,” he said “M’names’s Thing. Who’re you?”

The wind was rummaging through his clothing like a pickpocket looking for a payday.

Away with the Fairies–not a fairy tale

Away with the Fairies

by Kerry Greenwood

Away with the FairiesAway with the Fairies begins immediately with the discovery of Miss Lavender’s body in a fairytale setting. There are many possible suspects from the residents of the apartments to coworkers at the women’s magazine that Miss Lavender writes for. Maybe even a disgruntled reader who has solicited help from the magazine’s advice column.

In the midst of this complicated investigation, Lin Chung, Phryne Fisher’s Chinese lover, goes missing and it is up to Phryne to cross the cultural barriers set up by his family.  She needs to find him and rescue him if needed.

Dot, Phryne’s assistant, and Bert and Cec, socialist taxi-drivers and part-time employees of Phryne, get major roles. We are also introduced to another interesting character, Li Pen, a Shao Lin monk and bodyguard of Lin Chung.

Away with Fairies is an interesting mystery, full of adventures and intrigue, set in 1928. Phryne, as always, is brave and defiant. The plot is complicated, and the book has a satisfying, but unexpected resolution.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Poisoned Pen Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #11 in the Phryne Fisher Mystery Series. This one would work as a standalone, but is probably more enjoyable if the reader has been previously exposed to the characters.

Publication:   August 1, 2017—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

The case was breaking. She knew the feeling. The matter would be as obdurate as a big stone block for ages, utterly resisting all chipping and tapping. Then just when you were about to give up and take to it with a sledgehammer, it cracked into a lot of pieces and fell away, revealing the gold egg of the solution in the middle. Feeling that she had extended her metaphor beyond its coefficient of expansion, she blew idle smoke rings all the way to the city.

Bert, who was about to call upon his maker to deliver him from unconscionable demands from stroppy sheilas, decided not to on receipt of a fifty megawatt glare from those strange green eyes. He felt a moment of gentle Christian pity for whoever tried to stop Miss Fisher…

She stood so still that a questing rat paused in its passage across her foot, whiffling its whiskers, wondering if the engineer was dead enough to provide a late-night snack. Loathing washed over Phryne so strongly she was afraid that she would retch. The clammy tail was across her bare ankle. It was cold. It was one of the vilest things she had ever felt in her whole life and if it had gone on for another second she might have flinched.

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