What We Are About

Hello, and welcome to The Home Library Online!

My name is Alethea and I started this blog because Mom challenged me to do something to mark my first Secondary School year (or Grade 7).  Something to look back at and be proud of.  Something that would help me look beyond myself.  Something that will be a blessing to others.  How could I refuse?  🙂

Who are we?  We are a Christian homeschooling family of six — Daddy Tee Chiou, Mummy Angie, Alethea (that’s me!), Timothy, Nathalie, and Daniel. The children’s ages are 12, 10, 8 and 4, respectively, so our reading preferences vary.  Greatly.  We are Singaporeans, but because of Daddy’s work, we have been in Montreal since January 2011.

What in the world is this blog about?  Well, as Christians, we know that there are a lot of books out there that are incompatible with our beliefs. And although we love books with a vengeance, some of them just make us shake our heads and cause us to wonder what happened to the literary genre.  We don’t know everything that parents might have qualms about though, so we warn about whatever we found questionable, and we talk about what other people might find weird.  We are not conservative in our choice of books in any sense of the word.  We do not just read Christian literature or books by Christian authors.  But we do have our limits.  🙂

Why do we review books?  We review them as a service to other families and to help them make decisions as to what books to read and what resources to use.  As we review, we try to answer these questions: What is this book/curriculum about? Did we like it and, if so, who would we recommend it to? What are the things parents need to look out for when allowing their children to read this? And, for curriculum: How did we use this course, and was it effective?

What will you find here?  As at end August 2013, we have written 240 posts reviewing 500 books/resources.  We have categorised them by age appropriateness and by topic/subject.  We hope this will be a helpful site for those of you who are looking for recommendations of high quality educational materials and children’s literature.

So get comfortable and start reading!



Filed under Alethea's Reviews

The Magicians

Title: The Magicians
Author: Lev Grossman
Publisher: Plume (Penguin Books)
ISBN: 9780452296299
Alethea’s Review (at age 15)
So after a 1 year hiatus that was about a year too long, I’m back! And just to spice things up a little, I’m starting with a book that I was really excited about but which really failed to deliver. By the way, this review is going to be chock-a-block full of spoilers. Don’t read it if you don’t want this book spoilt, but at least read the recommendation at the end. Please?
Let me just give you a quick plot summary. Quentin Coldwater is what you imagine when you think of a teenager, if you think of a depressed genius who still revisits the imaginary lands of his childhood and can’t seem to grow up. One day, he gets invited to take a test—but not just any test. It’s a preliminary exam to Brakebills College, a super prestigious school of magic. Eventually, he realizes that the magical land of his childhood, Fillory, isn’t just a story. It really exists, and there is a way to get there. And on that note…
An Open Letter to Mr. Lev Grossman (that I’m not actually going to send to him but which is going to be here if he ever feels like coming to visit)
Dear Mr. Grossman,
My name is Alethea Ng, and I’m fifteen years old. I first read your book The Magicians several months ago, before I was aware that it is currently being made into a tv show. I admit, I was really expecting something great. I read all the glowing reviews on the back cover of the Plume edition, which praised your novel as “sly and lyrical”, “the best urban fantasy in years”, and even compared it to Narnia. I was so ready to love this book. I mean—magic! Fantasy lands! The main character even wishes he could go to different worlds, just like me! How could I pass up a book like that? Unfortunately, this book and I didn’t really get along. Let me explain.
First off, I’ll just say that I thought the basic plot, especially the premise, was good. I don’t finish books that don’t have anything to recommend themselves to me (and I finished this one), so that’s a point in your book’s favour. I was interested by “Harry Potter for adults”, which apparently was the book’s main selling point for most audiences. I was intrigued by the idea of a darker Narnia (and a little afraid for my childhood, but still). I longed for a fantasy world I could love. You somewhat delivered on this point. You gave me a premise that I found hard to abandon even after The Magicians and I agreed to disagree. You gave me an adventure that kept me on the edge of my seat—by which I mean that even though I never got to the point of actually enjoying it, I always felt like I was just two pages away from getting to the good part, so I never stopped reading. I really enjoyed the beginning: it’s what I’ve always wanted, what every bookworm wants—to escape, even for a little while, to the magical lands in our books. However, the problem I found with the plot was this: it was completely pointless. It went nowhere. The first two thirds of the book are Quentin in school, learning to wield his magic, falling in love with random people and generally muddling around and doing nothing. That’s fine by me—a little long, but every hero has to start somewhere, right? Then comes the last third of the book. During this period, Quentin finds out that his imaginary land is real, goes there, and proceeds to mess everything up, starting with his relationship with his girlfriend (which, to be honest, was never a really healthy one), going through a bunch of stuff, and ending with his relationship with his girlfriend. Finally, he ends up in exactly the same place as he started: bored out of his mind, friendless, and completely wasting his considerable talents. Well, that escalated not at all.
Now, that’s not even my main annoyance about the plot, Mr. Grossman. You see, you had an almost good thing going here. You kinda took the plots of Harry Potter and Narnia, subverted the morality of the books, and made a novel. Fine by me. You’re dedicated enough to do all that work and smart enough to get it published? Fantastic. What I don’t get is why you had to add in a bunch of gratuitous swearing, sex, drugs, alcohol, and let’s not forget the disrespect you show to Christians. Swearing—I kinda understand this one. I’m aware (to my great mortification) that’s how teenagers and twenty-somethings speak. Maybe you wanted to give the reader a feel for the kind of people we’re dealing with. What I don’t understand is why I can’t even read a dialogue scene without several swear words somehow finding their way into the conversation. The characters aren’t angry, upset, overly happy, or even emotional at all. So why in the world are they swearing so much? Sex, drugs and alcohol—I don’t understand. These three elements are—to put it nicely—completely useless. They do nothing to advance the plot in a large way and they could be replaced by literally any other plot device you can think of. And, as much as I dislike myself for saying this, if you want to dump a bunch of mature themes in there, at least do it interestingly. The characters do not care who is sleeping with who, and therefore, neither do I, as your reader. Dissing Christians—ooh, here we come to one of my favourite parts of this book (but not really). Christians and Christianity are mentioned several times in your book, always negatively. You poke fun (rather unfunnily) at the morality of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. When the “god” of Fillory appears, it turns out he is completely powerless and anyway doesn’t care about his people. And my personal favourite: you only have one Christian character in your book, and he is self-righteous, stupid, and disliked by Quentin, lacks a sense of humour, and is an all-around wet blanket. You know, you didn’t even have to insert a Christian character, and yet you felt the need to mention that dear, stupid Richard over here is a Christian. If I wrote a book, and in it the only Muslim character was a complete idiot like the Christian in your book, I would get so much hate for being racist and prejudiced. Again, if my one atheist character was a wet blanket, I would be accused of being a bigot and a religious nut. The same is true for women (or men), or Native Americans, or members of the LGBTQ community, or anyone, really. But somehow, when it’s Christians being overtly disrespected, it’s okay? Really? That’s nice to know.
I do have one thing I want to compliment you on, Mr. Grossman: Quentin Coldwater has topped my personal list of most useless protagonists! That’s right, he’s right up there—higher than Bella from Twilight, which I assure you is a prodigious honour. Quentin, as I kinda hinted at earlier, does absolutely nothing throughout the entirety of the book. He relies on everyone around him to tell him what to do, teach him, take the initiative with regards to adventure, and protect him. Even at the most climactic part of the novel, where his friends are fending off a manic, ultra-powerful super villain, his girlfriend is about to get killed by said super-villain, and everyone is casting spells (except the guy who just had his hands bitten off), he is somehow unable to help in the fight. He indeed lives up to his name—anything remotely good that happens to him is immediately dampened by his depressing outlook on life. He throws cold water (heh) on all the positive aspects of his life, preferring to focus on what’s going badly and what isn’t and will never be good enough. Oh, Quentin. We love you. I think you were going for “disillusioned” here, but disillusioned implies that you were once naive and childlike. Quentin, however, seems to have been born with the mentality of a 45 year old and the maturity of a 13 year old. Also, in a strange twist of fate, he starts out as a depressed, teenage genius with no life, and he ends up as a depressed, middle-aged genius with no life. There is no character development whatsoever, which is rather impressive if you think about it. Just think: during the course of the novel, he finds out magic is real, discovers he is a magician, gets someone killed by fooling around, gets turned into a goose and a fox, runs around Antarctica stark naked, travels to an imaginary land, nearly gets killed by a world-hopping maniac, and somehow manages to remain the same immature child he started out as! Wow! Come to think of it, all the characters in this novel weren’t exactly what you’d call likeable.  See, I read books for the characters. You can have a book with a sub-par plot, sub-par writing and amazing characters, and I will read it and probably enjoy it. The characters in your book were not relatable at all. Okay, so maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the only one who cannot relate to college-aged students who are magicians yet can’t seem to find it in themselves to enjoy life. Maybe I’m the only person in the world who is occasionally happy. Maybe I’m the only one who likes to believe that human beings are inherently good and want to find the good in others. But somehow I doubt it. Mr. Grossman, if your characters are self-absorbed jerks who don’t care about what’s happening to them, how do you expect me to care about them?
One more thing before I sign off. I mentioned earlier that I was really excited for this book. One of my reasons was that it was fantasy. I absolutely adore fantasy. I love how it allows you to escape your world, as you yourself put it: it gets you “out, really out, of where you were and into something better” (Chapter 1). See, the idea behind fantasy, the idea behind Harry Potter, Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, is that it allows you to transcend the bounds of reality for just a moment, tempting you to reach for the “better” that you see. It shows you what could be, the beauty that could be achieved if we just tried. It gives us, as kids, something to aspire to as we grow, and as adults, a dream, a glimpse of a better world. That’s all we’ve ever wanted, right? Something better for us, for those who will come after us. Something beautiful. I understand what you were trying to achieve with The Magicians. I get the “reality” part of the story, how you were trying to show how our childhood imaginings aren’t realistic. You drove your point in pretty well: “Life is hopeless. Get used to it.” But when all is said and done, that’s not what fantasy is about. Fantasy is not realism—it’s better than realism. Realism shows us what we are—fantasy shows us what we could be. The essence of fantasy is hope.
So in the end, sir, thanks, but no thanks. I think I’ll stick to Lewis.
Just a quick recommendation before I leave: if you didn’t read my open letter, here’s the gist of it. The Magicians is a sort of anti-fantasy that tries to tell you that there is little beyond yourself. While I understand that the author was trying to capture the disillusionment of the “real world”, his message got a little lost amidst a haze of sex, drugs, and alcohol. If you’re looking for a book that combines the disappointment of figuring out Santa isn’t real with the hopelessness of the first time you realize you’re going to die, then this is the book for you. If you’re looking for a book that addresses the joy of knowing that there is something to aspire for, to hope for, then you’re better off with the traditional fantasy novels of Tolkien or Lewis. Their books, unlike Mr. Lev Grossman’s, deal with the human condition on a deeper level than just what we do and what we currently are.
Warning: Really? You’re going to make me do this again? Alright… Sex, drugs, alcohol, violence, swearing, disrespect to Christians, and loads and loads of self-absorbed characters. Seriously. Please don’t read this. (By the way, it’s being made into a TV series too. You probably shouldn’t watch that either.)

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Filed under Ages: Late Secondary and up, Alethea's Reviews, Chapter Books, Not Recommended

Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief


Title: The Lightning Thief
Author: Rick Riordan
Publisher: Disney • Hyperion Books
ISBN: 9780786838653

Alethea’s Review (at age 14)

12-year-old Percy Jackson never dreamed that he wasn’t normal, or that he was the son of a Greek god. But when things start going terribly wrong, he must accept who he is and face the fact that the most powerful of the gods are after him for a theft he didn’t commit. Now, to appease the gods, he finds himself on a near-impossible quest to the underworld to retrieve the lightning bolt, the stolen object that holds all the power of Zeus. But the gods are at the brink of war, and Percy and his newfound friends—a demigod and a satyr—will have to use all their wits and strength in order to succeed.

Set in the modern world, Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief has enthralled thousands of readers with its amusing characters and engaging plot. The story mixes Greek mythology and modern-day teenagers, steadfast friends and fearsome enemies to create a world that draws readers in and invites them to share in the adventure. While I enjoyed most of this novel, some parts of it just didn’t appeal to me.

The character of Percy was usually likeable and relatable. I enjoyed how he always manages to rise to the occasion, even when he’s afraid. It was a relief that he doesn’t always claim to be able to do everything by himself, but I also found that he doesn’t have many faults to make him a well-rounded human (and being a demigod is not an excuse for that), so that was a bit of a letdown. Grover, his satyr sidekick, is possibly my favourite character in the whole book. He has made many mistakes in the past, but he doesn’t let that stop him from trying to make up for them. He acts as the comic relief of the group, but Riordan also allows him to do some things that contribute to the quest. This is not what comic relief usually does, so that was a welcome change. The only character I didn’t like was Annabeth, Percy’s demigod friend. She apparently thinks she should be the main character—she seems to think she can do everything by herself. When Percy comes to the Half-Blood Camp, she is only interested in him because she thinks that he can help her to attain her own ends. When she thinks he’s not going to be of any use, she essentially abandons him. After Annabeth learns who he really is, Percy says this about her:

“Every time I said something, she scowled at me, as if I’d just poked her between the eyes.
After lessons, she would walk away muttering to herself: “Quest … Poseidon? … Dirty rotten … Got to make a plan …” (128). I have to say, though, that she’s not inherently mean, although she sure acts like it sometimes. Percy and Grover, too, more than make up for her. Long story short, the characters were a high point of this book for me.

Another thing I really liked about this story was the plot. The idea of putting Greek mythology into a modern world is very interesting and allows the author to put things together that combine to make a very original story. I enjoyed the humour, the suspense and the conflict between the gods and demigods. There were also several plot twists that took me by surprise. However, I found that some of the events that transpired were too unrealistic and didn’t really lend credibility to the story as a whole. For example, when they’re trying to get into the underworld, they manage to distract Cerberus, the giant three-headed dog, long enough to pass under him and dash through the doors. And how do they manage to achieve this near impossible feat? “Annabeth produced a red rubber ball the size of a grapefruit… Before I could stop her, she raised the ball and marched straight up to Cerberus.
She shouted, “See the ball? You want the ball, Cerberus? Sit!”…
“Sit!” Annabeth called again” (295).

Cerberus sits. Personally, I’d expect the guard dog of the underworld to be a little bit harder to convince than that, but then again, I’d also expect Hades, the “Dark Lord” of this story, not to gripe about all the problems he has. I know that the idea of having the Greek gods in America implies that I have to believe some things that are out of the ordinary, but sometimes even stretching the imagination is not quite enough, and this is one of those times.

All in all, I think this is a fairly good book. The characters were definitely one of the strong points—Riordan knows how to write his protagonists so that they’re admirable but not too perfect (most of the time). The plot was exciting and amusing, although there are a couple of weak points that could have been improved. The writing was a little simplistic, but I guess that’s what has to be expected from a children’s book. In short, I’d recommend this book to elementary/middle-schoolers, or anyone else who is looking for a fun, easy book to while away the hours.

Warning: Lots of gods who go around sleeping with mortals and creating demigods, an abusive stepfather, people dying, and pretty much everything that is classically Greek.

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The Airborn Trilogy


Title: Airborn, Skybreaker, Starclimber
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: Eos (for Airborn) and HarperTrophyCanada (for Skybreaker and Starclimber)
ISBNs: 9780060531829, 9781554682829, 9781554685219

Alethea’s Review (at age 14)

“Lighter than air” is what they call him. Matt Cruse was born in the sky on an airship. He’s worked on the Aurora, a first class airship for three years now, ever since his father died. Air is his element. And yet, a dying balloonist’s last words force him to reconsider everything he’s known about the sky. Could there, as the balloonist says, really be life in the sky? And can Matt and his newfound friend Kate find it?

In Skybreaker, while Matt is on a training voyage with a power-hungry captain, he and the crew spot a ship of legend—the Hyperion—floating above the clouds. It is said that she carries 50 million dollars worth of gold. After a failed attempt at salvaging her, the weakened crew returns to land. The coordinates are in high demand back on earth, but of all the oxygen-starved crew, Matt is the only one who remembers them. And he’s not about to let anyone else get their hands on the Hyperion. So along with an unlikely crew—including a captain with a sky-sized ego, a mysterious gypsy girl, and Matt’s scientist friend Kate—he sets off to claim the treasure for his own. Which is not the smartest thing he could do, but oh well.

In Starclimber, Matt’s sights are set higher than the sky. He aims to be part of an “astralnaut” program which will go up into outer space for the first time ever. In other words, Matt is reaching for the stars. But the competition is fierce. More than a hundred trainees are undergoing the rigorous training, and only three will be chosen. Will Matt be able to overcome the competition and be one of the first in outer space? And even if he does, will he come back alive?

Tim has been bugging me to read these for the longest time, so I finally gave in. I have to say that it was a satisfying read, because I managed to read 3 books in 4 days, which made me feel good about my accomplishments this Winter Break. But I’m getting off topic.

First off, marvellous plot. I liked how it was set in an alternate universe, as that gave bigger scope for imagination. The idea of airships still existing was very interesting, and I love the idea of flying free like Matt does. The way Oppel writes suspense is amazing. I was on the edge of my seat half the time (at least, I would have been had I not been lying down most of the time). The only problem I found was the fact that Matt and Kate find new animal species literally everywhere they go! It kinda irked me, seeing as most people find no new species in their entire lifetime, and here these two are finding species as if species are coming out of their ears.

Characters—um. Let me see… I loved the villains in the first two books, Vikram Szpirglas and John Rath. They were just the right combination of villain and human, and were probably the strong point of the series for me.

Matt Cruse, the main character, was okay, I guess. I can tolerate him. I know he’s brave, and smart and everything, and I admire him for all that stuff, but he can also be pretty weak. He lets himself be influenced by literally everybody. Kate drags him along on her harebrained schemes, which is not always very smart. He doesn’t think before making decisions, which is all fine and dandy when you have someone to calm you down, but Matt doesn’t. Kate is, if anything, even more impetuous than him, so that doesn’t work.

And now we come to one of my pet peeves about this book, the name of which is Kate de Vries. Kate is pretty much the token female, and I despise token females. Token females are people who are in the book/movie/show/whatever for the sole purpose of—you guessed it—being female. Honestly, people, if you can’t find a purpose for a female character, please do one of the following: a) give her a secondary role or b) just toss the character out the window. I can’t stand female characters who just muddle around for the whole book with no purpose.

And after that mini-rant… Kate is, as I have said earlier, impetuous. She doesn’t think before she acts. I’m tempted to say she doesn’t think at all, or only thinks of herself. She’s ruthless when it comes to furthering her cause. She will do anything to help herself.


For instance, in the first book, the Aurora is marooned on an island. After several setbacks, she is ready to leave with all her passengers. But Kate, having discovered a new species of flying mammal, is not content with having the bones of one of them. Oh no, she wants a picture! So she disobeys direct orders from her chaperone, steals Matt’s compass, and sneaks out into the forest. When her absence is discovered, the whole ship is thrown into an uproar. The captain sends Matt and another boy, Bruce Lunardi, out to find her, but when they do, she refuses to come with them. She wants a picture. She wants to be famous (because she’s a girl! Girls don’t get choices! Never mind that she’s rich, being a girl is just like being poor). And then, this whole scheme of hers spirals into pirates finding them and several people getting killed.

Another thing that irks me about Kate is how ridiculously feminist she is. Don’t get me wrong, I do like women’s rights and all that. It’s just that Kate is so adamant about how girls are as good as boys that it starts to border on female chauvinism. Throughout the series, she keeps going on about how “We have no way of knowing whether it’s a he or a she. But of course we just call it him. Just another big important male of the species” (page 261, Airborn).

Or, when Matt is upset that Kate has been invited on the expedition while he has to prove himself: “‘I didn’t mean to insult you,’ I [Matt] said finally. ‘It just seems easy for you, that’s all.’ ‘Well, it’s not. Men always think they’re more deserving than women'” (page 161, Starclimber).

Maybe you can see why she annoys me. And all she ever seems to do is think about herself! When they have a specimen on the ship that may endanger the lives of all the passengers and the crew, in Starclimber, all Kate can think about is what a waste it will be if the specimen is lost.

So yes, she gets on my nerves and in my opinion, the series would have been better without her. But maybe that’s just me.

I recommend this series to anyone from the ages of 8 to 16-ish, assuming that they’re proficient enough in reading. I recommend it especially to those interested in science and/or airplanes.

Warning: Romance. And more romance. And pirates and people dying and being shot. And romance. 


Filed under Ages: Elementary/Primary, Ages: Late Elementary and Up, Ages: Lower Secondary, Alethea's Reviews, Canada, Chapter Books, Science

The Thief Lord


Title: The Thief Lord
Author: Cornelia Funke
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
ISBN: 9780545227704

Alethea’s Review (at age 14)

Guess who’s back! Yes, I haven’t been posting in a while. Life got in the way, I guess. But you didn’t come here to hear me yabber on about me. So without further ado…

Who is the Thief Lord?

Prosper doesn’t know. On the one hand, the Thief Lord is a rascal hardly older than Prosper himself. He’s the boy who has taken Prosper and his little brother Bo into his small band of child thieves who live in an abandoned cinema. On the other hand, the Thief Lord is a master thief, a talented boy who slips in and out of houses as if there were no locks in order to support his little band.

Prosper knows he owes Scipio for taking him and Bo in when they had nowhere to go. However, he has a nagging feeling that he cannot trust this enigma. And this feeling is compounded when Scipio accepts an offer that could put their comfortable, relatively safe life in danger.

For the Thief Lord has agreed to steal a wooden wing that holds the secret of controlling time.

Set in the narrow alleyways and dark canals of Venice, Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord combines a thrilling mystery with a heartwarming tale of friendship and family.

This story is a gripping read which I finished in one day (I seem to have a habit of doing that), and the plot combines many frequently used elements (the heartless aunt, the band of children, the orphan brothers) to create a mysterious, moonlit world where children are forced to act as adults, and adults behave like kids.

The characters are extremely believable. There’s Hornet, the girl who refuses to answer to her real name. There’s Riccio, the boy whose hair sticks up and makes him look like a hedgehog (I don’t know about you, but I certainly know a few people whose hair is like that). There’s Scipio, the arrogant Thief Lord by day and—well—something else by night. There’s Mosca, the tinkerer who would release a prisoner if said prisoner could help him fix something.

And not to forget our main characters—Bo, the epitome of innocence, who cares about little more than kittens and pigeons, and Prosper, who loves his brother to death and would do anything for him, but who also feels like throttling him once in a while.

Come to think of it, of all these characters, I think I probably identify most with Prosper, because with three younger siblings, half my life is spent trying not to strangle them.

What did I like about this book? Almost everything, I’d say. The plot was enthralling, the writing was enjoyable, the characters were relatable. The vocabulary was very child-friendly, but I think even adults would find this a fun read.

What didn’t I like? Well, the whole time-turning merry-go-round fiasco was a little dark—I guess you could call it magic. Ernesto Barbarossa really irked me, but I suppose that’s a good thing—being able to make your character irk someone. Some of the sentences were a bit simplistic, but that’s what makes a children’s book be readable for kids.

My opinion? I think this is an amazing book. Every child should read this, and adults too, I think, might find this a worthwhile read.

The theme that ties this whole book together is something that I think everybody can identify with. After all, every child longs to grow up, but when we do, most of us just want to get back to the simple days when the world was ours and we were our own masters.

Warning: A magic merry-go-round, a cruel aunt, an annoying shopkeeper… I can’t find anything bad about this book!

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Filed under Ages: Elementary/Primary, Ages: Lower Secondary, Alethea's Reviews, Chapter Books



Title: Rumpelstiltskin
Retold and Illustrated by: Paul O. Zelinsky
Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 9780140558647

Alethea’s Review (at age 13)

Nobody wants to be locked in a room with a lot of straw and ordered to spin it into gold upon pain of death. However, that’s exactly where the heroine of our story, a beautiful miller’s daughter, finds herself. Obviously, she has no idea how in the world to spin straw into gold, and therefore does the only sensible thing to do—throws herself down on the straw (of which there is no lack) and cries. Then into the locked room comes a strange little man—and I mean, little. He offers to spin the straw into gold, in return for her necklace. He returns on the second night (the king has locked her in again) and spins the straw into gold in return for her ring. But on the third night (yes, the king’s kinda a jerk), the girl has nothing to offer the little man for his help except the promise to give him her firstborn child.

We all know the story: beautiful miller’s daughter ordered by king to spin straw into gold, promises firstborn child to strange little man, yadda yadda, et cetera, blah blah blah. What really sets this book apart are its beautiful illustrations—which I can’t do justice to without a picture, so here’s one:



Look at that! Isn’t that amazing? Seriously, if there were just one reason I recommend this book, it’s because of the illustrations. They really bring the story to life, and you can really see all the characters’  emotions.

The back of this book says ages 3-8. Don’t listen to them. This book is for everyone, whether you’re just learning to read (in which case I commend you for getting all the way through this review) or are super old and have been reading all your life. You won’t be disappointed.

Warning: When the queen/miller’s daughter figures out Rumpelstiltskin’s name, he shouts, “The Devil told you that!” Also, a rather scumbag-ish king.

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Filed under Ages: General, Alethea's Reviews, Literature, Picture books

The Borrowers


Title: The Borrowers
Author: Mary Norton
Illustrators: Beth and Joe Krush
Publisher: Odyssey Classics
ISBN: 9780152047375

Alethea’s Review (at age 13)

There is a hole under the clock in the old house in the country, where everything follows a routine and there are no unruly children or pets. This hole, unknown to the inhabitants of the sleepy old house, is the entrance to another world—the world of the Borrowers. In their tiny world, Pod, Homily, and Arrietty Clock live comfortably with their match box chests of drawers, blotting paper carpets, and fois gras tureen bathtubs. It’s a good life—but rather boring, especially if you’re thirteen. Only Pod is allowed to go borrowing Upstairs, foraging for useful and beautiful things to add to their little home, because the danger of being caught or seen by a human bean is too great. But Arrietty longs for a life outside the boards and potatoes of mundane everyday chores. When Pod is seen by a human boy, Arrietty’s life is turned upside down. Will the boy be the friend she’s longed for, or will he mean their doom?

I read this book in three days when I was nine. Seriously—it was that good. It still hasn’t lost its charm for me, even nearly five years after first reading it. I mean, honestly, who doesn’t love the idea of little people running around? Reading through it for the first time, I focused mainly on the story, which is a bit slow, but very rewarding once you get through it. But reading through it for the second time, I really noticed more of the detail and description that Norton carefully inserted in her work. Take, for instance, this example:

“Arrietty saw him scurry across the sunlit floor. Swiftly he ran—as a mouse runs or a blown dry leaf—and suddenly she saw him as ‘small.’ ‘But,’ she told herself, ‘he isn’t small. He’s half a head taller than Mother….'” (page 61, chapter 7)

This is on Arrietty’s first borrowing expedition, and is a sort of turning point in her life. When you’re nine, you don’t notice these things, but Norton expertly weaves beautiful descriptions and little bits of detail into her narrative. (The black and white pictures don’t hurt either.)

The context of the story—Mrs. May recounting her brother’s adventures to young Kate—adds a kind of dreamlike air to Arrietty’s adventures, especially knowing what happened to the boy later on. Spoiler Alert: He dies. And I cry whenever I read that passage.

The verdict: Read this if you’re old enough to read and young enough to imagine. (Or, if that doesn’t help you, about six to early teens, and maybe even into adulthood.)

Warning: Cats and rat-trappers. And mentions of Borrowers disappearing.

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Filed under Ages: Elementary/Primary, Ages: Preschool, Alethea's Reviews, Chapter Books

Bridge to Terabithia


Title: Bridge to Terabithia
Author: Katherine Paterson
Illustrator: Donna Diamond
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
ISBN: 9780690046359

Alethea’s Review (at age 13)

Jess Aarons, an aspiring artist and athlete, is determined to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. He’s been training all summer long, pushing himself to be better than everyone else. And on the first day of school, he knows he will win. But he doesn’t. The new girl does—Leslie Burke, the girl who isn’t even smart enough to stay on the girls’ side of the playground, the girl who dresses like a boy and who has hair shorter than a boy’s, and who is definitely faster than all the boys in the fifth grade. Jess is furious. How could it have turned out like this? But unexpectedly, he finds himself sticking up for this unusual girl. He becomes her first friend here, and in return, she draws him into a magical land that they rule—a land they call Terabithia. In this land, nobody can touch them—not problems, not bullies, not family. Everything is perfect—until one tragic day, Jess finds himself forced to rule Terabithia alone.

Don’t read this book if you don’t want to cry. Seriously. But if you’re looking for a tearjerker, this is the book for you. I read this book a couple of years ago (apparently I didn’t write the date), and I cried. And then I read it again for this review, and I cried. Twice.

Ahem. Anyway… Sweetness overload. The story is ultimately about a beautiful friendship, courage, and what wonders imagination can do, so everyone should be able to relate (… unless you’re a sociopath, in which case I can’t help you). And Jess’ sister, May Belle, is just too adorable.

There isn’t much more I can say about this book, except: Read it! You won’t regret it, I guarantee you.

Warning: Character death, use of words like damnhell, and Lord (in the irreverent sense of the word, if you hadn’t figured that out yet). 

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Filed under Ages: Elementary/Primary, Ages: Lower Secondary, Alethea's Reviews, Chapter Books, Newbery Medal