Classic Review: I Want to Go Home!

I just wrote about re-reading books on Friday, so it seems appropriate to highlight again the book I’ve re-read more than any other.  When I wrote this review, I guessed I’d read it fifteen times, but I think that’s a conservative estimate.  Why so many times?  It still makes me laugh!


I’m a big believer in re-reading books, and I don’t think there’s any book I’ve read more times than I Want To Go Home by Gordon Korman.  My guess is I’ve read it fifteen times–I lost count at twelve.  Most of those times were also before the age of twelve, but I’ve reread it in recent years too, and even after all those times, it still makes me laugh.

I’ve reviewed some of Korman’s other books, about the deep metaphor of a garbage bag and a hilarious series about a boys school.  This one is another of his best.  This is a story about a summer camp for boys, held on Algonkian Island.  The story centers on Rudy Miller, who hates camp.  He’s a loner, perpetually bored, and has no interest in participating in the many sports played at camp.  His only interest is escaping–which, when you’re on an island, requires considerable planning.  Rudy does become friends with Mike Webster, a comparatively normal boy who doesn’t enjoy camp either.  Rudy has a dry wit, and is creative and intelligent–mostly using those skills to think up wild schemes for escape, dragging Mike along with him. Continue reading “Classic Review: I Want to Go Home!”

Classic Review: Smile!

On Friday I posted about authors I feel like I’ve met–but there is one other author that’s true about too, in a very different way.  Geraldine McCaughrean wrote one of my all-time favorites, The White Darkness, as well as the rare excellent sequel to a class novel, Peter Pan in Scarlet.  She also wrote Smile! a book I reviewed long ago…but I didn’t share the story of how I ended up reading it.

I wrote a letter to McCaughrean telling her about how much I loved The White Darkness, and she wrote a wonderful letter back.  It turns out that’s one of her favorites of her books and she loves when people write her about it.  I mentioned my review of the book and she checked it out, finding also my rather rhapsodic comments on Richard Morant as the voice of Titus.  So along with a letter, McCaughrean sent me a cassette tape of the audiobook of Smile! which was also read by Morant.

McCaughrean has ever since been on my list of coolest authors ever!  I still haven’t met her, but I’d love to, and I almost feel like I have, in a way.

Smile! turned out to be delightful too…as I reviewed some time ago.


How often do you really think about a photograph?  You’ll look at photos in a whole new way if you read Smile! by Geraldine McCaughrean–or, as I did, listen to the audiobook.

Smile! is about Flash, a photographer whose small plane crashes in a remote area.  He manages to save only one camera–a simple Polaroid, with ten shots.  Flash is taken in by a primitive village, which has rarely had contact with the outside world.  As he speaks to the villagers, he realizes that none of them have ever seen a photograph.  Accepted by the villagers as “the magician who fell from the sky,” Flash must decide what to spend his ten photographs on–what sights will he preserve for the villagers? Continue reading “Classic Review: Smile!”

Classic Review: Abel’s Island

Today a look back at a long-time, if quiet, favorite.  This isn’t a book that shows up on my favorite lists usually, but it stuck with me more than most…and it’s my go-to when discussing whether deep and complex subjects can be appropriately portrayed in children’s stories!


It’s funny the books that stay with you.  I remember around about third grade (maybe, I don’t remember that part for sure) we had to do a certain number of book reports during the school year, maybe per month.  I don’t remember if I found that challenging, but I doubt it.  🙂  I also don’t remember any of the books I did for this, except one: Abel’s Island by William Steig.  For whatever reason, that one stuck.

Although I don’t think it was until I reread it recently that I made the connection–William Steig!  The one who did a bunch of picture books!  You know, Doctor De Soto and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (and he also has the happy good fortune of being alphabetically near James Stevenson, my favorite picture book author).  Yet another advantage of revisiting childhood favorites. Continue reading “Classic Review: Abel’s Island”

Book Review: The Doll People

I happened across The Doll People by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin in my library’s audiobook section and thought it looked to be some light entertainment.  It was–and it wasn’t.  Rarely have I been so completely and clearly of two minds about a book!

The Doll People is about a family of dolls, particularly little girl Annabelle Doll, who are all alive unbeknownst to their humans (of course).  A family heirloom, the Doll family and their elegant house have been passed through several generations of daughters.  Two plot threads dominate the book: Annabelle’s decision to search for her Auntie Sarah Doll, who went missing forty-five years ago, and the arrival of a new, modern family of dolls who do things differently–but may provide a new friend for Annabelle.

When I read kids books now, I often have a sense of seeing something I might not have as a kid myself…but not usually to the extent that I did here.  I feel like I read this book on two completely separate levels.  On a kid’s level, it’s a light, entertaining read.  Annabelle is a likable heroine who goes through some character growth becoming more daring (and dragging her reluctant family along).  There are a few expeditions and adventures, threats from the family cat and the danger of being caught by humans, and the fun of making a new friend.  And of course, there’s the magical idea of a whole world going on when the humans turn their backs.

And then there was the other level.  Reading this as an adult, some aspects of the book became deeply horrifying.  Continue reading “Book Review: The Doll People”

Classic Review: Banner in the Sky

Somehow or other, rock-climbing has come up in a few different conversations recently.  I respect people who want to try that, but I’m not one of them.  But when I do find myself with any urge to climb a mountain, I have a favorite go-to book I pick up instead.


I want to begin this review by saying that I have never been mountain-climbing.  Nor do I ever plan to go.  The truth is, I don’t even like steep hills (which, believe me, can be a problem if you live in San Francisco).  I can walk very happily for miles on flat ground, but give me a hill and it’s all over.  But this is why I love books.  I love that they let me live lives I would never actually live, whether that involves casting magical spells, visiting a distant planet, or climbing a mountain.

That last brings me to Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman.  You’ll notice I have a picture of Third Man on the Mountain.  Walt Disney changed the title for his movie version, and then they reprinted the book with the new title.  I like Banner in the Sky better–for one thing, I’m not sure what Disney’s title is even supposed to mean!

With either title, the book is about Rudi Matt, and about the Citadel.  Rudi is a teenager living in a small village in the Alps in the 1800s, and he dreams of climbing the Citadel.  It’s the one unconquered peak, the one no man has ever reached the top of.  No one has tried for years, since the failed expedition that killed Rudi’s father.  Rudi’s mother has forbidden him to become a mountain climber (and I do understand her viewpoint!) but when an Englishman comes determined to lead an expedition up the unclimbable mountain, Rudi is determined to go.

The book is as much about Rudi’s growth as it is about the mountain.  He learns that there’s more to climbing a mountain than just scrambling over rocks, learns about things like trusting others and never leaving a comrade.  He learns to follow his father’s footsteps in more ways than one.  My best guess on Disney’s title is that Rudi becomes a man on the mountain, rather than a boy–but I can’t quite figure out how Disney calculates him as the third one.

This makes it all sound like it’s deep and reflective, and occasionally it is–but there’s also plenty of scrambling over rocks, and getting caught on ledges, and even an avalanche or two.  It’s an exciting story as well as a meaningful one.

It reminds me a little bit of stories about Scott’s expedition to the South Pole.  Not because of the snow similarity, but because they’re both about men trying to achieve a feat that has been considered unachievable.  They’re about pursuing the impossible dream.  And while I personally don’t have any desire to climb a mountain or ski to the South Pole, when the story is told right, I can get very enthused about someone else’s dream.

Why does someone climb a mountain?  “Because it’s there” is always a good answer.  Because it’s there to be conquered.  For Rudi, it’s because he wants to take his climbing staff and his father’s red sweater, and plant them as a flag at the top of the Citadel–a banner in the sky.

Even though I need a good reason to climb a steep hill and can’t imagine climbing a mountain, Banner in the Sky makes me believe in Rudi’s dream, makes me see it as vital and important for him, and makes me want to see him succeed.