The Button War – by Avi (2018)


The Button War

Seven young boys live in a Polish village that is occupied by soldiers during World War One. All they have ever known is their tiny corner of the world. They amuse themselves by roving about in a pack and exploring the nearby forest. Jurek is their ringleader, and he dares the others to find the best soldiers’ button. The winner of the contest will be king, and the others will have to bow down to him.

There are soldiers everywhere – their own Polish soldiers, the Russian soldiers that occupy their village, and the German soldiers who come later. At first it’s fun, but as time goes on, Patryk and the other boys realize that their game is becoming quite dangerous. They want to quit, but Jurek has become obsessed with becoming the winner, and refuses to let them quit.

The story is well-written but depressing. It shows the effects of war on children who don’t fully comprehend the situation they are in. It also clearly shows how easily one child can manipulate and many others. Although the book is meant for children, its grimness makes it a poor choice for pre-teens to read.



“A Town Like Alice” on DVD

town 2

A week ago, I was in our local library, perusing the DVD’s when I noticed “A Town Like Alice”. I had read the book, as well as seeing the 1981 television mini-series.  At one point I had even owned the mini-series on old VHS tapes. But the picture quality was really bad. By the time we got used to the improved resolution of modern television and DVDs, it was difficult to watch the old fuzzy videocassettes. So I got rid of it.

But there it was in DVD form on the shelf of my library! Right next to it, I noticed the 1956 movie version of the book. So I checked out both and brought them home. Sadly, the tv mini-series was just as grainy as my old VHS tapes. The black-and-white 1956 movie, on the other hand, had surprisingly good picture quality. But the sound of the voices was so garbled that I had trouble understanding about half of it. I sighed and put the DVD back in its case. So both DVDs ended up going back to the library unfinished.

The moral of the story? Just read the book.

town 1

Lost In NYC: A Subway Adventure – by Nadja Spiegelman (2015)

Lost In NYC

Do you have a reluctant young reader in your family? At my local library, this book cover caught my eye. I picked it up and read it, and thoroughly enjoyed it! It’s about a 5th grade class that’s in New York City on a field trip, and two of the kids get separated from the rest of the group. It’s a scenario that could happen to young people or adults. But instead of panicking, the kids stay calm and manage to get back to the rest of their class.

What I loved about this book was the way they explained the history of the New York City subway system. There’s also a wonderfully drawn map of the subway lines inside the front cover. It made me want to experience the subways of New York – minus the part about getting lost. Check out this graphic novel for a great short read!

I Can Only Imagine – by Bart Millard (2018)

I Can Only Imagine

You’re in your car, zipping along, listening to the radio. Then a song comes on that sends chills up and down your spine. The simple, thoughtful lyrics reach deep, and you find your eyes blurring as tears fill them. You don’t really know why there’s suddenly that giant lump in your throat and salt on your face, but it’s something about that song. The man singing is singing with such honesty that you know it’s flowing from the experiences of his own life.

The song is “I Can Only Imagine” and the songwriter/performer is Bart Millard. Where did some an incredible song come from? This memoir tells of Bart’s early childhood, his mother’s leaving them, and his father’s abuse. Many people in this environment would have been permanently scarred and cynical about life and family. But through the love of Jesus, Bart slowly began to heal. When his father was diagnosed with cancer, their relationship became one of love instead of anger and fear. All of the things – good and bad – that happened to Bart came together in this song.

The song moves me every time I hear it on the radio, but now it has even more meaning as I know the story behind the song.

Deep Storm – by Lincoln Child (2007)

(photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s hard to put this novel into a category. It could be called a medical story. It could be a mystery. There’s a military aspect. It definitely has suspense. There are hints that there could be some paranormal activity.  Together, all of these elements made for a fast-paced story that was hard to put down.

Retired Naval doctor Peter Crane is asked to make a medical diagnosis of what is afflicting the workers on an oil rig in the Atlantic Ocean near Greenland. When he arrives, he finds that it is not really an oil rig, but something totally different, something that is top-secret. By this point, Peter really wishes he had never agreed to come. He is being tracked everywhere that he goes, and has no way to leave. It will take every bit of his wits and ability to survive this assignment.

Lunch-Box Dream – by Tony Abbott (2011)

Lunch-Box Dream

The retro feel of this book cover caught my eye, and the description sounded like a good story with some substance to it. It is set in 1959, just when the Civil Rights movement was simmering. The book jumps back and forth between two families, one black and one white, each with their own unique problems. Bobby is the main character. In addition to his parents having marital problems, he and his brother Ricky can’t stand each other. Bobby and his brother and mother are on a three-day road trip, driving their grandmother back to Florida. Along the way, they stop at Civil War battlefields because Ricky is obsessed with history, especially the Civil War. Ricky and Bobby are always arguing and fighting with each other. In contrast, the black family is tight-knit and loving. Their struggles come from outside the family – racism and prejudice when they are out in public. Their 10-year-old son Jacob goes missing and they are hysterical with fear that Jacob has been kidnapped or killed.

The story had such great promise, but just seemed to fizzle out. I thought at some point the two families would meet, that Bobby and Jacob would be talking to each other, that there would be some sort of conclusion that we all struggle with the same things regardless of our skin color. But the families actually never interacted with each other, making the story seem disjointed. Also, there was just too much bickering and fighting and angry words in Bobby’s car. Too much negativity in a story can kill it, and I think it  ruined this story. This is a book I should have passed on.

Ralph S. Mouse – by Beverly Cleary (1982)


This week I finished reading the last “Ralph” book to my little grandson. We had started awhile back with “The Mouse And The Motorcycle”, then went on to “Runaway Ralph”, where Ralph the mouse sneaks into summer camp. In the final book, Ralph the mouse is once again discontented with life in the inn with his family. He is tired of his mother telling him what to do, his uncle scolding him, and his siblings and cousins pestering him for rides on the motorcycle all the time. When he befriends the son of one of the inn’s housekeepers, Ralph convinces the boy to take him along to school. Surely school will be more fun than home, right?

My grandson and I both loved this book! Ralph is so much like every one of us – constantly looking for something better than the life we have. But by the end of each book, he finds himself longing for his family and his home. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. We can all learn something from a little brown mouse named Ralph.