Help! I’m A Prisoner In The Library! – by Eth Clifford (1979)

Help I'm a Prisoner In The Library

Ten-year-old Mary Rose and 7-year-old Jo-Beth are with their dad, being driven to an aunt’s house, when they run out of gasoline. Dad grabs the gas can and starts walking for the nearest gas station, leaving the girls in the car. When the younger sister Jo-Beth desperately needs a bathroom, they leave the car and walk several blocks to a library. The librarian, who is closing up as they come in, never sees them, and inadvertently locks up the place with the girls still there. And that is how their adventure begins!

I loved this fun, uncomplicated story. The library that the girls are trapped in is actually a hundred-year-old house that’s been converted into a children’s library/museum combo. The unusual sights the girls see during the night keep the story interesting. The story will appeal more to girls than to boys, since the main characters are female. The recommended reading level is 2rd-5th grade, although I think it could easily be enjoyed as a family book read aloud.

The book was first published in 1979, which explains the dated locks on the library door. Apparently the old house/library still had the original  skeleton keys on the doors, which meant you literally couldn’t get out the door without the key – a huge safety issue that is no longer allowed with modern building codes. So someone will have to explain to young kids reading this book about the way old locks used to work, which could lead to an interesting discussion about safety. The book has been re-printed many times, and can still be found on Scholastic book-club fliers, in libraries, and on Amazon.


Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul – by Jeff Kinney (2014)

As I continued my quest for some books that my 4th-grade granddaughter could read, I kept bumping into suggestions to read books from the “Diary Of A Wimpy Kid” series. Never having read one, I thought it was time to give it a try. After all, it had to be better than the last children’s book I tried to read.

I settled on “The Long Haul”, which happens to be the ninth book about the Heffley family. Mom Heffley has decided that what the family needs is a nice road trip together. So off they go, Dad, Mom and the three boys, with Greg writing down their adventures. As you might suspect, nearly everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. Greg records it all with a witty humor, and adds lots of illustrations to the story.

Before I realized it, I’d zipped through the entire book. Yes, this is a book make for 4th graders! Of course it’s full of silliness and crazy pictures, but isn’t that what a fun kids’ book should be? No depressing story line or ghoulish conversations. No swearing or inappropriate content. Just a really humorous story that makes even an adult laugh.


The Canning Season – by Polly Horvath (2003)

The Canning Season


Yesterday I got it in my head that I should find some books that my granddaughter might like to read. It didn’t take long to find online reading lists for 5th graders. I saw “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen, and several other fine books that I had read and enjoyed. Wanting to try some new ones, I managed to find several at my public library’s website, and downloaded them.

The first one I tried reading was “The Canning Season” by Polly Horvath (2003), listed as children’s fiction by the library. It was supposed to be a fun read about a girl who spends the summer with some quirky great-aunts. I was actually stupid enough to think it would be a nice story about a little girl with two elderly ladies teaching her how to can peaches and pears, or making jams and jellies.

Only a couple chapters into the book, I was reading about corpses buried in the yard, insects drilling their way into a brain, a woman that decapitates herself, and the great-aunts that think it’s just great. (see excerpts below) Add to that some swearing, which seemed very out of place in a child’s book. Farther into the book, there was underage drinking which was portrayed as perfectly alright, f-bombs, and a large section devoted to romantic episodes. About that point, I stopped reading. Why would anyone think this was a story for young children?

Today someone reminded me that the granddaughter is about to enter 4th grade, not 5th grade. Oops, I thought, wrong lists! But seriously, this book shouldn’t be on a recommended reading list for kids. It was morbid, dark, and full of adults who didn’t care about children. The book made it onto the National Book Award For Young People’s Literature list – how did that happen? Do yourself a favor. Keep this book away from your kids.

1st excerpt from “The Canning Season”:

“Ratchet Clark lived with her mother, Henriette, in a small, gloomy sub-basement apartment in Pensacola, Florida. They had no windows, but if they had she imagined they would be able to see worms, grubs, and strange scary insects. There would be larvae eating the corpses that people had snuck into the apartment yard to bury under cover of night. Only her and her mother’s thin bedroom walls separated them from this place of nightmares.

Ratchet never slept well, but Henriette did. She snored loudly as soon as she hit the pillow. Ratchet worried about her, worn out as she always was from waiting tables at the Hunt Club and cleaning other people’s apartments. She sometimes dreamt of these creatures making their way through the wall in the middle of the night, worms drilling small holes, slipping through, getting into her mother’s skull via her ears. She woke often, listening for the sound of small, industrious insects.”

2nd excerpt from “The Canning Season”:

“How did she die?” Ratchet asked.
“She offed herself,” said Penpen.
“What?” Ratchet said.
“She killed herself in a particularly brutish and horrible way. I don’t know why. I suppose it was all she could come up with at the time. Or maybe she was experimenting. She was very imaginative.”
“How did she do it?” Ratchet asked.
“She cut off her own head.”
“Oh no!” said Ratchet.
“I suppose you think that’s rather thrilling,” said Penpen. “People think children are going to be upset by things that I’m sure they think are quite thrilling. Tilly and I were proud of her. It must have taken extreme nerve, wouldn’t you say, Tilly?”
“It wasn’t your ordinary way to go. Mother never did anything the ordinary way.”

Night Of The Twisters – by Ivy Ruckman (1984)

Night Of The Twisters         Night Of The Twisters DVD

Remember the days of clunky box TVs that weighed a ton and the video-cassette recorders? I remember the joy and awe of having our first VCR, and being able to tape movies off tv. We soon accumulated many grainy homemade videotapes. One of our favorites was of the made-for-tv movie “Night Of The Twisters”. In it, 12-year-old Dan and his best buddy Arthur survive a night of tornado after tornado. Dan is in charge of his baby brother Ryan, who he’s really not too fond of. But he does his duty, and becomes a hero. We watched that videotape dozens of times!

About a month ago, I was in a thrift store, browsing the used books, when one title caught my eye: Night of the Twisters. It was a kids’ book, but out of nostalgia I paid 50 cents and brought it home to read. It was a surprisingly good read. I loved the descriptions of what their day was like before the bad weather hit – swimming, riding bikes, watching mom wrestle with the sewing machine, having weiners for supper (who calls them that now?!), and having only a few tv channels to flip through.

Until I read the book, I didn’t know that the movie and book were based on a 1980 June night when the small town of Grand Island, Nebraska had seven twisters in just a few hours. So although the characters in the store are fictional, the events are very real. Five people died, and several hundred were injured. Forty-nine businesses and 475 homes were destroyed. The National Weather Service website documents the fearsome night:
Don’t be afraid to pick up a kid’s book occasionally, either to read with a child or just for yourself. The book or the movie is a great choice for anyone third grade and above.