Book Reviews-Children's Lit
1994-2005 by Ed Dickerson, all rights reserved.
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The Books

The three books reviewed on this page are nothing less than classics.

I am indebted to my daughter, Shoshannah, for these reviews. Any errors in transcription are mine.

Charlotte's Web
E.B. White
Reading Level: 5-7
Interest Level: 6-12
Newberry Award


A girl named Fern and a spider named Charlotte attempt to save the life of a young pig named Wilbur as they all face the challenges of life. Fern faces growing up and becoming a woman; Wilbur faces the possibility of becoming Christmas dinner; Charlotte faces the loss of the friendship of Wilbur for herself and her future children and grandchildren.

Through a twisting plot that brings out the best in a rat named Templeton, Charlotte the spider manages to save Wilbur from the being eaten and makes him into a . of) I 'f local hero. Author E.B. White in "Charlotte's Web" through its scientific information about spiders ties in if Sfjfll#tV fact with fiction, and brings out the best of a child's imagination.

Critique: Characterization in "Charlotte's Web" is vivid. Templeton the rat is described as having "no morals, no conscience, no scruples, no considenition, no decency, no milk of rodent kindness, no compunctions, no higher feeling, no friendliness, no anything." In this one sentence Templeton is described thomugWy and the reader is left without a doubt of the character and untrustworthiness of this rat.

The untrustworthiness that White then starts to challenge as he develops the plot of the story and makes this rat into some form of a hero, a greedy one maybe, but a hero nonetheless.

The plot is one that starts off Immediately with a crisis as Fern rushes at the last moment to save the runt of a Sow's new litter of piglets. From then on the plot becomes a twisted trail of intrigue as Fern and Charlotte figure a way to save Wilbur permanently from the axe. Along the way a life long friendship develops between Wilbur and Charlotte and is passed on to Charlotte's children and grandchildren.

The point of view has the smoothest transition from the eyes of a young girl to the eyes of animals and the conversations that they carry on between each other from pig to spider to sheep to rat to goose and back again.

Themes:Growth and change that each person faces in life; loyalty and friendship. Charlotte can't help that she will die in a short period of time, compared to the other characters. Fern can't help that she will grow' older and move on to more adult forms of entertainment and leave her childhood friends of pigs and sheep behind. But each of them stays loyal to Wilbur through the changes and Wilbur lives a long and friend filled life.

Type and Quality of Illustration: The Illustrations are by Garth Williams, who also illustrated the books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Garth Williams uses sketches in black and white to tell the story of the chapter in one scene. From Wilbur twisting and flying through the air to Mrs. Arable talking seriously to the family Doctor, the illustrations capture the written word on the page and freeze it in time. High-quality, excellent illustrations in "Charlotte's Web."

Personal Conunents: "Charlotte's Web" transported me back through time as I was reading it for class. I experienced nostalgia as I remembered my own childhood fantasies in my imagined relationships with the goats I helped raise. I remember what it is like to go out and sit for hours watching the animals play around the barnyard. The nostalgia for me is bittersweet because I can~e intrigues of a little girl's imagination as Fern cares for her own personal little pet and all the "real" conversations that she has with Wilbur and Charlotte. The nostalgia is outdone, though, by the magic of just for a moment being able to go back in time and experience the feelings of being a little girl again through "Charlotte's Web."

Reviewed by Shoshannah Dickerson

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The Bridge to Terebithia
Katherine Patterson
Reading Level: 4-7
Interest Level: 6-12


A boy named Jess starts to practice running for the next years school recess. Jess is determined that he will be the fastest boy in school. So Jess sets out every day to accomplish that goal by running as fast as he can in the fields, before he has to do his chores.

One day while Jess is running a girl, who looks like a boy, is sitting on the fence watching him. Jess strikes up, or rather the girl, Leslie, insists on a relationship with Jess that develops into a full blown friendship. Jess sticks up for Leslie to the other boys, even when it makes him look stupid, like when every boy in the school loses to Leslie in the foot races they have been practicing and waiting for all summer.

Leslie then becomes Jess' partner in crime and the two go on one adventure after another. Even to the point of creating their own little country, Terebithia that Jess is the King of and where Leslie is the Queen.

The adventures come to an end the day that Jess, who is an extraordinary artist, goes with his favorite teacher in the whole world to a museum in New York. When Jess comes back he discovers that Leslie went to Terebithia that day, in the rain and while swinging over the brook that guards Terebithia, fell in and hit her head, and drowned.

This book recognizes quite well the process of maturation that children are involved in. The depth to dealing with parents and siblings and peers at school and friend's parents all from the child's view is very well done. This is about a child's relationships, not how a parent tells a child, or does things for a child, but how a child views and interacts with growing and changing and becoming his or her own person;- ~

Reviewed by Shoshannah Dickerson

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Sarah, Plain and Tall
Patricia MacLachlan
Reading Level: 5-7
Interest Level: 8+


Jacob, the father of a daughter, Anna and a son, Caleb, places an advertisement in the newspaper for a bride. After the death of his wife some eight years before, at the time of Caleb's birth, Jacob has been a widower.

Now Jacob thinks he is able to move on from only having housekeepers and have a wife to be a part of his and his children's lives again. The challenge that Sarah brings to this small family, though, is to not only be a wife and helpmeet to Jacob, but a mother to Anna and Caleb.

The ghost of Jacob's previous wife, that lives in Jacob's heart, must be banished, and Sarah sees to the fact that her memory is cherished and enjoyed by all of them-- including Jacob.

The result IS that all of them fall deeply Ill-love wIth Sarah. Sarah was my idol. She came from a faraway state and was able to make an entire family fall in love with her.

I loved Sarah, plain and tall for her humbleness and the fact that this little family that she came across and won her heart was more important to her than her entire life before meeting them.

I wondered at her ability to move away from her home, leave her family behind for a chance to love and cherish tills broken hearted family consisting of a man, a danghter and his bold son.

The plot is simple. Jacob places an advertisement, Sarah responds, comes to visit the family, brings a part of herself with and then decides whether or not she will stay. The wonder of the story is Sarah, herself. How she takes a broken family and mends them back together with her love is beyond me. Yet, even when the competition with Anna starts and Sarah must back out and let Anna and Jacob lead the way, her love is still strong. Even when the little family of Jacob's doubts her ability to love them, Sarah's love is still strong.

The setting is in a little charming neighborhood between Jacob's place and their neighbors, Matthew and Maggie's place. The friendship that grows from the common past shared by Sarah and Maggie as they both deal with the fact that they are two mailorder brides who have fallen head-over-heels for the different men they came to meet.

Reviewed by Shoshannah Dickerson

Buy "Sarah, Plain and Tall" Now