Summer Fun

SummerFunSummer Fun by Carolyn Haywood, 1986.

This is a cute book of short stories featuring favorite Haywood characters, including Betsy and Eddie.  The children spent their summer in different ways, having fun summer adventures.  None of the adventures is particularly scary.  Although a couple of the kids find themselves in semi-dangerous situations, everything is resolved pretty quickly, and the rest of the stories are more slice-of-life style stories about fun and funny things that the kids do or lessons they learn.

The stories are very easy to read and great for children beginning chapter books or for some light bedtime reading for younger kids.

The stories in this book are:

Bears and Blueberries

Peter is at summer camp, and when he goes on a hike and camp-out with his camp friends, they have encounters with wildlife.

SummerFunPic2The Watermelon Party

Betsy’s father tells her that he used to have watermelon parties with his friends when he was young, and that the person who had the most watermelon seeds at the end of the party would win a prize.  Betsy decides that she wants to have a party like that, but her friend Rodney learns why cheating takes all the fun out of a contest.

A Bell for Jim Dandy

Jim Dandy is a brand of ice cream that comes on a stick.  When the bell on the ice cream truck is broken, Billy gets a job trying to help the driver attract customers in exchange for free ice cream.  But, without a bell himself, how will he get people’s attention?

Betsy’s Property

While Betsy is visiting her aunt and uncle at their summer home by the beach, she discovers a special rock a little ways out from the shore that she likes to think of as all her own.  She likes to sit out on the rock and read with her aunt’s dog, but what will she do when a sudden storm leaves her stranded?

SummerFunPic1Betsy’s Hammock Club

Betsy loves the hammock that her father bought for her, but so does every other kid in the neighborhood!

Eddie and His Hermit Crab

Anna Patricia buys a couple of hermit crabs at the beach as pets.  When she gives one to Eddie, he decides that his crab will win the hermit crab race at the beach!

Eddie and His Money Sheet

Eddie sets out to make some money with sand sculptures and ends up convincing Anna Patricia to adopt a stray cat.

The Picnic

Eddie and Anna Patricia find out that her new cat actually belongs to someone else.  But, they become friends with the cat’s owners, who take them out for a sailing trip and picnic.  When the kids’ parents are late arriving with food for the picnic, Anna Patricia tries to let the kids into the house and discovers how different the Goldilocks story would have been if the bears had a security alarm.

An Afternoon on the Farm

Teddy and Babs visit a farm with their parents and make friends with the grandchildren of the owners, Mark and Sarah.  While the children are playing at being explorers one day, they find a dead animal they’ve never seen before.  When they bring it back to show their parents, they learn why you shouldn’t mess with a skunk, even a dead one. (No mention of disease, just smell, although I’d think that would be a more serious issue.)

End of Summer

It’s time for Mark and Sarah to go home after visiting their grandparents.  With all of the things they have to remember to take with them and all of the things they forget, will they actually make it to the train on time?

Egyptian Diary

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Egyptian Diary: The Journal of Nakht by Richard Platt, 2005.

A young boy in Ancient Egypt, Nakht, is excited because his family will soon move to Memphis because a distant relative has offered his father a job working as a scribe.  Memphis is a large, important city, with more opportunities than Esna, where the family currently lives.  Nakht is also training to be a scribe, so he begins writing an account of his family’s journey to Memphis and what they encounter when they arrive.

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The journey to Memphis includes a boat trip down the Nile, past the City of the Dead near Thebes, where pharaohs are buried.  When they arrive in Memphis, they make themselves at home in their new house, which is bigger than their old one.  For the first time, Nakht has a private bedroom of his own, and the wall is decorated with a hunting scene.  Nakht also has a bed to sleep in, although he is still more accustomed to sleeping on a mat on the floor, as he did back in Esna.

In Esna, Nakht’s father had taught him his lessons as a scribe, but in Memphis, Nakht begins attending a school with other boys.  There, he practices his writing as always, although he must also learn the older, more formal hieroglyphic form of writing used on the walls of temples and for public inscriptions as well as the less formal writing used more commonly.  Nakht also receives lessons in building and engineering, which includes calculating the weight of the building stones, how many people it would take to move them, and how much food and drink the workers would need during their time of service).  Sometimes, their teacher also takes the students places for lessons, like taking them to the fields near the river so they can see how to build canals and how farmers water their fields.

There are many exciting things going on in Memphis.  Ships come and go from many places.  When the Nile floods, Nakht describes how the Controller of Granaries sets the taxes on grain for the following year by measuring the highest height of the Nile during the flooding time, which is an indicator of how good the next year’s grain harvest will be.  Nakht and his sister Tamyt witness the funeral procession of a scribe, complete with dancers, paid mourners, and a procession of servants carrying all of the furniture and supplies to be loaded into the man’s tomb for him to use in the afterlife.

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Then, Nakht learns that his father and other scribes are investigating tomb robberies in Saqqara.  Nakht and Tamyt have never seen the tombs before, but their father refuses to let them come with him.  Instead, the two of them sneak over by themselves to have a look.  While they are there, they witness the robbing of a tomb!  They get a good look at an unusual ring on the finger of one of the robbers and are shocked to later see an identical ring on the finger of a very important person!

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At the end of the story, when Nakht and Tamyt are rewarded for their role in catching the thieves, it is revealed that the current king of Egypt is Hatshepsut, who is actually a woman.

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Among the other things that Nakht explains about his life are how the doctor treated him when he broke his arm, how grain is harvested, how different types of craftsman work, and how houses are built.  Nakht also undergoes a special hair-cutting ceremony as a coming-of-age ritual.

There is a section in the back that explains more about Ancient Egyptian history and society.  It also explains Egyptian writing, religion, mummies, and tombs.

Pirate Diary

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Pirate Diary: The Journal of Jake Carpenter by Richard Platt, 2001.

Young Jake Carpenter lives with his father in North Carolina in 1716.  His mother is dead, and his father is a medical doctor.  His father wants him to become a doctor as well, but he has decided that it’s important to the boy’s education that he see something of the world first, so he is allowing Jake to go to sea with his uncle, Will, who is a sailor.  Jake is excited about the prospect, and Will has told him many stories about the sea.

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Jake isn’t allowed to bring much with him because there is limited space on board the ship for personal belongings, and there are many things that Jake has to get used to, like sleeping in a hammock, the names for all the different parts of the ship, seasickness, the poor quality of food on the ship, and using the horn lanterns which are safer for candles on board ship but don’t cast much light.  Jake makes friends with Abraham, the cook’s boy, who promises him extra food in exchange for teaching him to read.  Jake’s main job on the ship is to help the carpenter, so he begins learning his trade.

When the ship is underway, Jake and his uncle learn that the captain is running from debts and that the ship is carrying contraband.  Jake doesn’t think that smuggling is a very serious crime because the main purpose is to avoid paying extra taxes on certain types of goods, and other members of the crew say that it isn’t fair for Americans to continue paying taxes to England when the king doesn’t really care about them or what they want.  The ship sails the Caribbean, but crew members say that they try to avoid docking at English-controlled ports, like the ones in Jamaica, so they won’t have to pay the customs fees. Abraham says that even if they were caught with their contraband, the authorities would likely look the other way if they offer them a share.  Will tells Jake that the captain of the ship will most likely hold back their wages in order to keep them with the ship for as long as possible, like he does with other sailors.

Discipline on board the ship is harsh and arbitrary, according to the captain’s whims.  When Will speaks up to save Jake from a harsh flogging, he himself is flogged and abandoned in a small boat.  Jake believes that his uncle will die because they left him at sea with no provisions!

Then, the ship is captured by pirates!

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Far from making things worse, Jake’s situation and that of the rest of the crew actually improves because of the pirate attack.  With the captain captured, his cruel punishments are over, and members of his crew eagerly join the pirates in the capture.  The pirates ask the crew about the treatment their captain has given them, saying that it will help them to decide what to do with him, and crew members explain the cruelties they have suffered, including what the captain did to Will.  They end up marooning the captain and his equally-cruel second mate on an island with drinking water.

As Jake’s father predicted, Jake gets to see a lot and learn a lot about life and death during his time at sea, perhaps even more than expected while under the command of the pirates.  He gets some experience in dealing with injuries as he has to help the ship’s carpenter saw off the leg of a man whose wound was too infected to treat in any other way, although the man later died anyway.  Later, the pirates join up with other pirate ships, and Jake participates in a raid on a Spanish treasure fleet!

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It’s not all excitement, and Jake spends some time talking about the routine chores that sailors did and how they would pass the time on board ship when nothing else was going on.  He does get to see St. Elmo’s Fire on the upper rigging of the ship, and the crew spots a “mermaid” once on a misty day.

An offer of amnesty for those willing to give up pirating allows Jake and other members of the crew to return home where he learns that his uncle has managed to survive after all!

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In the back of the book is a section with historical information.  It explains the history and geography of the American Colonies, where Jake lived and the history of piracy from the first known pirates to the privateers and buccaneers that led to the golden age of piracy in the 18th century.  Jake is a fictional character, but some of the pirates that Jake met in the story were real people, and the section in the back explains more about them.

Castle Diary

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Castle Diary: The Journal of Tobias Burgess, Page by Richard Platt, 1999.

Tobias is an eleven-year-old boy living in England in 1285.  He is from a noble family, and his father is sending him to his uncle to become a page.  As a page, Tobias will learn manners and skills that he will need as he eventually becomes a squire and then a knight.  During the first year of his training that he spends with his uncle, he keeps a diary of everything that happens to him and everything he learns.  Toby is a fictional boy, but his life and family are meant to illustrate what life was like for a young boy from his social level during the Middle Ages.

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The castle were Toby’s uncle lives is much bigger than his parents’ manor house.  Toby has to learn the roles of all the servants who live there: who is in charge of what and who reports to who.  Not all servants are equal, and some command more respect than others.  Some of them are even from noble families like his, including his aunt’s companion, Isbel.  Toby himself is assigned to do chores for his aunt like running errands, delivering messages, serving food at meals, and holding up the hem of her cloak when she walks outside.

Toby shares a room with the other pages at the castle, all boys of noble families and destined to become knights, just like him.  They have lessons in reading, writing, mathematics, Latin, and scripture from the castle’s chaplain, and he is a harsh disciplinarian.  They practice their lessons on wax tables that can be smoothed out and used again.  The boys also learn manners and start learning archery and about all the weapons and armor that knights use.  When they have time to play, they try walking on stilts and play at being jousting knights by carrying each other on their backs and trying to knock each other off.

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During the course of the year, Toby gets to witness a hunt, a joust, and a banquet with important guests.  At one point, he gets sick and receives treatment from a physician.  He also encounters a poacher on his uncle’s land.  This man is eventually caught (although Toby decides not to turn him in) and put on trial, but in the end, he is not punished because the jurors were sympathetic.  The book ends with a Christmas celebration, after which Toby goes home to visit his parents.

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In the back of the book, there is a section with more information about Medieval society, castles, sieges, weapons, armor, and the changes that eventually brought an end to feudal system that Toby knew.

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The Case of the Wandering Werewolf

wanderingwerewolfThe Case of the Wandering Werewolf by Drew Stevenson, 1987.

A boy called Chips approaches Raymond with the story that there might be a werewolf in Lost Woods, outside of town. Chips likes animals, and he has been going into the woods to spring animal traps that someone has been leaving there. One evening, Chips thought he saw a man who seemed to turn into a wolf, and the wolf chased Chips away, only stopping when Chips crossed the creek. Chips has heard of Huntley’s monster hunting activities, and he asks Raymond to tell Huntley about the werewolf and see if he will investigate.

To Raymond’s surprise, Huntley says that he has already heard about the werewolf from another source, which he refuses to reveal.  However, he is eager to investigate, on behalf of Chips and his other mysterious source. Verna, who overhears what Chips says about the werewolf, invites herself along on the hunt.

wanderingwerewolfpic1The monster hunt becomes more complicated when Bucky Bovine, a bully at their school, seems determined to stop them from going to Lost Woods to look for the monster. Does Bucky know something about the beast, or could he even be the monster himself?

As always, there are other explanations besides monsters and mysteries that require solving.  Fortunately, Huntley is an excellent detective as well as a Monster Hunter, and he puts the pieces together to explain not only the werewolf but other strange things that have been happening around town.

The Case of the Visiting Vampire

VisitingVampireThe Case of the Visiting Vampire by Drew Stevenson, 1988.

This is the second book in the series about J. Huntley English, an extremely intelligent boy who also believes in real-life monsters and is determined to become a monster hunter so that he can find some. Along with his best friend, Raymond (who narrates the books), and Verna, a bossy girl who goes to school with Raymond, he investigates possible monsters around their small Pennsylvania town. The stories are humorous mysteries, and in a kind of Scooby-Doo fashion, there are other explanations besides monsters for the mysterious things that happen.

In this story, the Big Lake Theater in Barkley, PA, is putting on a play called The Count of Castle Dracula, and a visiting actor from Romania working at a local college is playing the part of the vampire. When Verna gets a part in the play, she becomes convinced that the actor, Bela Mezgar, is a real vampire. He behaves strangely and is never seen out during the daytime. Then, Verna overhears him talking on the phone to someone about his coffin and saying that “one heart must die so the other may live.” She tells Raymond and Huntley what she heard, and the monster hunter eagerly begins his investigation. However, a mysterious stranger also seems to be showing an unusual interest in the actor.

This book was written before the end of the Cold War, when Romania was still a communist country. Although things have changed since then, I don’t think that modern kids would have too much trouble understanding the situation. It’s a fun mystery for elementary school kids.

The Case of the Horrible Swamp Monster

horribleswampmonsterThe Case of the Horrible Swamp Monster by Drew Stevenson, 1984.

This is the first book in the Monster Hunter series.

Raymond Almond knows that his class project isn’t going to go well when he finds out that bossy Verna Wilkes is in his group. Verna convinces the group that their project should be a movie because her father recently gave her a movie camera. What makes it bad is that she insists that it should be a monster movie and that Raymond should play the part of the monster.

Raymond is embarrassed about having to stumble around the spooky Lost Swamp in the ridiculous monster costume, but he puts aside his embarrassment when what looks like a real swamp monster appears in the background of the footage.  Even bossy Verna is scared at the idea of a monster living in the swamp where they were filming.

Fortunately, Raymond’s best friend is J. Huntley English, an intelligent boy and amateur cryptozoologist (or Monster Hunter, as he likes to put it). When Raymond and Verna tell Huntley what they’ve seen, he’s quick to join in the investigation, eager to discover proof of a real monster.

horribleswampmonsterpicThe course of their investigation takes a strange turn when friendly Mr. Walton, who works as a janitor at the same bank where Huntley and Verna’s mothers work, is arrested for stealing money. The kids refuse to believe that he’s guilty and soon learn that there is a connection between the thefts and the mysterious monster and possibly the strange fisherman who has also been lurking around the swamp.

Mystery of the Black-Magic Cave

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Mystery of the Black-Magic Cave by Holly Beth Walker, 1971, 1978.

MegMagicCavePic1Meg’s Uncle Hal takes her and her best friend, Kerry, with him on vacation to Merrybones, Maine.  He has a cabin there, and it’s a good place to go fishing or exploring in the woods.  However, Uncle Hal isn’t just there to relax this time.  His friend, Emily Hawthorne, has asked for his help because she’s received some mysterious, disturbing messages.

Emily was born in Merrybones but moved away at a young age to live with an aunt on the west coast because she was orphaned after the death of her father.  Her father’s death was mysterious, and Emily has had the feeling that people haven’t told her the full truth of it.  It was known that he had a heart condition, and he was found dead in the woods one morning, apparently having died of a heart attack.  Emily herself was also found wandering in the woods by herself, frightened and talking about a “dark monster”, but she was very young at the time and no longer remembers what happened or what she saw that night.

MegMagicCavePic2She has returned to Merrybones to teach in the local school, but people in this town look at her as an outsider because she has spent so many years away.  Now, she has received threatening messages written in rhyme and signed with a star with the number 13 inside.  Her pet black cat, Melissa, has also mysteriously disappeared, and Emily is worried about her.

Someone doesn’t want Emily to stay in Merrybones, possibly because they’re afraid of what she might remember about the past.  Meg and Kerry soon learn that there are strange legends and stories of witches connected with a cave in the woods.  They later discover that someone has been there recently, lighting candles and drawing pentacles like the ones on the threatening messages to Emily.  In fact, Mrs. Stoner, the woman who owns the bed-and-breakfast where Meg and Kerry are staying because Uncle Hal’s cabin only has one room, has what appears to be a witch’s spell book hidden in the storage room next to where the girls sleep.  To get the answers, Meg and her friends, including Mrs. Stoner’s own children, must summon the courage to go the cave once more and learn more about these mysterious “witches.”

A creepy mystery like this was just the sort of thing I loved as a kid, but this story kind of bothered me, reading it again as an adult.  I had forgotten how it ended, but as I was reading about the secret society in the book and the clues that Meg and her friends uncovered about them, I found myself not just thinking that their spells and witch names were a little hokey for a secret society of adults (“Endorella” indeed!) but also getting angry at the juvenile way they behaved.  Part of me thought at first that it was because the witches’ scariness was toned down for the sake of juvenile readers, but more and more, I found myself thinking of them as adults who never really grew up, whose mean, cliquish ways were carried over into adulthood, long after they should have grown out of them.  There are adults in real life who are like that.  To my surprise, that sense wasn’t just because their little rituals were toned down for children but was actually a genuine clue to the identities and motives of the “witches” and the origins of their secret society.  Discovering that actually made me feel a little better.  I also think the author did a good job of explaining how a little harmless “fun” can get out of hand and showing the adults’ embarrassment at being caught in their “game.”  The secret society isn’t quite as mean or sinister as it first appears.

There is also an interesting twist to the story in who the real author of the threatening messages was.  I was pretty sure who the writer was, and I guessed right, but I had expected that this person would be a member of the secret society, which wasn’t true.  Also, the secret that the villain is trying to protect isn’t how the father died years ago, which turns out to be just because of his heart condition with no foul play, but the fact that someone stole the money that the father had in his possession at the time he died.  The story does end happily, though, including the thief repaying Emily (this person had actually been trying to work up to it for a long time) and Emily agreeing to spare the person’s reputation.  The kitty is okay at the end, too!

Meg and the Disappearing Diamonds

MegDisappearingDiamondsMeg and the Disappearing Diamonds by Holly Beth Walker, 1967.

Margaret Ashley “Meg” Duncan lives in a small town called Hidden Springs in Virginia, not too far away from Washington, D.C., where her father works.  Her mother is dead, and she has no brothers or sisters. When her father is away in Washington, working, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, the gardener and housekeeper, take care of her.  For company, Meg has her beloved cat, Thunder (who doesn’t like anyone but Meg), and her best friend, Kerry.

People in Hidden Springs have been talking lately about Mrs. Partlow and her diamond jewelry.  Mrs. Partlow is the wealthiest, most important woman in town.  Usually, she keeps her jewelry in a vault at the bank, but recently, she brought them to her house so that she can wear them at her niece’s wedding.  Then, someone attempts to break into Mrs. Partlow’s house.  Nothing is taken, but everyone can guess what the thief was after.

MegDisappearingDiamondsPicMrs. Partlow invites a few friends to her house for tea to show them her jewelry and thoughtfully invites Meg and Kerry to join the women.  Meg and Kerry are excited at the chance to attend a grown-up tea party and to see Mrs. Partlow’s fabulous jewelry.  However, the party is crashed by Mrs. Glynn, a new woman in town.  Mrs. Glynn has three trained dogs that she dotes on.  She dresses them up in fancy costumes, and she can’t resist the opportunity to show them off when she wanders into the gathering in Mrs. Partlow’s garden.  The dogs cause a disruption, and after it’s over, everyone realizes that Mrs. Partlow’s diamond jewelry is missing!

Could the dogs have been an intentional distraction?  What about the person who tried to break into Mrs. Partlow’s house earlier?

Kerry’s much younger cousin, Cissie, is visiting her family and has a habit of taking things that catch her eye and hiding them in her secret “playhouse” which changes locations from time to time.  So far, the girls know that she’s taken Meg’s ballet slippers. Cissie also slipped into Mrs. Partlow’s party, uninvited and unnoticed by the other guests.  The girls don’t know for sure that Cissie took the jewelry, but the theft is a serious crime, and they don’t want to see little Cissie get into trouble.  They have to either find Cissie’s new “playhouse” and search it for the jewelry or to discover who else might have taken the diamonds before anyone else realizes that Cissie might be the thief.

My edition of the book has drawings that are done in kind of a gray green color.

Something Queer in the Wild West

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Something Queer in the Wild West by Elizabeth Levy, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein, 1997.

Gwen and Jill go to visit Gwen’s Uncle Dale, who owns a ranch in New Mexico. The girls enjoy learning to ride horses, but Fletcher seems to be interested in an old barn.  C. J., who works on the ranch, tells the girls that the barn is supposed to be haunted by the spirit of a wild horse and that they should stay away from it.  Uncle Dale confirms the old legend, but the girls think there’s more to the story.

They have hear strange sounds coming from the old barn.  Then, the girls notice that Fletcher seems to be sneaking out during the night.  One night, they see a white horse roaming around when Uncle Dale doesn’t own a white horse. Could it be the spirit of the wild horse, or could it have something to do with a recent horse theft?

Fletcher’s odd behavior is a clue, and there is more to the old barn than the ghost story, as the girls suspected.  The “theft” isn’t quite theft, and the thief is actually trying to do something noble.  In the end, the girls decide to help, but they need Fletcher’s help to do it.

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