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Easy access to books and other Literature is one of the things that makes homeschooling rich and interesting. Students with an interest in reading can practically educate themselves in many respects. The trick is choosing from all the books that are available. There are so many! Below are short reviews of some of the books we've read, either aloud or in silent reading.


Online Books

Books for Pre-Teens/Early Teens



Book Title: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The reason why some children's books become classics is because these books have such a profound influence on the thinking and emotions of the children that read them. A Little Princess had that kind of impact on me when I was a child, even though I did not find it until I was almost 13. I can still remember the feelings I had when I read it, even though afterwards, it was so long before I saw the book again, I began to think I had imagined the story. Thank goodness for having children, because I stumbled on it again while looking for books to read to my son when he was small.

As you may already know, the story is about the daughter of a wealthy Englishman serving in the military in India in the apparent late 1800's. Like many girls in her situation, Sara is sent to boarding school in England away from the 'unhealthful' Indian climate. Her friends there love her for her kindness, generosity and her fanciful imagination, while her enemies dislike her for, well, her kindness, generosity and her fanciful imagination.

Unexpectedly, her father dies, and apparently, there is no money. Miss Minchin, the owner of the boarding school, takes advantage of the opportunity to reduce Sara to grinding servitude on the pretense of charity. Still, Sara maintains her dignity and kindness towards others irritating Miss Minchin all the more.

It seems as if Sara's future is guaranteed: the drudge of the school under Miss Minchin's thumb, when Sara's fortunes literally reverse themselves again. She is found by her father's friend, who adopts her and restores her inheritance to her.

What makes this story so compelling is Sara makes you believe that her imaginings are real. When she is well off, she fantasizes that dolls are really alive, and you want to believe it with her. When she loses everything and is hungry, you just know that that 'the magic won't let the worst happen'.

Even though a movie version is available, A Little Princess is well worth reading, and since it is now in public domain, I have made the entire text available online, because, as they say, "the book is better".


Book Title: Running Out of Time By Margaret Peterson Haddix

Jenny has always believed that she was living in a tiny frontier village called "Clifton" in 1840. One day, the way she thinks about her life is overturned. First she sees many family and friends succumb to diphtheria, then comes the shock of learning that she doesn't live in 1840 at all, but in the 1990's where her town serves as a tourist site. She learns that "the world outside" has medicine to help fight the disease, and she is sent by her mother to bring back help, only the mastermind behind the town of Clifton has other plans. Jenny must race to find a cure before she is caught by him and before her family and friends run out of time.

When I first saw this book, I thought the idea of a whole town of people being totally secluded from real life was rather unbelievable, but once I started reading, I got caught up in how Clifton was successfully started, and how the people submitted to being cut off by the outside world for years, to the point that the children living there had no knowledge of the time they were actually living in.

It deals in a realistic way how authorities might view the parents of children who would cut their children off from any knowledge of the outside world, but in such a way that it's not too scary to be read by children. I thought it was a pretty good book. It's labled for kids 8-12, and I think those ages are appropriate for this book. A Scholastic book.


Book Title: Behind the Bedroom Wall By Laura E. Williams

Korinna is a member of her local Nazi youth group, and believes in supporting Hitler in dealing with the so called "Jewish Problem". When a neighbor is taken away for protecting Jews, she is shocked that her neighbor would do such a thing, and she feels that her punishment is justified. Not long after that, she is overwhelmed to find out that her own parents are hiding a Jewish mother and daughter behind her own bedroom wall. She wants to be loyal to her government, but turning her parents in isn't as easy as she once thought it would be. Then, little by little, she gets to know the little girl that must spend her days in a room not much bigger than a closet, and begins to realize that SHE is now the enemy, along with her parents.

This book illustrates some of the attitudes that likely existed amongst children living in Nazi Germany. It's a much shorter book than Anne Frank's Diary, and views the problem from the other side of the walls that hid some of the Jews during that time. It shows some of the difficulties that may have existed for people that tried very hard to protect their Jewish neighbors, and how they risked their lives to do so.

I'd say this book could be a good book to be included in a study about WWII for kids about 10 and up. It could open up a good discussion between children and parents about obeying laws, and when to do what is right, when it is unpopular, perhaps even dangerous, to do so. A Scholastic book.


Book Title: Last of the Breed by Louis L'Amour

This is an all time favorite book of mine. A friend let me borrow her copy to read it for the first time, but I was reluctant, because I didn't care for the "Westerns" Louis L'Amour is known for writing. However, from the moment I started, I could hardly put the book down, and read this 372 page book from cover to cover in less than 2 days. Afterward, my husband snagged up the book and read it in less than 24 hours. I found a paperback copy at a yard sale and read the book aloud to my son, and he wore the cover off the book re-reading it.

Major Joseph Makatozi, an expert Air Force Pilot living in the 1980's, is testing new aircraft in Alaska to see how they respond to extremely cold temperatures, when his plane malfunctions and he must crash land. He is immediately captured, and finds that the airplane malfunction was planned, in order to capture him for military information. He is taken to a prison camp in the middle of Siberia, very far away from civilization and help. His captors, the Soviet GRU, think that they've got him totally under their control, but Joe Mack is very different than he appears. As well as being an officer and a gentleman, Joe is part Sioux Indian, one of the last raised in the old ways, and knows how to survive anywhere. Joe escapes on his first night in camp, and the chase begins. Joe Mack's plan is to hunt and forage his way through Siberia, and then cross back over into America by way of the Bering Strait. He is chased all over the taiga by the Soviet military, but Joe Mack's greatest enemy is Alekhin. Alekhin is his Siberian counterpart, an expert tracker with the reputation that he has never lost a prisoner. Joe must outwit them all in order to stay alive long enough to get back home.

This book is great as a part of a study of the geography of the former USSR and its people. It also gives a glimpse into the minds of those that followed the old Sioux ways. It is set in a situation that makes the learning very exciting. We used an atlas and globe to follow Joe's progress, and to trace the route of the American Indians from Eurasia to what later became America. We discussed the political situation behind the iron curtain, and the difference between living under a government that allows personal freedom and one that controls the details of the average person's life. Last of the Breed offered discussion material related to school and personal interest topics for us for over 3 years!

The reading material is geared to about a 7th grade reading ability, however I read it to my son when he was in 3rd grade, and he was able to read it to himself shortly afterwards. It must be noted that there is a certain amount of violence in this book. Joe kills several people in his quest to survive, and Alehkin is a pretty ruthless person, although his exploits are not described in detail. I have to say, though, that my son has seen much worse in movies such as Star Wars or Star Trek, and with that in mind, I had no objection to his reading it, even when he was young. In any case, it is definitely a book worth checking out to see if it will fit into your curriculum.


Book Title: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

There are eleven people in Sam Gribley's family! Four brothers, four sisters, his parents and himself. Their apartment seemed so much like New York City, crowded and exhausting. After hearing of stories of his grandfather's land in the Catskills, he decides he can do better for himself there, so Sam runs way to the wilderness of what used to be his grandfather's farm. No one really expected he'd actually do it, but armed with a penknife, some flint and steel, and $40, he makes his way to his new life. My Side of the Mountain is a detailed journal of Sam's first year on the land. He learns how to make a fire, catch fish, and preserve food using very little more than what the land provides. One of his best resources is Frightful, the perigrine falcon he has raised from babyhood. As Sam learns to live on the land, Frightful becomes his partner in survival and his friend. Sam's first year in the Catskills becomes an adventure that any kid would dream of having.

I first read My Side of the Mountain when I was in about 3rd grade. I loved it then, and when my son became old enough to enjoy it, I hunted it down to read aloud to him. He was as thrilled as I remembered being, and we've since made our personal copy of the book rather dogeared from re-reading.

What makes this book such a great book for homeschooling, is that there are some rather detailed instructions on how to make fire with a flint and steel, and Sam's advice on choosing wild plants for eating, which encourage a trip into the field for some plant identification. There are also some lessons on physics and chemistry, such as why you can boil water in a leaf and not burn up the leaf, and how you can use a hemlock tree to preserve leather. There are also instructions on how to make salt from hickory sticks to season your wilderness menu. The only sad part of the book is the ending, when the city begins to find its way to him.

My Side of the Mountain is rated for ages 10-14, but a voracious younger reader, say around 8, should have no problem with it. In any case, it makes for a great book to read aloud and to use as part of a nature study.



Book Series: Redwall by Brian Jacques

An acquaintance in a homeschooling forum had been recommending this series of books for years, but our understocked library made them difficult to find. However, finally, after some new money was invested in the library, they showed up on the New Books shelf, and I looked them over. After a reasonable inspection as to their suitability, I let my son read them. He loved them. He "forced" me to read one of them, and for the life of me I couldn't get interested in the one I read. He was persistent. He decided that he'd read them to me, and brought one into the car and he read to me whenever we were in the car together. He got me hooked.

The stories are set in what appears to be England, during possibly, the Renaissance. The "people" are animals. Rats are usually pirates, Mice are regular citizens, and one mouse, often named Martin, a name that gets handed down from generation to generation, is usually the Redwall warrior, charged with protecting Redwall and the area of Mossflower. Other "good guys" are Moles (plain folk with cockney accents), Hedgehogs, Badgers, Shrews, Sparrows and Hares (please don't call them Rabbits), who are usually military folk. Baby animals of all types are called "Dibbons". "Bad guys" are Rats, Foxes, Stoats (mink, and ermine), Lizards, Frogs, and Snakes (one's named Onesimus).

The books run in series, one generally leading to the other, but each book complete in itself. It's neat though, to read in another book about references to people that were dibbons in one book that are now old and part of the establishment in the current one.


The stories generally center around the efforts of the "bad guy" to take over Redwall, a castle, or otherwise oppress honest citizenry in or near Mossflower. Usually, at the same time, there's a mystery, separate from the main plot, going on at Redwall. Often, the current mystery at Redwall, has some bearing on the chances for success in vanquishing the "bad guy".

What makes these books special, is the intricate detail of the plots and how they intertwine. Martin, Mathias, Luke, Logalog, Tansy, and Methusela become real. When a group of the dibbons is kidnapped, you feel the loss, and when the Redwallers are feasting, you get hungry. There are funny parts too, liberally interspersed in the great drama.

Redwall Abbey is technically a religious establishment usually run by an Abbess or Abbott, but whose leadership is portrayed in mostly a secular light. The major objection that some might have, is that the spirit of Martin, the original Warrior of Redwall sometimes assists the Redwallers in their mysteries and/or their quest for justice from oppression by offering clues by means of riddles as to what to do next. Also, there is a great deal of battle. While the books are not intensely graphic in their detail, they do describe the deaths of various characters. For those reasons, I'd say these books are best saved for older children who won't be disturbed by the battle details and already have a reasonably clear understanding of what the Bible says about Life After Death. However, the books are so long and detailed, they would probably only appeal to an older child anyway.


Book Title: Tucket's Travels by Gary Paulsen

Tucket's Travels is actually five books in one volume. It is the story of 14yo Francis Tucket, and his family making their way on the Oregon Trail. Francis is kidnapped by Indians and sees his way through many challenges in his efforts to be reunited with his family. His trail takes him all over the US midwest and into Northern Mexico Territory of the time. Tucket's Travels is set in the years 1847-1849. The stories follow Gary Paulsen's "Local Boy Learns How To Live In The Wilderness" format. These books are not graphic, but some of the real pitfalls of life on the Oregon Trail are presented - illness, snakebite, warlike indians, bandits, and other people with, shall we say, less than stellar intentions are mentioned. The reading is fairly easy, a maximum of about 7th grade level.


Book Title: Mr. Tucket by Gary Paulsen

Francis Tucket's adventure begins. Francis is traveling with his family on the Oregon Trail. His parents find a way to provide a surprise birthday celebration on the rough trail in the form of a cake and a new rifle. While practicing with his rifle, he is kidnapped by Pawnee indians. He may have had to spend the rest of his life with them, if it had not been for a mountain man riding into the village to do some trading. While Francis knows about the hardships of living with a wagon train, Mr. Grimes teaches him much more about being self sufficient on the trail, such as the importance of keeping his rifle loaded, trapping, skinning, trading and bluffing. Francis admires the one-armed Mr. Grimes, and begins to think that life as a "mountain man" might be for him, until he sees the wild, savage side of his trail partner. From the boy named "Francis", he becomes known as the young man, "Mr. Tucket".


Book Title: Call Me Francis Tucket by Gary Paulsen

Francis has left Mr. Grimes and joined up with a second wagon train. While hunting buffalo for the rolling community, he finds two children that were forced out of their wagon train because their father had cholera. Now that they are completely alone, Francis assumes responsibility for them, trying to provide for himself and the children as best as he can until he can find a wagon train that will accept them, despite the fear of disease. While Billy will rarely talk, Lottie makes up for all of them by continuously chattering as they go along. As much as he appreciates the company, Francis knows that both he and the children would be better off if he found them a more permanent place. Only after he leaves them behind does he realize that "better off" means for them to stay together.


Book Title: Tucket's Ride by Gary Paulsen

Francis, Lottie and Billy are caught by the winter, and cannot continue their journey west. They are forced to head South for the winter months, and end up in disputed Mexican Territory. In their first encounter with the people there, Francis saves a Mexican woman from the unwanted advances of an American soldier, but in doing so, he shoots and kills him, out of part necessity, part accident. Shocked by his own actions, he manfully brings the dead soldier back to his unit where he is sentenced to death by the commanding officer. Through a little help given by the commanding officer's assistant, he and the younger children are released and continue their journey. They think that their recent little adventure will be the worst they have to face until they are captured by the Comancheros, a ruthless, bloodthirsty bunch of "traders" that supply whoever will meet their price. The children are taken on a grueling ride to their hideout, deep into Mexican Territory. Even when Mr. Grimes makes a surpise appearance and offers to help, its not so easy to escape.


Book Title: Tucket's Gold by Gary Paulsen


Francis, Lottie and Billy have become a team. Francis hunts, Lottie keeps camp, and Billy gathers firewood. Finally, after their encounter with the Comancheros, they get their first real break. They find horses to ride, and they find gold. However, their journey does not continue without its problems. Francis is bitten by a snake, and it takes the help of some Pueblo Indians to save Francis and to teach Billy to become a hunter. Although the desire to stay in this peaceful place is strong, Francis knows he needs to continue his journey to find his parents. Back on their journey, the group of children encounter ne'er-do-wells that Francis had a bad brush with shortly after getting separated from his parents, and Billy is forced to use his new skills to protect their little family.


Book Title: Tucket's Home by Gary Paulsen

On the one hand, the children are becoming skilled at being on their own, and providing for themselves. Billy, at the ripe old age of eight, has become a first rate hunter and tracker using the bow and arrow. Francis has his rifle and his training from Mr. Grimes. Lottie has become the family administrator, keeping track of all of their possessions and handling camp responsibilities. As a team, they are virtually self-sufficient. On the other hand, the pull to be Home, and to someday be children again is strong, and provides them with purpose on their journey.

On their way, they meet a group of men from England that are travelling the Oregon Trail merely for fun and sport, with no idea of the real challenges to be found on this road. Disgusted with their flip attitude, and realizing that they will not listen to reason, Frances excuses himself from their party. But they don't go far before the English become the victims of a group of men far worse than the Comancheros, and it is all that Francis, Lottie and Billy can do to keep ahead of them, and out of their way. One final time, Mr. Grimes puts in an appearance. He knows he is dying, tries to make it worth his while, by deciding to make one more stand against the enemy in an effort to spare the lives of the children.


Book Title: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis

When Young Fu's father dies, he and his mother are forced to move to the city of Chunking so that Young Fu can be apprenticed to Tang, the coppersmith. Fu is excited by the bustle of the city and is convinced that Chunking must be the perfect place to live. He soon learns that life in the city is not as easy as it appears. The city is a dangerous place where soldiers will shoot a man if he does not carry a load for them, and dishonest shopkeepers will cheat a person out of their hard earned wages. Also, Fu has to endure the taunting of his workmates and the challenges of his new trade.

Slowly, Fu learns his way around the city, and also how to navigate this new way of living. Fu is eager to help others, and this desire helps him to gain confidence in himself and his ability to handle the challenges of the city. Fu works hard to be honest and hardworking in a very disorganized world. He even gains the notice of Tang, his master, and they begin to build a special relationship of kindness and respect.

This book is set in China during the 1920's, after the death of the Empress Tzu Hsi. It is a time of revolution and change. Looking at this time in the past helps young students to better understand the China of today. It is a very interestingly written book in a style similar to Pearl S. Buck, about China's history, making it a good Social Studies/History "textbook". In fact, the book also includes a glossary of Chinese words used in the book, and additional notes about many of the customs that prevailed at the time, such as the footbinding of girls' feet to "beautify" them.

Young Fu is written at about 6th-7th grade level, but is interesting enough for older students as well. It is a book that makes learning about pre-revolutionary China an interesting educational experience. Awards given to books aren't always a guarantee of what the average person would consider a "good book", but in this case, I'd say the Newberry Award given to this historical fiction is deserved.


Book Title: Won by the Sword by G. A. Henty

G. A. Henty is well known for having written many historical fiction books (primarily) for boys. Won by the Sword is one of my favorites. Won by the Sword starts in the year 1639, and is the story of a young orphaned boy whose father was a Scottish officer in France and was being raised by his father's former regiment. The boy, Hector Campbell, has a chance encounter with General Turenne, which opens up to Hector the chance to serve on Turenne's military staff.

The story follows the battles of Turenne through the eyes and adventures of Hector and his servant, Paolo, who not only cares for his master's household needs, but also advises Hector with the street wisdom that is needed to evade enemy camps and night watches when they are on patrol.

The history of the story is about the Thirty Year War in Europe. The interest in the book, comes from watching two boys become responsible men, Hector, a Colonel in the French Army, and Paolo, Hector's household administrator, despite the fact that Paolo could now well afford to be his own master.

Some of Henty's books are so detailed and deep, that they are best for accomplished readers, but this is one of the easier to read books he's written. Won by the Sword has passed into Public Domain, and I have made the entire text available online.


Book Title: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

The story of Jane Eyre has captivated people for generations. It's the story of an orphan girl whose aunt has begrudgingly accepted the responsiblity of raising her. Aunt Reed is praised by her friends as being a benevolent woman for accepting her charge, but her actual treatment of Jane would at best be termed "benevolent neglect", and could more closely be called "child abuse". After ten years, Aunt Reed tires of her responsibility and sends Jane to a cold, uncaring boarding school, where Jane grows to womanhood. After teaching at the school for two years, she takes her future into her own hands and finds a job as a governess. Jane falls in love with the master of the house, and is offered honorable marriage only to find that her suitor is already married. Jane has to struggle to do the right thing, and leave her beloved master with no material resources whatsoever of her own. The book follows her struggle to make her own way in the world - a very difficult thing for a single woman of her time.

Despite the fact that this story is well known, and there have been many movies made based on this story, it is still a book well worth reading. Bronte's words have a way of bringing this dramatic story to life without the help of audio and video. In addition, despite her trials, Jane sets an example of good morals. It's simply a great book. I've included it here on site as an online book partly because of its literary value, but also because it's one of my all-time favorite books.

Book Title: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice is one of Jane Austen's best known books. It is the story of a family named Bennett whose inheritance is slated to go to a distant cousin. With the 'wolf at the door' and five daughters' futures to provide for, their mother's primary goal is to marry her daughters off to wealthy men. The first daughter, Jane, is very beautiful, and an eligible bachelor, Mr. Bingley, has just moved into town. A romance begins to bud, and things look promising, but with the mother's unguarded tongue and the family's general lack of polish, his family deems her unsuitable to join their family, and schemes to keep them apart as hard as Jane's mother schemes to get them together.

This drama is seen through the eyes of the second oldest Bennett daughter, Elizabeth, who is well aware of her family's failings, but wishes her otherwise deserving sister to be happy. Unbeknownst to her, while she is watching them, another man is watching her. Mr. Darcy clearly sees Elizabeth's family's failings, he believes himself to be completely immune to her charms, but in the watching, he realizes that despite his awareness of the Bennett family's lack of class, that Elizabeth herself is different, and despite himself, falls in love with her.

To protect both himself and his friend Bingley from the dangers of foolish marriages, they leave town, and it looks like Jane and Bingley are to be forever parted, except for the fact that Jane Austen is known for writing romantically inclined novels and you generally know how it is going to end anyway.

However, what is rarely spoken of in connection with Jane Austen's novels is that Miss Austen was amazingly observant of human character of her time, and she showcases these observations in each of her books. Each book shows a side of the English society in full detail - people and their motivations and their maneuverings to get what they want - all politely done according to the manners of the time. In Pride and Prejudice, we are shown the foolish mother, the resigned father, the respectable older sisters, the cad, and the most practical of ladies, a young woman friend that is willing to marry a dolt to have a home of her own, in return.

The story of the Bennett family's efforts to provide for their daughters is well written and interestingly told. Jane Austen never made much money from her writings, but since they found their way into the library system, they are well known. Now that her books have passed into the public domain, there is even less value to them in terms of cold hard cash, but as good literature, and even as a window into the past, they are still immensely valuable, so I have made Pride and Prejudice available as an online book.