In the first of four “Misadventures of Benjamin Bartholomew Piff,” we meet young Ben, who lives at Pinch’s Home for Wayward Boys, where he turns Oliver Twist’s crime (asking for more gruel) upside-down and gets in trouble for refusing to eat the slop served to him. As punishment, he must scrub the foul cauldrons in the kitchen, even on his birthday, when a cake dropped off by his case worker hunkers uneaten in the fridge. At last Ben risks further punishment and steals a slice of his own cake, sticks a candle in it, lights it, closes his eyes, blows out the candle, and makes a wish without saying it aloud.
Danny Walker’s dreams of basketball glory are dashed when he doesn’t make the seventh-grade travel team in his small New York town, simply because he doesn’t have the all-important height advantage this year’s basketball dads are looking for. It doesn’t matter that he is one of the best basketball players in town. It doesn’t matter that he played on the fifth- and sixth-grade travel teams. It doesn’t even matter that his father is the Richie Walker, who led his own seventh-grade travel team to a national championship, only to have his pro career cut short by a disabling car accident. Or maybe that last one does matter, because this year’s seventh-grade team is coached by a bitter rival of Richie Walker.
Book 2 in The Squire’s Tales continues the adventures of Sir Gawain, knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, and his faithful, half-faery squire Terence. Mainly based on the medieval legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which in turn was based on even more ancient legends from pre-Christian Ireland and far-off Persia, this book pretty faithfully retells one of the most moving quest stories in world literature. Meanwhile, it lines the aisles and packs the scenery with clever embellishments, old conventions turned upside-down, newly-invented characters, old ones with reconsidered motives, and fresh detail.
This Newbery Medal winner was written in 1945 before the term “crackers,” referring to the Anglo-Saxon farm folk of the central Florida woods, became a bad word. Taken out of the context of race relations in the civil rights era, it draws an appreciative picture of a unique, and in some ways beautiful, way of life. As the Boyer and Slater families scratch a living out of the poor, palmetto-infested soil, we share their struggle. Their struggle with the land. Their struggle with each other. Their struggle, on one hand, to preserve a way of life threatened by progress and industrial development; their struggle, on the other hand, to improve their life by adopting new methods of farming.
In this sequel to Travel Team, Danny Walker and two of his friends follow up their victory in the national 7th grade basketball championship by going to – you guessed it! – a summer basketball camp. If being cut from his town’s travel team because he was too short tested a basketball wizard’s faith in himself, imagine what happens when he is thrown together with top-talent players up to a year older, and a foot taller, than he is!
As you open this first book in the series known, appropriately, as The Squire’s Tales, you immediately meet a woodsy lad named Terence. Raised by a blind hermit who remembers the future but forgets the past, Terence does not know who his parents are or what he is destined for. But then, in one day, he is visited by a mischievous sprite, witnesses a fatal duel, and becomes the squire to a certain Gawain who aspires to be a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table. And that’s only the beginning of the great happenings in which Terence plays a humble, but important, part.
I read almost all of his books then in print at an age when a later generation, helped by Harry Potter, made the surprising discovery that thick books can be fun. Here are a few notes on the points that still stand out in my memory.
The man who brought us Travel Team and Summer Ball now throws open the deepest, darkest secret of a professional basketball player – a secret so deep and dark that he doesn’t know it himself. Yet.
This is the third book of stories about Pippi Longstocking: a gusty, bossy, outrageous little girl who can do massive feats of strength, and who lives to amuse her next-door friends Tommy and Annika. And now Pippi takes Tommy and Annika with her on a visit to the tropical island where her father has become a cannibal king.
found this book in the Young Readers section of the County Library. If you look there, you might find it too. Written by a Minneapolis-based teacher and poet, it’s a sensitive portrait of misfit kids struggling against a school system that doesn’t understand them, combined with a whacked-out, comical, outrageous adventure, topped with dollops of creepiness and strangeness. It’s like what you might get if Jerry Spinelli and Daniel Pinkwater collaborated on a book. Or maybe not. It’s just, er, different.