Review x 2: Tuesdays at the Castle and Owls in the Family

Sep 6, 2016

One of my regrets at summer being over already is that we didn't read nearly as many books as I wanted to. But honestly, I think that would be my regret whether summer was two or four or six months. There are just so many good books and not enough time to read all of them. Here are two of our recent readalouds, and I'll be sharing a few more later in the week.

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

This book has been on my to-read list for forever (in fact, it's been on there so long that reading it fulfilled one of my 2016 reading goals: "Read a book I put on my to-read list in 2011"). When I first added it, I assumed I would just read it to myself (since Aaron was only three at the time). But several years passed, and when I remembered it again, I thought I might read it to my kids. I checked it out and discovered it didn't have any pictures, so I decided against it (this is, in my opinion, still a grave oversight on the part of the publisher--this book felt like it would really be improved by a few pictures). Then finally, this summer, I knew my kids could handle no pictures, so I checked it out. And we finally, finally read it.

It's about a royal family who lives in an enchanted castle. But this isn't just any enchanted castle. No, it's a castle with personality, intelligence, and very strong opinions (for example, it hand picks who the next heir will be . . . and it's not always the eldest son of the king). Every Tuesday, the Castle rearranges itself--shuffling around rooms, adding new ones, eliminating others, and making sure the family has exactly what they need. The youngest daughter, Celie, has been attempting to create a map of the Castle's layout and has her work cut out for her.

Early in the story, Celie's parents leave the Castle in the care of the three youngest children (or maybe it's the other way around) while they go to their oldest son's graduation. Everything goes smoothly until several days later when word reaches the Castle that the royal party was ambushed and the king and queen did not survive. Many different rulers from neighboring kingdoms show up for the funeral and, later, coronation ceremony, and some of them do not have the best intentions. It soon becomes obvious that the Castle, the family, and the entire kingdom of Sleyne are all at risk of being taken over. Luckily, the children and the Castle have a few tricks up their sleeves, and their opponents discover it's not as quick and easy as they planned.

I had such high hopes for this book but almost gave up after the first five chapters because they were so tedious to get through. You'd think if a book leads off with an ambush, that would be a sign of an exciting, fast-paced story. So I don't know what exactly happened to lose that momentum except that there was just so much talk of politics and various ceremonies and protocol in the first half that there was very little real action.

I'm happy to report that the pace eventually picked up, and we ended up finishing it in a rush because we wanted to see what happened, but the process to get there was painful and, I'm not sure, maybe not worth it. The Castle itself is a very clever character and has a lot of potential, so maybe the rest of the series improves. However, I'm not feeling very compelled to find out.

Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat

This book came highly recommended from several different sources. Although more than fifty years old, the three copies at our library were in surprisingly high demand, and we had to wait quite a few weeks for it. And then of course, as so often happens, when it finally was our turn, it was not a convenient time for it at all: we were trying to finish another book, our Europe trip was only a few days away, and there was no promise of renewals. Luckily, it's a slim book, and we squeezed it in with only hours to spare. And I'm so glad we did. It was one of our favorite books of the summer.

It hearkens back to a simpler time, when boys spent their afternoons running wild and exploring in the woods and when kids were encouraged to be inventive and creative. Billy is quite fond of animals and has it in his head that he wants a baby owl for a pet. So he and his friend set out to find an owl's nest. Their plan is to steal an owl, although they're not exactly sure how, but as it happens, a storm helps them out and orphans a little owl. And then, just a few days later, they find another abandoned owl and take it home as well. (Can you even imagine a kid today being allowed to keep not just one, but two horned owls in captivity? It's unthinkable.)

Billy names the owls Wol and Weeps. Wol is adventurous and has retained some of his predator instincts. But Weeps was completely traumatized by his first few days of life and remains skittish and fearful for all the rest of his days. Together they make a pretty hilarious pair.

Remember earlier in the year when we read Rascal by Sterling North? We loved all of the funny anecdotes about Rascal himself (riding in the bike basket, begging for food, etc.), but some of the descriptions in between felt a little long-winded. Owls in the Family took everything we loved from Rascal (the unusual pet, the entertaining stories, the nostalgic setting, the inventive kids), but cut out all the superfluous language, so it was a total win. I don't think I'd ever say, "Don't read Rascal," but I would give Owls in the Family the higher priority because it's just so much more accessible to kids.

One of my kids' favorite stories was when Wol decides to bring home two skunks just as the family is sitting down to eat. He drags them in, wearing a very innocent expression that seems to say, "Mind if I join you? I've brought my supper with me." That line completely cracked up my kids. But Billy's parents don't think it's the least bit funny and won't go into the dining room for two whole weeks following the incident.

One of my favorite chapters was the pet show because of the sheer variety of animals that kids considered pets. I think a pet show today would look rather boring in comparison, plus kids would just never put in the effort to actually try and win. Coming up with a clever presentation kept Billy and his friends busy for weeks. And there was absolutely no parental involvement or taking over or making them do it a different way. I kind of loved that.

But even though times are different now, some things remain constant between the generations, and one of those is that both boys then and boys now love to wrestle. It made me laugh every time Billy and his friend took a break from whatever else they were doing just to get in a few pins and jabs . . . not because they were mad at each other, but just for the fun of it. I swear boys are born knowing how to wrestle. I always find my kids tackling each other on a whim, and seeing that little detail in this book made it even more endearing to me.

But my very favorite line might have been this, when Billy's mom is baking in the kitchen and says that "until a woman [has] tried to bake a cake, with two horned owls looking over her shoulders, she [hasn't] really lived at all!"

It's just such a great story and one that I would highly recommend.

What have you been reading to your kid latelys? Have you read either of these books? What did you think?


  1. Ha -- I do not remember Rascal as being full of descriptions, but I bet that's because I read it myself as a kid and probably skimmed right over them. Some books work better in your head than out loud. I love The Gammage Cup, but sometimes it seems slow moving as a read-aloud, and the names get tough.

    1. Yep, I think you're totally right. Some books definitely work better as readalouds than others. Also, I think the age of the kid makes a huge difference. And for us, my kids seemed to be at better ages to appreciate Owls in the Family instead of Rascal.

  2. We also really liked Owls in the Family! I enjoyed Tuesdays at the Castle myself, but I haven't ever tried it as a read-aloud. I appreciate your perspective on that. I remember liking the political stuff, but I can imagine it getting slow for listening kiddos.

    1. Interesting. I think I liked the political stuff even less than my kids, but I guess that shouldn't surprise me since I don't really love politics in real life either. Ha!


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