Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


If  you look back to one of my past blog posts, "Tips for Selecting Good Books", you'll see that all Renee Riva's stories fit the criteria (according to William Kilpatrick) of what constitutes a "good" book.   Whether you choose to read aloud her cute children's picture books (illustrated by talented Steve Bjorkman):  Guido's Gondola and Izzy the Lizzy; her fun chapter book:  Farley's Five and Dime; or her hilarious Saving Sailor Trilogy, you will find an author who sticks to writing imaginative family classics that not only entertain, but teach and inspire...without sounding preachy or overly sentimental.

Today I'd like to focus on her trilogy of novels for teens and young adults (or "for ages 12-100", as Renee says on her website).  The first book in the trilogy, Saving Sailor , is followed by Taking Tuscany  and Heading Home. [1/23/13 update: Saving Sailor is now available in as an audio book, click here to listen to a sample.]

I just finished reading the first novel and literally laughed out loud at the antics of A.J., a ten-year old girl, who likes to talk with a fake Southern accent, and her dog, Sailor.  The story is told from A.J.'s innocent and spunky perspective.  She's part of a big Italian-Catholic family who spend their summers on an island in Idaho during the 1960's.  I was taken back to my own preteen years, when, like A. J., I still tried to sneak the marshmallow bits out of the "boring part" of the box of breakfast cereal, my dolls were trolls, and I wasn't ready to admit that boys were starting to be a little bit interesting (though I, too, was secretly smitten with with Joe Cartwright from BONANZA!).

One thing that is really refreshing about this series, is that A. J.'s story isn't about family dysfunction and shallow friendships, that you often find in many contemporary "coming of age" books for teen girls, but about wholesome (and sometimes feisty) family love and hope:  think All-of-a-Kind Family, Mama's Bank Account , or Betsy-Tacy , mixed with the humor of  Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever .

On the other hand, this is by no means an old-fashioned, Little House on the Prairie  series.  The characters are colorful and eccentric - from A.J.'s down-to-earth, mischievous parents (her mom, Sophia, pretends to be Sofia Loren out in public, just to cause a stir), to her wonderful and understanding teacher, Sister Abigail (who oversees some hilarious catechism sessions) - you'll be drawn into the plot immediately.

A.J.'s constant honesty in confronting her beliefs and her shortcomings is completely endearing.  The series follows her from Indian Island, in Idaho, to Tuscany, Italy (where she moves with her family for 8 years) and then back to the island, where she is finally reunited with her childhood friend, Danny.  You'll want to read all the books to find where A. J.'s heart, and God, lead her.

Renee Riva says the Saving Sailor Trilogy is "based on a true story, sort of".  I knew I'd like it as soon as I read her Introduction:
  When I was growing up, I thought I came from the weirdest family on earth.  Now, as I look back on my childhood, I know I did...for one thing there were seven of us...I had only one set of parents, and they actually loved each other.  A lot.  Scary, isn't it?  And here's the real clincher -- I had a great childhood.  The kind where your mom stayed home and baked cookies for you...what can I say?  Pretty much, just, Thank God. 
  Did I mention we weren't perfect?  Well, we weren't.  But perfect isn't what makes a great childhood.  What makes a childhood great is being able to look back and remember the good over the bad, the laughter over the tears, and the love that covered a multitude of sins.
  It's looking back to that one summer that stands out above the rest.  You know...the one where you knew what really mattered in life:  God, your dog, your hamster, and your family.  Most definitely in that order.

To read more about Renee Riva and her books, and to see fun pictures of her real-life childhood and family, go to her website:  http://www.reneeriva.com/


  1. Thanks, Wendy, for this awesome review! I LOVE the troll doll and "Little Joe" Cartwright pics. Too cute!! (The troll AND "little Joe") :O)

  2. Wendy,

    I am ordering this book today! Thanks for the fun review and trip down memory lane!


  3. You have posted a very interesting article. Keep it up!

    Good Books To Read.