ROAD TRIP! Review of How to Eat Fried Worms and When The Sea Turned to Silver

Google Maps puts each leg of our last road trip at 5.5 hours. Knowing this, I reserved audiobooks from our local library. Crowdsourcing brought up the following titles (hat tips to thoughtful friends Jen, Jen, Jessica, Lydia, and Midori) :

  • James and the Giant Peach
  • Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (the series)
  • Magic Tree House series
  • Henry Huggins (the series)
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

After searching my way through our local library's audiobooks, I didn't end up with any of the above. Some were only available as e-audiobooks, and I still have to figure out how to get those to work with our car stereo. Instead, I settled on How to Eat Fried Worms, by Thomas Rockwell and Jay O. Sanders. In the book (a childhood favorite of mine), main character Billy takes on his friend Alan’s bet to eat fifteen worms in fifteen days for fifty dollars. Alan grows increasingly more desperate with each worm Billy eats because he doesn’t actually have fifty dollars to spend. But Billy has his eye on a used minibike and is chugging his way through the bet. Alan’s resorting to some dastardly tactics to stop Billy from eating his daily worm. Who will win?

Billy prefers his worms pan-fried with a cornmeal coating and mustard and ketchup.

Billy prefers his worms pan-fried with a cornmeal coating and mustard and ketchup.

I remembered How to Eat Fried Worms as being a compelling read, but not too long—just the right length for an early elementary reader. Running time is 1 hour and 53 minutes. We put it on in the car as soon as we got onto a major highway and it lasted us… until dinner time. This might not be the best audiobook timing for a picky eater. Luckily, we pulled into a McDonalds with a gigantic PlayPlace and Junior was too busy wearing himself out on the multiple slides to worry about what was in his Happy Meal.

I went out on a limb for our second audiobook, with an author none of us had ever heard of, Grace Lin. Jackpot!

Is that horse really a horse? Why is it diving so eagerly into the sea? Grace Lin also illustrates her books and the reviewers universally raved about the illustrations. The audio CD came with a PDF of the illustrations, but we didn't get to them. Next time!

Is that horse really a horse? Why is it diving so eagerly into the sea? Grace Lin also illustrates her books and the reviewers universally raved about the illustrations. The audio CD came with a PDF of the illustrations, but we didn't get to them. Next time!

Is anyone else familiar with Grace Lin’s work? When the Sea Turned to Silver was a huge hit with all of us. We didn’t finish the book on our trip, so it stayed in our car stereo for trips around town. Junior would command me when he got out of the car not to listen to the book without him so that I didn’t get ahead of the story. 

The book pulls in events from Chinese history like the building of the Great Wall and characters from Chinese folktales such as the Ginseng Boy as what seem to be framing devices for an adventure story. Young, shy, Pinmei lives with her loving grandmother Amma, a storyteller and embroiderer, in a mountain village. The Tiger Emperor is conscripting all the men of the mountain villages to build the Vast Wall surrounding the kingdom—but for some reason, when he gets to the mountain, he also kidnaps Amma. Pinmei and her friend and mountain neighbor Yishan embark on a quest to free Amma that will take them from the mountain to the City of Bright Moonlight to the bottom of the sea and back. Will Pinmei find her voice and stand up for herself and her grandmother? Is the Tiger Emperor who he seems to be? Slowly, the framing devices integrate with the story and by the end, everyone—even the reader—is asking about the true power of stories.

When the Sea Turned to Silver was a New York Times bestseller, a National Book Award finalist, and an IndieBound bestseller. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and I'm thrilled that there are two more books in the same series. 

  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
  • Starry River of the Sky

Junior, when asked to pick his favorite of the two audiobooks, chose How to Eat Fried Worms. He says that his favorite part in the book was when Alan tried to trick Billy with a worm made out of beans. Usually I encourage “going deep” with good literature. Read the book! Listen to the audiobook! See the movie! Watch the TV special! This time around, I’ll say to definitely get the book for How to Eat Fried Worms and that the audiobook is worth listening to, but to skip the movie. The movie version of How to Eat Fried Worms came out in 2006 and only loosely follows the plot of the book. Reviews were lukewarm—so I’d give the movie a miss unless your child demands repeat, repeat readings of the book. However, we are all eagerly awaiting the movie/TV versions of When the Sea Turned to Silver. Calling Studio Ghibli!

Here’s what we have on deck for our next road trip. I admit that I went a little overboard. My excuse is that some of the books are short. Looking forward to hearing your comments and recommendations!

  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson.
    We’re reading this one as part of our Advent book calendar. I’m going to see if we can get the DVD to watch too.
  • The Magic School Bus in the Time of the Dinosaurs, by Joanna Cole & Bruce Degen.
    The Magic School Bus standard audiobooks (not the e-versions) are fantastic because they actually include a book. Junior loves reading along with the audiobook. The series wouldn’t be what it is without Bruce Degen’s wonderful illustrations, and with this package format, listeners don’t have to miss them.
  • The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge
  • The Magic School Bus inside the Human Body
  • The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo
  • How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell