Three by Clyde Robert Bulla: Sword in Tree, Three Dollar Mule, Secret Valley

67. The Sword in the Tree by Clyde Robert Bulla. Illustrated by Paul Casale (buy)

Rating: (5/5)

1956; 2000, HarperTrophy, 103 pgs

Ages: (7+)

"In the days of King Arthur there stood a mighty oak tree within the walls of a castle. Peace reigned in the castle until the fearsome night when Lionel, long lost brother of Lord Weldon, returned to cause trouble and unhappiness.

It was then that Shan, the son of Lord Weldon, took on the duties of a knight and hid the sword in the hollow of the giant oak. The days that followed were filled with adventures that tried the courage of the young boy.

Shan was surprised by bearded robbers in the woods. He met noble knights in plumed helmets, and eventually he even made a trip to high-towered Camelot. His story is filled with the pageantry and color of England in King Arthur's time. It creates a vivid picture of the Knights of the Round Table and the wisdom of King Arthur himself."

Purchased a new copy from an online homeschool retailer.

Clyde Robert Bulla was one of the best authors of books aimed at the beginning reader; chapter books that range within the second grade level.  This book is listed as 2.2.  A rich, detailed historical story of a Lord whose knight brother kills/scares off the family so he can take over the property and become Lord of the estate himself.  The plot contains several crisis and resolutions before the initial one is solved, making for a compelling, exciting story all of which is written with a limited vocabulary.  Not many authors can accomplish this with the early chapter book but this was Bulla's element and you'll find nothing better at this reading level.  I always thoroughly enjoy this story, and it has actually been quite a number of years since I last read it that it came quite fresh to me this time.  Paul Casale's illustrations cannot fail to be mentioned; lovely, detailed, shaded pencil (perhaps charcoal) sketches.  A classic that deserves to be kept in print for each generation.


69. Three Dollar Mule by Clyde Robert Bulla. Illustrated by Paul Lantz (buy) Out of Print

Rating: (4/5)

1960; 1994, Troll, 94 pgs

Ages: (7+)

"A boy finds himself the owner of a mule that likes children but is very hostile to adults. To the parents' dismay and the boy's delight, all attempts to sell the animal fail."

Purchased a secondhand copy from a thrift store.

A simple, gentle contemporary story of a boy who loves animals, especially horses.  Don will be twelve on his next birthday and is hoping he will receive the thoroughbred horse from the ranch next to his own he is in love with.  But one day he rescues a mule from being whipped and after bringing it home its antics cause the father to make Don prove the mule's use, or perhaps he isn't old enough to care for a horse.  A tender story as Don realises the mule has probably been abused by men in the past and puts the mule's well being before his own wants and desires.  An emotional story with plotting and much insight, especially when considered the low reading level the book is written for; something Bulla excels at.  The Lantz illustrations are detailed and realistic.


71. The Secret Valley by Clyde Robert Bulla. Pictures by Grace Paull (buy)  Kindle only

Rating: (4/5)

1949; Scholastic, 72 pgs
Current Edition: HarperCollins

Ages: (7+)

"Join Frank, Ellen, and the whole Davis family on their adventure west during the Gold Rush of 1849. This exciting chronicle has the same appeal as Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books."

Purchased a vintage copy from a thrift store.

Another well-written, easy-to-read, low vocabulary chapter book by the excellent storyteller Clyde Robert Bulla.  This book takes us back to the California Gold Rush and a family who travels from the Missouri River to California to become rich.  The mom wants a warm cozy home with real glass windows, the daughter wants a garden with good soil where she can grow flowers around the edge and food in the middle, the son wants fields where he can raise sheep and the father wants to find gold to buy all this for his family.  There is the hard journey across country, a frightening scare with Indians which turns out to be a friendly gesture at trading, the continued presence of meeting and eating with the natives and finally the hard living in tent city as the father and son discover panning for gold is not the windfall they had expected it to be.  But an old man, Father John, gives them directions to Secret Valley where he tells them they will find what they are looking for.  When they reach this fertile garden of Eden they find no gold but realize it does have everything they have been searching for.  A rewarding story offering the difference between the greed for gold and finding the things you want are sometimes much more simple and closer to hand.  As per the time period the illustrations are monochrome and done in sepia tones to match the frontier atmosphere and are lovely realistic drawings.


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