Thanks to everyone for the comments on last week’s post. It was fun to see what you’d like to hear more about. I think I take some of those topics for granted and assume people are tired of hearing me chatter about tidal homeschooling and whatnot. 🙂 I really appreciate your feedback and look forward to diving into the topics you raised.
I’m coming up bust on the most pressing question, though—details on the washi tape in that photo. I can’t remember where it came from! I’ll see if I can track it down. 🙂
I finished reading Ace, the Very Important Pig to Huck and Rilla last week. They really enjoyed it, although they didn’t find it quite as engrossing as our last pig book, Charlotte’s Web. I mean, it’s kind of hard to compete with Charlotte. But Ace is fun and funny and was a lighthearted, enjoyable read. It works really well as a readaloud, too, which can’t be said about every good book. It’s a funny thing that some truly wonderful books just don’t take off when I try to read them aloud. That happened with The Gammage Cup, which is a huge favorite with my older kids—all of Carol Kendall’s books are winners. For sheer enjoyability, her writing style ranks up there with L. M. Montgomery and Elizabeth Goudge, as far as I’m concerned. Delicious prose and endearing, quirky characters. But…I think the very thing that makes her prose so magical—long, complicated sentences with rich description, and a lot of interior life for the characters—renders it difficult to the listening ear.
My older girls tore through Gammage and its sequel, The Whisper of Glocken, on their own. (The Firelings is my personal favorite of Kendall’s books, but I think my girls would vote for The Gammage Cup.) But as excited as I was to begin reading it to Huck and Rilla, and as excited as Rose and Beanie were for them to experience it, we bogged down after a couple of chapters. Then came a busy week and we didn’t make time for it at all, which is generally a good indicator that I haven’t picked the right book. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen, and I never have qualms about abandoning a book that isn’t making them beg for more. I’d rather they read it alone, later, and really enjoy it. I’m sure that’s what will happen with Gammage, because it’s so darn good.
Anyway, long story short (ha!), we had fun with Ace—lots of great voice fodder among the animals. Yesterday I again faced the exhilarating, momentous decision of The Next Book. I mean, this is just a huge event in my life, over and over. 🙂 My next read, our next read—oh the agony of decision!
I didn’t dither overlong this time around…a particular favorite had been on my mind, and it’s one I’m not sure I ever read aloud to the other kids. I think most of them beat me to it.
Actually, I’ve always thought of this as sort of a private book, one meant for solo immersion. But…it felt right. Huck may be a little young to care much about the quest Claudia is going to undertake. But he’s into it so far—the big sister/little brother dynamic, the exciting running-away plan, Jamie chewing up Claudia’s instruction note and having his teeth turn blue. Rilla, of course, is enchanted. Running away to an art museum (as Jamie ungrammatically puts it, to Claudia’s disgust)—well, if Rilla could live anywhere but home, an art museum would likely be her pick. She’s impressed with Claudia’s good sense.
I had to decide whether to let Rilla meet the Met as I did, through this book, or to show it to her on YouTube. Would a glimpse of the vastness of the building and the extent of the collection enhance her mental picture of Claudia and Jamie’s adventure, or is it better to create that picture completely in your own imagination? If you’ve not been to Manhattan yourself, I mean. In the end, conversation made the choice for me. We finished our chapter today and Rilla had questions, and next thing you know we were all watching Sister Wendy tour the museum.
I haven’t been to the Met since the 90s. I’m a bit NYC homesick now.
I worked for hours in the garden this weekend, weeding and pruning, battling the dreadful August crisping. The blossom-tumbled flowerbed that is the envy of Easterners in January, when my cape honeysuckle goes on a spree and tomatoes spring up Phoenix-like from the ashes of the blistering autumn, is right now a dry, crackling place. I cut back all the dead growth and removed a few of the spent sunflowers. There’s nothing sorrier-looking than a dying sunflower, hunched over, staring gloomily at the ground. But those mournful flowerheads are loaded with ripening seeds, and the goldfinches are waiting…so my garden remains shadowed by these faded giants who stared too long into the flaming sun.
That all sounds very bleak, but actually things are looking much better out there after my ruthlessness over the weekend. Almost nothing’s in bloom, except the cheerful moss roses, but I discovered a vigorous melon vine hiding under the weedy mass of out-of-season primrose. No cantelope blossoms yet, but here’s hoping…
Other thriving things:
* Beanie started reading The Gammage Cup yesterday and says it’s the best book she has read in a long time. (Update: by the time I posted this, she’d finished it and moved on to The Whisper of Glocken.)
* We’re having “Moon Week” for Rilla this week. Spent a long while yesterday looking at moon apps on the iPod, talking about waxing and waning and gibbous and crescent moons. Scott is hunting all over for our copy of Owl Moon—it was right there on the shelf in the boys’ room last week. He did find When Moon Fell Down, a book we adore, and I think I know where The Moon Jumpers is. And on Huck’s favorite DVD, a Scholastic Storybook Treasures collection, appropriately, called I’m Dirty(the title story’s about a garbage truck), there’s a story called Stars! Stars! Stars! by Bob Barner, a lovely picture book (rendered with some gentle animation on this DVD) that has caught the imagination of both Huck and Rilla.
(Those are Amazon links but not affiliate links. I know I should link to IndieBound instead but I don’t feel like extra clicking this morning. But please do support your local independent bookstores.) 🙂
(About those Scholastic Storybook Treasures collections: Scholastic sent me a bunch of them to review, and I have to say they completely won me over, despite my longstanding resistance to books-on-DVD. I always think: why have a kid watch a book instead of reading it to him? But these are beautifully done. Think Reading Rainbow instead of animated storybook. The animation is slight—the art is the exact spreads from the original picture books with a little bit of movement added: the garbage truck rolls down the street, the shooting star streams across space. You can toggle the text on and off; I leave it on to help my emergent reader. I love the selection of stories—I’ll have to do a separate post about all the collections they sent me. I realized this is not much different that the book-and-cassette-tape sets I used to check out from the library for my older girls, but with much much better production values. And I sort of love that my littles are listening to stories I haven’t had a chance to read them yet.)
* Wonderboy started back to school last Wednesday. Same little class, same teachers. He’s enjoying. We’re adjusting. He had an audiology appointment yesterday and despite some serious wax occlusion he tested at very high comprehension levels in the hearing test: with the new hearing aids, he’s catching 77% of quiet speech and 86% of normal conversational speech. That’s huge. He was hearing barely over 50% with the old aids. This is very big.
* Jane enjoyed her summer course in C++ through Giant Campus Academy and has enrolled in their Computer Science class this fall. Starts next week. And she had a great week in Virginia. We are glad to have her back. 🙂
* Rose got Pokemon Soul Silver for her birthday last week, and she and Beanie and Rilla have been drawing and cutting out Pokemon paper dolls and making incredible collage backgrounds for them. I’m in awe, constantly.
* I’m struggling with Ragnarok. All those brawny, brainy gods are besting me. I took a break from reading over the weekend (and from blogging and social media as well) and spent some time slaughtering orcs in World of Warcraft instead. Sometimes there’s nothing that boosts the spirits more than battling orcs.
Attempting to catch up on notes about things I’ve recently read and enjoyed…
Of all the curiosities that had been pitched out of Fooley’s balloon, the painting was the only one to fall into the Watercress River. When it had been fished out, nobody knew what it was, but fortunately Fooley had listed in his book the names of the curiosities, and when everthing else was checked off—like the family tree, the poem, the hourglass—it was obvious that the remaining item was a painting. The bath in the Watercress had done it no good. Though the colors of the squares, triangles, circles, and shields were clear enough, and the interconnecting black lines intact, the piece of parchment looked as though inky fingers had daubed it. But daubs or no daubs, the Periods (and therefore the ordinary villagers) adopted the painting for their own. Ever since Fooley’s time, a painting was a pattern of colored shaped connected by black lines, following the classical example.
The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall. Kendall is one of those writers whose voice I just plain enjoy. She’s a quirky storyteller with a taste for misfits. This novel is about the Minnipins, a tradition-loving people who live in small villages in an isolated mountain valley. Their distant ancestors settled here after escaping from terrible enemies about whom little is known, now, except their names: The Mushrooms. A few centuries ago, one of the Minnipins journeyed over the mountains and back via hot air balloon. Most of Fooley’s souvenirs—and memories—were scattered when he crash-landed back at home, but the remaining fragments have been carefully enshrined in a village museum and in the customs of his descendants. (You can tell them apart from the rest of the villagers by their names, which are taken from a scrap of paper that survived the crash and is now presumed to be a list of the friends Fooley made on his journey: Ave., Co., Wm., Eng., etc. “The Periods,” as these folk are reverently called, run the village.)
Folks in the village like things to be done just so, and they have little tolerance for eccentrics like Gummy the poet or lively Curley Green, who recklessly paints images of things from real life, in disregard of the proper classical style. (My kids love Kendall’s work, but her character names drive them up a wall.) When Muggles, the reluctant heroine, and her misfit friends begin to suspect the terrible Mushrooms are preparing for another attack, they have to persuade the rest of the villagers that the danger is real. Instead, they get kicked out of the village.
This is a fun read, somewhat formulaic but Kendall’s unusual voice makes the formula feel new. Beneath the storybook action is a quiet exploration of intellectual honesty; the villagers—especially The Periods—tend to do things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done, without pondering the origins of the customs. Muggles, though fearful of the social consequences of coloring outside the lines, can’t help but ask questions.
I’m reading the girls a book I discovered at age ten or eleven and read with immense relish several times over the next few years: The Firelings by Carol Kendall. I’m enjoying it just as much this time around. And it’s one of those “oh please, just ONE more chapter” books for the kids.
The Firelings are a halfling people who live in the shadow of a volcano they call Belcher. The village legends tell of Belcher’s former life as a Sky Creature who danced a little too energetically one day and stomped a hole in the floor of the sky, through which he tumbled into a sea of his own brine. This misfortune, as far as the Firelings can tell, left Belcher in rather an irascible state. From time to time—dark times in Fireling history—he has required a tasty Morsel to prevent his crotchety temper from erupting with disastrous effect. And once, long ago (so the legends tell), a group of Firelings actually dared to attempt to leave Belcher’s sprawling body, seeking exit through the fabled Way of the Goat. Belcher punished them with a terrible Spewing, and ever since, the survivors have tiptoed very carefully, attempting to interpret Belcher’s wishes in the bubblings of mud near his Throat.
Now Belcher’s belly has once more begun to emit ominous rumblings, and his fiery tongue has been seen darting out of his mouth as if to suggest he is craving another Morsel…and in the whispers around the village, a certain name pops up with an alarming frequency. What will this mean for young Tacky-obbie and his friends Life, Trueline, Milk, and Mole Star? My kids are desperate to find out. I know, but I’m not telling.