Today is the 26th and my Goodreads log says we’ve read 23 picture books so far this year. Sounds about right; we’ve missed a couple of days here and there but not more than two or three. I may have forgotten to log something.
Mrs. Biddlebox by Linda Smith, illustrated by Marla Frazee. Until I went to grab the cover from Amazon just now, I didn’t realize this was out of print. The author died not long after it was published—we had the same editor, who sent me a copy, knowing my kids would love it. They truly do. Mrs. Biddlebox turns a grim, gray day around by, well, eating it up, bad mood and all. I hope your library has a copy because it looks like it has become a collector’s item, judging by the resale price.
The Lady with the Ship on Her Head by Deborah Nourse Lattimore. A longtime favorite of mine—my copy was signed (and delightfully doodled in) by the author when she did a booksigning at the children’s bookstore I worked at during grad school, many moons ago. Madame Pompenstance can’t figure out what kind of fancy hairdo to concoct for the king’s contest. When she bends over to scoop a few sad shells off the beach to ornament her coiffure, a tiny three-masted ship rows right onto her head. She has no idea it’s there, even though the tiny crew drops anchor below her earlobes, forming cunning little earrings; she only knows that she has a fearful headache all day long. So funny, and the art is lavish and captivating. A big hit with my gang.
Frog Girl by Owen Paul Lewis. You had me at the bit where the frog lifts the skin of the lake and takes the girl to her underwater frog village.
World Rat Day by J. Patrick Lewis and Anna Raff. A poem collection of made-up holidays. Dragon Appreciation Day is Rilla’s favorite.
2. High-tide companions
We’re still reading The Secret Horses of Briar Hill at bedtime—only a few pages at a time, because Huck is a sleepy guy at the end of the day. We can’t move it to morning because then Stevie would miss out. So I’ve started a new midmorning read-aloud; I was wanting some historical fiction to tie in with our Age of Exploration studies. Beanie suggested one of her old favorites: AMurder for Her Majesty. I haven’t read this one in ages, and possibly never aloud. SO GOOD. We’re only on Chapter 2 so far: young Alice witnessed her father’s murder and went on the run. She’s been taken in by a group of choirboys at York Minster, and they’ve just decided she should cut her hair and hide in the choir. Suspense!
3. My own meanderings
You didn’t think I really meant that Dickens quote the other day, did you? I didn’t look it up to see who said it, but “Let us have no meandering” sounds like Betsey Trotwood. Me, I’m a meanderer. After I finished Ilsa (about which: seriously, more later—not tonight because they’re waiting on me to watch the rest of Fellowship), I found myself in a familiar dither over what of a hundred (a hundred hundred!) options to choose next. Sometimes it takes me weeks to choose. It’s annoying. Just settle down and PICK something! I fight with my brain sometimes. I’ve read the openings of at least five books. One is about King Edward VII and I do mean to finish it. Another is about bees (I know, shocker), and yet another falls into my favorite subgenre: books about books. I keep dipping back into it and will probably curl up with it this weekend for real. And then there’s a (digital) stack of YA novels whispering to me. Also: I did download Martin Chuzzlewit and have chuckled through two chapters so far. I’m arriving too early at Jamie’s May Dickens read-along but her description of this particular novel piqued my interest. Realistically, though, I’ll have to shelve it soon and turn my attention to Great Expectations, which I’m teaching in March.
Ah Ha! by Jeff Mack. Chronicle Books. This deceptively simple story is an absolute hoot. The only text in the whole book are variations on “Ah ha!” and “Ahh!” Ah ha! A little boy catches a frog. Ahh, the frog escapes from the jar. Ah ha! Right into the mouth of a predator. Ahh! He gets away again. And so on. For beginning readers, this is about as easy as it gets—you can read a whole book with just two sounds. For kids a bit older, like mine, it’s a fun exploration of inflection. How many shades of meaning can you infuse into those two simple syllables?
When Moon Fell Down by Linda Smith, illustrated by Kathryn Brown. HarperCollins. I’m sad to see this lovely book has gone out of print already. It’s been in regular circulation around here since my former Little House editor—also its editor—sent us a copy many, er, moons ago. Moon falls out of the sky one night, meets an amiable cow, and takes her along on an adventure around town. My favorite part is Moon’s discovery of a hidden side to things he has heretofore only seen from above—shop windows and horses’ knees, for example.
High tide read-alouds:
Story of the World Volume 3: Early Modern Times by Susan Wise Bauer. Rilla, Huck, and I are just beginning this tome this week. I’ll admit Chapter 1 left them a little befuddled. It’s presented in a framing sequence several layers deep: imagine you’re a traveler who’s been all over the known world having adventures; it’s 1600 and there are these two kings you’re going to learn about, but first let’s back up to 1500 to hear about a young man who wanted to be Emperor because of this other emperor several centuries earlier…whew! And at the end of the chapter, both my kids were disappointed because they’d wanted to hear more about that grizzled old two-toothed world traveler from the first paragraph, who never showed back up. Fortunately, I know the text will settle down soon and they’ll be hooked into the historical dramas. But I think they’d rather hear the tale of the seven-toed, two-toothed scurvy man who survived being bitten by a cobra and a water moccasin. (!)
“Can I keep playing Legos while you read, Mom?”
“Can you play with them quietly enough that you’ll be able to hear?” ” “Yes, but I need to rummage for some certain pieces first.”
“Okay, you rummage. I’ll pick out some poems. Ooh, Macavity!” [Fifteen-year-old looks up from her geometry, bursts into song.]
My own queue:
I finished Cat’s Cradle. If you’ll forgive me for getting ultra-intellectual on you for a moment—that is one bananas book. 😉
One of my favorite aspects of these “Stuff I’m Reading” columns is that Hornby leads with lists of the books he bought that month, and the books he actually read.
“The seasoned reader, accustomed to the vicissitudes of a life spent accumulating books, can probably guess without checking that in any given month, the Books Bought and Books Read lists hardly overlap.”
“Surely we all occasionally buy books because of a daydream we’re having—a little fantasy about the people we might turn into one day, when our lives are different, quieter, more introspective, and when all the urgent reading, whatever that might be, has been done. We never arrive at that point, needless to say…”
And here he’s speaking to my rabbit-trailing, homeschooling heart:
“And so a lot of adult life—if your hunger and curiosity haven’t been squelched by your education—is learning to join up the dots that you didn’t even know were there.”
(All these quotes are from More Baths, which is more easily quotable simply because I have it on Kindle and can copy-paste from my “Your Highlights” page.)
Some enticing new titles landed on my Netgalley shelf this week, including a new-to-me reprint of a Madeleine L’Engle novel, Ilsa, which has been out of print for some sixty years and is being reissued by Open Road Media next month. More on that to come, surely. And I’ve received a copy of Maud, “a novel inspired by the life of L. M. Montgomery” by Melanie Fishbane, due out in April from Penguin. (Jen of Recreational Scholar expresses some ambivalent feelings about it in this post.)
Many, many years ago. . . you gushed over “Fruitless Fall” and that book truly changed our life. I read it, my husband read it and our older kids read it. My husband (phobic of bees) wanted to get bees (still does). Fast forward to today and my oldest son, 21, now works on a queen bee farm in Hawaii. He was truly inspired by that book. Thank you for your part in him finding his path!
I told Scott, “I feel like I was just given a George Bailey moment without having to get to the desperate jump-off-a-bridge stage first!” Thanks, Leslie, really. And thanks to all of you who’ve let me know my book chatter has been meaningful to your family life at some point or other. It means a lot to me to know that, truly. 🙂
Leslie went on to ask,
Also, thoughts on goodreads? I think it is a valuable tool but decreased activity over the past year. Are people reading less, not using it, is there another site? I have been keeping track of our books for over 5 years (kids have different shelves) because I often draw a blank when asked for suggestions for a certain age. Wondering what you think of its usefulness?
Taking the last question first: I have not! It’s been recommended to me by a number of Bonny Glen readers over the years, and I think I even snagged it on Kindle at some point. Why haven’t I read it yet?? If anyone understands my reading tastes, it’s you folks. Perhaps I can make it a January treat.
As for Goodreads, I too enjoy it but my use comes in fits and starts. I’ve been somewhat more consistent at updating my books in the past few years…at least, until October hits. Then, if it’s a year I’m serving on a Cybils panel (and since I’m now chairing the YA Fiction panel, every year will be that sort of year), it all falls apart. I can’t keep up with the logging.
I’ve tried once or twice to log my kids’ reading that way, but it’s hopeless. Too darn many books. Beanie does log her reading at her own account, though.
I admit I seldom read Goodreads comments on books I’m interested in—not the general pool of comments, that is. I do enjoy reading the remarks left by my Goodreads friends and acquaintances. It’s always fun to enter a book and discover six of my GR pals gave it four stars.
Oh, but about those stars—I hardly ever give any! Sometimes I’ll award them, but only if it’s (in my opinion) a four- or five-star book—and I’m terribly inconsistent at that, having entered many excellent books without putting in any stars at all. It bothers me that a three-star rating (which is supposed to mean “I like it”) is considered by writers (and readers) to be a lackluster, low rating. I don’t want to deflate someone’s scores (and feelings) by seeming to give it a bad grade. And writers work too hard on books for me to go around slapping a depressing two stars on their efforts, even though I’m bound to feel ‘meh’ about some of the books I read. So—I mostly ignore the whole star machinery. A zero-star rating isn’t factored into the book’s score. And it certainly doesn’t mean I thought the book was worth zilch. Some of my lifelong favorite books show up as zeroes in my list, because I didn’t bother with the stars.
I keep thinking I could use Goodreads to log incoming review copies, but there too I get bogged down by the busywork of entering titles.
In the end, my sidebar booklogs are a more accurate reflection of my year’s reading. I wish I’d begun keeping them sooner than 2008!
How about the rest of you? Do you have a good(reads) system?
A tangent: as I write this, at 8:30 Sunday evening, I’m listening to Rose and Beanie play a piano-and-violin duet in the next room—a song from one of the Zelda games, I believe, quite lovely—and my heart’s about to burst with delight. They each started group piano classes around age eight. Rose ‘graduated’ from the music school last spring, at age eighteen. Beanie still attends, along with Rilla, who’s in her third year. And Huck is beginning this week.
Beanie has been taking violin lessons for about a year. The instrument she plays on was given to me by Scott, my senior year of college. He knew I’d always wanted to learn and found a second-hand three-quarter-size violin somewhere. I took lessons for a few months from an elderly fiddle player who taught me out of an old hymnal. I confess I didn’t get very far. I was self-conscious about practicing in earshot of my roommates. The violin got bumped around through several moves, suffering a broken bridge at some point. And the bow disintegrated. The summer before last, Rose spent six weeks in Colorado with my parents and was given the rather amazing opportunity of assisting their neighbor, a violin repairman, with the restoration of my old instrument. She brought it home to Beanie, who’d been pining to play strings for ages.
And here we are. They sound, to this mama’s ears, utterly magical. When they play, I don’t just hear melody—I hear history.
Our weekend picture book reading:
The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman. A pencil draws a host of characters, and then when they clamor for color, he draws a paintbrush to help out. But when he draws an eraser, things begin to go downhill…my kids love this book, from the mild chaos created by the Calvin-esque eraser to the beleaguered pencil’s clever solution. This book would pair nicely with Harold and the Purple Crayon—or that Looney Tunes where Daffy Duck is being tormented by the paintbrush that created him (wielded, of course, by Bugs Bunny).
A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton. I wrote about this gem in 2008: “This was one of the Cybils nominees, and when I read the library copy, I knew it was a keeper. Sweet, funny story about a rather curmudgeonly bear who, despite his best efforts, finds himself playing host to a persistent and amiable mouse. I showed it to Scott, who instantly pegged it as a perfect Rose book. Endearing art, charming story.”
Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier and Suzy Lee. From my 2013 booknotes: “A series of quirky creatures is reading a series of little books, each smaller than the next. Very clever way to play with the convention of the codex. All those adorable nested books are irresistible to my kids. And the art, oh the art: utterly to swoon for.”
How to Read a Story by Kate Messner and Mark Siegel. <– This last one, I’m informed, will be our Monday pick, if we can find it. It fits nicely with the meta-book themes of The Pencil and Open This Little Book, which is probably what made Huck think of it. Some of you will recall that I caught Huck on video reading this one out loud, back in 2015. (Those character voices—oh my heart!)
There. I’ve been through every book in the house. There are hundreds stacked up, ready to be donated, just as soon as someone who wants them shows up with boxes. Thousands more survived this round of cuts, and I’m itching to curl up *right this minute* with about 80% of those. (Insert despairing cackle.)
I’m steeling myself to let some of the weaving books go. Some were reference for writing the Martha books; others were instructional for my own rookie efforts. I’m going to let Spinning and Weaving With Wool and the big book on linen find homes with someone else. (Sitting here writing this post, I couldn’t remember the exact title of the linen book. Then I remembered I probably ordered it from Amazon. And sure enough, there it is in my order history. From 1998.
I’m a little freaked out right now
One notable observation we made while culling the collection was how many books could be let go due to our now relying on the internet for their kind of content. Informational texts, science projects, cookbooks. (Okay, but I did keep Lotions, Potions, and Slime—I don’t care if you can find all those activities on Pinterest now; that book has family history.) If I ever need to know how to finesse linen in a handloom again, I’ll Google it.
Last night’s picture book: Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner. So good. Huck was initially baffled by the strange alphabets of the aliens’ and insects’ languages, but as soon as he wrapped his head around the concept, boy did he enjoy interpreting the dialogue. He started over again as soon as we finished, and then he took it to bed with him. I love experiencing a wordless picture book with a child—how his trepidation gives way to glee as he gets into the spirit of the ‘reading.’
My favorite parts of this book are the ‘cave paintings’—the insects’ murals on the wall under the radiator, depicting the history of brave stands the ants and ladybugs have made against the fearsome feline attacker. The detail is remarkable, and you get the fun of deciphering another wordless story within the wordless story.
I finally got my 2016 booklog up to date (more or less—not everything’s linked up, but the titles are all there). I may have to declare Goodreads bankruptcy, though, and just begin fresh with 2017. (Which is what I wound up doing last year.) It takes too long to click through all the layers of search new book—add new book—choose shelves—set start and finish dates when you’re doing it for dozens of books at once. Will I keep up as I go next year? Probably not.
Consider this a PSA—Creativebug is running a special: one month of free unlimited access. If you explore my Creativebug tag you’ll see how much enjoyment my family wrings out of our $4.95/month subscription.
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In addition to the household Fresh Start cleaning spree, the New Year always means an overhaul of my sidebar here on the blog. It begins with the year’s reading log, which must be transferred from sidebar to its own page. (In 2016 I got smart and started the page early—but then Cybils overtook my reading life and the page remains, as my sidebar note says, about thirty books behind. Perhaps more like 27 today. I’m getting there, book by book.) The empty space under the current year’s heading always drives me crazy until I’ve finished a book. Lots of years, I find time on January 1st to read a short children’s novel—last year it was Miss Happiness and Miss Flower—just so I can remove the placeholder text and enter an actual book title. I roll my eyes at myself while doing it, but I do it all the same.
Except I haven’t done it this year. Too busy sparking joy with every book in the house. I’m reading Cat’s Cradle, because I never have and Scott asked me to. 🙂 We often slide each other reading requests, wanting our frames of reference to be shared as much as possible. When Jane was a newborn, Scott would read aloud to me while I nursed her. We started with some childhood favorites the other had missed—The Great Brain (his); Harriet the Spy (mine). (You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Scott’s Ole Golly, let me tell you.)
Cat’s Cradle isn’t a long book, but this week’s pattern of cleaning frenzy in the morning and brain-work in the afternoon has left me too tired to make it through more than a few pages when I hit the pillow at night. So the gap remains.
The reading log is my sidebar equivalent of Flylady’s shiny sink. Once it’s been updated for the year, I have to start moving other things around. As the year’s book log grows longer, it throws columns off balance. I rearrange things and in January have to arrange them back. Which leads to a reassessment of what else is occupying space there. I’ve nixed some bits this year, tried to make the informational bits up top more compact so you get to the part that contains actual content—the recent comment widget and the “Caught My Eye” links—more quickly. I let the links section slide a bit during Cybils season, but I’m planning to use it more actively now, entering short remarks on the shared links so that section is more like a mini-blog within the blog. I know from your comments in the past that some of you do click through to see if I’ve added new links, which makes me so happy. 🙂 I’m glad you find them useful or interesting.
I’ve found a way to add links to this section directly from Feedly—very convenient! But I have to go in manually to add commentary.
At the bottom of my sidebar you’ll find a new addition: a “Blogging Like It’s 2005” blogroll. Yes, a blogroll—seriously old-school! This is the fruit of a conversation on my Facebook page. I asked my FB friends questions whether they still read blogs, and if so, do they use a feed reader like Feedly or Bloglovin, or do they rely on social media for notifications of new posts. I was surprised to discover that almost everyone who answered said they pretty much just click through on links from Facebook or Twitter.
It gives me the shivers to think of relying on the caprices of Facebook to find out if blogs I love have new content up. I will forever mourn Google Reader, but Feedly does the job pretty well for me—and has some nifty post-sharing functionality that comes in quite handy, as I mentioned above.
But I seem to be in the minority. Now, until this conversation I was posting my own blog links on FB only sporadically, because 1) I hesitate to spam my friends’ feeds with my own content; and 2) Facebook’s tricksy algorithms have a way of downgrading your updates if they too frequently contain links to the same website. Which means there’s no guarantee your friends will see your new post links, even if you do put ’em on FB.
But that’s fine, now that I know people prefer to see blog updates in their newsfeed, I’m happy to comply. And I have to say I’ve been thrilled by all the discussion happening in the comment box this week—thank you all for taking the time! 🙂
Well, as I said, this FB conversation led to a burst of wistful reminiscing about the lively blog community of old. A few of us decided to try to revive the spirit of those days by posting more often, more chattily, and by making an effort to comment on one another’s blogs. Thus the new blogroll. Let me know if you’d like to be included.
Today’s picture book: well, so far we’ve only read Hedgie’s Surprise again. (“Because I love it so much!” Huck pleaded.) But I found Jan Brett’s The Wild Christmas Reindeer mixed in with non-Christmas books (so we missed it), and I think since we’re on a Brett kick, it’s what I’ll read tonight. I did begin The Firelings last night, by the way. Huck had played outside all day and fell asleep two pages in. And today I happened upon The Minstrel in the Tower, which is a nice short readaloud that I haven’t done with this set. I’m contemplating holding off on Firelings for now.
I’d like to start sharing thoughts on some of the Cybils nominees I read this fall. To begin with, here’s the blurb I wrote for one of our finalists, a beautiful historical novel called Salt to the Sea.
As the Nazi Reich collapses and the Soviet army sweeps across the East Prussian countryside in the winter of 1945, three young refugees find themselves thrown together among the crowds of desperate, uprooted travellers. The distinctive voices and histories of Joana (“the nurse”), Florian (“the knight”), and Emilia (“the Polish girl”)—each guarding painful secrets—create a harrowing picture of the lives thrown into tumult by the war. A fourth narrative voice, the self-aggrandizing declarations of a young Nazi soldier named Alfred, adds an unsettling counterpoint to the narrative. The fates of the four narrators will converge at the doomed MV Wilhelm Gustloff, a German ship targeted by Russian submarines. Ruta Sepetys brings authenticity and heart to this moving, gorgeously realized work of historical fiction.
It’s hard to pull off good historical fiction, and even harder (in my opinion) to manage multiple narrative voices gracefully. Sepetys excels at both endeavors. Her characters have lodged in my heart—particularly the old shoemaker, whom you’ll meet on the road. Highly, highly recommended.
I’ve been so busy this week, I haven’t had time to explore the other Cybils categories. We always try to read as many finalists as we can, especially the picture books! Time to fill up my library cart…
Tidying our bookshelves is like conducting an archaeological dig through the strata of my own life. All these selves I once was, or earnestly intended to be. The fiber-arts books have been collected from around the house onto one shelf. Look what an accomplished weaver, knitter, quilter, embroiderer I was going to become! In twenty years, I think my tally of completed crafts is: two quilt tops (fleece backing, no actual quilting involved); two scarves; one set of handwoven dish towels; three cotton dolls; and a felt pouch of some sort. Let’s not count the number of unfinished projects tucked away.
The older girls helped me with the sorting and shelving today, and the air was thick was nostalgia and laughter. Rose snatched up some old American Girls handbook and they all burst into song. I guess it had a CD inside at some point? Every other book, it seemed, triggered hilarious memories of how much they’d either loved or loathed it. I certainly wasn’t immune: I may have done some squealing over a stack of old hardback Weekly Readers I must have brought home from my parents’ house at some point. Anybody remember Mishmash and the Venus Flytrap?
Perhaps my favorite find was an old—very old—we’re talking circa 1998—Hearthsong (or was it Chinaberry?) craft kit, only half used. I know some of you remember the Preschoolers [sic] Amazing Window Hanging Kit, am I right? A very wee Jane and I completed about half the designs in the kit: the autumn leaf, the star, the heart, the candles, the tree, the balloon? That’s not bad, actually, considering all we had going on at the time. Or is it possible I shared some of them with Alice? We must have done them out of order because the patterns left are labeled January, May, June, July, August, and September. There’s even some of the gold string left. They’ve turned up at a felicitous moment: I know a ten-year-old and almost-eight-year old who are going to enjoy decking them out with tissue paper, stained-glass-style. I probably won’t even have to cut out the black frames myself, this time around. Rilla will take over this project and produce something fabulous. Note to self: pick up some contact paper.
I filled another whole shelf with Picture Books I Must Be Sure to Read to Huck Before I Miss My Chance. He’s off playing at the neighbors’ right now, but I believe my pick for later will be Astrid Lindgren’s The Tomten, a quiet, wonder-filled counterpoint to the greedy, screechy little tomten in yesterday’s book, Hedgie’s Surprise. I still haven’t begun the next novel readaloud. The neighbor kids are out of school for another week and that means mine have places to go, people to see.
Many layers of the archaeological dig turned up books I bought with a burning appetite, intending to gulp them down immediately…but didn’t. They’ve ossified on the shelf instead, accumulating dust with quiet dignity. So now I have this desire, which I think I always have in January, to read them all just once and decide whether to keep them or pass them on. Look, here’s Mistress Masham’s Repose, which I bought because it’s featured in an essay in my beloved A Child’s Delight—but I didn’t read that essay because I knew it would give away plot points. And then I didn’t read the novel either. Perrin has never steered me wrong, but I do recall starting Mistress Masham and wandering away after a few pages. It’s T.H. White, though, who always makes me laugh! I put it sternly in the giveaway pile but now I’m second-guessing. I ought to at least take a peek, oughtn’t I?
And of course half the trouble is that for every book here that I haven’t read, there are five old friends I have, who cry out for another visit. “Maybe it’s time for me to reread all of L.M. Montgomery,” I remarked blithely at the start of yesterday’s overhaul. Nine bookcases later, I’m sobered by the knowledge that it would probably take me forty years to read all the books in this house. And, you know, there’s next year’s Cybils to prep for.
Well, that’s the brilliant thing about picture books. You really can read one a day. Two a day! Five a day!
Up before dawn to comfort a sobbing seven-year-old who awoke to the sad realization that he fell asleep before the New Year arrived. We cuddled on the couch for a long while, chattering (him) and murmuring (me). Then I let him play Minecraft for a bit so I could get more sleep.
Late morning: bacon sizzle drifting down the hall. Mmm. Scott served a New Year’s breakfast of eggs, bacon, and almond bear claw. The younger kids and I sat down together and had devoured second helpings before the first teenager made an appearance. Excellent way to start the year. Everyone was singing Moses Supposes His Toeses Are Roses all day due to last night’s viewing of Singing in the Rain.
Early afternoon: my annual New Year’s Day cleaning frenzy. I didn’t realize I was singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” until Jane chuckled at me. She says I always sing that on this day. It’s true: I love fresh starts. I love packing away Christmas and sorting through books in preparation for a new season. Sometimes I get carried away—I have mouse-cookie syndrome something fierce—and commence a heavy-duty purge. This year I seem to have gotten the pattern backwards: I started by reorganizing the boys’ dresser and wound up purging shelves in the laundry room and cleaning out under my bed. The bed part was a continuation of yesterday’s grand overhaul of my desk and all my art supplies. I keep bins of paper and ephemera under the bed, and they wanted tidying.
Then I rallied the kids to help me take down the Christmas tree and decorations. I never can last the full Twelve Days. Too much depends upon that clean, fresh January first beginning.
Scott, my hero, remembered to soak the black-eyed peas last night, and all afternoon they were simmering away with a hambone. Just before dinner, I rounded up my younger set for a readaloud. Since my last little guy is about to turn eight, I want to read our way through all our favorite picture books before my picture-book audience is grown. Of course you’re never too old for a picture book, but you know how it is. They do grow up, these children. 🙂 I just don’t want to blink and realize Huck is twelve and has never heard Borreguita and the Coyote.
First readaloud of the year: Jan Brett’s The Hat—a perfect follow-up to the kids’ favorite holiday book, Christmas Trolls.
At dinner we discussed goals and resolutions for the coming year. Lots of “I’d like to learn __” plans. 🙂 My own goals—besides the picture book readalouds—are to sort through all our books and pare down by rather a lot; and to continue my daily sketchbook habit.
Speaking of which: I haven’t picked up a pen today. Better get to it!
Happy November! Just a quick list (no commentary) for this week’s books recap—my weekend is running away again.
I finished The Search for Delicious. The kids were glued to every page. Stay tuned for a Periscope in which I will discuss what book I chose for our next read-aloud and how I arrived at this choice. I’ll also talk a little bit about how I approach character voices.
Speaking of doing voices, Scott just started reading the first Harry Potter book to Rilla. His Dumbledore is magnificent.
This Orq (He Cave Boy) by David Elliott. We received a copy of this book from a friend at Boyds Mills Press and it became an instant hit. I booktalked it on Periscope on Thursday, if you’d like to hear more about why we fell in love with it. (The link will take you to katch.me where my scopes are archived, or you can scroll to the bottom of this post and watch the replay there.)
I’ve launched a series on Periscope. I’m calling it “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something True” — this will be a regular feature in which I do my favorite thing: talk about books. A family favorite (that’s the “old”), a new gem, a library book, and a nonfiction title. I tried out the format last week and I think it’s going to work nicely! Here’s the first installment. I’ll announce future editions here and on Twitter.
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Our past few weeks have been a swirl of doctor appointments and deadlines. I had to skip a few of my weekly Books We’ve Read roundups because usually I put them together on weekends, and my last three weekends were quite full! Three weeks’ worth of books is too many for one post, but I’ll share a few particular standouts…and next Sunday I’ll be back on track with my regular “this week in books.”
Mordant’s Wish by Valerie Coursen: a family favorite, now sadly out of print (but available used). This is a sweet story with a chain-reaction theme. Mordant the mole sees a cloud shaped like a turtle and wishes on a dandelion for a real turtle friend. The windblown seeds remind a passing cyclist of snow, prompting him to stop for a snow cone—which drips on the ground in the shape of a hat, reminding a passing bird that his dear Aunt Nat (who wears interesting hats) is due for a visit…and so on. All my children have felt deeply affectionate about this book. The domino events are quirky and unpredictable, and the wonderful art provides lots of clues to be delighted in during subsequent reads. If your library has it, put it on your list for sure.
Sloth Slept On by Frann Preston-Gannon. Review copy provided by publisher. A strange, snoozing beast shows up in the backyard, and the kids don’t know what it is. They ask around but the adults are busy, so they hit the books in search of answers. All the while, the sloth sleeps on. The fun of the book lies in the bold, appealing art, and in the humor of the kids’ earnest search unfolding against a backdrop of clues as to the mysterious creature’s identity. Huck enjoyed the punchline of the ending.
Possum Magic by Mem Fox, illustrated by Julie Vivas. I’ve had this book since before I had children to read it to: it was one of the picture books I fell in love with during my grad-school part-time job at a children’s bookstore. Fox and Vivas are an incomparable team—it was they who gave us Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, which I described in 2011 as perhaps my favorite picture book of all time, an assertion I’ll stand by today. Possum Magic is the tale of a young Aussie possum whose granny works some bush magic to make her invisible, for protection from predators. Eventually young Hush would like to be visible again, but Grandma Poss can’t quite remember the recipe for the spell. There’s a lot of people food involved (much of it unfamiliar to American readers, which I think is what my kids like best about the book).
Rilla and I finished Dancing Shoes, our last Saturday-night-art-date audiobook. Now we’re a couple of chapters into Swallows and Amazons. She’s a little lukewarm on it so far—so many nautical terms—but I suspect that once the kids get to the island, she’ll be hooked. The Ransome books were particular favorites of Jane’s and I’m happy to see them get another go with my younger set.
After Charlotte’s Web, I chose Natalie Babbitt’s The Search for Delicious as our next dinnertime readaloud (for Huck, Rilla, and Wonderboy). We’re nearing the climax now and oh, this book is every bit as gripping as I remember from childhood. The kingdom is about to erupt in war over the question of what food should define “delicious” in the Royal Dictionary. The queen’s brother is galloping across the kingdom spreading lies and fomenting dissent, and young Gaylen, the messenger charged with polling every citizen for their delicious opinion (a thankless and sometimes dangerous task), has begun to discover the secret history of his land—a secret involving dwarves, woldwellers, a lost whistle, and a mermaid’s doll. So good, you guys.
My literature class (Beanie and some other ninth-grade girls) continues to read short stories; this month we’re discussing Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” and Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” In November we’re doing Around the World in Eighty Days, so I’ve begun pre-re-reading that one in preparation. But I also found myself picking up a book I read, and didn’t get a chance to write about, earlier this year: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. The fact that I’ve read it twice in one year is probably all the endorsement I need give: with a TBR pile is taller than the Tower of Babel, I really shouldn’t be spending any time on rereads at all. 🙂 But there I was stuck in a waiting room, and there it was on my Kindle, calling me. It’s an epistolary novel—you know I love those—consisting of letters (recommendations and other academic correspondence) by a beleaguered, argumentative university writing professor. His letters of recommendation are more candid and conversation than is typical. He’s a seriously flawed individual, and he knows it. But his insights are shrewd, especially when it comes to the challenges besetting the English Department. I thoroughly enjoyed this book on both reads.
Beanie finished Betsy and the Great World and is now reading Betsy’s Wedding (Rose insisted, and I fanned the flames) and Rilla of Ingleside, as our 20th-century history studies take us into World War I. Don’t Know Much About History continues to work quite well for us as a history spine, a topics jumping-off place, especially given the way it is structured: each chapter begins with a question (“Who were the Wobblies?” “What was the Bull Moose Party?”) that serves as a narration hook for us later. Then we range into other texts that explore events in more depth or, as with the Betsy and Rilla books above, provide via narrative a sense of the period. I probably don’t have to tell you I’m pretty excited about getting to include Betsy and Rilla in this study. Rilla of Ingleside is one of my most beloved books. The fact that my youngest daughter’s blog name—which I use nearly as much as I use her real name—is Rilla is probably a good indication of how much this book (and Rainbow Valley) means to me.
My late-September busy-ness put me in a bit of a slump with my sketching progress—it’s really the first time I’ve dropped the ball on my practice since I began just over a year ago. This week I pulled out our Illustration School books (Beanie and Rilla found them under the tree last Christmas) and decided that whenever I feel slumpy, I’ll just pick a page in one of those, or in a 20 Ways to Draw a… book (we have Tree, Cat, and Tulip) and follow those models. It’s an easy way to get some practice in and there’s something satisfying in filling a page with feathers, mushrooms, or rabbits—even when I make mistakes. Which I do. A lot.
This roundup doesn’t include much of the teens’ reading, and nothing from Scott although he has racked up quite a few titles since my last post. I’ll get the older folks in next time. And I suppose it goes without saying that these posts also provide a bit of a window into our homeschooling life, since I try to chronicle all our reading—a large part of which is related to our studies. If you’re curious about what resources we’re using (especially the high-schoolers, about whom I get the most queries via email), you’ll find a lot of that information here.
Speaking of which: any favorite WWI-related historical fiction you’d like to recommend?
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