Book Notes: August

August 14, 2008 @ 6:33 am | Filed under: ,

A few remarks on things we’ve read or are reading around here…

What Makes a Raphael a Raphael by Richard Muhlberger. About ten years ago, I heard that the What Makes a… series was going out of print and I snapped up the five titles I could find. I think they’ve since been reissued with new covers, so they’re not all lost and gone as I feared they would be. But I’m glad I made the purchase way back then. We love these books. They are slim paperbacks will full-color reproductions of paintings, many paintings, by the artist in question. The text is readable and engaging and in addition to providing biographical information about the artist, Muhlberger spends a lot of time taking close looks at individual paintings, discussing materials, technique, composition, and historical context in clear and vivid language. Beanie, my current seven-year-old, listens raptly. We pulled the Raphael book off the shelf on a whim a week or two ago, and several mornings have found the two of us poring over the details of one of the paintings in this book. Beanie will linger over the volume long after the little ones have called me away. Jane, overhearing scraps of our discussion, was herself drawn in and has been taking her own turn puzzling out the symbols Raphael uses to identify certain saints in his religious artwork.

The St. George painting made us think, of course, of Margaret Hodges’s classic picture book, St. George and the Dragon. May I just say (for the thousandth time) how much I adore Trina Schart Hyman‘s work? We have an edition of Peter Pan which she illustrated, and Rose has read it to tatters—but we can’t part with it, taped up and raggedy as it is. Rose says that no one else draws the Lost Boys properly. I understand exactly how she feels, because as long as I live, there will be only one edition of The Secret Garden for me, and that’s the one illustrated by Tasha Tudor.

At the orthodontist’s office yesterday, Rose and Bean were asked to fill out questionaires about their favorite things and special talents. (I could write a whole post about those questionaires: good grief.) Rose was somewhat tortured by the small blank asking for her favorite book (“It’s impossible, Mom!”) and finally came to a compromise between space and reality by squeezing in Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. It pained her, though, to abridge the title of the latter in that fashion. Every true fan knows it’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Rose has not encountered many fill-in-the-blank experiences in her life, and she was not impressed by this one.

I can’t begin to keep up with Jane’s reading lists anymore. I make mental notes of the piles I see on end tables and bedsides around the house. Lately there’s a lot of James Herriot and Rick Riordan. Right here beside me on the sofa is Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy, which Scott, Jane, and Rose have all enjoyed, but I haven’t read yet myself. Rose keeps going back to Gail Carson Levine’s Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg, which came by surprise from Uncle Jay last week and was jubilantly celebrated by all three girls. It had been a library favorite for months. We have a number of Levine’s earlier fairy tale books because Gail and I used to have the same editor at HarperCollins, and Alix kept me well supplied with Gail’s latest. Ah, those were the days.

I’m reading Understood Betsy to Rose and Beanie: one of our family’s favorite read-alouds ever. Beanie was about Rilla’s age the last time we enjoyed this book aloud. She doesn’t remember it at all, of course, and so I get the fun all over again of hearing the chuckles and giggles in all the right places. The first time I read this book aloud, Jane was about five years old. Scott was working at home in those days, writing, and I remember how he came out of his office for a cup of coffee and got sucked into the story, and that was the end of his work session for that day. After that I was adjured to save the read-aloud time for when he could join us. (The same thing happened with By the Great Horn Spoon years later.)

At bedtime, Scott is reading Watership Down to the younger girls for the second time in…a year? Two years? Doesn’t matter how long (or short) a time ago it was: it was time again. All three decreed it.

This may explain why Beanie came staggering out from bed yesterday morning and said, “Mommy, I just had the most realistic dream. We were all rabbits…”

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5 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Jennifer Minson says:

    I’ve been struggling to read the Fairy Dust book to my girls, but the writing is just so stilted (all those Disney fairy stories are) and they seem so “after the fact” contrived. (very Godfather III (without the blood and violence)). Do you like it or just your children?

  2. Melissa Wiley says:

    Nope, I haven’t read it. Surprised to hear the writing is stilted, though; Levine is usually so readable. I’ll have to take a look. 🙂

    Her original fairy-tale adaptations are great fun, though not particularly sophisticated. But Ella Enchanted remains a cut above the rest of her work.

  3. Meredith says:


  4. scott says:

    I would argue Ella Enchanted remains a cut above almost everything. (Everything not written by Melissa Wiley, of course.)

  5. Leonie says:

    We love the What Makes A …series – one of mine, as a toddler, used to take these books to his cot with him and look at then while falling asleep.