Archive for March, 2009

Books Read in March

March 31, 2009 @ 10:22 am | Filed under: ,


Little Brother and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow. (Blogged about Down & Out here.)
The Sisters” by James Joyce.
Damosel: In Which the Lady of the Lake Renders a Frank and Often Startling Account of her Wondrous Life and Times by Stephanie Spinner.
The Film Club: A Memoir by David Gilmour.
Stolen by Vivian Vande Velde. (Notes.)
Secret History of the Authority: Hawksmoor by Mike Costa and Fiona Staples.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman. (Notes.)
Rules by Cynthia Lord. (Notes.)
The Plain Princess by Phyllis McGinley.
The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope. (Review.)
The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby.

spreeHmm, almost all fiction this month, except for Film Club and the Hornby book. I knew it was a mistake to pick up the Hornby; The Polysyllabic Spree is a collection of Nick Hornby’s monthly books column for The Believer. Nick writes exactly the kind of essays I love to read—and write, for that matter—conversational ruminations on the books he has read, or purchased and not read, or thought about reading, in the previous month. Here I am already with a house full of books whispering my name in rustling voices, and a list of ooh-gotta-score-a-copy-of-that-one titles gleaned from sources like last year’s favorite book-essay collection, A Reader’s Delight, and now, stupidly, I’ve gone and let Nick Hornby get me all fired up to read a bunch of the books he read in 2004.

Even worse, there are two more volumes of these Hornby columns, and of course I’m dying to read those too. And the library doesn’t have them. If I spend money (or even Amazon gift certificate dough) to buy more books about books I’ll then want to buy, somebody please hit me over the head with a copy of Home Comforts.

film-clubI enjoyed Film Club but I think I had a hard time letting it be the book it IS instead of the book I thought it was going to be (or the book I wanted it to be). It’s the true account of how film critic David Gilmour made a deal with his teenaged son: Jesse, a 10th grader, could drop out of school on the condition that he’d watch three movies a week with his dad. I heard about this book and immediately pegged it as kind of unschooling manifesto, full of anecdotes about the amazing learning experiences and deepened relationships that grew out of this family’s unorthodox decision. And the book IS about learning and about deepened relationships, but not at all in the way I imagined; it isn’t waving a banner for autodidactism or alternative education. It isn’t putting forth a thesis or advocating a philosophy: it is exactly what it claims to be: a memoir, a true account of a few years in the life of a father and son. Gilmour recognizes that these years with Jesse, the last years of Jesse’s residency under his father’s roof, are a treasure to be cherished, and his movie-viewing plan is more about spending time together than education. Both father and son DO learn a lot, of course. David chooses the films carefully, sometimes focusing on landmarks of cinematic history, other times riffing on the dramas of Jesse’s personal life. (Lots of girl stuff going on with the boy, to put it mildly.)

Once I got a handle on what the book was and let it be itself instead of the unschooling celebration I expected it to be, I enjoyed the book a whole lot (though Gilmour and I come from very different places regarding certain moral issues). Mostly I wanted to hear more about the films: the best parts of the book are the conversations between David and Jesse about the films, and most especially David’s commentary during the films. I am now dying to see James Dean in Giant.

damoselI’ve already written about most of the fiction I read in March. It was a great month for fiction. I really enjoyed Damosel, an Arthurian romance by my former boss, Stephanie Spinner. Stephanie has kindly agreed to let me interview her here on the blog and I’m pretty excited about that. Damosel is lyrical and lovely, and I love the way it takes a minor figure from the Arthurian legend and expands her, lets us look at some old familiar tales from a completely fresh perspective. (I don’t think I’ve ever felt the tragedy of Merlin’s fate quite so keenly.) Who was that mysterious Lady presenting Excalibur from the murky depths of the Lake? In the legend she is little more than an arm. Stephanie made her a whole person, a complicated person with conflicts and yearnings, powers and limits. There is such an air of wistfulness about the book, as the fairy Lady looks upon the intrigues of mortals first from a cool distance, and then increasingly with an emotional connection to the people she once regarded with comfortable detachment. But it’s a funny book, too, very wry, and the Lady’s innumerable Rules—the Rules governing the behavior of Ladies of the Lake—made me laugh out loud more than once.

Booknotes: The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope

March 30, 2009 @ 7:03 pm | Filed under: ,

sherwoodringThe Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope.

Is there anything more promising than a novel that opens with a young person traveling to a mysterious ancestral home for the first time? The Children of Green Knowe, The Little White Horse; even, if you stretch it a little, Emily of New Moon. Delicious books with perfectly delicious beginnings.

The Sherwood Ring is a book of this sort, and it’s one of the deliciousest. The very moment Jane finished reading it, she was imploring me to begin, and I’m glad I heeded her plea. What a fabulous book: mystery, romance, humor, history. Most wonderful wonderful, out of all hooping.

Seventeen-year-old Peggy’s father has died and she’s been sent to live with her curmudgeonly uncle in upstate New York, at a (you guessed it) mysterious ancestral home called, delightfully and evocatively, Rest-and-Be-Thankful. Uncle Enos’s passion and lifelong obsession is Revolutionary War-era history; he has spent his life preserving the late-eighteenth-century aura and custom of the huge family home in which George Washington himself was reputed to have spent a night.

Not only is Rest-and-Be-Thankful rich in history, it has ghosts. At least, that’s what Peggy’s father tells her shortly before his death: family ghosts that not everyone can see.

“It’s not being able to see them himself that gets under [Enos’s] skin,” he tells Peggy. “Well, if I were a ghost I don’t know that I’d bother appearing to Enos either; but he seems to think that being the head of the family ought to have given him some sort of priority, and—the truth is, Peggy, if they do happen to get after you, it might be a good idea not to mention it. He’d never forgive you.”

Fortunately for Peggy, the ghosts do “get after her.” Hopelessly lost on the longish hike from train station to family estate, Peggy encounters a curiously dressed young woman on horseback, wrapped in a long red hooded cape—a surprising choice for a May afternoon, one might think. A greater surprise still will come later that day, when Peggy discovers a portrait of the same red-caped girl painted in 1773 by the great American artist John Singleton Copley.

This ghostly horsewoman points Peggy toward the correct fork in the road and promises that she’ll run into someone who can show her the rest of the way to Rest-and-Be-Thankful. And indeed Peggy does: a handsome young Englishman, a visiting scholar named Pat Thorne, is pulled over with car troubles on his way to see—who else?—Uncle Enos. He too is a historian, and he’s looking for information about a diary one of his ancestors was supposed to have written hundreds of years ago.

If Peggy is surprised at the gruff and dismissive manner in which her uncle greets her upon her arrival to her new home, she is even more surprised at his uncivil reaction to Pat Thorne’s arrival. “I have nothing whatsoever to say to you,” he glowers. “You will leave this house at once.” Pat, taken aback, politely retreats, but he’ll be back.

These are only the beginnings of the mysterious happenings that befall Peggy at Rest-and-Be-Thankful. Why, she hasn’t even met the dashing Continental Army officer yet, a genteel and amiable sort (I told you we quote that a lot!) who has quite a story to spin for her. And so begins the tale-within-a-tale, the high drama of the young officer’s long and eventful quest for a British officer-slash-guerrilla, a wily and charismatic underground agent whose schemes for disrupting supply lines and raiding storehouses are causing General Washington’s army no end of frustration, and may well turn the tide of the war in favor of the redcoats. This harrowing story is revealed to Peggy gradually, humorously, grippingly, by those ancestors of hers who actually lived the experience. And it seems that the more Peggy learns, the more mystery there is to puzzle out—especially regarding Uncle Enos’s apparent hatred of Pat Thorne.

Despite the abundance of ghosts, The Sherwood Ring is not at all creepy or terrifying. It’s a mystery, not a horror story. And a darn good mystery it is, with twists in all the right places.

The Real Baby Doesn’t Like That

March 29, 2009 @ 1:41 pm | Filed under: ,

daisybabyThe answer to another of our bookquotes: Daisy Thinks She’s a Baby by Lisa Kopper.

Is this book still in print? Shoot, I just looked it up and it isn’t. Gahhh! This always happens. We love this book to pieces—almost literally; after thirteen years of heavy use by five children (so far—Huck isn’t quite there yet), our copy of this absolute peach of a book is looking a bit loveworn—and I go to rave about it on the blog and then I find out it isn’t in print anymore and used copies are selling for almost thirty bucks on Amazon.


Okay, libraries then: that’s your best hope, and yard sales. If you have very young children, especially in the two-to-four-year-old range, this is one of those perfect picture books you can read over and over and over (and you’ll have to) without getting sick of it or skipping half the words and incurring the Wrath of Toddler. It’s sweet, simple, funny, endearing.

Daisy’s the family dog, and clearly she’s one of those dogs who thinks she’s a people. She rides in the stroller; “the real baby doesn’t like that.” Daisy eats in the high chair; the real baby is not amused. The real baby, in fact, takes a dim view of all of Daisy’s antics—until finally Daisy does something not at all baby-like, something very special and properly doggish, and the real baby likes THAT very much indeed.

The colored-pencil illustrations are charming and full of quiet comedy. The real baby’s grumpy expressions are right on the money. Every one of my children has loved the comfortably simple and repetitive text. And after more than a decade in the company of Daisy and Baby, we find ourselves referring to the baby’s opinions all the time. Mommy says butter must be spread with a knife instead of scooped up with fingers? The real baby doesn’t like that. Big sister points out that we mustn’t lick our little brother’s head? The real baby doesn’t like that. Daddy scoops up a child for a ticklefest? The real baby LOVES that!

Book Quotes Revealed

March 28, 2009 @ 11:16 am | Filed under:

Most of our book quotes were identified by readers in the comments. Only three stumped everyone, I think! I’ll save those for last.


Beth correctly recognized that as one of good old Puddleglum’s besotted mutterings during his brief unfortunate lapse in The Silver Chair. Scott does the best Puddleglum voice: sounds a bit like the narrator from Our Town. Ayup. Puddleglum is trying to defend his honor as a respectable marshwiggle. Nothing is ever “respectable” around here: it’s always reshpeckabiggle. (I’ve often thought it would make a perfect blog name.)

“George Washington’s hogs, on the other hand, were a genteel and amiable sort.”

The Activities Coordinator knows her David Small! Small is one of our favorite picture book authors & illustrators, and I think of all his books George Washington’s Cows is the best.

“Ohhhh, Betsy’s ten tomorrow
and then all of us are ten!
We will all be ten tomorrow,
we will all be ladies then.”

Lots of Betsy-Tacy fans in the comments! Kudos to Gail and KimN for pegging this as the song that Betsy, Tacy, and Tib sing in Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill.

“She went boneless.”

One more example of Mo Willems’s genius: this perfect description of toddler behavior from Knuffle Bunny, as Anne and Mamacrow recognized.

“Call in Mr. Pye!”

We used to quote this one all the time, but it had fallen out of regular use until recently. Kate and Sarah nailed it as a line from Ginger Pye. The Pye kids’ father is a “famous bird man,” and whenever anyone in the government has a bird-related question out goes the cry to “Call in Mr. Pye!” When my big girls were little and Scott was a work-at-home freelancer, we echoed the cry anytime we needed to summon Scott from his basement office for heroic tasks like Opening Jars or Dealing With Horrible Insects.

The three quotes no one recognized are from three of our favorite picture books!

“When the bear arrived, of course, there weren’t enough macaroons to go around.”

I’ve quoted this one here before. It’s from James in the House of Aunt Prudence by Timothy Bush, a book of immense story and few words. What words there are, are choice.

I think I’ll save the other two books for posts of their own—not to be a tease, but just because my hands-free time for typing has run out for the day.


March 27, 2009 @ 11:55 am | Filed under:

Some of the books I saw kids reading this week:

Doom Patrol (Showcase Presents comics collection)
By the Shores of Silver Lake
Little Town on the Prairie

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
Dear Mr. Blueberry
Happy Little Family
by Rebecca Caudill
Ramona’s World
Dr. Jenner and the Speckled Monster
Betsy and the Emperor
The Arrow Over the Door

Karen by Marie Killilea

I Think I’ll Keep Her

March 26, 2009 @ 6:58 am | Filed under:

Jane asks eagerly how far I am in The Sherwood Ring.

“At the part where Barbara __________” (What, you think I’d give it away? Fie upon spoilers!)

I groan to indicate my state of suspense. This is a really gripping part of the book. All parts of this book have been gripping, but this is the grippingest so far.

“Oh, Mom!” cries Jane in sympathy.

And offers to babysit the little ones this morning so I can finish the book.

That’s my girl.

Answers to yesterday’s book quotes coming later. A lot of them have been guessed correctly already. And check out the comments for a few stumpers from other readers. I thought of another one this morning. It’s an easy one, a line we say so often I can’t believe it wasn’t the first quote to pop into my head yesterday—

“We’ll eat you up, we love you so!”

(Usually modified to “I,” applied with great frequency to toddlers and nice fat babies.)

Book Quotes We Use a Lot

March 25, 2009 @ 8:31 am | Filed under:

“I have no more run in me.” That’s Good, That’s Bad by Joan M. Lexau, illustrated by Aliki

“Koala Lou, I DO love you!”Koala Lou by Mem Fox

“Bub.”—from the book of the same title by Natalie Babbit

“Never tease a weasel, not even once or twice…”

“Pish, posh, said Heironymus Bosch.”—quote and title by Nancy Willard. Also:

“‘Forever and ever, my nibble, my nosh,
Till death do us part,’ said Heironymus Bosch.”

—and readers of Scott’s blog will recognize his sometimes-tagline taken from the same much-loved book:

“Let the crickets rejoice and the mantises pray.”

Here’s some for you to guess:


“Though she be but little, she is fierce.” (A play, not a book. With our Rilla in the house, we use this one all the time.)

“The real baby doesn’t like that.”

“George Washington’s hogs, on the other hand, were a genteel and amiable sort.”

“When the bear arrived, of course, there weren’t enough macaroons to go around.”

“Where else does an old turtle crossing the road make all the difference in the world?”

This one is one of Alice’s new favorites, with good reason: “She went boneless.”

“Call in Mr. Pye!”

“Tut, tut, it looks like rain.” (A gimme.)

“We’re meant to be invisible.” (That one’s really hard. I’ll be shocked if anyone gets it. It’d be easier to guess if you could hear it spoken out loud.)

The day before my daughters’ tenth birthdays, I always sing:

“Ohhhh, (child’s name) is ten tomorrow
and then all of us are ten!
We will all be ten tomorrow,
we will all be ladies then.”

I wrote Scott at work to ask him, because I was blanking, what book our oft-used line “Of course, he was not mistaken” came from. He reminded me it’s not from a book at all. It’s from Harvey. Of course.

I’ll add more as I think of them!


March 23, 2009 @ 7:07 pm | Filed under:

Sorry about that rogue Twitterlog that cluttered up your Reader this afternoon. The auto-post went AWOL for two weeks, so I did it manually yesterday. And then today it shows up out of the blue. All righty, then.

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