Posts Tagged ‘books I adore’

Super Moon Books

March 22, 2011 @ 3:58 pm | Filed under: ,

If I really had it together, I’d have pulled some of these books out last week in anticipation of the Supermoon. Truth is, I didn’t even think of these in connection with Saturday’s moon until, well, just now. I did think, sometime Sunday afternoon, Ooh, we should read Owl Moon to Rilla and Wonderboy, but I forgot about thinking that until just now.

What did happen is I was hunting for a package of address labels I thought I’d stashed on a shelf in Wonderboy’s room (which doubles as Scott’s office), and although I didn’t find the labels, I found half a dozen picture books I really love and don’t remember reading in the past year. I gave up my label hunt, addressed the darn package by hand, and snagged Rilla for a readaloud.

That accounts for the first two books in this post. The third one is a quiet marvel of a book and we met it for the first time the weekend before last, when my perfectly scrumptious wee goddaughter came for a visit.

But first:

Little Bird and the Moon Sandwich by Linda Berkowitz.

This, along with its companion, Alphonse, Where Are You?, has enchanted each one of my children in turn. I actually kind of squealed when I found it yesterday because I hadn’t seen it in a while and I knew Rilla wouldn’t remember it and it’s such a delight to share it for another first time. Alphonse the goose is the friend and protector of Little Bird. They gaze at the great round moon together, and Alphonse remarks that it’s made of swiss cheese, and Little Bird would like to eat it but alas, it’s glued to the sky. Except—they round a bend and there’s the big swiss-cheese moon floating in the pond. All the geese crowd around, commencing a frenzy of splashing and diving, and though their efforts don’t capture the moon, they do dredge up a swiss cheese sandwich—and if it weren’t for Alphonse, Little Bird would be left without so much as a nibble. I love the gentle interplay between the big goose and the little one, and I wish I had a record of Rilla’s deep chuckle the first time she heard the words “moon sandwich.”

When Moon Fell Down by Linda Smith, illustrated by Kathryn Brown.

It’s funny how you connect books with the people who introduced them to you. Just as I always think of my friend Joan when I read one of the Alphonse and Little Bird books—I think she was the editor of them, and I know they were, like Brave Georgie Goat, gifts from her—my original Little House editor, the great Alix Reid, comes to mind every time I pick up When Moon Fell Down. “You’re going to love this one, Lissa,” she told me. “It’s one of my favorite books I ever worked on.”


fell upon a farmer’s lawn,
rolled about in sheer delight
on fields he’d only shined upon.”

Before long he encounters—who else?—a cow, and the two of them take off for a stroll through town. Moon has never seen the world from this vantage point before; until now, he “didn’t know a horse had knees.” There’s a lush, hushed, magical quality to this book—and thinking over past Rillabooks entries, I think that’s something I’m often drawn to in a picture book, partly because the magic holds my little ones rapt. This art is, well, luminous, and the combination of whimsy and wonder seems to appeal to the children just as much as it does to me.

Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes.

I’m a big Kevin Henkes fan but somehow I’d missed this book until my pal Kristen pulled it out of her bag last weekend! It’s a great favorite of my little goddaughter, who is just eighteen months old, and Huck and Rilla swooped in upon it immediately. The black-and-white art is magnificent. Like Little Bird above, Kitten spies the big white moon and wants a taste. It looks, after all, just like a gigantic saucer of milk. Kitten climbs a tree, splashes in a pond, tries everything to get to that bowl, to no avail…We were almost as sad to say goodbye to Kitten as we were to Vivi and her parents. This is a book I might just have to add to our collection.

(Which is funny because as godmother, I consider it one of my responsibilities to help curate Vivi’s collection. But on this visit, it was Vivi who introduced us to two keepers. The other was Not a Box by Antoinette Portis, which I keep wanting to rave about here. I fell madly in love with that book. I mean like A Visitor for Bear level, The Maggie B. level, Christina Katerina level—that last is a particularly apt comparison, as you’ll see if you check it out. It’s the kind of deceptively simple artistry that really takes massive talent to pull off, and it speaks so exactly to a child’s sensibility. “What are you doing in that box?” asks the narrator. “It’s NOT a box!” replies the bunny, blasting off in its spaceship.)

(Here, I was going to save it for another post, but now that I’ve gushed about it this much I might as well show you the cover. Only you’ve all seen it already, I bet. I don’t know how I missed it. I mean, look, it’s got the Geisel honor medal! Where’ve I been?)

Now I’ve gone and blown my whole moon theme. This is what happens, though; one book leads to another. I suppose the common thread for all the books in this post is that they came to us by way of dear friends. We can pretend that’s what I was going for the whole time.

Oh but I was going to mention two other moon books we love but haven’t read in a while…I mentioned Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon at the top of this post, and When Moon Fell Down reminded me of The Moon Jumpers, a strange and lyrical little book by Janice May Udry, gorgeously illustrated by Maurice Sendak. I remember Rilla going through a Moon Jumpers attachment about six months ago, but I haven’t seen it in a while. This might be the week to pull it back off the shelf.

I don’t know who gave us those two books. I think I bought Owl Moon when I worked at a children’s bookstore, or if not I bought it because it was part of Before Five in a Row or something. The Moon Jumpers, I must have just picked up myself because I loved the art. I really am crazy about all that early Sendak work.

Two of Our Family Favorites

March 15, 2011 @ 3:44 pm | Filed under: ,

A Week of Raccoons by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger.

Earlier this week Rilla was making a list of things that make her happy and she wrote this book down as number three. (To give you an idea of scale: #1) Daisies. #2) Daisy, presumably from Wow Wow Wubzy. #4) Grandma and Grandpa.) I concur; A Week of Raccoons makes me happy too.

A nice old farmer and his nice old wife keep discovering evidence of raccoon mischief: broken petunia pots, a toppled humming- bird feeder, trampled and devoured corn. Each night the farmer baits a trap and when, every morning, he finds a new raccoon licking peanut butter off its whiskers in the cage, he loads the cage into his truck and drives to the piney woods (past the tumbled-down log house, around the apple tree, across the stream, etc) to set the critter loose.

All week, the growing community of raccoons is trying to recall the route back to the farm. The Monday raccoon only remembers the last bit, but the Tuesday raccoon knows what came before that, and the Wednesday raccoon can retrace the route as far as the stream…by the end of the week, the critters are ready to depart the piney woods and make the backward journey. Luckily for the elderly couple, there are some tasty treats to lure the hungry raccoons off the path along the way.

Rilla loves the repetition, the whimsy, and the appearance of some very large grubs near the end of the story. She also greatly enjoys Lynn Munsinger’s art; these are some mighty cute and expressive raccoons. Matter of fact, somewhere around here I have a notebook full of my attempts to copy them, circa 1997.

Mordant’s Wish by Valerie Coursen.

I wish I could remember who gave us this book years ago! It was published by Henry Holt, so it can’t have been any of my Harper or Penguin buddies…However it came to us, it’s a book we treasure.

Mordant is a mole who lives on the lonely top of a green hill. One day he sees a cloud shaped like a turtle and wishes (on a dandelion) that the turtle were real so they could become friends. The dandelion wisps sail off on the wind and swirl past the eyes of a bicycle rider, making him think of snow, which puts him in the mood for a snow cone from the little handcart not far away. His snow cone drips out the bottom, forming a puddle shaped a bit like a hat that belongs to the aunt of a bird perched nearby, and off he flies to visit her. This domino chain of events continues in a funny, fresh, and deeply satisfying manner. Rilla was enchanted, just as her sisters were in years past.

Like A Week of Raccoons, Mordant’s Wish is (alas) out of print, but both are well worth tracking down in a library or used bookstore.

Eight Beloved Books

February 28, 2011 @ 6:48 pm | Filed under: ,

After last week’s startling discovery that Rilla had not yet made the acquaintance of Miss Rumphius (that she remembered, at least), I realized there were a number of unmissable picture books that she has, in fact, missed up to now. This is what happens when you’re the fifth child. She listens in on the older kids’ read-alouds—The Hobbit, The Strictest School in the World, Tom Sawyer—and there has been a steady stream of newly published picture books in her world, thanks in large part to the review copies I often receive. But even for a reading family, there are only so many books you can cram into a day.

Which is why Rilla made it almost to her fifth birthday without meeting Mr. and Mrs. Mallard and the Lupine Lady.

I’ve been combing through the shelves in search of other must-reads, and there’s now a two-foot-high bookstack in front of the (never used) fireplace. Several of those appear in this week’s list of recent reads.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. Top of the list in every respect. “I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people KNOW more…though I know that IS the noblest ambition…but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me…to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.” That’s Anne Shirley, not Alice Rumphius, but they’re kindred spirits, aren’t they?

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. Okay, I’ve been reading this book aloud for fifteen years, and I’m still undecided. Ouack: “Oh-ack”? Or “Wack”? I usually opt for the latter, but that kind of throws off the whole alphabetical rhythm. Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack…Wack?

Hairs/Pelitos by Sandra Cisneros, illustrated by Terry Ybanez. The text of this gorgeous, lush, evocative book is a paragraph from Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. Rilla, like all three of her older sisters before her, is spellbound by its rich colors, rolling cadences, and the comfortable family warmth of this unusual book that is more prose poem than story, a little girl’s description of all the kinds of hair in her family. “My mother’s hair, my mother’s hair like little rosettes, like little candy circles…”

Koala Lou by Mem Fox, illustrated by Pamela Lofts. Honestly, I think my little ones care less about the plot of this book than they do the mama koala’s cooing refrain: “Koala Lou, I do love you.” Me, I’m crazy about the colored pencil drawings.

Bub: Or the Very Best Thing by Natalie Babbitt. I pulled this one off the shelf for the aforementioned big stack of classics, but I knew I wouldn’t be reading it to Rilla myself. This one is reserved for the daddy of the family. It’s a special favorite of ours, and if I gave things stars, I would give it as many as I possibly could. An out-of-print gem. The king and queen want the “best thing” for their young prince, but what does that mean? Their quest for the answer takes them all over the castle—but it seems the young prince has known the answer all along.

Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? by Nancy White Carlstrom, illustrated by Bruce Degen. All you Five in a Row mothers out there just got a wave of nostalgia, didn’t you? 😉 Rilla faintly remembered it—it had been perhaps a year since it last found its way off the shelf into our laps. My little boys adore Jesse Bear too. Reading this with Rilla the other night was a particularly sweet moment for me; the text’s rhythm and repetition gave her just the right footing for a sudden spurt forward in reading. She took over on page two and what-will-you-wear-in-the-morning’d her way through the book. I could listen to that a hundred times in a row. (As long as you don’t make me count the stars.)

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don & Audrey Wood. This one’s a Huck magnet. Rilla’s frankly a bit suspicious: she’s pretty sure the narrator is putting one over on the little mouse. Didn’t stop her from asking for it six times in succession.

Brave Georgie Goat by Denis Roche. When I open this book, it doesn’t matter which child is on my lap: I’m 27 again, and Jane’s a two-year-old in a hospital bed. Our dear friend Joan Slattery, a Knopf editor at the time, brought Jane this book on one of her visits to the cancer ward, and we both fell head over heels in love with it. Scott too, actually. It’s difficult to convey the sweet simplicity of these three short stories about matters of vital importance to very small goats and girls. If Mommy Goat goes, how can you be sure she’ll come back? What do you do when your best friend and constant companion, your beloved red coat, doesn’t fit you anymore? And what are all those ominous shapes and sounds in your room when the lights go out? The grownup goats in these brief tales (Mommy and Grandpa) are a gentle and steady source of comfort for a little kid who is beginning to take notice of a very big world.

Recently Read to Rilla

January 5, 2011 @ 7:46 pm | Filed under: ,

Never Tease a Weasel by Jean Conder Soule.

My very favorite book when I was a preschooler, made all the more wonderful by the art of the inimitable George Booth. “Never tease a weasel, not even once or twice. A weasel wouldn’t like it, and teasing isn’t nice!” This was one of the first books I learned by heart. Loads of fun with language, and that refrain is irresistible.

Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile.

Bink reminds me of Tib: tiny, fluffy, determined. Gollie is just this side of an Edward Gorey character. Which is to say: I adore ’em both. Rilla won’t let me read this one to her just once. Gotta be two or three times in a row. A smart, funny, sophisticated Early Reader—which sounds like an oxymoron but isn’t. Rilla is captivated by the intense personalities of Bink and Gollie, and by the ups and downs of their relationship. Every time we read it, she wants to discuss and discuss. In a way, this is her first book-club book: that book you love so much you just have to talk about it.

Mr. Pusskins and Little Whiskers: Another Love Story by Sam Lloyd.

Poor Mr. Pusskins, tormented by that rogueish kitten, and blamed for his hijinks to boot. Wonderful expressions on the feline faces here. Rilla is smitten with cat and kitten.

Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas.

My SIL recommended this one and I bet I’ve read it a hundred times so far this week. No exaggeration. Huge hit with the three youngest, especially Rilla who is in a big rhyme phase. Bonus: vacuum cleaner sucking noises.

How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham.

One of my favorites from my stint as a first-round CYBILs picture book judge in 2008. Now a repeat request from Rilla, who loves the quiet, earnest tone of this story about a boy who rescues an injured pigeon. The kind of book you pore over and talk about, heads together.

Hooray for Grandma Jo by Thomas McKean.

A family favorite. Grandma Jo loses her glasses the night before Little Lloyd is due for a visit. That’s how she happens to bring home an escaped zoo lion instead. She plies her furry visitor with ice cream and dancing, and they have a fine old time, managing to thwart a burglar while they’re at it. Big belly laughs from my littles over this one.

More book recommendations here.

Books We Love #I’ve Lost Count

October 6, 2010 @ 10:14 am | Filed under: ,

Miss Suzy by Miriam Young, illustrated by Arnold Lobel.

Some days are Miss Suzy days. (When you’re a four-year-old girl, pretty much every day is a Miss Suzy day.) Today is gray and drizzly, a rarity for us here in sunny SoCal. Especially in October, which I’ve been recalibrated (after four years here) to think of as That Baking Hot Month When It’s All About the Santa Anas. Wildfire month. But not today. Today is chilly, blankety weather. I was tempted to call off the older kids’ morning activity, just so I wouldn’t have to venture out from under the quilt. But I didn’t. Out we went, and home we came, and the baby went down for an early nap, and Rilla and Wonderboy and I cuddled up to visit Miss Suzy.

When I open its pages, I’m swept again with the same wave of love I felt as a small girl. Oh how I adore Miss Suzy’s house. The firefly lamps, the moss rug, the acorn cups. Please can’t I live there? I feel now exactly as I did at age—I don’t know, four? five? six? When did I encounter this book? Who read it to me?

Those horrible red squirrels. I remember how sick I felt the first time I turned the page and saw that awful squirrel cracking Miss Suzy’s dear twig broom in half. How impressed I was by the grand, cobwebby dollhouse, and how well I understood Miss Suzy’s not-quite-contentment there, even after she’d tidied it up, even after she had the nice toy soldiers to mother. She could see the stars from her bed in the little house in the old oak tree, her poor little ransacked house overrun with the quarrelsome red squirrels.

Wonderboy enjoys the book well enough, but Rilla is as enchanted as ever I was. As I write this, I can hear her humming in the next room; she’s writing (and I quote) “my own version of Miss Suzy, a-cept it has a chickmunk instead of a squirrel.” I’m under orders not to peek until she’s ready.

I hope she includes the acorn cups.

4oth anniversary edition published by Purple House Press. Who the heck are Purple House Press? Oh my goodness, I just looked them up—I had no idea! They’re doing reprints of out-of-print children’s classics! They’re the folks who brought back Twig! Purple House Press, you are my new best friends!

More book recommendations here.

A Reader’s Guide to the Betsy-Tacy Books

October 2, 2010 @ 7:58 am | Filed under: ,

The blog A Library Is the Hospital of the Mind is hosting a Maud Hart Lovelace reading challenge during the month of October. Pick out some Betsy-Tacy or Deep Valley books and skip on over to sign up. Participants will have a chance to win copies of HarperPerennial’s brand-new reissues of Emily of Deep Valley and (in a double volume, two books in one) Carney’s House Party / Winona’s Pony Cart. You know, the book I’ve been squeeing about for months, the one I had the thrill-me-to-my-very-bones honor of writing the foreword for? That one!

Not sure where to start?

Here’s a rundown of the Betsy-Tacy books and their Deep Valley companions.

Book 1: Betsy-Tacy. Betsy Ray’s story—which is very, very similar to Maud’s real life story—kicks off on her fifth birthday, the day she gets to know her lifelong best friend, Tacy Kelly. From that day forth they are inseparable, which is why the neighbors always call them Betsy-Tacy. That’s the first book: very young girls having sweet and funny adventures in small-town Minnesota at the turn of the last century. It’s a lovely read-aloud for small girls, though I always give other mothers a heads-up about the death of Tacy’s baby sister, which happens quite early in the book and is very sensitively and quietly handled.

In Book 2, Betsy-Tacy and Tib, Betsy and Tacy roam farther from home, all the way to the grand chocolate-colored house a few blocks away—where they meet Tib, whose spritelike looks belie her blunt and practical nature. This is the year the girls learn to fly, explore the Mirror Palace, and concoct Everything Pudding. It’s the year Tacy has diphtheria and Tib and Betsy cut off their hair in solidarity. It’s a year full of exactly the right sort of mischief.

In Book 3, Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, the girls are the extremely sophisticated age of ten. Venturing to the other side of the Big Hill is a big deal—here, I’ve already written a big long post about it.

Book 4: Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. Now the girls are twelve—old enough to go all over town by themselves. Christmas shopping, Mr. Poppy’s Opera House, a friendly rivalry with spunky Winona Root, the newspaperman’s daughter. That’s the year the first horseless carriage comes to town, as well as a troupe of traveling actors. Betsy, Tacy, and Tib get involved with the play and there is a delicious bit of family drama as well.

Those are the four “young” Betsy-Tacy books (collected now in a beautiful Treasury edition with a foreword by Judy Blume). Chronologically, Winona’s Pony Cart fits in that group; the central event is Winona Root’s 8th birthday. She gets herself into a bit of a scrape having to do with her party, and she’s not the only member of her family who makes a misstep, and what I love about this book—probably the most overlooked of Maud’s Deep Valley stories—is the earnestness with which Winona and her parents strive to recover from their individual errors of judgment. I was so happy to get to unpack this book more thoroughly in the foreword to the reissue. Winona is a girl to remember.

Now come Betsy’s high-school-and-beyond books.

Freshman year: Heaven to Betsy, which I wrote about here. New house, new school, new friends; Sunday night lunches, dances, skating parties. Joe Willard at Butternut Center. A crush on Tony; a Betsy struggling with moods and competing wishes. A Betsy who writes but doesn’t quite know what to do with her writing, doesn’t know how to reconcile the need to slip away and work with the desire to be in the thick of the merry-making crowd.

Sophomore year: Betsy in Spite of Herself. It’s a makeover story! One of my favorite plot devices. Betsy is determined to reinvent herself into a creature more glamorous, more poised, more devastating to boys. Only trouble is, her own irrepressible self keeps bubbling up and taking over. This is the year of the fascinating Christmas visit to Tib’s German relatives in Milwaukee, the year of Phil Brandish and his red auto.

Junior year: Betsy Was a Junior. Sorority fever. The joys of being part of a clique—and the crash that comes when you realize you’ve forgotten about the feelings of people outside your in-crowd. I think Betsy does some of her best growing up in this book, especially after that incident with her little sister Margaret and the stove.

Senior year: Betsy and Joe. My favorite, because, well, Betsy and Joe.

After high school, there’s Betsy and the Great World—she got off to a rough start in college and her folks wisely surmise that someone who wants to be a writer might benefit from travel. So off she goes to Europe by steamer. Things are rocky with Joe, and that undercurrent of tension gives her some perspective as she explores Munich, Venice, London, and more. A beautiful book. And oh that perfect telegram!

And then, ever so satisfyingly, Betsy’s Wedding. I adore this book. Rings so true. The fun of finding and fitting out your first apartment, the comic misadventures of learning to run your own home. And (especially this) there’s Betsy’s challenge to make room for her writing, and to give Joe room for his. As a writer married to a writer, this book hits me where I live.

Two more Deep Valley gems

Chronologically, Carney’s House Party fits in between Betsy and Joe and Betsy and the Great World. Carney is one of Betsy’s best high-school friends, a year ahead of Betsy, Tacy, and Tib in school. Her famous house party takes place the summer after her freshman year at Vassar. Her somewhat snobby roommate, Isobel, comes to Deep Valley for an extended visit with Carney’s family. Rounding out the party are Carney’s best friend, Bonnie Andrews, home from Paris, and in a surprise appearance, good old Betsy Ray. It’s hard for me to contain my remarks about this book to one little paragraph—though I managed it before when I wrote “Carney’s House Party is one of my favorite of Maud Hart Lovelace’s books—I love how honestly Carney grapples with the complicated process of sorting out her college self from her hometown self.” Yeah, that’s it. I got to indulge in a meatier exploration of what makes this book tick in the foreword I wrote for the reissue.

And then there’s Emily of Deep Valley. I’ve written about her at length. Short version: Emily’s a quieter sort than Betsy and Carney; she lives on the edge of the Slough with her elderly grandfather, the only family she has left. All her friends are heading off to college but Emily won’t leave her grandpa alone—a difficult decision, and a right one. Loneliness and depression set in, but she (famously) musters her wits to combat them. There is much to love about this book, but if I had to pick a favorite part, it would be the relationships that develop between Emily and the Little Syrian boys, and what comes of their connection. HarperPerennial’s lovely reissue of Emily of Deep Valley, with a moving foreword by author Mitali Perkins, plus historical material by Maud Hart Lovelace experts Julie Schrader and Amy Dolnick, as well as a bio of illustrator Vera Neville, will hit the shelves on October 12th. If you haven’t read this rather incredible book it would be a perfect choice for the MLH reading challenge.

Of course you know I’m hoping you’ll read Carney and Winona too so we can gab about them!

Related posts:

Emily of Deep Valley
Heaven to Betsy! High-school-and-beyond books being reissued! (Sept 2009)
Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill
Betsy-Tacy booksigning at ALA Midwinter
Betsy-Tacy e-books!
The Betsy-Tacy Songbook
Interview with Mitali Perkins, Jennifer Hart, and me about Maud’s books
Photos of my visit to the real Deep Valley, as chronicled by Margaret in Minnesota
Why I love Carney
A Reader’s Guide to Betsy-Tacy

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

May 12, 2010 @ 7:51 pm | Filed under:

I Capture the Castle.

Read it. (You said I should.)

Loved it. (You knew I would!)

Shall we talk?

One afternoon when we were having tea in the garden, [Father] had the misfortune to lose his temper with Mother very noisily just as he was about to cut a piece of cake. He brandished the cake-knife at her so menacingly that an officious neighbour jumped the garden fence to intervene and got himself knocked down. Father explained in court that killing a woman with our silver cake-knife would be a long, weary business entailing sawing her to death, and he was completely exonerated of any intention of slaying Mother. The whole case seems to have been quite ludicrous, with everyone but the neighbor being very funny. But Father made the mistake of being funnier than the judge and, as there was no doubt whatever that he had seriously damaged the neighbour, he was sent to prison for three months….(I can remember the cake-knife incident perfectly—I hit the fallen neighbour with my little wooden spade. Father always said this got him an extra month.)

Dodie Smith (1896-1990) was an English novelist and playwright. I was quite surprised to discover that she was the author of The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Now I’m imagining that plot (I only know the Disney version) told in her irresistible prose, and I’m dying to read it. Are all her books as captivating as I Capture the Castle? Where has she been all my life?

From the Archives: The Firelings by Carol Kendall

March 18, 2010 @ 10:34 am | Filed under:

Originally posted in September, 2005.

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.

Related post:

The Gammage Cup

Booknotes: The Kitchen Madonna

January 7, 2010 @ 8:31 pm | Filed under:

The Kitchen Madonna by Rumer Godden

Gregory never forgot things—”He’s like a small elephant,” said Father—and a week later, while Gregory, Janet, and Marta were having tea in the kitchen, he took his chance. Marta had made a wonderful cake-tart of apricots glazed with jam and they had eaten and drunk and laughed. Marta’s usually sallow cheeks were quite red; her eyes, which were often so dull, were bright. There was not a trace of sadness in the air until Gregory put down his cup and asked in his small, quiet way, “What did you have in your kitchen, Marta, that we don’t have in ours?”

Oh, I didn’t know, I didn’t know! The Kitchen Madonna has been in my pile for months. One of you, someone out there, wrote about it a while back, and whatever you said made me hunt up a used copy. It arrived old and drab and worn, much like the Marta of the story, and I stuck it on a shelf and forgot about it. It turned up during a housecleaning last week, and I picked it quite absently this afternoon—and wound up sobbing my way through it. Oh my.

The baby was asleep in my lap and Wonderboy, who is feverish today, slumped against my shoulder, dozing, while beside us the four girls played a Wii game. I ought to have been up getting dinner on. I ought to have been doing a good many things, but I fell into that book and still haven’t climbed back out. I’m staring at a picture, a crooked golden crown, a painted blue sky, a flickering red lamp.

It’s Rumer Godden, so of course I expected it to be a good story, a moving one even. But just how moving, I had no idea. And that’s all I’m going to say about it—here. We can talk more in the comments, if you like.

Like the stable in Narnia, some things are bigger on the inside than you’d ever guess from their (old, worn, drab) exteriors.