Thanks to everyone for the comments on last week’s post. It was fun to see what you’d like to hear more about. I think I take some of those topics for granted and assume people are tired of hearing me chatter about tidal homeschooling and whatnot. 🙂 I really appreciate your feedback and look forward to diving into the topics you raised.
I’m coming up bust on the most pressing question, though—details on the washi tape in that photo. I can’t remember where it came from! I’ll see if I can track it down. 🙂
I finished reading Ace, the Very Important Pig to Huck and Rilla last week. They really enjoyed it, although they didn’t find it quite as engrossing as our last pig book, Charlotte’s Web. I mean, it’s kind of hard to compete with Charlotte. But Ace is fun and funny and was a lighthearted, enjoyable read. It works really well as a readaloud, too, which can’t be said about every good book. It’s a funny thing that some truly wonderful books just don’t take off when I try to read them aloud. That happened with The Gammage Cup, which is a huge favorite with my older kids—all of Carol Kendall’s books are winners. For sheer enjoyability, her writing style ranks up there with L. M. Montgomery and Elizabeth Goudge, as far as I’m concerned. Delicious prose and endearing, quirky characters. But…I think the very thing that makes her prose so magical—long, complicated sentences with rich description, and a lot of interior life for the characters—renders it difficult to the listening ear.
My older girls tore through Gammage and its sequel, The Whisper of Glocken, on their own. (The Firelings is my personal favorite of Kendall’s books, but I think my girls would vote for The Gammage Cup.) But as excited as I was to begin reading it to Huck and Rilla, and as excited as Rose and Beanie were for them to experience it, we bogged down after a couple of chapters. Then came a busy week and we didn’t make time for it at all, which is generally a good indicator that I haven’t picked the right book. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen, and I never have qualms about abandoning a book that isn’t making them beg for more. I’d rather they read it alone, later, and really enjoy it. I’m sure that’s what will happen with Gammage, because it’s so darn good.
Anyway, long story short (ha!), we had fun with Ace—lots of great voice fodder among the animals. Yesterday I again faced the exhilarating, momentous decision of The Next Book. I mean, this is just a huge event in my life, over and over. 🙂 My next read, our next read—oh the agony of decision!
I didn’t dither overlong this time around…a particular favorite had been on my mind, and it’s one I’m not sure I ever read aloud to the other kids. I think most of them beat me to it.
Actually, I’ve always thought of this as sort of a private book, one meant for solo immersion. But…it felt right. Huck may be a little young to care much about the quest Claudia is going to undertake. But he’s into it so far—the big sister/little brother dynamic, the exciting running-away plan, Jamie chewing up Claudia’s instruction note and having his teeth turn blue. Rilla, of course, is enchanted. Running away to an art museum (as Jamie ungrammatically puts it, to Claudia’s disgust)—well, if Rilla could live anywhere but home, an art museum would likely be her pick. She’s impressed with Claudia’s good sense.
I had to decide whether to let Rilla meet the Met as I did, through this book, or to show it to her on YouTube. Would a glimpse of the vastness of the building and the extent of the collection enhance her mental picture of Claudia and Jamie’s adventure, or is it better to create that picture completely in your own imagination? If you’ve not been to Manhattan yourself, I mean. In the end, conversation made the choice for me. We finished our chapter today and Rilla had questions, and next thing you know we were all watching Sister Wendy tour the museum.
I haven’t been to the Met since the 90s. I’m a bit NYC homesick now.
1. What else? Rebecca Caudill’s The Best-Loved Doll, of course! I adored this book as a child; I found the girl’s devotion to her scuffed-up, faded, frazzle-haired doll deeply touching and believable. Rose went through a long period of attachment to this book after I made her a (highly imperfect) cloth doll when she was seven or eight years old.
2. Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden. Has probably been read a cumulative total of thirty times by my three oldest daughters. Creating a house for two homesick Japanese dolls helps a girl get over her own homesickness. Lovely.
3. Among the Dolls by William Sleator. NOT a hit with everyone here: decidedly too creepy for some. But I remember the delicious chill up my spine when I (around age eleven) first encountered the sinister gleam in the eyes of that doll family out for revenge.
4. May I count a toy rabbit as a doll? Kate di Camillo’s melancholy The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, which captivated us as we drove across Oklahoma and Missouri last summer, seems to me to deserve a place on this list.
5. Raggedy Ann Stories by Johnny Gruelle. As I mentioned the other day, I don’t find Mr. Gruelle’s writing very easy to read aloud; it feels stilted and arch. But as a child I loved the world he portrayed, both inside Marcella’s nursery and out of it.
6. Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. An early Newbery Medal winner about a doll who packs a great deal of adventure into her “first hundred years.” I’d like to hear about her second century…
I’m still answering questions in the Open Thread comments (and will continue bumping longer answers to new posts, like this one). Stephanie wrote:
I would love some suggestions for my 2nd grader – we are going to be covering Ancient Civilizations (Greeks, Romans, China) this coming school year and I’m wondering what read-alouds or chapter books you would suggest to her. She is an advanced reader so I’m looking for both books that would challenge her plus ones I could read to her with younger siblings. I’ve never tackled Greek myths before and need some age appropriate guidance! : )
I replied with a list of things we’ve read & enjoyed. I know there are lots and lots of other good books on these topics; this is just a sort of top-of-my-head collection of standouts from my family’s experience. And linking things nicely takes more time than I have this afternoon, so pardon the dashed-off character of this post.
UPDATED 6/21 to add a book I forgot—possibly Rose’s favorite besides the D’Aulaire. Adventures of the Greek Heroes by Mollie McLean & Anne Wiseman, a book she read so often I had to buy a second copy to replace the tattered, brokenbacked, page-shedding first copy.
Odds Bodkin has an Iliad storytelling CD—we checked it out once years ago after hearing many rave reviews, but I think I jumped the gun; the graphic snakes-eating-the-daughters-of-Laocoön part in the beginning terrified my tiny girls. I’m sure they would listen with relish these days, bloodthirsty lasses that they are.
Oh, another big hit has been Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren (you can read it for free at Mainlesson.com). That one focuses more on historical figures (some legendary) than gods & goddesses.
(That post reminded me, duh, of Padraic Colum’s The Children’s Homer, which Rose devoured that year. And that was the year I read huge chunks of The Iliad and The Odyssey to the girls—my college texts, not children’s translations, and they were so into it! Ages eight, ten, thirteen, roughly, I think? I can’t be bothered to do the math. Anyway, I mention this not at all in a braggy sense but quite the opposite: there’s a reason those cracking good tales have endured for centuries. They GRAB you, even if you’re little.)
I know the original question asked for Ancient Rome & China suggestions too; will tackle those in separate posts.
**UPDATE! Be sure to see the comments for great suggestions from other readers!**
I next wrote in my Notebook that we had two very different kinds of grasshoppers that summer. We had the usual quick little emerald ones decorated all over with black speckles. And then there were huge bright yellow ones, twice as big, and torpid, so waxy and fat that they bowed down the grasses when they landed. I had never seen these before. I polled everyone in the house (except Grandfather) to find out where these odd yellow specimens had come from, but nobody could tell me. Not of them was the slightest bit interested.
As a last resort, I rounded up my courage and went out to my grandfather’s laboratory. I pushed back the burlap flap that served as a door and stood quaking on the threshold. He looked up in surprise from the counter where he was pouring a foul-looking brown liquid into various beakers and retorts. He didn’t invite me in. I stumbled through my grasshopper conundrum while he stared at me as if he was having trouble placing me.
“Oh,” he said mildly, I suspect that a smart young whip like you can figure it out. Come back and tell me when you have.”
Two grasshopper stories: not a coincidence. I started reading Calpurnia to Rose and Beanie today (with Rilla listening in and, after a bit, curled in my lap picking out words Scout Finch-fashion), and when it came time for me to read a story to Rilla, I went straight for McBroom. If I’d thought about it in time, I’d have hunted up Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices; there’s a grasshopper poem in there, I’m sure. In fact, I can picture a hopper on the cover. Maybe tomorrow. Today has rolled on to the next thing. Polly Pockets for those three girls, and the Shakespeare kids coming in a bit to work on costumes for our Twelfth Night performance.
Attempting to catch up on notes about things I’ve recently read and enjoyed…
Of all the curiosities that had been pitched out of Fooley’s balloon, the painting was the only one to fall into the Watercress River. When it had been fished out, nobody knew what it was, but fortunately Fooley had listed in his book the names of the curiosities, and when everthing else was checked off—like the family tree, the poem, the hourglass—it was obvious that the remaining item was a painting. The bath in the Watercress had done it no good. Though the colors of the squares, triangles, circles, and shields were clear enough, and the interconnecting black lines intact, the piece of parchment looked as though inky fingers had daubed it. But daubs or no daubs, the Periods (and therefore the ordinary villagers) adopted the painting for their own. Ever since Fooley’s time, a painting was a pattern of colored shaped connected by black lines, following the classical example.
The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall. Kendall is one of those writers whose voice I just plain enjoy. She’s a quirky storyteller with a taste for misfits. This novel is about the Minnipins, a tradition-loving people who live in small villages in an isolated mountain valley. Their distant ancestors settled here after escaping from terrible enemies about whom little is known, now, except their names: The Mushrooms. A few centuries ago, one of the Minnipins journeyed over the mountains and back via hot air balloon. Most of Fooley’s souvenirs—and memories—were scattered when he crash-landed back at home, but the remaining fragments have been carefully enshrined in a village museum and in the customs of his descendants. (You can tell them apart from the rest of the villagers by their names, which are taken from a scrap of paper that survived the crash and is now presumed to be a list of the friends Fooley made on his journey: Ave., Co., Wm., Eng., etc. “The Periods,” as these folk are reverently called, run the village.)
Folks in the village like things to be done just so, and they have little tolerance for eccentrics like Gummy the poet or lively Curley Green, who recklessly paints images of things from real life, in disregard of the proper classical style. (My kids love Kendall’s work, but her character names drive them up a wall.) When Muggles, the reluctant heroine, and her misfit friends begin to suspect the terrible Mushrooms are preparing for another attack, they have to persuade the rest of the villagers that the danger is real. Instead, they get kicked out of the village.
This is a fun read, somewhat formulaic but Kendall’s unusual voice makes the formula feel new. Beneath the storybook action is a quiet exploration of intellectual honesty; the villagers—especially The Periods—tend to do things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done, without pondering the origins of the customs. Muggles, though fearful of the social consequences of coloring outside the lines, can’t help but ask questions.
Earlier this week, Phoebe asked me to recommend books about the middle ages. Jane and I went around the house pulling things off shelves. The timing was perfect, because I’ve been on a bit of a middle ages jag myself, ever since reading The Perilous Gard (so good! read it!!) which though set in Tudor times, at the cusp of Elizabeth’s reign, is a retelling of the medieval Tam Lin ballad. I’ve listened to perhaps a dozen different renditions of Tam Lin over the past few weeks; this one by Bob Hay and the Jolly Beggars.
Here’s a list of the middle-ages-related books we found around the house. There are many other wonderful books about the middle ages, of course. (Rosemary Sutcliffe and Susan Cooper novels come to mind.) Feel free to leave your own lists (or links to your lists) in the comments!
Disclaimer: Not all of these are appropriate for younger children. ** indicates my family’s favorites
CLASSICAL MEDIEVAL STORIES including Arthurian tales
• Medieval Romances edited by Roger Sherman Loomis & Laura Hibbard Loomis (Perceval, Tristan & Isolt, Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, etc; this was the text for my college Medieval Lit class & has a highly quotable intro, which I shall indeed quote in the next post)
• Favorite Medieval Tales by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Troy Howell (Finn Maccoul, Beowulf, Arthur, Song of Roland, Sir Gawain & the Green Knight; Robin Hood, Chanticleer)**
• The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle
• The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White (Arthur)**
• The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck (based on the Malory)
• The Story of King Arthur by Tom Crawford (Dover Children’s Classics)
• The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer (of course!!)
NONFICTION, SORT OF (contains legend or considerable fictionalization)
• Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall
• The Sailor Who Captured the Sea by Deborah Nourse Lattimore (picture book: Book of Kells; illuminated manuscripts; monasteries; Vikings attack Ireland) (This maybe belongs just under fiction)
Around the Year: Once Upon a Time Saints by Ethel Pochocki (not all the saints depicted here are medieval, but many are) Our Island Saints by Amy Steedman Patrick, Saint of Ireland by Tomie de Paola (picture book; early middle ages)
Tomie de Paola also did picture books about St Francis and Sts Benedict & Scholastica, but I couldn’t find those today)
Brigid’s Cloak by Bryce Milligan, illustrated by Helen Cann
FOLK AND FAIRY TALES WITH A MEDIEVAL FLAVOR
• Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (picture book; although St George predates the middle ages, the dragon legend comes from Spenser’s The Faerie Queen  and is based on medieval writings–the Arthurian stories of Geoffrey of Monmouth ; Hyman’s illustrations have borders reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts)
• Chanticleer and the Fox by Barbara Cooney, based on the story from The Canterbury Tales**
• Heckedy Peg by Don & Audrey Wood (picture book; fairy tale; setting is a medieval village)**
• The Irish Cinder Lad by Shirley Climo, illustrated by Loretta Krupinski (picture book; Irish fairy tale; dragon, castle, princess)
• The Three Sorrowful Tales of Erin by F.M. Pilkington (Irish fairy tales; Children of Lir)
• The King of Ireland’s Son by Padraic Colum (novel-length Irish folk tale)**
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.