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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I’m taking Jane back up the coast to college this weekend, so I probably won’t get my Sunday book recap posted. So here’s a (less comprehensive) midweek update instead. This has been a week for finishing, it seems! Charlotte’s Web, Dancing Shoes, and Vanessa and Her Sister.
Huck was furious with E.B. White over Charlotte’s death. FURIOUS. “Why did he have to write it that way?” he stormed. “He could have made it go different.”
In other words, to quote Annie Wilkes from Misery: Cockadoodie.
By the next evening, his ire had subsided a bit. I read the final chapter over dinner (I’ve been feeding Huck and Rilla before the rest of the family, netting a little extra read-aloud time). Listening intently while poking shredded carrots through his bread-and-salami—don’t ask me, I’m just the narrator—he interrupted the penultimate paragraph to say, in a dreamy, Fern-like tone, “But this book should never end. It should go on forever.”
I know that feeling, my boy. Not about this book specifically, I have to admit—knowing what was coming, and knowing that this would likely be the last time I read Charlotte’s Web aloud to my own children, I had a lump in my throat through the final few chapters and it was something of a relief, albeit a bittersweet one, to make it through the Last Day and leave the fairgrounds behind. Goodbye, Charlotte, you good writer and true friend. Goodbye, Charlotte’s daughters.
Goodbye, very odd open-faced sandwich.
The next day, yesterday, presented me with a grave decision. What, pray tell, is the right book to choose after the epochal experience that is Charlotte’s Web? I pondered many options—the Rilla-shelf is, of course, full of possibilities. But this book has big shoes to fill. And a Huck-and-Rilla book is not the same thing as a Rilla-book. I pulled a dozen contenders off the shelf, considering.
At last I made a choice, and judging from the rapt reactions to the prologue and first chapter, it was a good call.
Unlike many (most?) of the books on the Rilla-shelf, this isn’t one I’ve reread a dozen times. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve revisited it since age eleven or so. But I’ve never forgotten it, the impact it had on me—Babbitt does that to one, of course. You never get over Tuck Everlasting. And I’ve never stopped thinking about conflicting perspectives and the strife that can result when people dig in too deeply to an opinion and don’t try to see others’ point of view. A thousand times in my life, I’ve taken a drink of cold water on a hot, thirsty day and flashed back to the cover of this book, or to an illustration near the end. It defined “delicious” for me.
(Hint: it does not involve a sandwich stuck full of carrot bits. But Huck may have a different perspective on that.)
These graphic novels have wide appeal, as you can see by the range of ages enjoying them at my house—kids ages six through fourteen, this week! One morning this week, I left Huck home with Jane while I took the other kids on an outing. Now, normally Huck would jump at the chance for a whole morning of undivided attention from his big sister, but on this day I returned home to find him sitting on the couch, engrossed in the third Zita book. “The entire time you were gone,” said Jane, answering my inquisitive glance. “He read the whole series, one after the other.” When a six-year-old boy gives up the chance to trounce his grown sister in Mario Kart, you know you’ve got a winning series.
On to picture books. I never manage to track them ALL, because the boys read them in bed at night. You should see the stack on their floor right now. Actually, no you shouldn’t, it’s a mess.
Beanie and Rilla have been using this book for inspiration and instruction for at least a couple of years now. Seems like it is ALWAYS out on a desk or table beside a pad of paper. Has to be their favorite how-to-draw resource. I’ve been trying to add more pictures to my bullet journal and I decided (inspired by SailorMimzy, Ms. Cendolife, and Chotskibelle on Instagram) to try to design chibi figures for our whole family. Naturally I turned to my resident experts for advice. I’m still a rookie compared to my girls, but I’m getting there.
Another beloved graphic novel. Sara Varon illustrated my friend Cecil Castellucci’s wonderful Odd Duck, a great favorite around here. Bake Sale is a quirky story about friendship. Yes, that’s an eggplant and a cupcake making…cupcakes. Rilla almost missed our Saturday night art date because she didn’t want to put this one down. (I’m seeing an absorbing-graphic-novel trend this week.)
I guess I didn’t mention this one last week or the week before, but I should have! This is Rilla’s history spine. We read a couple of chapters a week, with Huck listening in—one of our narration texts. This week was the Trojan War.
Oh, I just love this book so much. I asked Beanie to reread it as context for our early 20th-century studies. Betsy’s tour of Europe involves a romance in Venice, a long stay in Germany, and a hurried departure for home from England when the Great War begins. The final chapters involve one of my favorite moments in all of literature. I mean that without any hyperbole at all. It’s even better than the end of Pride and Prejudice.
Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. Read by: Wonderboy (in progress).
This book makes the list twice this week! Rilla and I are still listening to the audiobook (below) during our Saturday-night art dates. I pulled out the hard copy to check how much we had left, and Wonderboy wanted to read it. He’s slowly making his way through. Fun fact about the edition pictured here: I’m pretty sure this was the first book I ever wrote cover copy for.
UPDATE: I am informed that Jane, age 20, saw this book lying on a table and reread it this week as well. 🙂
Storm Thief by Chris Wooding. Read by: me (in progress).
Rose asked me to read this—one of her favorite books. I’m only a chapter in so far, but it’s gripping. I’ll report back later.
My bedtime Kindle reading is this fictionalized tale of Virginia Woolf and her sister, as told by Vanessa. So far: fascinating and fraught. After I finished To the Lighthouse I was hungry for background on Woolf, and I found this in my queue of digital review copies. Perfect timing. More to come on this one too, I’m sure.
Books Continued from Last Week:
Beanie’s lit class (which I teach) finished a two-week discussion of An Old-Fashioned Girl. Alcott is so funny—this is such a heavy-handed, moralistic book, quite preachy in places, with absolutely zero subtlety in its contrast of simple, wholesome, “old-fashioned” ways of bringing up children (especially girls) and the unhealthy “modern” practices she observed in the middle- and upper-middle class East Coast society of her day. And yet…despite the many anvils she drops all over the place, I am drawn in, I get wrapped up in the characters’ ups and downs. My group of 14-year-old girls found much to discuss in the contrasting upbringings of Fanny and Polly, and in the vision Alcott paints of a “future woman”—”strong-minded, strong-hearted, strong-bodied, strong-souled,” she says—envisioning us, the girls and women of generations to come.
Next up for this group: Sarah Orne Jewett.
We’re nearing the end of Charlotte’s Web—too soon, too soon! When we left off, the crickets were singing about the end of summer, and everyone’s preparing for the county fair. “Summer is over and gone,” sang the crickets. Good-bye, summer, good-bye, goodbye!”
Jane: —The Naming
—Bella at Midnight
—Things Not Seen
—Things Hoped For
—Things That Are, these last three by Andrew Clements
(Saturday is library day.)
—UPDATED ON SUNDAY: I hear she stayed up late last night finishing Mansfield Park. Yay!
—Pearls of Lutra (cont.)
—The Birthday Ball by Lois Lowry (ARC; in progress)
—Beck Beyond the Sea (Disney fairies book)
—Lily in Full Bloom (Disney fairies)
—A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (advance review copy)
—Great Expectations, first four chapters (long story) (ha, pun not intended)
read-aloud to Rilla & Wonderboy:
—Today I Will Fly (a Mo Willems Piggie & Elephant book)
—There Is a Bird on Your Head (ditto)**
—Mr. Putter and Tabby Paint the Porch
—Reveal: The Story of REM (cont.)
Scott to Rilla at bedtime:
—The Salamander Room
I forgot to do arrivals and departures! Saturday is our big library day, so a lot of things went back. I forgot to pay attention to what, though. A bunch of Jane’s things—handful of Dorothy Sayers mysteries, plus I think I saw the four-book Softwire series by P. J. Haarsma, the Orbis books (Virus on Orbis 1, Betrayal on Orbis 2, etc; and I know there was a Caroline Cooney book in the pile too. Also the two Cory Doctorow YA novels I’d checked out—I’ve decided to read them as e-books instead.
As for arrivals, the library-goers brought home more than they took back. I saw two of Mary Pope Osborne’s series of tales based on The Odyssey (brilliant idea, I must say); So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane; all the books in Jane’s list above; three Disney fairies books; the first book of a YA series by Ted Dekker; and Scott checked out Ta-Nehisi Coates’s memoir, The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, a Son, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood.
**Adding a note about reading the two Mo Willems books with Rilla today, because I’ll want to remember this in years to come. We had enjoyed both of these books, Today I Will Fly and There’s a Bird on Your Head, dozens of times already, but several weeks ago. Yesterday we found Today I Will Fly and she “read” it to me—mostly from memory, but a fair amount of sight-word recognition happening. And that’s so exciting; I can see she’s on the brink of reading, just as it happened with Beanie & Bob Books before her, and Rose with My Father’s Dragon before that. Today, she “read” me There’s a Bird on Your Head. Then she picked up Today I Will Fly and read that one—except she used, deliberately, the words from There’s a Bird on Your Head, tweaking them slightly to make them loosely fit the Today I Will Fly pictures. It was kind of hilarious, and great fun to see her playing with form that way. Gosh, I love this stage.
OK, I can’t be bothered to do italics on all those titles. Sorry, Chicago Manual of Style.
For one week I am attempting to record everything each member of the family reads. Today is day four. Day one. Day two. Day three.
—more Dorothy Sayers
—Mansfield Park (cont.)
—The Long Patrol (cont.)
—Um. Weird. I seem not to have read anything from a book on this day. Really? Can that be right? Read a fair amount online, but no fiction. Well, we had other things going on. Our kitchen Monarch emerged from its chrysalis. I got a haircut.
read aloud to littles:
—the Searching for Small chapter from House at Pooh Corner
(big kids couldn’t help listening)
—Today I Will Fly by Mo Willems (actually, delightfully, Rilla read most of this to me)
After he emerged, we moved him to the backyard. Photo by Jane.
For one week—starting, awkwardly, on a Tuesday—I am attempting to record everything each member of the family reads. Day one was yesterday.
—Mansfield Park (cont.)
—Showcase Presents: Batman 3 & 4
Rose and Beanie:
—Fraggle Rock comics #2 & 3
Rose: Pearls of Lutra (cont.)
—Rowan and the Ice Creepers
—The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag (cont.)
Scott to Rilla and older listeners-in:
—Pish Posh Said Hieronymus Bosch (whoops, strike that, she fell asleep too soon)
—None! Practically a first!
—Bears on Wheels went back to the library. Yup, I remembered.
Other book-related activities:
—Stopped into our local children’s bookstore to see if they were stocking the Betsy-Tacy reissues. The Emily of Deep Valley reissue with Mitali Perkins’s foreword, and the Carney/Winona reissue with my foreword, will be published in October. ALA Midwinter is being held right here in San Diego in January, and the Betsy-Tacy crowd is already gearing up for some Maud-themed fun. I wanted to make sure this little bookstore was up to speed on all things Betsy Ray. The manager had not heard about the reissues and was quite interested.
—Busy morning out of the house; Jane had a friend over in the afternoon. I didn’t read anything at all to the little ones, a realization that, here at the tail end of the day, makes me wince a little.
This list doesn’t (yet) include bedtime reading. I’ll update it in the morning.
Just for fun, I thought I’d try to keep track of everything everybody in the house reads each day for one week. I’ll update today’s entry tomorrow morning after I find out who read what in bed tonight. I’ll also include notes on books that make their way into (or out of, on loan or otherwise) the house.
—finished one Dorothy Sayers (The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club); started another (The Documents in the Case)
—new issues of Muse and Calliope
—Unexplained: 347 Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurrences, and Puzzling Physical Phenomena (began)
—(UPDATED next morning) Pearls of Lutra, at bedtime
—Billy Batson and the Power of Shazam (comics trade paperback)
Read aloud to Beanie & Rose:
—chapter of String, Straightedge, & Shadow
Read aloud to Rilla & Wonderboy:
—Bears on Wheels —Mama! —Mr. Putter and Tabby Paint the Porch
Scott read aloud to all girls:
—I’m writing this before bedtime, but I’m assuming he’s going to read them a chapter of their current read-aloud, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. (Jane & Rose has read it already, numerous times. First time for Rose and Beanie. The older girls wouldn’t dream of missing another opportunity to hear Scott’s Dumbledore voice.)
(Sometimes Dumbledore performs selections from The Cat in the Hat. I’m told this is the funniest. thing. ever.)
UPDATED WITH CORRECTION: I was wrong; last night turned out to be a late bedtime, so no Harry Potter. Scott read Put Me in the Zoo to Rilla (and the room at large).
—a wee little bit of Denby’s Great Books
—began Feed by M. T. Anderson
—UPDATED next morning: at bedtime, enjoyed another chapter of The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag (Flavia de Luce sequel)
—Ringworld by Larry Niven.
—plus of course he reads all day at work, including, on this day, an early volume of Sandman which he had to proof for the digital edition.
—The Simpsons in the Classroom (review copy; looks like fun)
—The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and two others we’d reserved at the library; titles escape me now.
—also from the library, a few beginning readers: the aforementioned Mr. Putter book; ¡Mama! (a Spanish picture book Wonderboy makes a beeline for every time we go); a Little Bear book I think we own, but he was keen to check it out, so why not.
—a stack of beginning readers returned to the library, except the one (Bears on Wheels) which was actually due today and not renewable, dadgummit. If I remember to return it before noon tomorrow, there won’t be a fine.