Sunday, February 25, 2018

The RAHK Report for 2/25/18

A very eclectic list of books this week. Our interests are very broad!

  • Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
    We finished this lunch-time read aloud in just a few days. It felt a bit silly reading about ice when it's been in the 70s here lately, and by the end of the book, only Miss Muffet (4 years, 3 months) was really interested, but it was still a worthwhile choice. The writing is lovely, as are the illustrations. 
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, read by Cherry Jones
    Miss Muffet has finished reading this book independently so when we took a drive to a used book sale yesterday, we listened to the audiobook in the car. The narrator is excellent, and I especially enjoy the fiddle interludes at the beginnings of the some of the chapters, as well as the fact that the narrator sings whenever the text calls for it. Miss Muffet paid more attention than Bo Peep (2 years, 5 months) but even she was interested in a good portion of the book. 
  • Penny and Peter by Carolyn Haywood
    This is the next chapter book we've selected for Miss Muffet. She has been narrating the events of the story quite animatedly so I would say she's enjoying it. Carolyn Haywood is such a gift to very early readers.
  • Story of the Presidents of the United States by Maud and Miska Petersham
    We started reading this on Presidents Day and a week later, we've read about Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Jackson, Van Buren, and Harrison. Bo Peep has no patience at all for nonfiction right now, so she has a fit every time I pick up this book in her presence. I'm actually not reading it for her, so Miss Muffet and I have had to look for times when Bo Peep is doing something else to sneak in a little reading. Miss Muffet definitely does not understand everything she hears in this book, but she does seem to like the general idea of tracing the history of our country. 
  • Professor Noah's Spaceship by Brian Wildsmith
    I've had this book since I was a kid, and in all that time, I think I've only read it twice. Despite the fact that I haven't read it to them in a long time, both Bo Peep and Miss Muffet have been seen carrying it around with them this past week. I think Miss Muffet has actually been reading it, whereas Bo Peep was telling a story of her own. One afternoon, I heard her saying goodnight to each of the animals as though they were about to take naps.
  • Of Swans, Sugarplums, and Satin Slippers: Ballet Stories for Children by Violette Verdy, illustrated by Marcia Brown
    Bo Peep has grown fond of this book, though I don't think anyone has actually read any of the stories to her yet. Both she and Miss Muffet like to put on tutus and pretend to be ballerinas so I think it is the illustrations of people dancing that are mainly interesting to her right now.
  • Ten Little Babies by Gyo Fujikawa
    I occasionally ask Bo Peep to choose what we should read to Jumping Joan (4 months). This was her pick this week, most likely because the babies reminded her of her favorite book, Oh What a Busy Day, also by Fujikawa. Jumping Joan isn't picky, and she was very attentive to the pictures as I read.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Book Review: Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton (1962)

Life Story is Virginia Lee Burton's seventh and final book, published in 1962. In a prologue and five acts, Burton traces the story of life on earth, beginning with the birth of the sun and the formation of our planet, and highlighting major periods of the paleozoic, mesozoic, cenozoic, and recent eras, before concluding with a section on the seasons of the year and times of the day. Illustrated with full-color paintings and black-and-white diagrams, this book helps young children place themselves in time, space, and history, and provides them with an overview of natural history and evolution that can serve as a scaffold on which later deeper study can build.

This book is truly a masterpiece. I don't think I have ever read a more engaging, more attractive, or more emotionally resonant nonfiction book for children, or for any other audience. Burton includes details that are interesting to children - what creatures ate, the fact that cephalapods had feet on their heads, volcanic activity, the discovery of fire by early human beings - but she also drives home the fleeting nature of our own lives and the brevity of our era as compared with all those eons that have gone before.

Though there is no explicit mention of religion in this book, I found it very easy to see God's hand in everything Burton describes. For me, as a Catholic, I accept evolution as the means by which God accomplished his creation, and it was easy to present that worldview to my four-year-old as I shared the book with her. The details in the illustrations also make it possible for kids who don't read yet to enjoy the book and to gain a basic understanding of the changes to our planet and its inhabitants over time.

Apparently, this book was updated in 2009 to correct some outdated information (about Pluto, and brontosauruses, and other similar details), but I own the original edition and plan to stick with it. With the Internet at our fingertips, and other books in our collection, we'll be able to fill in any newly-discovered information that has been left out without having to try and figure out which pieces of Burton's text have been changed. It also saves me from the annoying political correctness of seeing "prehistoric man" changed to "prehistoric humans," which seems like such a petty little edit to make to such a wonderful book. Even my four-year-old understands that "man" (or "men" as she hears it in the Nicene creed at Mass) is a generic term intended to include all people and not an oppressive word designed to keep her and other girls out.

This is a book to own, to cherish, and to read many times over. I cannot say enough about how much I enjoyed it or how wonderfully it makes a big concept - the very nature of life on Earth - into something a child can easily wrap his mind around.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Book Review: Thatcher Payne-in-the-Neck by Betty Bates (1985)

In this 1985 middle grade novel, Kimberly "Kib" Slocum, the narrator, and Thatcher Payne are best friends who spend their summers together at Trout Lake. A few years ago, Kib's mom and Thatcher's dad were killed when the small plane in which they were traveling during a storm crashed. Now there is lots of enmity between the adults in both families, which occasionally puts on a strain on Kib and Thatcher's friendship. A desire to fix the rift between their families drives the two friends to hatch a scheme to bring their widowed parents together romantically. When it looks their plan might work, however, Kib begins to second-guess wanting to be in the same family as her best friend.

This is another book I discovered via @yearlingreads on Instagram, and which I then borrowed from Open Library. Despite the sad backstory, this is actually a very humorous little novel, which explores the fantasy some kids have of having their best friends become their siblings. The road to romance is pretty smooth for the parents, which doesn't feel particularly realistic, especially given the strain on the relationship between the two families, but the kids' adjustment to being year-round siblings instead of just seasonal best friends does have the ring of truth.

The illustrations are by Linda Strauss Edwards, who also illustrated a lot of Jamie Gilson's books that I remember from childhood. Each chapter has one pen-and-ink drawing, showing a key moment from the text. The faces on Edwards's figures remind me a little bit of Mercer Mayer, and I like the way she captures the details of clothing and facial expressions. She does a good job of bringing out the various emotions involved in Kib and Thatcher's unusual situation, and the clothes they wear are decidedly a product of their time. 

This book moved a little too quickly and tied things up a little too neatly for my taste as an adult, but as a kid, I know the upbeat tone of the text, and the quickness with which problems are resolved would have been necessary to distract me from the sadness of the characters having lost their parents. This isn't a book I feel I would ever need to own, but I'm glad to have read it, and would gladly read more by this author.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Book Review: Hooper by Geoff Herbach (2018)

Adam Reed, formerly Adam Sobieski, spent his childhood in Poland in less-than-ideal circumstances. Now that he has been adopted by Renata, his American mother, he lives in Minnesota and attends the local high school, where he is an up-and-coming basketball star and best friend to outsider Barry, who has a number of family issues himself. Though Adam knows that basketball is his passport to all the good things life has to offer, and has in fact been invited to join a prestigious travel team called the Fury, there are some roadblocks standing between him and success. He lacks confidence in his skills as an English speaker, so he often does not talk to his classmates or teammates, leading them to assume he is either disabled in some way or a snob. He also has problems managing his anger and worries about losing his temper as he sometimes did in Poland, which would jeopardize his career. With the help of Carli Anderson, another basketball star who has great empathy for Adam, and his teammates on the Fury, Adam slowly begins to come to terms with his past and to come into his own as both a person and a basketball player.

I have yet to read a Geoff Herbach book I didn't love. While Hooper is more serious than Herbach's wonderful Stupid Fast trilogy, it is every bit as engrossing and fast-paced. Herbach has such a talent for creating believable characters, and Adam may be his most layered protagonist yet. Though many issues are touched on in this book - identity, diversity, racism, child abuse, immigration - the strength of the main character keeps the story from becoming bogged down in political messages. The motivation to keep reading is not the desire to see how one particular conflict is resolved, but to find out what happens to the endearing Adam in all aspects of his life.

The descriptions of sports in this book are also great. I am not someone who follows sports, but I love sports fiction, and the basketball action in this book is as entertaining as everything else. Herbach does a perfect job of balancing descriptions of plays with Adam's thoughts during games and practices, and even someone like me who knows very little about sports vocabulary has no problem following everything that takes place. Herbach always reminds me of Chris Crutcher; with this book, the comparison becomes even more apt. But whereas Crutcher's characters are often very obvious representations of particular causes and problems, Herbach's Adam is just a completely believable and well-rounded person who happens to face some issues. Even after he ceases to have these problems, he would still be interesting to read about.

Hooper  is geared toward a teen audience, but the content is certainly appropriate for younger readers as well. There is some romance, but nothing particularly steamy, and the interplay between Adam and his teammates is very reminiscent of the way characters interact in Jason Reynolds's middle grade Track series. Kids who like Fred Bowen as fourth and fifth graders could also easily move on to this book in middle school and enjoy it, especially if they are big basketball fans.

It's early in the year, but I'm already fairly certain Hooper will make my list of favorite books of the year. I'd love to see Herbach also receive some award recognition for his consistently excellent writing. Maybe in 2019? Either way, Hooper is a must-read for fans of YA sports novels. (Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. Hooper is out today, February 20th.)

Monday, February 19, 2018

The RAHM Report for 2/19/18

What My Kids Are Reading

Read this week's Read-at-Home Kids Report to learn the fate of our copy of Blueberries for Sal and which book my four-year-old read cover to cover one morning before breakfast. 

What I Finished Reading


  • Happy Little Family by Rebecca Caudill
    This was our most recent lunch-time read-aloud. It's a very sweet story, reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie, but with more kids and fewer life-and-death situations. There are sequels, but not all of them are easy to find, so it might be a while before I get to them. 
  • Lucky Enough by Fred Bowen (ARC)
    I always enjoying Fred Bowen's books, and this was no exception. This one is about sports superstitions and the importance of working hard rather than relying on good luck charms. I don't think it's his best book, but I still really liked it.
  • I Know You, Al by Constance C. Greene
    There is a lot more frank puberty talk in this book than in the first of the series, which kind of surprised me, but it wasn't anything more than you'd find in a Judy Blume book. I do like how quirky Al is, and the way this book explores more of her family dynamics. 
  • The Dark Stairs by Betsy Byars
    This is the first book in Byars's Herculeah Jones series. It's different from her other books - more mainstream and formulaic - but not bad. I'll be reviewing it, probably along with the rest of the series once I finish reading it.

  • Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien (ARC)
    This is a really good new cozy mystery coming out at the end of March. (I had an ARC from Edelweiss.) The plot was a little bit predictable, but the setting (a shopping plaza dedicated to Asian businesses) and the characters (the various merchants who work in the plaza and their friends and family members) were really well-done. I'm already eager for the second book, which has a great title: Dim Sum of All Fears.
  • Clouds in My Coffee by Julie Mulhern
    I liked this book both because the mystery was intriguing and because it focused so much on relationships between sisters. I didn't think it was quite as strong as the first book of the series, which is still my favorite, but it was a quick and enjoyable read.

What I'm Currently Reading

  • All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot
    It's taking me a long time to read this, but I'm making steady progress and enjoying it just as much as All Creatures Great and Small
  • The Julius House by Charlaine Harris
    I'm not crazy about Aurora's love interest and impending marriage in this book, but I am intrigued by the mystery surrounding the former owners of her newly-purchased house. I expect this to be a quick read.
  • Fatal Frost by Karen Macinerney
    I was fortunate to win a prize from the Winter's Respite Read-a-thon I did in January. I won a Kindle book up to $2.99, and this book, which I've been wanting to read and which my local libraries don't have, happened to be $2.00. I've just glanced at the first page so far, but I'm excited to get back into the series.
  • Bingo Brown's Guide to Romance by Betsy Byars
    For some reason, I never finished this series. I'm reading it now as part of my quest to read all of Betsy Byars's books by the end of 2018.
  • The Little Oratory by David Clayton & Leila Marie Lawler
    My book club is reading this for our March meeting. I've been wanting to read it for a long time, so though I haven't really started it yet I'm excited for it. 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The RAHK Report for 2/18/18

With Mardi Gras, Valentine's Day, and Ash Wednesday all happening this week, plus a break in the weather that meant we could go to the playground without coats, we have been busy these past few days. But not too busy to sneak in a good amount of reading. Here is this week's Read-at-Home Kids Report.

  • Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
    We finished Happy Little Family by Rebecca Caudill on Monday, and moved onto this short, lyrical book about an icy Maine winter, filled with joyful descriptions of anticipating, enjoying, and lamenting the end of ice skating season. Little Bo Peep (age 2) is not that interested, but Little Miss Muffet (age 4) really loves it. 
  • Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
    Little Bo Peep loved this book a little too hard this week and tore a page. We had to confiscate the book for mending - and for its own protection. (Bo Peep is a lot rougher on books than her big sister ever was.)

  • The Way of the Cross for Children by Jude Winkler
    Miss Muffet spent the whole first part of the day on Ash Wednesday reading this St. Joseph picture book to herself cover to cover. I had it out so we could begin to prepare for actually going to stations one Friday this Lent, but it was completely her idea to read it so thoroughly! 
  • Mary Holds My Hand: A Child's Book of Rosary Meditations by Michele Chronister
    With a gift certificate we received from a friend for Jumping Joan's baptism, I ordered three mini decade rosaries from Chews Life, which arrived in the mail this week. On Friday, all three girls held onto a mini decade and we prayed the first sorrowful mystery of the Rosary using the meditation provided in this book. Even Jumping Joan (4 months) seemed to enjoy participating in what Miss Muffet would call "her own baby way" and Miss Muffet surprised me by accurately counting ten Hail Marys without having to watch me. 

  • Tell Me a Mitzi by Lore Segal, illustrated by Harriet Pincus
    I remember borrowing this book from the public library as a kid, despite the fact that the illustrations gave me the creeps. When I found it on Open Library, though, I recognized in it a sense of humor and imagination that I knew would resonate with Little Miss Muffet. There are three stories in the book, all told by the parents of a girl named Martha, who frequently requests to hear stories about a made-up little girl named Mitzi who has a baby brother named Jacob.  I read it aloud to her and she loved it, even if she was a little bit confused sometimes about what was real and what was in Martha's parents' imaginations. 
  • All the Way Home by Lore Segal, illustrated by James Marshall
    I had never heard of this book, but found it on Open Library after reading Tell Me a Mitzi. This one is a repetitive story about animals who follow a little girl home from the park after she falls and refuses to stop crying. I tried to get Miss Muffet to make the animal sounds each time the animal names were repeated, but she insisted that I just get on with it and read. I think Bo Peep will also like this book, so  I'll try it out with her during the coming week. 
  • The Sick-in-Bed Birthday by Linda Wagner Tyler, illustrated by Susan Davis
    I have never actually read this book aloud to anyone, but Bo Peep has been carrying it around with her for a couple of days and when she doesn't have it, Miss Muffet has been reading it to her doll, Baby Robin. The story is a bit dated now, as it involves a child getting chicken pox for her birthday. This happened to me sister when she was four, but it's not too likely to happen to any of my kids now that there is a vaccine. Still, something about the book has attracted both of my older girls and I expect to read it aloud to them this week. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Book Review: The 18th Emergency by Betsy Byars (1973)

Benjie (also called Mouse) likes to draw labels on things, and one day he labels a poster of a caveman at school with class bully Marv Hammerman's name, and Hammerman sees him do it.  Though Mouse and his friend, Ezzie, have spent a lot of time thinking up plans for handling emergencies - quicksand and boa constrictors, tarantula bites and falls from cliffs, charging bulls and hungry lions - Benjie is woefully unprepared for the wrath of Marv Hammerman, which is about to descend on him in full force. Benjie is desperate to escape being beaten up at first, but as he begins to see things from Hammerman's point of view, he realizes that he must accept the consequences of his actions, come what may.

I found this book very interesting, mostly because I think most of what happens in it would be handled very differently in a contemporary setting. For one thing, with so many zero tolerance policies for bullying in public schools now, there is no way Benjie would have gotten away with his graffiti without adults getting involved. At the very least, teachers would be searching for the student who had defaced school property. I am also skeptical that many kids solve their problems with physical fighting in this way. Any fight I ever witnessed in school was always a spur-of-the-moment thing, brought on by uncontrolled emotions and quickly broken up by adults. I never knew of anyone to "meet at the flagpole after school" to settle their problems, as though fighting were a matter of honor. 

I am also unclear as to whether Byars condones physical fighting among boys. The book, my edition of which was marketed as part of the Just For Boys series from Weekly Reader, seems to suggest that the right thing for Benjie to do is to allow Hammerman to beat him up, but it's hard for me to imagine why that would be the author's only message. Compared to Byars's other books, which frequently have open-ended or only partially resolved conclusions, this one seemed more tied up at the end, but the resolution felt odd to me, because it felt like Benjie learned the wrong lesson. Perhaps the idea is that the reader is left to critique Benjie's actions and to decide whether getting beaten up truly should have made him feel better, but I'm not sure a kid would read anything into it beyond the seeming glorification of fighting. Not that I think a single book is enough to promote physical violence, but there was a strange "boys will be boys" vibe to this book that felt very outdated. 

This is not my favorite Betsy Byars book, as it lacks the subtlety of some of her other books. Still, the characters come across strongly, and I think there is a lot for young boys to relate to, even if Benjie is not always an ideal role model. I bought this book at a used book sale so I'll probably hang onto it for a while, but I'm reserving judgment on whether to share it with my kids, or whether they will even be interested.