Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden, illustrated by Garth Williams (1960)

When Chester Cricket is accidentally snatched up by Connecticut picnickers and taken by train into New York City, he makes a new home for himself in the Times Square subway station. There he is adopted as a pet by Mario Bellini, whose parents own a struggling newsstand in the station. Long-time city dwellers and best friends Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat befriend Chester and soon discover a hidden talent that might be able to revive the Bellinis' failing business.

I have been planning to read this book this month since I put together the monthly categories for the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge. It was coincidental, however, that I happened to read it after having just passed through the subway station in Times Square. While I had been there before (and could probably have enjoyed the book just as well having never been there), it was fun to read about people boarding the shuttle between Times Square and Grand Central when I had just been one of its passengers myself. The setting, in fact, is one of the things I liked best about this book. It manages to capture the essence of New York City while still keeping the story confined to a small space with which young readers can quickly become familiar.

The characters are also endearing. I felt similarly about them as I did about the household pets in Bunnicula, but I liked Tucker, Harry, and Chester even better. Though it does bother me sometimes when animals who are enemies in nature become friends in children's books, the story explains Tucker and Harry well enough that it isn't a problem. I also love that Chester's special talent is really just an extension of a natural ability that all crickets have. He's not so much a magical cricket, as a gifted one, and I like that approach to the fantastical elements of this story very much. I always do better with fantastical elements that grow organically out of the characters' identities, as opposed to those simply imposed by the writer for no apparent reason.

This book was a quick read, and it would make an excellent read-aloud, even for a preschooler. The writing is excellent (definitely worthy of the Newbery honor the book received in 1961) and Garth Williams is the perfect illustrator to bring the characters to life. I wish I'd read this sooner, and yet I'm also glad there are several sequels so I can visit these characters a few more times!

Monday, May 22, 2017

The RAHM Report for May 22, 2017

Though I did post some daily updates during Bout of Books, it has been over a month since I last posted a collective report of what I've been reading. Between my dad's stroke (which occurred the day before Easter and has resulted in a lot of stress and phone calls) and my lingering morning sickness (I'm 19 weeks, so hopefully it will pass soon?) I just haven't had the time to sit down and gather my thoughts on more than a book or two here and there. But I have been reading a lot, and today I'll just quickly share the books I've gone through in the past month.

Adult Books

My church small group has finished reading The Lamb's Supper by Scott HahnI liked it well enough, though I did end up rushing through the end of the book since I missed a couple of meetings and didn't want to return it to the library without finishing. I didn't know much about the book of Revelation before reading it, and I do find myself thinking about this book during Mass.

The other adult books I read were all mysteries: Cross Bones by Kathy Reichs, A Likely Story by Jenn McKinlay, Better Late Than Never by Jenn McKinlay, and Hail to the Chef by Julie Hyzy. (Links are to my reviews on Goodreads.)

Next on my to-read list are two older cozy mysteries: A Novena for Murder by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie and The Cat Who Blew the Whistle by Lilian Jackson Braun. I also have a digital ARC of About a Dog by Jenn McKinlay which I hope to get to fairly soon and an ebook edition of Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, which I will probably have to borrow again another time because it's so long.

Children's Books

I read quite a few children's books during Bout of Books, not for review, but just for my own enjoyment. These titles included: This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall by Gordon Korman, Best Friends by Francine Pascal, The Divorce Express by Paula Danziger, It's an Aardvark-Eat-Turtle World by Paula Danziger, Everyone Else's Parents Said Yes by Paula Danziger, The Burning Questions of Bingo Brown by Betsy Byars, Bingo Brown and the Language of Love by Betsy Byars, and  Bingo Brown, Gypsy Lover by Betsy Byars

I also read and reviewed the following:

And here are the titles I've read and plan to review soon:

  • First-Class Murder by Robin Stevens
  • The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
  • The Chestry Oak by Kate Seredy

On a whim, I also started reading a digital review copy of The Speed of Life by Carol Weston that I downloaded from Edelweiss. It's a good, quick read, but probably not something I'd approve for my own kids. If I do finish it, I'll explain it all in my review. I'm also really hoping to start reading my digital review copy of Almost Paradise by Corbel Shofner very soon, since it comes out in July.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fumbling Through Fantasy: Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson (1944)

I am not at all a great lover of animals, so when I chose Animal Stories as this month's focus for the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge, I was really pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. Thankfully, the first animal book I picked up this month was not a cutesy meditation on the merits of pet ownership or a thinly veiled lesson about animal rights, but a truly well-written story about a charming place called Rabbit Hill. The animals of Rabbit Hill have been on their own for quite some time, as the Big House has stood empty and the surrounding gardens have yielded no harvest. When the rumors start to circulate of "new Folks coming!" the Hill buzzes with gossip and speculation. Will the new tenants use weapons to  protect their property? Will Porkey the Woodchuck be safe in a burrow so close to the house? Will there finally be enough to eat? When the new Folks do move in, it seems they will indeed be friendly toward their animal neighbors, but some of the residents of the Hill, led by elderly curmudgeon Uncle Analdas, will not be convinced there isn't something sinister at work until the Folks truly prove themselves beyond a shade of doubt.

This story about the relationship between people and the animals who live on their property starts out pretty generic, but as the first few chapters unfold, the reader begins to recognize subtle hints at a more layered tale. Mentions here and there of the human beings who inhabit the areas surrounding Rabbit Hill give insight into the way people treat the animals who come onto their property, and into the ways the new Folks are different from their neighbors. The animals, too, seem to represent different points of view that people often take on themselves in situations of uncertainty. There are optimists and pessimists, conspiracy theorists and realists, those who worry constantly and those who refuse to worry at all. Though the plot seems simple, the reactions of the characters to the action of the story add a layer of complexity that elevates the book beyond a "cute" animal tale.

Though Lawson clearly conveys a "kindness to animals" message in this book, I found it palatable despite my usual hatred for such themes. Part of the reason is the late-story reveal about the devotion of the Folks to St. Francis of Assisi. A love of animals grounded in religious faith is likely to be in line with the way I view animals (as sources of food, as well as sources of entertainment and companionship) and is unlikely to come at the expense of a love of other human beings. I also think Lawson's story has interpretations beyond just "animals have rights too." The real message is about generosity, and the story demonstrates how offering up some of what you have for others helps you gain their respect and love and puts in place a natural understanding of boundaries that then does not need to be enforced through violence.

Rabbit Hill was a pleasant surprise. I'm very glad to own a copy, as I'm sure I will want to read it again, and I know it will only be a few years before I have school age kids who are ready to appreciate it too.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bout of Books Progress, Day 7

Bout of Books
To finish out the read-a-thon I read two cozy mysteries: Hail to the Chef by Julie Hyzy and Better Late Than Never by Jenn McKinlay. I read a total of 12 books during the week, which considering all the interruptions and distractions I had, is pretty good. I can't wait until Bout of Books 20 in August! 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Bout of Books Progress, Day 6

Bout of Books

I read two books on day 6: It's an Aardvark-Eat-Turtle World and Everyone Else's Parents Said Yes, both by Paula Danziger. 

I'm really hoping to finish strong by plowing through several paperbacks on the final day, but if not, there's always the next Bout of Books...

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Bout of Books Progress, Day 5

Bout of Books

I finished four books on Friday:
  • Bingo Brown and the Language of Love by Betsy Byars 
  • Best Friends (Sweet Valley Twins, #1) by Francine Pascal 
  • Bingo Brown, Gypsy Lover by Betsy Byars
  • The Divorce Express by Paula Danziger
I am still 40-something books behind on Goodreads, so I won't be meeting my goal of reducing that number, but I should still have another few books finished by the end of the read-a-thon - hopefully.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Bout of Books Progress, Day 4

Bout of Books
This is probably going to be my least successful Bout of Books ever, but I'm still plodding along. On day 4, I finished This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall! by Gordon Korman and almost finished Bingo Brown and the Language of Love by Betsy Byars and Sweet Valley Twins #1: Best Friends by Francine Pascal. (That Sweet Valley Twins book was pretty terrible, but I enjoyed the trip down memory lane!)