Thursday, October 19, 2017

Book Review: Depend on Katie John by Mary Calhoun (1961)

In this follow-up to Katie John (1960), Katie John Tucker and her parents have fixed up their large Southern house, and they are ready to accept boarders. Katie is enthusiastic about helping to find new tenants, but as the house fills up, she also begins to realize how much work it is going to be to help keep things running smoothly. Not only does she have to help with housework, she also looks after the young son of one of the tenants, and when she receives a puppy for a gift, she has to keep him from disturbing the tenants and surrounding neighbors. In the meantime, Katie is also the new girl in school, and though she is pleased to have Sue as her best friend, she really wants to find a way to win the affection of all of her classmates, which leads her to take on even more work than she can really manage.

As a kid, I was fascinated with the idea of a boarding house, so I really enjoyed meeting each of the characters who come to live in Katie John's house throughout the course of this book. They are a colorful bunch of people, including a pair of women who listen to loud country-western music, Katie John's own teacher from school, and Cousin Ben, a distant relative who shows up unannounced at the start of the cold weather and remains in bed, with his bedroom door wide open to the front hallway, all winter long. The quirks of these characters, and Katie's reactions to them as she becomes more and more overwhelmed by their presence, are the real appeal of this book, and they bring the big Southern house very strongly to life.

The other thing I really loved about this book is that it shows a 10-year-old girl as a dependable, helpful, and capable contributor to her household. By contemporary standards, Katie John does seem to have a lot of responsibilities, but I liked that her parents allowed her to work out many of her own problems independently, and that she resolves many of the difficulties in the book by her own wits. I also like that she makes her fair share of mistakes, but that these do not serve to undermine her overall positive contributions to the boarding house, and to her classroom as well. I look forward to reading the rest of the Katie John books: Honestly, Katie John! and Katie John and Heathcliff and will gladly save the series for my girls to read in a few years.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Book Review: The Crow and the Castle by Keith Robertson (1957)

The Crow and the Castle is the third of four books in the Carson Street Detective Agency series by Henry Reed, Inc. author Keith Robertson. In this book, teen detectives Neil, who narrates the story, and Swede, his best friend, are hired by a stranger in town to take photographs of a chess set owned by the ornery and hot-tempered Captain Wudge. In their attempts to gain access to Captain Wudge's house in order to snap the photos, they discover that some housebreakers are also intent on getting inside so they can steal a chess set from the Captain's collection. Curious as to whether the stranger who hired them is connected to the housebreakers, the two boys get to know Captain Wudge and slowly piece together their nefarious plot. Meanwhile, Neil's pet crow, Hector, complicates matters with his penchant for collecting and absconding with small objects.

This book was such fun to read. The main characters are funny and charming with a mischievous streak and a boyish sense of humor. Unlike the Hardy Boys books, whose storylines often feel forced and inauthentic, this book is sufficiently grounded in reality to make almost anything feel believable even if it is far-fetched. I had no difficulty at all accepting that these boys were accomplished detectives, nor was it difficult to buy into the role Hector the crow winds up playing in the mystery plot. Robertson's light touch and tongue-in-cheek tone make it impossible to take the book too seriously, which makes it very easy to suspend one's disbelief and just enjoy a good mystery.

Disappointingly, this book is out of print and so rare I doubt I will ever have a chance to own a copy. I'm so thankful that Open Library has it, however, because this was the exact kind of mystery I'd have loved as a kid, and I would have hated to miss out on it. I loved all the details about the history of chess and chess sets, and the fact that, though there is some real danger to the boys in the story, the reader is never really scared and it is always clear that things will come to a safe and satisfying ending. Book two of the series, Three Stuffed Owls (1954), is also available from Open Library, so I hope to read that in the near future. The last book, The Money Machine (1969) is also pretty widely available from used booksellers, so it's possible I'll be able to get my hands on that as well. Sadly, book one, The Mystery of Burnt Hill (1952)  is selling on Amazon right now for over 95 dollars, which is outside of my book budget for any single title, no matter how much I love the author!

This book was a wonderful surprise, and I would recommend it wholeheartedly to fans of the author as well as to young teen boys who are mystery fans, chess players, or both.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The RAHM Report for 10/16/17

I am writing this post just before midnight, and as of now, we have not yet had a baby, so this is officially our first child to go past his/her due date! Since all I've done all week is wait for labor to start, I had time to read a bunch of books and start a few more. Here's my report for the week. 

Finished Reading:

 


  • A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
    Though I didn't love it as much as the first book, I still enjoyed book two of the Armand Gamache series. My review is on Goodreads.
  • When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne
    I read this aloud to the girls over lunch over the course of two days. Some of the poems are easier to read than others but all are sweet and charming and my almost-four-year-old especially loved them. My guess is we will revisit this book many times in the future.
  • W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton
    This was not my favorite of the series, but it was a more solid story than V is for Vengeance. My review is on Goodreads.
  • The Trouble with Jenny's Ear by Oliver Butterworth
    I loved this fun tale of electronics and telepathy from the author of The Enormous Egg. Review coming to the blog eventually. 
  • Hello, Star by Carolyn Haywood
    I believe this short 1987 chapter book was Carolyn Haywood's last book before her death in 1990. It's not her best, but it would be a good first chapter book for an early reader (I'll be giving it to my almost-four-year-old, probably when she is four), especially one who loves animals and has enjoyed Hilary McKay's Lulu series.


Did Not Finish: 


  • The Secret, Book & Scone Society by Ellery Adams
    I read a third of this book before giving up. It was just not for me. I wrote a quick review on Goodreads and NetGalley explaining why I didn't finish.


Currently Reading:



  • The Original Adventures of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy by Johnny Gruelle
    We finally made it into the much-anticipated Raggedy Andy section of this lunchtime read-aloud, but we've taken a break for a few days to read other things. I expect we'll finish the book sometime after the baby is born. 
  • The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
    I placed a hold on this book expecting it to take a couple of weeks for my turn to come up, but when it only took a few days, I decided to go ahead and start it. If this baby delays its arrival much longer, I may end up reading it straight through! 
  • Halloween Treats by Carolyn Haywood
    This is our holiday-themed lunchtime read-aloud, which I hope to spread out so that we finish it on Halloween. We've read one story so far, and it was a hit! 
  • Peeled by Joan Bauer
    I enjoyed Squashed so much last week that I've decided to read more Joan Bauer. I have this checked out from Open Library, but I haven't really started it yet and may not depending on when labor begins
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Book Review: Patina by Jason Reynolds (2017)

Patina is the second book of Jason Reynolds's Track series which began last year with Ghost. Patina, also known as Patty, is another member of the Defenders track team, and like Ghost, she has a complicated family situation. Her father died just after the birth of her younger sister, Maddy, and her mother, who has diabetes, has lost both of her legs to the disease, leaving her unable to care for the children on her own.  Patty and Maddy now live with their uncle and aunt, whom they call Momly, and visit with their mom on weekends. After facing so much loss in her own life, Patty really can't stand to lose on the track, nor does she always work well in situations where she has to rely on others. This aversion to teamwork becomes a challenge when she is assigned a group project in school and asked to run relays for the Defenders.

Like the previous book, this one also had a strong sense of voice, but I found it took me a while longer to warm up to Patty than to Ghost. I liked him right away; my affection for her grew more slowly over the course of several chapters. Whether this is intentional on the part of the author or not, I'm not sure, but it does seem consistent with Patty's personality that I would feel a certain amount of distance from her until I got to know what exactly motivates her and makes her tick. Overall, she is a well-developed and multi-layered character, as are her family members and other supporting characters, and I did grow to like her, even if I wasn't quite as in love with her character as I was with Ghost.

It's hard not to compare a book like this to works of Chris Crutcher, which also focus on overcoming hardship through sports, but whereas sometimes Crutcher's characters seem to have too many problems, that is never the case with Reynolds. Patty's life is not easy, but every single problem she faces is handled realistically, fairly, and with great sympathy. This book does not have much of a central conflict, which does make it feel weaker than the first one, but it handles the smaller, everyday problems of life very well, and I think middle school kids, especially, can relate to the various incidents that make up Patty's life, even if they haven't had the exact same experiences.

It appears that this entire series is going to work as a relay race. Patina picks up exactly where Ghost left off, and this book also has a very abrupt ending, which presumably will lead right into Sunny, which is due out in April 2018. I like the way the books slip in and out of each other, and I think the handing off of the narrative from one character to the next works very effectively, especially in the context of a track team. I look forward to seeing where Reynolds takes these characters on their next lap.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Book Review: The Tower Treasure (1927) and The Tower Treasure (1959) by Franklin W. Dixon

Until this month, I had never read any of the original Hardy Boys books. In the interest of fully educating myself about this series, I decided to read and compare the two versions of the first book of the series, The Tower Treasure: the original, published in 1927, and the revised edition, released in 1959. The plot in both books is essentially the same. Frank and Joe Hardy are brothers and the son of Fenton Hardy, an accomplished detective. While out doing an errand for their father one day, they witness a man driving recklessly, and then discover his abandoned vehicle on the side of the road. They then learn that their friend Chet's car has been stolen. After they recover the stolen car, they hear news of a jewel theft at the Tower Mansion, owned by Hurd Applegate. When they realize that the accused is the father of a classmate, they become invested in the case and work to prove that the car theft and the tower robbery are connected.

Though the plot of this story remains mostly unchanged from the original edition to the revised edition, the way the story is told changes quite a bit. The first thing I noticed was how much the slang changed from 1927 to 1959. While the word "chum" is used in both books, many other phrases used in the 1927 edition fall out of favor by 1959. For instance, whereas Chet's car is a "roadster" in 1927, and other cars are called "coupes" or "touring cars," the automotive language in 1959 talks about Chet's "jalopy" and how to "soup up" a "hot rod" or "sedan." The 1959 book also introduces terms like "moon rocket," "super duper," and "hot shot" which are completely absent from the original, while the 1927 book throws around phrases like "bad medicine" and "chaps." Both versions sound laughably outdated now, of course, and newer Hardy Boys iterations probably include their own contemporary slang, but it is interesting to consider how many of these changes seemed necessary after just 30 years, and how many of the 1950s phrases would already sound funny again by the time I was a child in the 1980s.

Another major change which is very noticeable is the role of female characters in the story. In 1927, the only women mentioned in the entire book are Callie, a classmate of Frank and Joe, Adelia Applegate, the shrewish sister of tower owner Hurd Applegate, and Mrs. Robinson, the wife of the man accused of stealing the tower treasure. The number of female characters increases by at least two in 1959, as both Mrs. Hardy and Chet's sister Iola are added to the cast. Adelia Applegate is also given a much larger role which makes her come across as more sympathetic and gives the revised story a slightly stronger ending than the original.

The biggest alteration of all, however, is in the collection of evidence toward solving the case. In the 1927 book, clues are found in a meandering way, and it takes Frank and Joe quite a while to recognize the importance of wigs to the overall narrative of the crime. When they do get a big break in the case, their father goes to New York on his own to investigate while the brothers mostly sit around home and wait for news. In 1959, the clues are all basically the same as those the boys collect in 1927, but the aspiring detectives are much quicker about figuring out how wigs are involved, and they are permitted to tag along with Fenton on his New York trip. Since the purpose of revising the book was partly to shorten it, it makes sense that some of the investigating would be condensed, but beyond that, I think it had become a convention of children's books by the 1950s that the child characters actually need to be involved in the action, not just sitting home waiting for their smart dad to bring them the information they want. Interestingly, though, it also seems that the 1950s editor was more concerned about the safety of child characters than the original 1927 author. Whereas the boys build a bomb to delay a rival investigator from catching a train to New York in 1927, by 1959, they only decide to set a fire.

Reading two versions of the same book side-by-side made for a very interesting reading experience. I'm not sure I fully understand the appeal of these older Hardy Boys books, as they are very much a product of their time, but I found it interesting to look at what changes and what remains the same as one generation outgrows the series and another generation grows into it. It's been a while since I've read a Nancy Drew book, but I had the distinct feeling throughout my readings of The Tower Treasure that the Hardy Boys series is not as well-written. While I might consider owning some vintage Nancy Drew, I can't really think of a reason to buy any Hardy Boys books. I'd have no problem with my kids reading them, as they are perfectly acceptable mystery stories, but I don't see them as particularly great works of literature. The Tower Treasure left me feeling like I'd just watched a Saturday morning cartoon, but not as though I had nourished my mind with much of a story.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The RAHM Report for 10/9/17

We're officially on babywatch around here (baby's due date is the 15th!), and there's not much to do besides wait and read. I read 12 books this week (including 5 very short ebook versions of comic issues) and I have four more in progress.

Finished Reading:



  • Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child by Anthony Esolen
    I gave this book five stars. Esolen makes great arguments, and I love the way he uses literature to support them. At some point, I hope to write up more of my thoughts on Goodreads.
  • Here Come the Deer! by Alice E. Goudey
    Miss Muffet and I read this aloud before nap time on three consecutive days this week. I didn't enjoy it as much as a lot of the other titles from this series, but part of that might be because there just isn't that much to say about deer and the three chapters - about whitetailed deer, elk, and caribou - became kind of repetitive after awhile. Miss Muffet loved it and has announced that deer are now her favorite animal. 
  • Maurice's Room by Paula Fox
    There isn't a whole lot to this short chapter book about a young boy who collects things and keeps them in his bedroom, despite his parents' desire that he clean it all out. The writing was good, but the story is forgettable. 
  • Squashed by Joan Bauer
    This was a feel-good fall read that would be perfect for young teens. Review coming soon. 


  • Sylvania series by Kristin Kemper
    I was browsing Hoopla for something quick to read on Saturday afternoon and stumbled upon this interesting fantasy series. The main characters are three sisters who are tree witches. They live in a universe where everything is protected and helped by witches, so there are also star witches, sea witches, bird witches, etc. When the star witches try to recruit some of the other witches to help them cultivate life on Mars, two of the sisters - Rowan and Juniper - express interest in taking on the challenge, while Willow adamantly opposes the idea. Only one of the sisters ends up going to Mars, while the other who is of age stays home to be with her girlfriend. (The LGBT content was a surprise to me, but should not have been since it is clearly tagged on Hoopla. I just missed it.) I really like the artwork, and the story is available not just in these short digital issues, but as a webcomic as well, so I'll probably stick with it for a bit and see if I like where the story is going. 

I also finally decided to borrow all the remaining Stella Batts books from Hoopla and read through those. I checked out five, but Hoopla's copy of Something Blue  seems to be corrupted in some way, so I was only able to read these four:

  • Who's in Charge? by Courtney Sheinmel
    Stella has the opportunity to babysit her best friend's dog in this book, and of course the dog goes missing. I mostly sympathized with Stella's mom in this one - I wouldn't want to be taking care of someone else's dog with a newborn at home either!  
  • Superstar by Courtney Sheinmel
    In this book, Stella is invited to audition for her favorite TV show, only to lose the role to her sister, resulting in lots of learning opportunities about jealousy and not being a bad sport. Except that circumstances change near the end of the book, and things get kind of muddled, and I was a little bit disappointed in how it was all resolved.
  • Scaredy Cat by Courtney Sheinmel
    Why do so many children's books include Ouija boards? My kids are not likely to read this series anyway, but if they'd read the earlier ones, I'd be disappointed to have to keep this one away from them just because of that. There were plenty of other ways to work fear and ghosts into the story without resorting to actual attempts to contact the dead.
  • Broken Birthday by Courtney Sheinmel
    This was the best of the bunch I read. I would have loved reading about Stella's hospital visit as a kid, and I liked the way the story also looked back on everything Stella did when she was eight. There was a sweet feel-good ending, too, which made up for the Ouija board in the previous book.

Currently Reading:



  • W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton
    I've read about 200 pages of this one. If the baby isn't born until the end of the week or after my due date, I might even finish it. 
  • A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
    I'm just past the halfway point in the Kindle edition of this book, and I'm loving it. I really hope I can finish it before going into labor! 
  • The Secret, Book and Scone Society by Ellery Adams (ARC)
    I like Ellery Adams's writing style, but I'm just a couple of chapters into this ARC and I'm not sold on the setting or story. I hope I get more into it. 
  • The Original Adventures of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy by Johnny Gruelle
    This is our current lunchtime read-aloud. It's not my favorite, but the girls are both loving it. 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?



Thursday, October 5, 2017

Book Review: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser (2017)

The Vanderbeekers, a biracial family of seven living in a brownstone in Harlem are devastated when they learn just before Christmas that their disagreeable landlord, Mr. Beiderman, has decided not to renew their lease. The five Vanderbeeker kids - twins Isa and Jessie, and their younger siblings Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney - immediately begin hatching plans to win over Mr. Beiderman and somehow gain his permission to remain in the only home they have ever known. As Christmas day approaches, however, it begins to look as though nothing can warm Mr. Beiderman's heart to their cause.

This book is proof that a novel can satisfy contemporary demands for things like diversity without reinventing the wheel. The Vanderbeekers on 141st Street has a very classic feel that harkens back to series such as The Melendy Family books, The Moffats, and more recently, The Penderwicks.  It's not an issue book, or a political statement; it's just a good story where the characters happen not to be white. While I don't consider diversity to be an indicator of quality, I do appreciate that this book finds a way to meet the demand for non-white characters without turning the story into an age-inappropriate political lesson. This is clearly a book written with children in mind, inspired by a place the author knows well.

Speaking of the setting, I really enjoyed getting to know the Vanderbeekers' little slice of Harlem, including the college they can see from their apartment windows and the little bakery where they frequently stop to buy pastries. I could definitely have used more details, especially after reading a book like Harlem Charade that brings this area of New York City so strongly to life, but I definitely got a sense of why the neighborhood was so important to these kids, and why it was so heartbreaking to think of having to move.

As for Mr. Beiderman himself, he is mostly a believable antagonist. As this is a Christmas story, his Scrooge-like demeanor feels very appropriate, as does the ultimate resolution to the problem of the lease. I read one review that suggested he was not realistic because most people typically move on after tragedies, but I didn't feel that way at all. I think there are many people, older men in particular, who do have a hard time bouncing back after the kind of trauma Mr. Beiderman has endured, and they do go on to live as angry recluses. This story does a nice job of explaining why Mr. Beiderman is the way he is, and also of redeeming him when the time is right. Sure, there are probably some serious violations of landlord/tenant laws in the way the lease is handled, but who but a lawyer's daughter (which I am) would even notice those?

This is one of the few brand-new middle grade novels that I would actually consider encouraging my kids to read if they were in the correct age group. It will certainly satisfy more conservative parents, as it has so much in common with favorite children's classics, and even the subplot involving Isa being asked to a school dance is very sweet and innocent without any overly mature romantic overtones. A sequel is planned for 2018, and I'm really looking forward to spending another book with these characters.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Book Review: Jamie and the Mystery Quilt by Vicki Berger Erwin (1987)

During a recent purge of old books from boxes that have been sitting in our garage, I stumbled upon this paperback which I bought from a used bookstore several years ago and never read. Jamie and the Mystery Quilt is the story of a young teen girl who lives with her widowed mom and younger sister in an old house filled with antiques. One day, while searching the attic for a costume her sister might be able to use for a school play, Jamie stumbles upon a quilt made by her great-grandmother which has been designed to look like a map of the house. When the quilt is stolen mysteriously from the back porch, Jamie is devastated and she begins to consider who might have taken it. Was it a random crime? Did her crush and tutoring student Kevin steal it for his mom's antique shop? Or is there something sinister about the real estate agent who keeps pestering her mom to sell the house? As Jamie works to narrow down her suspects, she also must figure out the reason the quilt would be so valuable to anyone outside of her family.

This straightforward mystery story is not the greatest work of literature, but I liked its wholesome approach to middle school boy/girl relationships, its focus on family, and the determination, resourcefulness and spunk of its main character. It seems like most mystery novels published for kids today are about large-scale events  - murders, kidnappings, disasters, and art heists - and less about regular kids solving problems that impact only their own small spheres of influence. I loved these little everyday mysteries as a kid, largely because they were not scary, and I could imagine my younger self reading and re-reading this book.

Alas, due to space constraints and the fact that we already have a number of mysteries on our shelves that we really want our kids to read as they get older, this book is going into the donation pile. Still, I'm glad I took the time to read it because it reminded me of how much I enjoy these short, pleasant novels of years past. Most contemporary middle grade novels are so long, and sometimes I just feel like reading a compact story that is short but satisfying. This one definitely fit that bill, and I'll probably read the author's other titles that are available from Open Library.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The RAHM Report for 10/2/17

A lot of my normal responsibilities are on hiatus right now in preparation for the baby, who is due in two weeks, so I had some extra time to read this week and made good use of it. I finished 7 books and started an additional four. Here's the list.


Finished Reading:


  • If Not For You by Debbie Macomber
    This was a quick read, and I enjoyed the slow development of the romance between the main hero, Sam and heroine, Beth. I wasn't as crazy about the side plot involving Beth's aunt, Sunshine, and her long-lost first love, but it was still one of the better Macomber novels I've read. It was the third in a series, but it didn't matter that I hadn't read the others, and I probably don't need to. 
  • Where the Lilies Bloom by Vera and Bill Cleaver
    As I mentioned last week, my husband and I watched the movie based on this book, so then I felt I had to read it in order to evaluate it and the film fairly. There were some big differences between the two versions of the story, and I'm still trying to decide which I prefer. I plan to eventually review this book, but maybe not until November.
  • The Crow and the Castle by Keith Robertson
    My husband found this for me on OpenLibrary when I was looking for more mysteries to read for this month's Old School Kidlit theme. It's by the author of the Henry Reed books and pretty much impossible to buy anywhere, but it was so good! I wish the whole series had stayed in print, as I think the writing is much better than in the Hardy Boys books. My review is coming in a few weeks. 
  • Shag: Last of the Plains Buffalo by Robert M. McClung
    I've been reading this book aloud to Little Miss Muffet (age 3 years 10 months). It got a little heavy-handed in its message near the end, and there were a lot of dead buffalo in the story, but she still said she enjoyed it. This author has other books that are not quite as wordy; we may try one of those next.
  • The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne
    I finished reading this aloud at lunchtime on Friday. I tried to keep my composure but found myself getting choked up at the end anyway. The girls seemed unfazed. I figure we'll keep reading it every couple of years until they are mature enough to cry at the end, too! 
  • The Minnow Leads to Treasure by Philippa Pearce
    I wanted to like this more than I did. My review will be up near the end of the month. 
  • A Penny's Worth of Character by Jesse Stuart
    My husband read this aloud to the girls at the dinner table this week, and I listened in. It was a good moral tale about telling the truth and owning up to mistakes that definitely resonated with Miss Muffet but went over the head of two-year-old Bo Peep.  


Currently Reading:


  • W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton
    I'm finding this a little slow-going so far, and I'm not 100% convinced that I will finish before the baby comes. If I don't, chances are it will be abandoned for now and picked up again in another 6 months to a year. But for the next week or so, I'll see what progress I can make. 
  • Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child by Anthony Esolen
    I am loving everything about this book. Esolen uses many lovely quotations from famous works of literature to illustrate his points, and he makes great arguments about the problems in our current society as seen from a conservative/Christian perspective. It's not as much about raising children as the title suggests, but it is a really compelling and quick read. 
  • Squashed by Joan Bauer
    I enjoy Joan Bauer and wanted a quick fall read to enjoy. There isn't much to the plot, but I like the writing style and the focus on a pumpkin-growing competition. 
  • A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
    After finishing Still Life  last week, I felt that I could not wait to continue this series, but when I went to borrow the ebook of this second book, there were dozens of holds on practically every copy! One library had just one copy with one person on hold, so I put myself on that list, figuring it would still be a month before my turn came up.  I was thrilled when just a few days later, I got the email that the book had been checked out to me. Honestly, if I don't finish W is for Wasted before the baby is born, this book will be the reason. I am just so excited to read it, and I don't want to end up having to go back to the end of the holds list.  
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge, October 2017 (Mysteries)

This month, the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge is focusing on Mysteries.

To participate, read a book or books connected to this month's theme with a publication date in the decade of your birth or before. Post about it on your blog, or wherever you typically review books. At the end of the month, I will publish a link-up post for you to share your reviews from the month.

Feel free to share what you're planning to read here in the comments and/or on social media using #oldschoolkidlit2017. Happy reading!

Friday, September 29, 2017

September Link-Up: Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge (School Stories)

I read several books for the challenge this month:


What about you? Which school stories did you read? Share your links in comments!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Reading with Little Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep, September 2017

Welcome to the final edition of Reading with Little Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep! We are just two and a half weeks away from the expected arrival of baby number three, so next month, this feature will be changing. Now that we have a beginning reader among us, it's starting to become difficult to keep track of everyone's reading on a monthly basis. It is likely that, after a short hiatus to get settled with our new addition, I will start a new weekly feature to keep track of what all the "Read-at-Home Kids" are enjoying literacy-wise. In the meantime, here's one last monthly round-up, focused on what we've read in September.

I'm having a little bit of trouble keeping up with Little Miss Muffet (age 3 years, 10 months), but I believe she has now read more than 100 books on her own. This includes the Hooked on Phonics readers she started out with, as well as a good portion of our collection of I Can Read books and other similar easy readers. (My count is not 100% accurate, but I think her 100th book was Big Max by Kin Platt.) She continues to surprise me with her facility with reading. I could sound out words when I was four, but I did not have the comprehension skills that she does. I'm finding myself having actual book discussions with a child who is still three, and it makes me feel guilty for looking askance at library parents who used to insist their preschoolers read on a second grade level. Early readers really do exist!

This month, we have also started reading chapter books aloud to both girls at mealtimes. My husband started out reading Little House in the Big Woods at the dinner table at the end of last month, and I was amazed by how much even Little Bo Peep (age 2) was able to take away from the story. We finished the book weeks ago, and she is still talking about Laura and Mary and asking to see the illustrations of Charley, the boy who is stung by yellow jackets near the end of the book. Miss Muffet's interest in the book runs deeper, and she's been asking about rifles, jigs, and pioneer clothing, resulting in lots of YouTube viewing sessions to help her make sense of everything she heard about in the story. After Little House, my husband also read The Apple and the Arrow, and now we're working our way through A Penny's Worth of Character. In the meantime, I've been reading the Winnie-the-Pooh books aloud during lunch. This will surely not be the only time they hear these, as there is a lot that is going over their heads, but they adore the characters and both girls can retell what they hear on some level. Miss Muffet and I are also reading a nonfiction chapter book, Shag, Last of the Plains Buffalo by Robert M. McClung, which she is enjoying despite the fact that buffalo keep getting killed left and right!

And of course, we are always reading picture books. Miss Muffet is still partial to the mouse books by Kevin Henkes, and both girls continue to be obsessed with Frances the Badger. Bo Peep has also become very attached to There's a Nightmare in my Closet, and she has been known to hide in my bedroom closet and then coming charging out, calling out in a monstrous voice, "I am the nightmaaaare." Other favorites of both girls include Baby Dear, which we've been reading a lot in preparation for their new sibling, and Good Little Bad Little Girl, whose text I find irritating, but whose illustrations accurately represent the behavioral gamut my kids run each day.

Finally, Bo Peep had her first taste of audiobooks this month, and she is a fan! She will listen very intently to Bedtime for Frances, even reciting some of the lines along with the narrator. So far, she has only listened without the book in hand, but it won't be long before we can teach her to turn the pages when the signal sounds. I don't like to use audiobooks as a substitute for reading aloud, but they do come in handy when I need to run to the bathroom or fix lunch, and they will be a nice option when I'm putting the baby down for a nap or giving him/her a bottle.

And that was our month! Watch for new weekly posts coming in November, and in the meantime, happy reading!


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Book Review: The MacDonald Hall series by Gordon Korman

Canadian children's author Gordon Korman has had a long career as the prolific writer of humorous, exciting, and easy-to-read novels geared toward grades 4 to 9. He started writing at age 12, when he wrote This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall! for a seventh grade English class. Over the course of nearly 20 years after the publication of this first MacDonald Hall book, Korman published a total of 7 titles about the boarding school exploits of best friends Bruno and Boots.This month, I read them all:

  • This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall! (1977)
  • Go Jump in the Pool! (1979)
  • Beware the Fish! (1980)
  • The War with Mr. Wizzle (1982)
  • The Zucchini Warriors (1988)
  • MacDonald Hall Goes Hollywood (1991)
  • Something Fishy at Macdonald Hall (1995)

The series stars best friends and roommates Bruno Walton and Melvin "Boots" O'Neal, who are known pranksters on the MacDonald Hall campus. Though the two boys often butt heads with their headmaster, the long-suffering yet fair-minded Mr. Sturgeon, whom they call "The Fish," they also have a fond affection for their school. The boys and their classmates also have many associations with students at Miss Scrimmage's Finishing School for Young Ladies, which is located across the road from MacDonald Hall, and whose high-strung Headmistress frequently overreacts to late-night visits from MacDonald Hall students by wildly wielding a shotgun. 

Each book of the series focuses on a different major scheme involving Bruno and Boots. Sometimes, they seek to make a particular improvement to their school, such as a pool or a recreation center. Other times, they go to war with a particular teacher who is making their lives difficult, or with an outside force that threatens to close the school. In the final two books, they even befriend a Hollywood celebrity and uncover a phantom prankster. 

What I love about these books is their sense of humor. Last spring, I attended a talk by two children's illustrators who insisted that the key to humor in children's books is underwear and toilet jokes. I found this to be a disappointing underestimation of what kids are capable of finding funny, but I was also hard-pressed to think of many examples of funny books, especially funny books targeted at boys, that could make kids laugh without resorting to crude humor. Thankfully, I have been reminded that this series fits that bill exactly. Perhaps because Korman started writing these when he was himself an adolescent, he completely understands what middle school boys find funny, and he delivers it in every single book. Pranks, schemes, disasters, explosions, science experiments, sporting events - these are the backdrops for Korman's jokes, and most of the time, they are clever, respectful and well-executed. Even when the characters disobey their teachers, they often do so in the name of a noble cause that helps their school or their friends.
 
Also refreshing is the complete lack of serious dating in these books. There are some storylines involving long-distance and unrequited crushes, but none of the preoccupation with having exclusive girlfriends and boyfriends that seems prevalent in more contemporary books. The girls of Miss Scrimmage's  (particularly Cathy and Diane) are not presented as potential romantic partners for Bruno, Boots, and their friends, but as partners in crime, good friends, and pranksters in their own right. All the female characters are actually very well-done, including Mrs. Sturgeon, the headmaster's wife, whose affection for Bruno and Boots often keeps her husband from acting rashly in his punishment of them. 

Are the MacDonald Hall books great literature? Probably not. But neither are they to be completely dismissed as "fluff" or 'twaddle." For boys who like funny books, but whose parents would prefer not to promote toilet humor (or worse, crude jokes with a sexual basis), they are the perfect escapist read. Interestingly, these books have also recently been turned into a series of films, which are all available to stream on Netflix. I watched half of the first one, Go Jump in the Pool!, and noted some differences, mainly in the age of the characters (MacDonald Hall seems to be a high school in the movie world) and in the character of Miss Scrimmage (who is now a peace-loving hippie and not an unhinged woman with a shotgun), but overall, I didn't think it was terrible. I would definitely recommend reading the books first, but fans of the series will probably enjoy the film adaptations. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

The RAHM Report for 9/25/17

Three weeks until baby #3 is due! I turned in the final manuscript for my own book this week and then went on a big reading spree over the weekend. Here are the results.


Finished Reading: 


  • MacDonald Hall Goes Hollywood by Gordon Korman
    The books in this series are all very similar to each other, so reading them all in succession did end up feeling a bit tedious. I liked the introduction of a celebrity into the mix in this book, but the sporting events, use of disguises, and other supposedly funny elements had been used in previous books and didn't seem as clever the second time around. 
  • Something Fishy at MacDonald Hall by Gordon Korman
    This is the last MacDonald Hall book, and the series went out on a high note. This was the quickest read for me since the first book. Published in 1995, this title is technically too new to count for the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge, since it wasn't published in the decade of my birth or before, but I decided to include it in my review of the whole series, which I will post later this week. 
  • The Tower Treasure by Franklin W. Dixon
    I read the revised 1959 edition this week, after reading the 1927 edition last week. I made a whole list of differences that I think will make for a very interesting blog post. It will be posted sometime in October. 
  • Still Life by Louise Penny
    This was a really great read - the exact kind of book I've been looking for. My full 5-star review is on Goodreads.
  • To Helvetica and Back by Paige Shelton
    The mystery was a little far-fetched, but otherwise I like this series and want to read more. My review is on Goodreads
  • Death Overdue by Allison Brook
    This was an ARC from NetGalley, which I requested because of the library setting. Mostly, I enjoyed it, and I definitely want to read the next book. My thoughts are on Goodreads and NetGalley
  • Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson
    I finally just made myself sit down and read to the end of this book in one sitting. It was not as funny as Life Among the Savages and the fact that it is 300 pages but divided into only four chapters made it feel like it took forever. There are little moments and snippets I'm sure I'll refer back to, but this sequel felt more stressful, as Jackson deals with her kids' bad behavior, than funny, as the first book was when it focused more on her own flaws and fumblings


Currently Reading:

 

  • The Minnow Leads to Treasure by Philippa Pearce
    So far, this book is a cross between Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome and Quicksand Pond by Janet Taylor Lisle (2017). I'm a little less than 100 pages into it, but it moves quickly. It's definitely a much more interesting treasure hunt than the one I just read in that Hardy Boys book! 
  • The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne
    This is our current lunchtime read-aloud. The chapters are a bit longer than they were in Winnie-the-Pooh, but every time I consider that the book might be too complicated for my little listeners, they comment on something from the story and encourage me to stick with it. I know this won't be the only time we read these books, so I'm just enjoying seeing them get to know the characters and talk about what they do take away from each little story. More on that in my Reading With... post for September, to be published later this week. 
  • W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton
    I have been rationing my Sue Grafton books because I really don't want to be waiting around for the last one to be published. I decided I could stand to start W now that Y is out, but there are a surprising number of negative Goodreads reviews, so I'm a little nervous that it's going to be terrible. I also found V is for Vengeance underwhelming so the thought of another disappointing book does not thrill me. But I'm not going to not read it, so I guess now is as good a time as any. 
  • If Not For You by Debbie Macomber
    I borrowed the Kindle edition of this romance novel from the library weeks ago but only started reading it when I got the notice from the library on Saturday that it would be expiring in three days. It's a very sweet story with believable characters and just enough of a dramatic plot (there is a car accident involved) to keep it from becoming boring. I'll probably finish this one today. 
  • Where the Lilies Bloom by Vera and Bill Cleaver
    My husband and I watched the movie based on this book over the weekend, so now I have to go back and read it. It's not the happiest story, but I like the writing style and I'm zipping quickly and eagerly through each chapter.
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


Friday, September 22, 2017

Reading Through History: A Picturesque Tale of Progress, Beginnings II by Olive Beaupre Miller (1957)

This second volume of A Picturesque Tale of Progress begins with Babylonia and the Assyrian Empire. After discussing these civilizations and comparing them a bit to Egypt, the book moves on to Biblical history, covering the Old Testament from the time of Abraham to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.

I have to admit to being less enamored of this set of books after reading this second volume. When I started Beginnings I last month, I felt that I had discovered the only books I would ever need to teach history. I see now that this was not only not true, but probably a foolish thing to expect from any one resource. The big problems I had reading this volume were related to the sheer number of names introduced by the text and what I felt was an inconsistency in the overall quality of writing.

As far as the number of historical figures goes, it is clear to me that I'm going to need to supplement my own reading in the area of ancient history in order to figure out where to focus my kids' attention. This book mentions a lot of people, and it felt pretty impossible to keep track of them all without needing to look them up in other books and/or keep copious notes about each one. I kept having to stop to Google this or that name, and that would only lead to the discovery that what is told in Beginnings II is only the tip of the iceberg about that individual. It began to feel like I was drowning in information, and I could feel my brain just shutting down as it would when I read history texts in school. It was as though my mind was saying, "I'll never grasp all of this, so I'll just shut it all out."

In terms of the writing, it sometimes feels very engaging to me, but at many other points, it feels lifeless and no more interesting than the boring textbooks I was assigned as a kid.  I thought the stories from the Bible were the highlight of the book, in part because they were familiar and I didn't feel lost, but also because of the author's point of view on Biblical history. At every point, events taken from the Bible are given equal weight to those events recorded in other sources. The author also does not negate the supernatural elements of these stories. When individuals were inspired to act by God, she says so, without qualifying these statements or trying to attribute those individuals' actions to other, more "plausible" explanations. This is, of course, not how these events would have been treated in a public school textbook, so in that sense, this set of books still feels like a gift to a Catholic homeschooler who plans to teach religion and history side-by-side.

I may take a little break before starting on Explorers I, which is the third book of the series. I have decided to make it a point to read the entire set, but after this book, I need to cleanse my palate a bit before jumping back in.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book Review: Otis Spofford by Beverly Cleary (1953)

Otis Spofford is the companion book to 1951's Ellen Tebbits. Unlike Ellen, who is mild-mannered and well-behaved, Otis is a spirited troublemaker who is always looking for ways to make his school day more interesting. Throughout this book, Otis causes trouble everywhere he goes. He doesn't quite believe his teacher's warnings that he will someday get his comeuppance until one day he does something to Ellen that might just be unforgivable.

What is most interesting to me about this book is how completely terrible Otis's behavior really is. When I think of Beverly Cleary, I usually envision sympathetic characters like Ramona, who try hard, but make mistakes, or whose naughty behavior is a result of misunderstanding and frustration rather than true malice. Otis, though, almost borders on unlikable, as he terrorizes his classmates and teacher, all without much notice from his single mother, the dance instructor. Cleary also doesn't go to any great lengths to redeem Otis. The best she gives us is a chance for Ellen and her friend Austine to get a little bit of revenge, and even that doesn't seem to impress upon him how obnoxious and destructive he is. I know there are kids like Otis, and I think Cleary understands perfectly what makes them tick, but I'm not sure about the story's willingness to basically let him off the hook in the end.

The other problem with this book by contemporary standards is the treatment of American Indians. There is a chapter in the book in which Otis's class is reading about Indians in their readers, and Otis is bored because all of the Indians are friendly and do not behave as they do in the movies he has seen. The vocabulary used in this section is very much a product of its time, and I think it is important to understand that context before becoming offended. Surely Beverly Cleary meant no harm, and there is some great commentary about the lameness of basal readers buried within this chapter that I really enjoyed. Still, there is a lot of talk about scalping and descriptions of kids making fun of Indians that might require some careful explanation and discussion for curious contemporary kids.

As Beverly Cleary books go, this one feels like quite the anomaly, and it is probably the only one I would suggest parents pre-read before handing it to a child. Though it might be useful in helping kids understand why some of their classmates might enjoy misbehaving, the complete lack of a moral lesson at the end of the book could also easily send mixed messages. It's definitely the kind of book that will work well for some families, but not well at all for others.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The RAHM Report for 9/18/17

Finished Reading:

 


  • Here Come the Lions by Alice E. Goudey
    I read this aloud to Miss Muffet over the course of a few days. Just like the others of the series, it was perfect for her level of comprehension and interest. I wish we could find more of these at reasonable prices! Thankfully, I think we still have one on Open Library that we haven't read yet, so we're not totally finished with the series.
  • Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
    My husband finished reading this at the dinner table early in the week. It was so different from what I remembered from childhood! The book made a surprising impression on 23-month-old Little Bo Peep. More about that in my Reading With... post at the end of the month! 
  • Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
    This worked really well as our first lunch time chapter book read-aloud. I had read all of the stories piecemeal, but never in one go, so this was an enjoyable experience for me too. Review coming soon. 
  • The Zucchini Warriors by Gordon Korman
    I'm still hoping to finish and review this entire series by the end of the month. I have the last book checked out of the library, but could only find the second-to-last on Open Library and I've been on the waitlist for 15 days, so I'm not sure I will get it in time. This one was not my favorite, but still pretty funny. 
  • The Tower Treasure by Franklin W. Dixon
    I read the 1927 edition of the first Hardy Boys book, mostly because I'd never read any of the books in the series. I'm going to read the revised 1959 edition as well and then compare them in my review for Old School Kidlit next month. 
  • The Square Root of Murder by Ada Madison
    I really enjoyed this one. It has renewed my interest in reading cozy mysteries. My review is on Goodreads.
  • Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs
    This was another enjoyable book about Temperance Brennan. My review is on Goodreads.


Currently Reading:

 


  • Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson
    The chapters in this book are just so long that it feels impossible to read. I'm getting there, but I didn't make as much progress this week as I had hoped.
  • Still Life by Louise Penny
    It is completely shocking to me that I'm only discovering this series now, because Penny's writing is exactly the mix of character development and description that I love. I'm already planning to read the whole series. 
  • To Helvetica and Back by Paige Shelton
    I've had my eye on this series for a while and finally borrowed one from the library. I'm liking it a lot so far. The setting is well-developed and not just a cheesy opportunity for punny titles, and the writing flows really smoothly. I'll definitely be looking = for more by this author.
  • Death Overdue by Allison Brook
    I requested a digital ARC of this book on NetGalley because it was about a librarian, even though I am usually not too keen on ghost stories. It's surprisingly fun, and I'm enjoying all the library details as well as the unfolding of the murder mystery. This will be a perfect book for getting into a festive mood this Fall. 
  • The Minnow Leads to Treasure by A. Philippa Pearce
    I just started this one last night. I like the writing style so far, but it's too soon to say much more. 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?




Friday, September 15, 2017

Book Review: The Cottage at Bantry Bay by Hilda van Stockum (1938)

Mother and Father O'Sullivan of Glengarriff, County Cork, Ireland have four children: older siblings Michael and Brigid, and twins Liam and Francie. Each chapter of this novel relates an episode from the lives of these vibrant characters as they do things like deliver a donkey to market, befriend a strange dog, and pal around with Paddy the Piper, a traveling musician who turns up now and again to visit his widowed mother.

In many ways, this book is to Ireland what Kate Seredy's books are to Hungary. In addition to realistic stories set around the time of the book's writing, The Cottage at Bantry Bay incorporates lots of Irish culture, language, and history into many of its chapters. The result is an appreciation not just for these characters, but for the richness of their Irish heritage, complete with commonly told legends and folktales. For someone like me, who grew up with a father whose grandparents on both sides were Irish immigrants, this is the perfect book to have in my collection and to someday share with my kids.

That said, I did not love this book as much as I did the author's Mitchells series. Sometimes, I felt that the dialogue was trying too hard to sound authentically Irish, and some of the more mundane details of Irish living didn't really grab my attention. For me, the best parts of the story involved the twins causing mischief and Paddy the Piper maintaining his cheerful, whimsical persona despite the fact that almost his entire family was killed at war. But I can also say that this is precisely the type of book I sought out as a child: low-stakes, gentle, and with a solid happy ending. At age 10, I would have read this book again and again until its covers fell off!

I have heard wonderful things about the two sequels to this book, Francie on the Run and Pegeen, and I have every intention of reading those as well. Van Stockum is a great author for Catholic families, and I'm glad to own this book for my kids to read when they are older.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Book Review: Here Comes the Bus! by Carolyn Haywood (1963)

Jonathan is ready to start school, and he is thrilled to be taking a school bus driven by a man who looks just like the milkman he knew when he lived in the city. Over the course of the year, Rus, as the children call the driver, proves to be a dedicated friend to the children on his route, as he rescues a birthday cake, saves kids from a snowbank, transports pets, and even takes the class out to select a Christmas tree.

Carolyn Haywood wrote a lot of books about school, but this one stood out for me because it revolves around not the school itself, but the school bus. I lived so close to my elementary and middle schools growing up that I only took the bus in kindergarten and in high school, and there was always an air of mystery surrounding what actually happened during those bus rides to and from school.  As a kid, this book would have been fascinating to me for that reason alone.

What I enjoyed about it now, as an adult, however, was the character of Rus himself. While all of the characters of the story are well-developed, and the kids act just like a classroom full of first graders would act in real life, there is something especially endearing about a bus driver who goes to such great lengths to make sure his riders have a good year in school. That's not to say this is a book that goes out of its way to hold up Rus as a hero - instead, it winds up being an interesting look at the work of a bus driver with a focus on all the little details that are especially fascinating to young kids. Just as she does with Mr. Kilpatrick, the crossing guard in her beloved Betsy series, Haywood creates in Rus an adult that kids can admire and relate to at the same time.

Here Comes the Bus! would be a perfect back-to-school read-aloud for families preparing to send a child on the bus for the first time, or for teachers hoping to break the ice at the start of the school year. It's also a good choice for a transportation-obsessed preschooler who is ready to hear chapter books, as the bus is the main setting of all the action.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Old School Kidlit Favorites Through the Decades

Today, Top Ten Tuesday's theme is a "throwback" freebie. Since I review primarily older children's books, I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to highlight some of my favorites. To ensure variety amongst the titles, I have divided the 20th century into decades and chosen one favorite per decade. This is not to say that each book mentioned is my absolute favorite book of its given decade - that would be impossible for me to narrow down! Instead, each book is merely one favorite of many. (Note: because I haven't read that many books published before 1920, I chose only one title to represent the years 1900-1919. Links are to my reviews.)



1900-1919

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit (1906)
This family story follows the lives of Roberta (Bobbie), Peter, and Phyllis (Phil) while their father is away from home doing something the kids are purposely told nothing about. In their new home, a smaller house in the country than they have previously owned, the three siblings have many adventures: making friends with Perks the porter, waving to a particular old gentleman who rides the train past their station every day, and even saving a train from a very bad accident! For being so old, this book felt really modern to me when I first read it, and though it has been several years, I still think of scenes from it now and then.

1920s 

The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly (1928)
This historical fiction novel was the winner of the 1929 Newbery Medal. I read it a couple of years ago when I challenged myself to read 52 children's historical fiction novels in one year. At the time, I never could have guessed that a novel about the Middle Ages in Poland would become such a favorite, but it turned out to be one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. In the story, a new trumpeter, Pan Andrew Charnetski, has come to Krakow to stay with relatives while he waits to deliver a valuable object to the king. When he learns that his relatives have been killed, Pan Andrew and his wife and son, Joseph must conceal their identities. Pan Andrew's role as the night trumpeter is meant to keep him out of harm's way but it is only a matter of time before his enemies catch up to him. The story as a whole is a struggle between good and evil, which favors humility, hard work, and honesty over pride, instant gratification, and deceit. Truly, this is a book with "authentic value." 

1930s

Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome (1933)
This is the fourth of the Swallows & Amazons books, a series of adventure novels by British author Arthur Ransome. I love the entire series, but even after having read all 12 books, this one is still my favorite. Dick and Dorothea Callum arrive in the Lake District for a visit over their winter holiday from school, and they meet the Walkers and the Blacketts, two families of kids who have had several adventures together in the past. As the Walkers and Blacketts reinvent their make-believe world to suit the wintry weather, the Ds, as the Callum kids are called, get their first experience playing independently in the great outdoors. This would be a perfect snow day read.



1940s

The Open Gate by Kate Seredy (1943)
This realistic fiction novel takes place during World War II in the town next to the one I grew up in. Though some of my love for the book is clearly based in my personal connection to the locations named in it, it is also just a wonderfully written story about the Prestons, a family of city slickers who buy a farm and learn to take care of it from their new neighbors, Mr. Van Keuran, and his cold, stern wife, who are raising their artistic grandson, Andy, after the tragic death of his parents, and Mike and his wife, Linka, Slovakian immigrants whose son has gone into the military in anticipation of the United States entering the war. All Kate Seredy books are favorites of mine, but this one is at the top of the list!

1950s 

Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce (1958)
Like The Trumpeter of Krakow, this 1958 Carnegie Medal winning novel is not a book I would ever have imagined myself loving so much until I challenged myself to read more books outside my favorite genres. Described as a "low fantasy novel," this is a time slip story in which Tom, who is visiting his aunt and uncle, discovers that a mysterious clock in the hallway at their house (owned by an elderly woman named Mrs. Bartholomew) stops for an hour each night, during which a garden magically appears outside the back door. In the garden, Tom meets Hatty, who is living at some point in the house's history. The two form a friendship which becomes important to both of them and remains so even as Hatty ages and outgrows Tom as a playmate. The book culminates in the most perfectly emotional ending I have ever read.

1960s

The Moon By Night by Madeleine L'Engle (1963)
I like most of L'Engle's Austins books, but this, the second, is the one I would have enjoyed most if I'd read it as a kid. A family road trip story, it follows Vicky Austin and her family as they travel from their childhood home in Thornhill to Laguna Beach, California, where their aunt and uncle will soon live. On the way, the Austins visit well-known attractions like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, make the acquaintance of a snide and sickly young man named Zachary Gray who does his best to woo Vicky, and share in surprising adventures involving everything from bears to flash floods. Vicky also makes her own internal, spiritual journey, as she begins to come of age.  This is the exact kind of book I loved to read when I was in middle school, and it hit a definite sweet spot when I first discovered it five years ago.




1970s

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1978)
I put off reading this 1979 Newbery Medal book until adulthood, which was probably a mistake, considering how much I enjoyed it. Not only is it a compelling mystery, but each of the characters involved in the strange plot is a believable and interesting individual complete with flaws and quirks. I said in my original review that I wanted to read it again - it may be time to get around to doing that soon!

1980s

The Fledgling by Jane Langton (1980)
This 1981 Newbery Honor book is the fourth in a series that was published over a 40-year timespan. The main character, Georgie, lives in Concord, Massachusetts, not far from Walden Pond, and the aunt and uncle with whom she lives run a transcendentalist school. When Georgie befriends a mysterious bird called the Goose Prince, she attracts the attention of her nosy and vindictive neighbors, who plan to kill the bird during hunting season. This is a multi-layered and sophisticated story with references to many things that ordinarily are not mentioned in children's books. Not all of the books of the series live up to the standard set by this title, but this is a really different and wonderful story.

1990s

Strider by Beverly Cleary (1991)
I remember reading and enjoying Dear Mr. Henshaw as a kid, but when I read this sequel a few years back, I loved it so much more. Now that Leigh Botts is about to enter high school, he no longer writes to his favorite author, but instead he keeps a diary of the important things that happen to him. As high school begins, these events include finding a running dog named Strider, custody of whom he shares with his best friend, Barry, trying to hide Strider from his landlady whose opinion on pets is unknown, reconnecting with his dad, who has fallen into some bad luck, practicing for the track team, and working up the nerve to speak to Geneva, a fellow runner who has beautiful red hair. What is impressive about this book is how well Cleary writes from the teen male point of view. In my review, I likened this book to contemporary titles by Gary Paulsen and James Patterson, and I think that comparison still holds true.

Do you read vintage children's books? What are some of your favorite titles?


Monday, September 11, 2017

The RAHM Report for 9/11/17

Finished Reading:


  • Otis Spofford by Beverly Cleary
    I needed another school story for this month's Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge, and decided it was time to read one of the only Beverly Cleary titles I had never read before. I was shocked by how different this book is from many of her others. Otis is not that likable! My review will be posted the middle of next week.
  • Butternut Summer by Mary McNear
    I finished this a few days before it expired. I like the characters and writing style well enough, but I've decided to take a break from the series for a while, as it was starting to feel like too much of the same thing. My review is on Goodreads.
  • Butternut Lake: The Night Before Christmas by Mary McNear
    A Goodreads reviewer mentioned that this novella felt more like an epilogue for Butternut Summer than a stand-alone story, so I decided to read it while Butternut Summer was still fresh in my mind. It was a little too long to be an epilogue, but it also had a lot less conflict than the two full-length novels I've read. It's just a nice feel-good holiday story that I probably would have enjoyed more in the right season.  
  • Farewell Summer by Ray Bradbury
    This was an odd story overall, and the ending was really strange, but I still gave it four stars. I'm planning to review both Dandelion Wine and Farewell Summer here on the blog, probably to be published during the weeks after the new baby is born when I will be on "maternity leave" from reading and blogging. 
  • Jamie and the Mystery Quilt by Vicki Berger Erwin
    Because the new baby is expected to arrive in mid-October, I've gotten a head start on my Old School Kidlit reading for the October theme of mysteries. This was a used paperback I bought years ago and forgot about. Though I don't think I'm keeping it as a permanent part of our collection, it was a solid three-star book. My full review will be published sometime in October. 
  • The Haunting by Margaret Mahy
    My husband recommended this 1982 Carnegie Medal winner as a mystery for Old School Kidlit in October, and I loved it so much, I read it in one sitting. I'll save my comments for my review next month, but this is a five-star book for sure. 

Currently Reading: 


  • Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson
    With the help of the audiobook (which I borrowed from the library via Hoopla), I have made great progress on this book this week. The book consists of four lengthy chapters and I am at the start of chapter four. It is very possible that I will finally finish this week!  
  • Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
    My husband is reading this book aloud after dinner each night, and both of our girls (almost 2 and almost 4) are really into it. I'll talk more about it at the end of the month when I do my "Reading with..." post.
  • Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs
    I was going to start a Kinsey Millhone book (W is for Wasted is the next one I haven't read) but decided to save those a little while longer and catch up with Tempe instead. I love the way Reichs writes, and I'm enjoying the relationships between the characters as much as the mystery itself. 
  • Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A.Milne
    I've been reading this book aloud to the girls at lunch time, and though they will probably need to hear it again when they are slightly older in order to really understand it, it is a pleasure to introduce them to these beloved characters. We're about a third of the way through, and I expect we'll be finished in another week or so.
  • The Square Root of Murder by Ada Madison
    I saw this book in a used bookstore once and didn't buy it. When I was considering which cozy mystery to try next, I remembered the title and discovered it was on Open Library. I'm halfway through the book now, and it is one of the better-written adult novels I have picked up in a while. I'm invested in the main character and interested in the mystery itself, which I find is not always the case. I plan to finish it in a couple of days. 
I'll be linking up today Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?