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!)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Bout of Books Progress, Day 3

Bout of Books

On day 3, I finished A Likely Story by Jenn McKinlay and then read half of This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall! by Gordon Korman. It seems that I'm actually getting less reading done during this read-a-thon than I would in a normal week...

Paging Through Picture Books: I Can't said the Ant (1948), The Hungry Thing (1967), Something Queer is Going On (1973), Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose (1948), Ivy Cottage (1984)

I'm catching up on a few more picture book reviews today. These are books I have read before, but which I chose to re-read for the Picture Book Reading Challenge. Represented here are my choices for #10 a rhyming book (I Can't said the Ant), #42. a book celebrating food (The Hungry Thing), #46 a book published in the 1970s (Something Queer is Going On), #52 a book by Dr. Seuss (Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose), and #66 a book from your childhood (Ivy Cottage).

I Can't said the Ant by Polly Cameron

I had a paperback copy of this book as a kid, but haven't known where it is in a long time. When I stumbled upon another copy, also paperback, at a used book sale, I snatched it up. When I read it aloud, Miss Muffet giggled at the rhyme throughout the entire story, and seemed to take joy in the sound of the words in the same way I did as a child. I have to admit that aside from the gimmick of rhyming words, this book - which is basically about sentient kitchen appliances  banding together to rescue a cracked teapot - really doesn't have much to it. Still, it was fun to share a childhood favorite with my own daughter.

The Hungry Thing by Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler, illustrated by Richard E. Martin 

My childhood copy of this book, about a mysterious monster who demands to be fed strange things like "Shmancakes" and "Tickles," has been sitting on a shelf near the dining room table for months. Since Miss Muffet is so into word play right now, I read it to her after dinner one night. Besides thinking it went on a little long and relied a little too heavily on just one joke, I thought the book held up pretty well to my adult sensibilities. Miss Muffet didn't necessarily understand the whole story, but she was able to guess each food the Hungry Thing was requesting based on the rhymes.

Something Queer is Going On by Elizabeth Levy, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein

I loved this picture book mystery series as a kid, more for the pictures than anything else. This is the first book of the series and it wasn't as exciting as I remembered. Even the pictures, which are labeled like diagrams, didn't seem as detailed as I expected based on my memories. (I think the books I liked best may have come later in the series.) In any case, I think this book is best-suited to independent readers, and I haven't tried reading it or any of the other titles we own from this series aloud to Miss Muffet. They are geared at elementary readers and would probably appeal to kids who like comics and books in graphic format.

Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose by Dr. Seuss

This is one of my favorite Dr Seuss books, and I recently read it aloud to Miss Muffet. Seuss is always harder for me to read aloud than I expect, but even so, Miss Muffet seemed to enjoy the story even if she doesn't fully grasp its meaning yet. I think this book is probably best appreciated by older kids, since little ones don't understand such concepts as taking advantage of someone's kindness or failing to defend oneself, but the language is appealing to any age, so I wouldn't hesitate to read it aloud to either of my girls again during the preschool years.

Ivy Cottage by E.J. Taylor 

I had this book and several others in the series as a kid. The main characters are Miss Biscuit, an elderly lady and Violet Pickles, a rag doll, who move together to Ivy Cottage. When Violet seems lonely, Miss Biscuit creates another doll, Ruby Buttons to be her friend. This was a book that was a million times better in my memory than in reality. Miss Muffet did listen attentively, but she didn't seem that into the story, and I'm not sure I will bother to read any of the others to her. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Bout of Books Progress, Day 2

Bout of Books

Day 2 was slightly better than Day 1. I read two books cover to cover: A Cricket in Times Square by George Selden (which is one of my picks for the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge this month) and The Burning Questions of Bingo Brown, which I borrowed from Open Library just for fun because I love Betsy Byars and I eventually want to read all of her books. I will probably get through the rest of that series this week.

I still haven't finished A Likely Story by Jenn McKinlay, but I'm getting close. Day 3 has been a little tricky so far, but the night is young...

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Bout of Books Progress, Day 1

Bout of Books

I had my last CCD class of the year last night, and then I participated in the #boutofbooks chat as soon as I got home, so my evening reading time was limited, and I got off to a slow start. I finished a book I had been reading for a couple of weeks - First Class Murder by Robin Stevens - and made a little bit of progress on A Likely Story by Jenn McKinlay. I also read about 30 pages of Murder on the Orient Express, but that's a long one, and I don't really plan to make it a priority this week. 

My goal for the week is to catch up on my Goodreads challenge. I have been perpetually 40-ish books behind for over a month, and though I can make some of it up with picture books, I also want to get a few longer books done. I'm hoping for at least a slightly more productive Day 2! 

Paging Through Picture Books: Let's Go to the Library (1990), The Giant Story (1953), Every Day a Dragon (1967), Do You Know What I'll Do? (1958), Puddle Wonderful (1992), The Birthday Party (1957)

I fell behind on the Picture Book Reading Challenge during April, but I'm catching up in May! Here are my reviews for #18 a book celebrating libraries or reading (Let's Go to the Library), #44 a book published in the 1950s (The Giant Story), #71 a book about dinosaurs OR dragons (Every Day a Dragon), #75 a book that makes you cry (Do You Know What I'll Do?), #86 a poetry book (Puddle Wonderful), and #93 a book about celebrating birthdays (The Birthday Party).

Let's Go to the Library by Lisl Weil

Let's Go to the Library was published in 1990, but its two-toned illustrations have a wonderful vintage feel. I'm sure some readers (and librarians who have weeded the book) feel that it looked outdated when it was published and looks even more so now, but both my husband and I were drawn to it precisely because it looks older. The content is impressive. Some of the technology mentioned is a little behind the times (microfilm, for example) but the overall mission of libraries as providers of information comes across very clearly. There is also a good amount of history packed into the book, which helps contextualize libraries in our culture, and in our world. I have read a lot of kids' books about what librarians do, and compared with some newer titles, this one is better written and less preachy.

The Giant Story by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

We have been collecting a lot of Maurice Sendak books recently. In going over the list of his books on Goodreads, my husband discovered this story by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers which just happened to be available to read from Open Library. The story is about a boy who spends his whole day pretending to be a giant who can crush people's houses and eat the leaves from trees. Miss Muffet is really into giants right now - fighting them off, painting pictures of them, imagining that one comes at night to bite her thumbs - so I shared this with her. She told my husband she didn't like it, but the look of joy on her face as I read betrayed her true feelings. It was a definite case of right kid, right book, right time.

Every Day a Dragon by Joan M. Lexau, illustrated by Ben Schecter

Every Day a Dragon is a story about a father and son who play a game of make-believe every afternoon. When Dad arrives home, he pretends to be a dragon, and the boy hides from him to avoid being eaten. At the end of the night, the boy heads to bed so he can get a good night's sleep and have enough energy to fight the "dragon" again the next day. This is the perfect book for imaginative preschoolers. The illustrations by Ben Shecter (complete with a saucepan upside-down on the boy's head) perfectly match the mood of the story. It reminds me a lot of newer books like Mitchell's License and Daddy Makes the Best Spaghetti, which also focus on fun father-son dynamics.

Do You Know What I'll Do? by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Garth Williams

In Do You Know What I'll Do? a big sister talks to her little brother about the things they will do together, and the ways she will take care of him. I'm not sure this would have made me cry before I was a parent, but with all the talk in our house lately about being big sisters, it struck a pretty big chord.  I'm a little disappointed that this book has been re-illustrated in recent years. Garth Williams was a brilliant illustrator and I find it disrespectful when publishers discarded allegedly "outdated" pictures and allow a new illustrator to reinterpret the text. I much prefer to read original versions.

Puddle Wonderful: Poems to Welcome Spring selected by Bobbi Katz, illustrated by Mary Morgan

Because of our love for poetry picnics, we have quite a few poetry collections. I'm not sure how this Pictureback book came to be in our possession (it may have been mine or my sister's in childhood?) but it's a heavily illustrated collection of surprisingly scholarly poems for kids, including works by E.E. Cummings, Langston Hughes, John Updike, etc., as well as poems by kids' authors like Jack Prelutsky. We read it cover to cover one night at the dinner table, and I think I will take it along on our next poetry picnic since it is so portable compared to some of our larger tomes, and the illustrations are very preschool-friendly.

The Birthday Party by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

This was another Goodreads discovery that was available on Open Library. Krauss and Sendak have done several books together and this one is not their best, but it does share the charm of their other works. The main character is David, a boy who has been many places, but never to a birthday party. David wants "to have been to a birthday party," however, so he is thrilled when his family throws a surprise party for him. I love the concept of wanting "to have been to a birthday party" because it implies wanting to cross an experience off a list rather than to simply enjoy the experience for its own sake - something I think young kids feel fairly often. Sendak's illustrations are also spot-on. Even with very little text to suggest personality, David comes fully to life in those pictures.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Seven Quick Takes: Things We Won't Do With Baby #3

Now that I'm in the second trimester, it's starting to sink in that in less than six months, we will be a family of five! As I start to get into baby prep mode all over again, I've started thinking about all the things we won't be doing with baby number three.

We won't find out the gender.

We have never found out the gender of our babies, and though it is driving some of our family members crazy, we won't be finding out this time either. A few people have told me that they think we should find out since we have 2 girls, and we don't have any boy stuff, but since we never find out, we have an entirely gender neutral newborn wardrobe. I know that finding out the gender is a surprise no matter when it happens, but I love that moment in the delivery room when the nurse tells me what we have. Even Miss Muffet has jumped on the bandwagon with us. I've asked her a couple of times what she thinks it is, and she just says, "I have to wait until the baby comes to find that out, Mama."

We (well, I) won't breastfeed.

It surprises people when they find out we exclusively formula feed our kids. This is probably because we homeschool and don't have a TV and make our own baby food and use cloth diapers. We sound like a family that would breastfeed. We just don't. This used to make me feel guilty, even though I know it's the right decision for our family, because there are lots of articles and blog posts out there that claim that not breastfeeding by choice is a sin - not to mention the ugly comments in every Internet post on the subject. But while the church teaches that you have to feed your baby (obviously!), it does not teach that you must do so using any particular method. So now I mostly don't think about it much, except when I see cool gadgets like this and when nosy old ladies question me about my parenting. (This is my third baby, little old ladies. Bring it on.)

We (hopefully) won't wait too long to go to the hospital.

When I was expecting Miss Muffet my grandmother told me the story of when she almost didn't make it the hospital to have her second child (my aunt). Miss Muffet's labor was 18 hours so I thought I'd have some leeway with Bo Peep, but that did not turn out to be the case. By the time contractions were in a regular pattern of any kind, they were only about 2 minutes apart. This time, I keep joking that I'm going to camp out in the hospital parking lot. It's only 5 minutes from home, but I want to be there in plenty of time in case #3 is even quicker than his/her big sister.

We (again, mostly I) won't plan on an epidural.

I have always planned to have an epidural and have yet to have one that worked. With Miss Muffet, the epidural failed and I felt everything anyway. With Bo Peep, the anesthesiologist was on his way, but by the time he would have gotten there, she had already been born. Having done it naturally twice now, and with the second labor being so short, I've decided to just go in with the assumption that there will be no pain relief. This does not mean I won't ask for it if the opportunity arises, but I'm done trying to make it happen.

We won't worry about what to do with our big kids.

When Bo Peep was born, I was completely stressed out about what to do with Miss Muffet, and we didn't have a clear plan until 37 weeks. This time, I'm planning to line up a couple of family members to come and stay with us - one before the due date, and one after, if the first person needs to be relieved before the baby comes, and I also have a couple of friends who have said they would help us if we need it.

We won't buy newborn clothes.

I think Miss Muffet wore more newborn clothes than Bo Peep did, but they both mostly skipped right onto 3 months pretty quickly. I think what we have is still in pretty good shape, and no matter how cute the clothes are, there is no sense in buying an outfit that a child can only wear for a week. I think we'll save our budget for a new swing (our Mamaroo died when Bo Peep was still an infant) and boy clothes if it turns out we need them.

We won't bring a lot of stuff to the hospital.

When Miss Muffet was born, I brought a ton of stuff with me, and used absolutely none of it. Last time, I was a lot better about only bringing what we'd use, but I feel like I could go even more minimalist. I looked at this list the other day and laughed a little bit because at this point, I really think I could walk in there with my insurance card, my toothbrush, and my phone and be set until it's time to go home.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Bout of Books 19

Bout of Books

Bout of Books 19 starts Monday! This is my fifth time participating overall, and my second time since starting this blog.

If you're not familiar with Bout of Books, here is the official blurb:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 8th and runs through Sunday, May 14th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 19 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

I've had too much going on to really think about what I am going to read just yet, but I'm hoping to have a reading list put together by Monday. I usually get a lot of reading done, and I don't want to waste the week! 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Book Review: Cody and the Rules of Life by Tricia Springstubb (2017)

Cody loves Gremlin, the monster figurine her brother, Wyatt, passed onto her a few years ago. When her best friend, Pearl, proposes a trade - Cody's Gremlin in exchange for Pearl's Arctic Fox - Cody goes along with it, but regrets it almost immediately. Though Cody is pleased that Pearl thinks of her as "trusty" enough to care for one of her prized possessions, Cody misses having Gremlin to confide in, especially when her brother's brand-new, hard-earned Cobra bicycle is stolen. Unable to stand it any longer, and afraid to tell Pearl how she feels, Cody steals Gremlin out of Pearl's backpack during a field trip and then allows Pearl to believe he has been lost. Before she can feel better, however, Cody will realize that she must be honest with Pearl, or she will be just as bad as the thief that took Wyatt's bike.

This book, like the others before it, demonstrates Springstubb's understanding of the significance of small events in the life of a child. Negotiating trades and bargains with friends is something most kids must learn how to do at some point during the early elementary years, and Cody's experience provides a great blueprint, both for how to handle the situation poorly, and how to navigate handling it properly.

The details of the story are also appealing, and they immerse the reader in Cody's world. These are just some of the little things that I really liked in this book:

  • The tempting gong on Cody's teacher's desk, and the fact that Cody has to try so hard not to touch it.  
  • The fact that Cody's teacher mistakenly assumes the Cobra is an animal, not a bicycle.
  • Wyatt's teenager-esque dialogue that reveals his age and attitude without modeling disrespecful or inappropriate behavior.
  • The fact that Cody accidentally (and secretly) scratches Wyatt's bike, a clue which later helps him identify it. 
  • Cody's concerns over dripping pizza sauce in Pearl's seemingly immaculate house.
There are also several wonderfully quotable lines in the book. I especially liked Cody's observation, "If you enjoy rules that make no sense at all, go on a field trip." and her understanding that [C]onscience must be deep-down. Like a backbone. Conscience must be a vertebrate." 

Families looking for books with a clear sense of right and wrong and a believably flawed but overall good-hearted character need look no further than the Cody series. I say this every time I review one of her books, but Springstubb is the one of the best writers of new realistic fiction titles for kids, and I make it a point to read everything she publishes.  You and your kids should, too. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge, May 2017 (Animal Stories)

The fifth month of the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge begins today!

This month our focus is on Animal Stories.

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. On the last weekday of the month, Wednesday, May 31st,  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!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Reading Through History: Magic Maize by Mary and Conrad Buff (1953)

Magic Maize is a short novel about Fabian, a Maya boy in 20th century Guatemala who is caught between his father's love for the old ways and traditional Mayan beliefs and his peddler brother Quin's sympathy for "gringos" (white people) and his willingness to accept the supposed superiority of the white man's brand of maize. As Fabian struggles to reconcile these two opposing worldviews, he grows some of his brother's "magic maize" in secret and also discovers a rare jade earplug that he does not realize may lead to good fortune for his whole family.

This book gives the young reader a bit of insight into the Mayan way of life and the tensions between the Mayas and the white Spaniards. Unlike the Goodreads reviewers of this book, I did not find the authors' treatment of this subject matter to be inherently racist. For the most part, in fact, the attitude of the story is fairly neutral toward the Mayan belief system. It is clear that Fabian's father sincerely believes in the prayers and rituals he performs before planting or harvesting his maize, and though the book ultimately introduces other ways of doing things, it does not ridicule Fabian's parents and neighbors for the way they practice their religion. Fabian and Quin seem to decide - and to convince their father - that perhaps not all new ways are bad ways, but there is nothing overt to suggest that they do this by abandoning their entire way of life.

There is a passage fairly early in the book where Quin articulates quite clearly the book's true message about race:

"I know, I know," answered Quin, "but I see many things as I carry bananas from the jungles to the highlands and maize from the highlands to the jungle. I have known many kinds of people, Fabian, and now I know that they are much alike. Whether they are Indians or gringos, they are alike. Some are good, others are bad. But most of them are neither all good or all bad. It is easy to see why Father hates the gringos. The Spaniards were cruel to the Indians for as long as anyone can remember. But those days are going." 

I much prefer this message over the simplistic contemporary notion that to be white is to be evil. Honestly, those who push for diversity in books because it exposes readers to many different types of people and situations ought to appreciate Quin's realization that the diverse people he meets show him how very much alike all human beings really are. I thought that was the point.

In any case, I don't see the value in excoriating authors of old books for not writing according to contemporary standards, and I'm tired of feeling like I need to become an "old books apologist" in every review I write. This book is over 60 years old, and it is a product of its time. If I think of it that way and ignore all the politics of children's book publishing in the 21st century, I can say that it is well-written, makes great use of storytelling as a device within the story itself, and teaches young readers about a culture and time period with which they may not otherwise be very familiar. I also like the sepia-toned illustrations, many of which take up full pages, and all of which help readers to picture and contextualize what is presented in the text. I will admit that the story was a little bland for me, but I would still not hesitate to share it with my kids. It's interesting, memorable, and well-written, and to me, that's really all that matters.

Friday, April 28, 2017

April Link-Up: Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge 2017 (Fantasy)

Today marks the end of the fourth month of the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge, which focused on Fantasy.

I read three books for the challenge this month:

If you reviewed or otherwise posted about an "Old School" fantasy book from the decade of your birth or before, please leave a comment below with a link so other participants can see what you read. Thanks!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

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

It's been a bit of a crazy month. We traveled to New York for a family trip, then less than a week later I went back to New York alone to help with a family emergency. I came home after two days, but I'm basically "on call" and may need to return again on short notice. So our reading has been pretty sporadic, but we have been reading lots of different things. Here are some of the girls' recent favorite reads:

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz and Brian Floca

I requested a review copy of this book based on the author and illustrator, whose work I have previously enjoyed.  I had pretty high expectations to begin with, but I'm happy to say the book completely exceeded them. Princess Cora is an over-scheduled and overly-coddled princess whose entire life is dictated by the desires of her overzealous parents to make her as smart, clean, and healthy as possible. When she writes a letter to her fairy godmother asking for help, Cora isn't quite sure what to expect, but an ill-behaved crocodile with a penchant for biting is definitely not it. After Cora and the crocodile switch places for a day, however, Cora's family is finally willing to listen to what she wants.

What I like about this book so much is that it does not use Cora to teach a very special feminist lesson about spunk and misbehavior and "persistence." Instead, this book adheres to the true conventions of a fairy tale and empowers Cora within that context. This book neither preaches nor promotes misbehavior; indeed, it does not seem to have any agenda at all other than to entertain young readers. How refreshing! There are many laugh-out-loud moments that had me giggling during out read-aloud, and Miss Muffet loved how heavily illustrated the book is. At 3 years 5 months, she's a little young for chapter books, but this one was short and engaging enough that we read it all in one sitting.

Play With Me by Marie Hall Ets

Though both girls have been enjoying this 1956 Caldecott Honor picture book about a little girl who pleads with different animals to play with her, it has become a particular favorite of Bo Peep (19 mos.) She brings it to me frequently, eager to hop into my lap and enjoy a few pages. The full story seems to be a bit too long for what she is willing to tolerate, but we've made it a quarter of the way through a few times. She seems to especially like the frog and turtle.

Gossie & Friends Say Good Night by Olivier Dunrea

We came home from Grandma's house with this touch-and-feel Gossie and Friends book, and both girls love it. Bo Peep especially likes the page where Boo Boo's noodles feel sticky, and Miss Muffet likes to "read" the story aloud based on the illustrations. I haven't even bothered putting the book away in a basket or anything since we've been home since one or the other of them is always reading it. I try to get Bo Peep to let me read it aloud to her, but so far, she hasn't taken me up on the offer. 

Lullaby and Good Night: Songs for Sweet Dreams by Julie Downing 

We bought a used copy of this lullaby songbook a while back after Miss Muffet became obsessed with a library copy, and now it's Bo Peep's turn. All the talk about her becoming a big sister in October has ramped up her interest in babies and there are lots of them in the illustrations. She especially likes the pictures that accompany the songs "El Coqui" and "Golden Slumbers." She makes a big production of shouting "no!" if I start to sing a song she doesn't want to hear, but she will usually let me get through those two. I look forward to both girls singing these lullabies to their new sibling this Fall.

Nope! by Drew Sheneman

In this picture book, a young bird is scared to fly, but his mother persists in getting him to take the necessary leap toward independence. We received a review copy of this in the mail, and because it is mostly wordless, I knew it would be a good one for Miss Muffet. She loves to tell her own stories based on illustrations and after we read it together the first time, I heard her retelling it to her sister throughout the next couple of days. One of Bo Peep's newest words is "bird" so she also enjoys this one and has even been known to echo her sister and me saying, "Nope nope nope."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Racketty-Packetty House by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1906)

Once upon a time, the dolls of Racketty-Packetty House - Ridikilis, Meg, Peg, Kilmanskeg, and Peter Piper - lived in a beautiful dollhouse and had elegant names to suit their lovely clothes and handsome faces. But then Cynthia received Tidy Castle as a gift, and she hid Racketty-Packetty House out of sight behind her door and quite forgot about it. Despite being forgotten and neglected, however, the dolls of Racketty-Packetty House remain cheerful, enjoying observing the goings-on at the neighboring castle and making time every day to join hands and dance. Things become a bit complicated, however, when first, Peter Piper falls in love with a lady from Tidy Castle, and then it looks as though Racketty-Packetty House might be tossed out and burned.

Just as the Toy Story films and Doll People books have done in recent years, this charming 1906 novella taps into kids' fascination with the notion that their toys might come to life when no one is watching. Burnett creates a believable situation in which many children find themselves - feeling tired of an old toy and ashamed by its drabness when a newer and more attractive model appears - and she uses it to demonstrate important truths about class differences, both in wealth and attitude. The residents of Racketty-Packetty house have many problems that could bog them down in sadness and self-pity, but they never indulge in either, whereas those who live at Tidy Castle have many material possessions but seem not to enjoy life. Using the dollhouses to represent two ways of life makes it easy for kids to discuss larger issues about wealth and poverty within a context that is familiar to them.

I have never read The Secret Garden all the way through, so I couldn't say how The Racketty-Packetty House compares, but I did enjoy the writing style, descriptions, and overall moral of the story. I don't think my three-year-old is quite ready to hear this as a read-aloud just yet, but I wouldn't hesitate to share it with a six- or seven-year-old, especially if that child was a big doll lover, as I was at that age. Perhaps this is because my copy of the book is the 100th anniversary edition, but I also feel that the story is very accessible and contemporary-sounding, despite being published in the early 1900s. The updated illustrations by Wendy Anderson Halperin probably contribute to this a little bit, but even without them, I think the story still holds up really well. I look forward to reading this again with my girls in a few years!

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards (1974)

When the three Potter children, Ben, Tom, and Lindy, visit the zoo one October afternoon, they make an unusual friend in Professor Savant, who speaks to them about an unusual creature known as the Whangdoodle. After they meet the professor again on Halloween, the children begin spending all their free time at his house, learning how to observe the world around them and preparing to travel to Whangdoodleland to meet the last remaining Whangdoodle. Before they can get anywhere near the Whangdoodle, however, the Potters and Professor Savant will have to face such fearsome and unusual creatures as the Prock, Gazooks, Sidewinders, the Splintercat, and the Gyascutus.

The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles was read aloud to my third grade class in the 1989-1990 school year. Until this week, I had never read it a second time. To my surprise, it turns out that this book is not just a frivolous fantasy novel, but an interesting meditation on imagination, youth, faith, scientific discovery and, of all things, genetics. At 8 years old, I experienced this story primarily as a quest through a fantastical land that seemed to be part-Oz, part-Fantastica. Now, as an adult, I appreciate all the big questions this story really explores, including whether it is appropriate for human beings to manipulate DNA to create life.

I'm not certain that this book's view about "playing G.O.D." (as Professor Savant calls it) necessarily meshes with my values as a Catholic, but because the story is purely fantasy, I would feel comfortable reading it to my kids in order to prompt a discussion about the issues involved and why we may or may not be called to do something other than what the professor decides to do. The rest of the book's message, about being open-minded to scientific exploration, and learning to pay closer attention to the world, does mesh perfectly with the values I try to instill in my children. I don't think the moral grayness surrounding the genetics issue is quite troubling enough to cause me to write off the rest of the valuable material in the book.

Overall, this is a solid fantasy novel, though much different than I remembered. I think third grade is actually a bit young to absorb everything this book offers; I'd be more inclined to wait until fifth or even sixth grade. Kids on the higher end of the elementary years will be better able to understand the scientific references in the story, and they will also be more likely to understand the word play of characters like The Whiffle Bird and to recognize the duplicity of characters like the Prock and the Splintercat.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Fumbling Through Fantasy: When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson (1967)

Anna struggles to make friends and frequently gets into trouble at her boarding school, which troubles her foster mother, Mrs. Preston. In order to help Anna, Mrs. Preston, whom Anna calls "Auntie," sends her for an extended summer holiday to stay with Mr. and Mrs. Pegg in Norfolk. While exploring the marshes surrounding the Peggs' house, Anna discovers The Marsh House, and eventually meets Marnie, a young girl always dressed in fine clothing who lives in the house and comes to meet Anna in secret at night. Anna and Marnie become fast friends, spending many evenings together on the water and in the dunes. One terrible night, though, their wonderful secret friendship comes to a sad and sudden end, and Marnie says a tearful goodbye as she tells Anna her family is making her go away. Once Marnie is gone, Anna slowly begins to bounce back from the intensity of their friendship, even convincing herself that Marnie may never have existed. When a new family moves into The Marsh House, however, it becomes clear that Anna doesn't yet fully understand her connection to Marnie.

My husband selected the audiobook version of When Marnie Was There for a recent family road trip, and I knew nothing about the book until we started listening. Despite having no plot summary or anything to orient me, I was hooked on the story instantly because I love 1960s novels about female friendship. As I listened, though, it became clear that this book was a cut above others of its type, and I understood why my husband was so adamant about having me hear it.

Robinson is a wonderfully descriptive writer, and I feel as though I can picture every person and location she depicts in this novel as clearly as though I have seen them myself. She also does a wonderful job of blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, and she makes it possible (though admittedly not very likely) that a reader could discover the truth about Marnie before Anna does. Though the threads of the plot are somewhat complicated, the telling of the story is straightforward, simple, and therefore beautiful, and the writing speaks to child readers without talking down to them or over-explaining the events of the story.

I drew many parallels between When Marnie Was There and Tom's Midnight Garden, and both books are among some of the most perfect children's stories I have ever read. At first, I was adamant that Tom's Midnight Garden was the superior book, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that Robinson's story is every bit as sophisticated and emotional, and whereas Tom's Midnight Garden relies on the magical element of the clock to connect the world of the past and the present, Robinson forgoes any bridge between  reality and fantasy and simply allows the two worlds to exist side-by-side. Both are remarkable books, and anyone who enjoys one should also fall easily in love with the other.

When we returned home from our trip, my husband and I watched the 2014 anime film based on this book. I am not an anime watcher in general, but I mostly enjoyed the film. It had a different feeling from the book, and changed a variety of things, including the setting, and other minor details about Anna's life, but it still felt mostly faithful to the story Robinson was trying to tell. I would definitely not see the movie without reading the book, however. The best way to read the novel is with no prior knowledge and no preconceived notions because then the reader feels as mystified by Marnie as Anna does.

I highly recommend this book to kids ages 10-14 and to adults who appreciate great children's literature.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Book Review: Here Come the Elephants! by Alice E. Goudey, illustrated by Garry Mackenzie (1955)

Lately, Miss Muffet has taken a real liking to nonfiction, so I've been reading factual books aloud to her at lunch time, or after lunch when her sister is asleep. Recently, we started working our way through a stack of books from Alice E. Goudey's vintage Here Come the Animals series. Published in 1955, Here Come the Elephants is one of the first books of the series.

The text of Here Come the Elephants! is divided into two parts. The first focuses on African Elephants in Tanganyika (now Tanzania)  and the second on Asian Elephants in Burma. In both sections, the reader follows the life story of a baby elephant from his birth through his adulthood, witnessing through his eyes the behavior of elephants in the wild and their interactions with man.

Though this book presents factual information, its narrative reads like fiction. Instead of simply listing facts about elephants in a professorial third person voice, the text allows kids to experience life in the wild alongside the baby elephants. The baby elephants are called Little Elephant, and their mothers Mother Elephant, which helps young readers sympathize with them. I like that the animals are given descriptive names rather than cutesy ones, and that they become characters without having to take on any human traits. I think this is what has drawn Miss Muffet to this series; everything is described realistically, and in the context of the animal's natural habitat.

There is also no sugar-coating of the facts. For example, in the section about African elephants, a male elephant called The Wicked One attacks Old Grandfather Elephant, sending him away from the herd. Later, after fighting Father Elephant and becoming leader of the herd, The Wicked One recklessly gets himself killed when he raids the natives' crops.  This information is delivered matter-of-factly, without assigning any emotions to the situation. As we are very frank with Miss Muffet about subjects like death, I was glad to see this book simply presenting what happens in nature without commenting on how sad or scary it might seem. I can't stand it when authors (or anyone, really) ascribes human intelligence and emotion to animals, and I was thrilled not to have to contend with that in this book.

Despite its age, this book is the best nonfiction title for kids that I have read in a long time. Some information about hunting elephants for ivory and training elephants to do tricks may be outdated, and there are similar minor outdated details in the other books we have read from the series as well, but it's easy to point those out and look up the updated information. On the whole, this book is well-written, utterly engrossing for a preschooler, and unsentimental in its portrayal of nature. For me, that makes it a five-star read.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Homeschool Highlights: Preschool Geography

Miss Muffet my oldest, is currently three years old, and though we are not planning to do any formal schooling with her for a couple more years, we have started doing a bit of "unschooling" this year based upon her interests. This winter, she became excited about geography, with specific interests in the globe, the continents, and the four cardinal directions. Today's post rounds up some of the resources she and I especially enjoyed as we explored this topic together.

Digital Easy Readers

I searched our local library catalogs for basic books about geography, the seven continents, the four cardinal directions, maps, and globes, but I had a surprisingly hard time finding physical books that were basic enough for Miss Muffet's age. In the end, I turned to Hoopla, knowing that it typically has a good selection of basic nonfiction titles. I was pleased to find two ebooks there, both part of the Little World Geography series: Counting the Continents by Ellen K. Mitten and North, South, East, and West by Meg Greve. Both of these books are brightly illustrated with photographs of young kids, and the text is simple, but informative. Counting the Continents provided the names of the continents and highlighted where to find them on the globe. North, South, East, and West showed how to move in those directions on a map and helped Miss Muffet learn to associate up with North and down with South. We read the books on my laptop several times over the three-week loan period, and she enjoyed pointing the correct way for each direction and trying to point out North America on a map.


We own a globe, and Miss Muffet loves to look at it. She is comfortable spinning it around and turning it upside down, and she enjoys feeling the bumps of the mountains and pointing out the bodies of water that surround the continents. She also enjoys looking for the compass rose, and finding our state and the other states we visit when we go to see her grandparents. We used the globe to help us find each continent, and later, to find the specific homes of the elephants in Here Come the Elephants! by Alice E. Goudey as well as the seals in Here Come the Seals! This was the first time I think she realized that some of the places she reads about in books are real, and she wanted me to show her the path the seals would have to take if they were to come to our house. She also had a lot of questions for me about why it is dark on the other side of the world when it is light at our house, and we wound up talking about the sun and time zones using a flashlight. I'm sure she didn't understand it all on this first go-round, but I could tell she appreciated having her questions taken seriously and answered to the best of my ability.


I wanted Miss Muffet to have something to hold and manipulate any time we were talking about the continents, so I searched through some blogs and found these Continent Cards from Mama's Learning Corner. Though Miss Muffet didn't quite make it to the point of memorizing which continent was which, she did enjoy stacking these up and carrying them around the house, and we did quite a bit of matching. I would find a continent on the globe or in one of the ebooks and she would search her stack for the corresponding card. She is a little young to really use these as flashcards, but she enjoyed having special homeschool cards that were just for her and not for her sister.

Travels with Charlie books


Around the same time that we were really getting into "globe work" as Miss Muffet calls it, my mom sent us a couple of titles from the Travels with Charlie picture book series. They were Travelin' the Northeast, which covers our own state of Maryland as well as New York, where my family is, and New Jersey, where my husband is from, and Down South, which covers Virginia and North Carolina, which we regularly visit as well. The books include the state mottoes, flags, and flowers, and a map for each state that shows some of the interesting landmarks to be found there. The text accompanying each map rhymes, and it lists things the child reader must find on each page. The last thing to find is always Charlie, the little white dog for whom the series is named. I have to give quite a bit of support to Miss Muffet, since she doesn't read, but she loves finding the landmarks and looking for Charlie, and she also enjoys keeping track of which states she has and has not visited. 

Google Earth

Miss Muffet likes to use Google Earth to make virtual visits to places she has been, and to places she wants to know more about. We have explored our neighborhood, her grandmother's neighborhood in North Carolina, the Sahara desert, and other landmarks as they have occurred to us. Miss Muffet tends to get frustrated if we don't find something interesting right away, but if I can plan ahead and take her on a five-minute virtual tour, she really enjoys it.

The Desert

We also did a brief unit about the desert, using a few pages from The Desert from the Life Nature Library, as well as some supplemental YouTube videos. Miss Muffet is still talking about desert-dwelling animals such as the gila monster and kangaroo rat, and she enjoyed coloring a desert on white paper with tan, yellow, orange, and green crayons. We also talked a little bit about living in the desert, as this had come up in a bedtime story she read with my husband from My Bookhouse. She learned what a nomad is, Though this video is not specifically for kids, I found it to be a good way to show a three-year-old how living in the desert is different from living in a city.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The RAHM Report for April 17, 2017

I've been reading fewer books lately, which is pretty typical first trimester behavior for me. I'm in the second trimester now, so I'm hoping my energy levels will get a boost soon! Here's what I have been reading these past couple of weeks.  

Adult Books

I took a couple of mystery novels with me on our recently family trip to upstate New York and managed to finish one and start another. I finally finished V is for Vengeance, which I didn't enjoy nearly as much as I expected. I usually love every title in this series, but this one felt long and difficult to get through. But I did finish, and I passed it on to my sister so that I had one less book to reshelve when we got home.

After that, I started Cross Bones by Kathy Reichs. and I'm about three-quarters of the way through. Religion is a central theme of the story, as Temperance tries to figure out whether a recently discovered body might be that of Jesus Christ. I am wary of the storyline from a religious standpoint, but I've been admiring how well Reichs writes dialogue, and I'm hoping the outcome of the story will be respectful of Christianity and Judaism.

I also really need to read Murder of a Sleeping Beauty, since I went to all the trouble to get it from inter-library loan!

Deal Me in Challenge

I fell about a month behind in this challenge, but I am now all caught up. Here's what I read recently:

  • "The Romance of a Busy Broker" by O. Henry (♣9)
    This was a quirky story about a broker who is enamored of the stenographer in his office, but so busy with work that he has forgotten that they are already married. I'm not sure whether I really liked the story itself, but in certain moods I do really love Henry's style and point of view. This was a quick read, filled with great metaphors that appeal especially to New Yorkers, such as, "The broker's hour is not only crowded, but the minutes and seconds are hanging to all the straps and packing both front and rear platforms." 
  • "The Little Dressmaker" from The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon (♥4)
    This fairy tale, about a dressmaker's apprentice who is secretly the brains of the operation, and a clever prince whose aunt keeps pushing him to get married, was a lot of fun to read. I like Farjeon's writing style, and the surprise ending made me laugh. This story would make a good picture book. 
  • "Mr. Big" by Woody Allen (♠4)
    My father recommended this story to me without having read it to the end, and when I was trying to fill spots on my list for this challenge, I decided to throw it into the mix. It starts out as a noir-esque story where a detective is asked to find God, and it ends on a weird surrealist note that I'm not fully sure I understood. I'm not a huge Woody Allen fan anyway, so this was just wasn't a particular favorite. 

Children's Books

I have made no further progress with either First Class Murder by Robin Stevens or Cody and the Rules of Life by Tricia Springstubb, but I still plan to finish them. In the meantime, I listened to an audiobook with my husband in the car on our trip (When Marnie Was There by Joan Robinson), and I am starting The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, which I read as a kid but about which I can remember very little. I will review both books for Old School Kidlit this month, hopefully along with one or two more if I can read quickly.

I am linking up today with It's Monday! What Are You Reading? at Book Date and Teach Mentor Texts.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Poetry Picnic: April 5, 2017

I looked outside last Wednesday morning and realized it was the perfect spring day to begin a new season of poetry picnics. At the end of the summer last year, Miss Muffet's behavior (mostly running away from me) made us put the picnics on hold for a while, but I'm glad we started up again because this one was just lovely. We ate pasta salad and cake, and I read the poems listed below between feeding bites to Bo Peep.

(Anthology titles link to Goodreads; poem titles link to online full text when available.)

From A Book of Americans: 

  • Abraham Lincoln by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benét
    My husband read a story about President Lincoln to Miss Muffet from My Bookhouse the night before the picnic, so I decided this would be an appropriate choice. I don't think she fully understood the poem, but she enjoyed hearing Lincoln's name again. 

From Water Pennies: 

  • A Song to Sing to a Ladybird Landing on Your Sleeve on a Cloudy Day by N.M. Bodecker
    A lot of Bodecker's poems are too sophisticated for a three-year-old, but this one, about asking a ladybug to fly up to God and ask him to bring out the sunshine, was very sweet. Miss Muffet was interested in the fact that ladybird is another word for ladybug. 

From Handsprings:

  • Handsprings by Douglas Florian
  • What I Love About Spring by Douglas Florian
  • Sometimes Spring by Douglas Florian
I like Florian's way of playing with language. These poems were not as punny as some of his others, but I thought they were a nice way to talk about spring. Miss Muffet especially liked it in the last poem when spring was called "daffodilly." 

From Listen, Children, Listen:

  • The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson
    We sing a version of this around the house a lot, so Miss Muffet recognized this poem right away. I include Stevenson a lot when we do these picnics because his poems are so appropriate for preschoolers. Miss Muffet had just been on a swing the day before the picnic, too, so she got a kick out of hearing this one.
  • Some One by Walter de la Mare
    I remember this poem from childhood, so it jumped out at me when I was flipping through the book and I decided to add it to my list. I don't think Miss Muffet got what it was about, but the rhythm of it is very pleasing.
  • The Pasture by Robert Frost
    Miss Muffet also remembered this one, and I'm sure that's because it's one of my favorites and I read it a lot. It always make me think of spring, even though the reference to raking leaves away makes the setting more likely to be Fall, which is also what the book's illustration suggests. Personally, I just love the line, "I shan't be gone long. You come too." 
  • Spring by William Blake
    Miss Muffet didn't like this poem as much as the others, but I read it mostly for me anyway. It's become a favorite in the past few years. 

From Everything Glistens and Everything Sings:

  • Yellow by Charlotte Zolotow
  • Blue by Charlotte Zolotow 
I have always loved Charlotte Zolotow and I can't name too many other authors who wrote as succinctly and emotionally about everyday things. These two color poems appear side by side in this collection and they have almost identical structures, so it was nice to read them together. Miss Muffet had a big grin during both of these - especially the one about blue, which is one of her favorite colors.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Book Review: Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet (2016)

One May afternoon in 1989, ten-year-old Noah's parents pick him up from school and announce that he must immediately assume a new name (Jonah), memorize a new birth date and family history, and travel with his parents not to "usual Germany" but behind the Iron Curtain to East Germany. Once the family is in East Berlin, there are many rules they must follow. Private conversations can only be held outdoors. Jonah cannot attend school until he is granted special permission. And Jonah cannot spend time with Claudia, whom he nicknames Cloud, even though they live in the same building and are approximately the same age. Throughout this experience, Noah doesn't understand that his parents are spies, or that his life and theirs might be in danger, but because of his connection to Cloud, his experience living in East Germany changes his life forever.

The way the story is told makes it especially compelling. The reader experiences the sudden uprooting of Noah's entire life right alongside him, sharing in his surprise and bewilderment, and trying with him to piece together the clues that will help him understand what his parents are really doing in East Germany. Because Noah is never sure what is happening, the reader feels a constant tug of suspense that makes him want to keep reading. Even if the reader realizes that Noah's parents are spies, there is still the question of whether, when, and how Noah will figure it out himself. Also very helpful are the conversational author's notes tacked onto each chapter. Though there is a more formal note at the end of the book, these short explanations give just enough information to help kids properly contextualize Noah's story.

I was a week or so shy of seven years old when the Berlin Wall fell, so this book would not have existed during my childhood, but I sure wish it had been available sooner. Even in high school, I don't think I was taught much about the Cold War, and I was definitely not given any insight into what it might have been like to be an East German or an American spy in the late 1980s. So even though I am decidedly not the intended audience for this book, I found it helpful for filling in some of the gaps in my own education. I can imagine it will be just as illuminating for today's kids, who may not have any knowledge of the Cold War at all. I also found it timely - and distressing - given the daily news coverage of attacks on free speech on college campuses. Controlling when and how people are allowed to express themselves is dangerous, and this book drives that point home very well without ever explicitly stating a moral at all.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The RAHM Report for April 3, 2017

As I announced in my Reading with Little Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep post from last week, I am expecting our third little reader in mid-October. I am 12 weeks now and have been nauseous and exhausted pretty much all day since the start of week 6, so I haven't been reading or writing as much as I normally do. I even took almost an entire week off from blogging, which I don't think I have ever done before! But I'm pushing through, and hoping this pregnancy is more like the first one (no morning sickness at all in the second trimester) and less like the second one (still getting sick at 30 weeks.) In any case, here's what I've been reading the past couple of weeks.

Adult Books

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had downloaded Death at La Fenice to my phone, but nausea has been making it difficult to read on a tiny screen, so I haven't read past the first chapter. I will probably wind up borrowing a physical copy from the library eventually, but not in the near future. Instead, I've decided to read V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton. which has been sitting on my nightstand for almost a year. I've only read 60 pages, but I love Kinsey Millhone so I'm sure I'll finish to the end even if it takes a while. I plan to take it with me on our upcoming trip to New York to visit my family.

I also decided to abandon Lois Lenski, Storycatcher. It was too tedious and I just didn't feel like plowing through it. I am sticking with The Lamb's Supper by Scott Hahn, but my small group didn't meet this past week so I haven't read anymore since my last post. I'll finish it whenever the group does.

The only other adult book I have on the horizon is a copy of Murder of a Sleeping Beauty by Denise Swanson, which I requested from inter-library loan, and which should be available for me within the next day or so.

Deal Me in Challenge

I haven't read a story for the current week yet, but for last week, I drew "Extracts from Adam's Diary" by Mark Twain (♠7). This was fortuitous, as I just read its companion story a couple of weeks ago. As with the companion piece, I felt that the story missed the mark. It did not portray Eden as much of a happiness and seemed to glorify man's fallen state. Obviously, the story is meant to be funny, and it was in many places, but I kept getting distracted by what didn't match up with Catholic teaching. It just wasn't as much fun to read as I was expecting.

Children's Books

I'll have some picture book reviews coming up in the first half of April, so I won't talk about those here. As far as longer works, I've read a few over the past couple of weeks:
  • The Treasure Hunt by Meriol Trevor
    This one is not religious, which is unusual for a Meriol Trever book. It actually reminded me a lot of Key to the Treasure by Peggy Parish. Since there wasn't very much to the story, I don't plan to give it a review. 
  • Ludmila by Paul Gallico
    I read this at my husband's request, and I liked it well enough, but I was bothered by the notion of an animal going to heaven. I am not going to review this one either, simply because I read it too quickly to give it a good critique. 
  • Skippack School by Marguerite de Angeli
    My review is here.
  • Sticks Across the Chimney by Nora Burglon
    My review is here.
  • The Hotel Cat by Esther Averill
    I'm reading this series to Miss Muffet (age 3) and this was the one we finished recently. Review to come.
  • The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley
    I haven't decided yet whether to review this. I gave it three stars, and it definitely had some good moments, but it was not a favorite.
Next on my list are two digital ARCs of new April releases, both of which are third titles in their respective series: First Class Murder by Robin Stevens and Cody and the Rules of Life by Tricia Springstubb. I'm also working on selecting fantasy titles to read for Old School Kidlit and a 1950s Newbery book to read for Newbery Through the Decades.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge, April 2017 (Fantasy)

The fourth month of the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge begins today!

This month our focus is on Fantasy.

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. On the last weekday of the month, Friday, April 28th,  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, March 31, 2017

March Link-Up: Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge 2017 (Books Published Before 1945)

Today marks the end of the third month of the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge, which focused on books published prior to 1945.

I read three books for the challenge this month:

If you reviewed or otherwise posted about an "Old School" book from 1944 or earlier, please leave a comment below with a link so other participants can see what you read. Thanks! 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

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

Coming Soon: Our Third Little Reader!

It's time for us to break out the big sister books once more. Little Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep just found out last week that they will have a new sibling this October. Miss Muffet is thrilled, and Bo Peep is coming around with a little help from Fred Rogers's book, The New Baby. As is our tradition, we won't be finding out the gender, so we won't know until delivery whether this will be Little Boy Blue or Little Red Riding Hood (or some other "little" character I haven't come up with yet), but we are all eagerly anticipating sharing our favorite baby books with another newborn this fall. I am also enjoying a good laugh over the fact that the new baby and the manuscript for my book are due the same day. (Clearly, the book will have to be finished early.)

Bo Peep Loves Buses and Bears

I recently made a list of all the words I have heard Bo Peep (18 mos.) say and was surprised to come up with nearly 60. She's very quiet, and she has a very talkative sister, so it was hard to tell without explicitly counting how much she was really talking. I was surprised to realize how much she has picked up, especially in the past few weeks. On the list I made were the words bear and bus, two of her favorite words, which match up with her current favorite books: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and The Bus For Us by Suzanne Bloom. After two times in a row through The Bus For Us the other day, Bo Peep took the book and began flipping through it, repeating lines from the book that she remembered. She also identifies Brown Bear by name, but it sounds more like "bun bear." I'm not sure what fuels her interest in bears, but we do take the bus once a week, and she loves it, so it doesn't surprise me that she wants to read about it.

Little Miss Muffet's Homeschool Reads

In addition to reading lots of fiction (especially Miss Nelson Has a Field DayThe House on East 88th Street, and The Hotel Cat),  I have been working on introducing more and more nonfiction to Miss Muffet (3 years, 4 months). We're not doing a lot of formal homeschooling at this stage, since she is just three, but I have found that she has a strong interest in science, so I've been reading her some basic science books. We have enjoyed a few of the Let's Read and Find Out About Science titles, our copies of which are older and have the original illustrations. This month, we read Hot as an Iceberg, which taught her the word "molecule"and inspired us to try a few of the experiments described in the text. We're also really enjoying some vintage animal books by Alice Goudey. We've read Here Come the Elephants and Here Come the Seals so far, and we plan to read Here Come the Beavers next. I'll be reviewing these books in their own post because they're so well-done and they deserve a full review, so I'll save most of my comments. I will say, though, that Miss Muffet seems to comprehend these texts better than a lot of fictional stories, and that she asked me find the locations of each animal's home on our globe. I also find the stories completely engaging myself, and I have discovered things about these animals that I have never heard before.

New Books

We received a few review copies with March and April publication dates.

At the Carnival and Bright Lights, Bright City are both board books from the Fluorescent Pop! series published by Little Bee Books, which are illustrated with fluorescent colors. The text in both is not very exciting, but the illustrations definitely stand out. I don't read them aloud much, but when I need to put Bo Peep in a playpen for a few minutes, I can sometimes get her to look through these books instead of just throwing things until I come back to get her. I plan to hang onto them because I think the high-contrast colors will appeal greatly to an infant, and we'll have one of those soon enough!

Peachtree Publishers sent me an F&G of Fantastic Flowers and Miss Muffet and I pored over it at the dining room table. The book is all about flowers that resemble people, animals, and objects, and like Spectacular Spots, which we also love, it has smooth rhyming text and bold, colorful, and very eye catching illustrations. There is also some great back matter that shows what the flowers look like in real life and gives all their names. The author is local to us, and I believe she will be at the Gaithersburg Book Festival this year, so I'm hoping I might be able to take Miss Muffet to see her presentation.  Since she is enjoying nonfiction so much right now, Susan Stockdale seems like the perfect author for her.

Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 arrived with Fantastic Flowers and I did not care for it at all. It's the story of a teacher and her students packing up her classroom on her last day before she leaves the school. I had a hard time buying that kids were helping the teacher carry boxes, or that she had left all of the packing until the last day of school. I also didn't understand why the kids were upset. They wouldn't be coming back to Mrs. McBee's class next year no matter what, so it didn't make sense to me that they were anymore sad about her leaving the school than they would be about the year simply ending. It struck me as a book that adults will want to read to kids but that will not feel relevant to the kids themselves. I think of it as Because of Mr. Terupt  for the early elementary years.  I didn't bother to read it to Miss Muffet. We do read books about school even though she will be homeschooled, but this one just didn't feel worth it.