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.)


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.


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." 


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.


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!


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.


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.


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!


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.


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?

Friday, September 8, 2017

Book Review: Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing Books for Children by Katherine Paterson (1981)

Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing Books for Children is a 1981 collection of essays by Newbery author Katherine Paterson in which she reflects upon her work as a children's writer and the reading of children's literature in general. Included in the collection are book reviews and articles Paterson wrote for various publications, as well as newly written pieces for this book and excerpts from her Newbery and National Book Award acceptance speeches. 

What struck me about this book as compared with something like Mabel Robinson's Writing for Young People, is that this is decidedly not an instruction manual for becoming a writer. Whereas Robinson and other authors (Gail Carson Levine, for example) use their books on writing to advise aspiring authors, Paterson instead relates her personal experiences, good and bad, and shows how reading and writing children's books has shaped her life. I follow Ms. Paterson's Facebook page and I saw her speak last year at the National Book Festival, and I'm already inclined to like what she has to say. But this book made me appreciate her so much more. 

One essay in particular, entitled, "Yes, But Is It True?" really resonated with me, especially in light of having recently read Caught Up in a Story: Fostering a Storyformed Life of Great Books & Imagination with Your Children by Sarah Clarkson. Clarkson's book argues that we ought to use good, true, and beautiful stories to help children grow up to be the heroes and heroines God intends them to be. Similarly, in this essay, Paterson discusses stories as sources of truth. She mentions Tolkien and Lewis, and says that "a novel is a kind of conversion experience" in which we see the darkness in ourselves, as Frodo Baggins does, and "recognize our naked selves with a shudder or a laugh." She then ties this exploration of darkness to her writing of The Bridge to Terabithia after the death of her son's real-life friend. She concludes the essay with the statement that "Fiction is not the Gospel. But it can be a voice crying in the wilderness – and for the writer and the reader who know grace it will not be a cry of despair but a cry of hope – a voice crying in our wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.” I think this is maybe the best description I have read of the way an author's faith can inform his or her writing. For me, this essay is enough reason to own this entire book, and it is something I expect I will revisit many times in the coming years.

Overall, I really appreciated the variety of pieces in this book and the insight each article gives into Paterson's inspirations as an author. Her book reviews have added several previously unknown titles to my to-read list, and her own essays have made me want to go back and read more of her original works too, especially some of the older historical fiction. I have always liked Katherine Paterson; this book makes me want to explore her work more deeply. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Book Review: Did You Carry the Flag Today, Charley? by Rebecca Caudill (1966)

In this short descriptive novel, young readers meet five-year-old Charley, the youngest boy in an Appalachian family, who, during six weeks of the summer, will attend Little School for the first time. His older siblings have all been through Little School already, and they tell Charley how much fun he will have there, but they also warn him that only the very best-behaved student gets the honor of carrying the flag at the end of the day. For the first few days of school, Charley's mischievous tendencies prevent him from being chosen to carry the flag. Things change, however, when the school librarian takes an interest in him and finds a way to spark his desire to learn.

It's hard to describe this book without making it sound like educational propaganda for kids, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by how sincere and child-appropriate the story really is. Charley is a completely believable five-year-old boy, and his realizations about the importance and relevance of school come about in a completely realistic and age-appropriate way. Though the librarian is the catalyst for his understanding of what education is really all about, she is not presented as someone who sees herself a hero. Rather, she comes across as a genuinely caring adult who happens to connect with a student by doing her job well. I did cringe for a moment when I saw the potential for this to turn into a Very Special Librarian story, but Caudill deftly avoids this trap and maintains a sense of respect for her readers even at the story's most heartwarming moments.

It is a little bit tricky to pin down an audience for this book. Since Charley is five, and the story is relatively short (with lively pen-and-ink illustrations to break up the text), it might make a nice read-aloud for preschoolers and kindergartners with the attention span for short chapter books, especially if they are preparing to start school. For most kids who can read this book on their own, however, Charley is very young to be an appealing protagonist. Still, the quality of the writing is very good - Caudill reminds me a lot of Betsy Byars - and the Applachian setting is intriguing to those who have not lived in such a place. It's definitely a book worth owning provided you have a child who is likely to enjoy it.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The RAHM Report for 9/4/17

 After reading so much for Bout of Books two weeks ago, I took things a little easier last week.

Finished Reading: 

  • Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford (ARC)
    This is a really long book, and even it is well-written and interesting, it still took me a while to finish. I enjoyed it as much as the first book and plan to schedule a review to post during my "maternity leave" from blogging in October.
  • The War with Mr. Wizzle by Gordon Korman
    This was a quick and fun read, with lots of references to outdated technology. I was planning to review the entire series, but then I realized OpenLibrary doesn't have the last 3 books and Overdrive's ebook copies aren't available outside of Canada. If I can get physical copies from the library, I will, but otherwise my review may just focus on the first four. 
  • Depend on Katie John by Mary Calhoun
    A list on Goodreads identified this as a school story, so I was going to count it for the Old School Kidlit Challenge, but after reading it, I realize it doesn't really fit the genre. I enjoyed it anyway, but I'll need to find something else if I want another book for the challenge. 

Currently Reading:

  • Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson
    Yes, I'm still reading this. No, I'm not reading very much of it. But it's still on the nightstand and I do read a page or two here and there, and I will eventually finish. I might try to make that happen this week. 
  • Butternut Summer by Mary McNear
    I'm enjoying this second book of the series more than the first. I'm about halfway through, and my library copy will expire in just under a week, so I will definitely be finishing this week. 
  • Farewell Summer by Ray Bradbury
    Having finished re-reading Dandelion Wine, I can finally read this sequel. It's much shorter and quicker than either Dandelion Wine or Something Wicked This Way Comes, and seems to have more of a clear plot, so I imagine I'll finish 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?

Friday, September 1, 2017

Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge, September 2017 (School Stories)

This month, as the new school year gets underway, the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge is focusing on School 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. 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!