Thursday, October 18, 2018

Book Review: Lu by Jason Reynolds (2018)

Lu, the co-captain of the Defenders track team and runner of the 400 meter dash, has a lot of talent as an athlete and a lot of attitude to back it up. Often seen wearing gold chains and diamond earrings, Lu, whose parents got him into sports to help him feel confident in his albino skin, seems to have a surplus of self esteem. It's about to be a lot harder for Lu to maintain this "swagger," however, both because of family issues (his mom's expecting a new baby, and his dad is trying to make amends for the bad decisions of his own youth) and because Coach has challenged him to take on hurdles, which secretly scare him. 

After Ghost, which is the first and most memorable title in this series, Lu is the second best installment. Whereas Patina's voice took a while to establish itself, and Sunny's strange speech patterns kept him at a distance, Lu comes completely to life in the first few paragraphs of this book and remains so for the duration. The exchanges of dialogue with his parents and teammates, his ruminations about what it will be like to finally have a sibling, and his concerns over interactions with a former friend all give a well-rounded sense of Lu's personality, and the reader becomes completely invested in his well-being and success. The fact that Lu's father and Coach have a connected past also makes Lu the ideal narrator to conclude the series.

And speaking of ending the series, this book really brings everything full circle in a satisfying way. Though the story belongs to Lu from beginning to end, there are some moments with the entire team near the end of the book that bring the four-book arc to a very fitting resolution that shows not just how Lu has changed, but how the whole team has grown together as a unit over the course of the series. I'll miss reading new installments,  but the story of these characters absolutely feels complete, and I think Reynolds nailed the ending. (Thanks to Edelweiss and Simon & Schuster for the digital ARC!) 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs (1973)

Lewis Barnavelt is an orphan, chubby and unpopular, who has come to live with his uncle Jonathan in a strange house in which the ticking noise of a mysterious hidden clock is ever-present. Lewis quickly learns that both Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman, who lives next door, practice witchcraft, and when he wants to impress his new friend Tarby he decides to perform a little magic himself. Unfortunately, Lewis's attempt to be cool for Tarby also results in the raising of a woman from the dead, a resurrection that creates many problems and dangers for Lewis, his uncle, and Mrs. Zimmerman.

I did a buddy-read of this book with three Instagram friends who were reading it in anticipation of the movie. Though I typically avoid books that might be scary in any way, I've been curious about Bellairs for a long time and this seemed like a good opportunity to get acquainted with his work. As it turned out, I was able to handle the scary content just fine, and I really liked and felt for Lewis as he struggled to fit into his new home and community. I think the fact that Lewis literally raised the dead for Tarby and Tarby still didn't really want to hang out with him is a great hyperbolic commentary on the ways kids sometimes feel compelled to impress the people who just don't want to be their friends, and it also validates the feelings of kids who feel like they just can't do anything right among their peers.

I had some reservations at first about the role of the occult in the story. As I mentioned when I reviewed The Amulet of Samarkand, I generally don't think it's a good idea to encourage kids, however subtly, to play at things like raising the dead. And thankfully, I think the point of view of this book is similar to mine. It is clearly dangerous for Lewis to have raised someone from the dead, and the results are nearly disastrous. Unlike The Amulet of Samarkand, this book does not glorify the occult; if anything, it warns away from meddling in the natural courses of life and death. There are also a few very brief Catholic references early in the book, including some Latin, that I enjoyed.

I mainly connect with books through their characters, and I found the characterizations in this book to be surprisingly believable and well done. I also enjoyed the writing style, even when the author was clearly trying to build up suspense to scare me. Even the ending, which felt a bit random and disorganized, worked for me, because Bellairs sold me on it. I hope to read books two and three in the series before the end of this year.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The RAHM Report for 10/15/18

What I Finished Reading

  • If the Coffin Fits by Lillian Bell (ARC) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    Another solid entry in this cozy mystery series set at a funeral home.
  • Ivy and Bean One Big Happy Family by Annie Barrows ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I'm glad Ivy and Bean are back! This was a nice twist on the usual baby sibling storyline.
  • Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount ⭐⭐⭐
    This didn't translate all that well to the ebook format, but it would be a nice coffee table book. 
  • The Cherry Cola Book Club by Ashton Lee, audiobook read by Marguerite Gavin ⭐⭐⭐
    This is a cozy story without the mystery. Sometimes it dragged, but I still enjoyed it. 
  • Thomas Alva Edison, Miracle Maker by Mervyn D. Kaufman ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I read this aloud with my oldest daughter via OpenLibrary. It was just right for a young reader who is just getting into biographies.
  • The Diva Haunts the House by Krista Davis ⭐⭐⭐
    This was a fun Halloween-themed read with young teen supporting characters. I skipped books 2, 3, and 4 of the series to read this during the correct season, and it didn't feel like I had missed much.
  • Casilda of the Rising Moon by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This historical fiction novel based on the few facts known about the life of St. Casilda of Toledo was really enjoyable. (I would recommend it to Catholic families as an alternative to The Inquisitor's Tale.)

Did Not Finish

  • Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass
    It's not this book's fault that I decided not to finish. I just haven't been able to get in the mood for an academic text. 

What I'm Currently Reading

  • X by Sue Grafton 17%
    I am alternating reading my hardcover and listening to the audiobook via Overdrive. I'm sad to be so close to the end of the series! 
  • The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs 14%
    This is the sequel to The House with a Clock in its Walls, and so far, it's good!
  • Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson 11%I like the voice in this YA mystery. It seems like it will be a quick read.
  • Deadly News by Jody Holford 3%I'm just starting this ARC, but I'm looking forward to a newspaper-related mystery. 

I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Book Review: Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (2018)

Louisiana Elefante is perturbed, to say the least, when her granny wakes her up one morning and announces that the day of reckoning has arrived and they must leave their home in Florida at once. It's bad enough that Louisiana has to leave behind her friends, Raymie and Beverly, and not much better that Granny immediately has dental trouble and Louisiana has to drive her to a dentist. The worst, however, happens when Louisiana and Granny check into a hotel in a small Georgia town and everything Louisiana thought she knew about her life begins to unravel. All she wants to do is go home, but first Louisiana has to come to an understanding of where that really is.

I felt pretty lukewarm about Raymie Nightingale and two years later, I don't remember much about it. This companion novel, however, told in the strong first-person voice of Louisiana herself makes a much deeper impression. I was drawn into this story immediately, and I read the book eagerly from beginning to end in a single afternoon. The characters are believably endearing and flawed, and Granny's erratic behavior begs the reader to keep turning the pages. Though events of the story are sad, potential sorrow on the part of the reader is tempered by Louisiana's continually upbeat outlook and her willingness to rise to the occasion in even the most dismal of circumstances.

DiCamillo's writing - particularly the details she uses to demonstrate her characters' personalities and quirks - is at its best in this novel. Both of her last two novels, Flora & Ulysses and Raymie Nightingale, didn't really work for me, but to my surprise, this one is actually nearly on par with my favorite of her works, Because of Winn Dixie. (Thanks to Candlewick and NetGalley for the digital ARC!)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Book Review: (George) by E.L. Konigsburg (1970)

Ben, a highly intelligent middle school boy who excels at Chemistry, has always had a great relationship with George, his "concentric twin" who lives inside him and often helps him with his schoolwork. Lately, though, Ben and George have begun to disagree about Ben's actions, particularly when it comes to Ben's sudden interest in gaining the approval of his classmates. When George stops speaking to him, Ben becomes concerned that he has lost him forever, but the adults in his life become more concerned about his mental health.

Though E.L. Konigsburg has been a favorite author of mine for years, I kept putting off reading this book because of its strange premise. When I finally decided to dive in, however, I quickly became enamored of the writing style and fell happily into the world of the story. The best way I can describe this book is to say that it's like A Beautiful Mind for middle schoolers. Is George real? Is he a manifestation of some mental illness? Would it be better or worse for Ben to lose George's voice inside of him? These are the questions this book asks readers to contemplate, and though Ben resolves his conflicts for himself, the overarching questions of the story are left open to the reader's interpretation.

This is the kind of book that will probably never have mass appeal, but which might be just the right thing for a highly intelligent kid who is struggling to choose an engaging book to read. Kids who like Konigsburg's more mainstream books (i.e. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or The View from Saturday) might be surprised by the strangeness of (George), but boys, especially, who are struggling socially in early adolescence will relate to Ben and his desire to obscure the truth hidden deep inside of him in order to fit in. Konigsburg had one of the most unique writing styles of any children's author, and this unusual book just proves that she can make a compelling story out of even the most unlikely of premises.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The RAHM Report for 10/8/18

As I suspected, as soon as I reduced my Goodreads goal, my desire to read came back with a vengeance. I had a very satisfying reading week!

What I Finished Reading

  • Watching the Detectives by Julie Mulhern 
    This was another quick and fun installment of this series. Ellison, the main character, makes me laugh.
  • Lu by Jason Reynolds (ARC) 
    This conclusion to the Track series is my favorite after the first book, Ghost. Review coming soon. 
  • The Babysitter's Club: Kristy's Big Day (graphic novel) by Gale Galligan 
    I haven't read all of the BSC graphic novels, but Kristy's Big Day was my favorite book as a kid, so I needed to read this one. I was annoyed that Mallory was around because she isn't in the club yet in the original book, but otherwise this was a really good adaptation that would have made nine-year-old me very happy. 
  • Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (ARC) 
    I felt sort of lukewarm about Raymie Nightingale, but this companion book was really excellent. Review to come. 
  • My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok 
    A couple of my friends and I are reading and discussing the Well Read Mom books this year. We missed September, so we're starting with this book, which is the pick for October. I absolutely loved it and cannot wait to discuss in a couple of weeks.  
  • The Autumn People by Ruth Arthur 
    This was a good creepy tale for this time of year. It was like a cross between The Haunting by Margaret Mahy and The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope. 
  • Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace 
    This was on my September TBR, so I'm a week late getting it done. I really liked the story and I know it would have really resonated with me as a teen. 

Did Not Finish

  • Naomis Too by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick (ARC)
    I liked the first book, but I got bogged down in the first chapter of this one by all the issues it seems to want to take on. I just wasn't in the mood for the book decided to pass. 

What I'm Currently Reading

  • If the Coffin Fits by Lillian Bell (ARC) 38%
    I'm trying to read mysteries this month because I'm participating in Seasons of Reading's Frightfall read-a-thon, and mysteries are about as scary as I get. It's taken me a while to get around to this ARC, but I'm enjoying it.
  • Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass 29%
    I didn't spend much time on this one this week, but I'm not giving up on it quite yet. 
  • The Cherry Cola Book Club by Ashton Lee, audiobook read by Marguerite Gavin 25%
    This is my current audiobook. It's like a cozy mystery, except the plot is not a mystery, but instead focuses on saving a small-town library. 
  • Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount 17%
    I saw this on Instagram and found out the ebook was on Hoopla and checked it out. I just clicked through a few pages, but it will be quick to get through once I focus on it for a bit. 
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (not pictured)
    I'm re-reading this for a read-along at Castle Macabre. I may just skip around and not actually read straight through depending on how much time I have, so it doesn't really count as a current read.
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Reading Together: Everything You Need to Know to Raise a Child Who Loves to Read by Diane W. Frankenstein (2009)

This handbook for reading with children provides everything parents and other caregivers need to know about reading aloud and discussing books with kids. In a brief front section, Frankenstein lays out her advice for selecting, owning, and reading aloud children's books. The next section, the longest of the book, presents profiles of 101 different titles. Each of these includes the book cover, a brief synopsis, a related quotation, an observation the author made, a "souvenir" concept or lesson to be taken from the book, a list of themes explored by the book, possible discussion questions, and a list of read-alikes. The final portion of the book provides more general questions across a variety of themes that can be used with any book that involves the given topics and a series of additional themed booklists across a variety of subjects.

Over the past few months, I have read several books about books: The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie, The Intentional Bookshelf by Samantha Munoz, Our Library by Phyllis Fenner, and The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller. Unequivocally, Reading Together is the best of the bunch. Frankenstein has obvious experience suggesting books to a variety of families (not just her own), and she wastes no words in concisely and clearly explaining how best to evaluate books and share them with kids of all ages. The books for which she provides profiles are a varied collection, covering different topics, comprehension levels, developmental phases, cultures, and interests. She gives just the right amount of information about each book to inform parents about content, and to entice potential readers to select that book. The list is also curated. It's not simply a list of every book she has read; instead, it represents the books she truly recommends and which she has seen families enjoy. 

This book inspired me not just to ask my kids more questions about the books we read, but also to consider making profiles like the author's for books we love that she didn't include. It's just an all-around excellent, practical, well-informed manual with something to offer every adult who reads with kids. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Book Review: The Summer of Mrs. MacGregor by Betty Ren Wright (1986)

The Summer of Mrs. MacGregor is another 1980s Apple paperback I discovered on Instagram and read on Open Library. Caroline Cabot is twelve and feeling lonely and left out while her beautiful sister, Linda, who has a heart condition, is away receiving treatment in a hospital. Enter Lillina MacGregor. Though, at 17, she isn't much older than Caroline herself, Lillina claims to be married and a model in New York. She dresses very glamorously, and just by association, makes Caroline feel more confident and more interesting. As the summer passes by, however, it becomes clear that perhaps Lillina isn't telling the whole truth and that her beauty and sophistication mask a much more ordinary life than she would admit to having.

Though this particular novel is not a mystery, Betty Ren Wright did write a number of ghost stories and mysteries, and some aspects of this book reveal her preference for this genre. Lillina is presented as a mysterious character from the start, and there is a growing sense of suspense throughout the story as the reader begins to see some holes in Lillina's story. Lillina also makes the reader feel uncomfortable at times, as she is difficult to read and does not tell much of the truth. The question of the health of Caroline's sister also casts a somewhat dark pall over the story, contributing to an overall feeling of foreboding and worry.

With these mysterious elements, however, there is also a sense of empowerment as Caroline begins to see herself not just as Linda's sister, but as an interesting and valuable person in her own right. Though Lillina may not be what she pretends to be, the attention she bestows upon Caroline still brings about some very real changes in Caroline's perception of herself and her place in the world. Though Lillina is very much a real person, her impact on Caroline's life felt a lot like the way Anna's life is changed by the mysterious Marnie in When Marnie Was There. This book also felt a lot like some of Janet Taylor Lisle's writings, which often involve unlikely friendships with characters who have something mysterious and even sinister about them.

I was not expecting such depth and substance based on the cheesy cover of this book, but I was not disappointed to find that the book offers more than meets the eye.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The RAHK Report for 10/2/18

It has been a while since I've posted an update about the books my girls, the Read-at-Home Kids, are enjoying. As I've mentioned in a few of my Read-at-Home Mom report posts, my dad passed away in the middle of our move, and because of that, it took us a little while to get settled. We're finally getting into a good routine now, and we've started homeschooling kindergarten with our oldest, so it seems like a good time to share our latest reads.

Miss Muffet's Independent Reading

Little Miss Muffet (4 years, 10 months) is my kindergartner, and she has been going through chapter books like crazy. She read straight through the first three Betsy-Tacy books, Betsy-Tacy, Betsy, Tacy and Tib, and Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, and I decided to stop her before she read the fourth book, since I think that's where the subject matter starts to be appealing to a bit of an older audience. I explained that Betsy gets older in each book and that she should catch up to Betsy a little bit before she reads more. She also continues to be interested in The Boxcar Children series, and she often comes to the dinner table bursting to share the latest clues the Alden children have uncovered. She has finished the first seven titles of the series, and she has free access to all the original books written by Gertrude Chandler Warner. We also recently finished listening to the audiobook of Farmer Boy. We originally started it on one our trips to New York this summer, but kept repeating certain chapters, so it took us a while to actually complete the story. Miss Muffet loved it, and she speaks fondly of Almanzo all the time. The next few Little House books seem like they could wait until she is a little older, too, so in the meantime we have introduced one of the spin-off series. She has just started reading Little House in the Highlands by Melissa Wiley, which is book 1 in the series about Laura Ingalls Wilder's great-grandmother Martha. After two chapters, Miss Muffet has announced that this book deserves 100 stars. 

Homeschool Read-Alouds


In addition to all this independent reading, Miss Muffet has also been enjoying a lot of nonfiction read-alouds with me during her school day. We just finished Can't You Make them Behave, King George? by Jean Fritz, which appealed to two of her main interests: the royal family and the American Revolution. Some days, we took turns reading a few pages, other days I just read to her, and we talked about it a little bit afterwards. She seems to really love biographies, so my plan is to alternate between history lessons based on My Backyard History Book and read-alouds of a similar level and format to this book. We've also been studying a bit of art history using How to Use Child-size Masterpieces for Art Appreciation, and she took such a liking to the Mona Lisa, that I went on Open Library and found Katie and the Mona Lisa by James Mayhew. She was disappointed that Mayhew's illustrations aren't of da Vinci quality, but otherwise, she enjoyed this more whimsical look at the painting. 

As we've started studying solids, liquids, and gases in science, we've read a few basic easy readers available on Open Library, and now we're reading through a book from our own collection, Solids, Liquids, and Gases by Jeanne Bendick. This book ties in nicely with our first science lesson of the year, which is about sorting things into categories, and it also had some good connections to a book we read as a fun math review, Let's Find Out About Addition.

Little Bo Peep's Favorites


Little Bo Peep (3 years) has been pretty resistant to doing much of any schoolwork, which is fine, since she doesn't really need a lot at this age. She has, however, become very attached to certain books. The one she likes most right now, and which I am asked to read over and over again, is All About Alfie by Shirley Hughes. This is a collection of four stories about preschooler Alfie and his baby sister Annie Rose, and Bo Peep just can't get enough of them. When she wakes up in the morning, she immediately looks for this book, and if she can't find it, she starts asking everyone to look for Alfie as though she has misplaced her best friend. When she's not carrying this book around the house, she is most likely paging through People by Peter Spier, the Little Miss books by Roger Hargreaves, the Beatrix Potter books (which she calls "Beaterix Potter"), and/or Weekend with Wendell by Kevin Henkes. I've been trying to read to her before naptime whenever I can, but there are still a lot of times where she would prefer to look at books alone. Bo Peep also recently heard Owl Moon for the first time, and her reaction did not disappoint. That book is truly magic. 

Little Jumping Joan, Page Turner


Jumping Joan (11 mos.) has started really liking to have books in her playpen with her. She has been enjoying What a Wonderful World illustrated by Tim Hopgood as well as our newly acquired board book copy of The Babies on the Bus, which my mom bought to replace the hardcover copy the two older girls destroyed with their intense love. Jumping Joan will happily sit on my lap and listen to almost any book, but she also really loves to turn pages, so there is a delicate balancing act between having her enjoy the book and repeatedly losing our page as she bats it out of my hands. 

Family Read-Alouds

Our first lunchtime read-aloud in the new house was The Galloping Goat and Other Stories, which was Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's first book. (I reviewed this book several years ago - it's worth owning.)  It's a collection of short stories, each about a child living in a different country around the world. Miss Muffet loved the book, but Bo Peep only stayed to listen when she still had food on her plate. With Halloween around the corner, we're now reading Bunnicula, but Bo Peep is not all that into it so far. (Strangely, though, Jumping Joan smiled through the whole first chapter.) What Bo Peep did enjoy, though, is reading Stellaluna, which we did after I won an Instagram giveaway from Merry Makers Inc. and a stuffed Stellaluna turned up in our mailbox.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The RAHM Report for 10/1/18

After considering it all month, I made the decision this weekend to decrease my Goodreads challenge goal from 500 books to 400. One of my goals for the year was to read fewer books (I read 800 in 2017), and I set that goal specifically so that I would not be spending my time scrambling to find enough picture books to read in order to catch up after falling 30+ books behind on the challenge. As I looked back over my reading for the past several months, I realized there had been  several instances where I had already done this, and that I would probably need to do it at least once more in order to remain on track. Since I'd rather have time to focus on writing reviews in a timely manner (another of my goals), I decided to just take the pressure off and shave 100 books off my goal. I imagine I will surpass 400, but I didn't want the pressure of making it to 500 to force me into reading books that didn't really interest me. I feel a little bit like a cheater, but I also feel better about being 40-something books ahead of schedule instead of 30-something books behind.

What I Finished Reading

  • The Galloping Goat by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This is Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's very first book, a collection of short stories about kids around the world. This was a re-read for me, but this time I read it aloud to my older two girls. 
  • Charm City by Laura Lippman ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I really like Tess Monaghan, the main character of this series. Living in Maryland, I especially enjoyed all the details about Baltimore geography, slang, and history that informed the story. I'm looking forward to continuing the series.
  • Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen  ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I read about this book in I'd Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel and decided to give it a try. It was sort of like an adult version of Wendy Mass's books in the Willow Falls series. Though I don't like fantasy, I do enjoy magical realism, and I plan to read more from this author.   
  • Shelved Under Murder by Victoria Gilbert, audiobook read by Coleen Marlo ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I enjoyed this second book of the Blue Ridge Library Mystery series almost as much as the books in my favorite Library Lovers series. I especially like the main character, Amy, and her dancer boyfriend, Richard, as well as the way the arts played into the plot. The audiobook narrator was also very good.

What I'm Currently Reading

  • Watching the Detectives by Julie Mulhern 37%
    I only have this for one more day from Hoopla and I hate to use another of my 10 precious borrows to borrow it again, but I'm not sure I'll get it finished by tonight at midnight. I am enjoying it, though. These books are consistently very funny. 
  • Lu by Jason Reynolds 36%
    Part of the reason I didn't read more in Watching the Detectives is that I found out this was on Edelweiss, dropped everything, and read several chapters in one sitting. I love this series, and this fourth book has as strong a voice as the first one (my favorite), Ghost. I will finish this quickly the next time I sit down with it. 
  • Know and Tell by Karen Glass 12%
    I have not been in the mood for a dry academic book so I haven't read much in this one at all. I may end up not finishing it. 
  • My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok 6%
    My book club meeting for this is coming up on the 19th, so I will be allowing myself to get a bit more into it starting later this week. I'm trying to time is so that I finish just a few days before we meet so it's fresh in my mind. 
  • Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace 0%
    I did actually start this one night, but I was very tired and kept drifting off so I'll need to start over. It's the last Betsy-Tacy related book I have to read! 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Book Review: The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser (2018)

Isa Vanderbeeker is away at camp, but her four siblings - twin sister Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney - are at home with their neighbor Mr. Jeet when he suffers a stroke. While Miss Josie sits vigil at Mr. Jeet's hospital bedside, the Vanderbeeker kids begin to consider her repeated request that they turn the overgrown lot near the local church into a garden. Once they survey the land and receive (albeit vague) permission from the pastor, Triple J, to begin work, they become extremely enthusiastic about the project, hoping it will bring joy and healing to Miss Josie and Mr. Jeet upon their return to the brownstone. Unfortunately, not long after they begin transforming the space into a garden, developers begin visiting, and it is clear that they have purchased the property for the purpose of building condominiums. The Vanderbeekers do their best to keep on with their plans despite the obstacles that arise at every turn, but they worry about what will happen if their garden is gone before their neighbors get to see it.

Though I don't think this series is quite as well-written as some of the family stories of years gone by (The Moffats, The Melendys, All-of-a-Kind Family, etc.) I really appreciate the fact that an author and publisher are still producing books of this type for the families who enjoy traditional children's novels. Like many of its predecessors, this book celebrates kids working toward a goal without assistance from adults, and it shows the benefits of having a bit of a free-range childhood. Sometimes the characters come across as a little too perfect, and even with Isa absent in this story, it feels like each individual Vanderbeeker still doesn't get enough time to develop a distinct personality, but there is still something so endearing about the way the kids work together toward a common goal that will benefit someone they care about. The fact that it's a garden is a bit of a cliche, but that can mostly be forgiven, especially since the book is clearly, at least in part, an homage to The Secret Garden

On a personal note, I also think this book handled the aftermath of a stroke very realistically. During the last year, between the time of my dad's stroke and the day he passed away, my kids overheard me on many phone calls similar to the ones Mrs. Vanderbeeker makes in this book, and the author also accurately describes how a stroke patient might look while lying in the hospital. (The fact that kids could sneak into the ICU requires a pretty strong suspension of disbelief, but this certainly isn't the first book to ask for that kind of leeway from readers!)

Fans of the first book of the series will be pleased by this follow-up. Though I do think the first book was better, this is still a worthy sequel, and one that will be readily embraced by fans of this old-fashioned but tried-and-true genre. (Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy!)

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Book Review: 51 Sycamore Lane by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat (1971)

In this quirky middle grade novel by Nate the Great author Marjorie Sharmat, a group of boys become convinced that a woman in their suburban neighborhood is a spy. Once they come to believe this, they immediately begin looking for ways to prove her true identity, leading to a series of mishaps and misadventures.

Though the subject matter and intended audiences are different, I did see quite a few similarities between this book and Nate the Great. In both books, the narrator is a boy of above-average intelligence with an unusual vocabulary for a child. And in both books, the main characters are concerned with uncovering clues in their own backyards to help solve some mystery. I have to say, though, that of the two, Nate the Great is the more polished and more compelling book. 51 Sycamore Lane felt a bit disorganized, and it took me a while to figure out which direction it was going in, and what I was supposed to care about. (The subplot regarding a petition to remove a chicken from the neighborhood seemed like it was the main plot at first.) After a while, it started to feel like the characters (and author) found themselves more amusing than I did, and I had a hard time feeling immersed in the book.

The highlights of this book are the dialogue and the strong first-person narration. The plot is weak, and though there are some mildly entertaining comments about upper middle class life, most of them are either rooted in cliches or simply no longer relevant to a contemporary audience. I own this book and will keep it for now, but if my kids aren't interested in it in a few years, it won't be hard for me to slip it into a donation box and say goodbye!

Monday, September 24, 2018

The RAHM Report for 9/24/18

What I Finished Reading

  • Queenie Peavy by Robert Burch ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This middle grade novel set during the Great Depression is an interesting character study about a young girl who gets angry when other kids comment on the fact that her father is in jail and acts out as a result. The story has a moral, but not a preachy one, and I enjoyed Queenie's journey as she started to gain control over her emotions. 
  • The Motoring Millers by Alberta Wilson Constant ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I own books one and three of this trilogy about two sisters living in Kansas at the turn of the 20th century, and because this second book is so rare, I thought I'd never see it. I was so surprised when my husband brought it home the other night! It's a library copy borrowed through inter-library loan, but I got to read it, and I loved seeing how this story bridges the gap between the other two books. Because the story involves a road trip, there are also lots of fun details about the way early cars worked. I'll have a review next month sometime. 
  • Not Of This World: A Catholic Guide to Minimalism by Sterling Jaquith ⭐⭐
    This book was pretty terrible. It talks quite a bit about hoarding, and much of the advice seems to be a paranoid response to a fear of becoming a hoarder. As the child of a hoarder, I was surprised that the author, who has relatives who had this problem, seemed to think that all you do is call in some professional help and the problem goes away. Hoarders have to want help; otherwise, legally, they are permitted to live however they wish. Also, people who simply have a hard time getting organized or knowing how to start de-cluttering are not hoarders. The author says this, but then seems to go on as though we are all one box of mementos away from a serious mental problem. Personally, I think all the hoarding stuff should have been cut. Aside from that, the suggestions for living a more minimalist lifestyle are pretty generic, and other than vague references to being "not of this world," there is nothing particularly Catholic about much of the advice. The author also suggests getting rid of stand mixers, woks, and even microwaves, which would be completely ridiculous in my household, as those are our top three kitchen tools! I would not recommend this book. 
  • The Diva Runs Out of Thyme by Krista Davis ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I started this as an audiobook, then found a copy on OpenLibrary and finished it there. I love the way Krista Davis writes, and I really enjoyed all the personalities she introduced in this first book of the Domestic Diva mystery series. I also thought the mystery was really well thought out and surprising. I'm planning to skip ahead a few books and read a Halloween-themed mystery from this series during October. 

Did Not Finish

  • Montana Sky by Nora Roberts
    I got 50% of the way through this book before my loan from Open Library ended. When my turn came up again, I was determined to finish it, but I was reading too many books and really not enjoying this one. I finally decided that, even though it was for a challenge, I couldn't justify reading another 200 pages of a book I didn't like when so many other books are waiting for me. I'd still like to read a Nora Roberts book, but the only ones I've ever really enjoyed were the Bride Quartet books, and I've read all of them.

What I'm Currently Reading

  • Charm City by Laura Lippman 48%
    I'm really enjoying this now that I'm halfway through my second time borrowing the ebook from the library. I like that the book is teaching me more about Baltimore and the state of Maryland in general. I also really enjoy Tess and her many friendships with a host of diverse people.
  • Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen 24%
    I didn't spend as much time with this book this week as I wanted, but I am excited to get back into it. I really like the writing. 
  • Watching the Detectives by Julie Mulhern 23%
    I love this series. Mulhern can even get away with ridiculous character names like Anarchy and Khaki. 
  • Shelved Under Murder by Victoria Gilbert 11%
    This is my next audiobook. The main character is a library director and the story is set during leaf-peeping season in Virginia. I'm enjoying it so far. 
  • My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok 6%
    I'm reading this for a Well Read Mom book club that I'm doing with a couple of my friends. I have a few weeks before we meet, but I took a peek at the first chapter, and I love the writing style already. I may not get into it again until next week or so, but I have a feeling I'm going to enjoy it.
  • Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass 0%
    I'm reading this for some homeschooling "professional development." I read a few pages a few weeks ago, but it's pretty slow-going and I'll probably need to start over and just power through it to get all the information. 

What I'm Planning to Read Next

  • Naomis Too by by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, and Audrey Vernick
    I have a digital ARC of this book and I need to get to it ASAP so I can post a review before too much time passes since it was published on 9/11. 
  • If the Coffin Fits by Lillian Bell
    This is another ARC of a book published on 9/11 that I keep forgetting to start. Now that I have a Chromebook, I can't read ARCs on my computer anymore, and I'm having a hard time getting into the habit of reading these exclusively on my phone. Hopefully adding them here will help me remember! 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Book Review: A Long Line of Cakes by Deborah Wiles (2018)

A Long Line of Cakes is the fourth book in the Aurora County series by Deborah Wiles. Picking up immediately where book three, The Aurora County All-Stars, left off, the story begins with the Cakes family arriving in town. They are itinerant cake bakers, so they never stay in one place too long, but as soon as she sets foot in their new home, Emma Lane Cake, one of the five Cake kids, wishes she could make Aurora County her permanent address. Knowing she can't, however, and feeling heavy with the sadness of having said goodbye to many best friends in the past, Emma hesitates about making yet another new friend she will have to leave behind. But when Emma meets Ruby Lavender, she decides to put herself out there just one more time. Soon, the two girls hatch a plan that might help Emma's parents change their minds about moving so often.

I think of this author as Fannie Flagg for tweens. Each of the books of this series is so gentle, and the setting is so idyllic, that a reader can't help but feel a sense of cozy comfort when she is immersed in these stories. That said, for a fourth book of a series, published 11 long years after the third book, it assumes a lot of background knowledge on the part of the reader. I read the entire series for the first time in order to be ready for reading my ARC of this one, and it's a good thing I did. Had I not done so, I definitely would have been lost for much of the book. There are so many characters, and they share so many memories and traditions that the reader really can't appreciate the Cakes' love for Aurora County without understanding all of these details, most of which have been established by an earlier book and are only alluded to in this one. It felt like the book was trying both to tell a new story and to bring all of the previous stories to a satisfying conclusion at the same time, and it often felt like too big of a task.

All that said, for fans of the series, or those willing to go back and read the earlier volumes, there is a lot to like about A Long Line of Cakes. Kids can relate to the importance of home and friendship and they will easily become invested in understanding Emma's father's long-forgotten connection to Aurora County. The way things are resolved is also very satisfying, especially for kids like I was, who crave uncomplicated happy endings and hate goodbyes. This was an okay read for me, and it definitely does not stand alone, but for the right child who has enjoyed the earlier books, it could become a favorite.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Book Review: The Animal, The Vegetable, and John D. Jones by Betsy Byars (1982)

Clara and Deanie are looking forward to being on vacation with their dad until they find out he is bringing along a girlfriend, and the girlfriend's son, John D. John D. isn't crazy about meeting the girls either, and rather than calling them by name, he refers to them as the Animal and the Vegetable. The kids do their best to avoid each other until a near-tragedy bands them together unexpectedly.

Though this book has a quirky title, it's really a very straightforward story about the tension between kids who are forced to interact because of their parents' relationship with each other. What makes it stand out is the way Byars describes each character and brings each one to life in his or her dialogue. Each chapter is like a small character study in which the reader shares brief glimpses into the thoughts of the three main characters. Byars manages to inspire feelings of empathy for all three of them, making it difficult to take one side against the other. This means that the reader begins to accept friendship for the trio before the characters themselves can even imagine it, which contributes to the reader's feelings of satisfaction at the conclusion of the story.

I sometimes wonder why Byars seems to solve so many of the problems in her books with tragedies. In the books of hers that I have read in the past few years, conflicts have been resolved by a drowning, a car accident, a near-drowning, a punch in the face, and a flood, just to name a few. I can't tell if Byars believes that people only change when life throws dire circumstances at them (something that feels very Southern a la Flannery O'Connor) or if she is just trying to keep things exciting by throwing in these high stakes. Either way, it's a definite pattern in her work, and it has varying degrees of success. In this book, the dangerous situation works well enough, but also I think the story could have made its point just as well without putting a character in that situation.

Compared with Goodbye, Chicken Little, The Animal, the Vegetable and John D. Jones was the better book, but it is by no means as original or well-written as something like The Summer of the Swans or the Blossom series.  It's a solid three-star read which is dated, but which might still appeal to a 21st century kid in a similar situation to that of the characters.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Books On My Fall 2018 TBR

I made TBR lists for both spring and summer. Of the titles on my spring list, there are still 11 I haven't read, and from my summer list (which was much shorter), there are still 2 titles outstanding.  I have learned that I just can't stick to a list no matter how hard I try. But there are some books I'm already planning to read this fall, and that I'm pretty certain I will actually complete, so I'm going to go ahead and share those today for Top Ten Tuesday.

  • Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt
    I have been on a binge of books about books. I have this and Honey for a Teen's Heart sitting on my desk, and I know I will get to them soon because I want to do a blog post about books of this type. 
  • Give Your Child the World by Jamie C. Martin
    This is another book about books that I want to include in the aforementioned blog post.
  • Barking with the Big Dogs: On Writing and Reading Books for Children by Natalie Babbitt
    Yet another book about books. This one comes out in November and I have an ARC from Edelweiss. 

  • X by Sue Grafton
    I need to read this because I'm doing an alphabet challenge and it's all I've got for the letter X. I basically have to read it this fall if I'm going to finish it by the end of the year! 
  • Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
    I downloaded this for Kindle when it was on sale a few months ago and saw it pop on blogs a lot when Top Ten Tuesday focused on back to school a couple of weeks ago. A mystery set at a boarding school feels like the perfect fall read to me! 
  • The Figure in the Shadows and The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring by John Bellairs
    These are the sequels to The House with a Clock in its Walls. I've heard the third book is set around Christmastime, and I'm always looking for a seasonal read during December, so I'm going to try to finish book 2 between now and then so I can read book 3 when that holiday mood strikes.

  • The Hangman by Louise Penny
    This is a novella about Armand Gamache that isn't really connected to the series and was written for adults learning to read English. It appears to be November in the story, so it seems like it will be a good book to enjoy as the weather gets older. 
  • Deadly News by Jody Holford
    This is a new cozy mystery to be published at the end of October. I have an ARC from NetGalley. 
  • Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass
    I started this a few weeks ago, then got distracted by other books. It's one of a few homeschooling-related books I hope to get through in the next month or two. 
  • The Diva Haunts the House by Krista Davis
    I have a hard time finding Halloween-themed books that actually interest me, even though I always feel the need to read one when October comes around. I'm only just reading the first book of this series now, so I may go out of order just so I can read this one when it's seasonally appropriate. I just hope I snag a library copy before they all get checked out. 
What will you be reading this fall? 

Monday, September 17, 2018

The RAHM Report for 9/17/18

What I Finished Reading

  • Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny, audiobook read by Ralph Cosham ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This is the best of this series so far. It was different from the ones preceding it, but beautifully written and emotional. I went back and forth between the ebook and the audiobook and really enjoyed Cosham's voice. I also liked hearing the author's interview about the book at the end of the audio recording. 
  • The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I read this with three Instagram friends and really enjoyed it. I avoided scary books like the plague as a kid, but this one has great character development. I'm already planning to read at least the next two books in the series. 
  • The Happy Hollisters and the Indian Treasure by Jerry West ⭐⭐
    This was a read-aloud with my four-year-old. It's the weakest of the four books we've read from this series so far, but she still enjoyed the time the Hollisters spent searching in caves for stolen treasure.
  • Come Back To Me by Sharon Sala, audiobook read by Amy Rubinate ⭐⭐
    I started this on audio, got fed up with all the random chapters about characters not connected to the main plot and plowed through the rest in the ebook edition. It was fine, but not as good as I'd hoped.
  • I'd Rather be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I read this quick, light celebration of the reading life in just two days. It's a really fun little book in which the blogger behind Modern Mrs. Darcy shares her observations about the habits of readers. 

What I'm Currently Reading

  • The Diva Runs Out of Thyme by Krista Davis, audiobook read by Hillary Huber 50%I'm really enjoying this audiobook. Krista Davis is one of the best cozy mystery writers, and I love all the characters in this book. 
  • Montana Sky by Nora Roberts 49%
    I was halfway through this book a week and a half ago when my loan period on Open Library ended. I put myself back on the waiting list for it, and of course, as I soon as I started a bunch of other books, it became available again. I will definitely finish it before it expires this time. 
  • Queenie Peavy by Robert Burch 42%
    I've been meaning to read this book for months to satisfy the letter "Q" for the A to Z Challenge hosted by Ginger Mom and the Kindle Quest. It's a quick read and I will probably finish it today. 
  • Watching the Detectives by Julie Mulhern 20%
    I love this series, and it's been a little while since I read book 4, Send in the Clowns. So far, it's every bit as good as the earlier titles of the series. This author's writing style really clicks for me. 
  • Not of this World: A Catholic Guide to Minimalism by Sterling Jaquith 13%
    My husband brought home a stack of Catholic and homeschooling books for me to read. I'm starting with this one because it's quick, and the subject matter is far removed from anything else I'm reading. So far it's dwelling a lot on hoarding. 
  • Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen 7%
    This book was mentioned by Anne Bogen in I'd Rather Be Reading. I normally don't read much involving magic or fantasy, but this book appealed to me in spite of that, so I'm giving it a try. So far, I like the writing a lot. 
  • Charm City by Laura Lippman 0%
    My loan period for this book also expired a couple of weeks ago, and I put myself on the list again, and my turn came up again a couple of days ago. I'm going to try really hard not to let time run out again! 
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 14, 2018

Paging Through Picture Books: New and Forthcoming Titles

Here are some of the new and soon-to-be-published picture books I've been reading thanks to Edelweiss (*) and Candlewick (**). 

  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, I Know Exactly What You Are by Julia Kregenow, illustrated by Carmen Saldana (9/4/18)*
    The text of this book provides lots of scientific information about stars, all set to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." Though the rhyme scheme and rhythm works well, and the information is interesting, I think the meaning of the text is drowned out by the gimmick of the song. When I finished the book, I had the tune stuck in my head but couldn't really remember most of the facts that had been presented. The scientific details require more attention than simply singing through the book allows. That said, the illustrations are gorgeous, and I think it's a good book for introducing the scientific concepts as long as it also supplemented by other texts.
  • The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (9/4/18)**
    This poetic and visually explosive picture book describes the big bang in lyrical text that captures the beauty and drama of the beginning of the universe. My almost-five-year-old was fascinated by the illustrations and though the book does not mention religion at all, she immediately attributed the images she saw to God, which made me feel good about her understanding of the relationship between faith and science. This book makes the abstract concept of how the universe came into being into something relatable, dynamic, and awe-inspiring. 
  • Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein (9/11/18)**
    In this sequel to Interrupting Chicken,  Chicken comes home from school with instructions from her teacher to find the elephant of surprise in every story she reads. Her dad tries to explain that her teacher is talking about the element of surprise, but Chicken is determined to write elephants into every story instead. Though the artwork is just as great in this book as it was in the first, there is little more to the text than this one joke, which is pretty well played out before the story is half over. I expected more from this book. 
  • Night Job by Karen Hesse, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9/11/18)**
    This is a nice slice of life story about a boy who goes to work at night with his janitor father. The writing is poetic and the illustrations capture the warmth and humor of the characters' relationship. The story taps into two ideas kids are fascinated by - what happens at night and what their parents do at work. Though this is a quieter book with a subdued color scheme, it appealed strongly to my almost-three-year-old and my almost-five-year-old. 
  • Leo Gets a Checkup by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Ruth Hearson (9/11/18)*
    Geared toward toddlers, this is a pretty straightforward book about going to the doctor's office. It includes some details that champion particular causes (the doctor gives Leo a free book, and a mom is nursing in the waiting room) but otherwise, it's pretty much like every other book of this type. 

  • Liza Jane and the Dragon by Laura Lippman, illustrated by Kate Samworth (10/2/18)*When Liza Jane fires her parents and hires a dragon to take their place, she encounters a variety of problems, chief of which is the dragon's desire to set on fire everything that bothers, annoys, or makes life difficult for Liza Jane. While the thought of being fired doesn't thrill me as a parent, I think there is value in books that allow kids to imagine the logical conclusions to some of their fantasies. This book also reminded me a lot of Princess Cora and the Crocodile, which I love.
  • You Can Be by Elise Gravel (10/9/18)*
    I enjoyed the cartoonish illustrations in this simple book which celebrates kids' freedom to be whoever they want to be and to feel however they'd like to feel. Because there is minimal text and the illustrations are more humorous, this book doesn't feel as preachy as What If? (see below) even though the subject matter is essentially the same. There is a bit of bathroom humor on the page for "Smelly" but otherwise I wouldn't have a problem sharing this book with my girls.
  • What If?: What Makes You Different Makes You Amazing! by Sandra Magsamen (2/1/19)*
    This is a saccharine and preachy book about celebrating one's uniqueness. It panders shamelessly to the push for more diverse books but offers nothing of real substance. In my experience, kids think of themselves as pretty great; adults are the ones who suggest it might be otherwise by writing books like this. 
  • The Smallest Elephant in the World by Alvin Tresselt, illustrated by Milton Glaser (2/19/19)*
    This is a reprint of a sweet vintage book from 1959 about an elephant the size of a house cat who disguises himself as a cat and attempts to live among a family. The red, black, and green illustrations are charming and the story is just the right mix of humor and imagination. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Book Review: Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens (2018)

Mistletoe and Murder is the fifth book in the Wells and Wong series by UK author Robin Stevens, which will be published in the US on September 18th. As the title suggests, this mystery is set during the Christmas holiday, which Daisy and Hazel are spending with Daisy's aunt at a women's college in Cambridge, England. Also in Cambridge, but staying at the all-male Maudlin College are Daisy's brother, Bertie, Hazel's friend Alexander and his crime-solving partner George (whom Daisy has always seen as rivals), and a pair of twins, Donald and Chummy Melling, who are about to come of age, at which point the older of the two, Donald, will inherit the family fortune. Daisy and Hazel notice right away that there seem to be a lot of accidents whenever the twins are around, and they suspect the impending inheritance might be the motive behind them. When one of the twins dies as a result of one of these accidents, the Detective Society is desperate to find out who did it, even if it means relying on their rival detective agency for clues and inside information.

The festive holiday atmosphere and new setting make this book feel charming right from the outset. Though I am typically disappointed when a story is not set at the girls' own school of Deepdean, the fact that the backdrop was a university made up for that in this book. I was intrigued by the way colleges so severely segregated students by gender in the '30s and I liked the way the author handled the girls' difficulties in gaining access to evidence in a dormitory they were not even supposed to enter. The fact that Daisy, in particular, was forced to get along with her rivals, felt like a good point of character development for her. I didn't quite feel the same tension in Hazel's friendship with Daisy as I have in previous books, but I also appreciate that some books of this series might just want to tell a really good mystery story without exploring too many subplots.

Truly, my only complaint about this series is how quickly each book goes by and how long I have to wait before the next volume is published in the U.S. Book six, A Spoonful of Murder, just came out in the UK in early 2018 and the Goodreads reviews are all so positive that I'm already dying to know when I'll get to read it!  Thankfully, the author has done a reading on YouTube, so I can at least have a taste to tide me over until it makes its way over here - but I still hope it will be sooner rather than later! (Thanks, as always, to Simon & Schuster and Edelweiss for the ARC of this book.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Book Review: Our Library by Phyllis R. Fenner (1939)

Published in 1939, Our Library is a book-length reflection on the successes of Phyllis Fenner's career as a school librarian in Manhassett, New York. This was one of the first books written about elementary school libraries, and it provides advice on everything from materials selection to the involvement of students in running the library.

I found this book completely fascinating not because of how much has changed in librarianship in 80 years but because of how much has remained exactly the same. Fenner's concerns mirror many that today's librarians still consider: welcoming all races, reaching reluctant readers, developing a diverse collection, etc.  Sometimes I think forward-thinking young librarians have a tendency to only look ahead at what's coming next without regard for the foundations that have been laid by the pioneers of the profession. This leads to professionals who feel as though they have just discovered things (like diversity, for example) that, in truth, have been around for decades. There is a lot to learn from professional texts of the past. Sure, some of the tools Fenner uses are out of date, but her reasons for using them, and the end results of their use, are very much the same as the purposes of today's librarians.

I found this book to be both a charming walk down memory lane (I do love the card catalog!) and a valuable professional tool that helped me renew my understanding of what the field of youth librarianship is all about: connecting kids with books they will love that will help them achieve academically and become lifelong readers. When Kirkus reviewed the book upon its original publication, the reviewer noted, "It should prove very constructive and stimulating to school librarians, to teachers who are uncertain to what extent the school library can meet their needs, to parents who should understand the extent to which library work is of value to their children." Though decades have gone by, I still found this to be an accurate assessment of Our Library.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Hidden Gems of my Home Library

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is hidden gems. As we have been reshelving our books since our move, I have been taking note of some of the lesser-known vintage children's titles we have in our home library, and this seemed like the perfect time to share!

  • No Boats on Bannermere by Geoffrey Trease (1949)
    This is a British children's novel from 1949 about a group of children who move to a new neighborhood only to learn that one of their neighbors, a wealthy man named Sir Alfred Askew, doesn't allow any boats on the nearby lake. As they set out to learn the reasons behind this rule, they uncover a shocking murder mystery. This is like Swallows and Amazons meets The Boxcar Children meets Minnow on the Say, and it's just great. The sequels are harder to find, but I have managed to read Black Banner Abroad and Under Black Banner, though there is sadly little hope I will ever own them. 
  • The Wonderful Farm by Marcel Ayme, illustrated by Maurice Sendak (1951)
    This book has the distinction of being the first children's book ever illustrated by Maurice Sendak! Translated from French, it is the story of two little girls, Delphine and Marinette, who live with their stern parents on a farm which is in every way normal except that the animals can talk. Each chapter follows the girls through a particular adventure involving animals either from the farm or the surrounding forest, and the episodes are funny, sad, suspenseful and everything in between. I read the book aloud to my older two girls this winter, and it was just a joy from beginning to end. 
  • The Cottage at Bantry Bay by Hilda van Stockum (1938)
    This is a novel about the O'Sullivan family of Glengarriff, County Cork, Ireland who introduce the reader to Irish culture through their everyday adventures. This book is often overshadowed by van Stockum's semi-autobiographical Mitchells series and by her Newbery honor book, A Day on Skates, but it's a gentle and engaging story in its own right, and I'm still hoping to read the sequels, Francie on the Run and Pegeen
  • The Secret Language by Ursula Nordstrom (1960)
    Ursula Nordstrom was the children's books editor for Harper & Row for over 30 years, and she mentored many beloved authors  including Maurice Sendak, E.B. White, Margaret Wise Brown, Louise Fitzhugh, and Russell Hoban. She only published this one book herself, but it embodies so much of the advice she gave to the authors she worked with (which I read about in another gem, her collection of letters called Dear Genius) and I was disappointed to learn that she wrote another book and subsequently burned it because she didn't think it was good! 
  • The Open Gate by Kate Seredy (1943)
    This wonderful novel is set right near where I grew up, so it has a special place in my heart. It also seems to be the most difficult Seredy novel to find, which is a shame because it's so good! It follows the Preston family as they move from the city to the country on the spur of the moment and try to learn to farm. Set in 1941, it also explores the reaction of average Americans to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and its ramifications.
  • Sticks Across the Chimney: A Story of Denmark by Nora Burglon (1938)
    Siri and Erik live with their widowed mother in Denmark, where they live near a Viking burial ground, as it is the only place they can afford. The community ostracizes them for living there and threatens them with ghost stories, but they do their best to remain true to themselves and loyal to their mother while they wait for their luck to change. There are some old-fashioned sensibilities to the story, but overall it's a great novel for building character. 
  • (George) by E.L. Konigsburg (1970)
    Konigsburg is a well-known author, but this odd book of hers flies a bit under the radar. It's about a middle school student, Ben, whose best friend is his "concentric twin" George who lives inside of him. The story is well-written and funny, but there is also an underlying A Beautiful Mind vibe that keeps you both questioning Ben and rooting for him through the entire book. I put off reading it for a long time because I thought it would freak me out too much, but now I'm actually glad to have it on my shelf.
  • The Far-Distant Oxus by Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock (1937)
    The Far-Distant Oxus was written by two teenage girls, Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock, as an homage to their favorite author, Arthur Ransome of Swallows and Amazons fame. Ransome enjoyed the book and helped to have it published. Though the writing is unpolished and many plot points are unresolved, this is an interesting read both because the authors are so young and because it's basically vintage fanfiction. 
  • Those Miller Girls! by Alberta Wilson Constant, illustrated by Joe and Beth Krush (1965)
    This is the first book in a Penderwicksian trilogy about two sisters, Maddy and Lou Emma Miller and their widower father, Professor Cyrus Miller, who have just moved to Gloriosa, Kansas, where they struggle to settle in among the locals. The story includes great dialogue and lots of fun detail about daily living around the turn of the 20th century. This book is hard to find, and the sequels are even harder. I have a signed copy of book three, Does Anybody Care About Lou Emma Miller?, that was a Christmas present from my husband last year, but I'll probably never even see book two, The Motoring Millers.
  • Ellen Grae by Vera and Bill Cleaver, illustrated by Ellen Raskin (1967)
    Vera and Bill Cleaver are better known for Where the Lilies Bloom, which was a 1970 National Book Award finalist, but Ellen Grae, published in 1967, shares a lot of the same vivid language and emotional dilemmas. Ellen has such a strong reputation for telling tall tales that when she is taken into the unlikely confidence of the town recluse she wonders whether she will be believed if she decides to report what she has learned to someone who can help. It's a really challenging novel, just right for the advanced middle schooler. Interestingly, this book is illustrated by Newbery medalist Ellen Raskin. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

The RAHM Report for 9/10/18

What I Finished Reading

This was a really slow reading week, but I did get through two middle grade novels:
  • The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden (ARC) by Karina Yan Glaser ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I know gentle family stories like this aren't trendy right now, but I'm still thankful someone is writing them. 
  • You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I have been curious about this book just based on the cover. Though I expected there to be more interaction between the two alternating narrators, I thought the author really captured how excruciating middle school can be.

What I'm Currently Reading

  • Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny 77%
    I am really close to done with this and I'm hoping it will be the first book I finish this week. 
  • Come Back to Me by Sharon Sala 53%
    I was listening to the audiobook, but I wound up downloading the ebook too because I haven't had many occasions to listen to audio this week and I want to get it done before I forget what happened in the early part of the story.
  • Montana Sky by Nora Roberts 49%
    I had this from Open Library, but just could not read fast enough to get it done before it went to the next person on the waiting list. There are 2 people ahead of me now so I figure I'll get back to the book in about a month and finish it then. 
  • The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs 11%
    I'm doing a buddy read of this book with some people on Instagram. I'm trying to read it slowly so I can discuss as we go. (I have a library copy with the movie cover, but I hate that, so I'm posting a different cover here.)
  • Charm City by Laura Lippman 0%
    This library ebook expires in three days and there are 4 holds. I'm going to see if I can power through it. 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?