Thursday, April 26, 2018

Book Review: Zucchini by Barbara Dana (1982)

Zucchini, a ferret who lives in the rodent house at the Bronx Zoo, is convinced there must be more to the world than what he can see from his cage. When he sees an opportunity to escape, he takes it, hoping to make it to Oklahoma, where creatures like him live together in the wild. When he runs into danger on the streets, however, he is rescued and brought instead to the children's zoo at the local ASPCA. Here he meets Billy, a shy boy who longs for a pet but lives in a pet-free building. Billy comes each day to see Zucchini, and the two form a strong bond which draws Billy out of his shell and gives Zucchini the feeling of belonging he so desires.

I typically don't enjoy animal stories, especially when they are told from the animal's point of view, but I made an exception for this book because one of my reading challenges requires a book for each letter of the alphabet and Z is a tricky letter.  For the most part, though the subject matter was not my favorite, I thought the writing was strong, and in some sections, exceptional. There were a few things that didn't work for me, such as the fact that, despite not knowing his name upon his arrival, the zoo at the ASPCA still comes to call him Zucchini. Overall, though, I did not find the story as much of a chore to read as I expected.

Though this book is over 30 years old, it didn't really feel dated in any way. Billy is a realistic and believable child protagonist, and though his relationship with Zucchini feels contrived, it is the type of thing that appeals to kids who are ardent animal lovers, regardless of how old the book is. This book is out of print, but it is available on Open Library, and I would consider having my girls read it when they get older, provided they haven't inherited my distaste for animal books. It's not Newbery-quality literature, but it is still a worthwhile book to read for pleasure. (There is also a sequel, Zucchini Out West, which does not seem to be available to read online, but which has a laughably awkward cover.)

Monday, April 23, 2018

The RAHM Report for 4/23/18

What My Kids Are Reading


In this week's Read-at-Home Kids Report: The Happy Hollisters, Mr. Gumpy, and the toddler poetry collection I'm getting tired of reading aloud.


What I Finished Reading


  • Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
    I finished this just in time for book club on Thursday. My review on Goodreads explains why I gave it five stars.
  • Dandelion Cottage by Carroll Watson Rankin
    This was a really sweet vintage tale about four girls who are given a playhouse to furnish and use as their own in exchange for weeding the dandelions from the property. I was thrilled to learn there are multiple sequels available from Project Gutenberg.
  • Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman, audiobook read by Kathleen McInerney and Nicole Poole
    This audiobook really hit the spot for me this week, and I'm planning to read more by the author (and more by these narrators as well.) My four-star review is on Goodreads.
  • The Happy Hollisters on a River Trip by Jerry West
    I read this aloud to my four-year-old. It was a bit predictable, but I enjoyed the old-fashioned feel, and it's funny to see my daughter beginning to understand suspense and cliff-hangers.


What I'm Currently Reading


  • Running Through Sprinklers by Michelle Kim (ARC)
    This book came out this past week, so I'm a bit late getting to my ARC, but it's a friendship story set in Canada in the 1990s, and I'm really enjoying it so far. I hope to finish it in the next day or two.
  • Stiffs and Swine by Ellery Adams (ARC)
    This ARC expires on Tuesday, so I am also hurrying to get the book finished. I've read four chapters so far, and it's another quick installment in this series, so I should be able to get it done by the end of tomorrow.
  • Al(exandra) the Great! by Constance C. Greene
    I'm jumping back into this series after a few weeks off. I've only just borrowed it from Open Library and skimmed the first couple of pages, but it already seems as good as the previous volumes.
  • Death's Door by Betsy Byars
    I need to get going on reading more Betsy Byars books for the Author Love challenge. This is book four in the Herculeah Jones series. I'm planning to finish reading the series ASAP so I can post about the whole thing and then move onto her other books. 
  • Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman, audiobook read by Deborah Hazlett
    This is my next audiobook. I've listened to about 20 minutes, and I like the main character and the audiobook narrator so far. 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


Sunday, April 22, 2018

The RAHK Report for 4/22/18

We've been potty training Little Bo Peep (2.5 years) this week, so we've stuck close to home and read a ton of books. Here are the highlights:

  • The Bull Beneath the Walnut Tree and other stories by Anita Hewett, illustrated by Imero Gorbato
    Miss Muffet has been enjoying reading stories from this collection after nap time (which, for her, is more like quiet time these days). I have not read any yet myself, but my husband has, and he asks her questions at the dinner table that confirm that is comprehending what she reads.
  • Busy Water by Irma Simonton Black, pictures by Jane Castle
    When Miss Muffet asked about evaporation this week, we read this basic introduction to the water cycle. It's more about the way water flows from smaller brooks, to larger rivers and oceans, but it does talk a little bit about water returning to the clouds and then brought down again as rain. It does not mention the word "evaporation," however, so we'll be consulting a science book or two to get a little more detail.
  • The Happy Hollisters on a River Trip by Jerry West
    This second book of the series is on OpenLibrary, so I decided to read it aloud since Miss Muffet enjoyed the first one so much. One day this week, Bo Peep smacked Miss Muffet with a large wooden block and bruised her finger. While she was upset about this, I took Miss Muffet to my bed and tucked her in for a bit, and we ended up finishing the book! I am probably going to go ahead and buy book 3 for the Kindle app on my phone so we can continue reading in order.
  • History Can Be Fun by Munro Leaf
    Miss Muffet has been reading this on and off for months. It was both a good challenge for her reading skills and an appropriately basic introduction to the history of the world. It seems her favorite topics were the Roman Empire and barbarians, as she keeps telling people, including her grandmother, that "Some people who came before us were barbarians!"


  • Good for You! Toddler Rhymes for Toddler Times by Stephanie Calmenson
    I have to admit that I don't like this poetry collection that much now that Bo Peep is asking to hear the entire book multiple times a week. I used to like some of the poems for toddler story time, but the more I read them aloud, the more I realize how off the rhythm is in each poem, and how many rhymes just don't quite fit. But it does cover some good concepts - colors, manners, numbers, letters, parts of the body, etc. - and she is picking up new information, so I can probably stand it a bit longer.
  • Here's a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters, illustrated by Polly Dunbar
    I presented this to Bo Peep as an alternative to Good For You! and she took to it pretty well. I read it with her and Jumping Joan, and she kept snatching at the illustrations saying she was catching the babies in the pictures. She especially took a liking to the little girl on the swing in the image that accompanies "The Swing" by Robert Louis Stevenson and the little curly-haired girl snuggling her cat alongside "Cat Kisses" by Bobbi Katz.
  • Mr. Gumpy's Motor Car by John Burningham
    This book falls in and out of favor around here, but Bo Peep was interested in it this week, especially after we realized we have finger puppets to match all of the animals in the story. We stuck them and a few peg dolls in our little wooden bus and acted out the story, which Bo Peep thought was a very fun idea.
  • What a Wonderful World, illustrated by Tim Hopgood
    This book was given to Jumping Joan, and she enjoys it, but Bo Peep has been the one to learn the song and start singing it to herself. There is something very sweet about her little voice singing out, "And I think to myself, what a wonderful world." It's also funny how she imitates every nuance of my singing.
  • Black Bird Yellow Sun by Steve Light
    Jumping Joan spent a lot of time pawing at this book during tummy time this week. She seems to be drawn to the bold colors of the illustrations, and I'm sure the corners of the front cover are tasty too. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Poetry Picnic: April 12, 2018

The tradition continues! This week, we finally got some warm spring weather, meaning we were able to head to the park for a poetry picnic on Thursday. I brought sandwiches, apples, brownies, and milk for the big girls, a bottle for the baby, and four books. We spread out a blanket, and the girls ate while I read aloud. Here's what they heard:

  • "Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Lawrence Thayer from Great Story Poems edited by Theodoric Jones, illustrated by Frank Bolle
    I've been wanting to read this poem to Miss Muffet (age 4 years, 4 months) because even though I knew she wouldn't understand the whole thing, I thought she would love the way it sounds. I was right. This book also has line drawing illustrations to accompany each poem, so those helped contextualize what was happening. It occurred to me when I was reading it that, despite having gone to see the Durham Bulls every summer since birth, she doesn't know the concept of "three strikes and you're out." We'll have to work on that when we go to a game this summer, and then we can read the poem again.
  • Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Paul Galdone
    Miss Muffet has a developing interest in the Revolutionary War, so that prompted me to choose this picture book. The illustrations are great - even Bo Peep (age 2.5) enjoyed them - and the rhythm of the poem appealed to all three girls, including Jumping Joan (6 mos.)
  • All That Sunlight by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Walter Stein
    Miss Muffet received this book as a gift from my mom for Easter. The poems are very short, so we read the entire collection. Poems include child-friendly meditations on colors, friendship, flowers, and weather. A few were familiar to me, but many others were new. This is also a book Miss Muffet is able to read independently, so I may invite her to read to us from it again on a future picnic.
  • If Not for the Cat by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Ted Rand
    This collection of haiku about animals was the hit of the picnic. Miss Muffet and Bo Peep loved calling out the name of each animal as its poem was read, and the illustrations were very engaging for them as well. 
The girls are all at great ages for poetry picnics this year. The older two are great at sitting and listening and the baby isn't big enough yet to get into much trouble. So I am hoping we'll be able to do this twice a month or even weekly as we get into the summer. 


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Reading Through History: Story of the Presidents of the United States of America by Maud and Miska Petersham (1953)

Published in 1953, this nonfiction book written at the middle grade level presents short biographies of every president from Washington to Eisenhower. Each short essay is between 1 and 3 pages long and tells where the presidents were born, how they came to be elected president, what happened during their presidencies, and, where applicable (at the time), how they died. The illustrations are pen-and-ink renderings of the presidents themselves, along with other scenery related to the time period in which they served.

I started reading this book to my four-year-old on Presidents Day because she was curious about the day and we didn't have a lot of other books on the subject. I initially thought we would read just the first two or three chapters, but we were both enjoying it so much, we wound up reading the whole book over the course of a couple of weeks. While much of the information did go over her head, she loved all the little bits of trivia we uncovered, such as the fact that more presidents seem to have died in July than in any other month. She took an interest in some of the vocabulary, soaking up words like term, campaign, assassination, and election. She also loved getting little glimpses into how life changed over nearly 200 years of our country's history.

The details about the issues of the day during each presidency are probably the strongest part of the book overall. I was never given such a thorough picture of the development of this country when I was a kid, and I learned many new bits of information as I was reading. I also appreciated the balance between interesting biographical facts that would be appealing to kids and information about the presidencies themselves. Each president came across as a real human being, and because I could relate to them as people I was more interested in their accomplishments (and failures) as presidents.

While this book's age prevents it from being a complete history resource unto itself, what is included in the book is perfect for beginning history students . The text also works really well as a read-aloud, both because the chapters are short and because the language is very pleasing to the ear. I will definitely plan to use this book more extensively when we begin studying history more seriously in a few years.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Some of My Favorite Picture Book Endpapers

One of my favorite things about picture books are their endpapers - the artwork that appears on the inside of the front and back covers of many titles. I like the way they can serve as a gateway into the story, dropping hints and clues about the book ahead before a single word of text has yet appeared and setting a specific mood and tone, or the way they can bring a book full circle even after the story seems to have ended. For a while, there was a wonderful account on Instagram that featured beautiful and interesting endpapers, and I got into the  habit of sharing the endpapers from some of the books I was reading. That account hasn't been updated in nearly a year, but I still find myself collecting images of my favorite endpapers every now and then. Today, in response to Blog All About It's April topic, Art, and as my post for Top Ten Tuesday's freebie topic for this week, I want to share those images here.


This sweet and simple endpaper is the first illustration that appears in Aliki's picture book adaptation of an old folk song, Go Tell Aunt Rhody. The song is about a group of children having to tell their aunt that the goose she has been saving to make a feather bed has died in the millpond, leaving behind her children. This quilt foretells the ending of the book, where Aunt Rhody snuggles down in her new warm bed after plucking the goose's feathers.

These endpapers appear in Poppleton in Winter by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Mark Teague. As with all the books in the series, these endpapers are in the form of a map which not only reflects the season in which the story is set, but also shows some of the characters taking part in events from the story. In the lower left-hand corner of this image, Poppleton himself (who is a pig) can be seen wearing a brown coat and building a snowman, while his best friend, a llama named Cherry Sue, is shown cross-country skiing in the upper left.

These endpapers come from an edition of The House at Pooh Corner, and they show a playful parade of all the beloved characters from the Hundred Acre Wood in silhouette, with their signatures scrawled beneath them. There is something so sweet and nostalgic about this image, and the movement of their characters and the way their names are written provide subtle insight into the characters' personalities and quirks.

These endpapers come from the front (top) and back (bottom) of a newer picture book, Hey Coach! by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Kim Smith, which was published in 2016. The story follows a team of first-time soccer players through their very first season with their understanding and patient coach. The endpapers show the changes in the team and in the coach from the beginning of the story to the end by illustrating what appears on the coach's bulletin board before and after soccer season.

This map, showing the homes of a variety of animals, serves as the endpaper for the classic children's novel Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson, which won the Newbery Medal in 1945. Especially noteworthy, in my opinion, is the statue of St. Francis that appears in the garden. It looks unassuming upon first glance that you might not even really notice it, but once you've read the book, you realize how significant this statue is to the main theme of the story, and how much the endpapers really reveal about the book overall.

This compilation of original sketches by Maurice Sendak appears as the endpaper of Making Mischief: A Maurice Sendak Appreciation by Gregory Maguire. I like these images for the same reason I like the book: they highlight Sendak's amazing range as an illustrator. He captured such beauty, humor, and personality in each of his drawings, and there has never been an artist quite like him before or since.

These images, done by John Rocco in the style of Virginia Lee Burton come from Sherri Duskey Rinker's picture book biography. Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton. This is one of the best picture book biographies I have ever read. It tells only the facts that are of interest to kids, and that pertain to Burton's work (writing and illustrating children's books about machines), and Rocco's illustrations are a beautiful homage to Burton's artistic style that manage to pay tribute to her artwork without flat-out copying it. Fans of Burton's work can find all their favorite characters from her books right here on the endpapers, which can only inspire them to want to read the text too.


Endpapers in nonfiction books often have lots of great trivia and details that are not included in the text proper, but which enrich the reading experience. This is the case in Peter Spier's picture book adaptation of The Star-Spangled Banner. This photograph shows just one snippet of these intricate endpapers, which include the different versions of the U.S. Flag shown here, as well as the flags of the branches and officers of the military, the president and vice president, the secretaries of defense, state, and agriculture and a diagram of the standard proportions of the US flag.


Finally, this endpaper appears in a 1953 book by Maud and Miska Petersham called Story of the Presidents of the United States. It features short biographies of all the presidents from Washington to Eisenhower, and the endpapers show the signature of each president. As someone whose favorite memorial in Washington DC is The Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence, which displays each man's signature, I was instantly drawn to these endpapers and enjoyed comparing each president's handwriting to that of those before and after him.

Which of these endpapers do you like best? Are there other picture book endpapers you love? 

Monday, April 16, 2018

The RAHM Report for 4/16/18

What My Kids Are Reading


This week's Read-at-Home Kids Report includes picture books by Ezra Jack Keats, Anne Rockwell, and Margot Zemach.

What I Finished Reading

 

  • Color Me Murder by Krista Davis, audiobook read by
    I borrowed this book in audio format via Hoopla, and zipped right through it. I especially liked the setting (Georgetown in Washington, DC) and the interesting cast of characters. Though I am not into adult coloring books, I did like the way they were incorporated into the main character's life and into her brainstorming about who may have committed the murder. I'm looking forward to the second book of the series.
  • 206 Bones by Kathy Reichs
    This was one of the best books of this series. The writing is excellent, and the tension between Tempe and Ryan is at its best. I read about a third of the book, and then listened to the rest, and I really enjoyed the audiobook narration, and the fact that I didn't have to try to pronounce all the French words! 
  • A Minute On the Lips by Cheryl Harper
    It took me forever to read this ebook, which I also borrowed via Hoopla, and it wasn't even that good. I liked a lot of the elements of the story - the mystery, the fact that the heroine is running for reelection as sheriff, and the tension between law enforcement and the press that is brought out by her relationship with a newspaper reporter - but I didn't feel like this story put them together in a very interesting way. I probably should have DNFed this one, and I will be more diligent about choosing Harlequin Heartwarming titles in the future.


What I'm Currently Reading

 

  • Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton
    I like so much of what Chesterton has to say about life, and society, and the cosmos. So much of it is as relevant to our times as it was to his. Book club meets on Thursday, so I need to pick up the pace, but I've been enjoying slowly digesting each chapter.
  • Dandelion Cottage by Carroll Watson Rankin
    So far, I'm enjoying this old-fashioned tale of four girls who fix up an abandoned cottage to be like a real house. It has a Betsy-Tacy vibe to it that especially appeals to me. 
  • Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman, audiobook read by Kathleen McInerney and Nicole Poole
    After much searching for another audiobook to follow the two I finished this week, I decided to try a stand-alone novel by an author I'd never read before. I'm still settling into the fact that there are two narrators - one for the main character's first-person reflections on her childhood, and the other for the limited third-person narration of present-day events in her career as a state's attorney - but otherwise, I am totally hooked on this book. It has been compared to To Kill a Mockingbird and recommended as a good book for teens, and both of those factors add to its appeal for me. 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


Sunday, April 15, 2018

The RAHK Report for 4/15/18

When the girls get restless in the afternoons while waiting for my husband to get home, we've started grabbing a stack of picture books and gathering on the big bed to read them together. Here are some of the highlights from the books we read this week:

  • Big Bug, Little Bug by Paul Stickland
    This is the current favorite book of Little Bo Peep (age 2.5), solely because of the big pop-up on the last page. Bo Peep and Miss Muffet (4 years, 4 months) both like to  read this aloud to Jumping Joan (6 mos.)
  • Just Right by Lilian Moore, illustrated by Aldren A. Watson
    This picture book is about a farmer who wants to sell the family farm, but can't find someone who appreciates it the way he does. Miss Muffet had already the book and kept calling out spoilers to the rest of us, but even so, the pleasant ending was very satisfying, at least for me. 
  • Here I Come - Ready or Not! by Jean Merrill, illustrated by Frances Gruse Scott
    Bo Peep really latched onto this book, which describes a simple game of hide-and-seek played by a boy and a girl on a farm. Bo Peep loved looking for the hiding child on each page, and she could be heard playing with her own toys later on, calling out, "Ready or not, here I come!" 
  • Night Noises by Laverne Johnson, illustrated by Martha Alexander
    This gentle book is about a little boy falling asleep listening to the sounds of his house, family, and neighborhood. Bo Peep and Miss Muffet both listened with rapt attention. Something about the quiet text and gentle illustrations seemed to put them in a bit of a trance.

  • Our Yard is Full of Birds by Anne Rockwell
    Miss Muffet, who often includes "bird expert" on her list of things she will be when she grows up, loved this book. It introduces common species of birds within the context of a story in which a child watches birds outside the window. She knew most of the birds and excitedly pointed out which ones can be seen near our house.
  • Mommy, Buy Me a China Doll by Margot Zemach
    The girls thought this book, in which a little girl begs her mother for a doll and makes silly suggestions about how her family could manage it, was really funny. I thought it was a sweet testament to imagination and the ending was very cozy. 
  • Maggie and the Pirate by Ezra Jack Keats
    This is one of Keats's lesser known and more unusual books, but it went over well with Little Miss Muffet especially. The main character's beloved cricket is stolen and later dies, which I'd forgotten, but Miss Muffet isn't a particularly sensitive kid, so this didn't bother her very much. 
  • My Red Umbrella by Robert Bright
    This is a very small book with a straightforward but fanciful story about how a little girl shares her umbrella with a menagerie of animals during a sudden rainstorm. Bo Peep liked this one a lot and asked to look at it on her own after we read it together.
  • The Happy Hollisters on a River Trip by Jerry West
    I found this on Open Library, and I'm reading it aloud only to Miss Muffet, and she is loving it. The cliffhanger chapter endings mean that I sometimes have to read four at a go, but the series is charming enough that I'm not really bothered by that.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Book Review: Ellen Grae by Vera and Bill Cleaver (1967)

Ellen Grae is a teller of tall tales. Most people know better than to believe any of her stories, even if some of them do have a grain of truth in them somewhere. Strangely, though, of all the people in town he could talk to, the reclusive and mentally disabled Ira has chosen Ellen Grae as his confidante. When he tells her the truth of what really happened to his deceased parents, Ellen Grae is sure he isn't exaggerating at all, but she wonders whether she must reveal his secret or keep it to herself in order to feel at peace.

This slim novel presents a moral dilemma much like the ones encountered by the main characters in Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk and On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer. Essentially, the story is about the nature of truth and whether it is ever okay to bend, stretch, or altogether avoid the truth, either to save someone from trouble or to protect yourself from the consequences of causing trouble. In posing these questions, the book asks young readers to both evaluate Ellen Grae's actions and to consider how they might act in her place.

In addition to raising a topic for discussion, this book is also just really different. Ellen Grae is an intriguing character, as is Ira, and the dialogue throughout the book feels fresh and real, as though real people are speaking to one another and the reader just happens to be listening in. Like these authors'  Where the Lilies Bloom, this book also has a strong sense of place. I could clearly picture the river on which Ellen Grae travels with Ira and her friend Grover, as well as the swamp where Ira reveals the truth of his parents' fate. The vividness of the swamp, in particular, is important because it figures heavily into Ellen Grae's thoughts about Ira's parents once she learns what happened to them.

Also interesting are Ellen Raskin's illustrations for the book. I'm not quite sure that I like them, or that they are fully necessary to the story, but they do have a haunting quality that suits the mood of the story. They give effective visual impressions of the characters' internal struggles. The cover illustration is the best of all the pictures Raskin provides for this book and a perfect representation of what the story is about.

Though this is a short novel, it is a challenging one and could be upsetting to elementary level readers, given the fact that there is death involved and a lack of a firm resolution that might be uncomfortable for sensitive kids. For middle school level readers, however, there is a lot of meat to this story, and I think most twelve and thirteen-year-old kids would have a definite opinion of Ellen Grae's actions, and Ira's as well, making the book fodder for interesting classroom or book club discussions.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book Review: Cody and the Heart of a Champion by Tricia Springstubb (2018)

Cody and the Heart of a Champion is the fourth title in this beautifully written series by one of my favorite middle grade authors, Tricia Springstubb. Spring has arrived, and it has brought many changes both big and small to Cody's life. Her brother, Wyatt, is wearing dress shirts daily to impress his girlfriend, while Cody's friend and neighbor, Spencer, is working on a mysterious project under the porch in the wake of the news that his mother will soon have a baby. Meanwhile, Cody tries to ignore the fact that she has outgrown her favorite spring jacket, while her friend Pearl becomes consumed by her newfound interest in playing soccer.

Four books into the series, I am running out of ways to express how wonderful these books are. The first title in the series set the bar very high in 2015 with Cody and the Fountain of Happiness, and each sequel has met that standard. As always, in this newest book (of which I received an ARC from NetGalley) Springstubb gets the little details of childhood just right. In particular, she does a great job with the soccer storyline, in which Pearl and Cody are intimidated by star player Madison who cares more about winning than team-building. I thought it was especially interesting that Cody learns how to be a good sport not from her own bad behavior, but from having to put up with someone else's poor sportmanship. I haven't read many kids' books that model how to handle a bad situation when someone else's negative behavior is the cause.

It is also impressive to me how so many elements of the story relate the to theme of change - including the season in which the book is set! - without the theme feeling like a gimmick. Each piece of the plot informs the others, and it is really Cody's hopeful and cheerful navigation of the difficulties that come up that make the story appealing.

I really look forward to the day my own girls, all currently under five, are old enough to appreciate this series. Until then, I will continue to urge parents of girls (and boys) in the 7- to 10-year-old range to seek out these books for their kids. They are quality stories with great characters and gorgeous writing - you can't go wrong!

Monday, April 9, 2018

The RAHM Report for 4/9/18

Readathons!

I'm currently participating in two readathons: Seasons of Reading's Spring into Horror (which runs all month and, thankfully, only requires one scary book!) and a Pre-Readathon from Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon where the challenge is to read 1000 pages in a week. I've read about 187 pages toward the 1000 so far, and I've read four books for Seasons of Reading so far this month.


What My Kids Are Reading

See Easter picture books, my four-year-old's first mystery book, and a new board book in this week's Read-at-Home Kids Report


What I Finished Reading


  • The Happy Hollisters by Jerry West
    I read this aloud to my oldest daughter (age 4) and we both really enjoyed it. My mom mentioned that she also loved these and borrowed them from the library when she was a kid. There are a lot of unbelievable events in this book (sort of like the things that happen to Nancy Drew), but my daughter loved all the excitement and suspense. 
  • Honestly, Katie John! by Mary Calhoun
    I really enjoyed the writing in this third book about Katie John. If the Ramona books had extended into puberty,  I imagine this is what they would have been like. I really think my oldest daughter will enjoy this in 6 or 7 years. Katie John seems like her kind of girl. 
  • Better Off Read by Nora Page
    I loved the characters and setting in this new cozy mystery that comes out in May. The protagonist is an elderly lady who drives a bookmobile, and she was fun to read about, as were her gentleman friend and her other neighbors and friends. The fact that the plot involves not just a murder but also the danger of the public library shutting its doors caught my interest, and I was as invested in the future of the library as in who committed the crime.
  • Chili Con Corpses by Ellery Adams, audiobook read by Karen White
    I finally finished this audiobook! I enjoy Karen White's narration, but I did have to listen to the last hour at 2x speed so I could get it done before my library copy from Hoopla expired. There was a lot of character development in this book that I enjoyed, and it was also fun to "visit" Luray Caverns, since I actually have been there. I was also invested in James's romantic life, and I'm pleased with the turn it has taken even if I don't think it will last long. 

What I'm Currently Reading 


  • Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
    I'm reading this slowly because it's dense, but book club is next week, so I'll try to get it mostly finished by this coming weekend. 
  • A Minute on the Lips by Cheryl Harper
    I had to put this book on the back burner while I finished the two cozy mysteries I read this week because this story also has mystery elements and I kept mixing up all the plots. It should be pretty easy and quick to finish now that I finished those other books. 
  • Color Me Murder by Krista Davis
    I noticed this audiobook on Hoopla when I got to the end of Chili Con Corpses. I've heard good things about it, and my local library doesn't seem to have it in any other format, so I decided to give the audiobook a shot. So far, I like the main character and I'm looking forward to enjoying the Washington DC setting.

Challenge Progress

  • The Happy Hollisters and Honestly, Katie John both count for the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge. 
  • Better Off Read and Chili Con Corpses both count for Cloak and Dagger and Craving for Cozies. Chili Con Corpses also counts for the Library Love challenge.
  • I also reviewed the following titles for the Writing Reviews challenge: Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth, Sunny, and I Know You, Al. 


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


Sunday, April 8, 2018

The RAHK Report for 4/8/18


  • The Happy Hollisters by Jerry West
    This ebook was free for Kindle one day so I downloaded it to my phone thinking I would just read it myself for fun. But then Miss Muffet (4 years, 4 months) and I had to wait in the car for a few minutes on our way to New York, and I started reading it aloud to her just to keep her entertained for a few minutes. She was so taken with the story, and so drawn into the suspense of solving the mystery that we ended up finishing the whole thing in about two days once we got home. Some of the sequels are on Open Library, so we'll probably check those out soon. This was her first exposure to the mystery genre, and to the concept of cliffhangers, and it was a success. (We're also still reading More Milly-Molly-Mandy together.)
  • Little Dog Lost by Rene Guillot, illustrated by Wallace Tripp
    This is Miss Muffet's current independent read. It's a bit of a challenge, and it has been introducing her to lots of great new vocabulary words, which is part of the point. I haven't read it yet myself, but she tends to like animal stories and seems to be enjoying it. 
  • First Thousand Words In Latin
    Since we attend a Latin Mass sometimes, and because we want to teach the girls some Gregorian chant, we are starting to learn a little bit about Latin pronunciation. This book has a lot of words in it that we are not likely to need to know for those purposes, but Miss Muffet enjoys languages and likes to work on trying to pronounce every word she can. In the meantime, we are actually all learning to chant the Stabat Mater and Regina Caeli.

  • Katie and the Sunflowers by James Mayhew
    We bought this book with Miss Muffet in mind, at least for now, but Bo Peep (2.5 years) is the one who asked to hear it this week. I don't know that she really understood exactly what was happening, but she sat contentedly in my lap and stared at the pictures with rapt attention. None of the sequels can really compare to the excellent first book, Katie's Picture Show, but this one was okay.
  • To Hilda for Helping by Margot Zemach and I'll Fix Anthony by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Arnold Lobel
    I grabbed these two books from the shelf at random without realizing they complemented each other perfectly! To Hilda for Helping about the youngest of three daughters who is given a medal made by her father in recognition of her help setting the table each night. One of Hilda's older sisters doesn't care a bit about the medal, but the other is extremely jealous. When her sister tries to spoil Hilda's enjoyment of her prize by describing a potential situation in which the medal would be lost forever, Hilda simply rejects the idea and predicts a future in which she comes out on top. I'll Fix Anthony is about a little brother's fantasy involving all the ways he will get back at his older brother for all the ways he has wronged him. When he's six, the narrator promises, he'll "fix" Anthony. These books are both so true to the emotions kids experience when they have difficulty getting along with their siblings. Bo Peep and Miss Muffet get along really well, but they definitely recognized something in these stories that made them laugh along with the younger sibling characters. I'm also happy to report that neither came away with the idea that revenge is a good thing. I think they picked up on the fact that these are books about using imagination to combat anger and not actual handbooks for giving older siblings their comeuppance.
  • Easter by Jan Pienkowski
    This is the King James translation of the Easter story, accompanied by silhouette illustrations. We read it aloud at the dinner table on Easter, and it was fine, but there was no glorious image of the Resurrection to be seen, which made it kind of a let-down.

  • Where Are Baby's Easter Eggs? by Karen Katz
    Bo Peep was delighted to see this book again after months of it being packed away in our spring book box, and she has been trying to share it with Jumping Joan (5 months) for days. Jumping Joan is not quite as into it as Bo Peep would like; she'd rather have a larger book to push out in front of her as she practices trying to get up on all fours.
  • In the Rain by Elizabeth Spurr, illustrated by Manelle Oliphant
    Peachtree Publishers sent us a review copy of this book, and both Bo Peep and Jumping Joan like to listen to it over and over again. Bo Peep also likes In the Snow, an earlier book from the same series. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Book Review: I Know You, Al by Constance C. Greene (1975)

In this second book of the series, narrated once again by Al's unnamed best friend, Al is faced with yet another difficulty of life with divorced parents. Her father is soon to remarry, and he wants Al to attend the wedding. As Al prepares for the impending nuptials, she also worries about getting her period, completing her needlepoint project, meeting her soon-to-be stepbrothers and finding a dress to wear to the wedding. 

After reading the first Al book, I was not prepared for how puberty-centric this story would be. But right in the first chapter there is talk not just of periods, but also of artificial insemination! I'm sure had I read this book as a kid, that would have gone right over my head, but as an adult it took me by surprise and made me see this series as possibly more mature than the first book suggests.

Surprising content aside, this book has many of the same charms as a A Girl Called Al. I really like that the title character is seen only through the eyes of a friend. This approach works as well here as it does in the Horrible Harry series and in books like The Toothpaste Millionaire. Al's eccentricities would not come across half as well if the reader was inside her mind all the time. To appreciate Al, the reader needs to see her strangeness filtered through the viewpoint of an affectionate and sympathetic friend, and the narrator is both.

I also love the little details of the girls' interactions, such as the way they tell each other to "have a weird day" each time they part company and their realistic behavior whenever they have disagreements. I also appreciate that this book shows Al's best friend interacting with another friend (Polly), as it adds layers to her character and shows how she acts when she isn't with Al, and also how her growing friendship with Al informs her behavior with others.

Byron Barton's illustrations are also once again the perfect complement to the offbeat vibe of the story. They have a sloppiness and quirkiness to them that I just find so endearing. Though his pictures are decidedly not realistic, they do bring Al's personality to life quite well.

At this point, I'm hooked on this series, for better or for worse. I plan to read and review the remaining four books, all of which are available on Open Library.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Book Review: Sunny by Jason Reynolds (2018)

In his diary, Sunny, a member of the Defenders track team, writes down everything he feels. He writes about his tutor, Aurelia, who homeschools him. He writes about his mother who died giving birth to him and the pressure his father puts on him to be a runner like she was. And he writes about his love for hip-hop dancing, the way every movement of his body makes a particular sound in his mind, and the connection between his love for dance and his newfound role as the track team's discus thrower.

Sunny is quite different from the two books (Ghost and Patina) that came before it. Not only is the diary format new, but this is the first book where the main character has very little interaction with other team members. Though the story is about his role on the track team, and there are plenty of mentions of the other members, the main focus is on Sunny's family situation and how that informs his performance on the team.

I found the writing in this book to be more uneven than in the first two volumes of the series. There are some really beautiful moments, especially near the end of the book when Sunny and his dad begin to really work through their grief over losing Sunny's mom, but there are also some things that feel distracting and unnecessary. For example, I really dislike Sunny's constant use of onomatopoeia to express his desire to dance. I think this will probably work fine in the audiobook version of the story, when the narrator can make the intended sounds, but on the page, they are stumbling blocks that make it harder to glean the meaning of Sunny's words.

I also feel somewhat conflicted over the author's portrayal of homeschooling. Sunny is shown to be completely isolated from kids his age, and his only friend is his tutor. While this might be the experience of some homeschooled kids, I think it's definitely not the norm, and it's unfortunate that Reynolds didn't create a character with a more vibrant homeschooling life. (Kidlit in general could use one!) I like Sunny's friendship with Aurelia, but I don't think it needed to be his only one in order to have the impact on the story that Reynolds intends. This is a minor point, though, and it does not detract from the story overall.

Jason Reynolds continues to be one of my favorite newer authors, and I'm definitely eager to see how he finishes the Track series when Lu comes out at the end of the summer. I have a feeling Sunny will end up being the weakest volume of the series, but even Reynolds's weakest book is still a solid three-star read for me.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Reading Through History: Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth by Sheila O'Connor (2018)

In the summer of 1968, Reenie Kelly has just moved to Lake Liberty, Minnesota. She has been going through a difficult time ever since her mom died from cancer. The family has very little money, so her father has had to leave the children - Reenie and her older brothers, Dare and Billy - in the care of their grandmother while he goes to North Dakota for a job building roads. Billy, who was meant to go to college, must now pump gas to earn money, and worse, he worries constantly about being drafted to serve in Vietnam. To raise money to possibly help Billy pay for college,  Reenie and Dare share a paper route. Reenie, who is highly enthusiastic about having a job, goes out of her way to introduce herself at every house where she will deliver papers. Only Mr. Marsworth, a reclusive pacifist who has been ostracized by his neighbors for many years, does not respond when she rings his bell. Unwilling to remain strangers, Reenie begins writing letters to Mr. Marsworth. Though clearly overwhelmed by Reenie's unfettered affection for him, Mr. Marsworth writes replies every so often, and through this correspondence the unlikely pair devise strategies for keeping Billy safely out of Vietnam and bring to light the long-lost secret of the connection between their families.

My first thought about this book, on the heels of reading P.S. I Miss You was "Not another novel told in letters!" I appreciate that Dear Mr. Henshaw was the favorite novel of a lot of people when they were kids, but that does not mean newer books should imitate its epistolary format. When Reenie sent her first letter, the explanation for her wanting to reach out to Mr. Marsworth did feel a little gimmicky, and I was worried that the book was going to be tedious to read all the way through. But then I read Mr. Marsworth's first reply to Reenie, and his character came right off the page, fully alive, after just a few sentences. I knew him already, and could clearly hear his voice, after just one letter. After that, I realized that gimmick or not, the format of the book was going to take a backseat to the hearts and souls of these characters and their connection.

It was so refreshing to read a middle grade novel that felt purely like a children's book, with a quintessential middle grade protagonist. I think a lot of today's children's authors are caught up in politics and activism and as a result, strong adult feelings on a variety of topics come through in their writing. This book, while very much about both politics and activism truly does not seem to have any agenda aside from telling a compelling story. This book not only develops a friendship between two endearing characters; it also gives readers a taste of how Americans reacted to the war in Vietnam. It explains the concept of conscientious objection in a way kids can understand and it also shows how the older generation of the time thought about Vietnam in light of the events of World War II when they themselves were young. The author, or at least the story, certainly seems to have a point of view on the issue of war, but it is not forcibly crammed down the reader's throat nor are characters automatically vilified for taking a different outlook. Some characters behave badly; others behave well.

My dad enlisted in the Air Force during the time period in which this book is set, and though he was not a conscientious objector who opposed war in all forms, he did protest to bombing villages where women and children would be killed, and refused to do so. I grew up hearing stories of how scared he was to stand up for what his conscience told him was right, and how much of a relief it was when he was given an honorable discharge instead of a court martial. I also remember there were still people in my hometown who considered him a coward even 25 years later when I was hearing these stories. This book was probably a bit more appealing to me because of this personal connection, but I also liked that it rang true with my father's experiences, suggesting to me that the author did her research and that she presents a reality-based view of the historical events that inform this novel.

I also loved that the Kelly family was Catholic, but that Catholicism is not the main focus of the novel. It was interesting to hear the characters comparing the Quaker religion to the Catholic faith, and pleasing to me, as a Catholic parent, to see mention of the characters attending Mass as though it were a perfectly normal and reasonable thing to do. After the horrible negativity toward the Church that I encountered in P.S. I Miss You, it was nice to have a more positive portrayal, even though there are only a handful of Catholic references.

There are a few minor issues in this book: the font is tiny, and there are no chapters to break up the letters into smaller groups. The book is also dauntingly long at first glance, though I was able to read it over the course of an afternoon and evening with several interruptions, thanks in part to Reenie's fun and appealing voice. I also have to point out that the publisher's comparison of this book to The Wednesday Wars is not the most apt. Both are set during the same time, and Vietnam provides the backdrop to both, but in every other way they are very different books. I enjoyed them both nearly equally, but I wouldn't necessarily suggest one as a read-alike for the other. Overall, though, Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth is an emotionally satisfying and completely child-friendly story about the effects of war on one family, and the importance of hope in the face of fear and adversity.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The RAHM Report for 4/2/18

What My Kids Are Reading


My kids read a bunch of books at their grandmother's house. Read about it in Saturday's  Read-at-Home Kids Report.

What I Finished Reading


  • Homer Price by Robert McCloskey, audiobook read by John McDonough
    We played this for the kids in the car when we took our car trip to visit my family last week. The narration was great, especially the singing! 
  • Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary, audiobook read by Stockard Channing
    It's always fun to revisit Ramona. This was our second audiobook of the trip, and I know I enjoyed it every bit as much as my four-year-old did. 
  • A League of Her Own by Karen Rock
    These Harlequin Heartwarming books vary pretty widely in terms of quality. This one was a two-star book for me. The characters just didn't come to life.
  • All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot
    I finally finished this, and it did not disappoint at all. I really need to focus on other books for a while, but I pulled the next book from this series off the shelf anyway because I know I won't be able to resist staring it for too long.
  • A Grave Issue by Lillian Bell
    This first title in a new cozy mystery series was a five-star read for me. My review is on Goodreads
  • All Alone in the Universe by Lynne Rae Perkins
    I think I would have loved this book if it had been around when I was 12. Solid writing about a common middle school experience, losing a friend to another friendship. 


What I Did Not Finish

  • The Advice Column Murders by Leslie Nagel
    I really did try to get into my ARC of this book and just could not make it happen. I wrote up my reasons for marking this book "did not finish" on Goodreads.


What I'm Currently Reading


  • Better Off Read by Nora Page (ARC)
    I liked the main character of this book right away and I'm hooked after just one chapter. Not everything about the way libraries are portrayed is accurate, but so far nothing is so egregious that I can't suspend my disbeleif.
  • Chili Con Corpses by Ellery Adams, audiobook read by Karen White
    I'm listening to this audiobook whenever I take a walk, and I think it's the most interesting of the series so far. I've been to Luray Caverns, which is a key location to the plot, so that makes it a little more personal for me. 
  • Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
    I've made a solid start on this book, and I really enjoy the writing style and want to savor it. Fortunately, book club isn't until April 19th, so I have plenty of time.
  • A Minute on the Lips by Cheryl Harper
    I have this downloaded to my phone from Hoopla, but haven't read more than a couple of paragraphs. It's a clean romance with a mystery subplot, so I'm hoping it will be a good easy read for me. 


Challenge Progress


I am actually ahead in my Goodreads challenge as of the time I am typing this post. I know it won't last, but it's nice to be caught up every now and then. Here are my latest updates for the rest of my challenges:
  • A Grave Issue counts for Alphabet Soup, Cloak and Dagger, Craving for Cozies, Library Love, and Writing Reviews. 
  • A League of Her Own also counts for Library Love. 
  • Homer Price and Ramona the Pest both count toward the Old School Kidlit Challenge.
  • I also posted reviews of  Good Charlotte by Carol Beach York and Does Anybody Care About Lou Emma Miller? by Alberta Wilson Constant which count for the Writing Reviews Challenge.
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?