Wednesday, May 22, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Goblet of Fire, Chapters 17-19

Over the weekend, I read my next installment in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Chapter 17 ("The Four Champions"), Chapter 18 ("The Weighing of the Wands"), and Chapter 19 ("The Hungarian Horntail"). Spoilers below for the entire series as always.

Though I remembered most of the plot in broad strokes, there was a lot happening that I didn't remember as clearly. For one thing, I'd forgotten about Ron's anger and jealousy toward Harry, and his assumption that Harry did put his name in the goblet but just kept it from him. In some ways, this rift in their friendship foreshadows their bigger disagreement in the final book of the series. Like their fight in that final book, this one also helps the reader to see Ron as more than just the comic relief or the loyal sidekick.  He's my favorite character, so I am always appreciative when Rowling takes the time to give him a little more depth. I'm looking forward to their friendship being repaired, but I do like that Rowling is adding some believable tension to it.

I also found myself getting angry at Rita Skeeter. As becomes more evident when Dolores Umbridge comes on the scene, Rowling does a really good job of writing obnoxious, self-serving adults. Skeeter, though not as evil as Umbridge, definitely pushes a lot of buttons for the reader. (Parallels to the way the current mainstream media likes to distort certain news stories may have made her behavior seem more egregious than it did the first time.)

The other thing I want to mention is that that it kind of made me laugh that, before the first task even begins, Hagrid is helping Harry to cheat. Obviously, in the grander scheme of things, Harry should never have been permitted to compete, and indeed has been placed in the Triwizard Tournament in order that harm should come to him, so it makes sense that all the adults in his life feel compelled to keep him safe through whatever means necessary. But I still chuckled a bit at how Harry is always always an exception. Ron's position is definitely understandable. Also, it seems a little odd to me that an underage wizard is bound by this magical contract when he didn't opt into it himself. Surely Dumbledore could have prevented this whole thing somehow!

I have a general memory of how things proceed from here, but not much in the way of specifics, so I'm actually looking forward to finding out what happens next. I'll also be curious to see if I find more parallels between Harry's trials in the tournament and those he endures later when seeking out the horcruxes.


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Books My Children Have Destroyed

Top Ten Tuesday's theme for this week is Books That I Refuse to Let Anyone Touch. I'm a big believer in Ranganathan's First Law of Library Science: books are for use. Therefore, I'm not too particular about letting other people touch my books. It's possible, however, that I should not apply this principle quite so liberally with my children, as they have managed to destroy all ten of the books on today's list.

My oldest daughter, Little Miss Muffet (now 5), was usually very gentle with books as a baby, and it was rare that she did anything with them other than turn the pages and look at the pictures. On two occasions, though, she was left unsupervised with a book and disaster struck.


Her first victim was the My First Word Board Book. She chewed off a corner of the front cover, tried to swallow it, choked, and spit up. To prevent further damage, my husband trimmed the corner straight across, and the book has lasted through two more kids, but this was the first book that ever got destroyed by a child in our household.

Another time, we borrowed Go In and Out the Window: An Illustrated Songbook For Children from the public library, and I foolishly left it within her reach at naptime. I thought she was sleeping, but it turned out she was tearing a page of that book into tiny little pieces. I decided that, rather than bring it to the library and pay for the book, I would use my librarian skills to tape it back together. Amazingly, I had every piece and it didn't look that bad when it went into the book drop. (Later, we bought a nice used copy, and thankfully, that one is still intact.)

Miss Muffet also kicked off the destruction of our first board book copy of Ten Little Babies by Gyo Fujikawa. When it seemed like it was in danger of falling apart, I took the book away and put it on a shelf she couldn't reach. I didn't want the two subsequent babies to miss out, however, and when they had their chance to read it, they finished it off. Thankfully, Grandma, who bought it for us originally, recently replaced it with a nice new copy.

Also recently, Miss Muffet read to shreds one of my books from childhood: 696 Silly School Jokes & Riddles by Joseph Rosenbloom. It wasn't in the best condition when I passed it down to her in the first place, and she reads it so often that it has just fallen into three pieces. I'm working on figuring out how to tape it back together so we can get a bit more mileage out of it.

My second daughter, Little Bo Peep (age 3), has been a bit rougher on books than her older sister, in part because she never reads just one at a time. She requires a stack, preferably as tall as she is, and she goes through the titles in rapid succession, tossing one side and immediately moving on to the next. Her earliest favorites were Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Eloise Wilkin Stories. We have owned several copies of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, but the one she destroyed was the hardcover edition of the most recent version. We still have the board book, as well as the older version with the original art in hardcover. I wish Golden Books would strengthen the binding on their collections like Eloise Wilkin Stories. We've replaced it twice, and no one has even been that rough with it. It just doesn't hold up well to multiple readings per day.

The three-year-old also started Babies on the Bus on the road to ruin, just by reading and re-reading it. We did eventually replace the picture book with a board book (again, thanks to Grandma!) but then the toddler broke the spine on that one.  I believe the toddler (now 19 months) may also be responsible for the ripped cover on my signed childhood copy of Sarah's Unicorn and the fact that the pages of The Catholic Children's Bible have become detached from the cover. She hasn't admitted to it, but neither has anyone else!

Finally, the latest book my kids have destroyed is A Brief History of Life on Earth by Clemence Dupont. This is a beautiful science book that folds out to be a timeline which I received for review from Prestel. The two older girls love it so much that they are constantly fighting over it. Every time one tugs it away from the other, it gets ripped in a new place. It's also really easy for little ones to unfold it too much and get confused about how to put it back together, and that results in loosening of glue and ripping as well.

Which books have been damaged at your house? 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Book Review: The Doll People series by Ann M. Martin & Laura Godwin

When my mom came to visit just before Easter, she brought us paperback copies of all of the Doll People books. I have always wanted to read them, so I decided to just preview them all at once so that I will be ready to hand them to my oldest daughter whenever I think she is ready.

The main character of the series is Annabelle Doll. She and her family belong to Kate Palmer, an eight-year-old girl who is the most recent owner of a dollhouse that has been passed down through several generations. The other members of the Doll family include Annabelle's mother and father, her brother Bobby, Nanny, baby Betsy, Uncle Doll, and, though she has been missing for 45 years, Auntie Sarah. The adults have always been very protective of Annabelle, owing in part to their fear of breaking the oath all dolls take if they want to remain living. Part of the oath is to avoid behavior that threatens dollkind, such as being seen moving around by humans, and the penalty for putting other dolls in danger in this way can be as mild as "Doll State," a 24-hour coma-like state in which the doll is only a doll and not a living being, and as severe as "Permanent Doll State," when the doll becomes inanimate forever. When Annabelle finds Auntie Sarah's diary, however, she begins gathering clues as to where her aunt may have gone. Despite the dangers, Annabelle convinces her family that she must venture out into the Palmers' house to find her aunt and bring her back home.

On the night she leaves her dollhouse for the first time, Annabelle comes upon a box containing a present for Kate's younger sister Nora to receive on her upcoming fifth birthday.  The package contains a Funcraft dollhouse and a family of brand-new, durable, plastic dolls: Mom, Dad, Bailey, Baby Britney, and Tiffany, with whom Annabelle becomes fast friends. With Tiffany by her side, and buoyed by the Funcrafts' less cautious outlook on life, Annabelle is certain she can find her long-lost aunt and bring their family back together again. This quest comprises the plot for book one, The Doll People (2000).

The Doll People is really well-done. The story is similar to tales like Hitty: Her First Hundred Years and The Borrowers, but the authors also add new twists to the concept to make it their own. I love all the descriptions of the ridiculous games Nora plays with all the dolls, including the fragile ones that belong to her sister,  as well as the fun little details, such as the fact that Baby Betsy was sent to the original owner of the dollhouse by mistake, and that she is actually a much larger doll from a different set. Martin and Godwin understand what appeals to the imaginations of little girls who love dolls, and they tell a great story using those elements.

Brian Selzick's illustrations, which I don't always like, are perfect for a book like this. His cinematic changes in perspective, and the immersive quality of his pictures really place the reader in the doll world and keep her there for the duration of the story. He does an especially great job capturing the differences in appearance and personality between the Dolls and the Funcrafts.

Book two, The Meanest Doll in the World (2003), sends Annabelle and Tiffany to school in Kate's backpack. When they climb out to explore the school and inadvertently go home in the wrong backpack at the end of the day, they find themselves in a house full of dolls who live in fear of Princess Mimi, a bully who constantly puts them all in danger by intentionally doing things that can't be undone before the humans discover them. Before they return to the Palmers', Annabelle and Tiffany want to save their new friends from Mean Mimi once and for all.

In book three, The Runaway Dolls (2008), the Palmers are getting ready to go on vacation when a mysterious package arrives. Annabelle discovers that it contains a baby named Tilly May - the baby doll that was originally supposed to come with the Dolls has finally been delivered after all these years! Annabelle is overjoyed to have another sister, but also very nervous. What if the Palmers don't realize what's in the package and return it unopened? Unwilling to take that chance, she and Tiffany carefully open the package, release Tilly May, and take off into the great outdoors. Unfortunately, they don't have much of a plan, and before they know it, all three girls, along with their brothers, are placed for sale in a department store from which no doll has ever escaped!

The conclusion of the series, The Doll People Set Sail (2014), is illustrated by Brett Helquist, and sadly, though he tries to uphold the style established by Selznick, the charm just isn't there. The story, which is about the Dolls and Funcrafts accidentally being donated to charity and shipped overseas, is not as strong as the others to begin with, and the loss of Selznick as the illustrator just contributes to the feeling that maybe this series went on just one book too long. I will have no objection to my kids reading it (I gave it three stars), but it kind of a let-down to end the series on a low note.

There is also a picture book companion to the series, The Doll People's Christmas (2016), also illustrated by Helquist. The illustrations are in color, which makes them work a little bit better than Helquist's black and white ones, but the story is bland compared to the plots of the novels. I'll probably bring it out as a novelty at Christmastime sometime after we have read the rest of the series. 

My oldest daughter who loves dolls and adventure stories is definitely going to love these books. She will not understand some references (the dolls sing "Respect" by Aretha Franklin, which she has never heard, and a couple of the books mention Barbies, which she has played with but has never heard called by their brand name) but the themes of friendship and family will appeal to her, and since there are always consequences for bad behavior, I feel like the series will uphold the values we are currently trying to teach her. I haven't decided yet whether to read the first one aloud to my two older girls or to just hand it over to the oldest for independent reading, but we will definitely be getting to these soon! They are great additions to our shelves, and I'm happy to have them.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Making The Most of Read-a-thons


Over the past several years, as I've been away from library work longer and longer and therefore not interacting daily with a large community of readers anymore, I have become fond of read-a-thons hosted on blogs and social media. Read-a-thon hosts select a focus and time period for the event, and often they encourage participants to reach a particular goal, seek out a particular type of book, and/or interact with one another through challenges and chats. Read-a-thons are a wonderful way to feel connected to other readers on a larger scale than may be possible for you locally, and to make strides in your reading goals alongside others doing the same thing.

Why Join a Read-a-Thon?


The biggest reason to join a read-a-thon is that it adds a social element to a hobby that is often solitary. Read-a-thon participants have the chance to check in on each other's progress, share reading suggestions, and feel a sense of camaraderie as they work toward the same goals. Read-a-thons also hold you accountable to someone other than yourself. If you announce to a community that you're planning to read a certain number of books, or to read for a certain number of hours, you often feel more inclined to follow through on that plan.

The other reason to participate in read-a-thons is motivation. There are a lot of distractions in everyday life that can keep you from accomplishing all the reading you might like to do: games on your smartphone, television shows on Netflix, texting with friends, etc. Because a read-a-thon typically runs for a short period of time, it can motivate you to set those things aside just for that brief window and accomplish more reading. It is also often easier to give yourself permission to let go of a few tasks for a few days in order to focus on reading if there is an "official" event taking place. Knowing that others are making the same sacrifices for reading makes you more inclined to make them yourself.

Having a Successful Read-a-Thon


Though a read-a-thon will often challenge participants to meet a certain reading goal, achieving this target is not the only way to get something out of a read-a-thon experience. There are always some read-a-thons where I don't quite attain the end goal, but it is rare that one of these ends up being a waste of time. Even read-a-thons where you don't read as much as you hoped present opportunities to find new bookish blogs and social media accounts to follow, to discover interesting books previously unknown to you that others might be reading, and to talk with fellow readers about reading-related topics.

To get the most out of your next read-a-thon, try some of these suggestions:
  • Create a TBR stack (or at least a "possibilities pile") ahead of time. This way you won't spend valuable reading time looking for books you want to read, and if one book doesn't work for you, you can quickly move on to another. 
  • Join in on any Twitter chats or other interactive events hosted by the organizers. Chats and challenges that encourage interaction are a great way to make new bookish connections and to renew your enthusiasm for reading if you hit a slump.
  • Use audiobooks to get some reading time in while you clean, drive, exercise, or do other tasks that make it impossible to hold a book. 
  • To prevent distractions, avoid screens and read physical books. I try not to watch any YouTube, Netflix, or Hulu during read-a-thons and, if the temptation to watch videos or scroll social media is distracting me from reading, I'll also avoid reading e-books and put the devices away. 
  • Get your family involved. You don't have to neglect your family to participate in a read-a-thon! You can read aloud to your younger kids, and encourage your older ones (and your spouse!) to read independently toward the read-a-thon goal. 

My Favorite Read-a-Thons


I have been doing read-a-thons for several years. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Seasons of Reading
    Michelle at Seasons of Reading hosts month-long seasonal read-a-thons per year. Though some of them have themes, there are very few rules about sticking to the assigned theme for every single book. There is a Facebook group for reporting your progress, and Michelle also gives away some pretty generous prizes at the end of each read-a-thon. 
  • 25 In Five
    This read-a-thon is hosted by @katiebiblio and @kaitbattista on Instagram. Every few months, they challenge participants to read for 25 hours over the course of 5 days. Occasionally, they also offer shorter "8 in two" read-a-thons over  a weekend. I have never met the time goal since I've started participating, but attempting to get there always motivates me to read a ton. It's also been a fun way to feel more connected to the #bookstagram community.
  • Bout of Books
    This laidback week-long read-a-thon is hosted three times a year, in January, May, and August. There are group Twitter chats, Instagram and blog challenges, and an opportunity to win a grand prize. The best thing about this read-a-thon is you set your own goals so you can plan to read as much or as little as your schedule allows! 
  • Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon
    I will never be able to read around the clock as some people do for this read-a-thon, but I do sometimes like to join in on some of the pre-readathon challenges in the Goodreads group. (Last year, they did one where the goal was to read 1000 pages in a week. I really liked keeping track of pages!)


Do you participate in read-a-thons? Which ones do you enjoy most?

Thursday, May 16, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Goblet of Fire, Chapters 13-16

This week's chapters were: Chapter 13, "Mad-Eye Moody," Chapter 14, "The Unforgivable Curses," Chapter 15, "Beauxbatons and Durmstrang," and Chapter 16, "The Goblet of Fire." This post contains spoilers for this book as well as the whole series. 

As I was reading, I took a few notes. The first thing that gave me pause is Professor Trelawney's ignorance of when Harry's birthday is. Harry has been a celebrity since he was a year old. It seems unlikely that even someone as loopy as Trelawney would think his birthday was in the winter. Of course, though, Tom Riddle's birthday is in December, which is probably the real significance of her mistake.

I also noted that, in that same scene, there is a joke about Uranus (pronounced "your anus"). I didn't remember there being this kind of humor in this series, so that was a bit disappointing.  I haven't allowed my kids to read any books with poop/toilet humor in them yet, but I do want them to read this series, so I guess it's in their future. 

Another thing I was thinking about when I was reading is how free members of the Hogwarts faculty are with their feelings of dislike toward the students. Though I know the character that is presented as Moody for most of this book is an impostor, it's still shocking that he gets away with turning Malfoy into a ferret. Snape, too, gets away with frequently treating Harry like garbage, and that also strains credulity. It is clear that McGonagall disapproves of Moody's tactics, but the fact that there isn't further discipline for Moody seems to serve the plot a little too neatly. Seems to me, McGonagall could have "ferreted" out the impostor right then and there. At least Snape has the sense to be wary of him. 

The chapter in which "Moody" introduces the unforgivable curses for the first time was my favorite of these four. This is the first time we really understand the darkness of the evil side of the wizarding world, and the fact that Harry and Neville have to witness someone casting the spells that harmed their respective parents just adds to the gravity. I also didn't remember that "Moody" explains that it isn't enough to simply say "Avada Kedavra" in order to commit murder. I've often wondered how that works with spells in this universe, and it was good to be reminded of the rules.

Finally, I was just impressed by how much of the lore of this series I have assimilated over the years. I can remember historical details, family connections, and magic spells better than I can recall most things I was taught in high school. I'm not sure if that's a positive thing, but it does show that if I care about something enough, I'll learn everything there is to know about it. 

This set of chapters ended on the perfect cliff-hanger moment, just when Harry's name has come out of the Goblet of Fire. I am eager to get on with the story and look for the clues that might suggest that Moody isn't who he claims to be. I bet there are a few! 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Goblet of Fire, Chapters 9-12

Over the weekend, I read the next four chapters (9-12) of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: "The Dark Mark," "Mayhem at the Ministry," "Aboard the Hogwarts Express," and "The Tri-Wizard Tournament." Spoilers for the entire book and series beyond this point.

The whole time I was reading these chapters, I kept thinking that this is the book where the story of this series really takes off. Whereas the first three books are largely self-contained stories used primarily to introduce the wizarding world, this one begins the serious over-arching plot that will take Harry through the rest of the series.

There are so many important details in the scenes at the Quidditch World Cup that I'd forgotten: that Harry's wand goes missing just before the Dark Mark appears; that Winky is found with it and accused of conjuring the Mark; that Harry had never heard the term "Death Eater" until that night. I also didn't remember that the fake Mad-Eye Moody told everyone there had been an attempted robbery at his house that same night. What a convenient way to explain away the fact that he kidnapped the real Moody and took his place.

I also didn't remember much about the history of the tri-wizard tournament, but it did strike me as somewhat unbelievable that the three schools involved have decided to reinstate it now, just at the time when Harry Potter is at Hogwarts to witness it. It would have felt less forced if this had just been another thing about the wizarding world that Harry didn't know about until it became important.  But since things are about to get even more likely in this book, I have to just suspend my disbelief and go along for the ride...

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Read-at-Home Mom Report: April 2019

I had hoped to slow down my reading a bit this past month so that I wouldn't be so far ahead of my Goodreads challenge goal. But then I received a bunch of picture books for review and my husband was able to find some good vintage Let's Read and Find Out About Science books on inter-library loan, and I finally decided I would just increase my Goodreads goal to allow for the fact that I'm probably always going to read 20 picture books per month. My current goal number is set at 425, and I'm prepared to increase it again at mid-year if necessary.  I also decided not to continue with the Mount TBR challenge.



Books Read



Hitty, Her First Hundred Years

by Rachel Field
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fantasy (middle grade)
Source: Personal collection
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐)


The Seven Storey Mountain 

by Thomas Merton
Format: Paperback
Genre: Autobiography/Catholic
Source: Inter-library loan
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)


Unplanned 

by Abby Johnson
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Memoir 
Source: Public library (via Hoopla)
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)


So Far So Good: Final Poems: 2014-2018

by Ursula K. Leguin
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Poetry
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)


The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book

by Wendy Welch
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Memoir
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Solo 

by Kwame Alexander, with Mary Rand Hess
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Realistic fiction/poetry (YA)
Source: Public library
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fantasy 
Source: Personal collecton
Follow my #YearOfHarryPotter on the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)


Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems

by Billy Collins
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Poetry
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems

by Billy Collins
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Poetry
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Murder with Puffins

by Donna Andrews
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cozy mystery
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Brideshead Revisited

by Evelyn Waugh
Format: Paperback
Genre: Literary fiction
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage

by Paul Elie
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: Public library
Review: On Instagram (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

The Screwtape Letters 

by C.S. Lewis
Format: Paperback
Genre: Religious
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

The Way of the Cross

by Caryll Houselander
Format: Ebook
Genre: Religious
Source: Public library (Hoopla Digital app)
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Bel Canto

by Ann Patchett
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Literary fiction
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Come Sing, Jimmy Jo

by Katherine Paterson
Format: Hardcover/Audiobook
Genre: Realistic fiction (middle grade)
Source: Personal collection
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Archy and Mehitabel

by Don Marquis
Format: Paperback
Genre: Poetry
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)

Follow My Leader

by James B. Garfield
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Realistic fiction
Source: Personal collection 
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐)

Prince Caspian 

by C.S. Lewis
Format: Hardcover/Audiobook
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)

The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning, and Life

by Julie Bogart
Format: Ebook
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: Public library (via Cloud Library)
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐)

84, Charing Cross Road

by Helene Hanff
Format: Paperback
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything

by Anne Bogel
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: Public library (Hoopla Digital app)
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)

Everything I Never Told You 

by Celeste Ng
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Literary fiction
Source: Public library (Libby app)
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)

Picture Books (with links to Goodreads reviews):


Blog Posts Published

  • Alphabet Soup: 1 read in April, 19 of 26 read total 
  • Alphabet Soup Author Edition: 1 read in April, 19 of 26 read total
  • #CathLit: 3 read in April, 11 of 19 read total
  • Cloak and Dagger: 1 read in April, 24 of 55 read total
  • Craving for Cozies: 1 read in April, 16 of 51 read total
  • Library Love: 13 read in April, 32 of 60 read total
  • RMFAO Audiobooks: 7 read in April, 25 of 25 read total
  • Goodreads Goal: 44 read in April, 163 of 425 read total
I'll be linking up this post for It's Monday! What Are You Reading? with The Book Date and Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and for the April 2019 Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up Link-Up at Feed Your Fiction Addiction. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Goblet of Fire, Chapters 5-8

My latest reading assignment for #YearOfHarryPotter was Chapters 5-8 in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: "Weasley's Wizard Wheezes," "The Portkey," "Bagman and Crouch," and "The Quidditch World Cup."

As much as I love Hogwarts, I also really enjoy it when Rowling takes us outside of the castle and into the world, where wizards and Muggles cross paths. I love the way these chapters explained how major wizarding events are planned right under the noses of unsuspecting Muggles, and I loved how terribly some wizards failed to blend in. I have always felt a little strange about the idea of "obliviating" Muggles who start to get wise to the fact that odd things are happening around them, but the idea that maybe we've met wizards and then "forgotten" about them does add to the magic of the series.

I also like the way Rowling uses the Quidditch World Cup as an opportunity to introduce the seemingly minor characters who have a connection to later events in the book: Barty Crouch, Amos and Cedric Diggory, and Viktor Krum. Unlike the time turner in the last book, which Rowling keeps hidden from the reader until it becomes useful, these characters are established in the world of the story long before the moments when they become influential to Harry's storyline.

The Weasley family dynamics in this chapter also reveal a lot: Percy's sycophantic attitude toward his superiors at the Ministry of Magic and smugness toward his brothers, Mrs. Weasley's concerns that the twins will never grow up to have serious jobs, and her disapproval of Bill's fang earring. These little sources of conflict help to establish the quirks and flaws of this family, and in the case of the twins' future, it's a bit bittersweet knowing that Fred ultimately doesn't live long enough to pursue a future career at all.

My next assignment, will finally get into the meat of this story, with the appearance of the Dark Mark, Harry's arrival at Hogwarts for his fourth year, and the announcement of the Tri-Wizard Tournament. There has been so much in just the first 100 pages of this book that I did not remember from my first reading. I can't wait to see what else will resurface as this re-read continues!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Book Review: Come Sing, Jimmy Jo by Katherine Paterson (1985)

Eleven-year-old James Johnson lives in Appalachia, where he is part of a musical family, but not a performer himself. While his parents and uncle perform bluegrass music regularly on stage, James has only ever really sung for his grandmother on the front porch. When he fills in as a back-up guitarist for The Family one night, however, James instantly appeals to the fans. Next thing he knows, he's being given the stage name of Jimmy Jo and a place in the bluegrass group as they begin appearing regularly on a country-western television show. Though Jimmy Jo finds that he enjoys the limelight, he is worried about leaving his grandmother behind at home and he feels desperate not to let the kids at his new school find out he's a star. Also troubling is his mother's growing jealousy of her son's fame, and the strange man who keeps turning up and telling James that he, and not the man who raised him, is his father.   

Though I own a hardcover, I listened to a large portion of this middle grade novel on audio. This helped me get a feel both for the way the characters speak and for the music that they play, as the narrator sang many of the lines of song included in the text. Both the audiobook narration and the writing were excellent, as was the character development. James is a very sympathetic and believable kid, and his interactions with his family, his teacher, and his classmates all rang very true.

The only thing I didn't really like about this book was the question about who was James's true father. It didn't add much of anything to the plot other than conflict among the adults and unnecessary pain and sadness for James. This book had plenty of substance before this idea was introduced, and, as it was the second book in a row by this author where paternity issues played a role, it just felt like too much. James already had enough problems with his mother's jealousy; it adds nothing to the book to further strain their relationship.

I will say, though, that the ending of this book wraps up the story beautifull. The final paragraph is so good, I repeated it several times on the audiobook just to savor it a bit more. It's worth sticking with it through that paternity storyline to feel the full resonance of those ending lines.