Saturday, September 28, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Half-Blood Prince, Chapters 9-12

Last week's reading assignment in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince included Chapter 9 ("The Half-Blood Prince"), Chapter 10 ("The House of Gaunt"), Chapter 11 ("Hermione's Helping Hand"), and Chapter 12 ("Silver and Opals"). Spoilers for the whole series beyond this point.

These chapters made me realize how many different things are going on this book. Harry is trying to keep up with NEWT-level schoolwork, while also taking lessons from Dumbledore on Voldemort's family history, conducting Quidditch tryouts as the new Gryffindor team captain, trying to make things up to Hagrid for not taking Care of Magical Creatures anymore, trying out different spells that turn up in his borrowed Potions textbook, and also working on mastering non-verbal spells for Defense Against the Dark Arts. It's a credit to J.K Rowling that I'm not having trouble following all of these disparate threads, but I have noticed that a lot of new storylines keep coming along, but very few are moving forward so far.

One thing that did happen at the end of these four chapters, though, is that Katie Bell was cursed by the mysterious necklace which Harry believes Malfoy purchased from Borgin & Burkes. As I believe I was the first time I read this book, I feel torn about Harry's concerns. On the one hand, yes, he does seem paranoid, but on the other hand, have these adults not learned that they need to address Harry's concerns to prevent him from going off on his own and reacting rashly? Granted, McGonagall seems to take him a bit more seriously than Arthur Weasley did earlier in the book but it's still frustrating to see his concerns dismissed. And of course, Dumbledore is conveniently absent again. Even though I know what he's doing, since I've read the book before, I still feel Harry's irritation at not seeing him for long stretches of time and his sense of having been abandoned by the person most likely to believe and help him.

I don't remember much about how the situation with the potions textbook pans out, so I'm looking forward to that. So far, there are no obvious hints that the Prince is Snape, which is kind of disappointing, but maybe some will surface as the book goes on.

Friday, September 27, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Half-Blood Prince, Chapters 5-8

The second section I read in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was Chapters 5 to 8 ("An Excess of Phlegm," "Draco's Detour," "The Slug Club," and "Snape Victorious.") This post may contain spoilers for the entire series.

As is always the case, I love the scenes set at the Burrow. Though everyone is annoyed with Fleur (whom they Weasley siblings are calling "phlegm") and the arrows on the family clock all point to "mortal peril" there is still something so cozy and comforting about being in this warm family home. I was especially surprised by how much I enjoyed Ginny's emerging personality as a very funny and sassy young girl. I'd also forgotten about Tonks's struggle to accept Sirius's death, and I think the change in her personality drives home the change in tone of the series now that Voldemort has risen to power.

Also pleasantly surprising is the way the Weasley twins' joke shop business is actually proving useful in the fight against the Death Eaters. I could have done without the toilet humor of their "U-No-Poo" product, but there is something so satisfying about seeing their sense of fun and tendency not take things seriously actually helping a life-and-death cause.

The other thread of the story that is introduced in this section is Harry's obsession with what Malfoy is up to. This leads Harry to follow Malfoy into Knockturn Alley where something odd is definitely going on, and also to have a verbal confrontation with him at Madame Malkin's and a physical one on the Hogwarts Express. The tension between these characters provides the right amount of suspicion to keep us guessing about Draco's motives and also shows the way the stresses of Voldemort's return weight on Harry.

Finally, as I remember from my first reading of this book, the biggest shock in this section is the announcement that Snape will be assuming the Defense Against the Dark Arts post. The fact that he is finally given the position he wants after all this time, and after he just made an Unbreakable Vow to accomplish some sinister task creates a sense of suspense and uncertainty surrounding his character that really drives the rest of the story.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Picture Book Review: Max & Ruby and Twin Trouble by Rosemary Wells (2019)

When each of my older two girls was awaiting the arrival of a younger sibling, we read tons of picture books about welcoming new babies: Baby Dear by Esther Wilkin and Eloise Wilkin, The Other Dog by Madeleine L'Engle and Christine Davenier, You're a Big Sister by David Bedford and Susie Poole, The New Baby by Fred Rogers, Julius the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes, Snuggle the Baby by Sara Gillingham, etc. When we learned in early September that we are expecting twins this spring, I really wanted to find a picture book about a family welcoming twins to help all three girls, and especially my toddler, get used to the idea of bringing home two new babies. Imagine my surprise and delight when, just two days later, I was offered the opportunity to review this new Max and Ruby book on that very topic. (Thank you, Simon & Schuster!)

In the early part of this story, Ruby, the big sister, has much the same attitude toward her mother's pregnancy as I had toward mine when I thought I was only expecting a singleton. She has been through this whole thing before, and she's sure she's an expert. Max, who has been the youngest until now, listens as Ruby imparts her wisdom in the superior tone that only a big sister can get away with using. When Max and Ruby's mother returns home from the hospital, however, she is carrying not just one baby in her arms, but two. Though it turns out Ruby doesn't know everything about new babies, she and Max still have a hand in the adjustment to being a family of six, and it turns out that both of them have just the right amount of knowledge of babies to be able to comfort their sweet new siblings.

This book is a wonderfully positive portrayal of the experience of welcoming twins into a family where there are older siblings. It doesn't focus much at all on some of the things my kids are interested in, such as ultrasounds and the actual process of giving birth, which was a bit of a drawback for me, but because it is so vague on the details, it's ideal for two-and-three-year-olds. Parents can always fill in the appropriate level of detail for their kids as they share the book. My kids were also puzzled by the fact that Max and Ruby's mother doesn't seem to know she's having twins until she goes to the hospital, and I think that is probably the one flaw I see in the story. In this day and age, if a mother knows she is expecting, she knows how many she is having, if not at ten weeks like we did, then certainly by the midpoint of her pregnancy. I considered that the author may have chosen to write it this way in order for there to be a bit of an element of surprise when the twins come home from the hospital, but the title would already have ruined that surprise, so it seems like it's just an oddity for this specific anthropomorphic rabbit family.

There are really very few picture books available for families who are expecting twins, so this book definitely fills a need, and it could not have arrived at a better time for my kids! My girls have never read any other Max & Ruby books, nor do they watch the TV show, but they immediately recognized these characters as being somehow related to other rabbits they have loved in books like Timothy Goes to School, Noisy Nora, and Morris's Disappearing Bag, and this has made Twin Trouble a highly coveted book in our house. I expect it will stay high on the list of favorites for the next several months as we prepare for our new additions!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Book Review: Dough Boys by Paula Chase (2019)

This companion novel to last year's So Done follows two boys, Rollie and Simp, who both play on the Marauders basketball team and assist Coach Tez with drug runs. Simp is mostly comfortable with his role in Tez's operation, and he is hoping to move up the chain of command and take on more responsibility. Rollie, on the other hand, has been working on his music since getting involved with the Talented and Gifted program, and he's starting to feel that he's spread himself too thin with music, basketball, and his "work" on the side. As basketball season wears on, these two friends find themselves in conflict as their priorities begin to run at cross purposes.

Whereas I wasn't bothered very much by the mature content in So Done (which includes reference to a sexual overture made by a grown man to a young girl), I had a much harder time with it in this book. I felt so disgusted with many of the adults in this story, seeing the ways they took advantage of young boys. Simp's mom, for example, is looking to get another of her sons involved with the drug business so she can increase her personal cash flow. Worse, the coach pretends to keep the boys out of trouble with basketball, but then sends them out to do his drug-related bidding without people like Rollie's kind and concerned grandmother ever being the wiser. Though the dangers of getting involved in selling drugs are made clear by the end of the book, not every character learns his lesson, and the story doesn't provide a lot of hope or instruction for getting out of the drug business without getting hurt.

I think the writing in this book was excellent, but I also can't imagine handing this book to my own kids when they are middle school age. I realize that the way of life portrayed in this book is real for kids in neighborhoods like the one depicted in this story, and maybe kids in that situation want to read books that reflect that experience. But I'm uncomfortable with the fact that there isn't a clear-cut resolution at the end with a definitive condemnation of drugs, and there were also some references to sexual arousal that felt inappropriate outside of YA. My kids are still little, and we are very much still in the mode of preserving innocence rather than promoting understanding of the problems of the adult world, so it's possible my opinion will change with time, but for now, this is a book I thoroughly enjoyed, but that I think is more likely to belong on another family's bookshelf rather than my own.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Half-Blood Prince, Chapters 1-4

At the beginning of the month, I started book six, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I read the first four chapters: "The Other Minister," "Spinner's End," "Will and Won't," and "Horace Slughorn." There are spoilers in this post for this book as well as book 7.

I remember really liking the way Rowling starts this book the first time I read it. Introducing the Muggle Prime Minister is a great way to show the way Voldemort's return is impacting the "real" world  and to give new information, such as the fact that Fudge has been replaced by Scrimgeour. I also love the fact that Kingsley Shacklebolt has been working for the Prime Minister!

I also love the way Rowling sets up one of the main storylines of the book - Snape's eventual killing of Dumbledore. The first time I read this book, the scene where Snape agrees to do what Draco has been asked to do in the event that Draco cannot just read as suspicious. This time, it's much more poignant, and even sad, because I know what that task is.

Also emotional is seeing Harry and Dumbledore spending so much time together after not communicating very much at all in book five. I don't know if Rowling intended this, but knowing how things end for Dumbledore, and that he himself knows what Snape must do, it feels like Dumbledore is already planning for life after his death: putting the Dursleys in their place, instructing Harry to tell Ron and Hermione about the prophecy, and giving Harry private lessons, as though he needs to impart a lifetime of wisdom as soon as possible.

Finally, the chapter where Harry and Dumbledore go to persuade Professor Slughorn to return to Hogwarts was not as exciting as I remembered. I do love the elaborate scene Slughorn stages in case it is Death Eaters knocking at his door, but somehow the rest of the chapter wasn't as brilliant as I remembered.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Read-at-Home Kids Report: August 2019

The End of Summer Reading 

We finished tracking our summer reading on September 2nd, meaning that our summer reading logs (which I printed out from covered a full three months. We didn't have a specific goal other than keeping track of the books the girls read (or heard read aloud by a parent and/or in audiobook format), and I was amazed at how many books we went through. Miss Muffet reached 260 books, a good number of which she read independently. Little Bo Peep hit 201, with her last book being a phonics reader she read aloud using her newly acquired knowledge of letter sounds. And Jumping Joan heard 108 books. We didn't count repeat reads of any books, so each number represents a unique title. We've decided to track again this fall and see how our numbers compare!

Family Read-Alouds

We started out the month of August reading Ben and Me by Robert Lawson, which I chose because Miss Muffet was really interested in Benjamin Franklin. Unfortunately, both Miss Muffet and Bo Peep found the book boring and getting to the end was a struggle. (I have to admit to not liking it that much myself.)

After that, we borrowed the first two books in the Cobble Street Cousins series from the library and read them back to back. Both Miss Muffet and Bo Peep loved the characters and the essentially conflict-free plot of each book, and we definitely plan to get the rest of them from the library in the near future.

We finished out the month with The Doll People by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin. The nice thing is that both Miss Muffet and Bo Peep loved the story and begged for just one more chapter each day. We've already started book two.

Little Miss Muffet (5 years, 9 months)

My mom rescued a discarded library copy of a book called Getting to Know the Hudson River, which I read aloud to Miss Muffet largely against her will. I was excited to show her all the landmarks near where I grew up, but she didn't really have the context to appreciate it. She did enjoy the sections about the Erie canal, though, mostly because we sang canal boat songs after we finished reading.

Independently, she read a whole bunch of different things, including The Best Loved Doll by Rebecca Caudill, Did You Carry the Flag Today, Charley? by Rebecca Caudill (on OpenLibrary), Stella Batts Needs a New Name (on Hoopla), The Lost Umbrella of Kim Chu by Eleanor Estes, and By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Little Bo Peep (3 years, 11 months)

Bo Peep has been listening to a lot of picture books on audio, including some Amelia Bedelia books, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, A Bad Case of Stripes, and Corduroy. In response to her recent request for funny books, I went on Open Library and found The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli (which she loved) and A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker (which I love, and of which she was skeptical, until the end when she asked to read it again.) She has also become quite fond of wordless books, including the Carl books by Alexandra Day and the Flora books by Molly Idle.

In terms of reading independently, she read her first phonics reader, Rag, just as the summer ended, and she is working on sounding out more consonant-vowel-consonant words so she can work up to reading more!

Jumping Joan (22 months)

One of Jumping Joan's favorite books lately has been her biggest sister's book about the U.S. presidents. She especially loves the page about Ronald Reagan because it has a picture of jelly beans on it. She was calling him "jelly bean" but now she knows his name is Reagan.  She's also been listening to audiobooks with Bo Peep in the mornings, and she frequently asks for me to read What a Wonderful World illustrated by Tim Hopgood and Gossie (and sequels) by Olivier Dunrea aloud to her. She's also enjoyed acting out From Head to Toe by Eric Carle and flipping through B is for Baby by Atinuke. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Read-at-Home Mom Report: August 2019

I'm late getting this post written in part because I have been dealing with first trimester symptoms. We thought we were expecting just one baby in March, but we found out this past week that it's twins, so at least there is a reason I feel so tired and nauseous! Fatigue is also the reason there are no pictures in this post - I need to conserve my energy for other tasks right now, but I didn't want to delay posting any longer! In any case, here is my August reading report.

Books Read

The Remains of the Day

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

Good Riddance

by Elinor Lipman
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Realistic fiction
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)

Save Me the Plums 

by Ruth Reichl
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Memoir
Source: Scribd
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Not Becoming My Mother

by Ruth Reichl
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Memoir
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)

Real Music:  A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church

by Anthony Esolen
Format: Ebook
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: Scribd
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Classic
Source: Home library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐)

Never Have I Ever

by Joshilyn Jackson
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Thriller
Source: Scribd
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)


by Kate Seredy
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Realistic fiction
Source: Inter-library loan
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Evvie Drake Starts Over

by Linda Holmes
Format: Ebook
Genre: Romance
Source: Public library (Cloud Library app)
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Ask Again, Yes

by Mary Beth Keane
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Literary fiction
Source: Scribd
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Ben and Me 

by Robert Lawson
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fantasy/historical fiction (middle grade)
Source: Home library
Review: Coming soon on the blog (⭐⭐⭐)

The Journey of the Eldest Son

by J.G. Fyson
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Historical fiction (middle grade)
Source: Inter-library loan
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Anne's House of Dreams

Format: Hardcover
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Home library
Review: Coming soon to the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

In Aunt Lucy's Kitchen

by Cynthia Rylant
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Realistic fiction (beginning chapter book)
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

A Little Shopping

by Cynthia Rylant
Format: Paperback
Genre: Realistic fiction
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

The Accidental Beauty Queen

by Teri Wilson
Format: Paperback
Genre: Romance
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)

Dough Boys

by Paula Chase
Format: Digital ARC
Genre: Realistic fiction
Source: Edelweiss+
Review: Scheduled on the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

American Fried

by Calvin Trillin
Genre: Memoir
Source: Open Library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Getting to Know the Hudson River

by William B. Fink
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Nonfiction (children's chapter book)
Source: A gift from my mom
Review: Coming soon on the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

by J.K. Rowling
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Home library
Review: On Instagram (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

How to Raise a Reader

by Pamela Paul & Maria Russo
Format: Digital ARC
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: NetGalley
Review: Coming soon on the blog (⭐⭐)


by Margaret Edson
Format: Paperback
Genre: Play
Source: Used bookstore
Review: Coming soon on Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Picture Books (with links to Goodreads reviews)

  • Electric Ben by Robert Byrd (⭐⭐⭐⭐)
  • Alfie and Dad by Shirley Hughes (⭐⭐⭐)
  • Kittens Are Like That! by Jan Pfloog (⭐⭐⭐)
  • Rapunzel by Barbara Rogasky, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (⭐⭐⭐⭐)
  • Spencer's New Pet by Jessie Sima (⭐⭐)
  • The Best Loved Doll by Rebecca Caudill, illustrated by Elliott Gilbert (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)
  • Give Me Back My Bones! by Kim Norman, illustrated by Bob Kolar (⭐⭐⭐⭐)
  • A Birthday for Bear by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (⭐⭐⭐)

Challenge Progress

  • Alphabet Soup: 0 read in August, 22 of 26 read total
  • Alphabet Soup Author Edition: 1 read in August, 24 of 26 read total
  • #CathLit: 1 read in August, 14 of 19 read total
  • Cloak and Dagger: 1 read in August, 35 of 55 read total
  • Craving for Cozies: 0 read in August, 26 of 51 read total
  • Library Love: 4 read in August, 53 of 60 read total
  • RMFAO Audiobooks: 4 read in August, 44 of 25 read total
  • 2020 Classics: 1 read in August, 4 of 20 read total
  • Goodreads Goal: 30 read in August, 338 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 August 2019 Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up Link-Up at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

Friday, September 6, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 36-38

Last week, I finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix with Chapter 36 ("The Only One He Ever Feared"), Chapter 37 ("The Lost Prophecy"), and Chapter 38 ("The Second War Begins.")

As is always the case with this series, my favorite part of these final chapters is Harry's debriefing with Dumbledore about the events of the school year. There is something so comforting about finally hearing Dumbledore's take on things, even when he has clearly made some big mistakes, as he did during Harry's fifth year.

There is also a great sense of relief as Dumbledore resumes his rightful place at Hogwarts. One of the most distressing parts of this book is the role of the Ministry at Hogwarts, and though Sirius had to die for it to happen, there is a sense of vindication in seeing the Ministry realize its error.

I have always said that this book is my favorite of the series, and I think that's because of the sheer number of plotlines going on, and because of all the important details that are revealed after so much being kept from the reader for so many books. This time around, though, I'm not sure I liked this book as much as Goblet of Fire. It still ranks higher than books one and two, and I definitely enjoyed it, but I think I was more engrossed in re-reading book four, possibly because I had only ever read it once.

In any case, I'm really looking forward to Half-Blood Prince, which I remember being totally shocking to me on my first reading, and which I don't think I've ever re-read.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Book Review: Listening by Kate Seredy (1936)

When a bus stops in Hopkins Corners, New Jersey, the whole town wonders who has arrived. It turns out to be young Eleanor Abigail, better known as Gail, who has come to visit her uncle George. Over the course of her week-long stay, Gail listens to old family stories about the history of Uncle George's old Dutch house and how it was built.

Though this is definitely not Kate Seredy's best-written or most sophisticated book, it is still quite charming. The story shows a strong appreciation for American history and family ancestry as well as the value of passing stories down from one generation to the next. I can imagine this book inspiring young readers to ask questions about the history of their own homes, or of old houses that have been in their families. The title of the book also has a double meaning. It's not just about listening to an older relative telling tales of the past; it's also about keeping an ear out for the stories held by old houses, trees, rivers, and the world around us.

Though this book is difficult to find (I only had it in my house for one night, and that was thanks to inter-library loan), it would make a great introduction to the idea of history for an early elementary school student. I wish I had been able to read it to my own 5-year-old before it had to be returned. This is also an enjoyable read for fans of Seredy, as it is only her second book, but it seems to predict the themes of history, family, heritage, and storytelling that are important to her later titles.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Rescuers by Margery Sharp (1959)

In this first book of a series, a group of mice known as the Prisoners' Aid Society wishes to help a Norwegian poet escape from the Black Castle. The group sends Bernard, a pantry mouse, to find Miss Bianca, a privileged mouse who lives in a porcelain pagoda in the home of the Norwegian ambassador, in order that she might help him locate the bravest mouse in Norway and send him to the Black Castle. In the end, Bernard, Bianca, and a Norwegian mouse named Nils make the journey to the castle together and endure many dangers and encounters with a cat before they can even begin to carry out their task.

This book is almost nothing like the Disney movie of the same name, which is a definite good thing. Margery Sharp's writing is clever and quirky, and the adventures of the three mice are entertaining and exciting. I read the book aloud to my older two girls who are going on 4 and 6, and they were completely invested in the success of the mice's mission, especially when it came to fending off the unpleasant cat that so often thwarted their plans. The illustrations by Garth Williams also perfectly suit the story, and my girls pored over every detail.

Though the language was a bit sophisticated in parts, this was a successful read-aloud for us, and I'm hoping I'll be able to track down some of the later books of the series as well so we can continue reading about Miss Bianca's adventures. For kids who love talking animals and adventure stories, this is a guaranteed hit.