Thursday, August 31, 2017

August Link-Up: Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge (Nonfiction)

As summer winds down, please share any old school nonfiction you read in August.

I read and reviewed quite a few books:

  • A Book of Americans by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet, illustrated by Charles Child (1933)
  • A Picturesque Tale of Progress: Beginnings I by Olive Beaupre Miller
  • Juvenile Story Writing (1922) and Writing for Young People (1950) by Mabel Robinson
  • And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? (1973), Why Don't You Get a Horse, Sam Adams? (1974), Where Was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May? (1975), What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? (1976), Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? (1976), Can't You Make Them Behave, King George? (1977), Where Do You Think You're Going, Christopher Columbus? (1980), and Shh! We're Writing the Constitution (1987), all by Jean Fritz (and all reviewed in one post here.)
I also read A Picturesque Tale of Progress: Beginnings II by Olive Beaupre Miller and Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing Books for Children by Katherine Paterson, but ran out of time to review them this month. 

What about you? Share your links in comments! 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Reading with Little Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep, August 2017

Little Miss Muffet's independent reading has just completely taken off this month. I have to admit that I used to scoff at parents who came to the library claiming their preschoolers could read, but this child (age 3 years, 9 months) has proven to me that some kids truly are natural readers. She has finished all of the Hooked on Phonics readers we had in the house, and she can read most of the Early I Can Read books without help. With help, she has also been reading I Can Read books and similar titles up to almost a second grade level. Her favorites so far have been the Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak, the Oliver Pig series by Jean van Leeuwen and Arnold Lobel, and the Penny books by Kevin Henkes. Personally, I am loving listening to her read Oliver Pig. Amanda Pig reminds us both of Little Bo Peep, which gives us something to laugh about, and I am enjoying the trip down memory lane, since I read many of the titles of the series as a kid. I'm also thrilled with how much she loves Penny.

When she's not reading to herself, I'm still trying to keep reading aloud to her as many picture books as she will allow. Sometimes she grabs them away and says she would prefer to read them herself, but she is also still happy as can be to listen to Frances, Curious George, Lentil, Ira Sleeps Over and other favorites. She continues to be completely obsessed with the Mouse books by Kevin Henkes, especially A Weekend with Wendell and Sheila Rae, the Brave, which Grandma recently sent to her after hearing our collection wasn't complete. My husband has also started reading Little House in the Big Woods aloud to the family after dinner, which I think will be a good habit for us to start, especially with a new baby joining the family. Both of the girls heard longer books read aloud as newborns and this will be a way to keep that going within our normal routine. Each chapter only takes about 10 minutes, and Miss Muffet is completely fascinated by the idea of a world without refrigerators or cars.

As for Little Bo Peep (23 months), her interest in books right now is primarily character-driven. No matter what book she is looking at, she wants to know everyone's name. "Who dat?" she asks and then points repeatedly to a figure on the page until someone says the name. She is especially interested in knowing the names of the baby's big sisters in Mockingbird by Allan Ahlberg and Paul Howard, and she is desperate to know who all the background figures are in the Catholic Children's Bible. (She can identify the baby Jesus - or "Baby God" as she calls him - all by herself, but everyone else is subject to constant questions.)

Thanks to her sister reading A Weekend with Wendell aloud to her, she is also constantly asking for it so she can show us her favorite page. It happens to be an odd scene, where Wendell is hidden in the closet making  noises and Sophie's tail is the only part of her visible as she flees off of the edge of the page. Every time she picks up the book, she flips immediately to that page and says in a troubled tone, "Oh, scary noises. Wen-all make-a scary noises." I have a feeling Kevin Henkes did not imagine that this page would be the most appealing of all the illustrations in the book, but you just never know what a toddler is going to find interesting.

Bo Peep's other big discovery this month has been the Nini books by Anita Lobel Though I'm not sure I ever blogged about them, these books about a gray cat were favorites of Miss Muffet just before she turned two, and we had a feeling Bo Peep would also enjoy them. They came home from the library with my husband last week, and they were an instant hit. Now Bo Peep can be found wandering the house with either Nini Here and There or Nini Lost and Found, meowing and saying, "Who dat? Where Nini?"

As far as read-alouds, Bo Peep's number one favorite right now is Honey Bear by Dixie Willson, a book my husband loved as a child, and which he frequently reads to her at bedtime. She's heard it so many times at this point that she can recite entire lines from memory. She also continues to be interested in anything baby-related, which makes sense since we're about 7 weeks away from the arrival of her little brother or sister. Her favorite babies are in Baby Dear by Eloise Wilkin and The New Baby by Fred Rogers.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Reading Through History: Jean Fritz's American History Books

This month, while the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge has been focusing on nonfiction, I decided to finally sit down and read a stack of the late Jean Fritz's books about the history of the United States. In total, I read 8 titles:

  • And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? illustrated by Margot Tomes (1973)
  • Why Don't You Get a Horse, Sam Adams? illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (1974)
  • Where Was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May? illustrated by Margot Tomes (1975)
  • What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? illustrated by Margot Tomes (1976)
  • Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (1976)
  • Can't You Make Them Behave, King George? illustrated by Tomie dePaola (1977)
  • Where Do You Think You're Going, Christopher Columbus? illustrated by Margot Tomes (1980)
  • Shh! We're Writing the Constitution illustrated by Tomie dePaola (1987)
All of these except the last one are biographies of key figures in early America. In each biography, Fritz focuses on a representative quirk of each individual she profiles, which serves as a unifying thread for the important events of that person's life. For John Hancock, whose signature looms so large on the declaration of independence, this is his desire for attention and the ostentatious ways he went about trying to get it. For Sam Adams, it is his refusal to learn to ride a horse, for Columbus, his terrible sense of direction and tendency to stumble upon good fortune, and for King George, his blind paternalism toward the colonists, even when they have made very clear their disdain for him. In the last book, Shh! We're Writing the Constitution, Fritz tells the story of the difficulties and compromises that occurred among different historical figures as the U.S. Constitution slowly took shape. 

In both types of books, Fritz focuses heavily not just on historical events, but on the personalities of the key figures who contributed to the outcomes of these events. Fritz does not simply idolize these men for their greatness; instead she shows both how they were ordinary (stubborn, foolish, insufferable, laughable, quirky, selfish, etc.) and extraordinary. No one is treated as all good or all bad, but instead they are portrayed as very human. For a reader like me who reads books mainly for their characters, I found this approach refreshing and endearing. Whereas I struggle to focus on lengthy informational texts that try to drill details into my memory, the "characters" in each of these books were fascinating to me. As I read in the evenings, I kept saying to my husband, "Hey did you know...?" and "I never knew that..." 

None of these books is enough on its own to convey all the details of the discovery of America, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, or the drafting of the Constitution, but every single one of them provides context for understanding those events on a more personal and emotional level.  The straightforward facts which are included alongside the biographical details are made more memorable by Fritz's engaging and humorous writing style, and everything she writes about comes to life in a way that school textbooks never could.They would make wonderful read-alouds for elementary kids who are studying colonial America, but they are just as entertaining as independent reads for older readers who want a refresher. 

Also wonderful are the illustrations for each volume. There are three illustrators for these books: Margot Tomes, Trina Schart Hyman, and Tomie dePaola. Though all three artists' styles suit the mood and content of the books, my personal favorite is Hyman. Her pictures have the most detail, and in my opinion, the most personality. Tomes is a close second - I especially like the way she draws children - but found that I associated dePaola too much with other books and other genres to feel like he was a good fit for this subject matter. Still, I think the designer for these books did a great job of keeping a consistent look to the whole series that places the reader in a particular frame of mind regardless of who drew the pictures.

Now that I have read all of these books, I understand why they were so popular in my school library during childhood and why I hear so much about them in homeschooling circles. I plan to use them with my kids when we study U.S. history and I hope they will learn to love history (as I never did as a child) by observing how much fun Fritz clearly had writing about it. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

The RAHM Report for 8/28/17

Last week, I participated in Bout of Books. Today's post rounds up everything I read during the 7-day read-a-thon, plus what I'll be reading next!

Finished Reading: 

  • Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package by Kate DiCamillo (ARC)
    This series never disappoints. This one struck me as especially funny.
  • Just Dance by Patricia MacLachlan (ARC)
    This is another of those introspective and descriptive short novels of which MacLachlan has written so many. It was well-written, but not my favorite of hers.
  • Best Buds Under Frogs by Leslie Patricelli (ARC)
    I was really curious about this first novel by board book and picture book author/illustrator Leslie Patricelli. I was pleasantly surprised by how refreshing and different it was.
  • Swing it, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (ARC)
    I enjoyed this graphic novel as much as the first one, but it felt short to me. I could have read 100 pages more at least.
  • Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian's Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence (ARC)
    This was a fun diversion for a former librarian. I liked the letters, but not so much the book lists in the second half of the book.
  • Patina by Jason Reynolds (ARC)
    The voice in this one is not as strong as that of the main character in Ghost, but otherwise it was everything I wanted the second book of the series to be.
  • Did You Carry the Flag Today, Charley? by Rebecca Caudill
    I am reading ahead a little bit for the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge, which will focus on school stories in September. This was a sweet story about a mischievous Appalachian boy's first experience with school. I loved the writing style.
  • Here Comes the Bus by Carolyn Haywood
    I also read this for the Old School Kidlit Challenge. I would have loved it as a kid because I didn't ride the bus and was always curious about what it was like.
  • The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser (ARC)
    This heartwarming family story set over Christmas is reminiscent of kids' novels of the 50s and 60s as well as the Penderwicks series. This one's not even out yet and I'm already eager for the sequel, which is due out in 2018. 
  • A Picturesque Tale of Progress: Beginnings II by Olive Beaupre Miller
    I told myself I was going to read all 8 volumes of this set, and I'm regretting that decision a little bit. There were a lot of names in this, and I found it hard to retain any information. I did like the treatment of Biblical history, however.
  • Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
    I enjoyed this book differently this time than I did as a teenager. I'll have a lot to say in my review.
  • Beware the Fish! by Gordon Korman
    I ended the read-a-thon with this quick read. I'm hoping to finish the series and review it for the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge as well. 

Currently Reading: 

  • Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson
    I made some good progress on this book this week, but since I save it to read at night, it's always going to be a slower read than the others. I may try to finish it this week, but I make no guarantees.
  • Butternut Summer by Mary McNear
    I barely touched this all week. It's on my phone so I can sneak in a chapter here and there, but it's quicker and more satisfying to read kids' books, especially during a read-a-thon.
  • The Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford (ARC)
    I am loving this, but it's a long one. I'm about a third of the way through.
  • The War with Mr. Wizzle by Gordon Korman
    I just borrowed this from Open Library since it comes right after Beware the Fish and I'm trying to get through the rest of the series. I've only read the first page so far. 

I'll be linking up today with Bout of Books to report on my progress for the last time, and with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Bout of Books Progress, Day 6

Bout of Books

On day 6, I finished two books:

  • A Picturesque Tale of Progress: Beginnings II by Olive Beaupre Miller
  • Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
It feels like I've been reading both of these forever, so I'm glad to finally be done!

I also read:

  • 16 pages of Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson
  • 47 pages of my digital ARC of The Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Bout of Books Progress, Day 5

Bout of Books

On day 5, I finished reading:
  • Here Comes the Bus by Carolyn Haywood 
  • Did You Carry the Flag Today, Charley? by Rebecca Caudill 
  • The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser 
That's a total of 9 books finished for the read-a-thon so far - hoping to make it 12 (or more!) by the end of the weekend!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Bout of Books Progress, Day 4

Bout of Books

I didn't finish any books on day 4, but I made some progress on several of my current reads.

I read:
  • 17 pages of Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson 
  • 38 pages of Picturesque Tale of Progress: Beginnings II by Olive Beaupre Miller
  • 2% of the Kindle edition of Butternut Summer by Mary McNear 
  • 60 pages of Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury 
  • 64 pages of my digital ARC of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser 
I feel accomplished and I'm determined to finish at least a couple of these before the week is over! 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Bout of Books Progress, Day 3

Bout of Books

Appointments and phone calls kept me away from reading as much on day 3 as I wanted to, but I did read a few pages in Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson and Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (both of which I've been reading slowly over the past few weeks) and I read my digital ARC of Patina by Jason Reynolds cover to cover in about 90 minutes. Hoping to get through a few more ARCs before the week is out...

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Bout of Books Progress, Day 2

Bout of Books

On day two, I didn't make any progress on the books I really should be reading, but I did finish four ARCs:
  • Best Buds Under Frogs by Leslie Patricelli
  • Swing it, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
  • Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian's Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence
  • Just Dance by Patricia MacLachlan
Wednesday is a busy day so I probably won't have progress like this again until later in the week, but I should have something to report tomorrow, even if it's only a beginning chapter book!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Books I Remember Reading in School

We're homeschooling our preschooler pretty much all year round so Back to School doesn't mean much around here, but today's Top Ten Tuesday theme got me thinking about some of the books I read during my own public school career (1987-2000). For some strange reason, I couldn't think of a single book we read in school in second grade, so I had to skip that year, but otherwise, I remembered a book (or story) from every single grade. Here are 12 books I remember reading in school:


Mrs. Wishy-Washy by Joy Cowley
I went to kindergarten pretty much already knowing how to read, but I still loved our classroom choral readings of Mrs. Wishy Washy. To this day, when I read the board book version to my own kids, I can hear my teacher and the voices of my 20 classmates exaggeratedly saying, "Oh lovely mud!"

First Grade

Pierre by Maurice Sendak
I had an amazing first grade teacher, so I remember lots of books from this year. Pierre stands out in my mind because of the musical accompaniment (by Carole King, from Really Rosie) which my teacher sometimes played for us after lunch, and because I bought my own copy of the book from the Scholastic book fair and I still have it.

Third Grade

The Fantastic Flying Journey by Gerald Durrell, illustrated by Graham Percy
I had the same teacher in third grade as in first grade, so again, there are lots of bookish memories. The Fantastic Flying Journey is one of my favorites, though, because we did an entire geography unit based on the book, which included "traveling" to each continent, eating an explorers' snack called "gorp" and hearing the book read aloud. I recently read the book again and it didn't seem as magical; I think that is just a testament to how much more engaging it became when my teacher put in the extra effort.

Fourth Grade

Socks by Beverly Cleary
All I really remember about my fourth grade teacher is that she was really involved in the social dramas of the girls in our class and not as enthusiastic about anything academic. So it's no surprise that the book I remember is one I chose for myself. Socks is the book I brought in for SSR, or Sustained Silent Reading. Because I read so much faster than a lot of my classmates, I read chapters over and over again in order to avoid having to admit that I was finished with the book. It seemed like we spent a lot more time on silent reading that year than was really necessary - I think the teacher just liked us to all sit quietly.

Fifth Grade


Into the Dream by William Sleator
My fifth grade teacher forced all of us to do something called Books I Have Read, or BIHR, and the better a reader you were, the more pages you were expected to read. It was a nightmare in record-keeping that took all the joy out of pleasure reading, so most of my reading related memories from that year involve whining about the unfairness of having my free reading monitored. But I do also remember keeping a reading journal in class and being allowed to choose the books I read for that from a set of pre-approved selections. Though I was never an avid fantasy or sci-fi reader, I remember choosing Into the Dream because I thought the concept of telepathy was cool. I don't really remember much of the story, but I am impressed by my willingness to read outside my usual genres!

Sixth Grade

The Cay by Theodore Taylor
Sixth grade was a tough year for books. I hated almost everything we were assigned in school, and The Cay was no exception. The thing I remember most, aside from hating the story (which now I don't even really remember) is that the project after finishing the book was to rewrite the ending. I struggled so much to come up with something, and wound up rewriting the story so that the main character was not blind as he is for most of the book, but was color-blind instead.  I think the teacher thought I was lazy, but really I just couldn't stand any kind of unhappiness in books and took my opportunity to fix what I could.

Seventh Grade


Losing Joe's Place by Gordon Korman
My seventh grade English teacher always made it a point to read aloud to the class, and even though I was a kid who liked to read independently, I loved being read to. My favorite read-aloud that year was Losing Joe's Place. I had English at the very end of the day, and there was something really nice about sitting there before the last bell of the day listening to a funny, relaxing realistic fiction story.

Eighth Grade



My eighth grade English teacher spent most of the year showing videos and assigning group work, only to magically become interested in the classics in the Spring. We were all given paperback copies of Beowulf and then we had to go around in a circle and say something we observed about it. I distinctly remember that when it came to my turn, I had absolutely nothing to say, so I took a chance and came out with, "I read it, and I understood it, but I don't have anything else to say that hasn't already been mentioned." Only half the class had gone before me, but, to my amusement, everyone who came after me repeated my response in their own words. Not long after that, the same teacher tried to assign Julius Caesar, only to collect the books a few days later because we "weren't ready."

Ninth Grade


Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Thanks to a really exceptional teacher, my ninth grade year was a wonderful introduction to short stories, epic poems, and classic novels. Great Expectations was probably the most difficult book I had been assigned to this point, but thanks to my teacher's enthusiasm, I fell in love with it and never thought of it as hard. Miss Havisham remains one of my all-time favorite characters, and this is one book I'm really looking forward to teaching my kids when they are tweens and teens.

Tenth Grade


A Separate Peace by John Knowles

My tenth grade English teacher focused the entire year on an anti-war unit, which became tedious fairly early on. I did enjoy a number of the books we read, including All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and Night by Elie Wiesel, but A Separate Peace wound up being my favorite because it was about teens at a boarding school and was not set on a battlefield or in a concentration camp. I have never gone back and read the book again, but entire scenes of the story still stick with me, and I still think about Finny, who was the most intriguing and complex character.

Eleventh Grade


Moby Dick by Herman Melville

My eleventh grade teacher was not that much older than I was, and I was not impressed with him at all. I became kind of obnoxious during his class, constantly correcting his spelling and asking annoying questions that I would never have been comfortable asking an experienced or more mature teacher. When he assigned 100 pages of Moby Dick in a single night and then asked us to discuss its "deeper meaning" the next day, I made a little speech. I said something like, "If you want us to find the deeper meaning in this book, you need to assign less reading." And the whole class broke out into spontaneous applause. I don't remember whether the teacher changed the assignments or not, but I do know I never bothered finishing the book. I loved the writing at the beginning ("Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul...") but have never felt the need to read 700 pages about a whale. Maybe someday.

Twelfth Grade


"Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor

Finally, in twelfth grade, I took two half-year English electives rather than AP English. This wound up being a great decision. In the second semester, my class was Short Stories, and though I had heard of Flannery O'Connor before, this was the very first time I discovered her for myself. When we finished reading Good Country People, I could not stop talking about it. I loved the characters, the writing style, the sense of humor, and the wonderful Catholic writer behind it all. Four years later, inspired by this initial introduction to her unique writings, I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Wise Blood. She remains one of my favorite authors.

Bout of Books Progress, Day 1

Bout of Books

The first day of Bout of Books was a busy and stressful day, and I didn't read a single word until after 10pm! Still, I managed to finish one ARC (Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package by Kate DiCamillo) and made good progress on a second one (Best Buds Under Frogs by Leslie Patricelli).

I hope to make some more substantial progress on Tuesday!

Monday, August 21, 2017

The RAHM Report for 8/21/17

Today's the first day of Bout of Books 20! Before I jump full-force into the read-a-thon, here's my report on last week's reading.

Finished Reading: 

  • The Silver Moon of Summer by Leila Howland
    This was one of my most anticipated books of the year, but it was really just okay. I think I would have really loved it when I was ten, though. I'll have a review up on Goodreads eventually.
  • Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing Books for Children by Katherine Paterson
    This was great. I have a new respect for Katherine Paterson now and a renewed desire to read everything she's written. I plan to squeeze in a blog review of this before the month is over. 
  • The Cottage at Bantry Bay by Hilda van Stockum
    This feel-good family story includes lots of references to Irish folklore and history and a fun larger-than-life character named Paddy the Piper. It was a quick and pleasant read for a summer weekend. Review coming in September. 

Currently Reading:


  • A Picturesque Tale of Progress: Beginnings II by Olive Beaupre Miller
    I did read a good chunk of this book this week, but I'm only up to the birth of Moses. I'm not sure I will finish - perhaps not this week. 
  • Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
    I barely touched this all week. I may not end up finishing it while it is still technically summer, but I will make it to the end eventually.
  • Beware the Fish! by Gordon Korman
    I am still planning to do a post about this series after I've read all of the books. The premise of this one seems weak compared to the first two books, but I'm still enjoying the exploits of Bruno and Boots. 
  • Butternut Summer by Mary McNear
    My turn on the hold list for the ebook copy of this book came up yesterday, and I read the first chapter. Though it is an adult novel, it reminds me a lot of books by Sarah Dessen and Joan Bauer so far. It seems like I will like it more than the first book. 
  • Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson
    I still have this on my nightstand, but to say that I am reading it is really a stretch. I hope to make some time for it this week. Otherwise, I may need to revisit it another time.
I'm linking up today with It's Monday! What Are You Reading? hosted by Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Book Review: Juvenile Story Writing (1922) and Writing For Young People (1950) by Mabel Robinson

This month, I have read two nonfiction books about writing, both by children's author Mabel Robinson (1874-1962). In addition to being the author of Newbery honor books Bright Island (1937) and Runner of the Mountaintops (1939), Robinson also taught an advanced fiction writing workshop at Columbia University from 1919 to 1945, which is said to have resulted in the publication of over 200 books. The two writing guides, Juvenile Story Writing (1922) and Writing for Young People (1950), were published at either end of her teaching career, and reading them together has given me some interesting insight into the changes in children's literature after World War II, and the way these changes did or did not influence Robinson's opinions on writing.

Juvenile Story Writing begins with an explanation of the purpose of writing for children and explores the sources authors might use for inspiration. It devotes a chapter to each of four types of children's stories - Adventure Stories, Fairy Tales, Animal Stories, and School or College Stories - and provides a list of examples of each. The remainder of the book then focuses on different aspects of the craft of writing (characterization, dialogue, plot, theme, chapter arrangement, etc.) and it concludes with a chapter on writing about child characters in books for adults. Throughout the text, there are long excerpts from books which must have been popular at the time. Some are familiar even today (The Story of Dr. Dolittle, Little Women), but most have fallen into obscurity.

In the Foreword for Writing for Young People, Robinson explains that she had originally intended to simply republish Juvenile Story Writing, which had gone out of print. When she read it, however, she determined that it was outdated and needed revision. In this revised edition, Robinson removed all of the book lists and many of the excerpts she had used in 1922 to illustrate different aspects of successful writing for children. She did keep pretty much every reference to Dr. Dolittle, almost to the point of annoyance, but in other instances she either removed the examples altogether or included passages from her own books to illustrate her arguments. Though she never identifies them by title, Robinson also relies heavily on student work from her course at Columbia to explain how authors find inspiration, determine which point of view to use, and develop their personal styles. The commentary on aspects of the craft of writing remains virtually unchanged, but new genres are added (mysteries, biographies, "home" stories)  and there are additional chapters at the end of the book addressing style as well as the day-to-day work of a writer.

What was most interesting about reading these two books side-by-side was how much difference 28 years makes to the credibility of Robinson as an expert on children's writing. Though her opinions on how children's authors ought to write do not seem to change significantly between 1922 and 1950, my confidence in her authority was much stronger when I read the second book. With two Newbery honor books under her belt, and examples from her own work to back up her arguments, she is no longer just a teacher of writing putting together a potential text for her own class, but an accomplished writer with real, concrete advice to give and a confidence behind her delivery that, in light of reading the second book, seems to be missing from the first.

I also noticed how much more she had to say about the different genres and types of stories in the 1950 book. Her 1922 advice about writing animal stories, for example, felt very bland and ordinary, but in 1950, it is almost forceful, as she suggests that all people ought to love animals, and waxes poetic about her own dog and the stories she writes about him, including 1949's Back-Seat Driver. Her comments on mysteries, comics, school stories, and fantasy (which replaces fairy tales) are similarly personal, nuanced, and authoritative. The 1922 book is certainly valuable as a textbook for writers, but all those years of experience teaching her writing workshop clearly make the 1950 book the superior volume.

In terms of the literature itself,  I was surprised by the limited number of genres available for children in the 1920s compared with the 1940s. The genres Robinson covers in the 1950 book are much closer to those still being published today, while some named in the 1922 edition (college stories, for example) barely exist at all anymore. I also wondered about some of the references Robinson removed when she revised the book in 1950. Walter de la Mare's poems and The Secret Garden are both still widely read today, but both only appear in the 1922 book. By the same token, a Kipling short story called "Little Tobrah," which was completely unfamiliar to me, was kept in the 1950 book, along with a novel by J.M. Barrie entitled Margaret Ogilvy. I couldn't tell whether Robinson just thought these books were too excellent to exclude regardless of their obscurity, or if she believed these would be stories that would stand the test of time. Either way, it did make me think about how difficult it is to know, at your own point in history, which books from your time period will become the classics of the future.

I own both of these books and intend to keep both, as my husband and I are both big fans of Mabel Robinson's novels, and we are curious enough about the history of children's books to dig more deeply into some of those 1920s book lists. I don't think much has changed about the qualities of great writing since 1950 (or, really, since 1922) so I also think her advice is valuable for contemporary writers, and that even those so-called outdated references in the 1922 edition are worth analyzing for those who aspire to write. That said, Juvenile Story Writing is available free online, so if I were going to purchase just one of these, I'd stick to Writing for Young People. It's a great resource for understanding how to evaluate a children's book, as well as a handbook for good writing, not just for kids, but in general. Obviously, authors looking to publish today will probably need to consult some newer books to find out about the 21st century publication process, but otherwise I think Robinson is as worthy a writing instructor as one is likely to find.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Bout of Books 20

Bout of Books

The last Bout of Books of 2017 begins on Monday! If you're not familiar with this wonderful read-a-thon, here is the official blurb:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 21st and runs through Sunday, August 27th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 20 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

This is my sixth time participating, and I'm hoping to use the week to get ahead for the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge and to read through some of the digital ARCs that have been accumulating in my NetGalley and Edelweiss accounts. Sign up here to join the fun!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Reading Through History: A Picturesque Tale of Progress, Beginnings I by Olive Beaupre Miller (1957)

A Picturesque Tale of Progress is a nine-book set of children's history books by the same author as the My Bookhouse series. Originally published in 1933, and reprinted in the 1950s, these books follow the history of human beings around the world from the stone age through the exploration of the Americas. This first book, Beginnings I, starts out with a fictionalized narrative of what life may have been like during the stone age. Using technological advancements (development of tools, discovery of fire, etc.) as a guide, the text traces the development of the human race through its most primitive stages, and then shifts its focus to ancient Egypt. The book ends with the decline of Egypt after many centuries of great power and prosperity.

Though I still have two years before my oldest is required to attend school, I'm starting to evaluate potential homeschool resources. We recently purchased this set at a used bookstore, and I decided the easiest thing to do - especially given this month's nonfiction focus for the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge - would be to simply read through the whole thing and write up my thoughts. I don't expect to get through the entire set during this month, but we'll see how things go.

My first impression of this book, for the first 75 pages or so, was that it was very readable. At that point, I was considering it as a possible resource for first grade. The characters the author creates to represent different types of primitive people felt very relateable (even if they had silly names), and I found everything very easy to follow.

When the focus shifted to real historical figures, however, it seemed like there was a big jump in reading level. The book is very detailed in its treatment of Egyptian history, naming every pharaoh in succession and explaining how each one contributed to the culture of his time. As it goes on, this section of the book also incorporates a variety of first-person accounts and folk tales, involving the gods worshiped by the ancient Egyptians and narratives recorded on papyrus scrolls discovered centuries later.  It is a lot of information, and after a while, my eyes completely glazed over. A few key figures jumped out at me as very interesting and appealing to learn about, especially Hatshepsut, the first female pharaoh and Akhenaten, the first pharaoh to promote the idea of a loving, all-knowing God, but much of the rest of the text seemed unnecessarily detailed. Though there are illustrations, I felt like I really would have benefited from a chart to help me keep track off all the Thutmoses and Amenhoteps. And I also questioned whether every single one of these pharaohs was significant enough to merit a mention.

I did like the summary at the back of the book, and I think it would be very beneficial for me to read the summary of each book before introducing it in our homeschool. It contextualizes all of that information to give a sense of what the author is really trying to convey, and helps clarify which details are really paramount to understanding this time period and which are secondary. When I was a kid, I had a really hard time reading history texts because I could never figure out which were the key names, facts, dates, and events. I definitely want to be able to teach my kids how to read history and actually get something out of it, so it helps a lot to have that quick summary to keep me focused.

Having finished this book, I can say that it is definitely too much for an early elementary school student, so we'll be saving the series for the middle grades when we'll want a bit more detail. I'm looking forward to the next volume, Beginnings II, as it includes a lot of Biblical history, which will hopefully be a lot more familiar to me!

Monday, August 14, 2017

The RAHM Report for 8/14/17

It's been a busy week, filled with proofreading crossword puzzles (my very part-time freelance job), writing the preface for my book, catching up with mom friends, and visiting the OB for a routine check-up for baby #3. When I wasn't doing those things, I was trying to read! Here's this week's report. 

Finished Reading: 

  • Caught Up in a Story by Sarah Clarkson
    The flowery writing style slowed me down quite a bit, so this short book ended up taking me several days to finish. I like the author's main arguments and will have more to say in an upcoming review.
  • Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?; And Then What Happened, Paul Revere?; and  Why Don't You Get a Horse, Sam Adams? all by Jean Fritz
    I still have a couple of these to read and then I'll do a post about the series. Probably the middle of next week.
  • Juvenile Story Writing and Writing for Young People by Mabel Robinson
    These are two editions of the same book, which I will be reviewing and comparing in a post at the end of this week, hopefully.
  • Here Come the Dolphins! and Here Come the Whales! by Alice E. Goudey
    I read these aloud to Miss Muffet (age 3 years 8 months). I've already reviewed one book from this series, and I don't think I have anything new to say, so though these are nonfiction, I probably will not end up reviewing them for Old School Kidlit. 
I also want to mention Confessions of a Domestic Failure by Bunmi Laditan, which was on my currently reading list last week. My digital library copy expired and there were a lot of holds, so I didn't get a chance to finish it, but I did make some comments (mostly positive) on Goodreads. 

Currently Reading: 

  • Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
    I haven't touched this in a few days, but the descriptions are so lovely that I know I will eventually finish it. Since it's a re-read, it's just not a priority.
  • Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson
    I keep this book on my nightstand, telling myself I'll read it each night before bed, but I forget how tired I am in the third trimester and so I haven't touched it all week. I'll probably have to choose a day to make it a priority and just zip through it.
  • The Silver Moon of Summer by Leila Howland
    I'm reading the ebook of this on my phone and I'm really enjoying it. I expect it to be one of the first books I finish this week.
  • A Picturesque Tale of Progress: Beginnings II by Olive Beaupre Miller
    I started this early last week and have not been great about keeping up with it so far. I still plan to finish it before the end of the month.
  • Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing Books for Children by Katherine Paterson
    This collection of essays and articles by Newbery author Katherine Paterson is my favorite of my current reads. There's a good chance I will have finished it by the time this post is live! 
I'm linking up today with It's Monday! What Are You Reading? hosted by Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date

Friday, August 11, 2017

Paging Through Picture Books: The Beach Before Breakfast (1964), The Frog Prince Continued (1991), Knots on a Counting Rope (1987), Wemberly Worried (2000)

Here's another batch of picture books for the Picture Book Reading Challenge hosted by Becky's Book Reviews. These are my choices for #6  a book set at the beach, in the ocean, or by a lake (The Beach Before Breakfast), #23 a book by Jon Scieszka (The Frog Prince Continued), #24 a book featured on Reading Rainbow (Knots on a Counting Rope), and #32 a book about starting school (Wemberly Worried).

The Beach Before Breakfast by Maxine Kumin, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard

The Beach Before Breakfast is very wordy and very poetic, and though Miss Muffet sat through it, and it was a pleasure to read aloud, I'm not sure she got much out of it. Weisgard's illustrations were the main appeal for me, and since neither I nor my kids have ever been to a beach, this seemed like a good way to introduce the experience. Personally, though, I think McCloskey's Time of Wonder and One Morning in Maine do a better job of conveying a similar summertime mood.

The Frog Prince Continued by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Steve Johnson

This is a humorous fractured fairy tale telling what life is like for the frog prince and his bride following their wedding. Jon Scieszka isn't really an author whose work I particularly like, so this book was really just okay for me. I like the structure of the story, as it has the repetition of form that is common to many fairy tales, but I'm not crazy about the artwork, and I don't feel compelled to share it with my kids even after they get to know the original tale. It's the kind of book that I would have used with first and second grade class visits in the library, particularly with groups that were hard to engage, but it's not something I personally need to have in my own collection.

Knots on a Counting Rope by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, illustrated by Ted Rand

This is a book I always see at libraries and book sales but had never read until now. An American Indian grandfather relates to his grandson the story of the boy's life, in which it is revealed that the boy is blind. I thought it was a poignant inter-generational story, but many other reviewers have been quick to tear it apart for its apparent inaccurate portrayal of American Indian culture. I liked both the style of writing which was very poetic and the use of light and shadow in the illustrations, but probably not enough to want to own a copy. I did think it was interesting that this is the exact same trio that created Here Are My Hands, but the two books are totally different.

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

Miss Muffet is on a Henkes kick, so we've been reading and re-reading his mouse books. This one is not quite as clever as some of the others (namely the Lilly books) but Miss Muffet has obviously been thinking about it because out of the blue one day, she said, "I am a brave child. Wemberly worries a lot, but I never worry." It reminded me of the time a parent in the library told me she would never read this book to her child because it would introduce the concept of anxiety and cause her to become fearful. Clearly this was not the case with my daughter - for her, it simply reinforced her own resilience. Henkes really is the best at empathizing with preschool emotions and describing them in a relatable way. And though we don't intend to send our kids to school, Henkes is also very good at reassuring kids with anxiety surrounding that transition.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Reading Through History: A Book of Americans by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet, illustrated by Charles Child (1933)

From Columbus to Woodrow Wilson, this lighthearted poetry collection introduces dozens of personalities and groups of people who contributed, for better or for worse, to the history of the United States. Accompanied by caricatured illustrations of each figure, the poems give little glimpses into the lives, quirks, mistakes, and triumphs of presidents, pioneers, scientists and statesmen.

A Book of Americans was published in 1933, but there is very little about it that makes it feel outdated. Each poem is surprisingly contemporary-sounding, with lots of jokes about the foibles of these historical figures and subtle admonishments about the treatment of Native Americans and slaves. Even the poems which represent a larger group, such as Indians or French Pioneers, or Puritans, give a personality to these segments of the population and have some clever or poignant insight about their role in the development of our country.

What I liked most, though, is the very even-handed way the authors seem to view American History. There is no shying away from negativity - James Buchanan is all but torn apart, for example - but neither is there any romanticized urging for the next generation to  correct all the wrongs that have gone before them. The authors seem to accept historical happenings matter-of-factly, and their poems simply convey the facts of these events in an engaging style and format. The final poem of the collection, "U.S.A." also indicates the poets' reasonable understanding of their own place in history. "All our novelties and platitudes," the end of the first stanza proclaims, "Will be Rather Ancient History in 2033."

Later, the final stanza of the poem goes on to say:

So instead of prophesying 
(Which is fun, but rather trying)
Who they'll pick to be our great ones when the books are on the shelves,
Here's the marching panorama 
Of our past and present drama 
-And we shan't know all the answers till we're history, ourselves.

Thinking about our current political climate, in which so many are concerned with being on "the right side of history" this struck me as a particularly clear-headed and rational way of  considering our own place in the timeline of significant events. I like that the book doesn't emphasize the here and now as superior in any way to days gone by. It's all a part of the history of the same country, and it's all worth knowing, even if we don't fully understand our role until we're gone. I prefer this outlook to the alarmist "we must stop reading about old white men!" messages much of the children's literature community seems to have adopted.

When we study American history in our homeschool, I look forward to supplementing our lessons with some of these poems. They are a great way to introduce the different characters who will appear in our history books, and they would make good memorization exercises too. This book also covers some people who might not get much attention in history books at all, such as the first real Americans  ("They were only babies. / They didn't care. / Peregrine White / And Virginia Dare.") and Nancy Hanks (whose ghost might ask "Where's my son? / What's happened to Abe? / What's he done?") While not an essential resource by any means, I think A Book of Americans will be a welcome addition to our curriculum and a fun way to bring history to life.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The RAHM Report for 8/7/17

This past week I finally caught up on my Goodreads challenge. I accomplished this mainly by reading through an entire box of beginning reader books to preview them for my three-and-a-half-year-old, who has suddenly started reading. But once I got through those, I spent the rest of the week catching up on my own reading. Here's what I read and what I'm reading next.

Finished reading:

  • Up at Butternut Lake by Mary McNear
    This was a decent women's fiction novel, but heavier on the romance than I really wanted. Reviewed on Goodreads.
  • Murder at Vassar by Elizabeth Atwood Taylor
    I read this mystery only because it was set at Vassar. I have no interest in the rest of the trilogy.  Reviewed on Goodreads.
  • Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie
    My husband brought this home, and it's popular in the Catholic homeschooling world, so I read through it. Not impressed. Reviewed on Goodreads
  • Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson
    I'm reading the omnibus edition of this book, which also includes the sequel, Raising Demons. I have finished the first book, and just started the second. I'll review them both together when I finish. 
  • A Picturesque Tale of Progress: Beginnings I by Olive Beaupre Miller
    I read this book for the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge and to start familiarizing myself with the resources we have collected for our homeschool. I have the review scheduled for the middle of next week. 
  • What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?; Can't You Make Them Behave, King George?; and Where Do You Think You're Going, Christopher Columbus? all by Jean Fritz
    I had never read any of these, so I'm doing a review of the series (or as many of them as I can read) for Old School Kidlit. I'll probably wait to post it at the end of the month.

Currently reading:

  • Juvenile Story Writing by Mabel Robinson
    I'm hoping to finish this and also read Robinson's later work, Writing for Young People, and then write up a review for Old School Kidlit. 
  • Confessions of a Domestic Failure by Bunmi Laditan
    I had forgotten that I put this on hold but decided to give it a try when my turn came up. The reviews are very mixed, and though I have laughed a lot so far, I'm not quite sure what I think of it yet. 
  • Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
    I'm slowly making my way through this old favorite. Bradbury's writing is just so pretty. 
  • Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson
    I haven't read much yet, but I just love Jackson's sense of humor. 
  • The Silver Moon of Summer by Leila Howland
    It seemed like it took forever for a local library to order this, and then I had to wait for my turn on the hold list. I'm sad to see this series end, but I am looking forward to one last summer in Pruet, Massachusetts. 
I'm linking up today with Book Date and Teach Mentor Texts / Unleashing Readers for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?