Thursday, November 30, 2017

November Link-Up: Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge (Year/Decade of Your Birth)

I've been a bit busy adjusting to our new addition, so I read just one book published in my birth year during this month:

The Haunting by Margaret Mahy (1982)

What about you? Share your links in comments!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Reading Through History: The Boyhood of Grace Jones by Jane Langton (1972)

Grace Jones just can't go to school without her father's old Navy uniform. Dressed in his middy, Grace might look like a tomboy, but her outward appearance simply reflects her inner conviction that she is really Trueblue Tom, ship's captain and trusted companion of Swallows and Amazons characters John and Nancy. As she begins her first year of junior high school, Grace does her best to avoid most stereotypically girly experiences, worrying what John and Nancy might say, while also working toward becoming a member of the  Girls' Leader Corps, headed up by the fascinating Chatty Peak.

I have enjoyed several of Jane Langton's books (e.g., The Diamond in the Window, The Fledgling, and The Fragile Flag), but had not heard of this one until stumbling upon it at a used book sale. It's actually a sequel to Her Majesty, Grace Jones, which apparently establishes Grace as the kind of child whose imagination frequently runs away with her, and who internalizes the traits of people who inspire her to the point that she begins to behave as they do.  Though I have not read the first book, I had no problem jumping right into this one. There are a few references to Grace's past phase where she felt she was royalty, but these are relevant to this story and not at all confusing. I do think, though, that it is important to be aware of Grace's penchant for make-believe so that the reader does not begin to think of this as a book about gender. Surely, with the current societal focus on the supposedly myriad gender identities people can have, a contemporary reader might wish to make this book fit that agenda, but it doesn't really. Grace may feel like Trueblue Tom, but there is nothing in the book to suggest she wants to become a boy, or that she should want such a thing. Grace is a girl, and, strangely enough, her imaginings about a life at sea are part of her journey toward femininity, not away from it. This is very much a story about a young adolescent learning how to be herself, not by morphing into an alter ego, but by trying on different points of view until she can understand and become comfortable with her own. It is not, as a Goodreads review suggests, a "queerish" book, and parents with reservations about that sort of content need not be concerned.

In fact, I would recommend seeking out this book. It is funny in a clever, subtle way, and Grace's flaws and foibles make it easy for today's middle schoolers to relate to her, even though Grace lives during the Great Depression. Though many of the topics explored by this book are typical fare for a middle school story, the author's characterizations and use of descriptive language give it more substance, more emotion, and more depth. As a fan of the Swallows and Amazons series, I was also thrilled by the many allusions to those books which whet kids' appetites for reading them but avoid spoiling anything specific about the series.

Also wonderful is the way Grace becomes enamored of the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Two of his poems, "Kubla Khan" and "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," are so significant to Grace's junior high experiences that the author actually includes them in their entirety in an appendix to the book. The author also includes some subtle commentary on the way poetry is taught in school. Grace is so bowled over by "Kubla Khan" that she goes home and memorizes the whole thing in a single night, clearly appreciating the poem for its beauty and depth, all without any adult involvement. When discussing the poem at school, however, Grace's teacher takes all the magic from Coleridge's writing, asking questions such as "Do you happen to know the circumference of Kubla Khan's real estate development?" and "Of what vegetable species is honeydew a member? Does it contain seeds or pits? Where is it grown? Of what country is it the principal commercial product?" I laughed out loud during this scene, as it is a great commentary on the way some teachers take all the enjoyment out of poetry by over-analyzing it.

With its drab cover (not Emily Arnold McCully's best) The Boyhood of Grace Jones could be easily overlooked, but it's really worth a second glance. Langton is such a unique author, and Grace is one of the most memorable middle grade heroines I have encountered. I would absolutely recommend introducing her to readers ages 9 to 14.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The RAHM Report for 11/27/17

What My Kids Are Reading

On Friday, I posted about our Thanksgiving read-alouds, Miss Muffet's love for Jack Prelutsky, and Little Bo Peep's new obsession with singable books. Read more here

What I Finished Reading

  • Cress Delahanty by Jessamyn West
    Last week, I characterized this book as a serious coming-of-age novel, but it didn't end up being as difficult to read as I expected. In the end, I gave it four stars, and I'll be posting a review soon.
  • Guaranteed to Bleed by Julie Mulhern
    I love this author's writing style, and that her books make me laugh. I have to clear my to-read list a little bit before borrowing the next in the series, but I'm already looking forward to it. 
  • Gone Camping by Tamera Will Wissinger
    This was on my list of most anticipated 2017 books and I finally got around to reading it. It was every bit as good as the first book, Gone Fishing. 

What I'm Currently Reading

  • All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
    I am loving every second that I spend with this book. I'm glad there are three sequels because one book spent with James Herriot is definitely not going to be enough. 
  • Dangerous Curves Ahead by Sugar Jamison
    There is a lot of descriptive sex in this book - way more than in any other romance I have read - so that keeps pushing it to the bottom of my reading stack. But the writing overall is really good, and I am invested in the characters so I plan to finish the story. I may decide not to look for the sequels, though. 
  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
    I barely touched this book this week, but I was enjoying it when I last put it down, and I'm hoping to seriously get into it in the next few days.
  • Death in the Stacks by Jenn McKinlay
    I haven't gotten very far in this one either, but that's partly because I want to make it last. This series always makes me nostalgic for my first library job. 
  • Merry and Bright by Debbie Macomber
    I was planning to put a hold on this when I discovered that no one had checked out my library's copy from Cloud Library. So I decided to snatch it up before the rest of the world discovered it was available. I just can't resist Debbie Macomber during the holiday season. 

Library Haul

I haven't borrowed physical books from the public library since the summer, but I jumped back in this week. Aside from a stack of picture books for the girls and Gone Camping, which I read right away, I also borrowed a bunch of middle grade and adult books for myself. 

  • The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
    I borrowed this for my Catholic book club. We're not meeting until January, but I figured it's better to get an early start, especially since there aren't that many library copies of this book out there. 
  • The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor
    I know nothing about this author, but I saw this book in a few places online and it sounded good, so I'm giving it a shot. 
  • I'll Have What She's Having : How Nora Ephron's Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy by Erin Carlson
    I saw a post about this book on Instagram and it caught my eye. I heard Nora Ephron speak when I was in college, and I love the three movies this book focuses on, so I think it will be an enjoyable read.
  • Revenge of the Happy Campers by Jennifer Ziegler
    I read the first two books of this series and recently stumbled upon this third one on Goodreads. I was looking for a quick, fun read, and I'm hoping this will be that.
  • Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
    I have been wanting to read this because of how much I enjoyed Wolf Hollow. It's not something I'd probably pick up otherwise, but I'm looking forward to it. 
  • All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson
    I've been curious about this book, and I'm hoping it will be as good as Roller Girl.
  • A True Home by Kallie George, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
    I added this book to my holds list because I love this author's Magical Animal Adoption Agency books, and I have also been interested in seeing more artwork from Stephanie Graegin after enjoying her picture book, Little Fox in the Forest
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Friday, November 24, 2017

The RAHK Report for 11/24/17

Family Read-Alouds

We're still reading through the The Read-To-Me Storybook at lunchtime. I've been doing a few stories at a time because it's starting to get tedious for me, and I'm eager to move onto something else. Miss Muffet mostly enjoys the stories and poems; Bo Peep tunes in and out depending on her mood and whether she finishes her lunch while we're still reading.

Yesterday, we did a lot of reading at both the lunch table (to keep them busy while Daddy cooked) and the dinner table (to keep them contained between dinner and their Skype date with their grandmother). In addition to Thanksgiving poems from The Year Around by Alice I. Hazeltine and Elva S. Smith and Callooh! Callay! by Myra Cohn Livingston (our go-to collections for holiday poetry), we also read The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh, Little Indian by Peggy Parish, and All for Pie, Pie for All by David Martin. My Goodreads review of The Thanksgiving Story was surprisingly negative when I went back and read it. I will need to make an update because I thought it was actually quite good and more than age appropriate for Miss Muffet. 

Little Miss Muffet (4 years, 11 months)

It's hard to keep track of everything Miss Muffet is reading because she is pretty much constantly reading something. This week, besides her usual McGuffey lessons and the local newspaper, which she picked up randomly, she has also enjoyed reading these titles independently:

  • It's Thanksgiving by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Marylin Hafner
    I had this when I was a kid and bought a copy for her over the summer knowing it would be good for a beginning reader. She loved it so much, she asked to read us a few selections after dinner, including the poem about the dad who carves the turkey and cuts his thumb. 
  • Pippa Mouse by Betty Boegehold, illustrated by Cindy Szekeres
    I bought this randomly at a book sale after recognizing the name of the illustrator, Cindy Szekeres. I haven't read it yet, but Miss Muffet read it cover to cover in just a couple of days, and she seemed to really love it. I do like the pictures, and I plan to read it myself when I have a chance. 
  • The Wonder of Stones by Roma Gans, illustrated by Joan Berg
    We realized that, despite Miss Muffet's strong interest in science, we haven't been reading a whole lot of science with her. We have a box full of Let's Read and Find Out About Science books, so I've decided to start leaving them for her to read after her nap. I know she won't understand everything on her own, so my plan is to re-read each book with her as well. So far, she has read this one and part of How You Talk by Paul Showers, but we haven't had a chance to read either together yet, so that will probably happen this weekend.
  • Sounds of Laughter by Bill Martin, Jr.
    This is an old elementary school reader that I found at the library's used bookstore and bought mostly for my own amusement. But it has a lot of stories in it that Miss Muffet can read, so I gave it to her one afternoon and she has asked for it every day since.

Little Bo Peep (2 years, 2 months)

This week, Bo Peep has been in a musical mood. She keeps asking me for "story books," by which she actually means singable books. By far, her favorite of the week was Over the River and Through the Wood, illustrated by Christopher Manson. We have sung it over and over again, sometimes accompanied by me on the ukulele, and at the conclusion of each time through, she immediately wants to hear it again. When she's not belting out "Hurrah for the pumpkin pie," however, she does allow me to sing and play from other books, including Songs to Grow On and More Songs to Grow On by Beatrice Landeck and Go In and Out the Window published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Little Jumping Joan (1 month)

I don't think I read anything specifically to the baby this week. She did have some time with Tana Hoban's Black and White, and she was around for a lot of the sing-alongs I had with Bo Peep, but I didn't sit down to read with just her. But I do have a mental list of picture books I want her to hear, so it's just a matter of finding a time when she's awake and calm and the other two girls are not around to interrupt.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Book Review: Where the Lilies Bloom by Vera and Bill Cleaver (1969)

Mary Call Luther lives in Appalachia, where the lilies bloom. Her mother, Cosby Luther is deceased and her father, Roy Luther, is very ill and not far from death himself. As sharecroppers on land belonging to Kiser Pease, Mary Call's family needs to be able to continue working in order to keep a roof over their heads. Without parents to rely on, Mary Call takes on the role of head of the family, looking after "cloudy-headed" older sister Devola (whom Kiser wishes to marry, despite Roy Luther's fervent objections), younger brother, Romey, and younger sister, Ima Dean, and putting them to work taking care of their home and learning to "wildcraft" using the plants that grow on the nearby mountains. As their situation becomes more and more dire, however, Mary Call finds herself buckling under the pressure even as she remains determined to keep all the promises she has made to her father.

My husband read this book before me, and I watched the 1974 TV movie with him before deciding to read the book myself. I ordinarily try to avoid doing that, as the filmmakers' interpretation of a book can so easily taint the reading experience, and I prefer to imagine the characters myself rather than envision actors' voices and faces as I read. In this case, though, it really didn't matter much, as the film remains extremely faithful to the book (with a few exceptions), and reading this book is about much more than just the plot.

Authors Vera and Bill Cleaver are masters of characterization. This is not a long book (176 pages), but Mary Call is as well-developed as any fictional character can be, and the difficulties she faces as the hardships pile up around her give the authors many opportunities to show the depth and breadth of their knowledge of her mind and heart. The authors are equally adept at writing engaging and meaningful description. The language they use to conjure the Applachian mountains, Kiser Pease's land, and the Luther family home itself is beautiful, and though it is often poetic, its meaning is never obscured by too much purple prose.

This book reminded me a lot of many of my favorite titles by Betsy Byars, who often writes about strong young characters facing down seemingly unbeatable odds. The Cleavers have their own style, however, and this book is probably more memorable to me than any Byars book I have ever read. It's just such a different story, with such a real and sympathetic main character, and though much of the story isn't happy, it still manages to inspire and touch the reader and to impart a message of hope. A great story, not to be missed by readers young or old.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The RAHM Report for 11/20/17

What My Kids Are Reading:

On Friday, I posted the first installment of a new feature: The Read-at-Home Kids Report. Click here to check out what my three girls have been enjoying lately (including The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook, Frog & Toad All Year, and Owl Babies).

What I Finished Reading:

  • Pumpkins in Paradise by Kathi Daley
    I enjoyed this, despite its flaws. My review is on Goodreads.
  • A Bone to Pick by Charlaine Harris
    This isn't really a mystery, but since I love the main character, it didn't matter to me. Reviewed on Goodreads.
  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
    This was adorable. Definitely Smith's best. 
  • Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart
    This was not as good as We Were Liars. I liked it, but the structure of the story - telling events in reverse chronological order - felt pretty gimmicky. Review is forthcoming on Goodreads.
  • Lights, Camera, Middle School! by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm
    The character of Babymouse doesn't translate too well to prose, nor does she become more endearing as a middle schooler. I gave this 2 stars. My quick review is on Goodreads.
  • The Boyhood of Grace Jones by Jane Langton
    I loved this book. Jane Langton is underrated. My review will be here on the blog next Wednesday.
  • Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
    I like Telgemeier's earlier books better, but this one was good, too. I posted a review on Goodreads.

What I'm Currently Reading:

  • Cress Delahanty by Jessamyn West
    I picked this up randomly at a used book sale because it is illustrated by Joe Krush. It's not quite the lighthearted teen read I was expecting. Instead, it's a coming of age tale involving all the serious issues girls face in adolescence. I just hope it's not as excruciating as Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt.
  • All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
    We bought this entire series used over the summer and I've been eyeing them on the bookshelf, I've read a few chapters of this and so far, I like it just as well as Herriot's stories in picture book format.
  • Dangerous Curves Ahead by Sugar Jamison
    My sister graduated high school with this author and she passed the book onto me years ago when it first came out. I wanted to read a romance, and this was hanging around, so I finally picked it up. I like the writing style so far, and the main character has a great voice.
  • Guaranteed to Bleed by Julie Mulhern
    I'm about a quarter of the way through this book and I love it just as much as the first. I also like the fact that the mystery involves high school kids - it satisfies my desire to read YA without me having to look for more appealing YA titles.
  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
    I am not actually reading this because of the new movie, but because of First Class Murder by Robin Stevens, which is part of my favorite middle grade mystery series. But I definitely want to see the movie eventually.
  • Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux
    I read some of this book because my Catholic book club was discussing it and I decided at the last minute to go to the meeting. I don't love the writing style, and the discussion sort of covered everything I will probably get out of it, so depending on how much reading time I have I may decide not to finish.
  • Death in the Stacks by Jenn McKinlay
    My birthday was this weekend, and my mom sent me this book as a gift. I love this series and can't wait to catch up with my favorite characters. 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Friday, November 17, 2017

The RAHK Report for 11/17/17

As promised when I posted my final edition of Reading with Little Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep, here is my new and improved format for sharing what my kids are reading: The Read-at-Home Kids (RAHK) Report! I plan to treat this similarly to the Read-at-Home Mom report, posting on a weekly basis and focusing on what the girls are enjoying individually, as well as what I am reading aloud to them collectively. The RAHK Report will be published on Fridays, and I will link to the previous week's post in each Monday's RAHM Report.

Family Read-Alouds

Our lunchtime read-alouds for the past few weeks have come from The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook and The Read-to-Me Storybook. Milly-Molly-Mandy has become a particular favorite of Little Miss Muffet, and Little Bo Peep loves to look at the pictures even if she is frequently eager for the reading to end quickly. I'm hoping to make a peg doll of Milly-Molly-Mandy for Miss Muffet either for her upcoming birthday or for Christmas.

Little Miss Muffet (3 years, 11 months)

Independently, Miss Muffet has been reading the McGuffey readers for the past few months. Recently, she started the third reader, and she does one or two lessons a day. In addition to those lessons, she is also currently reading Frog and Toad All Year. When she finishes it, she will have read the entire series. She is also getting her first introduction to history through Munro Leaf's History Can Be Fun. There is no real expectation that she is retaining everything she reads, but she is picking up great vocabulary words: sculpture, architect, pyramid, papyrus, etc.

Miss Muffet also asked me to start reading aloud from Find the Constellations by H.A. Rey. It was the author that caught her attention more than the subject matter, but ever since our trip to the planetarium this summer, she has been fascinated by space, so it was a great choice.  When her grandmother was visiting this past weekend, she also enjoyed hearing Sarah Morton's Day by Kate Waters.

Little Bo Peep (2 years, 2 months)

Bo Peep is starting to have a longer attention span for listening to picture books. She has been really into the Frances books by Russell Hoban this week, along with Owl Babies (which she read with Grandma during her visit), There's a Nightmare in My Closet, Can You Cuddle Like a Koala? and Clap Your Hands.

Little Jumping Joan (1 month)

When Miss Muffet first came home from the hospital, I used to read Narnia books aloud to her. Since I've been meaning to finish the series, I have been sporadically reading to Jumping Joan from The Silver Chair, but we are often interrupted by a need to sleep, or eat, or have a new diaper, so it's slow-going. The big girls have been showing her Black and White and a couple of the Sassy titles, but she's mostly still too little to appreciate them. She gets her daily dose of early literacy from nursery rhymes that I recite from memory, and singing, which we do randomly throughout the day.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Fumbling Through Fantasy: Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford (2017)

A year has passed since the events of Greenglass House and, after struggling with a teacher who singles him out for being of Chinese heritage, Milo is looking forward to a relaxing winter break at home with his parents. As Christmas approaches, however, the near-empty smugglers' inn which his parents run begins to fill up. For starters, there is Emmett Syebuck, a guest who is supposed to be leaving any time but who has stayed on to sketch just a few more of Greenglass's famous windows. Then Clem and Georgie, previous guests of the inn, show up, ostensibly for a girls' weekend, but really because they are hot on the trail of a valuable treasure belonging to legendary thief Violet Cross and they don't want Clem's fiancee to know they are once again involved in criminal activity. Finally, Milo's family receives a visit from the Waits, an odd band of carolers from nearby Liberty of Gammerbund, which many describe as an insane asylum, and through a series of unusual events, these strangers are stranded at Greenglass House. Milo is completely overwhelmed by all of these people, so he is thankful when, after a year away, his old friend Meddy shows up again and the two can resume their favorite role-playing game and work on solving a new mystery together.

Despite its intimidating length, this turned out to be a wonderful follow-up to the first novel of this series and a compelling and festive story for the Christmas season. Kate Milford writes wonderfully well, and I loved getting lost with these characters in this fantastical and yet entirely believable setting. I was completely intrigued by the Waits from the moment they first arrived, and it was so enjoyable to observe each of these quirky and suspect individuals through Milo's eyes and try to figure out the motives and true backstories of each one. 

Milford also does a nice job of incorporating Milo's identity as a Chinese adoptee into the story without making him into a token example or a cautionary tale. She manages to highlight the problem Milo is having with his teacher without turning the teacher into a scapegoat or vilifying him as an inherently evil racist, and she makes the incidents that have made Milo so uncomfortable relatable to kids of all backgrounds by focusing them not just on race, but on the discomfort shy kids have with confronting authority figures about their feelings. I am irritated by diversity for diversity's sake - or worse, for the sake of teaching a Very Special Lesson about differences - but this storyline works really well and adds a welcome layer of depth to Milo's character and to the book as a whole. 

I was really disappointed when I couldn't get into last year's The Left-Handed Fate, which is tangentially connected to Greenglass House, so I was especially pleased when Ghosts of Greenglass House turned out to be such an appealing and emotionally satisfying holiday-themed mystery. Sometimes sequels just don't live up to their predecessors, but this book is definitely a worthy follow-up and one of the best middle grade novels of 2017. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Books About Sisters That I Can't Wait For My Three Daughters to Read

This week's Top Ten Tuesday theme is Top Ten Books I Want My Future Children to Read. Since I already have kids, I'm tweaking the topic slightly to focus on books I hope my existing children will read in the future. Specifically, in light of the fact that I recently gave birth to my third daughter, this is a list of books about sisters that I can't wait for all three of my girls (Little Miss Muffet, almost 4, Little Bo Peep, age 2 and Little Jumping Joan age 4 weeks) to read.

Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace


Though this series is primarily about the friendship between Betsy and Tacy (and Tib), there is also a strong sister relationship between Betsy and her older sister, Julia, which is particularly important in the later books of the series. I especially like the way the two girls encourage each other not to be "spoony" with boys, and the way Betsy tries to emulate her sister after Julia goes away to college. There is also a younger sister in the Ray family, Margaret, who is mostly in the background until Betsy and Joe, when she begins to have her own relationship to Betsy that is quite different from the friendship between Betsy and Julia. Though there are some arguments and difficulties in these sibling relationships over the course of the series, these three girls are mostly excellent role models for how to be friends with one's sisters.

Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome

The Swallows and Amazons books feature two pair of sisters: Susan and Titty Walker (who also have two brothers, John and Roger) and Nancy and Peggy Blackett. Each of these four girls has a completely unique personality which makes its own important contribution to their sailing adventures, and in her own way, each one models how to be a good, supportive, and caring sister. Susan does this by acting as the mother of the group, Titty by sharing her vivid imagination with her siblings (especially Roger), Nancy by inspiring the group with her positive attitude and strong sense of loyalty, and Peggy by facing her fears in order to follow Nancy's lead, even to take over for her in time of illness. Though none of these girls is depicted as perfect, and they all make their share of mistakes, they are great role models for siblings working things out for themselves without the need of an adult referee.

Winterbound by Margery Williams Bianco

In Winterbound, teen sisters Kay and Garry have moved from the city into a farmhouse in Connecticut with their mother and younger siblings, while their father goes on an archaeological expedition. Unfortunately, their mother must also leave home to care for an ailing relative, and the girls are left to fend for themselves and younger siblings during treacherous winter weather. The two girls have very different personalities, and different personal interests and concerns, but they must find a way to work together in order to survive until their parents return.

The Worry Week by Anne Lindbergh

Like Winterbound, The Worry Week is another survival story, but set during the summer months, and starring three sisters. Allegra is the middle sister between dewy-eyed Alice and wild child Edith, and more than anything she loves her family's yearly vacation spot of North Haven, an island off the coast of Maine. When their parents are called away from vacation early to attend a funeral, Allegra and her sisters are meant to go stay with an aunt, but instead Allegra decides to tell a few well-constructed lies in order that she and Alice and Edith can stay alone on the island for a week. What she doesn't count on, though, is that there would be no food in the cottage, and that she will have to struggle all week to keep her sisters well-fed, happy, and free from injury until their parents return. I especially like that this book is about three sisters, and that the middle child is the one who takes center stage.

Beany Malone by Lenore Mattingly Weber


Beany Malone's circumstances are somewhat less dire than the ones presented in Winterbound or The Worry Week, but she, too, is left alone to run the household in the absence of her father, who has been sent to Arizona to recover from an illness. While her father is away, Beany's challenges include sympathizing with Mary Fred, her beautiful sister, who wants nothing more than to be accepted by the members of her preferred sorority and keeping hope alive for her other sister, Elizabeth, who waits day in and day out for word of her soldier husband whose fate in the war is still unknown. Beany's misguided attempts to keep all negative influences away from her sisters (and brother, Johnny) really humanize her and make her one of the more believable characters mentioned in this post. I hope by the time my girls are old enough to enjoy her I will able to gain access to more titles from the series! 

Those Miller Girls! by Alberta Wilson Constant


The sisters in Those Miller Girls! are Maddy and Lou Emma Miller. They live in 1909 Kansas with their widower father, Professor Cyrus Miller. The family has an unorthodox way of relating to each other, which involves speaking Latin, making literary allusions, and bantering with word play. The two girls have relatable and realistic concerns, especially involving their father's potential romance with local milliner, Kate Turner and their desire to be known as something more than "poor motherless girls," and these help young readers connect to the time period and to take in a lot of historical detail. This is another book with sequels that I hope I might be able to find by the time my kids are old enough to read them! 

Nancy and Plum by Betty MacDonald

Nancy and Plum are orphans, and their clueless uncle, who is meant to look after them, instead places them with the cruel and dishonest Mrs. Monday, who steals the girls' gifts and letters and punishes them severely for even the very smallest infractions. Together, Nancy and Plum decide they must escape. Just as Nancy and Peggy Blackett lend their imaginations to imaginary adventures in the Swallows and Amazons books, Nancy and Plum use their own ingenuity to get out of their own very real dangerous circumstances. Though there are plenty of caring and helpful adults who help them on their way, the true strength of the book lies in the relationship between the two sisters and the way they look after each other.

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Ballet Shoes also introduces a set of orphans. Pauline, Petrova, and Posy are not biological siblings, but they have been brought together by Great Uncle Matthew better known as GUM, who collects artifacts (and babies!), drops them off at home, and goes back out into the world to explore. When he leaves the family for an indefinite amount of time, the three girls, under the care of Nana and Sylvia, GUM's adopted daughter, live frugally, and eventually take up dancing, acting, and singing to help pay living expenses. Each year on their birthdays, the girls, who have given themselves the surname of Fossil, make a vow to put their names in history books "because it's our very own and nobody can say it's because of our grandfathers." Though there are plenty of disagreements and rivalries as the girls age, their  loyalty to each other, and to their goal of making an impact on the world, make them wonderful role models for a family full of little girls.

The All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

Any all-girl family absolutely must read The All-of-a-Kind Family! In addition to being a great celebration of all-female sibling groups (there are five sisters: Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie), this book also provides insight into what it was like to grow up poor in turn-of-the-twentieth-century New York City and it models attitudes of gratefulness and hope that are important for kids to learn no matter when they live. This book is also a great way for kids to learn about Judaism, as the girls celebrate different Jewish holidays throughout the story. There are several sequels to this book which I own but have not yet read, and which I will gladly make available to my girls.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall 

There are four Penderwick sisters: level-headed twelve-year-old Rosalind; imaginative eleven-year-old Jane, feisty ten-year-old Skye, and eccentric four-year-old Batty . They and their father, a widowed botany professor, have come on vacation to a cottage in the Berkshire mountains on the grounds of an estate known as Arundel. Here they meet a lonely boy named Jeffrey, who, despite his mother’s misgivings about the girls, becomes their friend.   The appeal of this book is the way the sisters relate to one another in the absence of their deceased mother. The girls' system for ensuring that the Oldest Available Penderwick protects the family's honor and looks after the younger sisters (mainly Batty) is one of my favorite things about this story, along with the meetings the girls hold whenever they need to discuss something: MOPS (Meeting of Penderwick Sisters) and MOOPS (Meeting of Older Penderwick Sisters). This book provides a positive portrayal of sisterhood and realistically shows how girls with such different personalities might get into - and then resolve - conflicts.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Paging Through Picture Books: 18 Quick Reviews

This Fall, I have really fallen behind on the Picture Book Reading Challenge, mostly because I saved the more difficult (and in some cases, less desirable) categories on the checklist for the end and I have been having trouble finding books to fit them. Finally, though, with the help of Open Library, I've made a dent in the list of remaining books, and I'm still hopeful that I might cross of the entire checklist before the end of the year. Here are quick reviews of 18 picture books I've read recently.

As I Was Crossing Boston Common by Norma Farber, illustrated by Arnold Lobel (1982)
(#1 an alphabet book)
This is a unique alphabet book which names, in alphabetical order, 26 unusual animals that the turtle narrator sees as he crosses Boston Common. Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep both loved repeating the animal names, and we all enjoyed Arnold Lobel's drawings of each one. 

We Adopted You, Benjamin Koo! by Linda Walvoord Gerard, illustrated by Linda Shute (1989)
(#21 a book about adoption)
This is not really a story, but rather a guidebook, from the point of view of nine-year-old Benjamin Koo, for kids who are adopted. It was a perfectly fine book on the topic, but a bit dry and not likely to interest kids who do not share Benjamin's experiences.

What Does It Do and How Does It Work? by Russell Hoban (1959)
(#31 a book about cars or trucks)
This is an informative and kid-friendly look at the way different construction vehicles work by the author of the Frances the Badger books. The illustrations were the appeal for me - lots of great detail that truck-obsessed kids love.

Who Said Boo?: Halloween Poems for the Very Young by Nancy White Carlstrom, illustrated by R.W. Alley (1995)
(#37 a book about a holiday)
I read this to Little Bo Peep and found many of the poems awkward to read aloud. (I have found Nancy White Carlstrom's writing to be very hit or miss in general.) The illustrations were appropriately festive in mood, but I returned the book to Open Library without bothering to share it with Little Miss Muffet.

Walk on the Wild Side by Nicholas Oldland (2015)
(#38 a new-to-you author)
I was not impressed by this book at all. The message is heavy-handed, and though it seemed like the story was meant to be funny, it just wasn't.

Going to the Doctor by Fred Rogers (1986)
(#40. a book about new experiences)
There is no one better to guide a child through a new experience than Fred Rogers. We have loved his books about welcoming a new baby and using the potty, and this one, about visiting the doctor, is just as good. I wish I'd thought to share it with my two-year-old before her recent check-up.

Eight Hands Round: A Patchwork Alphabet by Ann Whitford Paul, illustrated by Jeanette Winter (1991)
(#48 a book published in the 1990s)
I've had this book since childhood, but I don't think I'd ever read it until I shared it with Miss Muffet this past week. It's an alphabet book explaining the inspiration behind 26 different quilting patterns. It wasa perfect way to introduce little tidbits of history to a preschooler.

A Birthday for Cow by Jan Thomas (2008)
(#54 a book by Jan Thomas)
Rhyming Dust Bunnies is the only book by this author that I have ever really enjoyed. This book is silly in a way that I find obnoxious, and I didn't bother sharing it with my kids.

Phoebe Dexter Has Harriet Peterson's Sniffles by Laura Numeroff (1977)
(#56 a book by Laura Numeroff )
I found this old book of Laura Numeroff's on Open Library. There's not much to the story, but I always find it interesting to discover well-known authors' more obscure works.

Something About Hensley's by Patricia Polacco (2006)
(#57 a book by Patricia Polacco)
This is an "inspirational" picture book typical of Patricia Polacco. I liked the artwork, but I don't particularly care for Polacco's writing and slogged through the story.

The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle by Beatrix Potter (1905)
(#59 a book by Beatrix Potter)
I read this aloud to Miss Muffet, and we both loved it. For some reason, I never got that into Beatrix Potter's books as a kid, but I'm enjoying them a lot now and I'm glad to see my daughter enjoying them too.

Charlie the Tramp by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban (1966)
(#67 a book you discovered as an adult)
This story about a young beaver who decides he'd rather be a tramp than a beaver has the same tone and sense of humor as the Frances books. In particular, it reminded me of Bread and Jam for Frances, in which Frances wants to eat nothing but bread and jam and her parents indulge her, knowing that Frances will eventually realize the error of her ways.

Deadline! From News to Newspaper by Gail Gibbons (1987)
(#68 a book celebrating writing, being an author or illustrator)
At thirty years old, this book is fairly outdated now, but it's still a decent introduction to journalism for preschoolers and early elementary kids.

The Beaver Pond by Alvin Tresselt, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin (1970)
(#72 nonfiction book about animals)
This was a great book to read along with Alice Goudey's more detailed chapter book, Here Come the Beavers! I usually enjoy Tresselt's nature picture books, and this was no exception.

A Birthday for Frances by Russell Hoban (1968)
(#74 a book that makes you laugh)
Frances is one of the best picture book characters ever. This book in particular holds up well to multiple re-readings, and it is especially funny to anyone who is - or has - a sister.

Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep by Eleanor Farjeon, illustrated by Charlotte Voake (2008)
(#89 a book published in the UK)
This is a beautiful story about fairies, jumping rope, and growing old. It's long, but Miss Muffet loved hearing it read aloud as much as I loved reading. The artwork also perfectly suits the story, which is equal parts wistful and humorous. 

Home Run: The Story of Babe Ruth by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Mike Wimmer (1995)
(#92 a book about sports)
The poetic main text of this picture book biography is very spare, but it is supplemented by baseball cards on each page which provide additional facts about Babe Ruth. The real appeal of the book, though, comes from the illustrations by Mike Wimmer, which feel nostalgic in a Norman Rockwell way and realistic in a Wendell Minor way.

Pancakes by Lotta Nieminen (2016)
(#97 a pop-up book, or, a book with cut-outs or flaps or fold-outs)
This is a fabulous interactive board book that walks young readers through a recipe and allows them to participate in making pancakes by turning dials, pulling tabs, and opening flaps. My two-year-old loves it! 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Haunting by Margaret Mahy (1982)

Barney is the youngest of three, born after sisters Tabitha and Troy. His mother died after giving birth to him, so he is very worried about his stepmother, Claire, as she is expecting a baby soon and he fears losing her as well. When, on his way home from school, Barney encounters a ghostly boy in blue velvet who keeps talking about the death of someone named Barnaby and how lonely he will be now, he tries to keep it to himself. That night, however, he faints when he learns that his own Uncle Barnaby, a relative of his mother's has just died. When he and his family visit his mother's relatives, the Scholars, Barney's sister Tabitha does her best to find out more about what could be causing Barney to have these visions. Her curiosity leads the whole family down the very interesting path to the mysterious truth about the Scholars, and about Barney himself.

The chief pleasure of reading this book comes from the uncovering of family secrets amidst an interesting mix of characters. The supernatural elements perfectly feed this central plot of family revelations, but it is the complicated relationships between the characters, both living and dead, that drive the story and make it such a compelling read. The book is not necessarily scary, nor is it a traditional mystery that can be solved by following a series of clues, but it does have an air of spookiness about it that makes it ideal for kids to read around Halloween, even if the subject matter is rooted more in psychology than fantasy.

Margaret Mahy was truly a talented writer. I have previously admired her excellent rhyming picture books, which are among the few that consistently use rhyme well, but even the amazingly well-rhymed Bubble Trouble has nothing on this wonderful novel. I am not naturally drawn to fantasy, nor do I typically seek out stories about ghosts and hauntings, but I was immediately engrossed in this book and read it in one sitting. I enthusiastically recommend it, not just to those who love this genre, but to anyone who enjoys a well-plotted novel with a memorable cast of characters and a perfectly surprising twist ending.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The RAHM Report for 11/6/17

All of us (including the newborn, unfortunately) have been fighting colds these past two weeks. The only nice thing about it is that we've had lots of time to read while we've been sitting around waiting to get well. Here's what I've been reading.

Finished Reading:

  • Where Are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark
    This was more of a thriller than the other mysteries I've been reading, and the subject matter involving a mother who has been accused of murdering her own children may not have been the wisest postpartum reading material, but I was really impressed by Clark's writing. This was her first novel, and someone on Facebook mentioned that it's her best, but even if the others are half as good, I'm willing to give them a try. 
  • The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
    This third book of the Armand Gamache series seemed really similar to the second one, and though I still enjoyed reading it, I also realized that I really need to take a break from Three Pines for a while. I wasn't crazy about the role of witchcraft and seances in the main mystery plot, but I was drawn into the secondary plot involving Gamache and his role in the Arnot case and appreciated the way it was resolved.
  • Real Murders by Charlaine Harris
    I didn't know until this past week that Charlaine Harris had ever written a mystery series that was not fantastical. Once I realized that Aurora Teagarden was a librarian, however, and not some sort of witch or fairy, I knew I had to give this one a try. It wound up being a five-star read, with great characters, a setting I loved spending time in, and a clever and surprising plot. I also watched the Hallmark movie, which is a bit different from the book, but still pretty good. 
  • The Deep End by Julie Mulhern
    I have been wanting to start this series for weeks, after hearing about it a lot in the Save Our Cozies Facebook group, but it was only available through Hoopla and I had used all my October borrows early in the month. As soon as my borrows reset for November, however, I checked this one out and zipped right through it. There is quite a bit of sexual content involved in the mystery, but it's not necessarily portrayed in a positive light, and I loved the main character's tone, the 1970s time period and the country club setting. I'm  really looking forward to the rest of the series. 

  • Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
     I have such a love/hate relationship with John Green's books, but I couldn't not read this one. It was everything I expected a John Green book to be: somewhat pretentious (complete with references to Ulysses), beautifully written in a way that just feels a little bit over-the-top, and very appealing to teens and college kids, but somewhat tiring for adults who have matured beyond adolescence. It was very good, and I gave it four stars, but I also found it somewhat irritating. But it was much less manipulative than The Fault in Our Stars, and overall one of Green's better books. 
  • Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens (ARC)
    This book is not out in the US until April, but the ARC was calling to me from Edelweiss and I started reading pretty much as soon as I could download it. It was possibly the best book of the series so far - definitely as good as the first book, which has been my favorite up to now. I was so glad to finally have another mystery set at Deepdean, and I'm even more excited for the next installment, which is set during Christmas. (I'm so tempted to order the UK edition online. I am not sure I can wait until it comes out here.)
  • Halloween Treats by Carolyn Haywood
    I finished reading this aloud to Little Miss Muffet (almost 4) and Little Bo Peep (2) on Halloween. It was a good first introduction to a lot of Carolyn Haywood's characters, and they both seemed to enjoy it. 
  • Peeled by Joan Bauer
    Another wholesome teen story by Joan Bauer. I liked Hildy, the main character, even if I didn't find it totally believable that a high school newspaper could have such influence on a community.  
  • The Original Adventures of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy by Johnny Gruelle
    We finally finished the last story from this book. Little Bo Peep, especially, really seemed to love this collection, but it was not one of my personal favorites. 

Currently Reading;

  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
    I've been meaning to read this for a long time, and John Green's new book sort of put me in the mood for more YA so I figured this would be a good time. I've read a few chapters and so far I think it's Smith's best book. 
  • The Boyhood of Grace Jones by Jane Langton
    My husband read this recently and loved it, so he's passed it on to me. I read the first two chapters, and it's great so far. I hope to really get into it this coming week. 
  • The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook by Joyce Lankester Brisley
    This is our new lunchtime read aloud. It's really sweet and perfect for preschoolers.
  • Read-To-Me Storybook illustrated by Lois Lenski
    We also started reading this aloud at various times throughout the day. With its shorter stories, it's really perfect for my two year old.
  • Pumpkins in Paradise by Kathi Daley
    This is another series I've been eyeing. I have this book checked out from Hoopla, and it seems like a quick read with another enjoyable setting. I'll probably finish it in another day or two.
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge, November 2017 (Year/Decade of Your Birth)

This is my birthday month, so the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge is focusing on books published in the year (or decade) of your birth.

To participate, read a book (or books) published during the year or decade in which you were born. Post about it on your blog, or wherever you typically review books. At the end of the month, I will publish a link-up post for you to share your reviews from the month.

Feel free to share what you're planning to read here in the comments and/or on social media using #oldschoolkidlit2017. Happy reading!