Wednesday, May 22, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Goblet of Fire, Chapters 17-19

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Books My Children Have Destroyed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which books have been damaged at your house? 

Monday, May 20, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 17, 2019

Making The Most of Read-a-thons

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

Why Join a Read-a-Thon?

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

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

Having a Successful Read-a-Thon

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

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

My Favorite Read-a-Thons

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

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

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

Thursday, May 16, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Goblet of Fire, Chapters 13-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Goblet of Fire, Chapters 9-12

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Read-at-Home Mom Report: April 2019

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

Books Read

Hitty, Her First Hundred Years

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

The Seven Storey Mountain 

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


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

So Far So Good: Final Poems: 2014-2018

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

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

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


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

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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

Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems

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

The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems

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

Murder with Puffins

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

Brideshead Revisited

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

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

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

The Screwtape Letters 

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

The Way of the Cross

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

Bel Canto

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

Come Sing, Jimmy Jo

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

Archy and Mehitabel

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

Follow My Leader

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

Prince Caspian 

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

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

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

84, Charing Cross Road

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

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

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

Everything I Never Told You 

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

Picture Books (with links to Goodreads reviews):

Blog Posts Published

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

Thursday, May 2, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Goblet of Fire, Chapters 5-8

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Read-at-Home Kids Report: April 2019

This past weekend, I got the two older girls to help me, and we re-shelved all the books that had been left hanging around after my mom brought us a bunch of new ones right before Easter. We also emptied the bookshelf in the girls' room and refreshed its contents so that the books in it are ones they actually want to read and which actually fit in the shelf when standing up. It was a job well done, and it has caused a lot of old books to feel new again.

Family Read-Alouds

Most of our family read-alouds this month have been read by my husband after dinner. He finished Rufus M. by Eleanor Estes and has now moved on to The Moffatt Museum. The older girls love this series, but the baby can get kind of fussy waiting for the end of a chapter, so I often spend time with her and miss out on the story. I will probably need to read the entire series on my own at some point.

For a while in March and early April, I was doing separate read-alouds for the older two girls, but whenever one girl was hearing her book, the other was left unsupervised and got into trouble, so now we're back to reading all together. For a couple of weeks, we did some short books here and there: a couple of Beatrix Potter titles (The Tale of Two Bad Mice and The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies), The Headless Horseman Rides Tonight: More Poems to Trouble Your Sleep by Jack Prelutsky and Arnold Lobel, and Nobody Hugs a Cactus by Carter Goodrich, which is a review copy.

Now I'm back to reading aloud a longer book at the lunch table. We just started is Inside the Ark and Other Stories by Caryll Houselander, which is a collection of children's stories with Catholic themes from the 1950s.   

We also had our first poetry picnic of the season this month, during which I read Please Bury Me in the Library by J. Patrick Lewis, The Little Bitty Man by Halfdan Rasmussen, and Handsprings by Douglas Florian. The older two girls ran away from me during the picnic, so we may not be doing anymore for a while, but they did enjoy the books before their bad behavior overtook them.

Little Miss Muffet, Age 5 

Our main read-aloud book for school this month was Follow My Leader by James B. Garfield. Miss Muffet has become interested in Braille, and this book follows a young boy from the time he is blinded in an accident until he brings home his guide dog. I found the text really dry, so it took us a while to get through it, but she really loved the story and especially enjoyed acquiring new facts about blindness and blind people.

Now that we have abandoned dinosaurs for the time being, we have returned to reading from The World We Live In. We have covered the desert and the arctic tundra, and now we're focusing on the rainforest. It seemed like it was too much to read both this and The Fantastic Flying Journey at the same time, so that one is on the book burner until we finish this one.

For history, we've started reading The Caves of the Great Hunters, about the young French boys who discovered the cave paintings at Lascaux. She's fascinated by it already, so her interest in cavemen is still going strong.

Miss Muffet has also been busy reading independently. She's revisited some old favorites (Back to School with Betsy and Betsy and Mr. Kilpatrick by Carolyn Haywood, and Surprises by Lee Bennett Hopkins, which is an I Can Read book of poetry) and discovered some new favorites (Attaboy Sam by Lois Lowry, The Treasure Hunt by Meriol Trevor, and How Many Teeth?, which is a vintage  Let's Read and Find Out About Science book by Paul Showers.) Additionally, she is reading an omnibus edition of The Wishing Chair series by Enid Blyton, the latest Sophie Mouse book (#14, The Great Bake-off)  and she has become interested in wordless picture books, especially Journey by Aaron Becker.

Little Bo Peep, Age 3.5

This child is much more likely to find a set of books she loves and stick with it, so she is still enjoying "Ell-oh-nee" (Eloise) Wilkin and the Alfie books by Shirley Hughes, and I don't see her ever moving on from those. She has varied her repertoire a little bit this month, however, throwing in Christina Katerina and the Box by Patricia Lee Gauch as well as a few of the new picture books we received for review: A Piglet Named Mercy by Kate DiCamillo, Rosie & Rasmus by Serena Geddes, and A New Home by Tania de Regkl.  She's also enjoying a new-to-us used copy of A Child's Garden of Verses illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa.  

For Easter, Bo Peep's godparents also gave her a picture book about St. Jerome, whose feast day falls on her birthday.  St. Jerome and the Lion has lovely illustrations, and our copy is even signed by the author! Bo Peep was thrilled to receive a book of her very own and she enjoyed the story even though it was a bit on the longer side. 

Little Jumping Joan, Age 18 months

This little girl is in full-blown toddler mode, walking around the house and exploring everything, including books - both those she should handle and those she should not. She has learned to say "book," too, so she can both label them as she walks by and request one by saying "booook" (pronounced to rhyme with Luke) repeatedly until someone finds a board book and hands it over.

Like Bo Peep, she is fascinated by babies and has been drawn to the same collection of Eloise Wilkin stories. (Thankfully, Grandma replaced it for us again, because the cover of the second copy has now been stripped of its cover.) She also loves Spring Babies and Summer Babies, both of which I received for review from Peachtree Publishing, and The Baby's Catalogue, which was originally a birthday gift from Miss Muffet to Bo Peep. 

Bo Peep also loves the new Wheels on the Bus board book published by Nosy Crow which Grandma brought when she visited. It has moving parts, and only three verses of the song so it actually holds her interest and I'm able to get through an entire book with her before she takes it away from me and wanders off. At nap time, she likes to take either Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann or Babies on the Farm (a lift-the-flap book published by Cottage Door Press), to bed with her.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Book Review: Follow My Leader by James B. Garfield

In this vintage middle grade novel originally published in 1957, Jimmy Carter (no relation to the man who would later become president) is a Boy Scout and a baseball player. All of that changes, however, when one of his friends sets off a firework and Jimmy is blinded. Determined to resume his old activities, Jimmy works hard to learn new ways of reading, writing, and navigating the world without his sense of sight. His efforts ultimately lead to his being matched with a guide dog to act as his eyes.

My five-year-old is very interested in understanding how people who are blind live their lives, and this book, despite its very "after school special" style really engaged that interest. Though some of the information about disability laws and such has change in 60 years, the details about Braille, using a cane, and interacting with a guide dog were mostly still relevant. She loved having me read the book to her, and she continues to speak of Jimmy and his dog, Leader, in a way that suggests they felt very real to her.

For me, this was not a favorite read-aloud. The text is very dry, and the dialogue sounds like it might have been lifted from Leave it to Beaver. Jimmy is also a bit too perfect and generally takes all of his setbacks in stride, which is an admirable quality, but feels a bit false when there are no flaws to add depth to his character. I probably would have preferred to learn about the blind from a memoir or other nonfiction book, but my story-oriented daughter likes having a character to latch onto, and it was enjoyable to observe her reactions to the book. I also thought about my dad a lot when I was reading. He would have been 11 in 1957, the same as Jimmy, so in some ways, this felt like a little window into his childhood as well, even though I don't think he knew any child who was blind.

Friday, April 26, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Goblet of Fire, Chapters 1-4

I have read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire exactly once in my life before this, so I've really been looking forward to this re-read. Last week, I read chapters 1 to 4 ("The Riddle House," "The Scar," "The Invitation," and "Back to the Burrow.")

I have always thought of this book as the turning point in the series where everything starts to get a bit deeper, darker, and more mature. Reading the first chapter, though, I also noticed a change for the better  in the quality of the writing. The opening chapter is very different from the beginnings of the first three books, starting with a scene in which a Muggle overhears Voldemort and Wormtail having an argument. This is a much more engaging way to start the book than simply dropping in on Harry as he suffers through another summer with the Dursleys.

I also like the fact that, from the start, the reader knows more than Harry does about the reasons his scar is hurting. Though it sometimes makes me feel anxious to know something a character doesn't, in this case prior knowledge is helpful because it makes the stakes clear, helps us to know that Harry should be taken seriously, and gives the story an undercurrent of suspense leading up to Voldemort's return to power at the end of the book.

I had forgotten completely about the Weasleys coming to Privet Drive and trying to use floo powder in the Dursleys' blocked-up fireplace. I love any scene where all the Weasleys are together, and this one is especially amusing because of how unfamiliar (and fascinated) they are with the Muggle way of life. I'm a little bit weary of the fat jokes at Dudley's expense, so I wasn't that enamored of the way Fred and George tricked him, but there is still something so comforting about the idea of this big, loving family sweeping in to whisk Harry away to the Quidditch world cup.

Speaking of the Quidditch world cup, that's up next! I'm looking forward to revisiting that setting. A big part of my enjoyment of these books is the world-building, and lots of details about wizarding life come out as Harry observes the crowds. Similarly, I'm looking forward to the introduction of the other wizarding schools that will participate in the Tri-Wizard Tournament.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Book Review: Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field (1929)

Hitty, the title character of this 1930 Newbery Medal winning novel, is a doll made of mountain-ash wood who lives in the present day (1929) in a Maine antique shop. Because she has access to pen and paper, Hitty has decided to write her memoirs, which trace the first one hundred years of her life story. Hitty starts out living with a young girl named Phoebe Preble and survives several harrowing adventures under her care, before being lost and bouncing from owner to owner down through the decades. As Hitty moves around from place to place, she witnesses changes in technology and transportation, clothing and customs, resulting in a unique perspective on history.

I had planned to read this book on my own, but then took a chance that my five-year-old daughter might enjoy it and read it aloud to her instead. Though some things undoubtedly went over her head, it wound up being a good idea to share the book with her, as she became immediately invested in Hitty's adventures, and as a result, received some great insights into life during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She is also young enough that some of the predictable and coincidental elements of the plot that drove me crazy with their unlikelihood were genuine surprises for her.

The writing in the novel is strong, and distinctive, and for the most part I thought it was a worthwhile story. I was a little surprised to come across the phrase "making love" during a scene late in the book, even though it only referred to kissing, and though I didn't censor that line (I make it a point to always read an author's words as written), I did quickly gloss over it so I didn't have to explain it. My daughter didn't seem to notice and has yet to ask me, so it wasn't a big deal for us, but I think it would have been helpful to know that was coming. There are also some sections of the book that contemporary values would deem inappropriate with regards to racial stereotypes. I don't condemn books for being products of their time, and I mostly just made a few editorial comments to explain how times have changed and kept moving through the story.

Hitty is a real doll, and there is a lot of information on this website to enrich the reading experience after finishing the book, including photos. My daughter didn't seem that impressed, as I think the Hitty of her imagination looms larger than any doll of the real world ever could, but I found it interesting to learn some of the real-life influences that contributed to Field's writing of the book.

What does not enrich the reading experience quite as much (or at all) is Rosemary Wells's retelling of this book, published as Rachel Field's Hitty: Her First Hundred Years in 1999. Though Wells claims in her "Note to the Reader" to have loved this book as a child, she also expresses concern about how infrequently it is read, and seems to believe that the way to reach a wider audience is to rewrite the book, editing out much of the original plot and adding in a whole new storyline of her own. She likens this process to "weeding a beautiful garden" but from what I can tell in my copy of this book (purchased before we knew better), it looks like she mostly just trampled the life out of it. Reader, beware.

Friday, April 19, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 20-22

This week, I read Chapter 20 ("The Dementor's Kiss"), Chapter 21 ("Hermione's Secret"), and Chapter 22 ("Owl Post Again"), and I have now finished Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban! (Spoilers for this book, and for the series, beyond this point.)

This has been the most satisfying re-read of the series so far. I don't think this book was as magical to me the second time because there were no surprises, but I really love the way the relationship between past and present starts to emerge as Harry gets to know Black and Lupin and to understand how his parents were betrayed. 

In these final chapters, what I enjoyed most was the use of the time turner. I love books that play with time, and the scenes where Harry and Hermione go back and watch themselves living out earlier events held up well for me. While it's a bit easy for Rowling to magically produce this previously unknown object at the end of the story just when the major problems of the book need to be resolved, it's mostly easy to forgive because of all the references throughout the book to Hermione's strange behavior and her impossible class schedule. It's a little unfair that the reader can't figure out the mystery because we don't know there's such a thing as a time turner,  but it's still a pretty neat twist to the story. 

The other thing that stood out to me is Dumbledore's behavior. Dumbledore is one of my favorite characters, but his judgment is often dubious, and it does require some suspension of disbelief. It's just not logical that a grown man - and powerful wizard - would entrust the task of rescuing Buckbeak and Sirius to two students. It's also ridiculous that he puts them up to it, but then doesn't really explain what he wants them to do. Granted, Hermione is smart enough to figure it out within a few seconds of arriving in the past, but still. It's amusing to me how Dumbledore is always either overprotecting Harry or sending him off into dangerous situations on the spur of the moment with virtually no protection. 

In any case, I'm really excited for book four. I only ever read it once, and I think I've only seen the movie once or twice, and it's a really long book, so I know I've forgotten a lot of what happens. I'm especially looking forward to the Quidditch World Cup and the Yule Ball.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Book Review: Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess (2017)

Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess is the story of seventeen-year-old Blade, a musician, whose mother has died, and whose rock star father struggles with addiction. While Blade's sister, Storm, is able to remain hopeful in the face of all this adversity, Blade has a more difficult time. When he suddenly learns that he is adopted, and that Chapel, his girlfriend, has been dating someone else behind his back, Blade is blindsided and devastated, so he flees to Ghana both to escape his personal problems and to locate his birth mother, who has been living among the people of a small Ghanaian village for ten years. While in Africa, Blade works through a lot of the issues that have been plaguing him, and begins to figure out that he can't run away from his family.

Though some of the themes in this book push the envelope a little bit, this is, for the most part, a wholesome read for teens. The issue of drug addiction is treated tastefully, with an emphasis on the fact that this is a disease against which Blade's father is fighting for his life. There is the slightest hint of sexual innuendo, but the potential romantic relationships in Blade's life are mostly very chaste, and Joy, a girl he meets in Ghana, even says that the most important basis for any relationship is friendship. Characters also make casual references to attending church as though this is a typical and normal part of their lives.

The writing is solid, and the 457 pages of verse go by in a flash. Like The Crossover, this is, at its heart, a story about families, the way they sometimes fall apart, and the uncanny way they also fit back together again. I really enjoyed the book, and I think anyone who loves Kwame Alexander's middle grade work will be pleased with this one as well, though I recommend saving this particular book for older teen readers.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Eating Poetry: How I Read and Appreciate Poems

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

These lines come from "Eating Poetry" by Mark Strand. As a whole, the poem is pretty surreal and disturbing, but this opening stanza sums up how I approach reading poetry. When I read a poem, what I want to do is simply take it in, and allow whatever joy it can offer me as a reader to fill me up. I read poetry solely for pleasure, and not to analyze, criticize, or otherwise tear apart each stanza. This may seem strange for someone who majored in English, but I mostly avoided poetry courses in college, and I think that is why I still have such a love for it today.

Billy Collins, my favorite contemporary poet, has a poem entitled "Introduction to Poetry," which expresses his frustration with poetry students who "want to tie the poem to a chair with rope / and torture a confession out of it" while Collins would prefer that they "...waterski / across the surface of a poem / waving at the author’s name on the shore." I also like to appreciate poetry at the surface level, and allow the deeper meanings to wash over me without having to agonize over each word. As I think about the ways I approach a poem in order to gain this appreciation, it becomes clear that there are three main ways I connect with poetry: through its sound, through its use of language, and through its resonance with my emotional experiences.

Rhythm and Rhyme

I have come to some of my favorite poems purely by my sense of sound. Often, the rhyme and rhythm of a poem will appeal to me and engage me before I have any idea of what the words are saying. My father read "Casey at the Bat" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee" to me when I was less than ten years old. I knew little about baseball, and nothing at all about gold mining in the Yukon, but both of these poems have such wonderfully playful meters to them that it's impossible not to get caught up in them, even if you're not catching every word.

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
[Casey at the Bat]

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
      By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
      That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
      But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
      I cremated Sam McGee.
[The Cremation of Sam McGee]

The rhythm and rhyme of these poems has become so familiar to me that I've read them again and again as I've aged, and their words have also become easier to comprehend and appreciate because of how often I have been exposed to them.

In college, I had a similar experience with some of the poems of William Butler Yeats, which I did briefly study in an Irish literature class. To this day, I don't really understand a word of "The Song of Wandering Aengus," but I still love the way it sounds:

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

And if nothing else, there is always the fun exercise of singing Emily Dickinson's poems to the tunes of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and/or "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" and/or the theme from "Gilligan's Island." (Try it with "'Hope' is the thing with feathers" - it's so satisfying.)


Another thing that will draw me into a poem is the way it plays with words and structure. Though there are many poems by e.e. cummings that go right over my head, he is also the author of some of my favorites. My favorite of his for playing with language is "anyone lived in a pretty how town." At first glance, this poem sounds like nonsense:

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

But as you slowly take in each stanza, it becomes clear that this is a poignant meditation on the lives of anonymous residents of a typical American town. I couldn't articulate exactly what a "pretty how town" is, nor do I have any idea why cummings included phrases like "up so floating many bells down" or, later in the poem, "dong and ding" and yet, as a whole, I instinctively understand the mood the poem means to convey. In this poem, cummings's experimentation with words brings artistry and universality to mundane daily life.

Another cummings poem that I really like, "in Just-" plays with language and the arrangement of words on the page:

in Just- 
spring          when the world is mud- 
luscious the little 
lame balloonman 

whistles          far          and wee 

This poem includes wonderful descriptions for the season of spring - "mudluscious," "puddle wonderful" -  and the way the words dance across the page also evokes a feeling of springtime joy and excitement. Again, I'm not sure what it really means to be a "goat-footed balloonman" as he is called near the end of the poem, nor could I explain the meaning of "far and wee," but the poem evokes spring beautifully, and I love to read the poem each year as the seasons change.

Another poet who plays with words and structure in a similar way is Douglas Florian, author of collections of poetry for children about seasons, animals, insects, and other favorite topics. His poetry is a bit more accessible than cummings, but equally as satisfying.

Emotional connection 

The third way I connect with poetry is through emotion. Poems that reflect experiences I have had or circumstances I have gone through tend to become favorites. One such poem is "Lanyard" by Billy Collins, in which he riffs on the idea of a child giving his mother a lanyard as a gift, as though it might make up for everything she has done for him. I first heard the poem in 2004 when Collins gave a reading at Vassar, and I very much resonated with the child's point of view, and connected to the poem through the nostalgia I associated with making lanyards at Girl Scout camp. Now, as a parent, I view the poem through the mother's eyes and see reflected in the lanyard the art projects my own children make for me. Collins, in general, writes very relatable poetry, giving new insight into ordinary everyday events.

Another poet whose work resonates with me on an emotional level is Edna St. Vincent Millay. I started reading her as a teenager, when relationships with boys were often at the forefront of my mind. When I experienced my first break-up, her poem “Time does not bring relief; you all have lied" (also called Sonnet II) reflected my feelings:

There are a hundred places where I fear   
To go,—so with his memory they brim.   
And entering with relief some quiet place   
Where never fell his foot or shone his face   
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”   
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

This seems a little melodramatic to me now, but the melancholy feeling this poem reflected to me as a teen has been replaced now with a strong sense of nostalgia for more innocent times. And these days, others of her poems with a more positive outlook appeal to me. One example is "Afternoon on a Hill":

I will be the gladdest thing  
    Under the sun!  
I will touch a hundred flowers  
    And not pick one.  
I love the way this poem expresses the thrill of being outside on a beautiful spring day.

Another example is a sonnet from her collection entitled Fatal Interview, which includes the following beautiful stanza:

Love in the open hand, no thing but that, 
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt, 
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat 
Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt, 
I bring you, calling out as children do: 
"Look what I have! - And these are all for you."  

This is my favorite poem of all time, solely because of that final image, which appeals to our memories and impressions of childhood to explain the purity of the speaker's love.

Advice for Reading Poetry

I have come to appreciate all of these poems on my own without any specialized knowledge or guidance. Even if you have been made to feel that poetry is beyond your reach, there is no reason you can't overcome that roadblock and find some poems that speak to you. My advice is simple:

  • Don't panic. One of the wonderful things about being an armchair reader of poetry is that no one is going to grade your analysis of any poem that you read. Maybe one poem in an entire collection speaks to you - if that's the case, enjoy that poem and continue your search for more in another volume. There are many poems which are beyond me, and which I don't want to work to decode. So I don't read those, and I don't worry about it. 
  • Start small. A lot of short poems pack a big punch, and even poems that are ostensibly for children can be excellent gateways into poetry appreciation for adults. Shorter poems tend to feel less intimidating, both because they won't waste much of your time if you don't like them, and because their meanings are usually pretty easy to grasp at a glance. 
  • Read poetry aloud. Much of a poem's meaning comes from how it sounds. Reading poems aloud, even just to yourself in a quiet room, can make them seem less mystifying. Recordings of authors reading their own work (which can often be found on YouTube) can also help you become attuned to the way they intended the poems to sound, which can also help elucidate their meanings.
  • Don't give up. Poetry can take time to appreciate; even if it's not clicking for you after trying several poets, this does not mean that you are in some way defective as a reader. If you are person who loves the written word, there is a poem out there somewhere that will make sense and become important to you. You just have to have the patience and perseverance to keep looking until you find it. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 16-19

Things are getting exciting as the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban approaches! In last week's chapters ("Professor Trelawney's Prediction," "Cat, Rat, and Dog," "Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs," and "The Servant of Lord Voldemort"), we finally sort out all the details of how Lupin and Black are connected, and how Pettigrew betrayed the Potters and then allowed Black to take the fall for him.

This part of the book was pretty clear in my memory, so there weren't a lot of surprises on this re-reading. It was fun to see the scene in the Shrieking Shack play out, knowing the outcome, but as has been the case with several Snape scenes in this book, I felt he was too cartoonishly cruel. Given his role in the final two books of the series, it's almost not believable for him to be so gratuitously mean to his students. I know we're seeing him through Harry's eyes, but even so, it feels over the top.

What does feel very real, though, is Sirius's indignation toward Pettigrew on behalf of James and Lily. I wanted to stand up and cheer at this moment:

"You don't understand," whined Pettigrew. "He would have killed me, Sirius!"


These words really drive home the fact that Pettigrew was their friend, something that is a bit hard to believe given how deplorable he appears in this book. This line also highlights one of the reasons I don't object to Catholic kids reading these books. Rowling reinforces what Jesus says: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

I'll be finishing the book this week, and then I'll be spending two months with book four!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Read-at-Home Kids Report: March 2019

I had so many book reviews to squeeze in at the end of March that this post got pushed back a few days, but I still want to share all the books the girls enjoyed in March.

Family Read-Alouds

We finished Miss Hickory  (which was peculiar, yet charming) and then I decided to start reading to the two older girls separately so each could listen to a book tailored to her own interests. Little Miss Muffet just finished listening to Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field, which is the story of a doll's adventures with a series of owners. It's written at a much higher level than she could read on her own, but she has comprehended it well and learned a lot of history in the process. With Little Bo Peep, I'm switching back and forth between The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook and Old Mother West Wind. She has not been especially attentive, but she is enjoying them from what I can tell. In the evening, my husband is reading them the Moffats series. He finished The Moffats and The Middle Moffat, and now they're hearing Rufus M..

We also undertook a couple of reading challenges on Instagram leading up to St. Patrick's Day for which we read five picture books of a different color every day for six days. The big girls each chose two books, and I chose the fifth, and we read them aloud after breakfast. This was a great way to revisit some old favorites and to discover some books on our shelves that we hadn't read yet. Little Bo Peep was especially into this idea, and she is still looking at some of the books we read even two weeks later.

Little Miss Muffet, Age 5 

For school this month, we've been exploring many different topics. We started (but decided not to finish) a disappointing nonfiction title about fish (Classifying Fish by Louise Spilsbury). Then we reviewed some of our natural history lessons by comparing the timeline in A Brief History of Life on Earth by Clemence Dupont to the illustrations in Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton.  We're also still occasionally dipping into Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up-to-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages, though her interest in dinosaurs is starting to fade a little bit. My plan is to read aloud The Fantastic Flying Journey by Gerald Durrell next.

Independently, she is also reading a variety of titles, including books of Norse myths (Adventures with the Giants and Thunder of the Gods), collections of Irish fairy tales (Favorite Fairy Tales Told in Ireland by Virginia Haviland and Tales from Old Ireland by Malachy Doyle), series books (the latest Sophie Mouse and book 3 of the Heartwood Hotel series), and audiobooks (the usual favorites - Muggie Maggie, Mitch and Amy, and The Year of Billy Miller.) During school time, she is also reading a biography of Louis Braille on Open Library.

Little Bo Peep, Age 3 

Little Bo Peep has been enjoying peeking into her sister's Sophie Mouse collection and she likes to look at the omnibus edition of the first four books in the series. She also likes to have her sister read aloud to her, and I've caught them together on the couch sharing such books as Fin M'Coul by Tomie dePaola and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury.

Bo Peep has become more interested in playing with toys than looking at books during naptime, but she does like the occasional audiobook. Just the other day, she listened to Tops and Bottoms while acting the story out on the flannel board at the same time. Her Eloise Wilkin book was confiscated because she wasn't treating it nicely, and that seems to have diminished her interest in her for the moment, though I'm sure the loss of interest isn't permanent. The other books she has been carrying around the house with her are our two Catholic children's Bibles: The Catholic Children's Bible by Sister Mary Theola and The New Catholic Picture Bible by Lawrence G. Lovasik.

I'm also teaching Bo Peep the consonants and their sounds using The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading. We have done B, C, D, F, and G so far.

Little Jumping Joan, Age 17 months

Little Jumping Joan has fallen in love with word books: Happy Baby Colors by Roger Priddy, Richard Scarry's Just Right Word Book, DK's My First Words, and DK's My First Word Board Book. She is especially intrigued by animals, and likes to growl at bears and anything she perceives to be similar to a bear.

She is also completely obsessed with both The Babies on the Bus by Karen Katz and Ten Little Babies by Gyo Fujikawa (both of which she has basically destroyed), as well as Atinuke's new picture book, B is For Baby. She refers to each of these books as "babies" and mostly just walks around the house with them. I keep trying to read them to her, but mostly she howls at me until I agree to just let her hold them. She also likes to point to babies' toes in the illustrations and say "feet."

Jumping Joan is also beginning to notice that we have a lot of bookshelves in our house and she walks around the living room, visiting each one and asking "whassat?" I have no doubt she will be a book lover like her sisters.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

#YearofHarryPotter: Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 12-15

I'm moving right along with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Last week, I read Chapters 12 to 15: "The Patronus," "Gryffindor Versus Ravenclaw," "Snape's Grudge," and "The Quidditch Final." Spoilers ahead, as always.

One nice thing about re-reading this series is getting to see all the supporting characters enter the story with a new appreciation for their significance. In this book, we meet Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang through Harry's interactions with them on the Quidditch pitch, but for re-readers who know their role in the later books, the first moments they appear are heartwarming (and in Cedric's case, heartbreaking!) I also really enjoyed Oliver Wood and Lee Jordan in these chapters - both are written with great humor.

Another thing that is standing out to me in this book is how scary the dementors are! In my mind, the first three books of the series are the "tame" ones, but really, I'd be a little nervous about letting a little kid read about these soul-sucking beings. My kids are pretty unflappable, but dementors are intense!

I also took note of a moment where, despite my loyalty to Harry, I felt a little sympathy for Snape's point of view. On page 209, he says, "Everyone from the Minister for Magic downwards has been trying to keep famous Harry Potter safe from Sirius Black. But famous Harry Potter is a law unto himself. Let the ordinary people worry about his safety! Famous Harry Potter goes where he wants to, with no thought for the consequences." Harry definitely has this attitude throughout the series. The worst of it hasn't even come yet, so it's understandable why Snape just doesn't have patience for him.

Another moment I loved is a quick awkward glimpse into the slowly developing romance of Ron and Hermione. When they get the news that Buckbeak is to be executed, Hermione gives Ron an unexpected hug, and he reacts by patting "her very awkwardly on the top of the head." Poor clueless Ron. He will always be my favorite.

Finally, I think some of the best writing of the series so far is in the chapter about the Quidditch final, in which Gryffindor finally wins the Quidditch Cup. There is a lot of sadness ahead for Harry, so the moment of triumph he feels as the match ends is especially meaningful. I also love the image of McGonagall sobbing over a sporting event.