Friday, February 14, 2014
I wish I could remember where I first saw a recommendation for Twelve Kinds of Ice. I vaguely recollect noticing the cover art back in the summer, then stumbling back upon it in early fall. By November, I had acquired a copy, largely based on the lovely illustrations, thinking that, at a mere 64 pages, this would make a wonderful snow day read. If you haven't been living under a rock, or a sunny beach on the southern hemisphere, you probably know that the entire east coast experienced a winter storm over the last few days. That flurry of snow out our windows was the setting by which we finally dove into Twelve Kinds of Ice.
I'm truly glad I saved this book for such a time. The black and white illustrations, the colorful prose, the sparkling descriptions of each kind of ice, and the adventures that await each new phase of winter read like a story my grandmother might tell, if I had a grandmother who lived anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon line where the winter seems stuck on repeat between ice kinds 1, 2, and 3. Sure, there are some reinforced stereotypes of figure-skating girls battling for ice rink time from the hockey-playing boys, but beyond that you find humorous anecdotes of a father who performs comic routines while smoothing the ice each evening, an elaborate ice show with grandiose performances, and even the melancholic thaw when the rink might only have a few feet of ice left for the lengthening, warming spring days. I'm unsure how many more snow days this winter might hold, but this story will remain on hand just in case.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Although Robert McCloskey is probably better known for his picture books, Blueberries for Sal, Make Way for Ducklings, and One Morning in Maine, he also wrote a little gem of a chapter book titled Homer Price. Perfect for the newer chapter book reader, 2nd-3rd grade, Homer Price delivers equal parts humor, nostalgia, and entertaining adventure with a heaping dose of early 40s Americana. Homer's life is full of freedom tempered with responsibility, creativity along with occasional peril, wrapped in an Andy-Griffith-esque package.
Because each of the short stories are stand alone, I let my older kids pick and choose the order in which we read them about 3 years ago when I first read this book aloud. They, of course, were most interested in hearing the story about the doughnuts. The doughnut machine will not cooperate, a diamond bracelet is lost, and the finest marketing scheme in town is developed. The kids giggled with each development and couldn't wait to start the next story as soon as this one was finished. I don't think Finn really even heard much of this story, and I plan to read it aloud to him soon. There aren't too many books that I read aloud for a second time, but this is definitely one of them.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
This past weekend, I asked Paulie, my 14-year-old, what his favorite book that we've ever read aloud together was. He answered without hesitation, "the Magic Faraway Tree books". I was both surprised and not, as I knew the kids loved this series very much, never wanting me to put the books down in the evenings; yet I was a bit surprised that a 14-year-old would be attached to books about younger children with magic lands at the top of an enchanted tree and a character that run around with a saucepan on his head. Funny enough, when I first started reading this series to the kids, Paulie and Elizabeth were 12 and 11 respectively, and I remember thinking about 3 chapters into the first book that they would start protesting the silliness of these stories. I couldn't have been further from the truth. These books can and should clearly be enjoyed by children, and adults, of all ages; anyone with an imagination for the possibilities in life and an appetite for an enchanted mystery.
The series follows Jo, Bessie, and Fanny, and sometimes a cousin or friend, as they move into the country and discover an enchanted wood nearby. The enchanted wood is centered around the Magic Faraway Tree which has a rotating variety of "lands" which appear at the top of the tree. In the tree, the children make friends with a host of characters including Moon-Face, Silky, Saucepan, Angry Pixie, and Dame Wash-a-lot which make appearances in and around their adventures in the Magic Faraway Tree. Mishaps often occur, trouble often ensues, but every few chapters the dilemma is resolved, and the world is set to right again. Regularly a lesson is learned in the process, especially in the last book, The Folk of the Faraway Tree, when a spoiled friend learns to become less self-centered. Largely, however, this imaginative series simply provides a magical escape from reality for a brief period of time.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Wonder is counted among the best novels I've ever read, not just the best middle-grade novels. This story is original, relevant, and gracefully told in a way that it transcends genre. I would, of course, recommend it for middle-grade students. I especially recommend it for teenagers. But I also recommend it for adults even if you ordinarily hate middle-grade novels. Try this one. My own children were so engrossed that we read the entire book aloud over 5 days during the summer. They never wanted me to put it down!
"I wish every day could be Halloween. We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks." ~ Auggie Pullman
August (Auggie) Pullman is born with facial deformities, among other problems, requiring him to have multiple surgeries as a young child and resulting in his being homeschooled for many years because of the numerous medical procedures and others reactions to his looks. At the beginning of Wonder, he is encouraged by his parents to try a brick-and-mortar school. As he eventually decides to give school a chance, the predictable varied development of relationships with classmates ensues. Wonder is told from several different points-of view, and the struggles of each character are thoughtfully and carefully refined.
What I did not expect from this novel was the sense of empathy invoked. I'm not easily given to strong emotions, but I found myself nearly in tears many times. Not just because of how a 5th grader with facial deformities is treated, but because of how Auggie's interests, thoughts, feelings, desires, and ambitions are truly like my own children's. I could see them in his voice and could hardly bear the thought that some unkind soul could possibly treat them the way Auggie was often treated. With so much talk of bullying in schools today, this is an invaluable resource to teach kindness and compassion for everyone.
**An excellent interview with the author is available on NPR's website.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
For more than a year now, Elizabeth and I have been slowly reading through the Betsy-Tacy series, whenever we have a few minutes to read together. The book begins in the early 1900s when Betsy and Tacy are 5 years old. Elizabeth was 11 when we began reading the first book, and I feared that she might think the book about 5 year old friends too juvenile for her advanced 11 years. I needn't have worried. She and I both were immediately caught up in the delight of Betsy's and Tacy's world.
Hill Street came to regard them almost as one person. Betsy’s brown braids went with Tacy’s curls, Betsy’s plump legs with Tacy’s spindly ones, to school and from school, up hill and down, on errands and in play. So that when Tacy had the mumps and Betsy was obliged to journey alone, saucy boys would tease her: Where’s the cheese, apple pie?” Where’s the mush, milk?” As though she didn’t feel lonesome already! ~ Betsy-Tacy
The language is beautiful, full of colorful early-1900s phrases and descriptions, and the illustrations by Lois Lenski fit the characters perfectly. The entire Betsy-Tacy series reminds me of what the Little House books might have been if the Ingalls family lived in a town instead of on the prairie.
Now that we are on the 5th book in the series, I can really appreciate how Maud Hart Lovelace expands their world over the years, from just their homes and street at ages 5-6 to the neighborhood beyond theirs at age 8 to the high school with its expansion of friends and activities. I also appreciate that it gives me a gentle book to introduce my own fledgling teenage girl to the world of boys and relationships with the innocence of that time. When we read the line, "she tried to conceal her gratification at having a masculine escort", Elizabeth and I laughed and laughed. Some of the language and even the perspective of that time just sounds so foreign and humorous to us now.
We didn't begin reading with a nice vintage set like some of the photos I've seen, but after an inexpensive Kindle purchase for the first book, we bought the Betsy-Tacy Treasury for the next few books. Since then we've stuck with that printing of the series, although you can get the first book, which I would highly recommend as a read aloud for any boy or girl between the ages of 5-10, for a bargain at Amazon right now.
Monday, January 20, 2014
As a rather recent fan of Meindert DeJong, I just finished his Along Came a Dog as a read-aloud to the kids. I was already planning to blog about this book, as we enjoyed it immensely, but when Philip decided to use it for a school assignment in which he had to dress as a book character and perform a commercial for that book, I thought I'd use his commercial as part of my post.
From the perspective of the farmer:
I am a farmer, and I own a chicken farm. One spring, when I came to the chicken coop to let them out, the little red hen’s toes froze off because it was so cold. All the other chickens started pecking at her and tried to kill her because she had no toes. I made her some rubber flippers to help her walk, but they didn’t work very well so I sewed them to my jacket to help her perch on my shoulder. Then one day a dog came to the farm. He looked like a wild dog so I took him to the woods and left him. Then a few days later, the dog came back. I took him even farther into the woods. The next day, the dog came back again. The rooster was dead and the little red hen disappeared so I thought the dog killed them. When I next saw the dog, I realized he was a hero. To find out how that happened, you’ll have to read, Along Came a Dog.
This book is nearly 200 pages, but only divided into 10 chapters so we read it rather quickly. I would recommend it for any child or family who is interested in farming or farm animals. The insight into the world of chicken farming was thorough and fascinating. The relationship between the dog trying to adopt the farm and the red hen is tender and protective. I would recommend this book for upper elementary school as the world of chicken farming can be fraught with danger and several of the chickens in this book fall into some peril. However, the book is very well written. The suspense surrounding the dog lasts until nearly the end of the book but is rewarding in its completion. We're ready to try another DeJong book as a family read-aloud very soon.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
I read this book in one evening about two weeks before Christmas when I needed a break from the craziness. Short, at little more than 100 pages, it could be a good book for a reluctant reader. Although it isn't a long book, it is packed with action, and every chapter has another major event.
The book follows 2 parallel stories, both in Sudan, one in 2008, the other beginning in 1985, and is based on true events. Both of the main characters are inspiring and resilient in their respective walks. This book could certainly bring some much needed perspective to today's youth.
Both stories are incredibly difficult, although one is definitely fraught with more anguish, hardship, and death than the other. The end is redeeming and ties the stories together nicely leaving an inspiring taste in one's mouth. Although I highly recommend this book for middle-to-high school aged children, I probably wouldn't recommend this for the under-12 set unless you have a particularly mature child. The action can be intense and difficult at times.