Friday, February 14, 2014

Twelve Kinds of Ice

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

Homer Price

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

Magic Faraway Tree series

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.