Archive from November, 2015
Nov 29, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on This Should Be a Contender

This Should Be a Contender

For a Newbery, that is.  Of course, I haven’t read many of the year’s brand-new books, so I’m not familiar with the competition; on the other hand, Katherine Applegate already has a Newbery Medal to her name, and previous winners sometimes have an edge.  (Or so it seems.  Certainly some authors become Newbery darlings…Jacqueline Woodson comes to mind, yes?)

At any rate, I loved Crenshaw.  The writing is a bit different from the other two novels I’ve read by Applegate–they were both verse novels–but it sucked me in on the first page. It’s quite a different perspective on homelessness than Joan Bauer’s Almost Home, but it actually feels more real to me.  (Which feels sacrilegious–I ADORE Joan Bauer–and bizarre, since the title character is an imaginary friend, but still.)  Jackson’s family’s plight is entirely plausible; thankfully, the book faces the issue of homelessness but focuses on relationships, ending on a satisfyingly hopeful note.  Bottom line?  It’s a fast read, but a thoroughly worthwhile one.  You won’t regret picking it up, and you’ll have a hard time putting it down.
Who could ask for anything more?
(And while we’re on the subject of books that are worth your time, I never did review Even Monsters Need Haircuts.  It’s been the most enduring favorite of ALL the Halloween picture books we checked out from the library; the text is brief, but it compliments the amusing premise and fabulous illustrations perfectly.  All the kids loved it, and you will, too.  I promise!)


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Nov 27, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Thankful


The kiddos and I were talking about what we were thankful for tonight, and it was wonderful to see what they thought of to say.  Yesterday was all about spending time with family–lots of cousin time, especially for the girlies, and card games and fun for the adults–and family, of course, is a great deal of what we are most thankful for this weekend.  I hope everyone out there had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and don’t worry–a pie night report is coming soon!

Nov 23, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Graphic Novel #2

Graphic Novel #2

Interestingly enough, the second graphic novel I read (from the stack she’s considering for her genre report) was also by Jennifer L. Holm and her brother.  My carpool friend mentioned that her daughter enjoyed the Babymouse books in 3rd grade or so, and so I put Babymouse:  Queen of the World! on hold with the others.  My oldest complained that it wasn’t “exciting” (she likes mysteries), and I have to say that I didn’t find it so either.  It’s not, however, that it’s a bad book; it’s just a better fit for my six-year-old in a lot of ways.  (Although I have to confess that the simplicity might not have bothered me if the plot hadn’t been one that I can’t relate to.  It’s a perfectly relevant plot for middle grade readers, mind you–it’s just that some characters do things that I can understand intellectually but cannot relate to emotionally.)

Bottom line?  My six-year-old is interested in more, despite the challenge the vocabulary poses for her, but not so much my newly-minted nine-year-old.

Or myself.

Babymouse #1: Queen of the World!

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Nov 21, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Agatha Christie Meets E. L. Konigsburg

Agatha Christie Meets E. L. Konigsburg

I’ve had Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie floating around my house for years; I got the ARC free at Borders when the book was first coming out.  When I mentioned it to my friend Britt, she noted that it was on her list and she’d actually started it once before realizing that she didn’t have the time for it then.  She said it was darkly amusing and she was expecting it to be thoroughly enjoyable when she finally got another chance at it.

She was right.

I don’t read much mystery anymore, to be honest.  I’ve read a good deal of Agatha Christie, the complete Sherlock Holmes, all of the ‘No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ books, and a few random Mary Higgins Clarks and John Grishams, but that’s about it.  (Except for Dorothy Gilman, come to think of it.)  It isn’t that I don’t enjoy the genre, because I actually do; it’s just that I choose other genres more.  That said, I’m glad I picked up this one.  Being introduced to Flavia de Luce was well worth the month it took me to read it.

(By the way, that month was not at all a reflection of the quality of the book.  After my family’s flu, my New England trip, the time change, and my baby’s sleep issues, well–I can’t stay awake to read more than a few pages a night.  Of ANYTHING.)

Flavia is an 11-year-old after E. L. Konigsburg’s heart–she talks like an adult, thinks like an adult, and (in general) acts like an adult, all while living a child’s life and retaining something of a child’s outlook on the world.  (It’s a style of character I find to be not necessarily impossible, but wildly improbable, and yet so thoroughly enjoyable that it completely works for me.)  She lives at an English country estate (Buckshaw) in 1950, together with two older sisters, a distant philatelist father, and a loyal retainer called Dogger whose odd spells stem from his time as a POW in World War II.  (The whole setting is very Agatha Christie.)  A passionate chemist, Flavia has her own fully equipped laboratory (note:  this book practically begs you to emphasize the second syllable, not the first).  When she finds a dying man in Buckshaw’s cucumber patch, she is fascinated by the entire experience; her fascination (and her father’s eventual arrest for the murder) impel her to investigate the murder herself, using both her chemical and her reasoning skills.  I shan’t give any more details than that, but trust me on this one–you won’t regret spending some time in Flavia’s world.

It’s a darkly delightful place to be.


Nov 19, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Graphic Novel #1

Graphic Novel #1

This year, instead of book reports, my third grader is doing genre reports, which is kind of a fun idea. Her teacher provided a list of eight genres, and they have to do at least two per quarter, although they are welcome to work ahead.  Thus far my girlie has done a fairy tale (Ella Enchanted), a fantasy (Starry River of the Sky), and historical fiction (Number the Stars), all of which I had plenty of suggestions for; after all, I graduated in English teaching and I worked at a bookstore for 10 years.  Three of her five remaining genres will be just as easy for me to suggest books for, and the fourth will at least be doable. (No, I don’t read a ton of sci-fi, but I can always suggest A Wrinkle in Time, right?)  The fifth remaining genre is–comic books.  (Which I’m assuming involves graphic novels as well as the more magazine-y options.)

These are not my thing.

True, I did read El Deafo, but I wasn’t enthralled with the ending, and other than that?  Well, my book club read Binky the Space Cat once.  (I remember nothing about it.)  Luckily for my daughter, however, I have friends whose reading tastes compliment my own–AND I have a friend who is a middle school librarian in Texas.  I messaged her on FB, asking for suggestions, and she gave me a respectable list, to which my carpool friend added a title her kids had enjoyed.  I put a slew of them on hold at the library, and voila! (imagine the accent!) the great comic book project has begun.

My plan is to read them all as well, because hey–it’s not much of a time commitment!  I opted to start with Sunny Side Up, by Jennifer L. (and Matthew) Holm, because, well, the woman wrote THREE Newbery Honor books.  (All of which I’ve read and enjoyed, mind you.)  I may not be terribly into graphic novels, but I’ve got faith in her.

(By the way, my thing with graphic novels isn’t so much about snobbery as it is about the fact that I’ve never been terribly into visual art.  From the very beginning, reading has been about words, more words, and very little other than the words for me–my poor art teacher mother!)

The verdict?  Holm didn’t disappoint.  Sunny Side Up is the story of a girl who spends the summer with her grandfather in Florida; the only other kid around is a boy named Buzz, who introduces her to comic books, golf ball recovery, and the golf course’s resident alligator.  As the book progresses, however, it’s obvious that Sunny’s parents have sent her to Florida for a reason, one which Sunny herself doesn’t fully understand.  How she learns the whole truth–and what she does with it–makes for a good story and a great teaching tool for middle readers.

Bottom line?  Well, to be perfectly honest, I’d have preferred the story in traditional form–I really do love words that much, and Jennifer L. knows how to use them.  On the other hand, this format is going to be accessible to kids in a way that a traditional novel about the subject might not be, and I can see the power of the visual.  It brings something else–something different but valuable–to the table, and I respect that.

It’s just not my thing.

Sunny Side Up

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Nov 17, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Nine Years Old

Nine Years Old

That’s right, folks, my oldest turned 9 yesterday.  In no particular order, here are nine things I love about her!

  1.  She loves to think about things.
  2. She loves to create.
  3. She is incredibly responsible (for a nine-year-old).
  4. She loves her family.
  5. She takes pride in doing things well.
  6. She is sensible.
  7. She loves to try new things (I envy that!)
  8. She is obedient (most of the time!)
  9. She plays well with her siblings (most of the time!)

My precious oldest girlie made me a mom; she even eased me into it gently.  I cannot imagine life without her.  Happy Birthday, Love!

Nov 15, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on A Two-Fer

A Two-Fer

I’ve gotten into the habit lately of taking some time on Sunday mornings to pull out the kids’ library books that are due and not renewable for the coming week; that way, we don’t have to try and fit our ‘one last read’ in on a school day.  This morning there was a small stack due, so I figured I’d do a double review for you on this fine Sabbath morning!

I can’t remember where I spotted Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats, but since my second girlie is shy and timid to a sometimes impressive degree, it seemed worth a look-see.  Happily, the text and pictures were as delightful as the message was fitting.  Miss Hazeltine spends her time giving the cats that come to her lessons in typical cat activities; when she twists her ankle while bringing home milk, however, it is Crumb, the most timid of all, that must rise to the occasion and come to her rescue.

As for Penguin and Pinecone:  A Friendship Story, it takes a special touch to write a book that reminds us that true friendship transcends our differences while remaining amusingly sweet rather than becoming overly sentimental.  The illustrations are simple but perfect.

Both of these are not only worth reading, but possibly worth owning–and they both have messages that are always good for children to hear.  Don’t miss them!

Nov 13, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on An Impulse Dinner

An Impulse Dinner

I was actually planning on having pancakes on Wednesday night–nice and easy, not much prep required, right?  Unfortunately, I had maple syrup on my leftover cornbread at breakfast, and try as I might, I couldn’t manage to get myself excited about breakfast for dinner.  For once.  If we weren’t having pancakes, however, then the next burning question was, of course–what were we having?

I opted to scan my Casserole board on Pinterest on a whim.  After all, I’ve always got cheese, and there was half a pound of bacon in the fridge that needed using.  Promising casserole material, right?

Exactly.  It didn’t take me too long to spot this Bacon Ranch Chicken Casserole, and the more I looked, the more I liked what I saw.  I had just enough bacon and I wouldn’t have to grate the cheese myself; the recipe was relatively simple; and pasta generally goes over nicely at my house.  Once thing about the recipe, however, struck me almost at once.  Why, why, WHY would you bake your chicken for 45 minutes in the oven when you have bacon grease available and you need it cut up anyway?  I can’t tell you why the blogger would, but I sure as heck didn’t.  I cut my raw chicken into bite-sized pieces, reserved a tablespoon or two of bacon grease after I removed the bacon, and bam!  Flavor-town.  Once the chicken was done, I added the garlic and butter, and from there I went ahead with her directions. The only substitution I made was for the Ranch dressing; I didn’t have any, but I did have the container of Ranch powder that Costco sells.  I measured the cup of milk into a 2-cup measuring cup and added 5/8 C plain yogurt and 1/8 C mayonnaise (I love displacing liquids!), plus a generous tablespoon of the Ranch powder.  It worked perfectly well, too.

(Okay, to be perfectly honest, I also used a pound of pasta instead of a 10-oz box.  (I’m not even sure I’ve ever seen a 10-oz box.)  It was laziness on my part, and I ended up ambivalent about the results.  I enjoyed it, and it made more that way, but it was a lot of pasta for the ideal level of sauciness.  I’d say 10-12 oz would probably yield the best results.)

Anyway.  My son loved it; his level of enthusiasm startled me.  My oldest and my hubby liked it fine, but my third (the one that hates Mexican food) couldn’t handle the slight kick from the green chilies.  (To be fair, they had more of a kick than they usually do, but no one else minded.)  I’m hoping the next time I make it we get a milder can–but rest assured, there will be a next time.

Nov 11, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on An Exercise in War Poetry

An Exercise in War Poetry

It’s become my personal FB tradition to post John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” on Veterans Day (just as I habitually suggest donating blood on September 11th).  As I was considering what to post here for the day, it occurred to me that I could share more than one of the war poems that move me.

In Flanders Fields (John McCrae)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.

I’ve assumed for years that the fictional poem in L. M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside, “The Piper,” was inspired by this one.  It haunts, but it inspires.  The contrast between it and Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est–both poems written during WWI–is profound.

Dulce et Decorum Est (Wildred Owen)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
One cannot help but shudder, and yet the message is every bit as powerful; both messages, moreover, are integral to the understanding of war.  Reading the two poems together provides a higher degree of truth.
The English major in me would love to write a paper on the subject; the mother in me just laughs and reminds me that even blog posts are difficult to manage on the amount of sleep I’ve been getting. Someday, perhaps.  The other two war poems that have stayed with me are about as different as two war poems that end in death can be.  Contrasting Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and Jarrell’s “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” would be quite a different paper, but then again, perhaps I’ll get to that as well.  In the meantime, I honor the veterans in my life, my country, and my world.
Thank you for your service.
Nov 9, 2015 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on A Halloween Book You Should Not Miss

A Halloween Book You Should Not Miss

Okay, so I said that about the last one, too.  But this one is just as fabulous in a different way, and BOTH of my girls loved it, as did I–AND my mother.

Now, if you happen to have read Piggie Pie!, Zoom Broom is actually its sequel.  I have read Piggie Pie!, but here’s the thing–it’s been a while, and I really don’t remember it all that well, so I’m not going to say anything more about it in this particular post.  You certainly don’t need to have read it to enjoy Zoom Broom, because it has a bit of something for everyone.  Puns?  Check.  Amusing Alliteration (you see what I did there?)?  Check.  Hilarious literary allusions?  Check.  A ‘Who’s on First’ style comic exchange?  Check.  Sly humor throughout?  Check.

With that line-up, you really can’t lose.  You’ll fall in love with Gritch the Witch on the first page (as she’s eating her batscotti), sympathize with her coney cravings, relate to her transportation troubles, and revel in her retail experience.  (I want to be more specific, actually, but I hate to ruin the pleasure of enjoying the jokes as they unfold.)  Just trust me on this one–if three generations of our family loved this book this Halloween, your family is going to as well.  Order now, and you can stick it in your Halloween box before it gets put away!

(Cough.)  Not that mine is still sitting out or anything…

Zoom Broom

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