Monday, December 29, 2008

The Good-Luck Horse

Finished The Good-Luck Horse by Chi-Yi Chan, illustrated by her twelve year old son Plato Chan. This book won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1944. It is based on a Chinese folk tale and tells the story of a lonely boy, Wah-Toong, who longs for a friend. He cuts a horse out of paper and the magician who lives next door turns the paper horse into a real one. The illustrations are very consistent and the expression on Wah-Toong's father's face, after the magic horse has wrecked his garden, is excellent.

This was an interlibrary loan from the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library in Midland, Michigan.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Crampton Hodnet

Finished Crampton Hodnet by Barbara Pym. This is Pym's first completed novel, written in 1939, but not published until 1985, after her death. Set amid the academics and clergy of Oxford, it is a cozy, gossipy, humorous novel that reminded me much of the Father Tim series by Jan Karon. This is a comfortable read with moments of poignant prose,

"Miss Morrow nodded. A great unrequited passion was hardly in Mr. Latimer's line, she realized, the sort of love that lingers on through many years, dying sometimes and then coming back like a twinge of rheumatism in the winter, so that you feel it in your knee when you are nearing the top of a long flight of stairs."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lucky Jim

Finished Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. It was his first novel, published in 1954. The protagonist, Jim Dixon, is a hapless first year lecturer in Medieval History at a provincial British university. He is constantly in the soup in terms of college and boarding house politics. This was a group read choice of the Anglophiles Anonymous group I belong to on Shelfari. The point was to read something humorous. This book is very funny in parts. In particular, Jim has an entire repertoire of faces that he makes in reaction to various situations. Of these my favorites were his "Evelyn Waugh face" and his "Sex in the Roman Empire face." While the book was funny, I'm afraid I found the story rather painful. I cringed at the situations he found himself in and sometimes dreaded returning to the book. I also had a 1957 library bound copy from the U-M library which had almost no margins or white space on the page. This added to my dread. The one poignant moment towards the end of the book was when Jim finally has something positive happen and realizes that he has no face to express his joy over it. All his faces express either dread or rage. His realization of this seemed to be the turning point for a better future.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Child's Good Night Book

Finished A Child's Good Night Book by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Jean Charlot. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1944. This is a sweet little bedtime book that I wish I'd known about when my daughter was small. It describes different animals getting ready to sleep at night, and then calls them sleepy, "sleepy birds, sleepy bunnies" etc. It made me sleepy, but perhaps that was the turkey soup I had for dinner. Brown is best known for her books Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. She won the Caldecott Honor Medal for Little Lost Lamb (1946) under the pseuedonym of Golden Brown, and Wheel on the Chimney (1955). She won the Caldecott Medal in 1946 for The Little Island, also under the pseudonym.

Christmas Pudding

Finished Christmas Pudding, Nancy Mitford's second novel, published in 1932. It's a comedy of errors set in the English countryside at Christmas. It's a bit like a Jeeves novel minus the most important character to solve all the scrapes that everyone gets into. There are shades of The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate with people hanging about in linen closets and playing canfield saying "if this comes out, I shall marry him." Being an early novel it lacks the sophistication and biting wit and irony of her later books. It's good fun and very humorous in parts. An easy, cozy holiday read.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Miracle on 34th Street

Finished Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies. Published in 1947, this novella was released at the same time as the original motion picture starring Edmund Gwynn, Maureen O'Hara, John Payne and Natalie Wood. The book is slightly different from the film, but most of the dialogue is identical. It was a quick holiday read with an excellent take away line,

"Faith means believing in things when commons sense tells you not to."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Many Moons

Finished Many Moons written by James Thurber and illustrated by Louis Slobodkin. It won the Caldecott Medal in 1944. This is a story about personal interpretation. Princess Lenore is ill. Her father asks her what can he do to make her feel better. She asks him for the moon. He then demands the moon from his various advisors, the Lord Chamberlain, the Royal Mathematician, the Royal Wizard. Each of these advisors tells him that the moon is larger and farther away than the last advisor indicated and so the task seems impossible. It is the Court Jester, the Fool, who sees that the Princess's concept of the moon is that of a small, golden orb she can see from her bedroom window. He has the Royal Goldsmith create a small moon for the Princess to wear on a chain around her neck. This was all that she wanted after all.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Finished Marshmallow by Clare Turlay Newberry. It won the Newbery Honor Medal in 1943. This book is adorable.

Marshmallow is a very young rabbit brought home by Miss Tilly to live in her apartment with her and Oliver the cat. Now most people (including myself) would think that this was a recipe for immediate disaster. Oliver is an indoor cat and has never seen another animal before. He's a bit frightened by Marshmallow at first. Later his instinct kicks in and Miss Tilly sees that she must separate them. One day she is late coming home. Oliver fools with the doorknob to the room he's kept in enough to make it click. He watches Marshmallow move around the apartment and isn't sure what he should do. Once Marshmallow notices him he comes right up to Oliver thinking perhaps this is his mother in a new coat. The two become friends and Oliver treats Marshmallow like a kitten, bathing him and napping with him. Clare Turlay Newberry insists that this is a true story. Whether it is or not, it's very charming, and as with her other books the texture of the illustrations is so soft you can almost feel the animals' fur with your fingers.

Dash & Dart

Finished Dash & Dart by husband and wife Mary and Conrad Buff. Both contributed to the text and the illustrations for this book. It is the story of twin fawns, Dash and Dart, of how they grow up and learn about the world around them. The story focuses more on Dash, the male fawn and this thoughts of growing up, growing antlers and being King of the Forest like Old Horney. The illustration are very soft and well detailed. It is a quiet, easy book. Children who like animal stories will enjoy it.

The Buffs also won several Newbery Honor Medals for Big Tree (1947), The Apple and the Arrow (1952), and Magic Maize (1954).

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Store

Finished The Store by T. S. Stribling. It won the Pulitzer in 1933. This is the second book in a trilogy which began with The Forge and ended with The Unfinished Cathedral. Set in the Post-Reconstruction South, The Store is the story of Miltiades Vaiden and the life he leads among the whites and the now freed slaves that he grew up amidst in small town Alabama. While Miltiades does a number of dishonest things in this book, he does have a reputation for being fair and honest with the black patrons at the store where he clerks. This book has a slow and easy pace. The characters are interesting, as is the historical setting. The end however is predictably tragic and unsettling. I enjoyed this book. The motivations of most of the characters are very easy to grasp. I wish now that I had read The Forge first.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Little House

I've just re-read The Little House by Virginia Le Burton. It won the Caldecott Medal in 1943. This book has been a favorite of mine for years. It tells the story of a little house built way out in the country and the happy years it spends with generations of it's owner's family.

As time passes many changes take place. Horseless carriages appear, roads are built, development springs up around the little house. Eventually it is completely engulfed by a noisy, sooty, thoughtless city. As this happens the facade of the house changes, begins to sag and in the end looks completely heartbroken. One day the great great granddaughter of one of the children who first lived there discovers the house cowering in between two immense skyscrapers. She recognizes it as the house her grandmother once lived in and decides to rescue it. She and her husband make arrangements for the house to be moved ("Traffic was held up for two hours!"). They find the perfect spot to relocate the house back out in the country and then live there with their children.

Burton's illustrations are lovely, warm, intricate and intimate. The facade of the house is truly it's face. When you see it dwarfed by development and progress you want to weep. I love this book very much.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Stolen Lake

Finished The Stolen Lake by Joan Aiken, the fourth book in her Wolves Chronicles which began with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, a book I read in 2005 in a thatched cottage on Cruit Island, off the Western coast of Ireland, with the wind howling all around. Perfect.

The story of The Stolen Lake is kind of whacked. Aiken's series features an alternate English history. Dido Twite should be headed back to England after her adventures in Nightbirds on Nantucket but the ship she is a passenger on must detour south to New Cumbria in Roman America to aid an ally of the king. The adventures that take place there are so fantastical that I often found myself reading with very wide eyes. There are a few gruesome moments in this book that made it a little disturbing to read at bedtime, but otherwise it was a very exciting book. I don't understand why Aiken is not more widely read, given the popularity of the Harry Potter books.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In My Mother's House

Finished In My Mother's House written by Ann Nolan Clark and illustrated by Velino Herrera. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1942. This is a lovely book, told from a child's perspective, about life as a Native American. The book is written in little poetic phrases that emphasize bonds with nature,

"But I like best to think
Of Indian tea
As a tall girl waiting;
An Indian girl waiting,
Standing in the tall grass
And swaying to listen
For the footsteps of someone."

Ann Nolan Clark was a teacher in a school for children of Tesuque pueblo people for 25 years. She also won the Newbery Medal for The Secret of the Andes in 1953.

An American ABC

Finished An American ABC by husband and wife illustrators Maud and Miska Petersham. This book won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1942. In 1946 they won the Caldecott Medal for The Rooster Crows.

Set up in the same manner as "A is for Amy..." this book finds something about American heritage and history for each letter of the alphabet. For each entry there is a page of explanatory text and then a facing illustration page. While the illustrations are colorful and well drawn, they tend to emphasize racial stereotypes. I was curious to see what they would come up with for the letter X. Sadly, X is for Xmas. Need I say more.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nothing at All

Finished Nothing at All by Wanda Gág. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1942. This is a strange and original story about a dog, named Nothing-at-All, who is invisible, but with the assistance of a Jackdaw and some magic, eventually becomes a "really, truly see-able dog." Gág's illustrations are her usual pleasant, stylized drawings, somewhat soft and odd.

This was an interlibrary loan from the Kalamazoo Public Library. The edition I read was printed in 1941 and was in pretty good shape except that someone had drawn smiley faces inside the white ball drawn to represent Nothing-at-All when he is invisible.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Travels with Charley in Search of America

Finished Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck. One of Steinbeck's last books, this is the story of the road trip he took around the United States in 1960 with his standard poodle Charley. Reading the first hundred pages of this book I couldn't shake the feeling that I was reading something by E. B. White. The tone and subjects of this book are very similar to those found in The Essays of E. B. White. I do not mention this as a criticism, just as a point of interest. I love White's essays, some of which feature the many dachshunds he owned over the years. I guess I just found the similarities surprising. The only other Steinbeck that I have read is Of Mice and Men, a book I expected to be thoroughly depressed by. My daughter read it for her Introduction to Literature course, freshman year in high school. I read it when she did and really enjoyed it.

In Travels with Charley Steinbeck sets out to see what America is like at the time. He tries his best to stick to small towns and secondary roads. Many topics are interesting forshadowings of problems we have today. Perhaps the most interesting was his observation of young black children being escorted to school by federal marshals while being jeered at by a group of white women in New Orleans. Steinbeck was so revolted by this experience that he bypassed all the other sights he had planned to see in the area and went off to be by himself. As I was reading this the telephone rang. It was Gus from the Ann Arbor Obama campaign headquarters. I had signed up to volunteer, but had not done so yet. Gus was calling to ask me if I'd be willing to contact a list of local volunteers to match them up with canvassing, phone bank and "Get Out the Vote" opportunities. I'd said no before to telephone work, feeling awkward and shy about it. Somehow at that moment it seemed the best possible thing that I could do. I agreed to call the 20 people on the list that he provided. The next night I called eight before going to College Night with my daughter. The following night I called twelve while recovering from a root canal. It wasn't much, but I'm not sure I would have gotten involved if it hadn't been for Steinbeck at that moment.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Under the Tuscan Sun at Home in Italy

Finished Under the Tuscan Sun at Home in Italy by Frances Mayes. This is a lovely, lyric account of Mayes, and her significant other Ed, purchasing and refurbishing a villa in Tuscany. The prose gives away the fact that Mayes is a poet. Their adventures with contractors, plumbers, plasterers and iron mongers are fascinating and humorous. There is a lot of talk of food in the book including recipes for Tuscan dishes. I've already tried the Cherries Steeped in Red Wine with Marscarpone and am looking forward to making Guinea Hens Roasted with Fennel, substituting a small fryer.

I have seen and enjoyed the film that was based on this book. Hollywood turned a memoir into a fun chick flick, but the book, its language, descriptions and meditations on everything from bees to the saints, is far more rich and satisfying. This is a terrific end of summer book to be read in the hammock with a glass of Prosecco on a small table nearby.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Finished Paddle-to-the-Sea written and illustrated by Holling Clancy Holling. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1942. It is the story of an Indian in a canoe, carved by a boy in Canada, and sent on its long voyage to the sea. The story is broken up into numbered sections for each stage of the journey. Many people find the toy canoe and help it along its way. The story is fun, exciting and interesting in its tracing of the path the canoe takes from The Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. The illustrations are colorful and very detailed. The text pages often have diagrams and or maps of the journey. This is a book with quite a lot of text, so it may be more suitable for the upper elementary grades. Holling also won the Newbery Honor Medal in 1949 for Seabird.

As a side note I think it's funny, that up until a few weeks ago I had never heard the name Holling before. Now I've just finished a book about a character named Holling Hoodhood and another one by Holling Clancy Holling.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Wednesday Wars

Just finished The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. It won the Newbery Honor Medal this year. This is the best book I've read in a long time. It's funny, clever, warm, charming, sad and wonderful. Set in 1967/68 it's the story of Holling Hoodhood and his stressful year in seventh grade. Holling, being a Presbyterian, is the only kid at his junior high school who does not attend either Hebrew school or Catholic instruction on Wednesday afternoons, so he must remain at school with his teacher Mrs. Baker. Holling thinks that she hates him. She does not. She assigns a different Shakespeare play each month for him to read and for the two of them to discuss. Holling's exposure to Shakespeare gives him insight into the challenges of everyday life on Long Island during a year that brought bad news from Vietnam, and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Bobby Kennedy. Holling grapples with family discord, first love, bullies, danger and Shakespeare. Observing that Holling blatantly lacks the support most kids get at home, Mrs. Baker backs him up time and again, helping him to achieve numerous personal triumphs.

The plays Holling reads are The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Julius Ceasar, Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet. Schmidt won the Newbery Honor Medal in 2004 as well for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.

I laughed out loud many times and cried a few as well with this book. I highly recommend it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Make Way for Ducklings

I have a wonderful hardcover edition of Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. The dust jacket is torn in many places. I am so very fond of this book. This copy was given to me by my great uncle Sidney who purchased it for me at Lauriat's Books in Boston in 1966. Growing up in the Boston area the book was very real to me. I remember chasing ducks at the reservoir in Brookline and riding in the swan boats in the Public Garden.

Make Way for Ducklings won the Caldecott Medal in 1942. It is the story of two mallards who wish to raise a family in the Boston area but have trouble finding a safe and sensible spot to raise ducklings. McCloskey's charcoal drawings are so charming and warm that I've never wanted to eat duck as a result. The book has been deemed The Children's Book of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In 1987 a bronze statue of the mother mallard and her eight ducklings was installed in the Public Garden as a tribute to McCloskey. A similar statue was also installed in a park in Moscow.

McCloskey won the Caldecott Medal again in 1958 for Time of Wonder. He won the Caldecott Honor Medal several times, Blueberries for Sal (1949), One Morning in Maine (1953) and Journey Cake Ho! (1954).

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pollyanna Grows Up

Finished Pollyanna Grows Up. Published in 1915, this is Eleanor Porter's sequel to her bestseller Pollyanna. Perhaps not as delightful as the first novel, the sequel has interesting new characters and a mystery. This book is a bit of an emotional roller coaster, but in the end of course everyone is exceedingly glad.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Chester Cricket's New Home

Finished Chester Cricket's New Home. This is the fifth book in George Selden's series about Chester and his friends. The first book A Cricket in Times Square won the Newbery Honor Medal in 1961. As with the rest of the books in the series this one was illustrated by Garth Williams.

Chester's home in the country, an old tree stump, is accidentally destroyed. Many of Chester's friends step up to offer him a place to stay. While they all mean well, they are pretty challenging housemates. Chester grows so discouraged that he considers ending it all, but his friends Walter Water Snake and Simon Turtle have a surprise for him.

This book is charming. The prose is quite beautiful in spots. Eventually everything gets sorted out and Chester has a new home for himself and his little bell. His happiness is great. The final words of the book are "It was late in an August afternoon, but the world felt deep and tall and wide. It felt--as it always should--like new."

Monday, September 8, 2008

Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man

Finished Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man by her daughter Pat Hitchcock O'Connell and Laurent Bouzereau. This was a book from my wishlist which I received several years ago, but only just got around to. It begins as a biography of Alma Reville, the woman who married Alfred Hitchcock, but later becomes more of a full family portrait, incorporating many of Pat's memories of her parents. The book includes quite a few black and white snapshots which really add to the charm of the book.

Alma was very involved with Hitchcock's work, collaborating on many of the screenplays for his films (with and without credit). The book describes a very loving relationship between the couple and includes anecdotes from family friends and colleagues. A few reviews I've read are critical of the breezy tone of this book. It is not meant to be a scholarly biography. It's really a personal memoir written by the daughter of a very generous, active and creative couple. It's a good hammock read.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Smoky the Cowhorse

Finished Smoky the Cowhorse, written and illustrated by Will James. It won the Newbery Medal in 1927. I adored this book.

Smoky is born wild, but later captured and trained as a cowhorse by a cowboy named Clint. Clint has a keen understanding of horses and realizes early on that Smoky is not an average horse. Smoky is very intelligent and willing to learn and eventually becomes the most valuable horse around. Clint forms a very strong attachment to Smoky which adds to the emotional pull and charm of this book.

Sadly, life is not always wonderful for Smoky and a series of negligent and ignorant owners almost put an end to him. My daughter warned me, and I already knew, that almost all animal books, like almost all animal films, have moments of sorrow that are hard to take. Smoky the Cowhorse is no exception.

The story is exciting, even gripping at times. James' illustration are excellent and really portray the sheer mass and strength of horses. The narrator's voice is reminiscent of various characters played by Chill Wills over the years, filled with cowboy twang and vernacular. It really added to my enjoyment of this book.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

April's Kittens

April's Kittens by Clare Turlay Newberry won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1941. It's the story of a little girl named April who lives in a very small apartment in New York City with her mother, her father and their cat Sheeba. April's father has made it very clear that they live in a one cat apartment. So when Sheeba has three kittens, April must choose to keep only one cat.

Like those in her book Barkis, Newberry's illustrations are soft and dreamy. You can almost touch the fur of the kittens. The drawings are black with small red details, like kitten tongues lapping up milk. There is a lot of text, so this may be a read aloud or read together book. The tension of deciding which cat to keep is stressful, but the resolution is good. Newberry won the Caldecott Honor Medal four times.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

They Were Strong and Good

They Were Strong and Good, written and illustrated by Robert Lawson, won the Caldecott Medal in 1941. It is the story of Lawson's parents and grandparents and their lives in America during the nineteenth century. It details the childhoods of each family member and how each couple met. The text is facile and slight with full page black and white illustrations on each facing page. Lawson had illustrated two previous winners Four and Twenty Blackbirds (Caldecott Honor 1938) and Wee Gillis (Caldecott Honor 1939).

This was another interlibrary loan book for me, from the Rochester Hills Public Library. The edition I read was a hardcover reprint from 1965. Wikipedia indicates that two revisions were made to the text. The deletion of words "tame ones" after a mention of Indians, and changing the words "colored boy" to "Negro slave." These changes took place after 1965 since the original text was still intact in the edition I read. Despite the revisions the book is still considered controversial.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Good Earth

Finished The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. It won the Pulitzer in 1932. It is the story of Wang Lung, a farmer in China during the early 20th Century, and the changes that he, his family and China go through during his lifetime. The book is pretty bleak at times, but an excellent read. Buck's understanding of family politics is strong. The role of women in Chinese culture of the time was also very interesting. The Good Earth is the first book in The House of Earth Trilogy which also includes Sons and A House Divided. Buck became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I'd forgotten how much I love this book. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1940. It is the story of a little girl, living at a boarding school in Paris, who one day must have an appendectomy. When she is convalescing after her surgery her classmates come to visit her. She shows them her scar and all the lovely gifts sent to her by her papa. The girls are envious.

I first encountered the book while working at a day camp in the early 80s. The camp took place at a private school during the summer. On rainy days we'd take the children into classrooms and rummage through boxes of books and toys for things to do. I found a beat up copy of Madeline in one of the boxes and read it to my group of four and five year olds.

I remembered the book fondly, but did not come across it again until my daughter was born in 1992. I wanted to build her a library of classic picture books. Shopping at a wonderful (and sadly gone) children's bookstore in Nickel's Arcade in Ann Arbor, called The Hundred Acre Wood, I was delighted to find that there were other Madeline books as well and snapped them all up in hardcover. My daughter and I were especially fond of this first in the series and read it often.

The book has been in a storage box in the basement with all of her other picture books. I dug it out last night and sat down to read it for my Caldecott project. Reading it seemed unnecessary for as I started I realized that I knew the book by heart, anticipating the next line before I turned the page. Some of our favorite lines were, "To the lion in the zoo, Madeline just said 'pooh-pooh'" and at the end when all the little girls are crying and Miss Clavel "expecting a disaster, runs fast, and then faster" the little girls all say, "Boo-hoo, we want our appendix out too." The language is simple, rythmic and rhyming, easy for children to memorize. The illustrations are colorful, fun and relaxed. This is a lovely book.

The Trees

Finished The Trees, the first book in Conrad Richter's Awakening Land Trilogy. It's the story of the Luckett family, mother, father and four children, who move from Pennsylvania to the untouched forests of Ohio in the late 18th Century. They are the first people to settle there and life is strange and hard. The artifacts and colloquialisms of the time are deftly woven into the story. The only other book I've read of woodsy life is Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods, which was much less raw and set about a hundred years later and much farther west. The characters in The Trees are interesting and well drawn. This is a very unusual book.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Rim of the Prairie

Finished The Rim of the Prairie by Bess Streeter Aldrich. This is Aldrich's second novel, published in 1925. Set in Nebraska it tells the story of the old folks who broke the prairie and the young ones now living amidst them in the tamed result. The characters are very genuine. The story held my interest and had a satisfying resolution to a mystery that was woven throughout. I picked the book up at the Chelsea, Michigan library sale, in the charming old downtown location, before the new modern library opened.

Abraham Lincoln

Finished Abraham Lincoln by Ingri D'Aulaire and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire, husband and wife illustrators. The book tells the story of Lincoln from his boyhood. At times it feels a bit like a tall tale, with Lincoln portrayed as a local folk hero. The illustrations are bright and interesting, but at times a bit odd. There is one drawing of Lincoln with his arms raised over his head and sunbeams fanning out behind him, making him look like a saint. The story ends just after the Civil War, but before his assasination. This surprised me since one of the first things that kids learn about Lincoln is that he was shot. The book won the Caldecott Medal in 1940.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Gift from the Sea

Finished Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I purchased it at the Kerrytown Book Fair one year. I found it to be rather dated in its discussion of the inner life of womankind. This is not surprising since it was written in 1955. The shell motifs used to define each chapter are clever, but I'm afraid a found the book a bit dull.

Years of Grace

Finished Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes, which won the Pulitzer in 1931. It follows the story of Jane Ward, a fourteen year old girl, living in in Chicago in the late 1800s. We follow Jane as she grows up, experiences the three loves of her life, and sees the world around her change drastically. It was interesting to see certain products like saccharine and Karo appear in homes. The reader also sees the landscape of Chicago change as well. It's a grounded story. The characters are very real as are their situations. A great family saga novel. I really enjoyed it.

There were times when the book reminded me of The Forsyte Saga. Imagine my delight when Jane is at the reading of her father-in-law's will and remembers the passage "Soames Forsyte would cut up a very warm man."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Another List

According to The Big Read the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they’ve printed. Hmmm...probably true, but let's give it a try.

Below is a list of the top 100, with instructions for how to post the meme on your blog.

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.
4) Put a line through the books you HATE.
5) Post your list in your blog.

1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19. The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch - George Eliot
21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34. Emma - Jane Austen
35. Persuasion - Jane Austen
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40. Winnie the Pooh - A A Milne
41. Animal Farm - George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables - L M Montgomery
47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50. Atonement - Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52. Dune - Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72. Dracula - Bram Stoker
73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal - Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80. Possession - AS Byatt
81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - E B White
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94. Watership Down - Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

45 read and 7 on my TBR list. I'm pleased to see so much children's literature on the list (14).

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Far Cry from Kensington

Finished A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark. It was not originally on my summer reading list, however, the Anglophiles Anonymous group I belong to on Shelfari decided to read it together, so I picked it up at the library. A somewhat irreverent book, it features one of the quirkiest cast of characters I've ever encountered. Mrs. Hawkins, the narrator leads us through the tale of these characters, some residents of the rooming house where she lives, others colleagues from her "job in publishing." Mrs. Hawkins is extremely capable, extremely reliable, extremely patient, until one day she loses her patience and calls a hack writer to his face what she has called him in her head for a very long time. This phrase, while pretty accurate, causes her to lose several jobs and starts a chain of bizarre events, that while comic, are rather tragic as well. This was a weird book. Spark employs the phrase a few times too many for my tolerance, but otherwise it was a quick and amusing read. The only other book by Spark that I've read is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which was excellent of course.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Pickwick Papers

Finally finished The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. It was his first novel and consists of many loosely related adventures of the members of the club. It is easy to see the embryos of later, larger works taking shape in this book, in particular Bleak House and Little Dorrit. Pickwick himself is a lovable, benevolent character who often seems to get himself into scrapes. His manservant Samuel Weller is the real gem of the book. So funny and so logical, he is the antithesis of Jeeves, and yet he seems to get things straightened out very well. He's a character I wish I had as a personal friend.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Borrowers

Finished The Borrowers by Mary Norton last night. Considered a classic of children's literature I found it a little dull. That may be because I would read about two pages each night before I fell asleep, so the story didn't really get going for me until the end. I do like things in miniature, so when The Boy brings the Borrowers items from the abandoned doll's house thinks perked up a bit. I enjoyed Norton's Bedknob and Broomstick a bit more.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dream When You're Feeling Blue

When stuck at Logan Airport for four hours last week I wandered into the Borders there and bought Elizabeth Berg's Dream When You're Feeling Blue. This is the second time I've purchased a Berg novel in the airport. Last year it was A Year of Pleasures. I'd had my eye on this latest book ever since it came out last May. Set in Chicago during World War II, it's the story of the Heaney sisters, their family and the men they love who've gone to war. At times it made me think of Little Women and the sacrifices the sisters make during the Civil War. At other times it reminded me of Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters since there is a lot of relationship juggling going on.

The book was a quick and heartfelt read. Berg obviously did a lot of research, not just historically, but through letters, memiors and personal accounts, in order to deliver the very human story of this novel.

Shen of the Sea

Well I finally finished Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman. It won the Newbery Medal in 1926. It is a collection of Chinese folktales with block print illustrations. Like many of the early Newbery medalists this book was slow for me. The stories themselves were amusing, but I have a hard time getting through collections of stories since they lack a common narrative thread.

Cock a Doodle Doo

Cock a Doodle Doo by Berta and Elmer Hader won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1940. It is the story of a chick who for some unknown reason hatches in a nest of ducklings. The mother duck accepts the chick as her own, but the chick has a hard time trying to live the life of a duck. Eventually the chick runs away towards the sound of a rooster crowing. It is a dangerous journey, but he finally makes it to the farm yard and grows up with other chickens. While slightly reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling, this story is never about appearances, it's more about ability and a sense of belonging.

Berta and Elmer Hader were a husband and wife team who wrote and illustrated many books. Their book The Big Snow won the Caldecott Medal in 1949. Elmer Hader illustrated the cover of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath in 1939.

Anne of the Island

Finished Anne of the Island by Lucy Maude Montgomery, the third and so far the best of the Anne of Green Gables books. Anne is at Redmond College pursuing a B.A. She and her chums rent a cottage in town and share many triumphs and setbacks. For those interested in Anne and Gilbert this is a suspenseful book. That's all I'm going to say...

A Little Maid of Nantucket

I really enjoyed A Little Maid of Nantucket by Alice Turner Curtis. This is one of a series of twenty five books she wrote about girl characters living in colonial settings. The main character Prissie is brave and daring and helps to signal Nantucket boats that are heading towards British war ships. Curtis' research of the setting is thorough. I found the book to be an exciting read and would recommend the series as great books for girls to read.

I purchased my copy, published in 1926, last month at the Ann Arbor Antiquarian Book Fair. I was very excited to find it there since I had been unable to get the book through interlibrary loan. Soon after I purchased it the library notified me that it had become available. Out of curiosity I went down and picked it up. It was a library binding edition reprinted in the 1950s with dreadful illustrations. So glad I found the original.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate

The Pursuit of Love and it's sequel Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (published together in this one volume) were the most fun I've had in terms of reading since Christmas. These coming of age between the wars novels are laced with eccentric characters behaving with delightful absurdity. The narrator Fanny, the only grounded character we ever meet, is someone I would have liked to known. Uncle Matthew, with his gross intolerance of everything, this obsession with playing opera on his gramophone and his cracking of bull whips on the lawn at dawn, is probably the most lovable lunatic since P. G. Wodehouse's Roderick Spode. I don't want to say too much more because I don't wish to give anything away. I can recommend these novels very highly to anyone who enjoyed reading Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, is an anglophile and/or likes to laugh out loud.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Marvelous Land of Oz

Finished The Marvelous Land of Oz, the second of L. Frank Baum's 14 Oz books. It was delightful. I read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz aloud to my daughter about eight years ago and at the time was surprised by the violence of the book. I suspect she was just too young for it. There did not appear to be any unnecessary violence in this book. It's very fanciful and humorous, with unique characters who are brought to life by a magic powder. Jack Pumpkinhead and the sawhorse are especially amusing. The illustrations for this and all of the following Oz books were drawn by John R. Neill, who years later actually wrote a few Oz books himself. These black and white drawings are so charming and plentiful, they really added to my enjoyment of the book.

There are many feminist undertones to the story. Tip, the main character of the book, is really a princess transformed into a boy (unbeknownst to him/her), Jinjur's army of girls which dethrones the Scarecrow seems a bit of a joke with their vain priorities and their knitting needles for weapons. However, Glinda's army of women with sabers is very professional and efficient.

Glinda, Tip, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man (aka Jack Chopper), Jack Pumpkinhead, the Highly Magnified and Thoroughly Educated Wogglebug and the Sawhorse are all trying to locate Ozma, the lost Princess of Oz. They suspect that Mombi the witch knows where the princess is and try to question her about this. Mombi works various transformations of herself and others to fool Glinda. Glinda is too clever to be fooled for long and at one point remarks that no self respecting sorceress would work a transformation because it is dishonest. This line really stood out to me.

When I was little I used to be dropped off for story hour on Saturday morning at the Children's Room of the Nantucket Atheneum. They had all the Oz books in hardcover on a shelf. I used to look at them lined up, with a character's face on each spine, and long to read them all someday. I guess I will.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Ageless Story

Finished The Ageless Story by Lauren Ford. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1940. This is a strange book. It begins with a letter from Ford to her goddaughter, telling her about Gregorian chants and how they were almost lost during the Renaissance. Next follows the legend of Saint Anne followed by the story of the life of the Christ Child in the words of the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke. The text is quite small and tight. After all this text there are facing pages with illuminated Gregorian chants (score included) and very detailed illustrations for The Ageless Story with captions underneath. The illustrations are the oddest part. They depict the story of the birth of Christ and his boyhood, but seem to be set in 19th Century New England.

When the angel appears to Saint Anne in the garden there is a large green watering can with a red "A" on it (um, hmmmm.....bizarre Hester Prin reference???) When the Virgin Mary is born there are patchwork quilts all over the bedroom. Houses in the background of the illustrations are white clapboard with green shutters. When the angel appears to the Virgin Mary, Mary is dressed in an Amish style outfit with a halo above her little white cap. Joseph appears in several pictures in what looks like a mohair coat and carrying a red and green carpet bag. As Jesus grows to be a young boy the family is shown sitting in a New England parlor with a grandfather clock, a kerosene lamp and ornate wallpaper on the wall. I'm sure that these illustrations are engaging for children in their gentleness and intense detail, but the whole thing seems a bit surreal to me.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Forest Pool

Finished The Forest Pool, written and illustrated by Laura Adams Armer. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1939. Set in Mexico, it is the story of Diego and his friend Popo who try to catch an iguana to have in the little zoo they have planned in the garden. The illustrations are soft and vague and vividly colorful. After a failed attempt to lure the iguana home with an orange from the garden, Diego's father brings the iguana home for Diego to hold. In the end the iguana runs away into the woods. Diego's mother tells him, "The iguana must live in the dark woods my child. It is not good to keep him in a zoo....You must learn, too, that everything must be free to live in its own home in its own way." Well said.

Another interlibrary loan, this book came from the Education Library at Wayne State University in Detroit. The edition I read was printed in 1938 and has the same cover you see here. Laura Adams Armer also won the Newbery Medal in 1932 for her book Waterless Mountain.

Laughing Boy

Finished Laughing Boy by Oliver La Farge. It won the Pulitzer in 1930. It's the story of a young Navajo man who marries a woman who was born a Navajo, but who was taken from her family and sent to an an American school as a young girl. There she was made to turn her back on her heritage and assimilate. When she meets Laughing Boy she feels that she has finally found someone to bring her back to the Navajo way of life. The novel is the story of their relationship. It is an interesting juxtaposition of American and Native American culture in the early 20th century.

I liked this book. It was an easy read. There were moments of personal honor that reminded me of Shane. La Farge was concerned with the rights of Native Americans and served as president of the Association on American Indian Affairs.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Tales from Silver Lands

How do I hate this cover....let me count the ways. I read the 1924 edition from the University Library. It had wonderful block prints inside. The publisher should have used one of those for the cover.

Tales from Silver Lands by Charles J. Finger won the Newbery Medal in 1925. It is a collection of folktales from Central and South America. Reminiscent of Kipling's Just So Stories these are wonderful, original stories that seemed more like fairy tales than folk tales. In general I prefer to read novels because there is a long story to get engrossed in. So it took me quite a long time to finish this book. Reading individual tales is much less satisfying to me, so my interest wanes easily. Sigh...the next medalist, Shen of the Sea is a collection of Chinese folk tales....

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Barkis by Clare Turlay Newberry is a lovely book for families to read together. The 1966 edition I read is a large square book. It would be nice for a child and a grown up to each hold an end of it as the story is read. The text is fairly dense, so smaller children will need someone to read it to them. There is sibling rivalry over a new puppy in the family. This is resolved very reasonably. The drawings are soft, velvety, dreamy. It's a charming book that won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1939.

This was another interlibrary loan book. It came from the Community District Library in New Lothrop, MI, Northeast of Flint. Markings in the book indicate that it was once called the Twin Township Library. The back of the book says, "Hand-set in Weiss Antiqua type by Arthur Rushmore and Elaine Rushmore at the Golden Hind Press, Madison, New Jersey, 1938."

Clare Turlay Newberry won the Caldecott Honor several other times for April's Kittens (1941), Marshmallow (1943) and T-Bone, the Baby Sitter (1951).

Monday, April 21, 2008

The House on Mango Street

My daughter is reading Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street for her Women's Lit class. This was one of the books on the syllabus that I hadn't read. I really enjoyed it. It's quite short. Made up of little vignettes. It's the story of 12 year old Esperanza coming of age in a Latino neighborhood in Chicago. This book won The American Book Award in 1985.

The vignettes contain numerous finely detailed characters. The prose is quite beautiful, even poetic. At one point Esperanza describes her mother's voice, singing along with a record of Madame Butterfly that she has checked out of the library, her lungs velvety and strong like morning glories.

Esperanza checks many books out of the library and reads quite a lot of children's lit classics, including The Water Babies, Rip Van Winkle and "The Carpenter and the Walrus" from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. This is the second time in the last few months that Rip Van Winkle has come up. I really should get around to reading that...

Wee Gillis

Finished Wee Gillis, written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1939. This is Lawson's second Honor Medal. The story is set in Scotland. Wee Gillis, whose full name is Alistair Roderic Craigellachie Dalhousie Gowan Donney-bristle MacMac (!!!!), alternates living with his mother's relations in the Lowlands tending cows, and his father's relations in the Highlands stalking stags. In both scenarios he exerts himself in ways that make his lungs strong. Eventually he is forced to choose his path in life, become a Lowlander or a Highlander. Just at the point when all his relations expect him to choose, who comes along but a bagpiper. It was easy to see where this was going, which is fine. It's an original story that shows children that it's okay to choose a different path.