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.