Archive for the ‘Children's books’ Category


There is only one kind of love, but there are a thousand different versions.  

La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

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The Country by Billy Collins15798111

I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice

might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.

Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of the one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe

behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?
Who could not see him rounding a corner,

the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,
the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time—

now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,

lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?

The Mice Hear Simpkin Outside circa 1902 by Helen Beatrix Potter 1866-1943

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Calla lilies and greens in vaseChristmastide flowed gently here on the Cutoff, and we now find ourselves at Epiphany. I’m sure the three “wiseguys” would not have travelled through so many feet of snow and double digit, negative, temperatures to bring their honorable gifts. I started this post nearly a week ago, and here I am, revising it yet again before it goes out on the virtual waves of blogdom.

Our Christmastide activities were somewhat restricted as Tom recovered from surgery, however, we were gifted with more time to enjoy our decorations, holiday music,  movies and the gentle solitude for much of the season.

Personally, I have had more time to read mid-afternoon, teacup in hand, a Christmas cookie swiftly disintegrating into crumbs down my sweater. Somehow, the trappings about me seemed softer, my angel collection sweeter, and the smallest moments crisper.

I had time to peruse my collection of Christmas books at a more leisurely length, enjoying lush volumes with holiday decorations and traditions, reading the treasures of children’s books accrued, and revisiting longtime favorites, such as “One Christmas”, Truman Capote’s memoirs of a childhood Christmas and Philip Van Doren Stern’s “The Greatest Gift”, upon which my favorite movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”,  was based.  If you haven’t discovered either of these gems, you must put them wherever all good book lists go, perhaps in abeyance for next December.

M. C. Beaton kept me entertained, as only she can, with a light Hamish MacBeth Christmas mystery, “A Highland Christmas”,  and I managed to rip through Alan Bennett’s delicious novella, “The Uncommon Reader”, which was a Christmas gift. Have you read this charming and funny story about how the Queen upsets the well-ordered royal apple cart when she starts spending all her time reading? Not known for literary pursuits, her staff, the prime minister, and the Bishop of Canterbury don’t know what to make of her and measures are, um, taken.

I’ve also enjoyed Bess Streeter Aldrich’s collection of short stories, “Journey Into Christmas”, which I first discovered through Nan’s blog, Letters from a Hill Farm. You can find her post about it here. Do wander around her blog where she writes about books, poetry, life on their farm, and often posts the best recipes.

Journey into Christmas

“Journey Into Christmas” was a present one Christmas. I enjoyed some of the stories then, but this year I delved deeper into this collection of homespun stories of simpler times and the soul of Christmas. I was so moved by one of Bess Aldrich’s stories about a family’s hard times at Christmas on the prairie and how the characters made “the best of it” that off to the library I went on New Year’s Eve day to check out her novel, “A Lantern in her Hand”. I ended up returning home with four of Aldrich’s books, which include two volumes of her short stories and essays.

The novel, “A Lantern in her Hand” is based on Aldrich’s own family stories of homesteading on the Nebraska prairie. It $(KGrHqQOKosFG-BUOBtpBR4)r(3JIw~~60_35brings to mind the Little House books, which you know how much I love. As I sit here, finishing up a post that has taken a pilgrimage of time to publish, I am warm and safe in our home amid this deep freeze we, and much of the United States, are in. Our shelves and freezer are full. We have any number of ways of communication at our fingertips, one of which I am employing right now. These are factual stories of a time that seems simpler, but, of course, really were not. I can only imagine the loneliness that must have hung over so many during the devastating winters of the early 1870’s, and truly admire the determination and pure grit that came to be known as the pioneering spirit.

I’ve not minded this gentle flowing Christmastide, with my Tom and my books and my comfort. I’ll hang on to it for a few more days.

Have you read any stories by Bess Streeter Aldrich?

Do you have a favorite or new Christmastide read?

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3992wein_code_name_verity-1“Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein, is a masterpiece of historical fiction, deceptively categorized as Young Adult fiction. It begins “I AM A COWARD” as Verity writes on pieces of paper from a once elegant French hotel, now Gestapo headquarters, where she is being held and tortured after the plane she was ferried in crashes in a French field. It is the fall of 1943.  To stay alive, Verity, a  wireless operator, is penning British code secrets. Each secret she exposes gives her back an article of clothing. She is shunned by other prisoners as she tells her story, Under the watchful eyes of Fräulein Engel, who must translate her writing into German, Verity buys time before her eminent execution, as she weaves a tale of friendship with Maddie, the dead pilot.

Verity, aka Queenie, and Maddie have a friendship unlikely in 1943. Verity has royal blood dating back to Mary Queen of Scots and William Wallace. Her life has been one of culture and finishing schools. Maddie is the daughter of immigrant Russian Jews. She can dismantle an engine, and put it back together; a precise mechanic who dreams of becoming a pilot. One girl becomes a secret agent, the other becomes an aviator, ferrying spies and resistance fighters. It is their friendship that gives them hope and the strength to do what needs to be done. That friendship made me laugh, gasp and it made me cry as much as it made me marvel at the human spirit.

The first half of the book is told through Verity/Queenie’s writing, which begins first on the hotel stationery, then on recipe cards, musical scores, even on prescription pads that bear the name of a Jewish doctor. Through her writing, Verity gives away war secrets as she tells her and Maddie’s story. She also, almost casually, comments on the torture she is subjected to, or of the torture to others that she is forced to witness. With very little description, the horrors of being a prisoner of war are revealed.

Abruptly, Verity’s story ends, and another’s begins, picking up the pace, revealing all manner of clues that were always in Verity’s writing.  To tell you much more would be to expose the whole story. It is the one conundrum that almost every review I read about “Code Name Verity” expresses.  This is a tightly wound tale – and you will not realize how tight it is until this point in the book.  I simply could not put it down, so riveted was I to these pages.

I wish there was a different way to categorize books in the young adult category. YA covers anything between the ages of 12 – 18, though I’ve seen the category go up to 25. That is huge range of skill, knowledge, reading maturity, and it is so confusing. “Code Name Verity” will be found in the young adult section of your library. Don’t be fooled. While it is aimed at readers younger than perhaps you or I, it is a book that is very much for adults as well.  It is in paperback, and, depending on where you call home, has several different dust jackets. I did not like the one pictured here, which is the cover on the copy I read. After I read “Code Name Verity”, I felt it was a fitting cover, after all.

I encourage you to give “Code Name Verity” a try.

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250px-Sadako_and_the_thousand_paper_cranes_00A Thousand Splendid Suns

Anne of a Thousand Days

The 1,000 crane legend

One Thousand White Women; The Journal of May Dodd

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

A Thousand Days:  John F. Kennedy in the White House

One Thousand. A pretty large number for a gal who lives along a winding road that is, in fact cut off. It is a number that I never imagined accumulating when, on a Saturday afternoon in October  of 2009, I sat down, turned on the computer, and thought “I think I’ll write a blog”. I had no idea how to begin, or where I was going. It took me quite a few posts to figure out how to add an image, then a photo, and, joy supreme, when I finally figured out how to download music. For someone technically challenged, it was, well, it was a challenge, indeed.

Slowly, I found you and you found me – and here I sit on my one thousandth blog! Wow! Yikes! Shazaam! OMG! etc., etc., etc.

To each of you who take the time to stop by and visit here on the Cutoff, one thousand thanks and thousands more. You have enriched my life, become my friends, and have followed me along this road called life.

Now, a challenge; can you think of a title to a book, a movie, a song, whatever you choose that has 1,000 in it?

Here’s a song that Tom remembered.

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200px-CharlotteWebThere is a rhythm to making tea that I enjoy; water plinking into the kettle, the tick, tick, tick of the flame igniting, the blue haze of warmth, followed by the slow roll of water, slowly picking up steam. It is my early morning routine. Tom usually sets the kettle up, along with a cup and saucer, before I come down the stairs. They patiently wait for me each morning. The least I can do is patiently wait for the water to boil.

This morning, I wandered, looking out windows and doors to see what wonders nature performed while we slept – or what pots the chipmunks had been rummaging around in. The pots on our deck were looking a little worse for the wear after yesterday’s heat. Still in my pajamas and not wanting to haul the garden hose around, I grabbed the newly emptied milk carton that was sitting, with the same morning patience as  my teacup, to be recycled.  I filled it up with water, opened the door to the deck, and watered my thirsty plants; the hanging petunias, the upright salvias and Lantana, and the sprawling morning glories, which we boasting a few heavenly blue blooms.

Zeus and Athena, two hanging wall pots with the faces of ancient gods, were last on my quest. High up the bricks, they are a little tricky for any heavy watering container, so, are usually the last to get drinks. As I stepped up on the riser, I was enveloped in sticky webbing. The spiders, I thought, are out a bit early, weaving their webs.

I went inside, my tea perfectly brewed, the computer alert and humming, my new day beginning. It was then that I discover that today  is the birthday of E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web.

Of course, but of course, the spiders were out, spinning a morning web in honor of Mr. White’s birthday.

Now, where did I put my copy.

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DSCN1538I actually saw a goose “goose” a goose. In broad daylight!

Ah, well; it’s May. That lusty month of May.

Birds are flitting about, warbling their songs, building their nests. Robins and wrens, sparrows and finch, even the mallards are making way for their ducklings.


I’ve been busy doing spring cleaning in the garden, raking up leaves left on the flower beds from last Autumn, uncovering shoots that seem to burst forth with all the eagerness of a fourth grader once the weather warms and the sun shines. I also uncovered a frog – and a snake, who very rudely stuck his tongue out at me. Imagine that!

We hear there is a fox den under our neighbor’s shed. She counted five kits the other day. I take extra trips out to the compost pile in hopes of seeing them.

pinecones on the cutoff

There is new growth everywhere, from the emerging ferns to the dripping pine cones. Tiny scilla cast long shadows and crocus pop up from under decaying leaves.

Squill with shadows

It’s May! It’s May! The lusty month of May.

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SnowyDayKeatsToday is the birthday of children’s author and illustrator, Ezra Jack Keats. Keats is known for more than twenty books he wrote and illustrated, in addition to many more he illustrated for others. He was a favorite read, especially on a snowy day, when our girls were growing up, and he is still is a favorite of mine.

The first book Ezra Jack Keats wrote and illustrated himself , “The Snowy Day”, was published in 1962. It was awarded the Caldecott Medal for children’s literature in 1963. It was followed by several other books about the little boy you see here on the cover, Peter, and many other books that have entertained and honored childhood for fifty years. “

The Snowy Day” is a simple story of a little boy on a snowy day in the middle of a very big city. It was remarkable for its time in that it was one of the first books for children that depicted a child of color. It remains a classic today.

I was first introduced to Peter on a snowy of my own, in a children’s literature class in college. My “kiddie lit” teacher was a diminutive woman who was often seen carrying teetering piles of children’s picture books out of her office, the Normal Public Library, and the Milner Library on our campus. Her love of children’s books, authors and illustrators and her dedication to bringing literature alive for youngsters in a meaningful way by teaching elementary education majors was contagious (though I had a lingering case of kiddie lit fever from the time I learned to love books on my grandmother’s lap).

When our darling grandson was born, his parents chose the name of Ezra. I could always tell who the elementary school teachers were when I said our grandson’s name was Ezra, for they all said, with gleeful enthusiasm, Ezra Jack Keats!

Our Ezra’s middle name is Petros, the Biblical Greek for Peter. Peter was my father’s name and I will be forever touched by their honoring him so.

Peter and Petros and Ezra and snowy days; they all seemed to float together today like our recent flurry of snowflakes. I was excited learn that today was Mr. Keats’ birthday and I look forward to one day reading some of Ezra’s books to our very own Ezra.

There is a fabulous website about Ezra Jack Keats, his life, his books, his illustrations and more. If you have the time, click on in celebration of his birthday – and of children everywhere. www.ezra-jack-keats.org/introduction/a-biography/

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“Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder. “Little House in the Big Woods”

That little girl’s name was Laura. She grew up to become one of America’s most beloved children’s authors with her books, commonly known as the Little House Books, still in publication.


Today is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthday.

Those of you who have been visiting with me here on the Cutoff for some time know of my love of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her stories growing up on the vast prairies of the midwest in the second half of the 19th century. You know how I often read “The Long Winter” during snowstorms and of my visits to several of the Little House sites, most recently the one in Burr Oak, Iowa. If you are new to my site, or don’t know about the Little House books, please feel free to click onto the links to learn a bit more.

It is “Little House in the Big Woods” that has started countless schoolchildren on the long journey with Laura and her family that begins in the North Woods of Wisconsin and is one of the first “chapter” books read aloud to children in schools.

This one little book. written when Laura was in her sixties, is a chronicle of midwestern settlers who formed and farmed the heartland of the United States.

“Little House in the Big Woods” was followed by more books that chronologically tell of the Ingalls’ journey across frozen Lake Pepin to Minnesota and Iowa and the Dakota territory. Laura Ingalls Wilder brought the pioneer spirit alive. She still does as her books take us into their sod house, log cabins and shanties, enduring grasshopper plagues, near starvation, and illness that leaves Laura’s sister Mary blind.  Ma’s cheery disposition and ability to cook anything and Pa’s fiddle strings playing the girls up to their beds at night and all the adventures, both big and small, continue to entertain, educate and inspire children young and young at heart

I was so excited to learn of her birthday today that I just may stop right here and read the first chapter of “Little House in the Big Woods” . . . well, you know what will happen if I do that, don’t you?

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I am fascinated with hands; little hands, big hands, wrinkled, weathered hands, manicured hands, the hands of gardeners, mechanics, carpenters, surgeons, clergy, musicians and beauticians. They express who we are, what we do, where we’ve been, and sometimes where we are going.

These are Kezzie’s hands, breaking up a Christmas sugar cookie at a Barnes and Noble cafe. She’s my kind of gal, enjoying coffee shops and bookstores. She was so intent on breaking up her cookie – then she saw my muffin. She got a quarter of the muffin. I got one of the cookie pieces.

That’s the way the cookie crumbles.

One of her current favorite books is “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” by Laura Numeroff. It is a circular story that starts with giving a mouse a cookie, then he wants a glass of milk, and on and on until the mouse gets another cookie.

The picture has been sitting on my desktop for a month now, waiting for me and my hands to work with it. I’m ready.

I have my Yia Yia’s hands. Grandma’s hand were large, but, Yia Yia’s were quite small. I’d watch her work in the kitchen, kneading bread, wrapping grape leaves over meatballs for dolmathes, rolling balls of butter cookies. I’d watch her hands. They were never still. Grandma’s weren’t either. She cleaned houses until just before she died at 81. I just didn’t know her as well. My mother had her hands, larger than mine, her knuckles swollen from arthritis and her nails perfectly rounded as if they all wore a smile, no matter how much her hands hurt.

While I don’t have my mother’s hands and my fingernails don’t smile, I tend hold them in ways she did; folded one atop the other in my lap, as if in prayer in front of me, or curved backwards at my side when in a car’s passenger seat, where I always start searching for the house keys long before we arrive home.

Kezzie’s mommy doesn’t have my hands, BUT, she holds them the same way as I do and as her Yia Yia did.

Our Kezzie already has hands that are never still. She’s already “working” cookies. I wonder how she will hold her hands. I wonder what they’ll  say. I just hope she doesn’t give a mouse a cookie.


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