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Archive for the ‘Children's books’ Category

There is a place for everything. Toothbrush in vanity cabinet, laundry down the chute, clothes in the closet, dishes in the cupboard – and books in piles everywhere!

“Esperanza Rising” sat patiently on a pile next to my side of the bed. “Christmas Jars” was in a basket of Christmas books, which I always intend to read during December but never get to until January. It is all for the better. I seem to enjoy them more in the quiet, post holiday calm. A few select books sit on a stool, waiting for future book discussions, while a staggering stack of histories precariously balance on a wobbly, wooden chair, estate and garage sale “finds” that  begged to be brought home on various excursions.

My reading habits tend to be a bit eclectic, wandering from poetry to cookbooks, short stories to expansive tomes, and there is always time for children and young adult books, which is where one of my most recent “reads” took me.

“Esperanza Rising” is a middle grade book by Pam Muñoz Ryan. The book was a gift my son-in-law thought I might enjoy. He knows me well. I did, even if  it took me a year to finally open it up and read it.

Esperanza in the daughter of a wealthy Mexican landowner in the 1930s. She lives being catered to by servants, adored by her father, coddled by her loving grandmother, and loved by her Mama. She is an only child whose privileged life quickly changes when her father is murdered. His stepbrothers, powerful men in the region, leverage their influence and power to take over the estate. When Esperanza’s mother refuses to marry one of the uncles, they awaken to find the house on fire in the middle of the night.

With the help of Esperanza’s grandmother’s sisters in a nearby convent, Esperanza and her mother, Ramona, flee the estate. They are hidden in a wagon by servants, whose lives are also threatened by the uncles. They embark upon the long, treacherous migration to California. Along the way, Esperanza learns to find the goodness in those less fortunate in life than she has been. She learns kindness and humility as well as acceptance of others.

When these migrants finally arrive, they are taken in by relatives of their previous servants – the very servants that save them on the journey to California. Life is hard for Esperanza, sleeping in crowded quarters, their shelter not much more than a horse stall. Her privileged life is replaced by hard work, taking care of the babies and younger children while the men and women work in the fields. Miguel, her friend from Mexico, is the son of the man who transports them to California. He teaches her how to do one of the jobs she is assigned to – sweeping with a broom! She learns how to change a diaper and how to clean it, how to cook beans and how to survive.

When a dust storm whips through the work camp, Esperanza’s mother takes ill with valley fever (dust fever) and is hospitalized for a very long time. Esperanza takes over work her mother did and works hard to earn money to bring her grandmother to California.

“Esperanza Rising” is a story, based on the author’s own grandmother’s migration in the ’30s, from Mexico to California. It is the story of the unrest in Mexico and the migrant experience during the Great Depression, as well as the story of crop production, following the seasons in southern California.

The back pages of my copy provided insight into the author’s own grandmother’s migration. It also gave some recipes of food mentioned in the book (don’t you love the inclusion of recipes in a novel?) Also provided were the steps in making a yarn doll. Yarn dolls and afghan making play an important role in this book. Esperanza’s grandmother, Abuelita, teaches her how to crochet, instructing her to go up and down valleys in her stitches, incorporating strands of her hair that have fallen into the blanket. When they leave under the cloak of darkness, Ambieta gives the unfinished blanket to Esperanza. Mama works on the blanket at times in the story, soothing Esperanza, teaching her, and then Esperanza picks up the blanket when Mama is in the hospital near death.

While on the train (part of the journey to California), Mama takes pieces of yarn and makes a yarn doll for an impoverished little girl they meet.

Here is one of my first attempts at making a yarn doll. Rather pitiful, I admit.  I’ll attempt a few more as I reflect on this exceptional children’s book and attack one of my biblio-piles.

(PS – I’ll do a  post soon on some of the other books I’ve been engaged in.)

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Mr. Crow looks rather dashing, perched atop our Christmas tree, as he governs the woodland creatures below. He wears a red bowtie that he found on his long-ago travels. It ribbons its way through branches where nature inspired ornaments congregate until Epiphany. A raccoon, near wind fallen birds’ nests, sits gnawing upon a branch.  The nests were discovered after heavy winds rumbled through our little acreage as time has gone by. A dove flutters nearby, keeping the peace in this little December kingdom, and a bluebird rests in his favorite spot.

Our nature-inspired Christmas tree faces the front gardens, the road and beyond. It is in the room where we sit to hopefully spot the roaming herd of deer or to watch wintering birds find seeds or squirrels who scamper about looking for walnuts still scattered from Fall. This is where we sometimes see horses trotting past before disappearing into the woods . It is where we read, reflect, chat and dream. This room was christened “the Christmas room” by our granddaughter, Kezzie, when she was very young. It has been forevermore called just that.

Our woodland tree “just happened” our first Christmas here on the Cutoff. A real tree stood twelve feet tall in the family room. It held many family ornaments, lent fragrance and nostalgia to our home. We also had room for a second, artificial tree, which  came about that first winter here as I took out my mother’s collection of birds. The birds fondly reminded me of Ma, who was the person who first brought the tradition of Christmas trees into the big Greek family she married into. I have some of the ornaments that adorned that tree of the 1940’s and I treasure them, but, I digress.

As Ma’s birds took to their places on the woodland tree,  so did other ornaments that reflected on nature. As time went on, other birds appeared, as did other animals. I have several penguins, sheep, deer and  along with a few woodland creatures that had belonged to Tom’s sister, Maura. One-by one, year-by-year, other creatures of nature were hung on our woodland tree – and then I found the crow!

I no longer remember where he appeared, but, I do remember feeling compelled to bring him home. He reminded me of storybook about a crow, a ribbon, and a Christmas surprise.

(cover of Merry Christmas, Merry Crow by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jon Goodell)

Mr. Crow also reminded me of the illustrations, craftwork and lifestyle of Tasha Tudor.

(From Tasha Tudor’s Heirloom Crafts)

I have adored Tasha Tudor’s work for so many years, own many of her books, books she illustrated, prints, etc. and have written about her on the pages of Life on the Cutoff. Her book, “Edgar Allan Crow”, immediately came to mind when Mr. Crow found me, as did photos of her ravens and crows in some of her Christmas illustrations and photos of her craftsmanship in a series of lifestyle books about her some years ago.

There are legends of crows, including the one who overhead animals proclaim the birth of baby Jesus. The crow, it is said, flew across the land spreading the news to other birds. There are other fanciful tales of birds adorning holiday trees, along with poetry, song and on and on. Perhaps you know few.

There are also my own memories of birds and Christmas, starting with the Christmas Yia Yia, my paternal grandmother, was given a parakeet on Christmas. Christos was quite the talker, learned all sorts of phrases, many in Greek, along with some bawdy songs. These are stories for other days and part of family lore. There was also Frannie, my lovebird, a birthday gift. She loved to be out of her cage and was really everyone’s bird. She joined us for supper, perched on Tom’s shoulder and watched the 10 o’clock news, and followed our daughters around the house. Frannie was out other cage on her first Christmas with us, chirping and fluttering and being a bird. Suddenly, she disappeared! We called to her, checked the other rooms, and kept an eye out for her as we opened presents, wondering where she was. As wonderings often reveal, I saw something move, ever-so-slightly, out of the corner of my eye. Aha! There she was, perched like an ornament, watching us all, on a branch of the Christmas tree!

So, it is, that a crow crowns our Christmas tree – and will forever more.

 

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I closed the cover of Delia Owens’ enthralling novel, “Where the Crawdads Sing” with a few tears in my eyes and the sadness one sometimes feels at the end of a story well written – and an ending one did not expect. As I put this book down, I realized that it has been a long while since I last posted any book recommendations or reviews. Actually, it has been some time since I posted anything, for which I apologize. I hope to return to posting more often.

“Where the Crawdads Sing” came to me from my dear friend Elaine, who rushed up to me, book in hand, and said “you have to read this“. She was correct, I did. Once opened, it was a book I could not put down. How Kya survives abuse, abandonment, loneliness, poverty and being ostracized from the community while creating a family of sorts with wildlife and waterfowl is amazing. It lives up to all the hype and worth a read. Our book group will be discussing it at a future date – a discussion I look forward to.

These two books (below) were audio, from local libraries, “read” while I was out and about in my old car that had 6 slots for DVD’s – one of the few things I will miss from that now ancient vehicle. You know, the one with the latte body and mocha interior. (or was it mocha with latte interior?).

“The Library at the Edge of the World” was a delight to listen to about returning home, belonging, family conflict and, of course, books! “Becoming Mrs. Lewis” was equally delightful. It is historical fiction about Joy Davidman’s life, friendship and love of C.S. Lewis.

 

 

“A Fatal Twist of Lemon” by Patrice Greenwood is the first of several books in a murder mysteries series, the Wisteria Tearoom Mysteries. The books are set in and around a haunted house/tearoom located in Santa Fe. Mystery, murder, historic preservation, opera, seances, weddings, culture – you name it, the series is delightful. Short in length, they are best read on a winter afternoon with a cup of tea and a tasty morsel (a few recipes are included in the books).  This first book of the series, found in the library, was truly a book judged by its cover.

 

 

 

Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore is a small, charming, well established purveyor of histories and mysteries in Forest Park, just barely outside of the boundaries of the City of Chicago.  It is a bit out-of-the-way for me, but, worthy of a trip a few times a year to see what they have on the shelves over their unique plaid carpeting, and their knowledgeable and conversational owner. I think of Sherlock Holmes whenever I enter.

The bookshop has books concerning Chicago and the surrounding area and holds many events at the store, including book signings and author lectures. If I lived closer, I would be there all the time. I stopped in one chilly spring afternoon and was drawn to this short novel about a teenaged girl, Sarah, who is the second daughter of Jewish immigrants. Sarah’s family lives in a multi-cultural neighborhood surrounding Hull House during the late 19th century. Sarah wants to be an artist. Her father is a butcher, the shop close by, her mother holds a secret from the past, her brother is often ill, her older sister has romantic interests with a young Irish lad – and the Columbian Exhibition is about to open. Juvenile/young adult fiction, I enjoyed reading this. My father’s family settled in this area, his parents immigrants, his friends of many different cultures. When I was in 5th or 6th grade, our class had a field trip to Hull House, leading me to want to learn all about Jane Addams (who makes a few appearances in the book). A short read, “Her Mother’s Secret” by Barbara Garland Polikoff is a book you might enjoy.

One afternoon, some time ago, I had our local WGN/Chicago radio station turned on in the car. Do any of you listen to John Williams, or listen to local personality in your area on the radio?  John was reviewing and praising a book he couldn’t put down, “The Feather Thief:  Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century”” by Kirk Wallace Johnson. I was so intrigued by John’s enthusiasm that I purchased “The Feather Thief”, only to let it sit and collect dust. My garden club will be discussing it early in 2020, so, I opened the pages and was immediately immersed in the history of bird and feather collecting and categorizing in the 19th century, detailing the places scientists, ornithologists, and others traveled to collect exotic birds, skins and feathers for ladies’ hats –  and for salmon fishing lures in the Victorian era. They travelled in harsh, hazardous conditions, obliterating species for fashion, sport and greed.

But wait – there is more.

The book begins with a  20 year old flautist, Edwin Rist, a gifted, talented American, who, in 2009, hops on a train after performing at the the Royal Academy of Music in London. Under the cloak of darkness, Edwin travels to the Tring Museum at the British Museum of Natural History, climbs a wall, breaks a window and methodically steals hundreds of rare bird skins, coveted by salmon fly-tiers, of which Edwin is one, and hold many awards.  This is a fascinating, true story of ornithology, fashion, the fly-tying craze, environmental issues, autism, the internet, crime – and more.

What are you reading?

Centuries and Sleuths – https://www.centuriesandsleuths.com

 

 

 

 

 

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“When the girl returned, some hours later, she carried a tray, with a cup of fragrant tea steaming on it; and a plate piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb. The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender, of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.”
― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

A trip Up North usually, happily, involves a bowl, ingredients, stirring and baking and more than one cook in the kitchen.

Not hot buttered toast, nor contented cats, but, the quote is a favorite of mine, as are these two cherished charmers.


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Knock Knock

Who’s there?

Owl. Owl who?

Owl good things come to those who wait.
IMG_3416

Well . . .

I waited and waited, for many months, and then, when I least expected it, on a blustery Thursday morning, opportunity came knocking. Early for an engagement, I parked my car and realized I was right across the street from a newer bookstore I’ve been wanting to visit. With forty minutes to spare and opportunity calling, I crossed the street, walked a few more steps and, I opened the door.

This is what I found this inside.

IMG_3417

It looks like a kitchen. Well, it really IS a kitchen. It is a kitchen, inside a bookstore, which is inside a furniture store.There are often cooking classes at Prairie Path Books, with food authors come by, and there is a tasty collection of cookbooks and memoirs that are sure to tempt my palate.

Book clubs are invited inside for their discussions. There is even a nicely appointed room where food and drinks are welcome, not to mention a discount on the books they are reading and discussing.

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Prairie Path Books is owned and operated  by women who have a vision for books and bookstores that align with what I always feel a bookstore should be. It sits inside Toms-Price, a long-established furniture store in downtown Wheaton. We own a cabinet from the store.

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The poetry and humor section and a wall of greeting cards grabbed my attention as soon as I stepped inside. A tasteful array of books the store recommends, with seasonal home decorations take their place on a book table, some books with personal notes attached, or newspaper articles about an author cleverly tucked inside. I was amazed at the attention to detail and applaud the exquisite reading selections in all genres.

Can a bookstore have a sense of self? I think this one does. It knows what readers who answer the knocking of opportunity want to read.BookcoverCROPPED-198x300

The younger set? A cozy little room and an open larger reading area where several children were reading or imagining with parents nearby. The store offers an array of children’s bookish activities as well as a large selection of children’s books.

Prairie Path Books has the perfect chairs for sitting upon with a potential read, but, of course it would, it is housed in a furniture store!

My meeting time was nearing, so, I picked up the small volume that caught my eye when I first walked in, Marilynne Robinson’s  book of essays, “When I Was a Child I Read Books”. I made my purchase, and vowed to return to Prairie Path Books when I had a little more time for a closer ‘book look”.

Owl good things DO come to those who wait.

IMG_3420

 http://www.jokes4us.com/knockknockjokes/knockknockanimaljokes.html *

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William James Glackens (American artist, 1870-1938) Portrait of PennyI seem to be in a bit of book lag; I pick them up, put them down, forget where I put them, go on to another, find the first . . . the point is that I’m in one of those passages in life where I am not getting hooked in the first chapters.  It is not the fault of the writers but of myself.  I seem to be in a distracted spell, needing a magic wand to whisk me back to literature.

I have three library books, now overdue, that need rapid transit to the library. They have been renewed so many times that they are now non-renewable. Does that ever happen to you?

I keep meaning to start “The Light We Cannot See”; even more so now that the author, Anthony Doerr was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

“Ironweed”, by William Kennedy, has been gathering dust along with “Spook”, by Mary Roach and a host of other books that are begging me to opening them up – and keep them open.  I will.  I know I will. Sometimes a book just needs to bide its time until the words resting inside become comfortable on the reader’s eyes. Like the books about me, I was biding my time.

I’ve been busy with our garden and the garden club, household chores and my many activities, life in progress. I did find time to stop in at charming gift shop in nearby Clarendon Hills.  Ebenezer’s is filled with antiques and vintage items, ribbons and cards, jewelry and dolls – and a lovely  collection of teacups and serving plates. I wandered around, the music of Downton Abbey floating through the air as I hobbled up the wooden staircase, admiring a table set with flow blue, old cookbooks and glassware, before returning to the main floor, whose boards squeaks in that companionable way that old floorboards have of telling their tale. I checked out the jewelry and stuffed animals, then noticed the wide array of classic, and soon-to-be classic, children’s literature.

Do you know what I found?  It was a book I’ve been looking for ever since seeing a documentary last winter about children’s author/illustrator Virginia Lee Burton. Virginia Lee Burton: A Sense of Place, is wonderful production about her life, her marriage, her family and her work. Many of you know “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” and “Katy”. I’d forgotten about “Choo Choo”, which I bought for our Ezra, who love, love, loves trains and hoped to one day find “The Little House” after seeing the documentary.

“The Little House” is available online and at bookstores, but, I had it in my mind to find it, just like the great great granddaughter of the man who first built the little house finds it in Burton’s story, I needed to find “The Little House”, and I did, there in the charming shop called Ebenezer’s, late in the afternoon. It seemed to be waiting for me to come upon it, to open its covers, and to bring it home.

This is an endearing children’s story, which is really about urban development encroaching upon country life. This little house is built on a hillside  looking out over the pastures and fields and up to the sun and the moonlit skies. As the pages turn, trees and farms and schools and roads, then stores and trains and skyscrapers appear until the little house is alone on a city street, sad and boarded up, no longer relevant (or so it seems), until a young woman walks by and remembers her great great grandfather’s house.

Historic preservation in a children’s book, written mid-twentieth century, “The Little House” is refereed to as Rachel Carson for kids. First published in 1942, this is a cautionary tale for adults as much as a sweet storybook for children.

I brought “The Little House” home and settled upon the rocker which Tom’s great grandfather rocked, in my own 90+ year old house. Some of the resident herd of deer were grazing on the clear cut lot next door. A hawk circled overhead, then a raucous gaggle of geese. There are remnants of an apple orchard and walnut trees stain the street with their bounty. Our soil was once tilled as farmland and old traps can be found when wandering about. It is as idyllic as it is not,  bounded by a road cut off and two major highways, a railroad yard close by and sloughs as ancient as the earth itself but a few miles away. As I rocked and read my newfound book reminded me of how children’s literature can snap me out of a bit of book lag and carry me home to where I ought to be.

Then, I remembered the painting above by William James Glacken, titled Portrait of Penny. A book not yet opened, a cookie to be nibbled, and a bit of the young girl hidden within.

Sigh.  I think I’m over my book lag.

Thelittlehouse

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Unknown`

“This we know: All things are connected like the blood that unites us.  We did not weave the web of life.  We are merely a strand in it.  Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”

Attributed to Chief Seattle.

Cover image from Susan Jeffer’s “Brother Eagle, Sister Sky”.

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