Christmas in Ohio (?), c.1994

From Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake by Cynthia Rylant.

“Mr. Putter loved to give Christmas presents. He started thinking about Christmas presents in July. He liked to think of what he could give to the grocer and to the librarian, and to the postman. Mr. Putter also had to think of what he could give to his neighbor Mrs. Teaberry. This was the hardest of all. He usually had to think about this all the way to December.
Mrs. Teaberry liked strange things. She liked coconuts made into monkey heads. She liked salt shakers that walked across the table. She liked little dresses for her teapots. Mr. Putter could live with monkey heads and walking salt shakers and dressed-up teapots. But Mr. Putter could not believe hat Mrs. Teaberry liked fruitcake. He could not believe that anyone liked fruitcake. . .
He thought Mrs. Teaberry should have a good cake for Christmas. . . And one night as he and Tabby sat dreaming at their snowy window, that is what he decided to gee Mrs. Teaberry for Christmas. Mr. Putter would bake her a Christmas cake. It would be a cinch.
The cake was not a cinch.”

This series of easy readers by Cynthia Rylant has the distinction of being about an elderly man and his elderly neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry, and his cat Tabby. Most children’s books are about children. But I have seen lots of kids enjoy these simple stories about an old man and his simple joys and problems. I enjoy them, too. The other books in the series are:

Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea
Mr. Putter and Tabby Walk the Dog
Mr. Putter and Tabby Pick the Pears
Mr. Putter and Tabby Fly the Plane
Mr. Putter and Tabby Row the Boat
Mr. Putter and Tabby Take the Train
Mr. Putter and Tabby Toot the Horn
Mr. Putter and Tabby Paint the Porch
Mr. Putter and Tabby Feed the Fish
Mr. Putter and Tabby Catch the Cold
Mr. Putter and Tabby Stir the Soup
Mr. Putter and Tabby Write the Book
Mr. Putter and Tabby Make a Wish
Mr. Putter and Tabby Spin the Yarn
Mr. Putter and Tabby See the Stars
Mr. Putter and Tabby Run the Race
Mr. Putter and Tabby Spill the Beans
Mr. Putter and Tabby Clear the Decks
Mr. Putter and Tabby Ring the Bell
Mr. Putter & Tabby Dance the Dance

I wish I had all of these in my library, but at any rate I do have Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake–just in time to inspire me to bake something for Christmas.

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Cybils 2013 Easy Readers and Early Chapter Books

I served on the judging panel for this Cybils category two years ago, and I was introduced to some wonderful books and authors for the 8 and under crowd. Here are a few 2013 nomination suggestions for this category:

Odd Duck by Cecil Castllucci. Friendship, weirdness, and ducks. NOMINATED as a Graphic Novel.

All About Ellie (The Critter Club) by Callie Barkley. What does it take to be a star? What does it take to be a friend?

Bowling Alley Bandit (Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut) by Laurie Keller. Talking pizza, break-dancing bowling pins, and a doughnut, Arnie the Doughnut Dog, who sings karaoke.

Squirrels on Skis by J. Hamilton Ray. Reviewed at Becky’s Book Reviews.

A Pet Named Sneaker by Joan Heilbroner. Reviewed at Becky’s Book Reviews.

Dig, Scoop, Ka-boom! Joan Kolub. Reviewed at Becky’s Book Reviews.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Drop the Ball by Cynthia Rylant. Reviewed at Becky’s Book Reviews.

Ten Things I Love About You by Daniel Kirk. Reviewed at Redeemed Reader.

White Fur Flying by Patricia MacLachlan. Reviewed at Redeemed Reader.

I may add more as I come across them. Go, read, nominate.

12/12/12: Themes of My Life

These are the twelve themes or ideas or motifs that God has placed in my heart, and consequently the 12 Big Ideas that appear most often here on Semicolon.

1. Books. I have a houseful of books I read lots and lots of books, probably over 100 per year. I love books; I live inside books. I write about books here at Semicolon a lot. Some of my favorite booklists (may be helpful for last minute Christmas gifts?):
Reading Out Loud: 55 Favorite Read Aloud Books from the Semicolon Homeschool.
History and Heroes: 55 Recommended Books of Biography, Autobiography, Memoir,and History
Giving Books: Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction.
Giving Books: FOr the nieces and other girls in your life.
Nine Series for Nine Year Old Boys.
Narnia Aslant: A Narnia-Inspired Reading List.
Books for Giving (to kids who want to grow up to be . . .)
Best Spine-Tinglers
Best Journeys
Best Laughs
Best Crimes

2. Family, particularly large families. I have eight children. Five are grown-ups, and three are still growing. Actually, we’re all still growing. I don’t write as much about my children as I do about my books, privacy and all that jazz. But having a large family and seeing God through the joys and difficulties of large family life is one of the major themes of my life.

3. Community. Through family, yes, but also through the church, the neighborhood in which I live, and even through the blog-world, the experience of community is very important to me. I’m interested in community as an ideal, and I’m also interested in little communities that form around hobbies, intellectual pursuits, ethnic identities, and other kinds of people-glue. I want to know how a subculture develops around a shared interest like bicycling or collecting butterflies or playing Scrabble (Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis) or any other random interest, how those communities work and how they coalesce, what the rules are and how they resolve conflict.

4. The Bible. God’s Word has been a part of my life since I was a preschooler, and my mother read to me from the book of Genesis. I still remember how exciting and suspenseful the story of Joseph was, and how I wanted to know what would happen next. I have read the Bible numerous times, studied it alone and in groups, and still I find treasure, hope, reassurance, and life in the words of history, prophecy, poetry, gospel, and letters in the Bible. The Bible is the central book in my life, by which standard all the many, many other stories that I read stand and fall.

5. Prayer. God is still working out this theme in my life. I’m 55 years old, and I still long to know what it means to really, really pray. If God knows and has preordained everything that happens, why pray? I think part of what it means is to communicate the desires and depths of my heart in language, that God-given means of communication and organization. If I can put my inchoate feelings and thoughts into words and tell them to a God who really, really cares, then I participate in the creation of meaning somehow. I participate in God’s work on earth through prayer.

6. Language. We create community through language. God communicates with us and we with Him, mediated by language. The Word became flesh. What does that mean? We are creatures who speak a language, and that means something. One of my life’s quests is find out what it means to be a language-using creation and how to use those words to communicate truth.

7. Story-telling. One theme leads to another: from books to the Bible, to prayer, to language, to storytelling. Maybe they are all one grand motif that defines how God is working in my life.

8. History. I love family history, especially my family history, but others, too, if they have stories to tell. History is the story of how God created, how He creates in the events of our lives, and what it all means.

9. Singing and Poetry. Music, in general is nice, but singing, alone or with other people, is what I most love, what makes me feel alive. That’s why I did the 100 Hymns series: I love songs with words and poetry put to music. This theme ties into my fascination with language and words, but the melody adds another dimension.

10. Homeschooling. Education in general is a theme in my family and in my life. I pray that I will be always learning, always educating myself and others about the wonderful world where God has placed us. I believe that as a family we were called to homeschool, not because homeschooling ensures God’s blessing or favor nor because homeschooling is always better than any other way of educating young people into adulthood, but rather because it fits with the other themes and concerns of my life: the community in family, the immersion in language and story-telling, the transmission of God’s truth to another generation.

11. Evangelism and missions. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, in GA’s and Acteens, two SBC missions organizations for girls. I am still immersed in the idea of how the gospel is spread to other people and cultures and active in supporting missions and missionaries.

12. Jesus. Last, not because he is the least of my life themes, but rather because He is the foundation. If I wrote a book, Jesus would be the underlying theme, perhaps unnamed as in the Book of Esther, but always present, always at work, always the Rock upon which everything else rests. In Him, we live and move and have our being.

You can see these themes embodied in this list of 52 things that fascinate me. Now it’s your turn. What are the themes of your life? Where has God led you to focus your energies and talents? What is it that wakes you up in the morning, draws you into study and/or action, makes you who you are?

Russell Hoban, author, b.1925, d.2011

Author Russell Hoban died Tuesday, December 13th in hospital in London. Hoban is best known as the author of the Frances books: Bread and Jam for Frances, Bedtime for Frances, A Baby Sister for Frances, A Bargain for Frances. We use Frances-isms in our house all the time.

Being careful isn’t nice; being friends is better.

“How do you know what I’ll like if you won’t even try me?”

“That is how it is, Alice. Your birthday is always the one that is not now.”

More favorite Francesisms.

However, as much as I adore all the Frances books, another book called Nothing To Do may be my favorite Hoban picture book. I say “may be” only because I can’t get my hands on a copy, and so I haven’t seen the book in twenty years. In the story, Little Charlotte is bored and can’t find anything to do until her father gives her a talisman that will always keep her busy.

I had no idea, but Mr. Hoban also wrote adult novels and several children’s and young adult novels. “Mr. Hoban’s final book, a young adult novel called Soonchild, about passing stories from one generation to the next, is forthcoming.” (Washington Post obituary) “He had once ruefully observed that death would be a good career move: People will say, ‘yes, Hoban, he seems an interesting writer, let’s look at him again’.” (Wikipedia, Russell Hoban)

Russell Hoban was a fine author and a creative mind. He will be missed.
Fuse #8 Interview with Russell Hoban, November 11, 2010.

Giving Books: Mystery Series for Young Readers

The Milo and Jazz Mysteries by Lewis B. Montgomery.
The Case of the Stinky Socks.
The Case of the Poisoned Pig.
The Case of the Haunted Haunted House.
The Case of the Amazing Zelda.
The Case of the July 4th Jinx.
The Case of the Missing Moose.
The Case of the Purple Pool.
I read the seventh and most recently published book in the series, The Case of the Purple Pool, because it was one of the books nominated for the Cybils in the Early Chapter Books category. Milo and Jazz are detectives-in-training, but even with the benefit of their lessons from Dash Marlowe, Super Sleuth, the two youngsters are stumped when someone turns the neighborhood swimming pool water purple. How? Why? And will it happen again? I figured out the solution to the mystery within pages, but young readers might just have to exercise their brains to solve this one. I think mystery fans ages 6-10 will enjoy this series.

The First Kids Mysteries by Martha Freeman.
The Case of the Rock ‘N’ Roll Dog.
The Case of the Diamond Dog Collar.
10-year old Cammie and 7-year old Tessa have a very important mom and a very lively dog. Hooligan, the dog, lives up to his name and creates havoc wherever he goes. And Mom, well, Mom is the President of the United States. So Cammie and Tessa and Hooligan live in the White House with their mom and dad and Hooligan and Granny and Aunt Jen and her son, Nate, and Granny’s canary who doesn’t have a name—yet. In the Case of the Diamond Dog Collar, Hooligan receives a gift from the president’s dog in a neighboring country, and one of the twelve fake diamonds on the collar goes missing. Cammie and Tessa must put on their detective hats and go to work to find out where the (fake) diamond could be. This series is a little more challenging for readers, so I’d suggest it for ages 9-12, especially if those mystery fans are still prefer shorter books.

Young Cam Jansen Mysteries by David Adler.
Young Cam Jansen and the Dinosaur Game.
Young Cam Jansen and the Missing Cookie.
Young Cam Jansen and the Lost Tooth.
Young Cam Jansen and the Ice Skate Mystery.
Young Cam Jansen and the Baseball Mystery.
Young Cam Jansen and the Pizza Shop Mystery.
Young Cam Jansen and the Library Mystery.
Cam Jansen has a photographic memory, and that’s one of the things that makes her such a good detective. Some people nicknamed her “The Camera” because she remembers things just like a camera, and then they just called her “Cam.” These books are beginning, level two readers for very young readers. If your reader finishes these and wants more Cam Jansen, there are a slew of Cam Jansen mysteries that are in the “Early Chapter Books” category, second to fourth grade reading level.

Then, there are these classic series that still hold the attention of young readers:

The Boxcar Children series.
Encyclopedia Brown series.
Nate the Great series.

Sunday Salon: Books Read in November, 2011

Easy Readers for Cybils:
Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books.
Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books.
No. 1 Car Spotter by Atinuke. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books.
Tugg and Teeny: Jungle Surprises by J. Patrick Lewis. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books.
Almost Zero: A Dyamonde Daniel Book by Nikki Grimes. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books. Semicolon review here.
Daisy Dawson at the Beach by Steve Voake. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books.
The Greatest Sheep in History by Frances Watts. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books. Semicolon review here.
Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Zooms to the Rescue by Jacqueline Jules. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books. Semicolon review here.
Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books.
The Case of the Diamond Dog Collar by Martha Freeman. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books.
The Tricky Tooth by Fran Manushkin. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books.
Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books.
Invisible Inkling by Emily Jenkins. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books.
Toys Come Home: Being the Early Experiences of an Intelligent Stingray, a Brave Buffalo, and a Brand-New Someone Called Plastic by Emily Jenkins. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books.
Scab for Treasurer? by Trudi Trueit. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books.
The Trouble With Chickens by Doreen Cronin. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books.
Marty McGuire by Kate Messner. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books.
The Snow Queen by Sara Lowes. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books.
Marvin Monster’s Monsterific Adventures by Tabatha Jean D’Agata. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books.
Sammy Squirrel and Rodney Raccoon To the Rescue by Duane Lawrence. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books. Semicolon review here.
Sophie the Zillionaire by Lara Bergen. Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books.
Splat the Cat: Good Night, Sleep Tight by Rob Scotton. Cybils nominee: Easy Readers.
Max Spaniel: Best in Show by Dana M. Rau. Cybils nominee: Easy Readers.
Butterflies by Nic Bishop. Cybils nominee: Easy Readers.
Dinosaurs Don’t, Dinosaurs Do by Steven Bjorkman. Cybils nominee: Easy Readers.
The Lion and the Mice by Ed and Rebecca Emberley. Cybils nominee: Easy Readers.
Katie Woo Has the Flu by Fran Manushkin. Cybils nominee: Easy Readers.
I Broke My Trunk by Mo Willems. Cybils nominee: Easy Readers.
Happy Pig Day by Mo Willems. Cybils nominee: Easy Readers.
Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems. Cybils nominee: Easy Readers. Semicolon review for all three Mo Willems’ books here.
Silly Lilly in What Will I Be Today by Agnes Rosenstiehl. Cybils nominee: Easy Readers.
Patrick in a Teddy Bear’s Picnic and Other Stories by Geoffrey Hayes. Cybils nominee: Easy Readers.
A Green, Green Garden by Mercer Mayer. Cybils nominee: Easy Readers.

Children’s and Young Adult Fiction:
Dave at Night by Gail Carson Levine. Semicolon review here.
The Night of the Burning: Devorah’s Story by Linda Press Wulf.
Choosing Up Sides by John Ritter.
The Storyteller’s Daughter by Jean Thesman.
Chief Sunrise, John McGraw, and Me by Timothy Tocher.
Small Acts of Amazing Courage by Gloria Whelan. Cybils nominee: Middle Grade Fiction. Nominated by Rebecca Herman.Semicolon review here.
Losing Faith by Denise Jaden. Nominated and shortlisted for the INSPY Awards, Literature for Young People category.
Crosswire by Dotti Enderle.
Cry of the Giraffe by Judie Oron. Definitely for older YA.
Orchards by Holly Thompson.
How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr. Review coming soon.

Adult Fiction:
Pattern of Wounds by J. Mark Bertrand.
When She Woke by Hilary Jordan. My review at Breakpoint.
Gifts of War by Mackenzie Ford.

Unplanned: The dramatic true story of a former Planned Parenthood leader’s eye-opening journey across the life line by Abby Johnson with Cindy Lambert. Semicolon review here.
The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma.
Tales of an African Vet by Dr. Roy Aronson. Review coming soon.

Elephant, Piggie, and Mo Willems

Cybils nominees: Easy Readers.
Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems. Nominated by Sarah at Page in Training.
I Broke My Trunk by Mo Willems. Nominated by Becky of Becky’s Reviews and Young Readers.
Happy Pig Day! by Mo Willems. Nominated by Danielle Smith at There’s a Book.

What is there to say about Mo Willems and his easy reader creations, Elephant and Piggie? The books are deceptively simple, a long comic strip in book form. However, this form is not so simple to conceive, write, and illustrate well. I’ve seen attempts by other authors fall flat. Mr. Willems has the gift or the genius or the 99% perspiration or something.

In Should I Share My Ice Cream?, Gerald Elephant obsesses over whether or not to share his ice cream with his friend Piggie, until the issue becomes moot when the ice cream cone falls splat on the ground. Of all the elephants in children’s literature, Gerald is the Charlie Browniest. But unlike good old Charlie Brown, Elephant has a friend in Piggie, and in this story Piggie saves the day.

The story of how I Broke My Trunk begins with Elephant and a bandaged trunk. Of course, Piggie (and readers) want to know how Elephant broke his trunk, but hold on, because it’s a long crazy story. Suffice it to say that “two hippos, one rhino, and a piano on your trunk are very, very heavy,” and very, very funny. But that’s not even the whole story.

Happy Pig Day! Is it just for pigs, or can Gerald Elephant celebrate Pig Day, too? Again, I am reminded of what Charlie Brown could have been if he had had even one faithful friend. (Peppermint Patty doesn’t count. She couldn’t even get his name right, and she was undependable.)

The exciting thing about these books is that beginning readers of all ages can enjoy them over and over again. My fourth/fifth grader whose reading skills and interest leave a lot to be desired loves Elephant and Piggie. She reads the books to herself, reads them to her dad, reads them again to herself, and chuckles softly. Then she tells me to read them or else she reads them to me. Elephant and Piggie and other books like them are what the Sunday comics were to another generation. How many adults can say they learned to love reading and stories from their reading of the comic strips on Sunday mornings?

*These books are nominated for a Cybils Award, and I am a judge for the first round thereof. However, no one paid me any money, and nobody knows which books will get to be finalists or which ones will get the awards. In other words, this review reflects my opinion and Z-baby’s and nothing else.

Mr. Putter & Tabby Ring the Bell by Cynthia Rylant

Cybils nominee: Easy Readers. Nominated by Maria Ciccone at The Serpentine Library.

Cynthia Rylant has published twenty Mr. Putter & Tabby books with this latest adventure, Mr. Putter & Tabby Ring the Bell. If I were a first grade teacher or librarian at an elementary school, I’d buy all twenty, line them up on an accessible shelf and watch the books fly off the shelf. And I’d watch the smiles and the laughter. And the soaring reading abilities and enjoyment.

In Mr. Putter & Tabby Ring the Bell the fall weather reminds Mr. Putter of school, and Mr Putter waxes nostalgic for the sight of erasers and pencils and globes and schoolrooms. Mr. Putter then has an idea: why not take Tabby and go to school for show-and-tell? Of course, Mr. Putter’s neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry and her pet, Zeke, a rather disreputable-looking dog, tag along. But what ae they to do when the first grade teacher expects Tabby and Zeke to do tricks for the first graders?

My favorite character in this story was Zeke the dog. Zeke is the kind of dog who wears a half of a stolen cake on his head. Then he eats it. He loves banana cake. He also eats a whole tray of cupcakes. Zeke’s tongue hangs out a lot, and he probably drools. And he learns a new trick—all in the course of a forty-four page easy reader.

If you already know and love Mr. Putter and Taby (and Zeke), this book is a worthy addition to the canon. If not, Mr. Putter and Tabby Ring the Bell would be a great introduction to a great series.

Z-baby: “Mr Putter wants to go to school even though he’s really old. I don’t know why.”

*This book is nominated for a Cybils Award, and I am a judge for the first round thereof. However, no one paid me any money, and nobody knows which books will get to be finalists or which ones will get the awards. In other words, this review reflects my opinion and Z-baby’s and nothing else.

No Room for Dessert by Hallie Durand

Cybils nominee: Early Chapter Books. Nominated by Jama Rattigan. And here’s Jama’s interview with author Hallie Durand about her Dessert trilogy.

Dessert Schneider, the most important and firstborn child in the Schneider family, feels as if she’s been forgotten as her younger sister and two younger brothers get the lion’s share of the attention. But if Dessert can win the Thomas Edison Contest in her class at school for the invention that will improve people’s lives the most, she’s sure to get the attention that she craves.

Dessert is self-centered, attention-seeking, and highly competitive. She’s also funny, inventive, and real. Typical eight year old. I liked Dessert, even when I cringed a little at her grandiose plans and thoughts and her cockiness about winning the contest. Lack of self-confidence is NOT Dessert’s problem, until . . .

Z-baby’s going to love this one, and after she reads it, I’m planning to have her make a notebook of her own inventions. After all, as Mrs. Howdy Doody, Dessert’s teacher, says, “Thomas Edison filled three thousand five hundred notebooks with his ideas! Let your minds dance! Let your minds go crazy! Let your minds fly to the moon and back!”

*This book is nominated for a Cybils Award, and I am a judge for the first round thereof. However, no one paid me any money, and nobody knows which books will get to be finalists or which ones will get the awards. In other words, this review reflects my opinion and Z-baby’s and nothing else.

Dixie by Grace Gilman

Cybils nominee: Easy Readers. Nominated by Bigfoot at Bigfoot Reads.

Emma is really excited about her part as Dorothy in the school play, The Wizard of Oz. And Emma’s dog, Dixie, gets to play Toto. But will Emma be able to learn her part with Dixie distracting her and begging her to play?

Cute. The illustrations by Sarah McConnell are whimsical watercolors, and Emma looks just like my imaginary picture of Dorothy with her red pigtails and freckled face. The story itself has a bit of gentle suspense (will Emma do well in the play?), and of course, everything turns out O.K. for both Emma and Dixie.

Pet stories and pet characters seem to be quite popular for this age group, maybe because early elementary is a good age to get your first pet. I know that Z-baby, age 10, has been wanting a pet, preferably a cat, since she was about five or six years old. And she finally got a cat a few months ago. Said cat, by the way, whose name is Monica, has taken over my previously cat-free house, and she is now lying on my bed, making herself at home.

Z-baby: “I liked this dog story better than the other one. It was good for little kids, too.”

*This book is nominated for a Cybils Award, and I am a judge for the first round thereof. However, no one paid me any money, and nobody knows which books will get to be finalists or which ones will get the awards. In other words, this review reflects my opinion and Z-baby’s and nothing else.