What’s New in My Library?

I have a private, subscription library in my home—sort of a school library for literature lovers and homeschoolers. It gives me an excuse to purchase and rescue those treasures of books that I find in the thrift store or at the garage sale. I bought lots of books this week, first at the Books Bloom seminar with Jan Bloom, then at the thrift store. Something for everyone!

Picture books:
Wombat Stew by Marcia K. Vaughan. A dingo captures a wombat and decides to make himself a gooey, brewy, yummy, chewy wombat stew. But the wombat has a few tricks up his sleeve. This is a great Australian classic picture book for those who want to make a quick trip Down Under.

Moy Moy by Leo Politi. Politi was an Italian American author and artist who was both a devout Catholic and a pacifist. His books celebrate cultural diversity and children living within those diverse cultures. Moy Moy is a Chinese American girl living in Chinatown in Los Angeles. Most of Politi’s books are set in California, near Los Angeles and future loving families, ethnic celebrations, and colorful scenes.

Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault. “the slow soft sprinkle, the drip-drop tinkle, the first wet whisper of the rain.” A rain poem, with beautiful illustrations by James Endicott, this book is one of the many recommended in my preschool curriculum, Picture Book Preschool.

Also, I found paperback copies of the Picture Book Preschool books Galimoto by Karen Lynn Willliams, A House Is a House for Me by Mary Ann Doberman, and The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack.

Easy readers:
The Littles by John Peterson. I also bought copies of The Littles Take a Trip, The Littles to the Rescue, The Littles and Their Amazing New Friend, The Littles Go to School. These books about “little people” are for beginning readers who are not quite ready for The Borrowers, my favorite little people series.

Shoes for Amelie by Connie Colker Steiner. The story of a French farming family during World War II who take in and hide little Jewish girl named Amelie, based on the true story of the rescue of Jews by the people of the French region of Plateau Vivarais-Lignon.

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss. I didn’t have a copy of this classic Dr. Seuss romp, but now I do. In fact, most of my Dr. Seuss books were read to death by my eight lovely children a long time ago, so if you have any to donate, they would be well-loved and well read, I’m sure.

Middle Grade Fiction:
The Bobbsey Twins of Lakeport by Laura Lee Hope. The first of the Bobbsey Twins series, and I have a few others in the series in the library, too. If you have any of these books you’d like to donate to Meriadoc Homeschool Library, I’d be happy to have them.

The Fox Steals Home by Matt Christopher. In this sports story Bobby plays baseball and deals with his hurt over his parents’ divorce.

The Thief by Nancy Rue. This episode in the Christian Heritage Series, The Williamsburg Years, shows readers the deep enmity in the 1780’s between loyalists to the British crown and patriots who were determined to make a new nation, separate from England. Can the two sides ever come to agreement on anything, even the meaning of right and wrong?

The Black Stallion Legend and The Black Stallion Revolts by Walter Farley. I now have five of the many Black Stallion books in my library. If you have any others you’d like to donate, I have some horse-loving readers who enjoy these books.

The Rescuers by Margery Sharp. The mice of the The Prisoners Aid Society rescue a Norwegian poet, with Miss Bianca as interpreter and Bernard, the humble pantry mouse, and Nils, his partner, as mice-to-the-rescue.

The Mississippi Bubble by Thomas Costain. One of my favorite history writers tells the story of land speculation and emigration gone crazy in France and French Louisiana in the 1700’s. Speculative and economic bubbles are nothing new, as this true history in the Landmark History series demonstrates.

The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss. A family in the 1950’s adopts a diverse group of children of mixed race and heritage. This book was one of my favorites as a teen, and although we never adopted children, I think the lessons learned of acceptance and indiscriminate love from this book and other similar stories helped me to understand and affirm the multi-racial families of many of my friends and neighbors.

Corn Is Maize: The Gift of the Indians by Aliki.

How Animals Talk by Susan McGrath. National Geographic Books for Young Explorers.

More Than Moccasins: A Kid’s Activity Guide to Traditional North American Indian Life by Laurie Carlson.

Kids Around the World Create! The Best Crafts and Activities from Many Lands by Arlene N. Braman.

Collecting good books is such a fun hobby, or maybe even a calling or vocation. I am immensely thankful that I get to preserve and share these books with my community. (These are only few of the books I found this week. I’ll tell you about more in another post soon.)

Yellow Copter by Kersten Hamilton

For those helicopter and airplane-loving boys and girls in your life, Yellow Copter is sure to please. The story is rather slight: Yellow Copter, the rescue helicopter, rescues the schoolteacher from the top of the ferris wheel. The end.

Still, the pictures are bright and simple. The story is short and sweet—with sound effects and some rhyme and rhythm. So, toddlers and younger preschoolers should enjoy looking at his one over and over again. The blurb in the back of the book refers to Ms. Hamilton’s first “action-packed adventure for young readers”, Red Truck. I haven’t seen it, but if your child likes Yellow Copter, and you’re looking for more of the same, Red Truck might be a good choice.

I wouldn’t give either book to “young readers”, but I would buy it for those who are just past the book-chewing age and who love vehicles of all kinds and shapes. Maybe a toy helicopter to go with the book would make it a perfect gift.

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Take Wing by Jean Little

I’ve been talking to several families who are trying to teach their children, mostly girls, about friendship—how to make friends, how to deal with “mean girls”, how to forgive, how to take the initiative to make and heal friendships. It’s hard stuff for adults sometimes, much harder for six to fourteen year olds who are apt to misinterpret nonverbal communication, take offense easily, become shy and inhibited, or on the opposite end, be inconsiderate and even rude to one another.

Take Wing is an older book, published in 1968, for middle grade readers by Canadian author Jean Little. It’s primarily about ten year old Laurel Ross and her eight year old brother James. Laurel realizes, even though no one else in the family agrees, that James is different, slow to learn and immature for his age. Then when Mrs. Ross breaks her hip and has to stay in the hospital for months, everyone in the family, including Aunt Jessica and cousin Elspeth, must come to terms with James’s problems and try to find out what to do to help him. So James and his “mental retardation” (the term used in the book which would need to be discussed and reinterpreted in today’s terminology) are the main issues in the story.

However, the book is also about friendship and how to make friends and how to resolve differences and misunderstandings. Laurel and her cousin Elspeth start to become friends when Aunt Jessica and Elspeth move into the Ross’s house to help out while Mom is in the hospital. But it’s a false start, marred by a series of missteps and crossed wires. Finally, Elspeth and Laurel learn to communicate with one another and restart their friendship. The same kind of misunderstanding and hurt feelings has been holding Laurel back from being friends with the girl down the street. The road to mending this friendship also takes communication and some courage on the part of both girls.

I would really like to hand this book to a couple of eight to twelve year olds I know. It’s a quiet, gentle story, but I think it might be good bibliotherapy for some sensitive, insecure, and easily discouraged young ladies who need an extra push to “take wing.”

This poem by Jean Little, who “has been partially blind since birth as a result of scars on her cornea and is frequently accompanied by a guide dog,” is featured in the book. From the poem and the book and Mrs. Little’s other novels, I would guess that Jean Little knew what it was like to be different and a bit diffident when she was growing up. And perhaps she can teach some of us, adult, teen or chlid, to “endure through the (friendship) journey’s stress.”

A friendship is a fragile thing
Like the dust of the moon on a butterfly’s wing
Presuming on it is like trying
To keep a butterfly from flying
You cup your hands, try not to clutch
But it is crippled by your touch
By all the self-involved demands
Implicit in your closing hands
Yet, deep in love, there also lies,
The bravery of butterflies.
Butterflies go through nights of storm
Migrating to a land that’s warm.
They drift in brilliant frailty,
Testaments to mortality,
And all the while, they own the strength
To mount the wind and come at length
Home again, their loveliness
Enduring through the journey’s stress.
A treasured friendship also can
Survive the blundering of man.
Although it is a fragile thing,
It has the courage to take wing,
Dare to ride the dark, and come
Bravely home.

Arcady’s Goal by Eugene Yelchin

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote the essay “Live Not By Lies” in 1974, just before he was arrested by the Soviet police and exiled from his country. My Saturday Review friend Glynn led me to the essay in a review he wrote.

Arcady’s Goal is the story of a boy in Stalinist Russia who has been raised on lies. Arcady lives in an orphanage. The director of the orphanage lies about how the boys are treated and skims the provisions from the government, meant for the orphans, to feather his own nest. The inspectors of orphanages go along with the lies. Everyone is complicit, even the boys themselves, who show off their soccer skills to earn a bit of favored treatment. When Ivan Ivanych comes to the orphanage, disguised as an inspector, but really a bereft father looking for an orphan to adopt, Arcady makes an impression. But can Arcady and Ivan break through all the lies, the ones they have been told by the government, the ones they have told to survive, and even the lies they have told themselves, to make a real family built on trust?

Born and educated in Russia, author Eugene Yeltsin left the former Soviet Union when he was twenty-seven years old. His other children’s novel set in Communist Soviet Union, Breaking Stalin’s Nose, won a Newbery Honor. His writing style in this book is stark and unadorned, like the subject. The descriptions, like the illustrations, are gray and without much hope, although Arcady’s courage and tenacity shine through even in the soccer games he plays so well. And yet the book has an almost implausible happy ending as Arcady and his adoptive father do manage to form a connection.

Perhaps I am a pessimist, but I don’t know if I can believe that it so easy to change from believing and participating in The Lie to confronting lies with the truth. Easy or not, I do believe that I and especially my children are going to find out very soon what it is like to live in a culture permeated and ultimately ruled by lies and half-truths. In fact, we are already faced with the choice of whether to participate in the lies our society is telling or to stand up and declare the truth. There will be a cost for the latter decision, and there may not be a happy ending in this life.

“And the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, but not with any help from me. . . . So in our timidity, let each of us make a choice: Whether consciously, to remain a servant of falsehood—of course, it is not out of inclination, but to feed one’s family, that one raises his children in the spirit of lies—or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect both by one’s children and contemporaries.”

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Some Kind of Magic by Adrian Fogelin

Book #4 for the 48-hour Book Challenge
223 pages, 3 hours

The last summer before high school. Things are changing for Cass, Jemmie, Justin, and Ben, and some of them are ready for a change while others just want to keep things the way they have always been.

The four friends, plus Ben’s almost seven year old little brother Cody, discover an old hat that might be magical and an old abandoned building that seems to be just the right place to spend their summer before high school. As relationships between the four friends and others in the neighborhood shift and change, Cody has to figure out what the hat is telling him and whether to listen. And Justin must decide whether to try to think and speak for himself or give up before he ever gets started. Cass has to learn to accept the changes that are inevitable. Ben needs to deal with the restlessness inside him. Jemmie just wants to enjoy the summer and then head for high school, new people, and new adventures.

I liked this book a lot. I’m not sure the pacing is just right for some readers. The book sort of moseys along like a long, hot summer. And the way it’s arranged in chapters from different characters’ viewpoints made it hard at first for me to keep the characters straight. The chapters from the point of view of the teens–Cass, Jemmie, Justin, and Ben—are written in first person, and the chapters told from Cody’s vantage point are all in third person. Because Cody’s so young, only six years old, and couldn’t really “tell” his parts of the story in a mature voice? Anyway, the shifting voices and the slow pace might throw some readers off, but I didn’t have any trouble sticking with it and becoming engrossed.

Ben is reading To Kill a Mockingbird for summer reading, and there’s a bit of a TKAM feeling to this story: a neighborhood story with kids trying to figure out an old mystery from way back, family history, serious stuff going on under the surface of a summer’s recreation. The neighborhood setting is in Tallahassee, Florida, where the author herself resides. And although one of the young people in the story, Jemmie, is black, there’s not really a hint of racial tension in the story, unlike TKAM.

However, I looked up the author, and learned that Some Kind of Magic is the sixth and final book in a series of books about the same neighborhood, called appropriately enough, The Neighborhood Novels. And the first book in the series, Crossing Jordan, is about Cass and Jemmie when they first met, and it definitely deals with racial tension and bridging the gap between white and black residents of this multi-racial neighborhood. I am really interested in reading the first five books in this series so that I can get the backstory of these characters and of other residents of The Neighborhood. Maybe that backstory would have helped me keep the characters straight as I began to read Some Kind of Magic. Still, I recommend this book on its own, and on the basis of having read this one, I also recommend that you look up the other books in the Neighborhood Novels series:

Crossing Jordan
Anna Casey’s Place in the World “Anna Casey must deal with the loss of her family and adjust to living in a foster home. Feeling abandoned and alone, Anna turns to her closest companion, her explorer journal.”
My Brother’s Hero “When his aunt and uncle win a Christmas cruise Ben and his family are off to watch their marina in the Florida Keys. This is Ben’s chance to live aboard a boat, swim and snorkel, fish for the big ones, and have some adventures for a change.”
The Big Nothing “When everyone in his life lets him down, Justin Riggs discovers something inside himself—a hidden talent that helps him survive.”
The Sorta Sisters “Anna and Mica have the same problem. They’re both lonely. Although separated by the entire state of Florida, they keep each other company through the exchange of letters and strange and sometimes mystifying objects.”
Some Kind of Magic

Yep. Gotta add these to the TBR list.

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All the Answers by Kate Messner

Book #2 for the 48-hour Book Challenge
246 pages, 3 hours

Ava Anderson finds an old blue pencil in her family’s junk drawer. I doesn’t look special, but it is. Ava’s pencil can answer written questions with an audible voice that only Ava can hear. And the pencil always provides the right answer! The pencil can’t or won’t predict the future, but its answers to factual questions are uncanny in their accuracy. But does Ava really want to know all the answers to her fears and worries? What if the answers are scarier than the questions? What if the answers only create more questions?

I really enjoyed reading about Ava and all her worries and her magic pencil with almost all of the answers. I thought the pencil magic was timely in its similarity to the way we all turn to Google for all our answers these days. The pencil was a little more all-knowing than Google, but it still couldn’t predict the future or lay to rest all of Ava’s worries. I am as guilty as the next person of wanting to find someone or something that will answer all my questions and give me some concrete advice about what to do in sticky situations. But the truth is that only God is omniscient, and since He is, He probably has good reasons for not showering all the answers on us.

The book mentions prayer. Ava has a praying grandma. Ava herself learns to trust a little in her own bravery and competence and a little in the care and goodwill of family and friends. Near the end of the book, she does pray with her grandma, but it’s not a big epiphany or turning point in her growth as a character. Mostly the book is about learning to let go of your worries and fears and trust something. That “something” is never really defined. It’s about learning to live without all the answers, a feat we all need to accomplish, but one that is very hard to do without believing in an all-powerful, all-knowing, good God who has not only the answers but also the ability to work all things together for His glory and our good.

Anyway, there’s lots to discuss here, and the author in her acknowledgements even recommends a self-help book for kids who worry too much: What To Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner. I’ve not seen the self-help book, but it might be worth a look if you or your child is a worrier. Or you could just follow the guidance in this hymn, like Ava’s grandmother: take it the Lord in prayer.

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The Whisperer by Fiona McIntosh

This Australian middle grade novel reminded me of The False Prince by Jennifer Neilsen, but not as funny or witty. I saw comparisons by other reviewers to The Prince and the Pauper.

From Amazon: “Lute is a prince, next in line to the throne. Griff is a poor carnival worker who does the heavy lifting while the malevolent ringmaster orders him about. But there’s something special about Griff: he can hear the thoughts of everyone around him. And one day, he begins to connect with Lute’s mind, even though they’ve never met and are miles apart.”

So, mental telepathy in mythical kingdom. I enjoyed The Whisperer. It took two attempts for me to get into the story, but the second time around, I was engaged and curious to see what would happen to Lute and Griff and the other characters in the story. The pace was a little slow, with an over-abundance of explanations instead of active descriptions and insight into the characters and their plight.

For the lover of princely adventure and rags-to-riches orphan stories, I would recommend this one—after Meg Whalen Turner’s The Thief and Nielsen’s The False Prince and Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. For younger children, Sid Fleischman’s Newbery award book, The Whipping Boy, is similar, too, but sans magic. Actually, The Whisperer may be the only one of these commoner-to-prince, prince-disguised-as-commoner, vice-versa, books that I’ve named that does include magical events. So, if you want magic with your royal and plebeian characters, The Whisperer would be the book.

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Julia and the Art of Practical Travel by Lesley M.M. Blume

Ms. Blume writes “odd and quirky”, and this one definitely fits that description. It’s funny at times, but the underlying situation, the 1960’s and a child deserted by her hippie druggie mother, is way too serious for a humorous novel. Throw in a voodoo queen in New Orleans, bullies in a fancy elite school for girls, naked people in Greenwich Village in NYC and in Haight-Asbury in San Francisco, an odd ranch with all-Chinese cowboys in Texas, an ever-present Brownie camera, and a bewildered aunt/guardian, and it’s a fun road trip sort of story, but fairly unbelievable and sort of sad in places.

I also kept thinking the story was ending, and then there would be one more episode, and yet another, and another. It felt as if the author didn’t know where to stop. Or maybe I just didn’t want to know as much as I did. The novel is all about finding home and making a family, but it took Julia and her aunt an awfully long time to get to that end, even though the book itself is not that long, only 180 pages.

Anyway, if you’ve enjoyed any of Lesley M.M. Bloom’s other novels for children, such as Tennyson or The Rising Star of Rusty Nail, you might also enjoy this odd and quirky entry. I thought it was OK, but nothing to write home about.

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Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick

Absolutely Truly: A Pumpkin Falls Mystery by Heather Vogel Frederick.

Twelve year old Truly Lovejoy’s army captain dad has come back from Afghanistan minus one arm and transformed into Silent Man. He used to be fun, and Truly’s family used to be referred as the Magnificent Seven–Truly, her brothers, Danny and Hatcher, her sisters, Lauren and Pippa and mom and dad. Now everything has changed, and the family has to move from wonderful Austin, Texas to tiny Pumpkin Falls, New Hampshire, the back side of nowhere if there ever was such a place.

The mystery part of this family story was rather lame and stretched my credulity: it involved some twenty year old love letters that were hidden and stayed put for the entire time and a treasure hunt that seemed to have very little purpose. However, the mystery is really just a vehicle for the characters and their interactions, and this aspect is where the story shines. Truly and her family members and her new classmates are a joy to get to know, and I award points to any story with a family of five or more children.

I’m assuming from the subtitle that this one is the first in a possible series of “Pumpkin Falls mysteries”. I’d recommend to middle school mystery lovers and to those who would enjoy a story featuring a largish family and a veteran dad. The story provides an upbeat and encouraging look at military families and the adjustments that veterans and their families have to make after their service, but it doesn’t gloss over the difficulties and changes that sometimes occur.

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Running Out of Night by Sharon Lovejoy

A nameless, motherless, abused white girl and a runaway slave girl named Zenobia are thrown together in a journey toward freedom. Even though the Zenobia gives Nameless Girl the name of Lark, the two find it difficult to trust each other or to trust the people who are willing to help them along their way on the Underground Railroad.

The salient feature of this debut novel by Sharon Lovejoy is the Virginia backwoods dialect that threads through the pages to bring the characters to life:

Zenobia: “Auntie goin to tell you later tonight where you be goin soon. And she give you a fine new name for the travelin. She call you Miss Abigail Harlan, but I likes Lark best.”

Lark: “Zenobia? Trouble girl, answer me. Sorry, so sorry. You was so scairt, I should’ve helped you more.”

I think it’s just enough to make the characters real and interesting without turning them into caricatures and without making the language too dense and hard to understand. If you don’t like the dialect in the examples above, there’s a lot more where that came from, so you probably wouldn’t like the story much.

Otherwise, the book is one chase scene after another. Lark’s pa and her brothers are chasing after her because she’s their “slave”, the one who cooks and cleans and gardens for them. The slave catchers are after Zenobia for the reward. lark and Zenobia get separated and have to chase after one another. Lark has to look for her friends, Zenobia and other runaways and a Quaker woman who helps them, because she knows that the slave catchers are about to catch up with them. Some of the scenes are fairly violent, and the cruelty of slavery and of slave owners and slave catchers is not minimized or played down; rather the opposite, Lark learns that the abuse that her father and her family have subjected her to is still less than the brutality that Zenobia and the other former slaves have seen and experienced.

This novel has a little bit different take on the horrors of slavery, and it ends with peace and thanksgiving. So I recommend it.

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