Christmas in London, 1822

Essayist Charles Lamb, in “A Few Words on Christmas”

“London is not too populous at Christmas. But what there is of population looks more alive than at other times. Quick walking and heaps of invitations keep the blood warm. Every one seems hurrying to a dinner. The breath curls upward like smoke through the frosty air; the eyes glisten; the teeth are shown; the muscles of the face are rigid, and the colour of the cheek has a fixed look, like a stain. Hunger is no longer an enemy. We feed him, like the ravenous tiger, till he pants and sleeps, or is quiet. Every body eats at Christmas. The rich feast as usual; but the tradesman leaves his moderate fare for dainties. The apprentice abjures his chop, and plunges at once into the luxuries of joints and puddings. The school-boy is no longer at school. He dreams no more of the coming lesson or the lifted rod; but mountains of jelly rise beside him, and blanc-mange, with its treacherous foundations, threatens to overwhelm his fancy; roods of mince pies spread out their chequered riches before him; and figures (only real on the 6th of January) pass by him, one by one, like ghosts before the vision of the King of Scotland. Even the servant has his “once a year” bottle of port; and the beggar his ‘alderman in chains.'”

“Oh! merry piping time of Christmas! Never let us permit thee to degenerate into distant courtesies and formal salutations. But let us shake our friends and familiars by the hand, as our fathers and their fathers did. Let them all come around us, and let us count how many the year has added to our circle. Let us enjoy the present, and laugh at the past. Let us tell old stories and invent new ones–innocent always, and ingenious if we can. Let us not meet to abuse the world, but to make it better by our individual example. Let us be patriots, but not men of party. Let us look of the time–cheerful and generous, and endeavour to make others as generous and cheerful as ourselves.”

A Note from the Author of Balboa, Swordsman and Conquistador

I just added this book from the old Landmark series to the Meriadoc Homeschool Library database at library thing. It’s a book I recently purchased from a lady who is selling her library, and when I opened the book, I found a lovely surprise: a typewritten letter to readers from the author, Felix Riesenberg, Jr. The letter is loose, written on notepaper with a letterhead at the top giving the author’s name and address in Sarasota, Florida. The typewritten letter is signed by the author. It reads in part:

“This book is the story of Balboa from his teens until after he and his men hacked, climbed and fought over rugged country from the Caribbean Sea to the then unknown Pacific. The discovery, made despite many obstacles, remains one of the most exciting and important events in all man’s history.”

Mr. Reisenberg died in 1962, so I feel as if I have a piece of history in my hands when I read his letter encouraging “young readers” to read about and emulate Balboa, an explorer whom Riesenberg characterizes as bold, brave, and steadfast, as well as kind and beloved by his companions.

I’ve placed the letter in an envelope inside the front cover of my book. What a treasure!

Christmas in Southern England, c. 1350

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite deAngeli, winner of the 1950 Newbery Medal:

“There never was such merrymaking as took place in the Hall that Christmas Eve. Such ballads sung! Such tales told!

Branches of holly and spruce decked the Hall and filled the air with fragrance. The yule log burned on the hearth and flaming torches filled the sconces.

The King and Queen sat enthroned in the great chairs on the dais. A tapestry was draped on the screen behind them and rich Eastern carpets beneath.

**********

‘Sire,’ Robin began, ‘I do thank you for this great honor, and I beg you to accept my song of Christmas.’ He brought forward the little harp he had grown to love and sang this carol:

Come to Bethelehem and see
Him whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the new-born King.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.”

Saturday Review of Books: November 29, 2014


“Far more seemly were it for thee to have thy study full of books, than thy purse full of money.” ~John Lyly

SatReviewbuttonWelcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

The Last Wild by Piers Torday

Wild” is a noun, not an adjective in this novel, and it means a group of animals who live together in a sort of ecosystem. Kester Jaynes is a boy, the son of a former veterinarian, who lives in a home for troubled children in a society that has become somewhat troubled, perhaps insane, itself.

The animals have all been destroyed because of the the “disease worse than a nuclear bomb” called red-eye. The animals were carriers, and now most of them are gone, except for insects and a few species of birds. However, one night Kester discovers that even though he is unable to speak even a word to humans, he can communicate with animals. A flock of pigeons and a cockroach rescue Kester from lockdown in the children’s home and take him to where the Last Wild is meeting in a desperate attempt to save themselves from becoming the last victims of red-eye.

Kester, through a series of odd events, becomes the leader of this Last Wild, and they set out together to find Kester’s father, who may hold the clue to a cure for the disease. Or Mr. Jaynes may be working with the evil Selwyn Stone Enterprise, makers of “formul-A”, the only food source for human beings now that the animals (and most all of the farms) are all gone. Kester is not sure what’s going on with his dad, but he journeys in faith that somehow his father will help the animals of the Last Wild.

So, this book is a post-apocolyptic father-quest with an evil corporation as antagonist, and the plot involves a weak but honorable boy traveling across country in the company of his animal friends and protectors. It sounds like a lot of other stories of its kind, and the formul-A and the cockroach friendship didn’t help my enjoyment of the novel. However, the sequel to this book, The Dark Wild, just won the Guardian Prize for for Children’s Fiction in Great Britain, a place where they may like their children’s books a little darker than I do and where they may not be as familiar with actual, Houston-size cockroaches. I can imagine those Britishers thinking that a cockroach would make a nice little pet, but they are wrong. Mice, yes, maybe, cockroaches, no way.

Anyway, if your toleration for roaches and pink slime (which is how I imagined the formul-A) is better than mine, and if the premise sounds interesting, you might want to check out The Last Wild. The roach friend and the nasty food are about the worst of the details of the novel. Oh, there are the dying stag and the crazy white pigeon.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

If You’re Reading This by Trent Reedy

Mike gets a letter a few weeks before his sixteenth birthday: “If you’re reading this, I’m very sorry, but I was killed in the war in Afghanistan.” Thus begins a series of letters to Mike from the dad he didn’t really know who died in Afghanistan when Mike was eight years old. Can Mike get to know his dad and maybe get some wisdom and advice, even though his dad is gone?

This YA contemporary fiction book has several things going for it:

It has a male protagonist, written by a male author. Mike really feels like a typical sixteen year old guy, kind of a straight arrow geek, but those really do exist. Mike reminds of some sixteen year olds I know.

The plot hinges on and features football, a very popular sport that hasn’t received its due in YA fiction. At least not in a good way. The stereotypical football player inmost YA fiction is a popular brain-dead jock who’s dating or dumping the also popular, brainless cheerleader. Mike finds friendship and community and the enjoyment of being part of a team in playing football, even if he does have to deceive his mother in order to make the team.

Mike’s dad is an everyman soldier who died in Afghanistan, and we get to know him as Mike does through his letters. Mike’s mom is over-protective and also distracted by trying to provide for Mike and his sister. These are real parents, not cardboard, and they both play an important part in Mike’s life and in the story. Not many YA novels really delve into the parent/teen relationship of imperfect parents who nevertheless love and try to relate to their also imperfect sons or daughters. Usually the parents are absent, stupid, or evil. Mike’s parents are none of the above.

I wouldn’t hesitate to give this book to any teen who’s trying to make sense of the war in Afghanistan or Iraq or any of the future wars we manage to get ourselves into. It’s not the final word on war or the meaning of life or heroism or honor, but it is a perspective. It’s an honorable and real perspective. I am quite impressed with Mr. Reedy as an author and as a commentator on the effects of war on families and especially young men. I like his other book that I read, Words in the Dust, and I liked this one, too.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Saturday Review of Books: November 22, 2014


“The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination.” ~Elizabeth Hardwick

SatReviewbuttonWelcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

My Zombie Hamster by Havelock McCreely

When Matt gets a hamster for Christmas instead of the Runesword that he asked for, he’s not a happy camper. Then when Snuffles the Hamster dies, Matt really feels “horrible about the poor thing.” But when Matt realizes that Snuffles has turned into a Zombie Hamster (Anti-Snuffles), things start to get complicated, maybe even dangerous. Anti-Snuffles escapes and begins infecting the pets in the entire neighborhood with zombie-ness. Meanwhile, Matt’s friend Charlie (girl) is acting kind of strange. And the Zombie Police are on the watch for any new zombies, dead or undead.

This 200 page zombie apocalypse novel is pretty silly, but I can see that it might appeal to younger elementary readers, second, third, and fourth graders, who want to get in on the zombie craze. I did manage to get through the book myself, and it provoked a smile in places. Give it to your favorite zombie fanatic.

Another book that belongs in this category of elementary and undead is The Zero Degree Zombie Zone by Patrik Henry Bass. This similarly short (131 pages) and easy to read story has the distinguishing feature of a cast of characters who are all African American, including the protagonist, Bakari Katari Johnson. I’ll admit to skimming this one (I’m not a big zombie fan), but again for zombie readers who want something short and sweet, The Zero Degree Zombie Zone might just hit the spot. Read more about Zero Degree at Charlotte’s Library.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins

I didn’t care for Lynne Rae Perkins’ Newbery Award winning book, Criss Cross. As I remember it, the book was partly written in verse, and I don’t care for verse novels. It also was confusing, about teenagers, and I just didn’t “get it.”

Nuts to You is not Criss Cross. It’s not even similar to Criss Cross. If you liked last year’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt or even last year’s Newbery Award winner, Flora and Ulysses: the Illuminated Adventures by Kate di Camillo, then Nuts to You should be just up your alley.

It’s a squirrel story. The squirrels talk to each other–in squirrel. One of them speaks English and tells the story to the author who writes it down for us. The moral of the story is, “Save the trees,” for the sake of the squirrels and for humans, too. All of that–the talking squirrels, the environmental message, the author inside the story—should be enough to annoy me, but instead I found the entire story a delight.

First the talking squirrels. I did wonder how the narrator squirrel managed to learn and speak English. But I was willing to suspend disbelief because the squirrels are well, squirrelly, and funny and fun to be with. They have a whole squirrel culture complete with a love for storytelling and for games, a tendency toward conservatism and staying put in one place, and a capacity for bravery and perseverance that is inspiring.

The environmental message is not so heavy-handed that it made me cringe or even disagree. Humans are not the villains of the story. In fact, the squirrels seem to understand that for some reason some of the trees must be cut down, and they just do their best to roll with the punches and get on with their lives when bad things happen to their habitat. THere’s a message of “let’s just all try to live together and share the planet” that was refreshing and welcome in contrast to other books that preach about how human beings are despoiling the planet. I always feel as if I ought to find a hole and curl up and hibernate forever after I read those other sorts of environmental sermon stories.

The author is not too intrusive either. I liked her interaction with the elderly, storytelling squirrel at the beginning and end of the book. And I loved the story in the middle. Nuts to You is a keeper, for sure.

“Nuts to you, my friend. Nuts to us all.”

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Wit and Wisdom from (Mostly) Cybils Nominees 2014

I am a collector of aphorisms, a gatherer of proverbs, and a dispenser of words of wisdom.

If we could all remember and act upon these kidlit maxims, the world would be a better place, or at least a more innocent and childlike place.

1. “Just because doing the right thing can be prickly, that doesn’t make it any less right.” ~Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner.

2. “Our goal was never to live; our goal is to love. It is the goal of all truly noble men and women. Give all that can be given. Give even your life itself.” ~Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson.

3. “Cowards live for the sake of living, but for heroes, life is a weapon, a thing to be spent, a gift to be given to the weak and the lost and the weary, even to the foolish and the cowardly.” ~Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson.

4. “[O]nly a coward would rather defenestrate a helpless old man than face me in a fair fight.” ~The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy.

5. “Maybe normal’s not so bad.” ~Minion by John David Anderson.

6. “Never sit down at the negotiating table with cannibals, lest you find yourself on the menu.” ~Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly.

7. “[L]ife is neither fair nor kind.” ~Always Emily by Michaela MacColl.

8. “In this game of life
your family is the court
and the ball is your heart.
No matter how good you are,
no matter how down you get,
always leave
your heart
on the court.” ~The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

9. “If I tell you, you’ll just forget at some critical point. If you figure it out for yourself, you’ll always remember.” ~The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell.

10. “The only cage that a grudge creates is around the holder of that grudge.” ~The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell.

11. “Bravery isn’t measured by size. It’s measured by heart.” ~Mouseheart by Lisa Fielder.

12. “A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens ‘em. And a lie does the opposite. It helps you hide.” ~The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier.

13. “Don’t confuse what you do with who you are. . . [T]here’s no shame in humble work.” ~The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier.

14. “Stay right with your brothers. Stay right with the Lord. Hit like thunder, and run like the devil’s nightmare.” ~Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson.

15. “It’s never too late to make a better decision.” ~The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage.

16. “Everything takes as long as you’ve got.” ~The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage.

17. “[M]ost situations don’t require my input.” ~The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage.

18. “You can’t buy a friend, that’s for sure. You have to be one.” ~Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, The Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions by Lenore Look.

19. “No lamb for the lazy wolf.” ~Frostborn by Lou Anders.

20. “If there’s one thing more stressful than being attacked by ravenous ghost-rats, it’s finding that you’re going to a fancy party and you haven’t got a thing to wear.” ~Lockwood & Co.: The Whispering Skull.

21. “Angry and grumpy.
Jealous and grumpy.
Selfish and grumpy.
Worried and grumpy.
Sad and grumpy.
Grumpy is like ketchup—it goes with a lot of things.”
~Wisher Dreamer Liar by Charise Mericle Harper.

22. “Just because something is true, it doesn’t mean you want to know about it.” ~Wisher Dreamer Liar by Charise Mericle Harper.

23. “[T]ragedy is not glamorous. . . . Tragedy is ugly and tangled, stupid and confusing.” ~We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.

24. “Be a little kinder than you have to.” ~We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.

25. “In searching for the truth, be ready for the unexpected. Change alone is unchanging.” ~Heraklietos of Ephesos in The Ninja Librarians: Accidental Keyhand by Jen Swann Downey.

26. “Do not, however tempting it might be, poke sticks at sleeping grifters.” Cabinet of Curiosities, Emma Trevayne.

27. “Bring your brain to the party.” ~The Twistrose Key by Tone Almhjell.

28. “Do it like you mean it!” ~Little Green Men at the the Mercury Inn by Greg Leitich Smith.

29. “Failure is just as valuable as success, if you figure out what caused the failure.” ~Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka.

30. “Together, we’re strong. Strong enough to fight, and strong enough to win.” ~Horizon by Jenn Reese.

31. “Iron resolve. Ferocious courage. And a healthy dose of insanity. That’s what makes a superhero. Not some amazing power.” ~Almost Super by Marion Jensen.

32. “It’s not your power that makes you super. It’s what you do with that power.” ~Almost Super by Marion Jensen.

33. “An empty food dish means chaos.” ~Fat & Bones and Other Stories by Larissa Theule.

34. Q: “Is there really a cure?”
A: “For every very blessed ill there is being a cure.”
~Thursdays with the Crown by Jessica Day George.

35. “You must be putting on your shoes like a very man, and going forth!” ~Thursdays with the Crown by Jessica Day George.

36. “If you’re going to do it, don’t do it stupid.” ~Loot by Jude Watson.

37. “If you think nothing can go wrong, you’d better think again.” ~Loot by Jude Watson.

38. “Never cheat, but be able to spot a cheater.” ~Loot by Jude Watson.

39. “Life isn’t fair. It never has been and it never will be. You can sit back and moan about its unfairness while the witches roll across the countryside, or you can pick yourself up and get on with it.” ~Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson.

40. “You get to decide who you want to be. No one else.” ~Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson.

41. “Let love heal you.” ~The Time of the Fireflies by Kimberley Griffiths Little.

42. “One’s nature is largely a product of habit.” ~The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler.

43. “It is always better to ask a question than to answer one.” ~Shouldn’t You Be In School? by Lemony Snicket.

44. “You should only snap your fingers if you do it well. It’s the same for surgery, or driving a forklift.” ~Shouldn’t You Be In School? by Lemony Snicket.

45. “If you’ve never had buttermilk and you’re curious what it tastes like, good for you and don’t be.” ~Shouldn’t You Be In School? by Lemony Snicket.

46. “The treachery of the world will continue no matter how much you worry about it.” ~Shouldn’t You Be In School? by Lemony Snicket.

47. “Everyone needs a moment on the diving board, before jumping into the depths below.” ~Shouldn’t You Be In School? by Lemony Snicket.

48. “Don’t be dazzled. Pay attention. Use your knowledge of the enemy.” ~Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins.

49. “Sometimes the thing to do is invite your adversary for cake and lemonade, and see if they can become your friend.” ~Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins.

50. “But when you are Team Squirrel, and the other team is Team Hawk, this is not a good idea. Because as far as the hawk is concerned, you are the cake. And also the lemonade.” ~Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins. (See also #6.)

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
Some of these books are also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.