Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Julia Donaldson's Picture Books

We missed The Gruffalo when it was at the Children’s Theatre, but my nephew saw it and was so mesmerized by the story that I think it will always be one of his favorites. How can you not love a little mouse who out-smarts his would-be enemies, scaring them off by describing his great friend, a gruffalo. What’s a gruffalo, you ask?

“He has terrible tusks, and terrible claws, and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws…”

And of course, his favorite food is always whichever predator the mouse is talking to.

The twist in the story comes when the mouse finds out that the creature he is describing truly exists! Check out this book to find out how the mouse outsmarts him, too.

My kids and I recently went on a Julia Donaldson reading spree, and this was one of their three favorites. Another winner was The Spiffiest Giant in Town. This giant actually starts out as the scruffiest in town. He decides to spruce himself up, but soon discovers that his kind heart will not keep him spiffy for long. My kids loved the last page of this book.

These two books were illustrated by Axel Scheffler, who has a bright, friendly style. Tyrannosaurus Drip’s illustrator is David Roberts, and although the Donaldson/Scheffler partnership feels perfect, I think Roberts gets this one just right. His dinosaurs are quirky and make me giggle. In this story, a duckbill egg ends up in a T-Rex nest. Since duckbills are peaceful plant-eaters, and T-Rexs are scary meat-eaters, Little Drip finds himself in quite a predicament. (And yes, he comes out of it a hero!)

In checking online, I found this Gruffalo website, which includes games and some little videos of Julia Donaldson and her husband singing a few songs based on her books. The Gruffalo was also made into a 30-minute animated movie for BBC television last holiday season, with a cast including Robbie Coltrane (in the title role) and Helena Bonham Carter. You can see a trailer here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Poetry Friday: First Snow

This past Saturday, we had our first snow. In the early hours of the morning, I heard Skye's footsteps as she went from window to window to see the beautiful views. Later, I heard Felix exclaim, "Everyone, come here! It snowed!" I love those snowfalls that happen in the night, so that you awake to a fairy-world the next day.

Here's a little poem I found by Mary Louise Allen, titled "First Snow":

Snow makes whiteness where it falls,
The bushes look like popcorn balls.
The places where I always play,
Look like somewhere else today.

I think this is what Felix was feeling as he looked out on our backyard.

I also found this lovely poetry project which uses Flickr to randomly collect snow photos. Click here to watch the images as you hear the poem. You can even replay the poem, asking it to search for new images. The first cycle of photos I got worked really well. The words and imagery in the poem are gorgeous. You can read the poem here. You can read about the project here.

Is there snow now where you live?

You can find more poetry at Random Noodling, this week's Poetry Friday host.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Poetry Friday: Garrison Keillor's 77 Love Sonnets

From "November":

Readers and writers are two sides of the same gold coin.
You write and I read and in that moment I find
A union more perfect than any club I could join:
The simple intimacy of being one mind.
Here in a book-filled sun-lit room below the street,
Strangers -- some living, some dead -- are hoping to meet.

I just finished Keillor's book of sonnets, and enjoyed so many of them. This was one of my favorites, and appropriate to post here both for its title and its book-loving thoughts. Others I particularly liked include "Supper," "In a Cab," "Speak to Me," "Sonnet for a Major Birthday," and, from his twelve-months cycle, also "March" and "December."

Just a quick note for Poetry Friday this week. I hope to write more sometime soon about Keillor and his poems, as well as his bookstore, which is the "book-filled sun-lit room below the street" in the poem above. I haven't had much time to post recently, but plan to get back to it soon. You can find more lovely poetry reading over at Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, this week's Poetry Friday host.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Poetry Friday: Runny Babbit

My kids and I just finished reading Shel Silverstein's Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook. If you haven't seen it before, you can guess from its title how the poems are written.

Both Skye and Felix loved it. We'd read each poem in "Runny Babbit talk," and then do a translation together. Each poem has a Shel Silverstein vibe to it, and the added bonus of a new language is fun to explore. I think playing with language in ways like this helps to expand children's literacy.

I was really pleased to find a YouTube version of one of the poems. Click here to read/watch "Runny on Rount Mushmore."

Shel Silverstein's website is wonderful! There's a special area for kids, where they can do things like play games, print a bookmark, and send an e-card. In the books area, you will find more poem animations. Ideas for teachers, parents and librarians include some lesson plans and activities for Runny Babbit.

Here's one of my favorite Shel Silverstein poems:

Draw a crazy picture,
Write a nutty poem,
Sing a mumble-gumble song,
Whistle through your comb.
Do a loony-goony dance
'Cross the kitchen floor,
Put something silly in the world
That ain't been there before.

Head over to the Teaching Authors blog to see more Poetry Friday posts!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

All Hallow's Read (Postscript)

After posting about All Hallow's Read, of course I had to participate! Here's what I gave:

After browsing in my favorite used bookstore, I picked two mysteries to give my parents, who babysat for us this past weekend. My dad likes quick mysteries with short chapters, those chocolate bon-bons of the reading shelf. He also loves Paris. I've never read Harlan Coben before, but spotted Long Lost and grabbed it for him. It may not be great literature, but I hope it's an enjoyable read. I've heard some good things about these Myron Bolitar thrillers.

I also got them a signed copy of A Carrion Death. Michael Stanley is actually the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. I recently heard Trollip speak about their mysteries, and loved what he said about their writing process: "People ask me how we write together. They think it must be difficult. I think it must be difficult for authors who don't write with others!" That's not an exact quote, but it's the way I remember it.

I had a great time shopping for my kids. I went to our local independent children's bookstore and first browsed the Halloween display. Felix has been loving Amelia Bedelia lately ("But why does she take everything literally?"), so I scored a signed copy of Happy Haunting, Amelia Bedelia for him. I also got him Spooky Sara because the pictures were so cute and I thought he'd like it. (He loved both of the books.)

For Skye, I asked the advice of the bookseller there. I told her about Skye's three recommendations, and she immediately went to the shelf to look for Eva Ibbotson's Which Witch? They didn't have it in stock, so we ended up choosing The Secret of Platform 13 instead. Skye hasn't felt motivated to give it a try yet, but she says she'll read it with me when we are done with our book for mother-daughter book club. I hope she likes it!

I couldn't resist getting them a couple of other goodies: Day of the Dead paperdolls for Skye, and two Dover Little Activity Books for Felix. Skye loved the paperdolls; Felix enjoyed a few mazes. I'll have to get them out again this weekend.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Poetry Friday: "When the blaze is blue"

Since I'm all about All Hallow's Read right now, I thought I'd pick a poem that truly scared me as a kid. But I loved it, too, with its dialect which made it fun to read, and the lovely new words. I'd beg my mom to read it again and again:


Little Orphant Annie
by James Whitcomb Riley

Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
Ef you


You can read the rest of the poem here. (Beware! Creepiness ahead!)

As I was searching for this poem online, I came across a folk singer who had set some of Riley's poems to music. Click here to see Anne Hills singing her musical verion of Little Orphant Annie. I thought it was really neat. I love how the audience joins in at the end of later verses.

Head over to The Writer's Armchair to read more poems this Poetry Friday.

Have a wonderful All Hallow's Read, everyone!

All Hallow's Read, Part 2

Yesterday, I posted about Neil Gaiman's great idea, along with some scary book suggestions from my kids. Now, Gaiman’s created an All Hallow’s Read website.

Here are the other suggestions I promised:

From me, for young adults

~ A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Gothic, historic, fantastic fiction. What’s not to like?
~ Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Sigh. I first read this one in high school, and it was the perfect time for me to read it. Loved it.
~ How about some Eva Ibbotson, in honor of her amazing writing life?
~ And of course you can't go wrong with The Graveyard Book or Coraline. Our All Hallow’s Read host knows his scary stuff!

From me, for adults

~ We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
The Haunting of Hill House is spooky, but I think this one is spookier.
~ Memento Mori by Muriel Spark
Senior citizens start receiving phone calls informing them that death is coming. “Remember, you must die.” Spark’s storytelling is unexpected and sly.
~ Dracula by Bram Stoker
But of course! How could you pass up an opportunity to give someone this classic horror story? Told from a variety of viewpoints, the pieces come together in a creepy, satisfying way.

Happy All Hallow’s Read, everyone!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

All Hallow's Read, Part 1

Have you seen Neil Gaiman's great idea? He proposes we give someone a scary book this Halloween season. Tonight, the kids and I looked at our book collection and they picked out a few of their favorites to recommend. Here are their suggestions, with comments about each book:

From Felix, my almost-six-year-old:

~ Skeleton Hiccups by Margery Cuyler, illustrated by S.D. Schindler
"A skeleton has the hiccups. (Hic hic hic!) He tries to get them away. It's funny because he drank some water upside down! Read the book to find out how he got rid of them."
~ We're Going on a Ghost Hunt by Marcia Vaughan, illustrated by Ann Schweninger
"Two kids go on a ghost hunt. They go past things that look spooky to them. Who is the ghost? Read the book to find out!"
~ Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
"Max was being mean. His mom called him a 'wild thing' and sent him to his room when he says, 'I'll eat you up!' There, he does his imagination -- went in a private boat with his name on it. Read the book to find out what happens next!"

From Skye, my eleven-year-old:

~ The Witches by Roald Dahl
"This book isn't about fairy-tale witches. They don't have tall, pointy hats and ride around on broomsticks. This book is about real witches. Once you get started, you want to read more and more. It's that kind of book -- very suspenseful! (Just so you know, no real witches are here today. Thank goodness!)"
~ Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of a Mystery by Deborah and James Howe
"A family finds a rabbit in a movie theater and they name him Bunnicula, after the Dracula movie they were watching. The story is told from the point-of-view of the family dog. His friend, the cat Chester, thinks that Bunnicula is a vampire, and together they assemble clues to the mystery. Everything turns out okay! They don't have to drive a wooden stick through Bunnicula's heart, and their house doesn't have to be garlic-reeking forever. A very funny book!"
~ Babymouse: Monster Mash by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
"If you saw the first book of Babymouse, you might have thought that it is a girly-girl book, probably because it's all pink and it's called Babymouse: Queen of the World. I thought that. But when I saw this book, this changed everything. I was begging for the other books. Its cover is orange, not pink, and it has a funny picture. Once I started reading it, I didn't quit. It is simply hilarious, especially the narrator, and Babymouse is just a riot. So stick with me and say, 'Step back, Superman, make way for Babymouse!'"

Tomorrow, I'll post some suggestions for young adult and adult readers.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (Aimee Bender)

As I ate my take-out pad thai today, I tried to discern all of its flavors and nuances: the location of the farm the onions and peanuts came from, the factory that made the noodles, the deepest feelings of the cook, the creator of my meal. After reading The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, I wonder what it would be like to feel all of these things whenever I eat.

Rose Edelstein is able to do this. She realizes she's got this talent the week she is turning nine. She tries a piece of lemon cake with chocolate frosting that her mother's made for her. "A practice round," her mother sweetly calls it, a classic example of something made with love. But Rose doesn't taste love there; what she tastes makes her feel particularly sad and terribly ill.

How can she live with this strange gift/curse? What does it mean to know someone better than they know themselves, but also know that the people you love are truly strangers to you? This coming-of-age story has a nice dose of magical realism and a profound sadness about it. I liked it, and I admire the writerly curiosity and creativity and honesty it took to tell it.

Here's an interview Ms. Bender did about her book. In it, the interviewer asks her about why she doesn't use quotation marks for dialogue. I remember noticing she had a different way with dialogue, that there was more being said underneath the words; she put the words together in unique ways to make them say more. I hadn't even noticed the technicality that she didn't use quotations marks, which tells me it probably worked for me the way she wanted it to. Ms. Bender's answer to the question: "I often don't [use quotation marks] and I don't in this book. Kind of aesthetic choice in certain way because I like how it looks, but it also feels like that line between her internal and external world is a little blurry, which I think is kind of her deal."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Home Sweet Home (Page)

Things are shaping up here at Leaning Tower. Check out my sidebar, which I tidied yesterday. Swept the cobwebs away and dusted off the book lists.

And dusting book lists leads me to, what else? Thoughts of books, of course. Memories of dearly loved books, to be exact. As a child, I delighted in stories with "housekeeping" themes. Still do. Do most people enjoy them? I am not such a good housekeeper. I'd much rather talk about it and daydream about it than actually do it.

Here are a few titles I remember very fondly, plus a new one I recently discovered:

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
My mother read this one aloud to us, her three children. This story of four orphan siblings who have to figure out how to survive on their own -- they find a boxcar to live in -- had us captivated. As the oldest, I was then in charge of our Boxcar Children games. We did not take on the particular roles of the children in the book; rather, we were ourselves, in a Boxcar Children dilemma, and must make do with what we had.

Do you want to know what we had? A typical play session involved a collection like this: four wooden matches (little twigs we'd broken and lined up on a step), one small pot for boiling water on our pretend fire, a cup that we pretended was cracked, like Benny's, and a small handful of raspberries we'd picked, laying on one of our father's old handkerchiefs. Delicious, all of it. I remember begging our parents to let us scrounge up treasures at the dump, and wondering why they didn't think that was a good idea.

This was the first chapter book I read aloud with Skye, when she was just turning five. She was just as fascinated with the details -- Benny's cracked cup! -- as I remember being. We plan to read it with Felix soon.

Mandy by Julie Edwards
This was another of my mother's read-alouds. I'll have to ask her where she first heard of this one. I remember her telling us proudly that this was the author's pen name. It was really Julie Andrews, in disguise! Lovely Mary Poppins/Maria wrote a children's novel? I was sold from the start. (Of course, now I know Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, are big kidlit advocates.)

Mandy is an orphan, and hops over the orphanage wall one day -- which is really out of character for her, and shows you how desperately lonely and restless she feels. She soon has the good luck of finding a little abandoned cottage, and proceeds to clean it out and tidy it up and create a secret space for herself.

I hope to read this one aloud to my kids someday soon, and relive the abandoned cottage fantasy with them.

Miss Suzy by Miriam Young
Melissa Wiley reminded me in a recent blog post of this lovely picture book. When I was little, my mom signed me up for a Parents Magazine Press book club. So exciting, to get books in the mail! This is my original copy.

I just read the story to my kids tonight. Miss Suzy has a sweet little house in an oak tree. "She liked to cook, she liked to clean, and she liked to sing while she worked." One day, some mean red squirrels chase her out and eat up all the nuts she had stored for winter. (At this point, I looked up at my silent kids; their faces showed clear feelings of horror. "Why are they mean and quarrelsome?" asked Felix. I always have a hard time giving a satisfactory answer to questions like this. Why, indeed?) Eventually, Miss Suzy discovers a dollhouse in an attic, and noticing the cobwebs and dust, she can't help but clean it up. Soon, she finds herself settling in there, with five toy soldiers for company -- she found them in the attic, too. Can you guess what happens next? It's Skye's favorite part. Felix tells me his favorite part is the "quarrelsome squirrels."

Do go over and read Melissa Wiley's post about this book. A descendant of the author responded in the comments! I'm crossing my fingers that we'll see another Miss Suzy/Miriam Young post soon at the Bonny Glen.

The Maggie B. by Irene Haas
This is the new discovery, a housekeeping book I would have loved as a child. I believe I first saw mention of this one over on the Fuse #8 blog. Now I can only find a brief mention of it there, with a link to this post from a different blog (Jenny Reads Books), so I'm assuming I clicked over and read about it and then requested it from our library.

This sweet book tells of Maggie and her little brother, who set sail for a day in a boat named for her. Their adventures mostly involve homey comforts, like Maggie creating meals (fruit trees grow on the boat, and a goat and chickens give them milk and eggs), giving her little brother a bath, and singing him a bedtime song. My kids and I felt so cozy after reading it. We went on an Irene Haas binge after this.


As for blog housekeeping, I'm still trying to decide what to do with my current list of reads for 2010. My 2009 list is now a blog post, and it became neater when I separated it into categories: what I read for me, with my daughter Skye, with my son Felix, and for the literature circles I led. Something like that could work in the sidebar, but could get unwieldy as the year goes on. Hm. Maybe I'll keep a running blog post for the list instead.

Oh, and I think I'll use hokey cross-stitch phrases for the titles of my posts from now on.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What I Read in 2009

For me:
1. Shakespeare Wrote for Money (Nick Hornby)
2. The Eight (Katherine Neville)
3. Jerk, California (Jonathan Friesen)
4. Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons)
5. Book of a Thousand Days (Shannon Hale)
6. The Little Giant of Aberdeen County (Tiffany Baker)
7. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (E. Lockhart)
8. Austenland (Shannon Hale)
9. Letter to My Daughter (Maya Angelou)
10. The Tenderness of Wolves (Stef Penney)
11. Little Bee (Chris Cleave)
12. The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)
13. The Careful Use of Compliments (Alexander McCall Smith)
14. Emiko Superstar (Mariko Tamaki and Steve Rolston)
15. The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday (Alexander McCall Smith)
16. The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
17. Death and Judgment (Donna Leon)
18. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (Julia Strachey)
19. Shakespeare's Landlord(Charlaine Harris)
20. The Believers (Zoƫ Heller)
21. How I Live Now (Meg Rosoff)
22. 44 Scotland Street (Alexander McCall Smith)
23. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz)
24. Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout)
25. An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter (Cesar Aira)
26. Tender Morsels (Margo Lanagan)
27. The Actor and the Housewife (Shannon Hale)
28. Acqua Alta (Donna Leon)
29. Julie & Julia (Julie Powell)
30. The House at Riverton (Kate Morton)
31. The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Agatha Christie)
32. Sarah’s Key (Tatiana de Rosnay)
33. Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins)
34. Brain, Child: Summer ’09 issue
35. Quietly in Their Sleep (Donna Leon)
36. The Principles of Uncertainty (Maira Kalman)
37. A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle)
38. When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead)
39. The Clothes They Stood Up In (Alan Bennett)
40. The Lady in the Van (Alan Bennett)
41. The Lost Art of Gratitude (Alexander McCall Smith)
42. Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading (Lizzie Skurnick)
43. The Help (Kathryn Stockett)
44. A Wind in the Door (Madeleine L’Engle)
45. The Amazing Mackerel Pudding Plan (Wendy McClure)
46. Spiral-Bound (Aaron Renier)
47. The Guinea Pig Diaries (A.J. Jacobs)
48. The School of Essential Ingredients (Erica Bauermeister)
49. A Redbird Christmas (Fannie Flagg)
50. Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming (Rachel Hartman)

For/with Skye: (grades 4-5)
1. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey (Trenton Lee Stewart)
2. Babymouse #4, #5, and #6 (Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm)
3. Bud, Not Buddy (Christopher Paul Curtis)
4. Rapunzel's Revenge (Shannon and Dean Hale)
5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (J.K. Rowling)
6. Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren)
7. Deltora Quest #01: The Forests of Silence (Emily Rodda)
8. Sisters Grimm #1: The Fairy Tale Detectives (Michael Buckley)
9. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling)
10. Harriet the Spy (Louise Fitzhugh)
11. The Homework Machine (Dan Gutman)
12. Savvy (Ingrid Law)
13. The Lightning Thief (Rick Riordan)
14. Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning (Danette Haworth)
15. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney)
16. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules (Jeff Kinney)
17. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw (Jeff Kinney)
18. Amulet, Book One: The Stonekeeper (Kazu Kibuishi)
19. Caddie Woodlawn (Carol Ryrie Brink)
20. Amulet, Book Two: The Stonekeeper’s Curse (Kazu Kibuishi)
21. Warriors #4: Rising Storm (Erin Hunter)
22. Castle Waiting (Linda Medley)
23. The Lightning Thief (Rick Riodan) – reread for book group
24. Millicent Min: Girl Genius (Lisa Yee)
25. Grampa and Julie: Shark Hunters (Jef Czekaj)
26. Babymouse #7, #8, and #9 (Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm)
27. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma (Trenton Lee Stewart)
28. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Barbara Robinson)
29. The Magician's Elephant (Kate diCamillo)

With Felix (and often Skye, too): (Pre-K)
1. Two Times the Fun (Beverly Cleary)
2. Magic Tree House #01: Dinosaurs Before Dark (Mary Pope Osborne)
3. Catwings (Ursula Le Guin)
4. Magic Tree House #02: The Knight at Dawn (Mary Pope Osborne)
5. Maybelle in the Soup (Katie Speck)
6. Adventures of the Bailey School Kids #06: Frankenstein Doesn't Plant Petunias (Debbie Dadey)
7. Moongobble and Me #1: The Dragon of Doom (Bruce Coville)
8. Catwings Return (Ursula Le Guin)
9. Mummies in the Morning (Magic Tree House #3) (Mary Pope Osborne)
10. Stage Fright on a Summer Night (Magic Tree House #25) (Mary Pope Osborne)
11. Pirates Past Noon (Magic Tree House #4) (Mary Pope Osborne)
12. Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings (Ursula Le Guin)
13. Jane on Her Own (Ursula Le Guin)
14. Ellen’s Lion (Crockett Johnson)
15. Owly: Tiny Tales (Andy Runton)
16. Owly: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer (Andy Runton)
17. Owly: Just a Little Blue (Andy Runton)
18. Maybelle Goes to Tea (Katie Speck)
19. Owly: Flying Lessons (Andy Runton)
20. Owly: A Time to Be Brave (Andy Runton)

With lit circles: (grade 5)
1. Dear Mr. Henshaw (Beverly Cleary)
2. Spy X #1: The Code (Peter Lerangis)
3. Spy X #2: Hide and Seek (Peter Lerangis)
4. Spy X #3: Proof Positive (Peter Lerangis)
5. Spy X #4: Tunnel Vision (Peter Lerangis)
6. Freaky Friday (Mary Rodgers)
7. Room One: A Mystery or Two (Andrew Clements)
8. The Family Under the Bridge (Natalie Savage Carlson)
9. The Tiger Rising (Kate diCamillo)
10. Tuck Everlasting (Natalie Babbitt)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bless This Mess

I do intend to come back this blog, I really do. Now that the kids are in school again, I've started to sort through my towers of books, working to come up with a plan for Leaning Tower. Just yesterday, I did a bit of organizing in the sidebar, and I have lots of blog post ideas jotted in a notebook.

Here's a view of one of my current book messes:

Maybe I'll try a schedule for writing, as well as for book sorting. I really think I'm going to have to block out time on my calendar for this. If I pick a certain day/time each week, that could help make it a habit. Any other suggestions?

Stay tuned.