Friday, March 01, 2013

January/February book list(updated*)

Favorite Picture Books

Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Constance R. Bergum
Gorgeous artwork of animals in their wintry habitats, some hibernating, others busy.
Text is brief with good descriptive sentences that have just the right amount of information.
A beaver family huddles together inside a cozy log lodge. When they get hungry, they swim to their food storage pile and munch on some sticks.
The illustrations convey richness and show curious details such as a beaver lodge that looks dare I say, comfy and even manages to make a woodchuck look adorable.  Extra artwork points for that accomplishment.
The same team did When Rain Falls which I have not seen yet and our library does not have.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, illustrated by Susan Jeffers
We memorized this poem last winter and enjoyed this book this winter.  The artwork is beautiful and creative details.  I loved the soft and muted ivory snow scenes with the occasional splash of red.  Lovely.

Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens
This is a picture book which you hold perpendicular to read, top to bottom of course.
It tells the story of a lazy, sleepy bear who owns a lot of land but lets it sit idle and a bold hare and his family who have lost their land and need money and food to survive.
The hare comes up with a clever idea of going into business with the bear by farming the land together.
Three planting seasons later, the bear wisens up and starts working his own land while the hare successfully uses his produce to help his family provide for themselves.
It is a clever use of vegetables and good way to discuss the different ways vegetables grow.  It may inspire some young gardeners to see if they can grow some tops and bottoms too.
It received the Caldecott Honor award.

Bird Talk: What Birds are Saying and Why by Lita Judge
I confess I didn't understand immediately that the text begins with what the birds are purported to be saying, so I was a bit confused until I realized the pattern of the book which introduces what the birds are saying and then gives some examples of different types of birds acting this out.  By the time, I got the hang of the book, the illustrations had won me over.  This illustration cracks me up every time I look at it.

Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott by Yona Zeldis McDonough, illustrated by Bethanne Andersen
Over the last two years I have been reading my through my growing collection of Alcott's books and she has become one of my favorite story tellers, so this picture book biography held my attention.  Illustrations are full page and full color.

Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel by Leslie Connor, illustrated by Mary Azarian
Recommended by Elise at A Path Made Straight and so I requested it from our library. I like that it showed her as a young lady, a young wife, an older mother, and an older wife, finding many opportunities to use her shovel to make a home with her family.

No Two Alike by Keith Baker
This book surprised me by making us all laugh our heads off at the antics of the two red birds feautred on the cover.  The illustrations seemed to outshine the prose and caused us to quickly finish the book to go back to the illustrations that the kids enjoyed the most.  An unexpected favorite for me.

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
This is another title which featured animals and their wintry habitats and also told the story of an adventurous boy skiing through the woods with his dad.  Again the wonderful illustrations help give expression to what we often do not see under the blankets of snow and ice.

The Year at Maple Hill Farm by Alice and Martin Provensen
A seasonal mixture of large and small illustrations with many details to catch the eye, but it is the text that catches you by surprise in this book.  After seeing a huge black sheep dog go from his thick wooly fur (or is it hair?) down to his sheared skinny self, the accompanying text reminds the reader that cats do not need haircuts; they leave their hair on people's clothes and furniture.  Very funny and very true.

Chapter Books

The Dollshop Downstairs and The Cats in the Doll Shop  by Yona Zeldis McDonough, illustrated by Heather Maione
These two sweet books tell the story of a Russian Jewish immigrant family who own a doll repair shop in New York City before World War 1.  Anna, the middle daughter, age nine, recounts the struggles and pleasures of her sisters and herself as they play, work and attend school.  Each girl has a favorite doll who is awaiting repair and the playtimes they share together are full of creative play and sometimes sisterly arguments.  But as Anna tells us, she and her sisters begin to understand and love each other more sincerely as the family business becomes jeopardized as doll parts become scarce when war with Germany begins.

Interesting facts of doll making and repair are woven into the story as well as some background information of life in Russia prior to the turn of the century.  Anna's parents are shown to be hard-working, yet kind and respectful of their girls' desire to help with the family business  The girls each exhibit sewing skills that they use to help make dolls and their clothes and Anna knows how to keep the store by herself, talking to grownups, conducting business, handling money and transactions.

The sequel involves the family in helping some cats that have been treated poorly by a neighbor but more importantly they care for their young Russian relative who comes to live with them during the war.

In both stories, several adorable new dolls are crafted and successfully sold to the large FAO Schwarz in the city which might help get the creative minds who read these books thinking about making their own dolls and clothes.

Tumtum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn, illustrated by Nick Price
A husband and wife mouse couple, affectionately called Tumtum and Nutmeg, live in the broom cupboard of the Mildew(!) family which is widowed father who works as an inventor and his two children.  The mice couple take pity on the family, the children in particular and seek to help them in various ways which do not go unnoticed by the children, a brother and a sister.
When bossy, mean-spirited Aunt Ivy comes for an unexpected stay, life becomes almost unbearable for both the mice and human families.
Aunt Ivy is seeking shelter in her brother-in-law's home while hers is being cleared of mice, so when she sees  Tumtum and Nutmeg she declares war on them.  After Tumtum falls ill under suspect circumstances, Nutmeg determines a way to get rid of Aunt Ivy and a militia of mice is called upon to help.
The mice couple are very sweet and kind to each other and their desire to help the Mildew children and their father is very touching.
Emily Bearn is a British writer and so the story does contain some language that can be inappropriate for children, ie. Aunt Ivy says, "Dam* it" during a harrowing moment in the story.
I would allow our 9.5 year old son to read it, with some cautionary words about appropriate language.
Nutmeg is the heroine of the story and she is a very lovable, devoted wife and surrogate mother.  A classy mouse-lady if ever there was one.
This book contains three stories.

I also read The Borrowed House by Hilda Van Stockum.
It is definitely not a book I recommend for younger children as it is an historical novel set in Nazi Germany and the difficult events that happened during this time.  However, it was the intriguing story of a young, teenaged girl who believes what she was taught to believe until through a series of events and friendships begins to mature in her understanding of her role as a daughter and friend.

Classics and Other Such Books
Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott
This is the sequel to Little Women and follows the March family into marriages and other major life events.  I loved reading it and I was disappointed when it came to the end.  Alcott's stories are without a doubt meant to instruct and provide wisdom to its readers.  I have loved every one.

Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
This was my first foray into the popular and prolific books of Angela Thirkell and it was the cover below seen on The Captive Reader that got me interested in finally requesting them from my own local library.

Perhaps I will cheat and send you over to The Captive Reader who writes about books with such a way that I admire and envy. Yes, go read her summary of the book and then I will tell you my paltry thoughts once you are familiar with the cast of characters.
The most endearing character to me was John and his gentle, unassuming way of behaving like a mature, responsible adult surrounded by so many flighty, capricious family members.  The most painful passages to read were of Emily Leslie, the matriarch giving long, detailed, unnecessary instructions and logistics to family and servants alike.  Paragraphs full of who was take what car with whom and when and which servants were to bring this item where and when.  Her personality made me snicker and cringe alternately through the whole book.

August Folly also by Angela Thirkell
I had requested two Angela Thirkell titles just to give me some variety. This second one, was put down in some disgust after reading several chapters, when one of the young men, Richard Tebben was found to be professing love for an older married woman in private poetry and was unchecked by his approving and consoling sister.  However, I picked it back up and managed to finish it and see the young man humbled into forgoing this ridiculous unrequited love affair and mature into a man with purpose and honor.  The descriptions of food at Lamb's Piece, the home of Richard Tebben and family were so unappealing, I felt sorry for the father, Mr. Tebben, although being the man of the house could surely have asserted his culinary wishes.  I noted that the character of Winifred Tebben, the lady of the house, suffered from the same personality defects as Emily Leslie in her tendency to go on and on about details and instructions for their housekeeper, Mrs. Phipps or the laundry service or utilizing the donkey cart for transporting people and bags.  Amusing for sure but slightly infuriating as well.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Admittedly, I picked this off my shelf of classics because it is a short book and I needed to feel the success of making it quickly through a classic. Confession over, it was easy to read although confusing at times as I really had no acquaintance with the story line.  But as the plot became clearer, my reading slowed to attend the salient points that Dr. Jekyll's closing letter provided.  It is really an epistle about the nature of humans and sin and as Dr. Jekyll found out, the longer he indulged Mr. Hyde's baser activities, the more he lost control of which person he really was. God's words of caution and instruction to Cain in Genesis 4:7 come to mind here. But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
You know you have loved and enjoyed a book when watching the movie version does not appeal to you.  Oh I did watch one of the movie versions years ago, so long ago that I did not remember the details of the story, except that Elizabeth Bennett does indeed marry Mr. Darcy.
I truly savored the time they spent together in Derbyshire at Pemberley and loved the housekeeper's unfettered admiration and loyalty to her master.  I have already started Emma, but am considering rereading it again anyway.

 *I knew I would do it. Return some of the library books and then forget to write about them.

 The Four Story Mistake (Melendy Quartet) by Elizabeth Enright
I saw a quote from this book in a post by Mama Squirrel at Dewey's Treehouse and thought I would check it out. I do have a few other titles by Elizabeth Enright, but I was not familiar with this series. This is the second book of four about the Melendy family and I will go back and the read the first, The Saturdays and then finish the series if I can.  Four children, one dad, one housekeeper and one handyman/farmhand and an old house provide much entertainment, life lessons and general hilarity.

Colonial Living by Edwin Tunis
This is the second time I have borrowed this book from our local library and the second time I have found myself reading page after page on topics such as processing flax, the mechanics of a loom, drying tobacco, Puritan shoes and Dutch homes from the Colonial era of America.  How I can read twenty pages with interest and intrigue is a testament to Mr. Tunis' numerous detailed drawings and lucid, oftentimes humorous explanations.  His books have been republished by Johns Hopkins University Press and this biographical piece gives you some insight into his work and his legacy.  I do plan on tracking down the older editions of many of his books and while the topics may seem dry, his attention to historical detail is what keeps the reader poring over the book.  I'll also mention another author whose work is of similar interest and also provides detailed historical illustrations, and that is Eric Sloane, whose books I have already started finding second-hand to add to our family library.

Laughter On The Stairs by Beverley Nichols
A British author,  Beverley Nichols wrote this title as the middle book of a trilogy based on the house and gardens he owned and renovated.  Again I didn't realize this was part of a series or I would have started with the first title, Merry Hall.  I checked several times to make sure that these books were based on real events and as best as I can tell, they are, but I may be wrong after all.  He writes conversationally about the house, its inhabitants and its visitors.  There were a few moments where I felt I was plodding through the book, but most of the incidents he relates are humorous and human interest stories.  The concluding story about a flower show wherein he was a judge is an example of the slightly outrageous stories that cause you to think he might be telling a yarn.  At some point, I imagine I will request the first title and acquaint myself with some of the details alluded to in the first book.  He was quite a prolific writer so there are many titles to choose from if you enjoy the British culture.


  1. Thanks for this post -- my request list from the library will be growing this evening :)

  2. Heather,
    I ADORED this post. I must take some time to do the same because these are often some of my favorite posts of others to read. :) I have more books on hold at our library, now, thanks to you... and you've inspired me to check out Angela Thirkell and to re-read Pride and Prejudice!

    Love to you and yours,

  3. ps: We recently discovered the Provensen books, too- and think they're very funny. The writing is so lively! :)

  4. Kathleen7:44 AM

    I pretty much just copied your list directly into my OPL holds list.

    You'd really like all the Nicola Davies books - they are very much like the under the snow books, sweet and gently scientific but not overwhelmingly so.

    Thanks for the lovely suggestions.


  5. Kathleen8:08 AM

    One more fast note - I know, I know... Tim Keller, I am obsessed ... but he has a fantastic sermon on "redeemer free sermon resource" based on Dr Jekyll and My Hyde. The backdrop is, of course, Romans 7:21 ... so I find this law at work... when I want to do good... evil is right there with me.

    You would love it. Ok, maybe not as much as I love it, but you would like.

  6. Thank you SO much for all the loving labor you must have put into this post. I appreciate the details about books I'm not familiar with, because I want to buy books for my grandchildren, but I have been so often disappointed by the number of truly poor offerings out there. It helps to have a list of recommended ones to start with!

  7. I'm so thankful that so many of you benefited from this list. Thanks for writing, Gretchen Joanna, it's wonderful to hear from you!


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