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Melissa Wiley is the author of The Martha Years books about Laura Ingalls Wilder's great-grandmother, Martha Morse Tucker, and The Charlotte Years books, about Laura's grandmother, Charlotte Tucker Quiner.
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1. Diagnostic criteria

Me, answering a question distractedly: That’s just, um—

Rilla, shocked: That’s just dumb?

Me: No, just ‘UM’—I was thinking.

Rilla: That makes more sense. If you had really said ‘that’s just dumb,’ I would have thought you had a bad sickness.

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2. Our Week in Books: August 23-30

Books We Read This Week - Here in the Bonny Glen

 

Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller & Anne WilsdorfSophie’s Squash by  Pat Zietlow Miller & Anne Wilsdorf. Read to: my boys.

If you only pick up one new picture book for fall, let this be it. Here’s what I wrote in a Picture Book Spotlight post last year:

We first read this absolute gem of a picture book last year during the CYBILs. Fell so utterly in love with it—the lot of us—that a library copy wouldn’t do; we had to have our own. Huck and Rilla were overjoyed when I pulled it out this morning. Sophie’s instant bond with a butternut squash is utterly believable, and not just because Huck formed a similar attachment once upon a time, long before we encountered this book! “Bernice” becomes Sophie’s best friend and closest confidant, all through a bright and beautiful autumn. But as winter approaches, Bernice begins to get a bit squishy about the edges. Sophie’s parents make gentle attempts to convince Sophie it’s time to let her friend go, but since their suggestions involve treating the squash like, you know, a squash, Sophie’s having none of it. Her own solution is sweet and heartwarming, and it makes my kids sigh that contented sigh that means everything has come out exactly right.


 

How to Read a Story by Kate MessnerHow to Read a Story by Kate Messner, illustrated by Mark Siegel. Read to: my boys.

Well, I was sure I had posted a video of Huck reading this book last March. He was enchanted by the story from the first—a little step-by-step guide to enjoying a book with your best reading buddy, charmingly illustrated—and one day I caught him reading it out loud to himself, putting in all the voices. ::melt:

 

(In case the video won’t play for you, here’s a Youtube link.)


 

Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Chris RaschkaCharlie Parker Played Be Bop by Chris Raschka. Read to: my boys.

One of our longtime family favorites. The rhythm and whimsy of the text has captivated each of our small fry in turn. And the art is bold and funny and altogether wonderful.


 

Don't Know Much About History by Kenneth C. DavisDon’t Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis. Read to: the teens.

Another of the texts Beanie, Rose, and I are using for our 20th-century history studies. We continue to enjoy reading history texts aloud together, which allows us all to stay on the same page (literally) and—even more important—fosters discussion and fruitful rabbit trailing. We try to reserve two 45-minute blocks a week for this, supplementing with other books (including graphic novels, historical fiction, and biographies) and videos.


 

Poetry:

Walt Whitman, selections from “Song of Myself
Gwendolyn Brooks, “kitchenette building


 

Books Continued from Last Week:

(Rillabooks in the top row)
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild audiobook

Best of H.P. Lovecraft An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

I’m nearing the end of To the Lighthouse and am feeling pretty well shattered. And I sort of want to start it all over from the beginning.


 

Related:

books to read with my 9yo  TEXT HERE (2)

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3. Our Week in Books: August 16-22

TEXT HERE (2)

 

The Curious Garden by Peter BrownThe Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009. Review copy received from publisher.
Read to: Huck.

Gorgeous art in this sweetly captivating tale of a boy who, wandering the sterile streets of a bleak city, finds a little outpost of thriving weeds and wildflowers on an abandoned elevated rail track. This Is Your Garden by Maggie SmithHe begins quietly tending the green and growing things, and his found garden begins to spread, gradually transforming the city—and its people.

We’ve loved every Peter Brown book that has walked through our doors, and this was no exception. It’s the art that makes it magical, the wave of vibrant green creeping across the city. Makes a lovely companion to an older picture book that has long been a favorite here: This Is Your Garden by Maggie Smith (now out of print, alas, but available used).


 

Took: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing HahnTook: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn. Clarion Books, to be published Sept. 15, 2105. Advanced review copy received from publisher via Netgalley. Read by: me.

Middle-grade horror story about a (formerly) wealthy Connecticut family who moves into an old West Virginia house near a haunted cabin in the woods. Every fifty years an evil, ancient ghost—known locally as Auntie—kidnaps and ensorcels a young girl. The main character is Daniel, a 13-year-0ld boy who doesn’t believe the wild tales he hears from kids at school—until his little sister goes missing. A suitably creepy tale which will appeal to readers of Vivian Vande Velde’s Stolen.


 

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. HarperTrophy. My copy: purchased with my employee discount at the children’s bookstore I worked at during grad school—with a dream in my heart of one day having children to read it to. Read to: Huck and Rilla (chapters 1-4).

After we finished Winnie-the-Pooh, my youngests picked this for their next read-aloud. Great joy is mine because they are the perfect ages (six and nine), just absolutely perfect.

*In related news, I need to add another row to my Rillabooks post. Conversations ensuing its publication resulted in the addition of four more books to her already overstuffed shelf:

Charlotte’s Web (which it turns out she didn’t remember hearing before—she was probably pretty little last time it came around);

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (because OBVIOUSLY, and what was I thinking, leaving it off?);

The Mysterious Benedict Society (which I had thought to save for another year or two, but I am informed I was mistaken); and

The Two Princesses of Bamarre (whose appearance in a photo of books that almost-but-didn’t-quite make the original list sparked a flurry of happy reminiscences among Jane, her 21-year-old cousin, and Alice’s oldest daughter, aged 22, causing me to reconsider its omission).

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg  The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart  The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine


 

Ginger Pye by Eleanor EstesGinger Pye by Eleanor Estes. Harcourt Young Classics. My copy purchased when Jane was about eight years old. Read to: Rilla. 

This was Rilla’s first read-aloud pick from the Rillabook shelf. She was quite keen to have me read it just to her (no brothers involved). She giggled mightily over the meet-cute of Mr. and Mrs. Pye (with Jane popping in to shriek over the startling fact—which went over her head at age eight—that Mrs. Pye was just seventeen when she married. We began this book the day after Rose’s seventeenth birthday, which put it into stark perspective). Methinks Rilla and I will have fun with this. I’m not sure I’ve read it aloud since that first time (gulp) twelve years ago.


 

D'Aulaires' Book of Greek MythsD’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. Read to: Huck and Rilla. Rose’s copy, purchased some years ago to replace her first copy, which was read to tatters. Read to: Huck and Rilla.

Monday and Friday are our Greek Myths days. This week’s selections were about Hera and Io, and Hephaestus and Aphrodite.

The Lion Storyteller Bedtime BookThe Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book by Bob Hartman. Lion Children’s Books. Our copy, purchased for Beanie at age four. Read to: Huck and Rilla.

Tuesday and Thursday are folk and fairy tale days.* This week, they picked “Tortoise Brings Food: A Story from Africa.” A grumble with this otherwise charming book: that nonspecific from Africa. The other stories are “from Greece,” England, Finland, Puerto Rica, Australia, Wales, Japan, and so on. How about “from Kenya” or Ethiopia or Nigeria? Native American stories get a similarly vague treatment: “from North America.” I’d like a word with this book’s editor. But the stories themselves are amiably written and a good size for reading aloud.

*Any day is a great day for a fairy tale or Greek myth. I just assign them days in my head to ensure that I make the time. The kids don’t know about it.


 

among the dollsAmong the Dolls by William Sleator. Knopf Books for Young Readers. An old copy I brought home from work. Read by: Rilla.

Me: So how do you like it so far?
Rilla, emphatically: I DON’T.

Me: Too scary?

Rilla: It’s terrible! She’s trapped in the dollhouse and they’re being mean to her AND HER MOTHER WALKED RIGHT BY WITHOUT EVEN HEARING HER.

Me: Are you going to keep reading?

Rilla: ::doesn’t hear me, is already immersed again::


 

The Batman Adventures Rogues' GalleryBatman Adventures: Rogues Gallery by the devastatingly handsome Scott Peterson (oh, fine, and Dan Slott and Ty Templeton too). Read by: Wonderboy.

This is a digest-sized compilation of several Batman Adventures stories. The Batman Adventures and Gotham Adventures comics of the 90s were aimed at kids, unlike most Batman comics. It’s nice to see them a book-sized edition that can survive on a library shelf.

Huck enjoyed this collection too, and it only took him five times through to notice that his daddy was listed as an author.


 

The Story of the World Vol 4 Modern WorldThe Story of the World, Volume 4: The Modern Ages by Susan Wise Bauer. “The Boxer Rebellion” chapter. Read aloud to: Rose and Beanie.

The Usborne History of the Twentieth CenturyWhile aimed at slightly younger readers, I find the Bauer series to be useful in setting the stage for more advanced studies. We’re doing the 20th century this year, my teens and I.

The Usborne History of the Twentieth Century. Read/explored with: Rose and Beanie. Again, for context. Mostly we just pored over the overview page at the start of the century. We’d read about Teddy Roosevelt last week in Landmark History of the American People, and this week we found a few videos about him.


 

Boxers by Gene Luen YangBoxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang. First Second Books. Copies received from publisher. Read by: me. On deck for Rose this week. Bean has already read them.

Saints by Gene Luen YangGene is a friend of ours whom we see far too seldom (mainly at SDCC). He is spectacularly talented, but no one on the internet needs me to tell them that. I’d been meaning to read Boxers & Saints, his graphic novel duo about the Boxer Rebellion—told from two different points of view, thus the two books—since the day they were announced. Reaching this time period in my teen’s history studies meant now was the perfect time. Deeply absorbing, unsettling, moving, and educational. I always appreciate Gene’s thoughtful exploration of people’s motivations, and the fearless way he unpacks his characters flaws along with their strengths. Beautiful, beautiful books. Highly recommended.


 

Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild audiobookDancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. Audiobook. Listened to by: Rilla and me.

The current pick for our Saturday night sketchbook date. After all the Roald Dahl we enjoyed all summer, this Streatfeild gem got off to a bit of a slow start for Rilla, but she’s well and truly hooked now. Hilary is about to perform her Dulcie-Pulsie dance in the talent competition. Pulses racing. Delicious.


 

Best of H.P. LovecraftThe Best of H.P. Lovecraft. Scott’s copy. Read by: Rose.

Her first encounter with his work. I haven’t heard her reaction yet—looking forward to it.

An Old-Fashioned Girl An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcottby Louisa May Alcott. My old copy. Read by: Beanie. (And I need to revisit it this week.)

A friend of hers is reading it for her homeschool program, so we and some other chums have joined in. We’ll be discussing it soon. I’d better revisit it right quick!


 

To the Lighthouse by Virginia WoolfTo the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Kindle copy. Read by: me.

Woolf is one of my gaps, which is odd when I think of it—she’s so right for me. I’m sure we did A Room of One’s Own in women’s lit, but somehow she never appeared on a syllabus after that. I’ve been determined to rectify this glaring omission and this summer I have finally found the time. And OH MY. She’s just…she…I want to quote everything. Her prose—I mean, I knew that about her. But only from the outside. Now I’m inside and I can barely speak. I’ve highlighted so many passages, it’s a bit ridiculous. I’ll pull some quotes into a commonplace book when I can.


 

Sandman by Neil GaimanT.A. Barron's Merlin novelsScott is rereading Sandman, and I couldn’t begin to tell you what my older girls are reading these days—I can only keep up with so much. Rose got a bunch of T.A. Barron’s Merlin novels for her birthday, I know that. (Since I wrapped them.) 😉 Beanie pops up with interesting tidbits gleaned from National Geographic (her favorite magazine). Jane was toiling through some Kant in preparation for a philosophy class she’ll take at school this year. I’ve also seen some Maggie Stiefvater in her library pile.


 

Do you know, I thought this would be a quick and easy post? I’d just dash off a list of things read around the house this past week. Turns out I am delusional. But it was fun!

Related:

books to read with my 9yo

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4. Picture Book Spotlight: Four Recent Reads

I’m working on the big Huck-book companion to my Rillabooks post, but, well, you can fit a LOT of picture books on a shelf, see? So when I went around the house pulling things for Huck, I wound up with a mammoth amount of books. And of course we’re reading them faster than I can get them catalogued. That Rilla post took me an entire weekend and I expect this one will be no different. In the meantime, here’s a peek at things Huck has particularly enjoyed this week.

leafmotif

lifetime Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal.

This one landed on our doorstep recently from Chronicle for review. Huck claimed it right out of the package. The concept has fascinated both him and Rilla; it has been requested three times this week. “In one lifetime, this spider will spin 1 papery egg sac.” “In one lifetime, this caribou will grow and shed 10 sets of antlers.”—and on it goes, through many species and an ever-increasing, rather incredible range of numbers. (One seahorse! One THOUSAND babies! And here I thought I had a big family.)

I really love the art—bold yet simple colors against a black background. And you know we are suckers for good nature art around here.

leafmotif

dinosaur dinner with a slice of alligator pieDinosaur Dinner (With a Slice of Alligator Pie): Favorite Poems by Dennis Lee, illustrated by Debbie Tilley.

Looks like this one has gone out of print, more’s the pity. But there are used copies to be found, or maybe you’ll luck out and your library will have it. A giggle-inducing collection of nonsense poetry (arguably the best kind). I pulled this one out yesterday when a certain someone needed lifting out of a grumpy mood. I expected to read a sampling of the poems, but Huck begged for the whole book. No arm-twisting required.

leafmotif

madelineMadeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.

Sure, Rilla has heard this one so many times she knows it by heart. But somehow Huck had altogether missed it. This grievous oversight had to be rectified posthaste. He loved it, of course. Kept telling me to slow down so he could study the pictures. Especially “and frowned at the bad.” And that tiger in the zoo, of course. Now, I know no one on the planet needs my recommendation of a book so tried-and-true, but I include it here as a reminder (much-needed in this household) to make sure the smallest fry don’t miss out on all the gems you read one thousand times to older siblings. (Rilla very nearly missed Miss Rumphius this way!)

leafmotif

berenstain bears big book of science and nature The Berenstain Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature. I thought for sure I’d written about this one at length before. Must have been on a message board, because all I found in the archives was this—from March, 2005! (Oh my heavens.)

Too chilly to stay long. Back inside, the 9yo copied out a passage from Mossflower (a la Bravewriter) while the 6yo practiced piano and I read to the 4yo. She is loving the Berenstain Bears’ Big Book of Nature. Also the Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book (which we never read at bedtime.)

Oh, you guys. Ten years later, those little girls are now so OLD. And here I am still reading the same books to my younger set. Lion Storyteller is on Huck’s shelf this very minute and is slated for my big post. And the paragraph right above the one quoted here, I talk about “our current read-aloud, Ginger Pye.” When we conferred to select a new read-aloud today, that very book was Rilla’s first choice—until she realized I meant a book to read to both her and Huck. For some reason (this comes up now and then) she has zoomed in on Ginger Pye as a book she wants me all to herself for. I grok that impulse. One-on-one time is important when you’re one of six.

(Another tidbit from that old post: I’m giggling at the bit about Jane “settling in to watch a History Channel show about gasoline.” As one does.)

But back to the Berenstains. This Big Book of Science and Nature is tremendously appealing to the four-to-seven crowd (judging by my kids). It explores seasons and nature in an almanac style and is full of the interesting facts. I pulled it out for Huck this morning and he fell into it immediately. I thought I was going to be reading it to him—or with him, at least—but he was so instantly and deeply absorbed that I wound up doing something else. Glad this one is still intact (and a bit surprised, given all the attention it has received over the years).

All right. Back to Giant List-Making.

Related post:

books to read with my 9yo

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5. WorkFlowy for Homeschoolers and Other Busy Parental Types

This is one of those posts that will likely only appeal to a few of you, but I thought it might be useful info for some. I’ve been test-driving a task management app called WorkFlowy this week. So far, so great, I gotta say.

I’ve mentioned before that I move back and forth between listkeeping and planning on paper and on the computer, sometimes tilted more one way than the other. I love my kraft-brown Moleskine Cahier grid journals for daily notes and bullet lists (and a whole lot of doodling), and I don’t see myself ever giving up paper altogether. Especially since I started putting an index on the first page, a la the bullet-journaling method. That simple step made instant coherence out of my mishmash of notes. I refer back to old notebooks frequently and now I can find the thing I’m looking for with relative ease.

cahiers

So why do I use an online task list too? Isn’t that overkill? Not really, not the way I work. I need paper notebooks for a dumping ground, but the computer helps me stay streamlined and focused. For a long while, I was using a combo of Evernote and Remember the Milk (a to-do list app, quite a good one), as described in Mystie Winckler’s Paperless Home Organization. I still stash a lot of stuff in Evernote, but somewhere along the line I fell away from using RtM.

stootWorkFlowy caught my attention when I read that Stewart Butterfield’s team used it while building Slack. (I’m laughing at what a geek that sentence reveals me to be.) Stewart shall forever be known to us former and devoted Glitch players as Stoot Barfield. Before Glitch, he co-founded Flickr. Innovative guy. Slack has become my platform of choice for IM conversation with Scott and one or two other close friends I chat with often during the day. But that’s a topic for another post.

Anyway, I read about WorkFlowy and had to check it out for myself. It’s a streamlined, basic listmaking platform—and it’s marvelous.

It isn’t flashy. Just a simple list of bullet points in outline form, black text on a white screen. (There are a few other theme options, but none of them appeal to me.) You indent your bullets with the tab key, creating as many tiers as you like.

Here’s my basic list, collapsed so you only see the main topic categories.

WorkFlowy top level

This image shows you my whole Workflowy tab because I wanted to show how uncluttered the interface is. I’ll crop the rest of my pictures so you can see the list up close.

Those are the five top-level categories I created, for now. (Remember, this is my first week with it.) “Work” and “Personal” are the top-level categories the tutorial suggests at the outset, and they seemed a good fit for me.

The grey circles around the bullet points mean there are entries under each one. Above is the collapsed view, hiding the rest of my outline. Let’s click to expand something.

work expanded

Here I’ve expanded the Work item, revealing various work subcategories I have created. My freelance clients, the novel I’m revising, and so on. I stuck my blog under work because it’s related to writing or editing, just like everything else on this section of the list.

So far, Personal is divided into subcategories like this:

Personal subs (3)

Under “Kids,” I have subcategories for each kid. (Workflowy calls them “children,” by the way—the subcategories, I mean, not my offspring. The top-level bullets are “parents.”) I’m finding this section particularly useful, a place to record who needs new shoes or has an activity coming up. It does have a bit of overlap with my Medical, Homeschooling, and Shopping categories, so as time goes on I may find I prefer to combine some of my sections.

You hover the mouse to the left of the bullet to pop up the collapse/expand option. Hovering over the bullet itself gives you a chance to mark the item complete, add a note, or other do other things with it, as you see in the popup.

popup options (4)

If you click on a bullet point, the switch to a view of just that one parent category and its children. Like this, when I click on the bullet next to “Homeschooling.”

homeschooling expanded (5)

And here you see where I began to fall in love with Workflowy. It allows me to keep everything in one place—plans, lists, links, the works—and yet it’s not at all cluttered or busy. Even Evernote can’t match this ease of use, in my book.

HOMESCHOOLING TANGENT: Whenever we are beginning a new season of high tide, I tend to start off with pretty detailed lists of things to do, read, strew, and talk about. As the weeks roll on, I fall into a rhythm and can pretty much wing it, day to day. I’ll know what books we’re reading and what else I ought to be paying attention to.

I mention this because I don’t want to give the impression that I am THIS organized all the time. :) Three or four weeks from now, I’ll more likely be jotting down what we did (past tense) at the end of a day rather than a plan-in-advance for what the day will bring. After so many years of rolling with the tides, I have a pretty good sense of how I work, and what works for us as a group. But August wouldn’t be August if I didn’t have some long lovely lists going on.

(Oh, and re the Vermeer and Haydn entries: I’m drawing from the Harmony Fine Arts mini-unit. What a lovely and flexible resource!)

BACK TO WORKFLOWY. That image shows why I prefer onscreen planning for certain things. I do the same kind of thinking aloud, rearranging, and mind-changing on paper, but then of course I wind up with a page full of scratches and arrows. That Workflowy screenshot doesn’t show you how many things I altered after the first brain-dump. Shift + tab moves a bullet to the left, if you want to change its category level. (There’s a keyboard shortcut that allows you move things up or down, but it isn’t working for me. Supposed to be control + shift + arrow, but maybe it’s different for Mac? I haven’t bothered to look it up yet.)

ADORABLENESS TANGENT. The other day Rilla watched me copy and paste something with keyboard shortcuts. “Oh,” she remarked, “do you use Crickle-C too?” ::melt::

NO BUT SERIOUSLY, THIS POST IS ABOUT WORKFLOWY. You can toggle your view to Completed: Hidden if you want your finished tasks to disappear, or pop them back into view with Completed: Visible. (You can see the option up there in the first image, top right corner.) When visible, completed tasks are grayed out with a line through them. Highly satisfying.

You can also add tags! And then filter so only certain tags are showing! Beautiful feature. The search function in general is a most excellent addition to my to-do list process.

I added my THIS WEEK and TODAY categories to help prioritize stuff I really, really don’t want to let fall through the cracks. The hover-popup menu I showed above has a “duplicate” option, if you want something to appear in multiple places. This, too, could be highly useful for homeschool record-keeping or planning. Or menu-planning and so forth.

And that’s about all I’ve figured out in my first week of use. :) There are a lot of video tutorials on the site to take you deeper. I think I’m only beginning to discover its applications. For example, there’s a “share” option that lets you share items with another user. So many possibilities for that! I can see using it with the older kids to keep track of who’s read what. Or we could share a shopping list, and when one of them needs something they add it and it pops up on my screen. That could be awesome.

Oh, and File > Print will put your list on paper.

There’s a mobile version too, of course, so all these lists can travel with you on your phone or tablet. I’m pleased with the interface so far, but I’ve spent most of my time on the desktop version.

I admit I’d love a theme option that allowed my text to be blue, red, or green on a white screen, but that’s a small complaint. The plain-jane version is fine.

 

 

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6. About my previous post…

The formatting looks good on my screen in Chrome and Firefox, but for some reason it’s a hot mess in Feedly. If you’re reading this via a feed reader, I would recommend clicking through to see the post on my site. Should be nice, neat rows of books, not clumps and stacks!

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7. Books on the Rilla Shelf

books to read with my 9yo

These are the books I’ve collected in one place for Rilla to pull from this year. They may be read-alouds or read-alones, depending on what we’re in the mood for. I expect Huck will listen in on a lot of the read-alouds. (And probably the older kids too, sometimes, because we’re like that.)

No particular order here. This is how they landed on the shelf. Will we read them ALL? It’s a long list! Most likely we won’t, but the idea is to pull together a rich selection of books to choose from. The history, science, mythology, and poetry selections (second half of list) form a kind of homeschooling core library, and the fiction and picture book choices (up top) will provide read-aloud and solo reading options for months to come. I’ve listed those first because they’re what we’ll lead off with most mornings, to make sure life doesn’t crowd out the very best part of the day.

dorothywizardinozI’m quite sure other titles will join the list as we go. I can already think of a few I’ve left off, but which she may be ready for by the end of the year. (It doesn’t help that Jane keeps thrusting more books at me. “I loved this one at her age!” She’s my daughter, all right.) 😉

Naturally I expect Rilla will spend a lot of time revisiting some of her own favorites, especially the Oz graphic novel adaptations by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young and other comics.

Also!! We have Swallows and Amazons, Ballet Shoes, and Dancing Shoes on audio to listen to during our Saturday night art-and-audiobook sessions, now that we have made our way through most of Roald Dahl. (This, by the way, is the only reason Ransome, Streatfield, and Dahl aren’t on the list below. I imagine Rilla will return to Matilda, James, the BFG, and Charlie at some point during the year—they were great favorites.)

I suppose I should also mention that Scott is currently reading her my Charlotte series at bedtime. He reads all my novels to the kids. I can’t do it because I always want to tweak the writing. :)

For a look at what besides books will fill Rilla’s days, see “High Tide for Huck and Rilla.”

1

*An asterisk means the book has one or more sequels which may be added to this list

family under the bridgeencyclopedia brownthe rescuers by margery sharpturtle in paradise

The Family Under the Bridge, Natalie Savage Carlson
Encyclopedia Brown, Donald Sobol*
The Rescuers, Margery Sharp
Turtle in Paradise, Jennifer Holm

stories julian tellsgreen embercalpurnia tatepeterpan

The Stories Julian Tells, Ann Cameron*
The Green Ember, S. D. Smith
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly*
Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie

akiko on the planet smoobook of threehomer pricepippi longstocking

Akiko on the Planet Smoo, Mark Crilley*
The Book of Three, Lloyd Alexander*
Homer Price, Robert McCloskey
Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren*

half magicgone-away lakeamong the dollsmiss happiness and miss flower

Half Magic, Edward Eager*
Gone-Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright
Among the Dolls, William Sleator
Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, Rumer Godden

understood betsyall of a kind familybetsy-tacy treasurybeezus and ramona

Understood Betsy, Dorothy Canfield Fisher
All-Of-A-Kind Family, Sydney Taylor*
Betsy-Tacy series, Maud Hart Lovelace (see my Reader’s Guide to Betsy-Tacy)
Beezus and Ramona, Beverly Cleary*

ginger pyetwenty-one balloonssearch for deliciouslast of the sandwalkers

Ginger Pye, Eleanor Estes*
The Twenty-One Balloons, William Pene du Bois
The Search for Delicious, Natalie Babbitt
The Last of the Sandwalkers, Jay Hosler

penderwicksfive children and itfarmer boythe borrowers

The Penderwicks, Jeanne Birdsall*
Five Children and It, E. Nesbit*
Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder*
The Borrowers, Mary Norton*

gammage cuprowan of rinlittle princesszita the spacegirl

The Gammage Cup, Carol Kendall* (my review)
Rowan of Rin, Emily Rodda*
A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
Zita the Spacegirl, Ben Hatke*

7

hattie and the wild waveseleanoronly opal

Hattie and the Wild Waves, Barbara Cooney
Eleanor, Barbara Cooney
Only Opal, Barbara Cooney

bedtime for francesbest friends for francesbread and jam for frances

Bedtime for Frances, Russell Hoban
Best Friends for Frances, Russell Hoban
Bread and Jam for Frances, Russell Hoban (nine years old is a perfect time to revisit Frances)

lady with ship on her headgiraffe that walked to parispleasant fieldmouse

The Lady with the Ship On Her Head, Deborah Nourse Lattimore
The Giraffe that Walked to Paris, Nancy Milton
Pleasant Fieldmouse, Jan Wahl

saint george and the dragonChanticleer and the FoxThe Mouse Bride
Saint George and the Dragon, Margaret Hodges
Chanticleer and the Fox, Barbara Cooney
The Mouse Bride, Judith Dupre

Chin Yu Min and the Ginger CatThe Swan MaidenMufaro's Beautiful Daughters

Chin Yu Min and the Ginger Cat, Jennifer Armstrong
The Swan Maiden, Howard Pyle
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, John Steptoe

(The folk and fairy tales could easily go with the group below, so I’ve stuck them kind of in between)

6

Barefoot Book of Animal TalesFavorite Greek MythsD'Aulaires' Book of Greek MythsA Wonder Book for Girls and Boys

Barefoot Book of Animal Tales, Naomi Adler
Favorite Greek Myths, Mary Pope Osborne
D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths
A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys, Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Green Fairy BookThe King of Ireland's SonTatterhood and Other TalesAmerican Tall Tales

The Green Fairy Book, Andrew Lang*
The King of Ireland’s Son, Padraic Colum
Tatterhood and Other Tales, Ethel Johnston Phelps
American Tall Tales, Mary Pope Osborne (finishing this one up)

2

Handbook of Nature Studydrawing birds with colored pencilsUsborne Science Activities, Volume 1

Handbook of Nature Study, Anna Botsford Comstock (with some Outdoor Hour Challenges)
Drawing Birds with Colored Pencils, Kaaren Poole
Usborne Science Activities, Volume 1
Various field guides: Insects, Birds, Rocks

A Rock Is LivelyAn Egg Is QuietA Nest is Noisy

A Rock Is Lively, Dianna Aston & Sylvia Long
An Egg Is Quiet, Dianna Aston & Sylvia Long
A Nest is Noisy, Dianna Aston & Sylvia Long

Enid Blyton's Nature Lovers BookOne Small Square- BackyardOutside Your Window

Enid Blyton’s Nature Lovers Book
One Small Square: Backyard, Donald M. Silver
Outside Your Window, Nicola Davies (nature poems)

3

A Child's History of the WorldOne Day In Ancient RomeDetectives in TogasA Street Through Time

A Child’s History of the World, Virgil M. Hillyer (2-3 chapters a week)
One Day In Ancient Rome, G.B. Kirtland
Detectives in Togas, Henry Winterfield
A Street Through Time, Anne Millard

A World Full of HomesMaterial WorldTree in the TrailMinn of the Mississippi

A World Full of Homes, William A. Burns
Material World: A Global Family Portrait
Tree in the Trail, Holling Clancy Holling (finishing from the spring)
Minn of the Mississippi, Holling Clancy Holling (a lot of nature/science crossover here)

4

The Mouse of AmherstJoyful NoisePoetry for Young People- African American PoetryPoetry for Young People- William Butler Yeats

The Mouse of Amherst, Elizabeth Spires (yes, again)
Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, Paul Fleischman
Poetry for Young People: African American Poetry
Poetry for Young People: William Butler Yeats

The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children's PoemsFavorite Poems Old & NewAll the Small Poems & Fourteen More

The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children’s Poems, Donald Hall
Favorite Poems Old & New, edited by Helen Ferris (a family treasure!)
All the Small Poems & Fourteen More, Valerie Worth

Poetry for Young People- William ShakespeareBeautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children

Poetry for Young People: William Shakespeare
Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children, E. Nesbit (one story a week)

5

MichaelangeloWhat Makes a Bruegel a BruegelWhat Makes a Picasso a Picasso

Michaelangelo, Diane Stanley
What Makes a Bruegel a Bruegel
What Makes a Picasso a Picasso

roundbuildingsA Short Walk Around the Pyramids & Through the World of ArtRound Trip

Round Buildings, Square Buildings, Buildings That Wriggle Like a Fish, Philip M. Isaacson (posted about here)
A Short Walk Around the Pyramids & Through the World of Art, Philip M. Isaacson
Round Trip, Ann Jonas (a favorite with my babies, but if you look at it you’ll see why it works for art as well)

Usborne Big Book of Things to Docreature campDraw Africa

Usborne Big Book of Things Do
Creature Camp: 18 Softies to Draw, Sew, & Stuff, Wendi Gratz
Draw Africa by Kristin J. Draeger

So many books!

As I said, I don’t expect to read this entire list in a single year, especially the fiction selections at the top. And I’m sure Rilla will encounter other enticing titles along the way. Or maybe she’ll get hooked on Redwall or Warriors like her sisters did at this age, and read those obsessively to the exclusion of things on this list. The point is for us to have a rich bounty to draw from, a shelf she knows she can go to whenever she needs something new. I would hazard we’ll manage 1-2 read-aloud novels per month, depending on length. The rest will be options for her to read on her own. I’ll let you know which ones we pick for read-aloud time.

The lower chunk of the list will serve as the spine for our high-tide mornings. A typical day’s reading looks something like:

• Chapter of current read-aloud novel
• A poem or two, sometimes to memorize
• A chapter of Child’s History of the World or a passage from Handbook of Nature Studies (alternating days)
• A Greek myth, folk tale, or Shakespeare story (about twice a week, and this may include longer picture books)
• Something from the art, science, or history lists (perhaps we do an experiment from Usborne Science Activities, or maybe we spend some time poring over Brueghel’s paintings, for example)
• Whatever other books she is reading on her own

Some days have more reading aloud, some days less. Some days I focus more on the teens. Or a big sister might read to Huck and Rilla while I work with the other teen. Some days (or weeks) we’ll follow a rabbit trail that may involve a library trip or two. But we always circle back to the tried-and-true favorites above (plus one or two new treasures). I love this list so much. These books live in that wonderful late-elementary space I love so dearly—as a writer, a reader, and a mom.

Next up: Huck’s list! (Give me a few days.) 😉

Companion post: High Tide for Huck and Rilla

 

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8. High Tide for Huck and Rilla

tuesdayinmay

The other day I mentioned that I was putting together some shelves of books to use for Huck and Rilla this year. Huck is 6 1/2, and Rilla is 9, and according to the boxes I will have to check on the form I file in October, they are in the 1st and 4th grades respectively.

(Of course you know we have more of an Understood Betsy approach to grades around here.)

‘What’s the matter?’ asked the teacher, seeing her bewildered face.

‘Why–why,’ said Elizabeth Ann, ‘I don’t know what I am at all. If I’m second-grade arithmetic and seventh-grade reading and third-grade spelling, what grade am I?’

The teacher laughed. ‘You aren’t any grade at all, no matter where you are in school. You’re just yourself, aren’t you? What difference does it make what grade you’re in? And what’s the use of your reading little baby things too easy for you just because you don’t know your multiplication table?’

‘Well, for goodness’ sakes!’ ejaculated Elizabeth Ann, feeling very much as though somebody had stood her suddenly on her head.

I don’t think Rilla has any idea what grade she would be in if she went to school…my kids don’t usually pay attention to grade level until they reach an age—usually around 12 or 13—when they want an answer to the question that comes from just about every new adult they encounter.

But back to my booklists. I compiled these selections according to my patented, highly scientific method of Walking Around the House Grabbing Things Off Shelves™. These are books we already own, favorite tomes I have read with the older kids in the past but which my younger set haven’t yet heard or read—due in large part to the abundant inflow of new treasures that have come our way for review. (Oh you guys, I have so many good new books to share.)

I imagine there will be a lot of crossover: Huck will listen in on Rillabook readalouds and vice versa. Both collections also include a good many read-alone possibilities. If you’ve been reading Bonny Glen for a while, then you know that read-alouds are the core of my homeschooling method, especially in the younger years. (But continuing on, you know, into high school. We still read aloud together lots of history, science, and poetry.)

I know a lot of you are as addicted to booklists as I am, so my project this weekend is to type up these collections to share here on the blog. I hope to post them on Sunday or Monday. When they’re ready, I’ll update this post with links.

So what else does high tide look like in my house for ages 6 and 9?

In no particular order:

• Lots and lots of art, especially watercolor painting and Sculpey fun.

I keep watercolors handy on a shelf by the kitchen table for easy access. These days, they are doing a lot with acrylic paints, too—I caught a sale at Michael’s when those little Folk Art bottles were three for a dollar. I grabbed a set of small plastic palettes (six for $2) and filled a jar with our older, more battered brushes. (We reserve the nicer brushes for watercolors.)

I’ve written about this before*, but for watercolor paper I use large sheets I bought in bulk a good many years ago, folded and torn into smaller sizes. And then cheap recycled paper for drawing. Plus everyone has a sketchbook to do whatever they want with.

About 15 years ago (!) I bought half a dozen scratch-and-dent whiteboard seconds from a discount site. We use these as painting boards. Not only do they protect the kitchen table from spatters, but they are large enough that I can stack them on toy blocks to save space while paintings dry.

painters2

* In that 2009 post, I mentioned that for littles I use good paper and cheap paints. That was back when Rilla was three years old. ::sniff:: Nowadays we tend to experiment with artist-quality tube watercolors quite often, because that is what I myself am learning to paint with, and both Rilla and I are pretty addicted to color-mixing and the way colo. We still keep basic Crayola or Prang kids’  paint sets around, though, like the ones in the photo, because they’re quick and fun and easy and portable. They’re what the kids use for casual, everyday painting.

Kortney has been posting some wonderful resources for doing art projects with kids. And I have a list of my best suggestions in this post.

• Poetry every day

I pulled some of my favorite anthologies for this year’s Huck and Rilla shelves. They’re also in the room for a good bit of the poetry reading and discussion I do with the older kids. I work in lots of opportunities for low-pressure memorization (if you read the same poem out loud a few days or weeks in a row, before you know it, everyone has it down)—including my recent brainstorm to require Huck to learn a new poem by heart before he gets a new iPad app. :)

• Handwriting practice* with fun materials like dip pens or slates-and-chalk. 

dip pen

I asterisked practice because I need to qualify that term. I subscribe to the John Holt school of thought about the misleading way we often use the word practice. He argued that when you are doing what we call “practicing” piano, you are really playing piano and we ought to think of it like that. You are making music. When I am “practicing” drawing, I am actually drawing. Huck is learning to write. When he sits down with a marker or crayon and makes some letters, he is writing—not some separate intermediate activity that leads up to writing. I think that word “practice” can set up a feeling that what I’m doing right now isn’t real, it doesn’t count. But it all “counts.” If you’re doing it, it’s real. Another way of putting it is that writing letters to friends is a form of handwriting “practice.”

For Rilla, a third year of group piano class 

And yes, despite the above paragraph, you will from time to time hear me ask her if she has practiced yet today. :)

• Nature study and narration. 

My old Charlotte Mason standbys. Re narration: casually for Huck, more deliberately and regularly for Rilla. All oral, still. We add written narration at age ten.

Nature study isn’t something we have to work at. Both Rilla and I enjoy adding new plants and bugs to our sketchbooks. You’ll see a fair number of nature-themed nonfiction on both booklists.

• A little bit of foreign language.

Beanie is ramping up her German studies this year. My younger set pick up whatever the older ones are working on, sponge-style.

• Math.

Via games, money, dice, and daily life for Huck; Math-U-See for Rilla. Works for us.

• Folk songs and other musical fun. 

Including daddy’s guitar-playing. The recorders seem to have made a comeback around here, too; and Rose came home from her Colorado trip with a pair of ocarinas.

• Baking, sewing, and other handcrafty activities. 

Sometimes this is simply a part of daily life; in other cases we may undertake a special project, such as making clothes for a cloth doll with the Dress Up Bunch Club.

• Games of all sorts.

Board games, word games, Wii games, iPad apps, you name it. Together or alone. And lots and lots of Minecraft.

• As much outdoor play as possible!

All the small fry on the block seem to congregate at my house in the afternoons: they know when my kids get their Wii time. 😉 Afterward, they troop outside to bike and scooter and make secret hideouts and chat with passing dogs and help Miss-Joanie-down-the-block rake leaves. (She’s a treasure. She keeps a stash of child-size yard tools in her garage! She saves all those little stickers and calendars and bookmarks that come in junk mail! She has cups labeled for all the kids on our street and sometimes mixes up fruit drinks to fill them with instead of water. Everyone should be so lucky as to grow up down the block from Miss Joanie.)

• What about history and science? 

See above re: readalouds and narration. Lots of good stuff on our booklists. :)

And if I don’t stop gabbing and start compiling, these booklists are never going to get written. More later, my dears. Feel free to fire away with questions below, if you have any!

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9. Goodbye, July

…she says, half a week into August.

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We had family in town and spent a day hanging out with them at their fabulous beach hotel, and another afternoon touring the harbor on a boat cruise. Glorious weather. At one point, we were approaching Point Loma for a glimpse of the lighthouse when my nephew’s phone buzzed—it was Verizon Wireless texting him a “Welcome to Mexico” message. That was just about as far as we got before turning around to cruise past the downtown area. We saw dolphins and sea lions and pelicans—a perfectly satisfying day, according to Miss Rilla, who spent much of the boat ride standing in the wind with her arms spread wide and her grin even wider.

One of the nicest things about living in San Diego is that so many friends wind up vacationing here, and we get to join in.

Back home, I’ve been in blissful planning mode. I adore low tide; low tide is a deep delight; but my little listmaking heart glories in the voyage-charting of high tide just as thoroughly. I spent a morning gathering books from all over the house to fill a shelf for Huck—treasures I want to be sure my last six-year-old (sniff) doesn’t miss. I’ll try to get a picture and a post up soon, because I know some of you enjoy comparing notes that way.

Plans are afoot for Rilla and my two high-school-age girls too: more booklists, more shelves filling up. Every August I do this massive rearranging of the tomes, shifting high-tide resources to the living room where we do indeed do the bulk of our living. Twentieth-century history for the teens this year, and earth science, and Shakespeare of course, and a fat list of literary texts, and the languages they are studying separately. All juicy stuff. Beanie is forging ahead with German, which is extra fun for me, since I’m fair-to-middling in that language myself and always longing to improve my skills.

And loads and loads of art—along with poetry, perhaps our most constant occupation these days. At Comic-Con, I tried out my (brilliantly talented) friend Zander‘s pocket brush pen and was thoroughly intimidated by it. The next day, our (also staggeringly talented) friend Mark Chiarello showed us art from his forthcoming book (his first since his gorgeous book on the Negro Leagues), and he too was working with this pen, whose merits the extraordinary Roz Stendahl is always talking about. Between them, they convinced me to give it a try, and ohhhh, it turns out I’m in love. It is loosening up my line so much. I have a tendency toward a very careful and nervous line, and I’m feeling much freer about taking chances and using my whole arm, thanks to a few weeks with this pen. My book is filling up with a lot of messy, not-so-lovely pages, but in a good way. And every now and then I draw a line I really like. That’s progress.

Meanwhile, Rilla and I are about to dive into Sketchbook Skool’s “More Playing” klass, which started yesterday. We had a ball with “Playing” in July. Our favorite project was the drawing where we took turns for thirty seconds at a time, filling a page with nonsense. Much hilarity there. This, too, is something I’d like to post more about in the week ahead.

I’m overdue for a books post, too. Got on an Anne Shirley kick in July, following my Betsy-Tacy kick in June. Read the series through House of Dreams (skipped Windy Poplars, because I don’t have it on Kindle). I swear Dreams is better every time, even a dozen or more times later.

I also revisited Pudd’nhead Wilson for the first time since high school—shaking my head in bed at Twain’s audacity the whole way through. Oh, how I love him. I’m deep into Mansfield Park right now. No particular reason; it just decided I needed to reread it. I’m a Persuasion person first and foremost, and then P&P, but I do enjoy Mansfield. The urge to smack Mary Crawford upside the head is such a satisfying sensation.

Well, that’s the news from these parts. What’s your August looking like?

owlfriend

Oh, and I met an owl.

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10. As promised

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Rilla’s pocket handiwork.

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11. Poking the bear

By “odd one out,” he means “least geeky,” of course. 

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12. Live Read-Aloud Revival Author Chat Next Sunday

Hey gang, I’ll be doing a live online chat with Sarah Mackenzie at Read-Aloud Revival next Sunday at 1pm Pacific. Read-Aloud Revival started as a terrific podcast (I was interviewed for an episode here) and has grown into a membership site with workshops, discussions, and a lot more.

Event details: Live Author Event: Melissa Wiley

Read-Aloud Revival Live Author Events are for your whole family. Come hang out with us live– your kids can type questions into the chat box, and our featured author will answer them live on screen! Throughout the hour-long live event, we give away prizes, get a sneak peek at what it’s like to be an author, and ask our best questions about the featured book.

During the live event, we’ll be giving away 5 copies of The Arrow Guide to The Prairie Thief from Brave Writer, and 3 copies of The Prairie Thief itself.

Participate in the chatbox to enter, and winners will be selected randomly throughout the event!

$5 gets you access to the Live Author Event plus everything else in membership for a whole month.

I can’t wait!

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13. Discombobulated

the correct way to read a book about a fly

I gained a whole week today. It feels luxurious: what to do with this newfound space of time? It’s like finding a $20 bill in the pocket of your winter coat. Of course, just as with found money, immediately upon the heels of the jubilant discovery rush the responsible thoughts: you could put the money toward bills, or into a child’s college fund. I should (must) work toward some impending deadlines; I should tackle the Extreme Purging project I keep saying I’m going to undertake.

After all, it’s not like I really gained a week. It was here on the calendar all along; it was factored into commitments I have made. I didn’t lose it for long, only misplaced it for a day or two. The culprit was Comic-Con brain, I’m sure. SDCC came earlier in July than it usually does. Somehow, after I emerged from the exhausted post-con daze, I jumped ahead a week mentally. Rose is in Colorado visiting my parents. I knew she was coming home the 24th, but until this morning, I thought that was today. We have family coming to visit at the end of the month. Until this morning, I thought next week was the end of the month. The time in between is filled up with assignments: in a way, I’ve only located the lost $20 I had already spent.

Still, I feel dazzled and charmed: some tasks I’d thought would be frantic may now unfold at a reasonable pace. And how much more might I read, write, draw this month than I had been supposing?

My friend Edith Fine (a wonderful writer) told me once that when she used to teach school, she would always begin a new month by having the kids take note of what day of the week the sevens fell on. Since, you know, the multiples of seven are going to be on the same day each week. I caught the habit from her—it’s quite useful! I think July is the first month I’ve forgotten to notice, ever since Edith shared the trick with me. The sevens fall on Tuesdays, this month. In August, they’re the Fridays.

Next Tuesday is the 21st, not the 28th, in case you were wondering.

***

There’s something I need to get a picture of—the story begs a visual—but the shirt in question has already gone into the laundry. I’ll share a photo later. The other day, I remarked on Twitter that Rilla has decided to be a fashion designer when she grows up—a designer, that is, of clothing with lots of pockets. A perpetual grumble around here is the dearth of girls’ clothes with useful pockets. This, Rilla has announced, is a wrong that must be righted. I applaud her vision.

Yesterday I had a doctor’s appointment. (Which I knew was on the 16th. HOW did I think today was the 24th??) When I returned home, Huck greeted me at the door, beaming proudly, urging me to take notice of his new pocket. Picture a worn gray t-shirt. Way up high near the shoulder, a teeny tiny pocket of some scrap fabric rummaged out of a storage bin, attached with embroidery floss in large, determined stitches. There’s just about room to keep a quarter in it. It is the dearest thing I have ever seen. No moss grows on Miss Rilla, for sure. When she announces a business plan, she means BUSINESS. I’m sure she knows what day it is.

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14. Comic-Con Surprise

Our staggeringly talented pal Chris Gugliotti (of Thicklebit fame) surprised us with this sketch at SDCC. I laughed until I cried. I always did want to fly the Millennium Falcon.

petersons

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15. Article: “This Is Your Brain on Jane Austen”

The study also provides us with a fascinating picture—quite literally—of the ways in which the imaginative experience of reading takes place in our bodies as well as our minds. Close, sustained, and attentive reading, Phillips found, activates parts of the brain responsible for movement and touch, “as though,” writes NPR, “readers were physically placing themselves within the story as they analyzed it.”

Source: This Is Your Brain on Jane Austen: The Neuroscience of Reading Great Literature | Open Culture

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16. “Keeping Kids AND Yourself Creative” – Sketchbook Skool Blog

 

“Melissa Wiley talks about keeping kids creative as they grow up and what this can also mean for our creative habits as adults.”
Source: Sketchbook Skool Blog

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17. SDCC Week: Monday

My calendar this week makes me laugh. A perfect representation of the many disparate segments of my life. Today: Full slate of appointments at the children’s hospital. Tomorrow: Frantic cranking-away at my novel revision. Wed-Sunday: SDCC madness. And somewhere in there I need to find time for a Damn Interesting article edit and a grantwriting assignment. And will MAKE time to start the new Sketchbook Skool “Playing” course with the kids. Because priorities.

I haven’t yet done my usual scouring of the SDCC schedule to see which panels I’d like to hit. Er, attempt to hit—the con has a way of swallowing up intentions with spontaneous developments, which of course is part of the fun. As always, the part I’m most looking forward to is the reconnecting with faraway friends: the lunches, the dinners, the late nights chatting over drinks.

Jenni & me at Wondercon 2011

annual lunch with jock 2014

kidlitdrinksnight2012

Scott and Gene 2013

Jenni and Jonathan 2010

Scott and Chris 2014

hanging with the GeekMoms 2011

Dinner with Raina 2011

Meeting Ozma at Winkiecon 2014

my favorite person to hang out with ever

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18. “Literary employments are so vexed with uncertainties”

“…I found the July days fly fast, and it was not until I felt myself confronted with too great pride and pleasure in the display, one night, of two dollars and twenty-seven cents which I had taken in during the day, that I remembered a long piece of writing, sadly belated now, which I was bound to do. To have been patted kindly on the shoulder and called “darlin’,” to have been offered a surprise of early mushrooms for supper, to have had all the glory of making two dollars and twenty-seven cents in a single day, and then to renounce it all and withdraw from these pleasant successes, needed much resolution. Literary employments are so vexed with uncertainties at best, and it was not until the voice of conscience sounded louder in my ears than the sea on the nearest pebble beach that I said unkind words of withdrawal to Mrs. Todd.”

—Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs

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19. Smorgasbord of Children’s Authors & Illustrators at the San Diego County Fair

Check out this fabulous lineup! I’ll be there June 18—look for me in the Children’s Garden at 1:30 and the Creative Youth tent at 4:30 for stories and fun.

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20. Dip Pens

dip pen

About once a week I bring my fountain pens to the kitchen tape for refilling. My reason for making this rather quick, benign chore a public affair is to take advantage of the great parenting truism: If you do it, they will copy. Huck isn’t the kind of kid who would be too keen on formal handwriting practice (does that kind of kid even exist?), but if I get busy with some nifty writing utensil, he’s at my side in a flash, begging for a turn.

Fountain pens are awesome enough, but dip pens? There’s nothing better. A bottle of ink, a nib with just the right amount of skritch…there’s a happy kid. I didn’t suggest the alphabet practice; he filled up the page as he chose.

That’s my beloved metal brush pen he’s holding, the $1.49 treasure acquired during my surprise trip to the art supply store on Mother’s Day. (The plastic Speedball pen holder was another buck fifty. We live large.)

(That’s an Amazon link to show you what it looks like, but as you can see, you’re much better off buying local for this one. That’s some markup, eh?)

I tumbled to the metal brush pen (aka my new best friend) in Jonathan Twingley’s rather amazing class at Sketchbook Skool. It was swoon at first site. You get a broad line from the flat nib, or you can turn it on its side for a fine line. It’s on the messy side—likes to spatter ink if you change direction midstroke—but for me that’s part of the appeal. I use it when I’m in the mood for rough, bold lines and a bit of ink spray. Jonathan Twingley likes to fill pages and pages with large drawings and then cut out selected images and collage them together into a new piece of art—really quite magical to behold him at work.

And this post offers a quite detailed look at what a steel brush nib can do.

We also have a pair of glass dip pens that my parents gave me years ago with more typical pointed nibs. You can see Huck’s page of orange squiggles on the table. I know somewhere in my archives I’ve talked about the magical powers of colored chalk and a little slate, or a whiteboard and dry erase markers, for transforming otherwise dull writing into fun. Dip pens are the same principle times a hundred.

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21. Huckisms

The younger kids and I have started spending the hour after dinner having family art time at the kitchen table. They mostly paint while I practice sketching, or Huck grabs markers and continues his mission to saturate every page of his beloved Angry Birds coloring book. I’ve taken to jotting down the funny things they say in my sketchbook alongside my (mostly very bad) drawings of them at work. A few choice Huck remarks from last night:

“When I was one—I mean zero—I swallowed paint. It tasted really good, like marshmallows.”

***

Rilla: “I know three people named Kelly.”

Huck: “I know Kelley Jones*. He likes jelly.”

*They’ve never actually met, but he’s seen Kelley’s name when he calls Scott to talk about the project they’re working on. I’m unclear on whether he does, in fact, like jelly.

***

“I bet all the kids with this coloring book are doing this with their moms right now, too.”

(Yes, I melted.)

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22. Dinner-table conversation

Rose: “Why are Huck’s dirty socks on my chair?”

Huck, much aggrieved: “They were on my chair first and I needed to sit down.”

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23. San Diego County Fair — Thursday!

I’ll be appearing at the San Diego County Fair on Thursday, June 18. Look for me at 1:30pm in the Children’s Garden and 4:30pm in the Creative Youth Tent. If you’re planning a visit to the Fair tomorrow, please come say hello!

garthwilliamsfair

Garth Williams illustration from Charlotte’s Web

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24. Deep Valley, Minnesota, Here I Come!

Today begins the Deep Valley Homecoming, a celebration of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books in her hometown of Mankato, Minnesota (the real Deep Valley). I won’t be joining the fun until tomorrow—can’t wait!

I have visited Mankato once before, after the 2010 Kidlitcon in Minneapolis. The awesome Kathy Baxter took my pal Margaret and me around town, showing us All the Important Places From the Books, and I just about died of excitement (as Margaret chronicled in her photos). The brass bowl! Winona’s wall! Carney’s sleeping porch! Lincoln Park!

THE BENCH, for heaven’s sake!

Betsy and Tacy's bench on the hill. Photo by Margaret Berns.

Betsy and Tacy’s bench on the hill. Photo by Margaret Berns.

Yes, I looked exactly that goofy the whole time. What can I say? I’m a fan.

My Deep Valley Homecoming schedule

Sunday, June 28th
12:15pm: Children’s literature panel discussion at the Book Festival
2:15pm: I will read from one of my books

Monday, June 29th
11:30am: Presentation at the Historical Society. Topic: the publishing history of the Betsy-Tacy series.

I hope to see you there!

Related posts:
Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill
The Betsy-Tacy Songbook
Interview with Mitali Perkins, Jennifer Hart, and me about Maud’s books
Betsy-Tacy booksigning at ALA Midwinter
Photos of my visit to the real Deep Valley, as chronicled by Margaret in Minnesota
Why I love Carney
Why I love Emily
A Reader’s Guide to Betsy-Tacy

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25. Jiggety jig

Oh, guys, I have GOT to get caught up. Here I’ve been back from the Deep Valley Homecoming since TUESDAY and haven’t written about it. And now Comic-Con is peering around the corner in the most alarming way! Next week! Good heavens! Or O di immortales, I should say—not yet having mentally emerged from Betsy-Tacy land.

I had such a wonderful time visiting the houses and connecting with members of the B-T crowd. (The Crowd, capital C, you say if you’ve read the books.) I thoroughly enjoyed the children’s author panel on Sunday, answering questions with fellow writers Pat Bauer and Eileen Beha; and my talk about the Betsy-Tacy publishing history went very well. Plus I got to hear the inestimable Kathy Baxter speak—she’s captivating.

This is how I feel whenever I'm with Kathy. Photo by Margaret Berns.

This is how I feel whenever I’m with Kathy. Photo by Margaret Berns in 2010.

Of course I had to reread as many of the Tomes as possible before and during the trip. Began with the high-school books this time around and made it through Betsy’s Wedding. Actually, I read Wedding twice—I always skip ahead to it straight from Betsy and Joe. I read Betsy and the Great World on the plane ride home and then tore through Betsy’s Wedding a second time that evening, happily back in my own bed.

I swear my children gained multiple inches during the three nights I was away.

Our author panel made the front page of the Minnesota Free Press:

mnfreepress

I have yet to see a panel photo of myself in which I’m not making a goofy face. And if you tied my hands I’m not sure I could speak…

Discussing our writing processes at Deep Valley Homecoming. Photo swiped from Nancy Piccone, with thanks!

Discussing our writing processes at Deep Valley Homecoming. Photo swiped from Nancy Piccione, with thanks!

I’m not doing justice to the Homecoming with this hasty post—I so enjoyed all the other talks and made some wonderful new friends. And on my first evening in Mankato, of course I had to walk all over town past Betsy and Tacy’s bench and Tib’s chocolate-colored house and Carney’s sleeping porch and Lincoln Park and the Carnegie Library, trying not to make a whole nother series of goofy faces. I am 100% fangirl at heart.

Major props to Julie Schrader and the rest of the organizers for hosting a perfectly marvelous event.

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