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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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Whew! We moved Jane back up to college over the weekend and then, back here at home, got to spend an extra day visiting with my parents, who had come to stay with the rest of the gang while we were away. And then it was hustle-like-crazy to catch up from being gone. Which is to say, business as usual.
It’s too late in the day for a nice coherent post, but I wanted to toss down some stories I’ll otherwise forget. Huckisms, mostly…he’s been on a roll. Tonight he wanted me to take dictation for his Christmas list—no moss growing on this kid. I dutifully wrote down his three longed-for items and he leaned over the page, frowning anxiously at my cursive. “What if Santa doesn’t know this fancy writing?”
This morning I read aloud from Child’s History of the World—our tried-and-true first history book for the younger set. Today’s chapter was about Sparta and Athens (mainly Sparta, with a thorough description of what a young Spartan boy’s life might have been like). Huck listened intently to the plight of Spartan seven-year-olds—an age only months around the corner from him—and had lots of interjections to make along the way.
After the chapter, I asked him to narrate in the casual way I generally begin with around age six or seven. Not casual enough. He instantly froze up. My kids have been about half and half with narration: three of them taking to it like ducks to water, and three feeling shy and put on the spot. Huck is one of the latter. He actually ran out of the room and had to be coaxed back by a big sister. I cuddled him into my lap and told him not to worry, it wasn’t a test, I was just curious to know if anything in the story jumped out at him.
Huck, scowling: No.
Me: Do you wish you were a Spartan boy?
Huck, galvanized: No! Because they had to leave their moms when they turned seven, and—
—and he was off, chattering away for a good five or six minutes about all the details in the chapter. This is the way it normally works with my reluctant narrators, and I smiled secretly into the top of his sweaty little head.
Suddenly, mid-sentence, he broke off and reared back to look at me, laughing. “Hey! You tricked me! I just told you all about it!”
We all melted with giggles. He was so honestly amused. All the rest of the day I was cracking up over the shocked, almost admiring tone of his “HEY!”
The other thing that happened this week is that Rilla invented a board game. It’s called “Elemental Escape” and involves players representing Fire, Water, and Electricity (twist!) racing to the finish on a track filled with monsters. She drew a game board and mounted it on cardboard, and the game pieces are all Legos. Pretty fantastic.
I’m taking Jane back up the coast to college this weekend, so I probably won’t get my Sunday book recap posted. So here’s a (less comprehensive) midweek update instead. This has been a week for finishing, it seems! Charlotte’s Web, Dancing Shoes, and Vanessa and Her Sister.
Huck was furious with E.B. White over Charlotte’s death. FURIOUS. “Why did he have to write it that way?” he stormed. “He could have made it go different.”
In other words, to quote Annie Wilkes from Misery: Cockadoodie.
By the next evening, his ire had subsided a bit. I read the final chapter over dinner (I’ve been feeding Huck and Rilla before the rest of the family, netting a little extra read-aloud time). Listening intently while poking shredded carrots through his bread-and-salami—don’t ask me, I’m just the narrator—he interrupted the penultimate paragraph to say, in a dreamy, Fern-like tone, “But this book should never end. It should go on forever.”
I know that feeling, my boy. Not about this book specifically, I have to admit—knowing what was coming, and knowing that this would likely be the last time I read Charlotte’s Web aloud to my own children, I had a lump in my throat through the final few chapters and it was something of a relief, albeit a bittersweet one, to make it through the Last Day and leave the fairgrounds behind. Goodbye, Charlotte, you good writer and true friend. Goodbye, Charlotte’s daughters.
Goodbye, very odd open-faced sandwich.
The next day, yesterday, presented me with a grave decision. What, pray tell, is the right book to choose after the epochal experience that is Charlotte’s Web? I pondered many options—the Rilla-shelf is, of course, full of possibilities. But this book has big shoes to fill. And a Huck-and-Rilla book is not the same thing as a Rilla-book. I pulled a dozen contenders off the shelf, considering.
At last I made a choice, and judging from the rapt reactions to the prologue and first chapter, it was a good call.
(current cover / proper cover)
The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt.
Unlike many (most?) of the books on the Rilla-shelf, this isn’t one I’ve reread a dozen times. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve revisited it since age eleven or so. But I’ve never forgotten it, the impact it had on me—Babbitt does that to one, of course. You never get over Tuck Everlasting. And I’ve never stopped thinking about conflicting perspectives and the strife that can result when people dig in too deeply to an opinion and don’t try to see others’ point of view. A thousand times in my life, I’ve taken a drink of cold water on a hot, thirsty day and flashed back to the cover of this book, or to an illustration near the end. It defined “delicious” for me.
(Hint: it does not involve a sandwich stuck full of carrot bits. But Huck may have a different perspective on that.)
By: Melissa Wiley
Blog: Here in the Bonny Glen
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So very hot. We were languid this week and didn’t seem to read as much as usual, but maybe that’s just me. We had a lot of medical appointment stuff happening with Wonderboy and it’s possible I just didn’t do a good job keeping track of what people were reading. A few things, though, absolutely shone.
A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins & Sophie Blackall.
Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal.
Land Shark by Beth Ferry & Ben Mantle.
A Fine Dessert is one of those picture books everyone is talking about this year, for good reason. Four families, four centuries: mothers and daughters in Lyme, England, 1710; on a Charleston, South Carolina plantation, 1810; in Boston, Massachusetts, 1910; and a father and son in—we were all so excited to see the narrative arrive in our own backyard—San Diego, California, 2010. Each pair gathers the necessary ingredients for a most delicious-sounding dessert: blackberry fool. This is a deft and fascinating look at progress and culture: what changes over time, and what stays the same. Rich history, rich dessert: a delicious combination. Naturally, there’s a recipe for the dish in the back of the book—along with informative notes from author and illustrator. Is there a blackberry fool in our future? Absolutely.
Huck really enjoyed Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt. You walk through the year with a grandmother and child, tending the garden and watching the activity of a whole village of little creatures below the soil. Sounds like familiar territory, but this is a new presentation, gorgeously illustrated, and my kids loved watching the below-ground bustle of roly polies, earthworms, and other nibbling creatures.
Land Shark: everyone read it but me! I’ll have to report back later on that one. Seemed to be a hit, though.
The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie by James Kochalka.
My Very First Mother Goose by Iona Opie and Rosemary Wells.
Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade by Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones.
Huck devoured Glorkian Warrior—a young graphic novel I’m told is most entertaining. Now, the Mother Goose was a tiny bit of a cheat. This is a much beloved book in my house—a gift from my sister when Jane was born, and considerably tattered from hundreds of readings. Huck knows it more or less by heart. Which is where the cheat comes in: I have a policy of requiring a kid to memorize a poem before he (it is nearly always my youngest who asks) may download a new iPad app. The neighbor kid turned Huck on to some free motorcycle game, but Huck couldn’t add it to our device until he recited a poem for me. He trotted off to the poetry shelf and came back—oh, it must have been seconds—later, triumphantly announcing he’d learned one by heart. Sure, he had. IN THE CRADLE, PRACTICALLY. He rattled off Jack and Jill and hustled away to download his game before I could muster an argument about loopholes. Next time I’ll have to be more specific about which end of the poetry shelf he may draw material from, the scamp.
The Supergirl graphic novel was a Rilla read.
Continued from last week:
I don’t know how I’m going to make it through the last two chapters of Charlotte’s Web. Just the sight of the next chapter title—”Last Day”—got me all choked up. And, you know, this is very likely the last time I will read it aloud to my own children.
Vanessa and Her Sister is so good, you guys! I’m reading pretty slowly, just because I’ve been so busy and I zonk out quickly most nights. But that’s all right because I’m happy to be savoring it slowly. Gorgeous writing. And I took Kortney’s advice and requested Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf biography from the library. It arrived and is about three inches thick. It doesn’t seem to be available on Kindle, more’s the pity. All fat books should be available on Kindle.
Beanie reread a bunch of Harry Potter books this week, and I don’t know what everyone else was into. Rilla checked out a stack of library books about the moon. She’s been spouting interesting tidbits at me all week.
I have two more crammed-full weeks ahead of me, and then I hope to get back to posting in between these Sunday book recaps. But for now, I’m just happy I’ve managed to pull this together four weeks in a row!
By: Melissa Wiley
Blog: Here in the Bonny Glen
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Time for another weekly roundup! Here are the books we read alone and together this week.
Zita the Spacegirl, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke. Read by: Huck, Rilla, and Beanie, all at different times this week.
These graphic novels have wide appeal, as you can see by the range of ages enjoying them at my house—kids ages six through fourteen, this week! One morning this week, I left Huck home with Jane while I took the other kids on an outing. Now, normally Huck would jump at the chance for a whole morning of undivided attention from his big sister, but on this day I returned home to find him sitting on the couch, engrossed in the third Zita book. “The entire time you were gone,” said Jane, answering my inquisitive glance. “He read the whole series, one after the other.” When a six-year-old boy gives up the chance to trounce his grown sister in Mario Kart, you know you’ve got a winning series.
On to picture books. I never manage to track them ALL, because the boys read them in bed at night. You should see the stack on their floor right now. Actually, no you shouldn’t, it’s a mess.
Chester’s Way by Kevin Henkes. Read to: Huck.
The Big Green Pocketbook by Candice Ransom, illustrated by Felicia Bond. Read to: Huck.
Diary of a Fly by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Harry Bliss. Read to: Huck.
I wonder how many times I’ve read The Big Green Pocketbook out loud. It never gets old. And I still always choke up at the end!
Super-Cute Chibis to Draw and Paint: Giant-sized Fun from a Micro-sized World by Joanna Zhou. Enjoyed by: Rilla, Beanie, and me.
Beanie and Rilla have been using this book for inspiration and instruction for at least a couple of years now. Seems like it is ALWAYS out on a desk or table beside a pad of paper. Has to be their favorite how-to-draw resource. I’ve been trying to add more pictures to my bullet journal and I decided (inspired by Sailor Mimzy, XX, and XX on Instagram) to try to design chibi figures for our whole family. Naturally I turned to my resident experts for advice. I’m still a rookie compared to my girls, but I’m getting there.
Bake Sale by Sara Varon. Read by: Rilla.
Another beloved graphic novel. Sara Varon illustrated my friend Cecil Castellucci’s wonderful Odd Duck, a great favorite around here. Bake Sale is a quirky story about friendship. Yes, that’s an eggplant and a cupcake making…cupcakes. Rilla almost missed our Saturday night art date because she didn’t want to put this one down. (I’m seeing an absorbing-graphic-novel trend this week.)
A Child’s History of the World by Virgil M. Hillyer. Read to: Huck and Rilla.
I guess I didn’t mention this one last week or the week before, but I should have! This is Rilla’s history spine. We read a couple of chapters a week, with Huck listening in—one of our narration texts. This week was the Trojan War.
Curious George’s First Day of School by Margret & H.A. Rey. Read by: Wonderboy.
Sudden Curious George attachment happening here. I expect there will be many more in our roundups, as soon as I get a chance to make a library run.
Betsy and the Great World by Maud Hart Lovelace. Read by: Beanie.
Oh, I just love this book so much. I asked Beanie to reread it as context for our early 20th-century studies. Betsy’s tour of Europe involves a romance in Venice, a long stay in Germany, and a hurried departure for home from England when the Great War begins. The final chapters involve one of my favorite moments in all of literature. I mean that without any hyperbole at all. It’s even better than the end of Pride and Prejudice.
Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. Read by: Wonderboy (in progress).
This book makes the list twice this week! Rilla and I are still listening to the audiobook (below) during our Saturday-night art dates. I pulled out the hard copy to check how much we had left, and Wonderboy wanted to read it. He’s slowly making his way through. Fun fact about the edition pictured here: I’m pretty sure this was the first book I ever wrote cover copy for.
Storm Thief by Chris Wooding. Read by: me (in progress).
Rose asked me to read this—one of her favorite books. I’m only a chapter in so far, but it’s gripping. I’ll report back later.
Vanessa and Her Sister: A Novel by Priya Parmar. Read by: me (in progress).
My bedtime Kindle reading is this fictionalized tale of Virginia Woolf and her sister, as told by Vanessa. So far: fascinating and fraught. After I finished To the Lighthouse I was hungry for background on Woolf, and I found this in my queue of digital review copies. Perfect timing. More to come on this one too, I’m sure.
Books Continued from Last Week:
Beanie’s lit class (which I teach) finished a two-week discussion of An Old-Fashioned Girl. Alcott is so funny—this is such a heavy-handed, moralistic book, quite preachy in places, with absolutely zero subtlety in its contrast of simple, wholesome, “old-fashioned” ways of bringing up children (especially girls) and the unhealthy “modern” practices she observed in the middle- and upper-middle class East Coast society of her day. And yet…despite the many anvils she drops all over the place, I am drawn in, I get wrapped up in the characters’ ups and downs. My group of 14-year-old girls found much to discuss in the contrasting upbringings of Fanny and Polly, and in the vision Alcott paints of a “future woman”—”strong-minded, strong-hearted, strong-bodied, strong-souled,” she says—envisioning us, the girls and women of generations to come.
Next up for this group: Sarah Orne Jewett.
We’re nearing the end of Charlotte’s Web—too soon, too soon! When we left off, the crickets were singing about the end of summer, and everyone’s preparing for the county fair. “Summer is over and gone,” sang the crickets. Good-bye, summer, good-bye, goodbye!”
By: Melissa Wiley
Blog: Here in the Bonny Glen
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As a member of Wisteria & Sunshine, Lesley Austin’s gentle online community for home-and-hearth inspiration, I’ve had the fun of watching behind the scenes as her beautiful new Wild Simplicity Daybook took shape. Today is a day to celebrate, because the Daybook has landed in her Etsy shop!
It’s a Midori-style cover made with the tender eco-friendly consciousness that suffuses all Lesley’s handmade wares, and she has created a selection of inserts to let you customize your Daybook for your own use. I’m particularly fond of Lesley’s monthly calendars (I’ve been using them in one form or another for almost a decade!), and her new weekly diary pages are the loveliest I’ve seen anywhere. She offers them in insert booklets spanning three months at a time, with the Autumn and Winter inserts currently available.
Besides the monthly and weekly calendar inserts, she is also offering blank inserts for notes or journaling and a “Days to Keep” booklet for recording birthdays, anniversaries, and other special dates.
This probably sounds like a sponsored post, but it isn’t! And Lesley didn’t ask me to write it. I am a longtime fan of her paper goods who has had the pleasure of becoming Lesley’s friend as well, and I’m so excited to see her latest venture take flight. Recently I was chatting with another friend about things we love, and I said, “I think my aesthetic is one part Waldorf kindergarten, one part library, and one part Small Meadow Press.”
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.
By: Melissa Wiley
Blog: Here in the Bonny Glen
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Sophie’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 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 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. 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.
Walt Whitman, selections from “Song of Myself”
Gwendolyn Brooks, “kitchenette building”
Books Continued from Last Week:
(Rillabooks in the top row)
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.
By: Melissa Wiley
Blog: Here in the Bonny Glen
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The 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. He 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 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. 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).
Ginger 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’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 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 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::
Batman 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, Volume 4: The Modern Ages by Susan Wise Bauer. “The Boxer Rebellion” chapter. Read aloud to: Rose and Beanie.
While 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 & 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.
Gene 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. 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.
The 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 by 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 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.
Scott 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!
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.
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.
Dinosaur 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.
Madeline 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!)
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.
By: Melissa Wiley
Blog: Here in the Bonny Glen
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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.
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.
WorkFlowy 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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.
I’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.”
*An asterisk means the book has one or more sequels which may be added to this list
The Family Under the Bridge, Natalie Savage Carlson
Encyclopedia Brown, Donald Sobol*
The Rescuers, Margery Sharp
Turtle in Paradise, Jennifer Holm
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 Smoo, Mark Crilley*
The Book of Three, Lloyd Alexander*
Homer Price, Robert McCloskey
Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren*
Half Magic, Edward Eager*
Gone-Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright
Among the Dolls, William Sleator
Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, Rumer Godden
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 Pye, Eleanor Estes*
The Twenty-One Balloons, William Pene du Bois
The Search for Delicious, Natalie Babbitt
The Last of the Sandwalkers, Jay Hosler
The Penderwicks, Jeanne Birdsall*
Five Children and It, E. Nesbit*
Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder*
The Borrowers, Mary Norton*
The Gammage Cup, Carol Kendall* (my review)
Rowan of Rin, Emily Rodda*
A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
Zita the Spacegirl, Ben Hatke*
Hattie and the Wild Waves, Barbara Cooney
Eleanor, Barbara Cooney
Only Opal, Barbara Cooney
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)
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 Dragon, Margaret Hodges
Chanticleer and the Fox, Barbara Cooney
The Mouse Bride, Judith Dupre
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)
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 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)
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 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 Book
One Small Square: Backyard, Donald M. Silver
Outside Your Window, Nicola Davies (nature poems)
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 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)
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 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 Shakespeare
Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children, E. Nesbit (one story a week)
Michaelangelo, Diane Stanley
What Makes a Bruegel a Bruegel
What Makes a Picasso a Picasso
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 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.)
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.
* 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.
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.
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!
…she says, half a week into August.
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?
Oh, and I met an owl.
By “odd one out,” he means “least geeky,” of course.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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
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 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:
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 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.
“…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
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.
“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
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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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.