Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Mousewife

The Mousewife
Rumer Godden 1951
Illustrated by William Pene Du Bois

It has been given to few mice to see the stars; so rare is it that the mousewife had not even heard of them, and when she saw them shining she thought at first they must be new brass buttons. Then she saw they were very far off, farther than the garden or the wood, beyond the farthest trees. “But not too far for me to see,” she said. She knew now that they were not buttons but something far and big and strange. “But not so strange to me,” she said, “for I have seen them. And I have seen them for myself,” said the housewife, “without the dove. I can see for myself,” said the mousewife, and slowly, proudly, she walked back to bed.

A story retold from one written by Dorothy Wordsworth (the poet’s sister). The mousewife takes care of her husband and all her children and then her world is changed when she meets a caged dove. A beautiful introduction to Romanticism.

Friday, May 28, 2010

America A Patriotic Primer

America : A Patriotic Primer
Lynne Cheney 2002
illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

In honor of Memorial Day, an alphabetic trip through American history with all sorts of tidbits of information.

The Eyes of the Amaryllis

We are still breathing sea air and watching unrelenting waves sweep up the sand. Here is a wonderful chapter book by Natalie Babbitt. She’s probably most famous for writing “Tuck Everlasting” (another fantastic book) but this was the first of her books that we read and loved. (Madeleine used it for a book report in 4th grade).

 The Eyes of the Amaryllis
Natalie Babbitt 1977

Jenny comes to stay with her grandmother along the ocean. Years ago her grandfather’s ship the Amaryllis was lost in a hurricane and everyday her grandmother scours the shoreline looking for a remnant of him. But as the figurehead sculptor says “what the sea gives, the sea takes”. A beautiful, mysterious story about the sea.

The journey that takes a traveler from inland places to the sea will follow roads that stay, in themselves, exactly the same, but they seem to change entirely. Carefree and busy, now leaf-shadowed, now blank and blinding in the summer sunshine, they stretch ahead importantly between green fields , and the air lies lightly on them. But by the time they have come within three miles, then two, then one, of their destination, they have turned submissive. The trees stand back and stand thin, and scrub pines appear, ragged as molting birds. The edges of the roads are lost now in drifts of sand, and the grass, thinner, like the trees, is rough and tall, rising, kneeling, rising, kneeling, as the breeze combs by.

There seems to be more sky here, a great deal more, so that the traveler is made aware, perhaps for the first time, that he moves along quite unprotected on the crust of the earth and might do well to move with caution, lest all at once he fall off, fall up, endlessly, and disappear. So he holds his gaze to the ground and finds that the air has grown heavy with new, wet smells, and the roads and everything around them look uncared for. But this is not the case. They are cared for with the closest attention- by the sea.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Seashore (DK Eyewitness Books)
Eyewitness Books
Steve Parker 1989

We have a fair collection of these Eyewitness books. Some we like better than others (the shipwrecks one is a bigger hit than the microscopic world of cells). Sometimes we take this one with us when we stay at the beach with my in-laws. After a day of swimming in the ocean and coming home sandy and sun-burnt, we’ll have dinner and showers and then lounge around reading books. This covers all the crabs, seaweed, shells, birds, and fish that live just along the shoreline.

A Child's Treasury of Seaside Verse

 A Child's Treasury of Seaside Verse
Compiled by Mark Daniel 1991

We’re off to the shore, with sand and sea and all the sun and water we can stand. A library find that I simply had to buy (and then buy again for Margaux) this has the most wonderful collection of poems accompanied by Victorian paintings and drawings. Old salts, ships at sea, the deep, at the seaside, and sea dreams divide the verses. The back index gives short biographies of all the poets and a list of all the painters.

My only complaint is the version of “Sea-Fever” by John Masefield.
It should be:

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sails shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume,
And the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Congratulations to Robyn for winning the book giveaway!! (We put slips of paper in an old bowler hat and Henry picked). I have more books to give away- maybe once a month so there will be more chances.


Anne Shelby 1995
Illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin

A grandmother tells her granddaughter about the history of their farm starting with her great-great-great-great-grandpa who cleared the land and built a log cabin. Throughout the story more rooms get added to the house, more crops are planted, and the changes in technology are seen. The text is sweet and melodious and the pictures are perfect, showing all of the centuries. If you’re sensitive to stories that follow the passage of time then you might get a little misty eyed at the end (like me).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Tall Book of Make-Believe

 The Tall Book of Make-Believe ( Make Believe )
Harper & Row publishers 1950

There are some childhood books that are warm and comfortably familiar. Something about them is tender and nostalgic and almost unexpectedly magical. This was my book when I was a little girl and I remember my mom reading it to me. Even the cover (which lost it’s spine years ago) is like a cozy old friend.

It opens with a Walter de la Mere poem “Somewhere” and has verse from Katherine Masefield, Eugene Field, Stevenson, Lear, and Christina Rossetti. Tennyson's "The Mermaid" has a page with a terrific illustration. There are a few stories about a bad mouse, an ever growing lollipop, some naughty children , a little girl named Susan and some bears (that one being the best) and a fanciful yarn by Carl Sandburg.

My mom doesn’t care much for poetry which is funny because that is what my earliest remembrances are of her reading to me.
"Wynken Blynken and Nod" is one of my favorite childhood poems (one that led me to collecting the complete works of Eugene Field). Field’s poems are often in collections for kids but this is the picture that I’ve always associated with it since I was at least 4 years old.

And this picture that I used to dream about (who wouldn't?!)


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Little Maid of Old Philadelphia

Today was a beautiful day to take the train into the city and walk around Independence Hall (with a class of 4th graders). I love imagining what Philadelphia must have looked like 300 years ago and the people who lived and worked and raised their families there. Sadly the city is littered with trash and car exhausts and tall gray buildings, but sometimes, down a cobblestone side street, between neat brick houses you can get the slightest whiff of history.

Madeleine, who loves historical fiction (good historical fiction, she is very discerning) read this around 3rd grade. It was originally published in 1919 and the story is sweet, if a little bit slow for modern tastes.

A Little Maid of Old Philadelphia 
Alice Turner Curtis 1919

Ruth Pennell lives in Philadelphia during the British troops occupation. Her Quaker aunt is minding her while her father is with Washington’s army and her mother is away in Germantown. Her best friend Winifred is her partner in adventures around the city and in admiration for Lafayette and the Patriot cause. It’s a small chapter book with a few illustrations and a nice introduction to colonial period life, especially from a child’s perspective. It was also fun to read names of places we recognized and consider what they were like then.

For all the children of Philadelphia knew the story of the brave young Frenchman hardly more than a boy himself, who had left all the comforts of his Paris home to share the danger and privations of the American soldiers. He had visited Philadelphia the previous summer, 1777, soon after his arrival in America. Gilbert had seen the handsome young officer, and ever since then he had pleaded that he might be called “Lafayette” instead of Gilbert.

“If I were a boy I should wish my name ‘Lafayette,’” declared Ruth. “I wish we could do something for him, don’t you, Winifred?”

“Yes; but what could two little girls do for him? Why, he is a hero, and a friend of Washington’s,” Winifred responded. Neither Ruth nor Winifred imagined that it would be only a few months before one of them would do a great service for the gallant young Frenchman.

Two English soldiers were on guard at the entrance of the fine mansion that the English General had taken from its rightful owner for his own use; and as Ruth, now half afraid to go up the steps, stood looking up at them a little fearfully, one of them noticed the queer little figure, and, quite forgetting his dignity, chuckled with amusement.

There’s still a chance to win a free copy of "A Visit to William Blake's Inn"! Leave a comment on any post until Friday and a name will be picked randomly.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Visit to William Blake's Inn

 A Visit to William Blake's Inn : Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers
Nancy Willard 1981
Illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen

Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers

Wonderful illustrations by Alice and Martin Provensen. (Our shelf also has their “A Peaceable Kingdom”.) Willard wrote the poems and though not in Blake’s language, they are a fair homage and a good introduction to Blake’s "Songs of Innocence" (which of course we dug out and read afterwards).

We have a second copy of this in excellent paperback condition. Leave a comment, I'll pick a random winner and mail it to you FREE! (It's just my way of sharing the book obsession!)