Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Amos and Boris

William Steig 1971

William Steig is so fantastic.  We love all of his books with their simple, honest drawings.  This one is about an unlikely friendship between a mouse and a whale.  Amos is saved from drowning by Boris and on their way back to land a comfortable friendship develops between them.  Later Amos is able to repay his friend by saving him when he is accidentally beached.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

For a History lesson

Spent a wonderful weekend at the Goschenhoppen Folk Festival.  Madeleine was dressed in 18th century and demonstrated how to make corn husk dolls and tow dolls.  The grounds were filled with hearth cooking and woodstove fires, all kinds of 18th and 19th century crafts and demonstrations, animals, wagon rides, and even a small Revoluntionary militia.  We love this festival every year.

Bobbie Kalman 1992

I've had this book for a little while and we already knew quite a few of the tools and gadgets just from our touring of historic sites (I'm always dragging my kids to some historic spot). 

Bobbie Kalman 1990

I picked up the kitchen book at one of the book booths at the festival this weekend.  I'm fascinated by 18th century cooking and kitchens- one of these days I will take an open-hearth cooking workshop. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Alice McLerran 1991
illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Oh Roxaboxen. I can not read you without a tremor in my voice. ‘Grey haired Charles…” Based on the true stories of former Roxaboxenites, the imagination of children comes alive in this desert town where they make roads and houses of stones and glass. I have read it so many times, and yet without a doubt that familiar lump forms in my throat at the very first page. Margaux will know what I mean.

Of course all of Marian's sisters came:
Anna May and Frances and little Jean.
Charles from next door, even though he was twelve.
Oh, and Eleanor, naturally,
and Jamie with his brother Paul.
Later on there were others, but these were the first.

Well, not really the first.
Roxaboxen had always been there
and must have belonged to others, long before.

A town of Roxaboxen began to grow, traced in lines of stone:
Main Street first, edged with the whitest ones,
and then the houses.
Charles made his of the biggest stones.
After all, he was the oldest.
At first the houses were very plain, but soon they all began to add more rooms.
The old wooden boxes could be shelves or tables or anything you wanted.
You could find pieces of pottery for dishes.
Round pieces were the best.

Everybody had a car.
All you needed was something round for a steering wheel.
Of course, if you broke the speed limit you had to go to jail.
The jail had cactus on the floor to make it uncomfortable,
and Jamie was the policeman.
Anna May, quiet little Anna May, was always speeding-
you'd think she liked to go to jail.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Bad Child's Book of Beasts

We have entered the “terrible two’s” here, which haven’t actually been all that terrible. There’s just been a slight increase in mischief and tantrums which, though short-lived, try my patience. I love these verses first published in 1897 by Hilaire Belloc (we have a second copy somewhere but with illustrations inferior to the ones by Wallace Tripp). He starts the book off with a warning to children:

Child! do not throw this book about;
     Refrain from the unholy pleasure
Of cutting all the pictures out!
     Preserve it as your chiefest treasure.

Child, have you never heard it said
     That you are heir to all the ages?
Why, then, your hands were never made
     To tear these beautiful thick pages!

Your little hands were made to take
     The better things and leave the worse ones:
They also may be used to shake
     The Massive Paws of Elder Persons.

And when your prayers complete the day,
     Darling, your little tiny hands
Were also made, I think, to pray
     For men that lose their fairylands.

Hilaire Belloc
illustrated by Wallace Tripp 1982

I particularly like the Tiger rhyme. When I first read it to Madeleine and Henry they exclaimed, “That’s awful!”. Of course I would never let a Tiger devour my children no matter how naughty they were being. (Though I have on occasion threatened to sell them to the gypsies.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tales from Shakespeare

This is the book that prompted Madeleine's interest in Shakespeare.  She checked it out of her school library in 5th grade.  Knowing the general plot and characters of the plays made it easier for her to read and understand the originals.  Because of its comic form even Henry has looked at this.

Marcia Williams 1998

The seven plays represented are “Romeo and Juliet”, “Hamlet”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Macbeth”, “The Winter’s Tale”, “Julius Caesar”, and “The Tempest”.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Last year started our love of outdoor theater. We saw a fantastic performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Whites Park in Lansdale. Madeleine tells me this is her favorite Shakespeare play (and it’s certainly one of the funniest). This summer we brought my sister along to Clark park in Philly. But the rain moved the show a few blocks away into an old and quite beautiful (though very hot and crowded) church. I had Charlotte along and ended up walking around outside with her so I didn’t see too much of the play. But Madeleine and Abigail said it was very good. Usually it’s the actors playing Puck and Bottom who steal the show.

illustrated by Kevin Maddison 1982

This copy includes an afterward by Beatrice Phillpotts about the various artists who painted and illustrated the famous story and characters.  It's interesting to see the artwork and the different interpretations throughout the centuries.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Bard of Avon

Summer is full of so many good things! One of those is Shakespeare in the Park. This summer we managed to see three performances (though one was rained out and was held in a stuffy but beautiful old church instead). A few years ago Madeleine took up reading Shakespeare and loves it. I’ve been getting her the No Fear Shakespeare versions which have the original text on one side (in all its rich worded beauty) and the other side of the page is an easier to understand modern translation. Really the best of both worlds.

Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema 1992
illustrated by Diane Stanley

A nice biographical introduction to Shakespeare is this book. It describes life in Elizabethan times, the theater and what is known of Shakespeare by historians. The postscript has a really fascinating look at the evolution of the English language between 1400 and 1600 and all of the common phrases we say that were originated by Shakespeare. “Dead as a doornail”, “led a charmed life”, “set your teeth on edge” , “seen better days” are just a few.  I also think it's an interesting tidbit that in his will Shakespeare left his wife only his "second best bed"!

William Shakespeare went to London just at the time when modern theater was taking shape.  In 1576, when Shakespeare was still a schoolboy, an actor named James Burbage put up a building near London designed solely for the perfomance of plays.  It was the first such building since the days of ancient Greece and Rome.  He called it the Theatre, a name now used for all playhouses.

A nobleman would adopt a company of actors and allow them to make use of his name, such as the Admiral's Men or Lord Chamberlain's Men.  At one time, even Elizabeth had her own actors, the Queen's Men.  In return, the actors would give special performances for their patron, either in the great halls of their estates or at the palace.

Shakespeare wrote three different kinds of plays:  tragedies, comedies, and histories.  In writing them, he followed many of the customs and fashions of the time.
The main characters in the tragedies, for example, were always doomed to death in the end. The comedies were full of mistaken identities, women disguised as men, miscarried letters, and all sorts of silly complications that were all resolved in the end, with everyone planning weddings. The histories told the stories of kings and great noblemen in exciting situations, such as war or rebellion.
Yet, while he followed all these conventions, he wove humor into his tragedies, put serious problems into his comedies, and brought the issues of the common people into his histories. His characters and the words they spoke were amazing and highly original.