Monday, October 31, 2011

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything

Linda Williams 1988
illustrated by Megan Lloyd

Charlotte particularly likes this book.  She's like this little old lady and is hardly afraid of anything.
The old lady lives in the woods and one day goes out to gather herbs.  But soon something scary is following her.  She doesn't let it get to her, but hurries home and has a clever solution.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Olivia and the Missing Toy

Ian Falconer 2003

Olivia is one of our favorite characters. She's an independent pig with her own strong sense of self and opinions and a fully loaded imagination. In this story Olivia is busy playing when she has to go to a soccer game. Her mother makes her a red jersey to wear but then Olivia notices her favorite toy is missing. She accuses her younger brothers until she discovers the real culprit.

All the Olivia books are drawn in black and grey with red for Olivia's clothes (and a bit of green thrown in this one).

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Bram Stoker
illustrated by Tudor Humphries 1997

This Eyewitness version of Bram Stoker's Dracula is filled with all kinds of extra tidbits. The abbreviated story is told through John Harker, Mina and Dr. Seward's diaries. John's travels to Transylvania in search of Count Dracula and Mina records her friend Lucy's odd and scary transformation. Then Dr. Seward along with Van Helsing must chase the monster down.

There are photographs and illustrations throughout that explain the history of the story, Stoker's inspiration for writing, and the aftermath of movies and books that followed.  Nice introduction to a classic horror story.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The 13 Clocks

James Thurber 1950
illustrated by Marc Simont

A suitable book for Halloween reading.  There is a wicked Duke, cold and evil with legs of different lengths and a velvet patch over one eye.  He lives with his niece, the Princess Saralinda, in a castle with thirteen clocks that wouldn't go. 

The clocks were dead, and in the end, brooding on it, the Duke decided he had murdered time, slain it with his sword, and wiped his bloody blade upon its beard and left it lying there, bleeding hours and minutes, its springs uncoiled and sprawling, its pendulum disintegrating.

The cold Duke was afraid of Now, for Now has warmth and urgency, and Then is dead and buried. Now might bring a certain knight of gay and shining courage-

When suitors come for the beautiful Saralinda, the Duke managed to kill them all or give them impossible tasks like cut a slice of moon, or change the ocean into wine.  They were set to finding things that never were, and building things that could not be.

A prince dressed as a ragged minstrel and calling himself Xingu (but who is really Zorn of Zorna) sets off to wed the princess.  In this odd story he meets the Golux ("I am the Golux," said the Golux, proudly, "the only Golux in the world, and not a mere Device), must avoid the awful Todal (who looks like a blob of glup, makes a sound of rabbits screaming, and smells of old, unopened rooms), and the Duke's spies, Hark and Listen.

It's a strange but wonderful little book- part fairy tale, a little bit dark with some sharp humor.  I can't help but think fans of Norton Juster would love this as well.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Highwayman

Alfred Noyes
illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak 1983

For those of you familiar with the Anne of Green Gables movies you may recognize this poem.  Anne recites it at the White Sands Hotel.

Alfred Noyes is terrific. He has written all kinds of verse and short stories and novels. We like to read this poem (probably his most famous) very dramatically. The pictures by Charles Mikolaycak suit it perfectly. They are mostly grey and black and white with a touch of red for a scarf, Bess' ribbon, a soldier's coat, blood.  
The opening lines are some of my very favorite in literature.

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,

And the highwayman came riding-
Riding- riding-
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.


Monday, October 17, 2011

The Teeny, Tiny Witches

Jan Wahl 1979
illustrated by Margot Tomes

Just a simple reader with a Autumn/Halloween theme.  The poor tiny witch family are too small to do much magic.  But they are happy enough living in their pumpkin until a family of shrews pushes them out (rather meanly).  So starts their quest for a new home, but everywhere they go they are pushed out.  It all ends well when they meet a kindly old harvest mouse in Mr. Feeney's house.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Black Jack

Leon Garfield 1968

Another Leon Garfield book, perfectly suited to this crisp Autumn weather.  A bit more wicked than The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris.   Bartholomew Dorking is in London as the apprentice to a draper, but he soon finds himself in the creepy parlor of scheming Mrs. Gordandy with the newly hung body of the scoundrel Black Jack.

"Gobblesshoo for your kind 'eart," she sobbed- and slammed the door in the apprentice's startled face.  The key turned in the lock and Mrs. Gorgandy's footsteps pattered briskly over bare boards and out into the distant street.  As if from another world, he heard her hoarse promise repeated:  "Back in 'alf and hour..."

After a few moments he tried the door.  The lock was secure.  He went to the window- and discovered its cataract of dirt, dust and perished insects obscured three iron bars.  Gloomily he wrote, "Help.  I am a prisoner, " with his finger on the cracked glass.  Then he wrote it backwards in the hope someone in the strange country of the backs of houses and their secret yards might read it and come to his aid.

He went to the fireplace, in whcih there was a pile of ashes- as if a large family had burned their secrets there before going upstairs to hang themselves in a group.  He looked up, and discovered the chimney to be partially blocked by a fall of bricks, two of which so resembled the soles of boots that Dorkling wondered if some previous apprentice had tried to escape that way and failed.

It turns out the villain Black Jack isn't quite dead and he drags the boy along into "a wild story which weaves its turbulent way through the seamiest parts of old London, a traveling circus, and a private madhouse."

Garfield once again creates a brilliant cast of characters- Belle, the simple-minded girl, Dr. Carmody, selling his snake-oil elixir with theatrical flourish, Bartholomew's uncle, the benevolent sea captain he's trying to make his way to, and Mrs. Arbuthnot, always predicting doom in her cards.  And of course the looming Black Jack, a mighty fellow, and rough... as if the Almighty had sketched him out (and left the Devil to fill him in).

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris

Leon Garfield 1971

We first discovered Leon Garfield through this book.  The title and cover illustration caught my eye and it proved to be a very funny story with a cast of characters to rival Dickens.  Madeleine read it next and loved it.

The story opens in the classroom of a boys school:

A musty, dusty, leather smell of boys, books and ink. Words drone and a family of flies stagger through the heavy air as if in pursuit of them. But they turn out to be of Ancient History so the flies blunder moodily against the parlor window beyond which the June sun ripens tempting dinners at roadsides and down the strong-smelling beach; day after day after day.

The setting is 18th century England and two boys, by playing a prank, set off an adventurous series of events.  There are twists and turns and Garfield has this wonderful habit of pulling you along in the story to where you think you know how it ends, then there's a sharp turn in the narrative, a hidden alleyway you didn't see.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

For the birthday boy

John Austin 2009

Henry just turned 12 and these books were the perfect birthday gift.  Don't let the titles scare you away, they are full of clever and fun directions for building "weapons" out of household items.  We gave them to Henry along with a shoe box filled with things he might need- tape, paperclips, balloons, string, binder clips, clothes pins.  Right away he made a mini clothes pin gun that shoots toothpicks.  Then he took the books to bed to read before going to sleep!

The  next day he came home from school and in no time had the kitchen table covered in pieces of cork, paper towel rolls and masking tape.  The writing is funny and the directions and pictures are easy to follow.  And the supplies needed really can be just found around the house.

Not all the projects are weapons (if you're an anti-weapon family then this book is definitely not for you), there are instructions for secret boxes, targets, and spy equipment.  Basically everything a 12 year old boy would love!

Henry is a picky reader so this set of books was right up his alley, encouraging him to be creative and resourceful and exercise his natural mechanical inclinations.