Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Christmas Story

The Christmas Story
illustrated by Sheilah Beckett

We still have our Christmas decorations up, so it's not too late to read anther Christmas book.  This one is a retelling of the Nativity story beautifully illustrated by Sheilah Beckett.  I can always spot her distinctive style when I'm digging through books at the thrift store and I snatch them up.  Here is a fascinating bio about her and her work: 
I'm also a fan of her Facebook page:  The Art of Sheilah Beckett

I would LOVE if there was a large coffee table book collection of her artwork (sort of like the Mary Blair one we have which Madeleine likes so much). 

 Other books illustrated by Sheila Beckett:

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

(Good 'ol Walter de la Mare)

Night Tree

Eve Bunting 1994
illustrated by Ted Rand

Eve Bunting tells the story of a lovely Christmas tradition for one family.  Packing boxes full of popcorn strings, nuts and berries, a caring family heads out into the woods to find their special tree.  It's grown through the years, just like the children have and they marvel at the mystery and beauty of the forest.   It reminds me a little of Owl Moon- the language, the winter beauty, the quiet observation of nature.  A simple, soft Christmas book that we enjoy reading every year.

And look at this wonderful inscription on the title page!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Slumps, Grunts, and Snickerdoodles

Lila Perl 1975
drawings by Richard Cuffari

The history of food can be so interesting.  In this book What Colonial America Ate and Why, you can imagine the English Pilgrim families trying to eke out a new way of sustenance.  There were vegetables and grains they were completely unfamiliar with and I'm sure many were homesick for the regular food they were used to.  You can see how they adapted their cooking to use these new American ingredients for their traditional English dishes.

Of course, the Pilgrims intended at the time to plant their own seeds of wheat, oats, rye, barley, and peas in the empty Indian cornfields.  They did not know that much of their seed had rotted on the long, damp journey from England.  Nor did they realize that they had come to the land of Indian corn, to an entire continent in fact where no European grains- no wheat or oats, no rye or barley- had ever been heard of before the first visits of European ships and sailors.

We learned that sukquttahash (succotashwas an Indian dish of corn and beans.  It was one of the first, the simplest, and the most directly adopted recipes taken from the Indians by the colonists.

The poor colonists also had to go without bread- there was no wheat or rye flour.  So they tried experimenting with cornmeal, baking Indian pone- improving the flavor somewhat by adding salt and sugar, milk and butter, and baking their bread on a greased fireplace griddle, pancake fashion.

I like the story of Anadama bread:  A cornmeal and wheat bread that actually had enough wheat flour in it to be raised by yeast.  The story behind anadama bread is that there was once a New England fisherman who grew exceedingly tired of the cornmeal mush served up for dinner day after day by his unimaginative wife, Anna.  Adding several fistfuls of wheat flour, some yeast, and some molasses to Anna's mush, he set the entire mess to rise, baked it, and ate the hot delicious loaf, while muttering angrily to himself between satisfying mouthfuls, "Anna, damn her!" 

Though this new world had plenty of wild fruits and berries, they were all sour and tart.  So the colonists concocted "slumps" and "grunts"- a way to steam the fruit with a cakelike dumpling dough on top.  Or even better, a "flummery", which was fruit stewed and sweetened and served thick with a bit of cream.  

This Thanksgiving holiday I think I'll be thankful for green bean casserole, the sweet light white bread I'll be baking, fat non-gamey turkey and pumpkin pie!  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What You Know First

Patricia MacLachlan
engravings by Barry Moser 1998

Barry Moser's dark engravings call to mind Dorthea Lange's migrant family photographs.  They fill the spaces of MacLachlan's sparse verse- a child's lament at having to leave the only home she's known on the prairie.

There's fear, and defiance and sadness captured in the voice of a child.

I could
If I wanted
Tell Mama and Papa that I won't go.
I won't go, I'll say,
To a new house, 
To a new place,
To a land I've never seen.

I could
If I wanted 
Tell them to take the baby-
He won't care.
He doesn't know about the slough
Where the pipits feed.
Where the geese sky-yak in the spring.
That baby hasn't even seen winter
With snow drifting hard against fences,
And the horses breathing puffs like clouds in the air,
Ice on their noses.
The cold so sharp it cuts you.

But the leaving is unavoidable.  And What You Know First takes on a rather profound message.

What you know first stays with you, my Papa says.
But just in case I forget
     I will take a twig of the cottonwood tree

I will take a little bag of prairie dirt
I cannot take the sky.

Monday, November 17, 2014


Patricia MacLachlan 1995

Patricia MacLachlan is famous for writing Sarah Plain and Tall.  This book also by MacLachlan is so beautiful, simple and heartrending.

When a mother can't care for her baby, she leaves her on an island with a family she's been watching from afar.  Told from the perspective of the 12 year old daughter, and interspersed with unique remembrances, the family learns to care for this unexpected child.  Past hurts and tragedy are brought to the surface and a bittersweet healing begins to take place.  The ending will clutch your heart and (if you're like me) make you shed a tear or two.  Okay, so I walked into Madeleine's room sobbing after I finished reading it!

The memory is this:  a blue blanket in a basket that pricks her bare legs, and the world turning over as she tumbles out.  A flash of trees, sky, clouds, and the hard driveway of dirt and gravel.  Then she is lifted up and up and held tight.  Kind faces, she remembers, but that might be the later memory of her imagination.  Still, when the memory comes, sometimes many times a night and in the day, the arms that hold her are always safe.  

MacLachlan's words are so good to read:

Soon winter would come, the winds shaking the windows of the house, the sea black.  Herring gulls would sit out of the wind on our porch, watching for spring that would come so fast and cold, we would hardly know it was there.  Then summer, visitors would come off the ferry again, flooding us, the air heavy with their voices.  And again, at summer's end they would be gone like the tide, leaving behind small signs of themselves:  a child's pail with a broken handle, a tiny white sock by the water's edge.  Bits and pieces of them left like good-byes.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Trailer Dog Trix and Nancy

Trailer Dog Trix and Nancy
Florence Bourgeois 1938

I would love to travel around in a little air-stream trailer.  That's just what little Nancy's family does!  When they travel south for the winter, she picks up a puppy and names him Trixie.  Then when Santa brings Nancy a very special Christmas present, she decides to make it part of her plan for the Pet Parade.  Needless to say, Nancy and Trailer Dog Trix are a big hit!

The colors and pictures are all vintage goodness!

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Wyndcliffe

Sometimes you take a chance on a 25 cent book at the thrift store and it's a gem indeed!

Louise Lawrence 1975

A beautiful ghost story about a girl named Anna moving with her family to an old stone house in the English countryside.  While navigating her relationship with her older brother and sister and trying to find her way in a new school, she grows lonelier and lonelier.  Then she meets the ghost of a young man- a Romantic poet from centuries ago whose own tragic history is tied to Anna's house.  Filled with teenage angst and longing, Anna begins to lose herself in her mysterious bond with the young man.

Anna shivered and crawled behind the sofa.  The metal radiator was warm.  She clung to it in the small dark space breathing in the dry heat.  She didn't want to be anymore.  She wanted to stay a nothing, warm and hidden, protected.  She wanted to stay for the rest of her life in this warm, dark, sheltered corner where no one would come.  She wanted never to be herself again but stay nonexistent and forgotten.

This is a well written YA book that captures a dreamy teen girl's emotions (and I was that dreamy teenager!) within a haunting mystical sort of story.

His was the same world, the Wyndcliffe under the same sky.  But now Anna looked on it with unclouded eyes.  The Wyndcliffe was only a small part of something bigger.  She gazed on strange and distant horizons, brilliant and indescribable, where there were colors she had never seen before.  John's world.  She drifted through its clearness, its misted depths, its shadows, colors, sounds and movements.  It was a dream landscape, a magic place, and this little piece of it belonged to them, the Wyndcliffe, windswept, sunstruck and beautiful.  Its intensity touched her with a delight that was almost pain.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Skeleton books

Here are two fun books about skeletons to get you in the Halloween spirit.  

The Skeleton Book
An Inside Look at Animals 
Madeleine Livaudais

I love this vintage nature book all about the skeletons inside animals.  The photographs of actual skeletons on a simple black background are quite beautiful.  I almost wanted to frame some of the pages!  All sorts of animals are shown, from a small frog to a giant whale.  You are invited to notice the similarities and differences and what their bones might reveal about how they live.  Good stuff!

Rattle Your Bones
Skeleton Drawing Fun
David Clemesha 

Once you've had your curiosity piqued by The Skeleton Book, now try your hand at drawing skeletons!  This instructional book has easy to follow directions and fun illustrations to copy.  Charlotte and I made several skeleton drawings based on the ones we saw here.  It was pretty fun!  A few pages give examples of skeletons found throughout history in art and there's plenty of humor throughout.