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Your Storybook Suggestions
Category Archives: Favorites
Another favorite tonight! “Annie and the Wild Animals” is a Jan Brett book – which means every page is full of beautiful illustrations. My favorite part of this particular story is how the author uses the illustrations in the margins of each page as foreshadowing. While reading tonight I paused on every page to ask our youngest to look at the margins to see if she could predict what was coming next – it did seem to keep her more engaged; she enjoys games where she and her mom or I are looking for things together…like the date and envelope for the book of the day.
We were able to get back to Wuthering Heights tonight as well – at least for a little while. We read long enough to get a good dose of the dysfunction in the Earnshaw household following the senior Mr. Earnshaw’s death. It’s a mess. Upon losing his wife shortly after childbirth, Hindley Earnshaw finds solace in the bottom of a bottle; his drinking and violent mood swings drive the rest of the family (including his son) away. Meanwhile, Catherine has grown to be a vain and headstrong young woman, abusive to the staff, and careful to wear different faces depending upon whether she is with Heathcliff or with Edgar Linton. Heathcliff has become even more brooding and resentful, and he doesn’t seem to have many redeeming characteristics himself, although I still find him the most sympathetic character in the house (with the possible exception of young Hareton).
I am looking forward to getting further into the book – I am already hooked, which surprises me because high school English class ruined the book for me the first time around…oh so many years ago.
Our first Bill Peet book of the year arrived today! As you will know from our Favorites page, we are big fans of Bill Peet – a long-time writer and illustrator for Walt Disney (at least, until a reputed break over “The Jungle Book” in 1967). “The Spooky Tail of Prewitt Peacock” tells a “tale about a tail” with a familiar theme: an outsider with a physical trait that makes him a second-class citizen becomes a hero when he realizes that what he thought was a shortcoming is actually a great strength. Prewitt’s apparent flaw is the spooky face/design that has appeared over time on his tail feathers (hence the play on words in the title). The face scares and alienates the other peacocks, until it also scares off the tiger who is constantly stalking them. “Prewitt” is a fun book, with wonderful illustrations that look – not coincidentally – like a Disney movie from the 50s or 60s. However, if you want to introduce your kids (or yourself) to Peet, I recommend starting with one of his rhyming books, all of which will eventually show up on this blog (Kermit the Hermit, Zella Zach and Zodiac, Smokey, etc).
Tonight we also finished Huck Finn! The final stanza of the book presented us with a several major twists, the first of which was that the farmer who bought Jim from the King is Tom Sawyer’s uncle (!) Huck plays himself off as Tom, which seems just “bully” until Tom himself shows up (!!). Together, Tom (aka, “Sid”) and Huck (aka, “Tom”) launch the most convoluted, confusing, and difficult plan to free Jim that could possibly be conceived. To be fair to Huck, his original plan is straightforward and even Tom allows that it is likely to succeed. Unfortunately, as Huck predicts, the simple but effective plan just doesn’t have enough “style” for Tom’s taste – a concept which, while frustrating in this context, has really stuck with us after reading two stories with Tom as a central character. I expect that in future we shall as a family seek to have the requisite amount of “style” in everything we do.
Tom then proceeds to work in all kinds of complicated wrinkles, each of which is borrowed from some story or history that Tom has read, and each of which seems destined to derail their plans (Jim can’t escape out the open window of the rickety one-room shack where he is held – he must be dug out, preferably with pocket knives; Jim must have a rope ladder snuck to him in a pie; the family must we warned with anonymous that something is afoot, etc., etc.). All of the various permutations that Tom invents, and scolds Huck for questioning, eventually become rather tiresome. The funniest parts are when Jim expresses his incredulity regarding each new requirement (such as when he learns that he “must” have pet snakes and rats and spiders in the shack with him). We couldn’t help but be frustrated for Jim, who seems so close to freedom but continues to be put through the ringer by Tom’s antics.
At long last…well, I’m not going to give everything away…but it all ends well after one more major twist – perhaps the biggest twist of all! We thoroughly enjoyed both Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn but are ready to move on to another literary universe…and to try some read-aloud voices that aren’t all slight variations on the same Southern accent.
While it is always fun to discover new treasures, there is a certain feeling of joy when we open the day’s envelope and realize that we will be reading one of our all-time favorites; that a book that we have grown to love is going to be part of our 365 adventure! Tonight was one of those nights, as we pulled the title “Harry and the Lady Next Door” by Gene Zion – which tells the story of Harry’s repeated attempts to give himself relief from the ear-splitting arias of the lady next door. Harry tries to override her with mooing cows or the sounds of the firemen’s brass band, and even tries running off with her sheet music. Eventually, however, Harry finds relief when his machinations contribute to her winning a local singing competition…and sailing away to Europe to attend music school. Our youngest was held rapt throughout the story – we were all impressed at how much she seemed to be hanging on every page.
In extended read-aloud tonight, The “Duke” and the “King” happen upon an opportunity to bilk three recently orphaned girls from their entire fortune by posing as brothers of their recently-deceased father. Despite some bumps in the road (mostly due to the King’s clumsy attempts to pose as an English preacher from Sheffield), the two rapscallions appear well on their way to succeeding in their quest – until the real brothers arrive in town! Huck has begun to feel “powerful” sorry for the orphaned girls, and launches a plan to foil the faux royals and to rid himself of them entirely, but with the arrival of the real brothers things quickly get out of control. Eventually Huck escapes – but so do the Duke and King, who are now entirely broke and desperate – and potentially more dangerous to Huck and Jim than ever.
Our Day 13 book was “Make Way for Ducklings” by Robert McCloskey. This is one of several McCloskey books on our Favorites list – so I won’t spend too much time with a review here. It’s a beautiful book, a 1941 Caldecott Medal winner, and always fun to read.
We were unable to get in any extended reading time tonight, looking forward to making up for it tomorrow.
Our Day 7 book was another Jonathan Bean creation: “This Is My Home, This Is My School” about growing up as a homeschooler. He takes us around his home and shows how every room in the house (and the fields outside his house) are part of his school. His mother and his sisters are also his teacher and his classmates, the dining room is also the cafeteria (complete with his mom in an amusing turn as the “crabby cafeteria lady”), their van is also a school bus, and the world is their art room. Each page is full of bustling, colorful illustrations of life as a homeschooler, and a lot of it rang true for us: the challenge and the fun of having all your school materials crammed into the same space where you sleep, eat, play and live, the 24/7 commitment of being mother and teacher and crabby lunchlady and how it can sometimes be overwhelming, and the endless possibility when the world is your classroom. It also made us long for for a place with more space to run and play…a house in the country like the one Jonathan Bean’s parents built in “Building Our House“.
In extended read-aloud time, Tom Sawyer continued his noble streak by testifying in court to help free a man wrongly accused of murder. He and Huck now live in fear of the real murderer…but there is intrigue and adventure adding excitement to that fear: the chance that they may lay their hands on a vast treasure! Our oldest was, at times, literally on the edge of her seat! One particularly funny moment came while the two conspirators are discussing what they shall do with their treasure – should they find any. Huck is convinced he must spend it all before his dad comes back and takes it, while Tom has plans to…get married! Huck is mortified: “Married!…Tom, you–why, you ain’t in your right mind…If you ever get married I’ll be more lonesomer than ever.” But Tom has the perfect solution: “No you won’t (be lonely). You’ll come and live with me.” The conversations between these two boys (and the way Twain has captured their ways of seeing and thinking about the world) are consistently the most entertaining parts of the book – at least, the most entertaining to read aloud.
We are about 80% of the way through Tom Sawyer at this point; we are excited to see how it ends – and to launch our next adventure with “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. Stay tuned!
Day four, and we have arrived at another all-time favorite: Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel. The Frog and Toad stories are simple, sweet and amusing (we had a lot of laughs ourselves this evening). Several of the stories present Toad as a neurotic mess, but all of the stories show Frog and Toad as true-blue friends.
This entry in the Frog and Toad collection includes stories such as “A List”, where Toad goes into shutdown when he loses his daily to-do list and can’t remember what comes next. It also includes the story “Dragons and Giants” where the two friends decide to go on an adventure to test how brave they are. They begin by looking in the mirror and observing: “We look brave,” and end the story hiding under the sheets (Toad) or in the closet (Frog) “…just feeling brave together.” The “money quote” of the evening, however, was in the story “Cookies”. In this tale, Frog and Toad are trying to exert will power to stop themselves from eating too many cookies. Frog eventually gives the cookies to the birds in order to protect themselves from themselves, much to Toad’s dismay: “Now we have no more cookies to eat,” said Toad sadly, “not even one”. “Yes,” said Frog, “but we have lots and lots of will power.” “You may keep it all, Frog,” said Toad. “I am going home now to bake a cake.”
In extended read-aloud tonight, Tom Sawyer, Joe Harper, and Huck Finn have run away and become “pirates”. Spurned by Becky Thatcher, Tom decides that the world has forced him to a life of crime – so he recruits Joe (who had originally had designs on becoming a hermit) and Huck, who “…joined them promptly, for all careers were one to him…”. The boys have set up camp on an island in the middle of the Mississippi River, but the townsfolk believe they have drowned and Joe’s mother and Tom’s Aunt Polly are heartbroken. We can’t decide if we are excited or terrified of reading about how Tom works his way out of this one…