Thursday, November 27, 2008

17 Kings and 42 Elephants

17 Kings and 42 Elephants by Margaret Mahy
Illustrated by Patricia MacCarthy

This is one of our all-time favorite picture books. With eye-popping, dream-like jungle illustrations and the bounciest ever verse, this books begs to be read-aloud and poured over again and again and again.

Ms. Mahy's story has little in the way of plot - all we know is that we are in the jungle with 17 kings going somewhere...the book opens thus:

Seventeen Kings on forty-two elephants
going on a journey through a wild wet night,
Baggy ears like big umbrellaphants,
Little eyes a-gleaming in the jungle light.

Not only is the verse remarkably fun to read aloud, it offers much in the way of discussion of word usage, rhyme schemes, vocabulary (and made-up words!), alliteration, and more. Of course, the toddlers will be quite happy to bounce along with the catchy beat while ooohing and aaahing over the tigers, crocodiles, pelicans and more, that inhabit this gorgeous book. 

This would also be a fabulous book/poem for the older children to memorize and a non-threatening way to introduce poetry to any poetry-phobes you may know.

Worthy buying in hardback  -  a fine investment in a young child's library.
Think Christmas!

Maggie* who should probably be thinking Thanksgiving instead!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Secret of the Scribe

Secret of the Scribe by Jennifer Johnson Garrity - ages 10 & up

This new book published by Brimwood Press is fascinating story, told in the first person by 12-year-old Tabni. She is the daughter of a slave living in Sumeria. Well-written, with a detailed look at the customs and culture of ancient Sumer and Ur, this book will generate great discussions on world views. Tabni is discouraged - and finally sick of - the gods her people worship, as they did not save her mother, herself, or any of her friends in need. She hears a strange tale of a man from Ur who only worships one god. This thinly veiled reference to Abram (later to become Abraham) is the only reference to the Bible but none-the-less, this book is a great supplement to any old Testament Bible study or to any Ancient History course. There are three more books in this new "series" about worldviews, all by the same author:
  • The Jeweled Astolabe (Medieval)
  • Beneath the Cat's Claw (Early Modern)
  • Rebel on the Path (Modern)
I haven't read them yet but look forward to doing so. You can find Secret of the Scribe here:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lorna Doone

Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore

For many years my only familiarity with Lorna Doone was that lovely buttery cookie that goes so well with hot tea. Oh, I knew there was a book by that name - I even had an old copy on my bookshelf - but I knew absolutely nothing about it. Finally one winter's day I picked it up and began reading. Fortunately for me, my copy had an extensive introduction which helped to me place the book in proper context as well as very-much-welcomed foot notes. [Oxford University Press, Edited by Sally Shuttleworth.] With the attitude of - well, I guess I can make it through this - I plowed in.

Originally published in 1869, Lorna Doone has remained in print ever since. In 1906 the [male] student body at Yale voted it to be their favorite novel. For despite the name, Lorna Doone is about a young man's coming-of-age. John Ridd, the rustic hero, narrates the story. The love of his life is Lorna Doone yet she remains a mostly enigmatic creature. John, however, we get to know quite well. His gentle humor and careful descriptions draw us into the story. Lorna Doone is set in the wilds of rural Exmoor, England in the 17th century at the time of the Monmouth Rebellion.

This book is worth reading for its language, its insight into the lives and minds of the time period, and its influence on later writers of importance (Hardy, Stevenson, and others). If you are not used to digging into long sentences often filled with archaic or unfamiliar terms this book will take a little effort to enjoy. But I found that once I put my mind to it and slowed down my reading - actually re-reading certain passages until I understood them - that I greatly enjoyed this novel. 

Mysterious, romantic, historical, intriguing: Lorna Doone, a worthwhile read.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran is a dreamy, peaceful glimpse into the very real-feeling make-believe world of the author's aunt as a young girl growing up in Yuma, AZ. If you have ever created your own world out of "found objects" or a fort or country that you returned to again and again, you will recognize yourself in this beautiful, simply told tale of the imaginary town of Roxaboxen. (Created from - rocks and boxes - of course!) 

Boys will enjoy the "wars" complete with generals, the whirling swords of ocotillo, and the stamping and running of horses! Girls will get a kick out of Mayor Marion, Frances' house of jewels, and the bakery. Everyone will recognize the children from their own childhood or from their children's friends. Turn the pages and follow Roxaboxen through the seasons but be assured that although the years roll on and the children grew up: Roxaboxen remains.

After reading this gem with its evocative desert illustrations (by Barbara Cooney) you'll want to gather the neighborhood kids and send them forth to build!

This is a keeper.


Eudora Welty

I love Eudora Welty. I love her name-the sweet southern "almost gentility" of it; the house where she lived in Jackson, MS-left as she kept it, overflowing with stacks of books, books, and more books; and most of all - her stories. My favorite is The Ponder Heart and although I have not read everything she has written, I imagine it will always be my favorite. I just cannot think of how she could improve on The Ponder Heart

I intended to devote today's blog to The Ponder Heart but discovered, sadly, that it is no longer in its rightful place on my bookshelf. Its place is suspiciously  empty-as if someone had surreptitiously snatched it and hoped no one would notice the tiny little space it left. Yes, it is a small volume, in size but not in heart. In heart - it is a giant. But since I cannot quote from it or give you a true account from beginning to end of it - I am only left with my heart-impression. This slim work is filled with truth. Warm, humorous, southern truth. Don't miss it.

However, right next to that empty space sits One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty. This autobiography is a lovely read and gives great insight into her mind and her life. If you are already a Welty fan, you'll enjoy this book. If you haven't met her yet, read it and get to know both her and life in MS in the early 1900s. (And if you are ever near Jackson, stop in at the Eudora Welty House - it's a booklover's treat. )

Maggie* who needs a system for loaning out books!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Powerful, Funny, Meaningful Book for Middle Schoolers

One of my all-time favorite books is not that old. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli was published in 1990. It is an amazing tale of a young boy, family, race relations, and love. Your kids will be immediately drawn into Jeffrey Magee's world: he has no family to speak of, is a legendary runner and athlete, and friend to the unforgettable Amanda Beale. What is home? What is a family? What is the difference between blacks and whites? And what on earth is Cobble's Knot?!

This funny, sad, fast-paced book will make you cry and make you think. Share it with someone you love.

Rating: Not to be missed

Classic Book for Little Ones

Don't miss this classic:
A Hole is to Dig: A First Book of First Definitions
by Ruth Krauss and Pictures by Maurice Sendak
copyright 1952.
What is it about this little book that charms me every time I read it? I don't know what I enjoy more, the quirky definitions ("Mashed potatoes are to give everybody enough") or the lively little b & w illustrations that dance all over the page in a gleeful celebration of childhood. I adore this book! More quotes: "Dogs are to kiss people."
"Hands are to make things. Hands are to eat with. A tablespoon is to eat a table with."

Fortunately, it is still in print and readily available. Get it for a little someone you love.