Wodehouse on Crime: A Dozen Tales of Fiendish Cunning

Blue and white creamer in the shape of a cow and the book Wodehouse on CrimeWodehouse, P.G. Wodehouse on Crime: A Dozen Tales of Fiendish Cunning. D.R. Benson. New York: International Polygonics, LTD, 1981.  With a foreword by Isaac Asimov.

Sunday, would have been Wodehouse’s birthday!  Happy Birthday, good sir!  Happy, belated birthday for one of my favorite authors.

Isn’t it interesting how blog ideas get going, what ho? I was wandering through my kitchen and noticed my adorable, little cow creamer. It was a gift one Christmas from my daughter, who had just completed a read of a couple of Wodehouse books. The method by she acquired this piece of frippery for me was much less fraught with complications than the methods Bertie Wooster tried in retrieving a cow creamer for his Aunt Dahlia. These thoughts plus a wander through my calendar, brought me to this author.  This was not the book I was seeking as I was shuffling through my shelves, but then I was arrested to find it had a foreword by Isaac Asimov.  Two of my favorite authors, how could I resist?

I picked up the book and began reading Asimov’s forward.  Here’s one bit that brought me to attention.

P.G. Wodehouse, as we all know, created a world of his own; or rather, forced one to live past its time. He took Edwardian England, purified it of its grosser elements, and kept it alive by some alchemy, of which only he knew the secret, right into the Vietnam era.

And in doing so, he imbued every aspect with lovability.

Do some of his characters seem like wastrels? Semi-idiots? Excrescences on the face of society?

Undoubtedly, but one and all, each worthless idler would rather die by torture than sully a woman’s name, however indirectly and involuntarily.  All would engage, at a moment’s notice, in any act of chivalry and kindness, though it meant the loss of all their worldly good (all five pound of it) or, worse yet, though it meant a rip in their perfectly-creased trousers¹.

How could I resist!  I picked up this volume and proceeded to re-read it and report on it for you.  Note, before you begin a Wodehouse book, you may need to find a safe place to read.  In bed, with you partner at the end of the day, might not be a good place.  Are they sensitive to the polite chuckle, a brisk tsk-tsk, or a loud bark of laughter after lights out? How about the cafeteria at lunch time, will your neighbors look askance at these mild outbursts?  My advice, find a cozy spot to giggle, snicker, tsk, and guffaw and enjoy his books in a carefree manner.

Here we have a book that reports to be a dozen tales of fiendish cunning.  It is Wodehouse, who is fiendish and cunning, writing these stories about men and women.  The crimes don’t seem so dastardly and mysterious. Many of the characters seem like they don’t have two brain cells to rub together to make a spark, but they are loveable.  One of my favorite stories in this little gem is titled, “The Crime Wave at Blandings.”  Were jewels stolen, was someone murdered? No, in a day of gentle, general lawlessness at the idyllic Blandings Castle, an air gun confiscated from the grandson of Clarence, ninth Earl of Emsworth.  It is amazing the trouble one little air gun can cause. The situation gets so out of hand that the very proper butler, Beach hands in his resignation!  You will have to read this story to find out how the easy-going Lord Emsworth, his sister the rather stern, no-nonsense Constance, the very proper butler, Beach, and the odious, bossy, ex-secretary Rupert Baxter all are affected by this small element of criminality.

A collection of Wodehouse short stories would never be complete without a story about that dynamic duo Wooster and Jeeves!  This book includes three: “The Purity of the Turf,” “Without the Option,” and “Aunt Agatha Takes Count.” Each story is a jewel of convolution and silliness.  In any Wooster and Jeeves story, Bertie is in a jam and Jeeves comes to the rescue.  In the story “Without the Option,”

Bertie encourages his friend, Sippy (Oliver Randolph Sipperly) to pinch a policeman’s helmet on the night of the Oxford/Cambridge Boat-Race.  Bertie escapes the chokey, but his friend, Sippy is sentenced to 30 days. Chaos ensues, of course!  Sippy is to go down to Cambridge to please his Aunt Vera.  Bertie feels great remorse for landing Sippy in the soup!  Jeeves is consulted and suggests that Bertie go in Sippy place.  Again, you will have to read the story to learn how Bertie shoulders on and Jeeves wins the day.  Here’s a bit of conversation to whet your appetite for this story.

Bertie: “You think, I haven’t the machinery.”

Jeeves: “I will most certainly devote my very best attention to the matter, sir, and will endeavor to give satisfaction.”

In conclusion, I agree with Isaac Asimov.  I, too, would have liked to dine at the Drones Club and observe all the exuberance of those young men.  I have two strikes against me, one I am a woman and individuals of the opposite sex were barred from this establishment.  The second is that the Drones Club is a fictional establishment, alas no one can go there.  Pick up a volume and read a cunning, convoluted, silly story to brighten your day.

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Possum Come a Knockin’

Possum knocking on a doorVan Laan, Nancy. Illustrated by George Booth.  Possum Come a Knockin’. New York: Trumpet Club, 1990.

Conversation around the lunch table this week, made me remember this book.  I have a friend, who lives near the edge of a small town.  Like many of us, who live on the fringe of town, she had a possum visit her yard.  She was worried that it might carry off one of her small dogs or they might try to eat it.  Her story made me think about this book and how I inadvertently tormented my niece and nephews with it.  It is a standard joke at our house.  As a matter of fact, my husband just wandered by and said, “Oh, Possum Come a Knockin!  Going to scare more, small children, are you?”

I first heard this book, when I was teaching in a private preschool.  We had an itinerant music teacher, Mr. David.  He read my students this book.  I understood why he chose it.  It had a wonderful cadence and rhythm. It was almost musical.  I recorded myself reading this book (https://goo.gl/ZvigbY) to give you a feel for it.  Here, also, is a link to a video of a teacher using this book in class: https://goo.gl/zcSZ6Y.

I thought it was such a wonderful, musical type of book that for the next gifting occasion I figured it was perfect for my brother-in-law and his family.  He and his wife were both musicians so I thought they and their children would enjoy this book as much as I did.  Alas, I forgot that they too lived at the edge of town. While they didn’t have a possum come a knockin’, they did have a possum get under their house. It made a lot of  creepy scratching noises.   That possum terrified my niece and nephews and unfortunately so did this book! They didn’t think it was musical or rhythmic, they thought it was scary!

Hopefully, you won’t encounter any possums and you can enjoy the cadence written into this story.

Nancy Van Laan

While I was looking at information on this author, I found someone who described her books as good for reading aloud.  This book is terrific for reading aloud, I am not certain I could keep it to myself.   Here are a few fun facts about this author.

  • She read to pass the time on long trips.
  • She wrote and illustrated her own stories when she was young.
  • Her first love was ballet, but an injury ended her careers
  • She has been an English teacher in a private school, a creative writing teacher at Rutgers, and a network censor at ABC.
  • She has an MFA from Rutgers and has painted murals for schools and private clients
  • In 1989, she began to write full-time.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/26331.Nancy_Van_Laan

Reading Report for Northern, Central Texas: August and September 2017

Aug_Sep17I feel it has been an age since I have settled in to write. August and September were so very busy around here.  You may notice that the book stack here is much shorter than usual.  No contributions from Alexis and Sarah.  They moved out to an apartment of their own so I don’t have their input.  I hope to ask them to write something for me to post.  Helping them move, new job responsibilities, helping with a wedding, and general household clean up, my reading and writing have been on a hiatus.  I am glad to be sitting here writing.

With the girls comfortably established in a place of their own, Jim and I are empty nesters.  We are getting used to the new routine that includes only two people.  One of the advantages of  having an empty nest is that there are extra bedrooms. Jim and I converted one of them into an office for me.  Jim, the lovely man that he is, painted it for me.  I have a new desk.   It is wonderful to have a cozy, comfortable, dedicated space to do my bits of writing and blogging.

Without further ado, here is the reading report!

Robin’s List

  • Holt, Tom. The Management Style of the Supreme Beings. New York: Orbit, 2017.
  • Griffith, Clay and Susan Griffith. The Shadow Revolution. New York: Del Rey, 2015.
  • Griffith, Clay and Susan Griffith. The Undying Legion. New York: Del Rey, 2015.
  • Harris, Charlaine. Midnight Crossroad. New York: Ace, 2014.

I haven’t finished The Management Style of the Supreme Beings. I have been distracted by other reading.  I was hoping it would be just a funny as my favorite Tom Holt novel, Flying Dutch.  This one is amusing, but I am having trouble finishing it up.  I will give it another go later this month.

I did enjoy reading Midnight Crossroad. I read this book just before the new TV series, Midnight, Texas started.  It made me a step ahead on the first few episodes.  I need to find another book in the series and then catch up on all the episodes of the TV series I have missed.

The Shadow Revolution and The Undying Legion are the first two books in the “Crown & Key” series.  They take place in Victorian London where werewolves and other nasty shadows lurk.  I fished these two books out of the pile Alexis had designated for Half Price books.  They were fun, light reading during these busy months.

Jim’s List

  • Baxter, Stephen. New York: Penguin, 2015 (Nook Book)
  • Tyson, Neil deGrasse. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2017.

While on vacation this summer, we were wandering in a little independent bookstore in Healdsburg, California when we ran across this slim, little volume.  While Jim does take time to contemplate the cosmos and photograph it as well, I thought he might find this book amusing.  “It was good, very informative, and easy to understand.  You don’t have to be an astronomer or engineer to understand it.”  These were Jim’s comments on the book.  I need to move it from his reading stack to mine.

I am glad to be back at work on this project.  Have a good month and happy reading!

Just in case you are curious.  Here is my office.

Office

 

Never Spit on Your Shoes: A Book for the First Day of School

NeverSpitCazet, Denys. Never Spit on Your Shoes. New York: Orchard Books, 1990.

Good evening!  This was the first day of school for many children in central Texas.  Parents worked hard to get their children ready to go back to school. Teachers did their part, working hard preparing their classrooms for their new students. It was a significant day for parents and students.  For young children and their parents going to school for the first time can be a little scary.  They don’t know what to expect.  For older students and their parents, the first day of school marks the beginning of a new year of activity.  For me it signaled the passing of a year in a more significant way than New Years.

While I was considering which book to share, I stopped to have a conversation with my daughter.  She grew up to become a music educator and now works in an elementary school here in central Texas.  She had been busy setting up her classroom. She told me her plans for the first day of school.  This year, she will be asking her student to help craft the classroom rules.

That amusing conversation made me remember this book.  I am certain I purchased the book for its title, Never Spit on Your Shoes, when I was teaching preschool. How could I resist? It is a good piece of advice.  Take a look at the cover of this book. Like my daughter, this teacher is developing the class rules for the first day of school.

Denys Cazet has shared the first day adventures of a little puppy named, Arnie.  Arnie is making the transition from kindergarten to first grade.  As the book opens we see Arnie drag himself into the house, throw himself into a chair, and gasp out for milk.  The first day of school has been exhausting.  His mom brings milk and cookies and they proceed to have a conversation about his first day of school.

I like the way this book is designed!  On the double-spread pages of the book, you see an inset of Arnie and his Mom.  The rest of the page shows the details of what happened at school. Here’s an example.  At the top of the inset picture, Arnie tells his mom, “We had to sit together in a circle and help the teacher make the rules.”  The rest of the double page shows the classroom, with the students in the circle working on ideas for rules.  Mrs. Hippowitz got some of these helpful suggestions: “Waste not, want not. Always keep your tools dry! Just say no to catnip. Never spit on your shoes. Keep your feet dry.  Is it time to go home?” The inset picture shows Arnie whispering to his mom.  Under the inset picture Arnie tells his mom, “Never spit on your shoes.”  Mom replies, “I promise.” Good advice, but I doubt it made the list. It clearly impressed Arnie. I am looking forward to visiting with my daughter to hear what interesting suggestions Ms. Reimund received for her classroom rules.

This book is very funny! It is evident that Mr. Cazet has spent some time in a classroom.  There are many amusing things to discover and discuss.  I don’t know, if I would read this book to my child before or after the first day of school.  It might be fun to read after and discuss how the child’s day was the same or different from Arnie’s. When you read this book, you need to pay close attention to the words and pictures or you will miss the jokes.  Pick up a copy of this book and share it on the first day of school with a youngster you know.

Denys Cazet

Here are five fun facts about this author.

  1. He’s been a gardener, mail carrier, teacher, librarian and media specialist.¹
  2. His characters are based on some of his friends and family.
  3. The title Never Spit on Your Shoes was an actual contribution to a teacher’s class discussion on rules.
  4. He was inspired to write the Minnie and Moo stories, when he drove past a herd of cows. All the cows were facing the same direction except two.2
  5. He lives and works near Napa in California3.

¹http://biography.jrank.org/pages/1785/Cazet-Denys-1938.html
²https://www.harpercollins.com/cr-100163/denys-cazet
³http://www.patriciamnewman.com/kidlit-creators/denys-cazet/

The Moon Seems to Change

Branley, Franklyn.  Illustrated by Barbara and Ed Emberley.  The Moon Seems to Change.  New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1980, 1987.

Moon_VenusHere’s a picture to get us started.  It was taken yesterday morning (8/19) around 6 am.  It is a picture of the waning moon with Venus over our little house in the backyard. It was a beautiful morning and the moon and Venus were shining so brightly over our house.  We have always loved looking at the moon. At our house, we track moon phases.  Why?  First, it is fun. Second, we have an astrophotographer here who needs dark skies.  Clear, dark nights near the new moon are a treasured commodity. The full moon is lovely to observe with your eyes, but its light is much too bright for telescope work.

New moon, full moon, waxing moon, crescent moon, what to all these terms mean?  This very nice little book, The Moon Seems to Change, explains the moon and its phases.  It begins, “Tonight take a look at the sky. See if the moon is there.”  We learn that the moon, sun, and the earth all have a role to play in this apparent change.  The moon is always illuminated by the sun. Depending on the position of the moon in its orbit around our Earth, we see more or less of its illumination.

MoonChangeThe simple, but informative explanations are from Franklyn Branley, a champion of science education and a former chairman of The Hayden Planetarium. He offers a simple experiment that you can do at home to demonstrate the moon phases using a few simple tools: an orange, a flashlight, a pencil, and a marker. The illustrations provided by Barbara and Ed Emberley bring the explanations alive and make them accessible for young readers.

Speaking of the sun, the moon, and earth’s relative positioning, there is a special event occurring this week!  Some places in the United States will be seeing a total solar eclipse.  I am not traveling to see this event, but I am staying home to observe. Here in Central Texas, we will see about two-thirds of it. We have our eclipse glasses and Jim has a solar filter for his telescope.  We should have an interesting day.

If you have an interest in this event, are some websites that may help you plan your eclipse watch.  Remember never look directly at the sun without protective glasses (not sunglasses)!

  1. Safe viewing: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety
  2. Eclipse 101: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/
  3. Printable Pinhole Projectors: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/2d3d-printable-pinhole-projectors
  4. Where to Watch the Eclipse in Central Texas: http://www.statesman.com/news/local/make-your-plans-where-watch-the-solar-eclipse-central-texas/JhCMJASOkBW2BDM0UtTP2L/
  5. Smithsonian Solar Eclipse Apps: http://smithsonian-eclipse-app.simulationcurriculum.com/download.html
  6. Planetary Society: http://www.planetary.org/get-involved/events/2017/2017-total-solar-eclipse.html

Enjoy the excitement of the solar eclipse, but never stop enjoying stepping outside on any clear evening to view our lovely Moon.

Scaredy Squirrel and Engaging Children with Print

ScardeySquirrel

  • Watt, Mélanie.  Scardey Squirrel. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press, 2008.
  • Justice, Laura and Ann Soka. Engaging Children with Print. New York: Guilford Press, 2010¹.

I am so lucky!  I attended a workshop on “Building Emergent Literacy Skills in Students with Disabilities” given by Dr. Laura Justice.  All I can say is wow!  I received 3 new books and my head is full of new thoughts.  I have always thought that reading was important for all children.  You may have noticed this theme in my work.  I read to my girls when they were little, because it was fun and engaging for each of us.  My girls are excellent readers. Would they have been better readers, had I had this information when they were young?  Who knows?

My girls grew up in a language and print rich environment.  We had books, newspapers, and magazines.  Both their parents and all their grandparents were avid readers.  The girls saw us read for work and for pleasure.  We spent countless hours reading to each of them.  We talked about books. We wanted them to share our love of books and reading. We wanted them to be good readers, too.

When I taught preschool, I tried to provide my students with a language rich environment.  As a former speech pathologist, I knew the value of developing good language skills in children.  I tried to model language for them. I didn’t have any formal training in reading, but I tried to provide the students in my class with the same kinds of experiences that I gave my girls.  I had lots of books in my room.  I tied activities to some of the books we read. I thought seeing objects with words labels around the room would help my students with their basic reading skills.  With what I know now, I could have been a much better teacher.

I never looked at children’s books quite like I did over the two days of that workshop.  It made me think about what skills we hope children bring to kindergarten.  We’d like them to know how to hold a book.  We’d like them to know what letters are and we’s like them to know some of them.  We’s like them to know that letters make up words.   How do they gain these skills?  They gain these skills from reading with someone.  Children, who come to kindergarten, without some of these basic skills have a learning gap.  It is good to know that some of the gap can be closed with specific book intervention at an early age.   For more specific information, check out Laura Justice’s book, Engaging Children with Print.

I think when I was reading to young children, I hit the language skills you need for reading, but I missed the some of the other aspects of print knowledge.  What is print knowledge?  Print knowledge is the understanding of the form and function of written language.  I don’t want to spend too much time on this subject, you will have to read this information for yourself!  I just want to share this book and point out some of the print elements in this story.

Scaredy Squirrel is a very funny book.  It is about a squirrel, of course, who is risk averse.  He doesn’t want to leave his tree.  It is dangerous out in the unknown.  He is afraid of a few things, including green Martians and sharks.  He thinks about the advantages and disadvantages of leaving his tree.  We find out that his schedule is the same day-to-day so that it is predictable. He has an emergency kit, an emergency plan, and an exit plan.  He feels very prepared. He keeps watch.  As with most well laid plans, something goes awry!  He drops his emergency kit.  What happens?  Is there a tragedy?  Does he survive?  Read this book for yourself.  It is wonderful.

Now that I know more, I can see why Laura Justice calls this a book that just keeps giving!  First, it is a fun engaging story.  Kids will want to hear it and read it.  Second, it has examples of different types of expository text embedded in the narrative.  What do I mean?  There are labels, schedules, routines, and compare and contrast examples within the story.  They are all important form of written expression.  And last but not least, it also contains a wonderful assortment of power words. Power words are those words that have important meaning across disciplines, but are not in lists of high frequency words. These are words that are important for children to learn to expand their understanding of language and literacy.  This story has a wealth of them.  Here is a short list of some of them: unknown, risk, venture, scary, afraid, advantage, disadvantage, predictable, control, and those were in the first eight pages.

Pick up this book and read to your child or a young friend.  As you read, take the time to subtly point out some of the expository pieces in the book.  You might connect Scaredy Squirrel’s daily schedule with your family’s daily schedule you have posted on your refrigerator or on your phone.  Do you have an emergency kit in your house?  You might compare and contrast what you have in your kit and what Scaredy has in his.  Think of creative, but explicit ways, to connect your child’s daily life to some of the power words in the book.  Through this shared reading time, you can build a language and literacy rich environment for your young learner.

¹Available to download for free from the Crane Center For Early Childhood Research and Policy: https://earlychildhood.ehe.osu.edu/files/2016/04/Engaging-Children-with-Print-Building-Early-Literacy-Skills.pdf

 

Reading Report for Northern, Central Texas: June & July 2017

ReadingJuly17Time is swift and it has flown!
June and July have passed.
We are at summer’s scorching height!
A good time to find a cool place
With a tall drink and an engrossing book!

I don’t know what has happened to June or July!  I never got around to the reading report for June so I have combined it with July.

Robin

We went on vacation at the first of July.  It was wonderful to get away.  I didn’t pick a novel of great importance to read this year.  I read a fun book I picked up at the grocery store.  It is based on the TV series the Librarians.  It was not a great classic, but it was amusing!

  1. Cox, Greg. The Librarians and the Lost Lamp.  New York: Tom Doherty Associate Book, 2016.
  2. Dahl, Roald. Matilda. Illustrated by Quentin Blake. New York: Puffin Books, 1988.
  3. Highfield, Roger. The Physics of Christmas.  New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 1999.
  4. Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York: Vintage, 2015.
  5. Roberts, Nora. Come Sundown. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017.
  6. Willis, Connie. Crosstalk. New York: Del Rey, 2016.
  7. Abnett, Dan. Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero. Nottingham, UK: Angry Robot, 2009.
  8. Robb, JD. Brotherhood in Death. New York: Berkely, 2016.
  9. Robb, JD. Apprentice in Death. New York: Berkley, 2016.

Jim

Here is Jim’s list.  He received the book on Colonial Spirits for a gift.  I had a look at it.  It was amusing.  He picked up the copy of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s book at a little independent book store while we were on vacation.

  1. Baxter, Stephen. Ultima. New York: Ace Books, 2016.
  2. Tyson, Neil deGrasse. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. New York. W. Norton & Company, 2017.
  3. Grasse, Steven. Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History.  New York: Abrams Image, 2016.

Alexis

Always our most prolific reader.  I didn’t get a chance to follow up on all the library books she read.  Here a small sample of the things she has read.

  1. Brooks, Mike. Dark Run. New York: Saga Press, 2015.
  2. Sullivan, Michael J. Age of Myth. New York: Del Rey, 2017.
  3. Harris, Charlaine. Midnight Crossroad.  New York: Ace, 2014.
  4. Lee, Yoon Ha. Ninefox Gambit. Oxford, UK: Solaris, 2016.
  5. Roberts, Nora. Come Sundown. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017.
  6. Holt, Tom. The Management Style of the Supreme Beings. New York: Orbit, 2017.

Sarah

She was busy this month.  I did get a chance to ask her what she was reading today.

  1. Harkness, Deborah. The Book of Life. New York: Penguin, 2015.