Reading Report for Northern, Central Texas: October and November 2017

OctNov2017Happy December 15th!  Wow, where has the time gone? We have been reading, but I haven’t been reporting!  It has been a busy fall for us. Catching up with everyone has been tricky, but here is some of the books that were tackled in October and November of this year.

Robin

  1. Bujold, Lois McMaster. Penric’s Fox. New York: Spectrum Literacy Agency, 2017 (Nook Edition).
  2. Bujold, Lois McMaster. Prisoner of Limnos. New York: Spectrum Literacy Agency, 2017 (Nook Edition).

These two Penric novellas were fast and fun to read.  Lois McMaster Bujold always leaves me wanting to know more about her characters. I like her novellas and novels that are set in the World of the Five Gods.

  1. Christie, Agatha. The Halloween Party. New York: Harper Collins, 2011 (Nook Edition). Originally published 1969.

I purchased this book in November 2016 intending to read it for Halloween.  I did read it for Halloween, but in 2017.  As always Agatha Christie keeps you on the edge of your seat.

  1. Cooper, Susan. Over Sea, Under Stone. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1965.
  2. Cooper, Susan. The Dark Is Rising. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1973.
  3. Cooper, Susan. New York: Simon Pulse, 1974.
  4. Cooper, Susan. The Grey King. New York: Simon Pulse, 1975.
  5. Cooper, Susan. Silver on the Tree. New York: Simon Pulse, 1977.

I read Susan Cooper’s 5 book Dark is Rising Cycle.  I will be doing a separate post on this series.

  1. Holt, Tom. The Management Style of the Supreme Beings. New York: Orbit, 2017.

At one time in my life, I thought Tom Holt wrote the funniest stories.  I think I have changed as I didn’t find this book as compelling to read as some of his other ones.  I do like that they are all based on myths, fairytales, and legends.  Flying Dutch based on the legend of the Flying Dutchman has be a favorite of mine over the years.

  1. James, P.D. The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories.

This little book of short stories is destined for a blog posting sooner rather than later I hope.

  1. Lavene, Joyce and Jim. Wicked Weaves. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2008.

Very light reading.  I dug this out of a bag destined for Half Price Books.  It is going back in the bag for Half Price Books.

Jim

  1. Brown, Dan. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2017 (Nook Edition).
  2. Brown, Dan. Deception Point. London: St. Martin’s Press, 1998 (Nook Edition).

Alexis

Always our most prolific reader.  I didn’t get a chance to follow up on all the library books she read.  Here is just a small sample.  I am hoping for a guest blog from her soon.

  1. Lackey, Mercedes. New York, DAW Books, Inc., 2008.
  2. Steward, Mary. My Brother Michael. Greenwich, CT, Crest Book, 1959.
  3. Thomas, Sherry. A Conspiracy in Belgravia. New York: Berkley, 2017.

 

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Owl Moon

Girl and man on snow hillside under an owl moonYolen, Jane. Owl Moon. Illustrated by John Schoenherr. New York: Scholastic, 1987.

I am over the moon, so to speak, to tell you about Owl Moon.  It seems it is the perfect week to do so.  It was the full moon on Monday that made me remember this book. The moon was large, bright, and lustrous.  This book takes place on a night with a full, bright moon. Here’s how the book opens.

It was late one winter night,
long past my bedtime,
when Pa and I went owling.
There was no wind.
The trees stood still
as giant statues.
And the moon was so bright
the sky seemed to shine.

What else make this a perfect time for this book?  It snowed this evening in central Texas.  If you have friends from central Texas on Facebook, this is probably no surprise to you. Everyone I know in the area has posted a snow picture.  Those of you who live where it is cold and snowy will not be impressed.  I hope you will forgive our giddy pleasure in this skiff of snow.  You will notice this book takes place on a snow covered wintry night.  With a snowy night and a full moon in the same week, I think I was destined to write about this charming book.

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The little girl in this story lives on a farm in a very, snowy part of the country.  She has been waiting oh, so very long to go owling with her Pa. It is late, way past her bedtime, when they head out.  The snow on the fields they pass glistens in the light of the moon.  It is quiet and she can hear sounds from far away as clear as if they were close by.  Have you ever walked on a pristine field of snow with no one around?  It is so quiet and bright.  It crunches as you walk.  If the snow is deep, you have to lift your feet high to walk.  As they walk together their feet crunch in the snow.  It is the only noise they hear.  She knows that if she goes owling with her Pa, she has to be very quiet.  She has to run to keep up with her dad sometimes, but she is still quiet.  They make shadows on the snow, tall and thin, short and round.  They walk to the forest at the edge of the fields.  They stop and Pa gives the call of the Great Horned Owl. They listen and listen, but there is no answer.  She isn’t disappointed as she knows from her brothers that “sometimes there is an owl and sometimes there isn’t.”

As the girl and her pa walk further into the forest, they listen.  There is suppressed excitement and anticipation.  I can almost imagine the little girl bouncing silently up and down as she listens and waits as Pa calls out again. Then they hear it, the faint echo of a returning call.  As they listen the call comes nearer and Pa turns on his big flashlight and catches the owl as it lands on a branch.  Momentarily, they stare at one another, owl to girl and man and back.  Then the owl wings its way back into the forest.  The owling is over and it is time to go home.  She could be loud, she could laugh, but she holds the silence inside as she walks home.  A wise young one, she is.  Here is her final reflection.

When you go owling
you don’t need words
or warm
or anything but hope.
That’s what Pa says.
The kind of hope
that flies on silent wings
under a shining owl moon.

Jane Yolen is a wonderful storyteller.  She evokes feelings of peace and quiet, just what you need for a night of owling.  When I read it aloud, I almost want to whisper.  I want to keep the serenity I see in the pictures and hear in the words.  I hope you can find this book and add it to your collection.  It would make a restful, reflective read on a wintry, full moon night.

Jane Yolen

Facts about this author.

  1. She wrote her first poem in preschool. Amazingly she still has it.  She recites it to groups of students, “because it was so bad that I tell them that, clearly, they’re writing better poems than that.”¹
  2. She has written over 250 books. They seem to cover many genres and all ages. You can take a look at her website for a full listing: http://janeyolen.com/
  3. Owl Moon was the 1988 Caldecott Medal winner.
  4. She won the World Fantasy Award in 1987 for Favorite Folktales from Around the World. In 2009, she was earned their Lifetime Achievement award. Fantasy is one of my favorite genres.²
  5. She’s been an editor, a teacher, a storyteller, a critic, a songwriter for rock groups and folk singers.³

Here are some websites to visit to learn more about this author.

¹http://www.readingrockets.org/books/interviews/yolen
²http://www.worldfantasy.org/awards/winners/
³https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/authors/jane-yolen/

Counting to Christmas

Courting to Christmas Book CoverTafuri, Nancy. Counting to Christmas. Roxbury, CT: Duck Pond Press, 2005.

Yesterday, we brought out the Christmas decorations.  We put up the incredibly tacky, blow-up “Santa Sleigh” Rocket in the front yard. We put up the tree and trimmed it with lights and ornaments.  When the girls were little we might have stretched these maneuvers over several days as a count to Christmas.

One of my greatest pleasures at this time of year is to bring out my collection of Christmas books.  Yesterday, I brought them out.  How I love to look at each and every one.  It makes me remember when I bought some of them and how much fun we had reading them together.  At one time or another, they were a part of our count to Christmas.

This lovely book is a new pleasure for me and an excellent addition to my collection. It is a story of a little girl and her preparations for this holiday.  She is counting to Christmas. I read on the book jacket that the author shared her family’s favorite holiday crafts and activities. I bought this book, because it reminded me of our Advent calendar activities.  These were some of our favorite activities, too! We haven’t counted to Christmas in a number of years, but I still remember how much fund we had.  As we did, the girl in this story makes Christmas cards with paper, paint and glue.  She writes and sends letters to the people important in her life, including Santa.  She mails her cards. We mailed ours, too, but we had a special ritual for the letters to Santa.  We used to write letters and send them to Santa via smoke signals (we burned them in the fireplace).

What count to Christmas doesn’t include baking?  She makes elaborate gingerbread cookies and lovingly decorates them. The author included a recipe here, if you are keen to try your hand at them.  We liked making cookies, too.  Our favorites to bake were, and still are, cowboy cookies, Russian tea cakes, double chocolate bourbon cookies, and giant ginger cookies.  We used to bake cookies and give them to all of the girls’ teachers.  We had a great time in the kitchen together.

The girl in this story makes animal treats for the wild things that live near her home.  We did that too.  We used to string popcorn with cranberries and hang them on the tree in our backyard.  We made the pinecones with peanut butter and birdseed animal feeders.  It was a messy fun project. Her snowy backyard is filled with many animals large and small like mice and birds and deer and bear.  They all come to enjoy her treats.  Here in this part of Texas, we don’t have snow.  Even with no snow, we have enjoyed watching animals come to our backyard.  We have deer and fox and rabbits and roadrunners.

Here is a charming book to add to your Christmas book collection.  The illustrations are soft and warm.  The child is a delight.  It would be a comfy book to snuggle up and read. It might be a good addition to your count to Christmas.

Nancy Tafuri

Nancy Tafuri has the great fortune of doing what she loves, writing and illustrating books for children. Here are her words on this subject. “I feel honored to be creating literature for young children. The early years in a person’s life are so important, I can only hope that my books can contribute in some small way to that growth.”

Here are 8 facts about this author.

  1. She has always liked art. She convinced her Home Economics teacher to allow her to paint a mural instead of making a dress.
  2. She attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
  3. Her first job was as an assistant art director with Simon & Schuster. She went on to open a graphic design studio with her husband Tom.
  4. One of her favorite early books was The Little Engine That Could¹.  She has something in common with out family, we love that book, too!
  5. Her illustrations were not accepted at first. They were considered “too graphic” for children of 5, 6, and 7 in the early 1970’s. ¹
  6. She lives in Connecticut. She writes and illustrates in a converted chicken shed, which over looks a duck pond.
  7. Perhaps her studio over looks the duck pond represented in her Caldecott Honor Book, Have You Seen My Duckling?
  8. She loves nature.  She says that it is always auditioning for her.

For more information on Nancy Tafuri, check out these websites.

¹http://childliterature.blogspot.com/2012/02/interview-with-nancy-tafuri-and.html

Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z

EatingAlphabetEhlert, Lois. Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1989.

Apple to Zucchini,
come take a look.
Start eating your way
through this alphabet book.

Do your children like fruits and vegetables? Even if they don’t, here is an eye-pleasing romp through the alphabet using only vegetables and fruit.  There are fruit and vegetables here that most children would recognize: apple, corn, and pumpkin.  There are also fruits and vegetable, you might not recognize like endive, jicama, and xigua.  Although the illustration for xigua looked like a watermelon, I thought I would have resort to Google for more information.  I did not.  Ms. Ehlert provides information on each of the items she illustrated for the book.  Xigua is the Chinese name for watermelon. This book is a triple treat, wonderful illustrations, great charm, and timely information.

It is a useful book. Here are pictures of all sorts of fruits and vegetables creatively and vibrantly illustrated and in alphabetical order.  In the back of the book there is information on each fruit or vegetable.  These short descriptors contain something about its origin and at least one fact about it.  If I had young children now, I think I might take this book with me to the grocery store and do a scavenger hunt.  How many of these fruits and vegetables could we find?  I also might use this book to help answer a question like this “Mom, what’s this?” from my child holding up an ugli fruit.  Did you know that the ugli fruit comes from a cross-breeding of a tangerine and a grapefruit? I just learned that fact from this book.

I might use it for color identification.  The apples are red, the avocados and artichokes are green.  The kumquats are orange and so are oranges and pumpkins.  The blueberries are blue and the eggplant is purple.  I might ask what colors are the star fruits, the strawberries, and the turnips?

It is an alphabet book. As I have noted in past blogs, reading alphabet books to children is important.  It begins to teach print concepts to children.  Helping them learn that letters are used in language.  In this book both the capital and lowercase letters are presented.  The names of the fruits and vegetables are in both all capital letters and in all lowercase letters.  It might be something I pointed out as I read this book.

I bought this lovely book when I was teaching preschool.  I tried to choose an author of the month for each letter of the alphabet.  Lois Ehlert was one of my choices for the letter E.  My students loved the book and we had fun talking about the fruits and vegetables they had eaten.

While this is a glorious book for all kinds of exploration, please read it with someone just for the love of reading.  It is the best kind of pleasure!

Lois Ehlert

I am late for a birthday celebration post for this author.  Her birthday was November 9th.  I don’t know, if she was born there, but currently she lives and works in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I was born near Milwaukee and my grandparents lived there so we have something small in common.

Lois was born to be a creator and a maker.  Her mother was a seamstress and provided Lois with colorful bits of fabric to use.  Her father was a woodworker and he provided wood scraps for her use.  With these interesting resources, Lois developed a love for color and texture.  She went on to study collage making in college.  She went on to be an award-winning author.

Here are some websites about and interview with Lois Ehlert.

A Turkey for Thanksgiving

Book cover with moose, rabbit and turkeyBunting, Eve.  A Turkey for Thanksgiving.  Illustrated by Diane de Groat. New York: Scholastic, 1991.

I was at home this week preparing for the upcoming holiday.  In the mornings, I listened to the newscasts.  I was completely amused by the two early morning news anchors on Monday. There was a filler article on the annual Presidential Turkey Pardon.  Did you know there was an annual Turkey Pardon?  I don’t know, why turkeys need a pardon.  What is their crime, not enough dark meat? At any rate, the male news anchor was pretty disgusted by the whole idea.  He thought that it was a significant waste of resources.  Evidently the two turkeys, in this case Beau and Tye, were put up for a few days at the Willard Hotel to await their pardon.  The other news anchor commented on the turkeys’ names.  The male anchor noted that better names for the turkeys would have been Lunch and Dinner.  At 6 am, I thought this was hysterical (housework and early hours can warp the mind). The pardoned turkeys live out the rest of their days at Gobbler’s Rest at Virginia Tech.   A most peaceful end for each of them.   Soon after this segment, I went to look for a Thanksgiving book for this blog.  I found this one and thought it would be a perfect book to share for the holiday.

In this story, Mr. & Mrs. Moose are preparing for Thanksgiving dinner.  Their friends, Sheep, Rabbit, Porcupine, and Mr. & Mrs. Goat are coming and they are making everything just so for their friends.  They were looking over their decorations and all looked good, especially the paper turkey.   Alas, Mrs. Moose was sad.

Mrs. Moose sighed. “Yes. But I wish we had a real turkey for Thanksgiving. Everyone always has a turkey for Thanksgiving. Everyone but us.”

Mr. Moose nuzzled Mrs. Moose’ head. “Well that won’t do. I will go this minute and find you a turkey for Thanksgiving.

Off he goes to find Mrs. Moose a turkey for Thanksgiving. As he wanders to find one, he enlists the help of all his friends.  They find the turkey in his nest.  The turkey runs away despite Mr. Moose sweetly telling him they want him for Thanksgiving dinner.  Is there a happy ending for Mr. Turkey? Why yes there is!  A chair at the table for Mr. Turkey right next to Mrs. Moose!  He surveys the table of all the good food Mrs. Moose has prepared.

“I hope you find something her to your liking, Mr. Turkey,” Mrs. Moose said.  “I wasn’t sure of your taste.

“You are so kind to worry about my taste,” Turkey said. “I thought you’d be worrying about how I’d taste.”

“Heavens, no!” Mr. Moose smiled his big-toothed smile…. “It’s so nice to have friends around the table at Thanksgiving.”

It was a Happy Thanksgiving for Mr. Turkey.  He was at the table and not on it.  He has new friends for Thanksgiving.

What an amusing take on the turkey and Thanksgiving! Perhaps, Beau and Tye, will meet new turkey friends at Gobbler’s Rest?   They will be at the table and not on it, too!

I liked this charming book.  Eve’s words along with Diane’s lovely watercolor pictures make it a pleasure to read.  I bought it to share with my preschool class.  They loved the story.

Whether a turkey is on your table or at your table (sometimes it can be both), I hope all of you have a lovely Thanksgiving Day.

Texas Book Festival 2017

Books covers for Soonish, It devours, Welcome to Nighvale, Santa Calls, Creepy Carrots, Spy School, Space Case, How to avoid extinction, Symphony for the city of the dead, Last stop on market stree

The first Saturday of November, Jim and I attended the 22nd annual Texas Book Festival in Austin.  The book festival began in 1996 about the same time my family moved to the Central Texas area.  It is prestigious, large, and mostly free.  It promotes literacy and reading across all ages.  There are events for the youngest children through adults.  There is something of interest for everyone. The money raised at the book festival through book sales, donations, and other fundraising goes to library and literacy programs in Texas.  This year there was a special fundraising effort for public and school libraries effected by Hurricane Harvey.  I participated by attending and purchasing lots of books.  Once I started it was hard to stop!!!

One of the first events of the day was the announcement of the new Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List for 2018-2019.  We missed the announcement, but I collected a copy of the list.  As I have said in the past, I like this award as Texas school children in grades 3-6, who have read (or have heard read out loud) at least 5 of the books on the list, vote for the winner.  The 2016 winner was Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl. The 2017 winner will be announced this spring at the Texas Library Association’s annual conference. I picked up a book from the list How to Avoid Extinction.  It quirky title made we want to see what is inside!

Another program that the book festival supports is the Reading Rockets Program. This is a literacy outreach program for students in Title I elementary schools, like the one where our daughter teaches.  It brings bilingual and award-winning children’s authors to these schools for presentations.  This program donates a signed copy of the author’s book to each student and a set of the author’s books to the school’s library.  How cool is that!

Because I love children’s books, we had to spend time in the Children’s tent.  We stopped to see the PreK class from my daughter’s school introduce Aaron Reynolds.  He had been at their school earlier in the week. I also wanted to hear his new book.  It had an interesting title, Creepy Underwear. This book is hysterical and so was the author.  Have you ever talked with a group of young children?  You must bring your A-game!  You never know what they will say.  He was funny, charming and energetic.  He told the group that he was an author and most of the time he was a grown up.  The kids in the tent were delighted!  They loved his book.  Alas, I delayed going to the books sales tent and all the copies of the book were gone.  As an alternative, I purchased his book, Creepy Carrots. You will hear about it in another blog.

I decided to stay for the next session as I was intrigued by Chris Harris’ book title, I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups. Here was another delightful author.  The local class that introduced him recited one of the poems from the book.  He thanked them and told them how much he had enjoyed visiting their school.  Wow, you must really love to talk with children to be on this circuit.  They asked him all kinds of questions.  As you might have guessed, he began this book for his own children and it just grew.  His poetry, rhyming or not, is captivating and the poems have appealing titles. Here’s a title from one he showed the audience, “Alphabet Book (by the Laziest Artist in the World)”. The illustrator for this book is also one of my favorites, Lane Smith.  The pictures in this book are fantastic, just like the poems.  There will be more to come on this book in another blog.  I have to read the book first!

I learned an interesting fact from both Chris and Aaron. Authors and their illustrators rarely meet.  I was under the wrong impression that they collaborated during the entire process.  That must only happen when the author and illustrator or illustrator and author are very close or the same person.  According to Aaron and Chris, you write your book and you send it off to the publisher.  They look it over and then decide, who might be the best person to illustrate it.  They send the book off to the illustrator to see, if he/she wants to illustrate it.  Aaron said he never met his illustrator, Peter Brown, until after his first book, Creepy Carrots, was published.  Jim and I wondered what happens when the author hates the illustrations?  Our question will have to wait for another time as both these authors appeared to enjoy the illustrations in their books.

These two children’s authors presented in the mid-afternoon and as I am not a husband torturer, we split the day between what he thought might be interesting and what I wanted to see. He is interested in science and science fiction, so we took a flyer and attended Kelly and Zach Weinersmith’s session.  Their book title looked curious, Soonish: A Funny Future of Technology: Ten Technologies That Will Improve/Ruin Everything.

I thought this was a delightful session!  Zach has two degrees one in literature and the other in physics.  Kelly, who could not attend, has a degree in parasitology.  Between the two of them, they work on the ideas and research for their books.  Their book combines interesting theories and Zach’s cartooning. In this presentation, Zach talked about two technologies from their book: Cheap access to space and robots.   In the section on “Cheap Access to Space”, he discussed carbon nanotubes that could be used for a space elevator.  As soon as he started on this topic, I thought about Arthur C. Clarke’s story The Fountains of Paradise.  I haven’t read the book so I don’t know, if they reference his story.

He also discussed robots and how it will end for humanity.  He talked about some interesting recent robotic experiments.  We, the people, are so gullible. Seems if a robot tells us something, it is true. To the best of my narrative ability, here’s how the experiments went.  In experiment one, on a campus, near a locked dorm lurked a robot.  The robot would stop students and ask them to let it into the dorm.  A very, few students let the robot into the dorm.  On the other hand, around 80% of the students stopped and would let that same robot in the dorm, if it robot had cookies and offered one to the student.   Makes you wonder what people will do for cookies!

In experiment two, began with student who were volunteering for a study waiting in a building’s lobby.  They were met by a robot and led to a room.  Sometimes the robot went straight to the room.  Sometimes the robot took what was obviously a long, circuitous route.  Sometimes the robot would walk into a wall and go the wrong direction and have to correct itself on the way to the room.  Sometimes the robot would move very slowly.  The robot left the students in the room where the experiment was to take place. After they had been in the room for a few minutes, the room began to fill with smoke and the fire alarm went off. A robot appeared in the doorway and told the students to follow it to safety.  It is interesting that in every case, people followed the robot.  It didn’t matter, if they could see the exit door, or if the robot had made mistakes in getting them to the experimental room and was making obvious mistakes getting them back to the outside door, the students followed the robot.  I think that is a scary thought that they would so blindly follow robots.  After all they were built by people.  During the Q&A session someone asked this related question, what would you do to prevent a robot apocalypse?  His answer: “Don’t let it get started!”  It was a most amusing presentation.  Did I buy his book? Why yes and “soonish”, after I read it, I will blog about it.

Jim and I listen to the news on the way to and from work every day.  It gives us a chance to talk about current events.  Discussing current events led us to this session with its intriguing title, “Falsehoods, Forgeries, and Fake News” in the C-SPAN Book tent.  This session featured Kevin Young and Jared Yale Sexton.  They discussed how PT Barnum and his use of the Penny Press was similar to the way the internet is used now.  It was a lively, but somewhat distressing topic.  They offered us hope.  We must learn about each other and find common ground so that civil discourse can continue.

After that heavy topic, we were ready for lunch.  We walked down to six street and had lunch at BD Riley’s Irish Pub.  Books (a discussion), a brew (Guinness Stout), and BD Riley’s Irish stew (best ever) made lunch heaven.  I am glad that we had the second half of our day at the book festival to walk off all that yummy goodness.

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To cap off our book festival day, we intended to try the festival’s lit crawl.  Unfortunately, all the lit crawl venues were too far from us.  We had our own lit crawl. We used two of our newly purchased books (Tom Hank’s Uncommon Type and Zack and Kelly Weinersmith’s Soonish) to play the game, “Bring Your Own Book.”  We had a blast and it was a lovely end to a perfect day at the Texas Book Festival.

The Halloween Tree: A Story of Friendship, Bravery, and Our Halloween Traditions

Halloween TreeBradbury, Ray. The Halloween Tree. Illustrated by Joseph Mugnaini. New York: Yearling Book, 1972.

Happy Halloween (a bit belated)! Here is a book that celebrates all the traditions of this season. Here is an education of the history of Halloween so carefully woven into a story of nine boys, you miss the education.  The book opens with these words:

It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small northern part of a Midwest state.  There wasn’t so much wilderness around you couldn’t see the town. But on the other hand there wasn’t so much town you couldn’t see and feel and touch and smell the wilderness.  The town was full of trees. And dry grass and deaf flower now that autumn was here.  And full of fences to walk on and sidewalks to skate on and a large ravine to tumble in and yell across.  And the town was full of …. Boys.

I love this ordinary setting in our United States for a launching pad for the adventures of eight boys and their special friend, Pipkin.  They are costumed for Halloween as a skeleton, witch, ape man, gargoyle, beggar, mummy, ghost, and death.  They leave their houses. They run and shriek and laugh and jump and frolic.  It’s Halloween! They stop to take count. Something is wrong.  There are eight where there should be nine.  Where is Pipkin? He would never miss Halloween!  Why is this boy so special? Here’s what Bradbury tells us about Pipkin.

Joe Pipkin was the greatest boy who ever lived. The grandest boy who ever fell out of a tree and laughed at the joke. The finest boy who ever raced around the track, winning, and then, seeing his friends a mile back somewhere, stumbled and fell, waited for them to catch up and joined, breast and breast, breaking the winner’s tape.

These and many more accolades are heaped upon Pipkin.  How could these boys have Halloween without him?  What is wrong? They scramble over to his house. Pipkin steps out.  He looks bad.  Will he trick or treat with them?  He asks them to head to the place of Haunts and he will meet them there. They go to the only house worth visiting on Halloween.  They round the side of the house and there it is, a tree, a hundred feet tall and hung with pumpkins of every shape and variety, the Halloween Tree! Each pumpkin was carved with an elaborate face.  As the boys watched, all the pumpkins light up! Each frightening, carved face is aglow. From this splendor comes Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, a ghoulish person, who offers them a trick.

These boys are wary of Moundshroud.  They aren’t sure they like his trick. They are waiting for Pipkin.  They spy him at a distance, when something dark whisks him away.  These brave boys, must rescue their friend.  The boys enlist the aid of the skeletal Moundshroud.  He promises to help them find and rescue Pipkin.  Away the boys are whisked to the past, chasing Pipkin through the centuries.  Each time and place they visit teaches them something about the traditions of Halloween.  Each festival from ones in Ancient Egypt to Día de los Muertos in Mexico is an exciting adventure.  They see the Feast of Samhain, The Time of the Old Ones, All Soul’s Day, All Saint’s Day, The Day of the Dead, El Día De Muerte, All Hallows!  All are some variation of Halloween.  As Moundshround says: “Night and day. Summer and winter, boys. Seedtime and harvest. Life and death.  That’s what Halloween is, all rolled up in one.”

Finally, in Mexico in the celebration of the Day of the Dead, they find Pipkin.  He may or may not be dead. Can they rescue him? What is the price?  It is a year from each young life. Will each brave boy give up a year of his life to save their dear friend?  Would you?

Ray Bradbury’s story is rich with symbolism and imagery.  It is difficult to give you a sense of this story.  I chose this book because it is my daughter, Alexis’ favorite. I can see why. It is creepy, exciting, and lyric all at the same time.  Ray Bradbury’s prose is evocative and wonderful.

This story set in an ordinary Midwest city, and that makes me remember.  I was raised in an ordinary Midwest city.  On Halloween, it was cool and crisp.  The trees had lost their leaves.  We lived in a housing subdivision, referred to by my folks, as the “Heslop Hatchery” for its sheer number of young children living in the neighborhood.  We leapt and gamboled and wandered carefree through the neighborhood my sister and me.  We met our friends and trick or treated throughout the entire neighborhood. Our bags must have been so heavy!

This story makes me remember Halloween past in various places not only the ones in my Midwest city. We lived in Greece for a time on a job site out in the country side.  I remember the terrific parties devised by the moms to keep us entertained.

I remember my Mom and Dad, who have both passed away.  They enjoyed this holiday, too.  I wish I had a story of their youth to share with you.  I do remember a couple of Halloween parties, they had.  It was fun to see grown-ups dress up.  I have some old film of one of these parties and it looks like they were having a terrific time.

I remember celebrating Halloween with our girls.  We had one girl, who always dressed as something gruesome and one who always dressed as something pretty.  I remember a Halloween, we had the Grim Reaper and a Princess and one with Pocahontas and Peter Pan.

I was discussing this story with my husband.  He too, remembers Halloweens past.  He shared some of his remembrances with me.  Here they are for you.

Well, here I am at 60, thinking about Halloween.  This was one of my favorite times when growing up.  While the candy was great, designing costumes was even better.  In 3rd grade, out teacher taught us how to make papier- mâché masks for art.  The masks were finished before Halloween.  This mask, though simple, was very cool.  I got to use my imagination to make my own Halloween mask!  It was mine and totally unique.  No one else would be wearing my same mask!

The papier- mâché mask led to other more elaborate costumes.  It turns out that boxes, hose and paint can make cool costumes.  I was always a fan of Jules Verne stories and it occurred to me that I could be Captain Nemo.  I don’t remember all the details (too long ago) but I do remember using these boxes and hose to make a diving helmet, air tank and hose that joined them.  The following year I went all fantasy and created a dragon outfit.  Again, boxes were used to create the head and mouth of the dragon.  Cardboard and strap was used to create the wings.  One house I went to that year loved the originality and DIY nature of the outfit and doubled my candy!

The last year I trick or treated I recalled the papier-mâché mask of long ago.  I decided to make something totally different.  The mask was in two parts, a round nose portion and a large mask to cover the head.  To this I added some simple electronics to my late 1960’s costume.  I fitted a colored light on the top of the head portion of the mask and one on the nose.  These were wired to a battery and switch that went through my jacket sleeve and into my hand.  As I walked down the street I blinked the nose and head lights.  It was gratifying when, the next day, I heard someone in school talking about a costume they had seen in my neighborhood with blinking lights!

These are our thoughts and the great Ray Bradbury’s thoughts and reflections.  Pick up a copy of The Halloween Tree and savor it.  Do you give Halloween gifts?  This would be a great one!  Read and remember.