Reading Report from Northern Central Texas: June 2016

stack of booksMeant to make this post earlier this week, but work got in my way.  Here’s some of what we read at our house this month.

Finished a book titled Dark Clouds. He has been reading exclusively on his tablet.  He got a new Nook paperweight for Father’s Day. He was looking for a new book and so Alexis and I each did a search for him.

Hers came from a must read science fiction list from MIT and mine came from Ira Flatow’s Science Friday.  He decided to try Seveneves by Neal Stephenson.

To please Sarah, he read the graphic novel she bought him, The Iron Giant by Ted Hughes.


Our prolific reader has finished these books.

  • Terminal World by Alistair Reynolds
  • Omega City by Diana Peter Freud
  • Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black
  • The Copper Gauntlets by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black
  • Death in Berlin by M.M. Kaye
  • The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan


Sarah has been pretty busy this month, but she got in a little reading, too.

  • Seraphina and the Black Coat by Robert Beatty
  • Kodaly in the First Grade Classroom by Michael Houlihan and Phillip Tacky


To finish off this report, here’s my list.

  • Soul Music by Terry Pratchett
  • The Stars of Fortune by Roberts
  • Bay of Sighs by Nora Roberts
  • The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan  (Loaned to me by Alexis)
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad, Day

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad DayViorst, Judith
Cruz, Ray Illustrator
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
New York: Aladdin Books

Have you or your child ever had a bad day?  You should read this book and compare your day to Alexander’s. You will feel much better. In Where the Wild Things Are, Max was having a bad day.  For Elijah’s library, I included this book about a another boy who was having a bad day. In Alexander’s case it wasn’t just a bad day, it is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. He seriously considered moving to Australia. Alexander started the day with gum in his hair and things went downhill from that point.  He had no dessert for lunch. In Australia moms don’t forget those details.  He had a cavity at the dentist’s office.  Do they have dentists in Australia? He had to buy plain old, white sneakers instead of nifty, blue ones with red strips.  To add insult to injury, lima beans were served for dinner!  Poor Alexander, he was having a really rotten day.  From time to time, everyone has a day where nothing goes right. Alexander’s very smart mom reminded him, “some days are like that. Even in Australia.”

Judith Viorst

Judith Viorst is a Renaissance woman! She does everything! She writes for children and adults.  She writes prose and poetry. She writes fiction and nonfiction.  She is a woman who has done many things. She lives in Washington, DC and her husband is a political writer.  I wonder, if she will turn her pen to writing a political thriller.  It seems to me she’s done everything else. She says she is an energetic person.  I believe it!

It is interesting that her three sons, Anthony, Nicholas and Alexander appear in her books. I read that she tried to help them by writing books about people having the same problem they were having.¹  I read that when she showed her son Alexander the first draft of this book he got angry. She was giving him a bad day!²

She’s been writing books about aging through the decades.  I think I am going to have to pick up one to read.  Here are a few titles to entice you to do the same.

  • Unexpectedly Eighty and Other Adaptations
  • Suddenly 60 and Other Shocks of Life
  • How Did I Get to Be 40 and Other Atrocities
  • It’s Hard to Be Hip Over 30 & Other Tragedies of Married Life

You can find out more about Judith from the websites.




Where the Wild Things Are

Book Cover Where the Wild Things AReSendak, Maurice
Where the Wild Thing Are
New York: Harper Collins, 1963

To Elijah I wrote: “Every child needs a copy of Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.  You know why?  Because every child is a wild thing from time to time. It makes a Mom want to sigh and roll her eyes.” I should have added it makes a Dad want to sigh and roll his eyes, too.

When I read the book it reminds me that firmness, kindness, love, and patience all go together when you are raising children. Raising children is hard and not for the faint of heart.  These attributes are most imperative when your child has gotten on your last nerve and your patience is shredded.  I imagine Max had tromped on his Mom’s last nerve and shredded her patience to smithereens.  Look at the pictures, you’ll see!

In this story, Max was in a mood and was mad at his mother.  She sent him to bed without his dinner.  In his imagination, he ran away to the where the wild things are. He conquered the wild things and was made their king.  They had a wild rumpus.  When all the hoopla died down, however, “Max wanted to be where someone loved him best of all”.  He went home.  And in her loving kindness, his Mom left him supper and “it was still warm!” As I said, firmness, kindness, love and patience all go together!  I think Max was well loved.  It called him home.

This is a terrific book to read aloud!  All the wildness, the growling and gnashing of teeth.  I think, if I was doing the library story hour, I might try to stage a little production from the book.  The children could act it out as it was being read.  I love to watch children use their imaginations!  Maurice Sendak gave them such scope!  He may have said that he didn’t write for children, but I think  they appreciate and cherish his books.

For this book he was awarded the Caldecott Medal for Most Distinguished Picture Book of the Year in 1964.  I’ve mentioned this award in previous posts.  You can find the list of winners at this location:

Maurice Sendak

These days most people know something about Maurice Sendak. Where the Wild Things Are is one of his most well-known books.

Here’s the things I did know about Maurice Sendak.

  • I adore his books.
  • His books caused a stir. Some people thought Where the Wild Things Are was too scary.  His book In the Night Kitchen made the banned books list.  At some point, he said: “You cannot write for children… They’re much too complicated. You can only write books that are of interest to them.” How wise a man he was.
  • He’s won the Caldecott Medal.
  • He did the set design for a production of the Nutcracker.
  • He’s illustrated and written many books.
  • I love his collaboration with Else Holmelund Minarik in the Little Bear series
  • I absolutely adore his collaboration with Carole King.
  • I think he was a masterful writer and illustrator.
  • Did I mention I adore his books?

Here are some things I didn’t know about him.

As he is a contemporary author, there are many articles and interviews that are available to you to view.  Here are some you might check out.


Choosing a Vacation Book

WildflowersHow do you choose a book for vacation?  Do you choose one specifically for your vacation type: road trip, beach trip, family trip? Some years, my read matches my trip.  Other years, I have no ideas so I go to the bookstore and wander around until I find something that strikes my fancy.  Are any of these choice likely to be great works of erudite literature?  No!  Most likely my choice will be escapist, easy reading. It is summer after all!

Thinking about choosing a book for vacation reminds me of my friend, Nan. There was nothing haphazard about Nan’s system for selecting her vacation read.  It was deliberate.  The selection was laid out like a campaign.  She wanted to read the best new work of classic literature.  No quick summer reading fling for her.  She would pour over the New York Times best sellers list.  She would read reviews.  What did that review in the New York Times Magazine say? With careful consideration she chose the PERFECT book for her vacation.  One year she chose Cider House Rules by John Irving.  I benefited from this choice as she loaned me the book.  From that book I went on to read The World According to Garp.  Both were wonderful books that I might never have selected for myself.

This year on vacation, I am going to hike a small piece of the Appalachian Trail.  Keeping that in mind, I decided to revisit A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. I read this a number of years ago, when I was searching for a humorous book. It was funny, touching, informative and inspirational.  According to the back of my new copy it “has become a modern classic of travel literature.”  This year, I am celebrating my friend, Nan and reading the classics for vacation.

Do you need help deciding, which books to buy or which books to pack for your vacation? You can visit your local library for suggestions.  Many of them maintain summer reading lists for adults. If you can’t get to your local library, here are a few websites dedicated to helping you decide.



Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

Mike Mulligan and his steam shovelBurton, Virginia Lee
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1939/1967

Another book I loved from Captain Kangaroo was Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. This book made its way into Elijah’s little library.

Virginia’s vivid drawings captivate me just as much now as they did when I was young. I don’t think I noticed this when I was small, but I appreciate the way the words curve or angle on the page to fit the drawings. It seems to give the story life and movement.

This book shows the balance of the old and new.  It shows the passage of time.  It may make the reader nostalgic for a simpler time. I love this charming book.

Mike and Mary Ann, his steam shovel, worked during the early 20th century to help build great canals for large ships, to smooth out hills and curves for long highways, and to cut through high mountain passes for the great steam trains.  Unfortunately, they were being replaced by gasoline and diesel shovels.  As the book said, “Mike and Mary Anne were VERY SAD.”  Read this book and find out what happens to Mike and Mary Anne.  Spoiler Alert!  A little boy, much like Elijah, provides the solution to Mile and Mary Anne’s dilemma.

Virginia Lee Burton

Virginia’s mother was a poet and a musician.  Her father was an engineer and a Dean at MIT.  She went to art school in San Francisco. She moved back to Boston to be with her father and decided to take a class with the sculptor, George Demetrios.  With George, she had two sons, Ari and Mike.  After her first book was rejected, she decided that she needed to read them to her children first.  “Children are such frank critics.”¹

She created her illustrations first, hung them up and then wrote the words to make the stories.  Each new book was a new experience for her.  She had different subject matter and research and she learned a new medium and technique for the drawings.²

You can read more about Virginia Lee Burton on these websites.




Soul Music

Soul Music Book CoverPratchett, Terry
Soul Music
New York: HarperPrism, 1995

This book was Sarah’s choice for Elijah’s library.  It was one of her favorite books.  It is slyly funny and full of puns.  The hero of the story is a girl, but I hope he doesn’t hold that against this quirky book.

It is takes place on the Discworld, a flat planet that floats through space on the backs of four elephants on the back of a giant space turtle. It is a book about DEATH and his granddaughter, Susan.  It is a satire about rock and roll. The fab four in this book consists of Imp y Celn (bud of the holly), Glod Glosson (a dwarf), Lias Bluestone (a troll) and the librarian from the Unseen University, who is currently and happily an orangutan.  Read this book to find out what happens when music with rocks in it sweeps the discworld.

I adore his books!  He is the master of the footnote.  In fact some of his best lines are buried there.  Look at this example of the description of Susan’s hair and its footnote (p.11).

School regulations required that it be in two plaits, but it had an uncanny tendency to unravel itself and spring back into its preferred shape, like Medusa’s snakes.*

*The question seldom addressed is where Medusa had snakes.  Underarm hair is an even more embarrassing problem when it keeps biting the top of the deodorant bottle.

I am not the only fan of his footnotes.  I found a website that shows the normalized number of footnotes and the total length of footnote (normalized) [].  You can find anything on the internet.

His books include memorable characters.  Here are some of my favorites: Granny Weatherwax, Commander Vimes, Corporal Nobby Nobbs, Lord Ventinari, and Foul Ole Ron and his Smell. They make for whimsical and fascinating reading.

Terry Pratchett

Let’s start with the bad news.  Sir Terry Pratchett died on March 12, 2015.  He had been suffering from early onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.  He called his Alzheimer’s an “embuggerment”.  Foul Ole Ron would have approved. The world will miss Sir Terry Pratchett.  I wonder if his character DEATH, came to ease his passing.

The good new is that he left us a legacy of fantastical reading. I find his books witty and amusing.

He is passion was Astronomy, but he wasn’t good with math. According to one report, “His major source of education was the Beaconsfield Public Library (though school must have been of some little help)”¹.  Two authors he learned from were P.G. Wodehouse (think Bertie Wooster) and H.G. Wells (War of the Worlds).  He’s batting a thousand for me!  He loved the library, Wodehouse and Wells.  These two authors may have given him his foundation for sly, silly humor and alternate universes².

You can read about Terry’s brilliant career at one of these websites.




Make Way for Ducklings

Book cover Make Way for DucklingsMcCloskey, Robert
Make Way for Ducklings
New York: Scholastic, 1941

This is a book I bought for Baby Elijah’s library.  It has very special memories for me.  Neither his Mama nor his Daddy are old enough to remember a great man named Captain Kangaroo.  He was a children’s TV show host when I was growing up. Elijah’s Nana (my sister, Bonny) and I watched him regularly.  I remember the day he read Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey.  I was fascinated with the ducklings that crossed the road in Boston.  Imagine a line of little ducklings stopping traffic in a large city! I still remember the way the program panned across the pages.  It made the book come alive almost as if they had animated it.

The city of Boston so loved this book that they have a bronze statue of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings in the Public Gardens. Maybe some day Elijah will get to visit the Boston Public Gardens and see the ducklings. Maybe he will get to ride in a swan boat and feed peanuts to the ducks that reside there as his parents read him this book.

This morning as I was trundling away on the treadmill at the gym, I heard a news report about another mother duck and her ducklings crossing a busy highway. This time it was in Arizona and the hero of this story was a highway patrol man.  Do you think it was coincidence, kismet, or fate that I heard this story on the day I planned to blog about this book? Do you think this story will inspire another author or illustrator?

Another reason I selected this book for Elijah was it is a Caldecott Award winner. Do you know about the Caldecott Awards?  This award was named for Randolph Caldecott, a 19th century English illustrator.  It has been awarded every year since 1938 by the American Library Association for the children’s book with the best pictures.  I think they knew what they were doing when they gave Make Way for Ducklings this award in 1942.  My book as it appears above doesn’t have the Caldecott seal, but the book I bought for Baby Elijah does have it.

Robert McCloskey

I love the clarity and detail of Robert McCloskey’s drawings.  I think he was keen observer of life.   According to articles I read for this posting, he got the idea for this book as he was walking through the Boston Public Gardens on his way to art school.  It was several years later, when he was ready to write and illustrate this book.¹

It is said that he didn’t have a clue how to draw ducks and he wanted to be precise. He bought 12 ducklings and put them in his apartment’s bath tub.  He followed them all around the apartment, but they were too fast.  Some how, he had the idea to give them a little red wine and that slowed them down enough for Robert to sketch them.  You can watch a wonderful profile of Robert McCloskey by Anita Silvey. ² She includes this tale in her profile.

He often said he didn’t know anything about children’s literature. ”I think in pictures,” he said. ”I fill in between pictures with words. My first book I wrote in order to have something to illustrate.”³ I am so glad he did!

Mr. McCloskey twice won the Caldecott Medal, the American Library Association’s annual award of distinction for children’s book illustration.

You can read more about this extraordinary author at these websites.