School Bus

A yellow bus on the cover of a Donald Crew's bookCrews, Donald. School Bus.  New York: Mulberry Paperback Books, 1984.

I can tell that school started this week. On my morning and afternoon commutes there are school buses coming and going all over the area. As I write, I think about by friend, Cyndi. Her oldest son, Owen started kindergarten a few weeks ago. Owen was so excited to be a bus rider this year. He started several weeks ago and I had the chance to ask Cyndi how he liked riding the bus.  “He loves it!”  she reported.  I hope his enthusiasm for bus riding continues for the entire year.

I see so many buses on my morning and afternoon commutes. Big buses and small buses traveling the roads in and around Austin.  All the different buses taking students to school and home again.  It is an exciting time of the year to be a bus rider!

This lovely book by Donald Crews illustrates the daily life of buses.  They wait in the bus yard to begin the day.  Buses, large and small, leave the bus yard to drive all through the town.  They pick up children here and there and deliver them safely to school. Full buses arrive at school right on time for student to begin their day.

Faithfully these buses wait for the school day to end.  Empty buses arrive at school to collect their charges and traverse the town again to deliver students safely to their homes.

This simply illustrated books shows readers the secret life of the school bus.  At the end of the day, once the bus has delivered all its students, it makes its way back to the bus barn.  The buses are home again!  They need lots of rest!  They are on the road again in the morning!

The drawings in this book are bold and simple.Crews’ graphic style makes these drawing accessible to even the youngest child.  His pacing is beyond compare.  Reading this book with a child you get a sense of the buses’ movements throughout the town.  They stop, they go, they wait.  They pick up students and drop them off. It is a good book to use to prepare a student for their first school bus ride.

School Buses and School
Today I passed buses of that special yellow hue,
Carrying students from home to school.
School has begun. Are students glad?
To be back in the classroom, it isn’t so bad!

New things to learn and new friends to find,
Working to increase the powers of the mind.
At the end of the day, weary to the bone,
School buses are there to carry them home.

Donald Crews

He is an American author and illustrator. He is noted for his books with transportation themes.  He won the Caldecott Honors in 1979 for his book Freight Train and again in 1980 for his book, Truck. He is the winner of the 2015 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award.  This award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children. His books are full of color and wonder and are worthy of this award.

He grew up in Newark, New Jersey.  Reading his various biographies it sounds like he had a good time.  When he and his siblings weren’t eating, sleeping or going to school, they were out in the street playing games with all the other neighborhood children.  He spent two months out of every summer visiting with his Grandma in Florida.  His book, Big Mama, chronicles some of the time he spent with her.¹

As he was growing up, his artistic talents were noted.  He had a mentor teacher, who believed in him and assured him that he would go to school and would succeed.  Donald noted the importance of teachers in children’s lives.  Outside of family members they are the first people who can show confidence in a student.  As Donald said, “…the opinions of outsiders usually make a stronger impression that relatives.”²

Here are places to read more about Donald Crews.

Here are some interviews with Donald Crews.




Happy Birthday, Ray Bradbury

ToynbeeConvectorBradbury, Ray.  The Toynbee Convector.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988

Today is Ray Bradbury’s birthday.  He would have been 96 today (1920-2012).  He was a futurist and he left us an extraordinary legacy.  I recently read a blog from an author, who had met Bradbury.  How envious I am.  When stuck for an idea, he encouraged her to think “what if”.  Today I want to talk with you about a book filled with “what if” stories, The Toynbee Convector.

I heard this book before I read its pages. Jim and I borrowed the tape from the library and listened to Ray Bradbury, himself read his stories to us.  His stories are evocative and lyrical.  They are often gently sad and regretful. Sometimes they are frightening. They are wonderful “what if” stories.

There are three stories from this particular book that I have remembered over time.  The first is the title story, “The Toynbee Convector”.  This story reminds me of the things we say about expectations for children.  If you expect the best, you get the best.  Craig Bennett Stiles traveled to the future and brought back a message of great hope for the future.

We made it! he said. We did it! The future is ours.  We rebuilt the cities, freshened the small towns, cleaned the lakes and rivers, washed the air, saved the dolphins, increased the whales, stopped the wars, tossed solar stations across space to light the world, colonized the moon, moved on to Mars, then Alpha Centauri.  We cured cancer and stopped death. We did it–Oh Lord, much thanks–we did it.  Oh, future’s bright and beauteous spires, arise!

In this story, the world believed and took heart and accomplished.  Would our politicians take a leaf from this book!  What if it was a real trip into time or what if it was a giant hoax?  You decide.

The second story is “Come and Bring Constance”.  Here’s how it starts.

His wife opened the mail at Saturday breakfast.  It was the usual landslide.

“We’re on every hit list in town, and beyond,” he said. “I can stand the bills. But the come-ons, the premiers you don’t want to attend, the benefits that benefit no one, the–”

“Who’s Constance?” asked his wife.

“Who’s who?” he said.

“Constance,” said his wife.

And the summer morning passed quickly into November shade.

There in lies the confusion and the anger.  The letter received had a post script.  It read: “If you come, bring Constance.”  The husband insists there is no such person as Constance and the wife refuses to believe him.  Read what happens, when Constance appears on their doorstep.  It is so strange and yet amusing!  Jim and I always chuckle and think, yes and we should bring Constance.

While I find all the stories in this book intriguing my favorite of all is “One for His Lordship, and One for the Road!” Jim and I still chuckle when we think of it. We had a small wake for Jim’s Dad when he passed away last year and we regaled our family with this tale.

Lord Kilgotten, laird of the loveliest town in Eire with the biggest wine collection this side of I don’t know where has passed away.  The news of his death traveled like wildfire to Heeber Finn’s pub.  What’s to be done with all that wine.  Lord Kilgotten had no heir. The constituents from the pub rushed to spruce up and scrambled to the grave side for the wake.  As they stood by the grave, they witnessed a mighty procession.  They were all astonished by their laird’s coffin.  It was a thing to behold!  It was made of wooden wine crates.  It was followed by all manner of carts, cars and trucks with the remains of the lord’s cellars. As himself was lowered into the ground, it was noted that a lawyer strode up.  The Lawyer Clement proceeded to read the codicil to the will.  To the horror of all in attendance, they found that Lord Kilgotten intended for his wine to join him in the grave.  What a conundrum!  There was almost a riot. A brilliant solution was offered.  See if you can figure out what happened from this prayer offered up by Father Kelly.

Oh, Lord…Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.  And thank you, Lord, for the genius of Heeber Finn, who thought of this–

And bless this wine, which may circumnavigate along the way, but finally wind up where it should be going.  And if today and tonight won’t do, and all the stuff not drunk, bless us as we return each nigh until the deed is done and the soul of the wine’s at rest…

And finally, Lord bless the old Lord Kilgotten, whose years of saving-up now help us in the hour of putting-away. Amen.

These stories start out in the most ordinary of ways and end up in extraordinary places.  I offer this book up to you as one of many ready pleasures that Ray Bradbury gave to us.

Happy Birthday, Ray Bradbury wherever you are!

I Was So Mad

I Was So Mad book coverMayer, Mercer. I Was So Mad. New York: A Golden Book

My friend, Lisa had a great idea.  She said that all you needed from a baby shower was books and Target gift cards.  When her baby shower rolled around I took myself off to Target to shop.  Alexis was with me. We were meandering our way through the store browsing the books, when she said,  “Mom! You have to buy this one. It is one of my favorites!”  I asked her why it was her favorite.  She remembered that Little Critter “was so mad” he was running away from home.  She remembered that he was taking toys and some cookies. I think at some point in her life she thought this was sensible.  At other times she wondered how far they would take him.  What else could you possibly ever need but toys and cookies?

I am sitting here looking at the picture of Little Critter on the front of our old battered copy of this book. I remember seeing that expression on a couple of little faces.  As a parent how can you avoid making your own children “so mad”? I am glad their mads didn’t last long.  It takes too much energy to be mad.

I have much fonder memories of snuggling up with Alexis and then with Sarah to read this book to them.  I would read one page and then we would read the “I was so mad” together.  We would read those four words with as much feeling as we could and then we would giggle.  We sympathized with Little Critter.  He really was having a bad day and running away seemed his only solution. Fortunately, he was distracted by his friends before he left his front yard.  At our house we all remember this book fondly.  Isn’t that the way it should be?

Two little girls to snuggle before bed
Tell me what are the stories to be read?
Little Critter and crew
or shall we try something new?
We’ll read while you lay down your head.




Elijah’s Little Library Recap

I started this blog back in April, because I was so excited about all the books I purchased for my new nephew.  It has been my whigmaleerie, my notion, my fancy that I might have something to share with the wider world about these books and others. My family is amused by this new hobby of mine.  They have been gently encouraging me to carry on with this writing.

The Hobbit blog marked the last entry for books from Elijah’s Little Library.  His Crazy My PhotoAunt Robin (that’s me!) had so much fun buying the books and writing him a book about his little library. Here’s a picture of me, taken when I was working on his book.  Don’t I look like someone’s Crazy Aunt?  I wanted the fun of thinking about the books we gave him to continue, ergo I started this blog.  To finish the section about Elijah’s Little Library, I’d like to share the introduction to his book.

Welcome to the World!

It is a wide, exciting and sometimes frenetic place.  All our family, Uncle Jim, Cousin Alexis, Cousin Sarah and I, are looking forward to meeting you.

I think your Mama and Daddy are rolling their eyes at this point, wondering why we decided on a small library for your very first gift as it doesn’t seem very practical.  Well I could say that we are your crazy Aunt Robin and Uncle Jim and that’s just what we do.  Ask your Mama when you can, how often a gift from us included a book.

I am your crazy Aunt Robin, but here’s the truth, we love to read and we want to share that love with you. We think if you can read you can go anywhere and do anything even if it is only in your own imagination.  With a good book, you are never alone and you always have something to do.

We want you to remember the way it feels to snuggle with your Mama or your Daddy, while you listen to one of their sweet voices reading you to sleep.  The way it feels to laugh, when you read a silly story for yourself.  The secret joy it is to read covertly under the covers with a flashlight when you are supposed to be asleep.  The guilty pleasure you feel when you look up from finishing a thrilling novel and realize that it is 2 am and you have to get up and go to work the next day.

Elijah, enjoy a good book!  We have chosen the books in this mini library with you in mind.  We hope that you enjoy them as much as we have.  When we started to think about this gift, I asked everyone here to give me the names of two books.  One they remembered from when they very little and one that was their favorite when they were in upper elementary or middle school.  I think you will be surprised at what was included in this little library.

God Bless You Little One!
Love Aunt Robin, Uncle Jim, Alexis & Sarah
April 2, 2016

For those of you who are interested in starting a little library for a young person you love, I have compiled a list of the books in Elijah’s library: LibraryRecap_Aug17_2016.  We tried to get something that would please a young boy, however, I think they would be fun for many different readers.



The Hobbit

The Hobbit book coverTolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1966

This is the last book in Elijah’s little library.  It is my contribution from my middle school years. My hope for him is that he can share this part of his family’s love for books and reading.  It can be enthralling to be pulled into a good book.  For Elijah we hope that he always enjoys these books and many others.  And when he grows up, he will have the great privilege to share his books with someone special.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien was my favorite book from middle school. It was the grandest adventure story I had ever read.  It was my initiation into the fantasy genre.  One of my most vivid memories of reading this book is the intricate hand drawn maps.  I have always loved maps!   Take a look at the picture below.  To my middle school self, it was a wondrous adventure and this map fired my imagination.

Map of the Misty mountains and Mirkwood drawn by JRR Tolkien for the Hobbit

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” This is the opening sentence for the book.  That hobbit was the very comfortable, very prosperous Bilbo Baggins.  A hobbit, who never looked for adventure.  Hobbits are a comfortable, homey race much enamored of breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper and not adventures of any kind.  How Bilbo becomes a thief, takes a journey (scandalous behavior for a hobbit!) and comes home again is an impressive story.  It is a sweeping adventure story in which Bilbo encounters wizards, dwarves, trolls, elves and a dragon.  My heart sang with the poetry of the dwarves and the elves.  I always wished I could visit them.

One of the facets of this book that makes it opulent and complex is the poetry that Tolkien uses to set the scene, give perspective and move the narrative forward.  Here is the first verse of the song, the dwarves sing a confused and horrified Bilbo upon their first meeting. It illustrates dwarfen humor.

Chip the glasses and crack the plates!
Blunt the knives and bend the forks!
That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates–
Smash the bottles and burn the corks!

This song that explains the purpose of the journey for the dwarves. They were seeking a thief to help them retrieve their treasure.  The journey takes them beyond the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood to the Lonely Mountain and the great dragon, Smaug.

Far over the Misty Mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ere break of day,
To seek the pale enchanted gold.

You may have seen the two movies based on this book. I have seen the first, but not the second.  It was a good movie, but don’t deny yourself the pleasure of reading this book. For me it was a stupendous read in middle school.  It was the same wondrous read, when the girls and I snuggled up on the sofa one warm, summer day to read it together.

If you like fantasy books like this, you may also want to read about Bilbo’s nephew, Frodo in the great classic Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien was born in South Africa on January 3, 1892.  His father passed away in 1896 and his mother moved the family aback to England.  It is said that Tolkien remembered very little of his time in South Africa, but they were sharp.  One of the most vivid was an encounter with a large hairy spider¹. His mother converted the family to the Roman Catholic faith, thus separating them from both sides of their family.  The family lived in genteel poverty until his Mother’s death of diabetes in 1904.  Their parish priest Father Francis Morton took Tolkien and his brother under his wing¹.

His story is so rich it is difficult to summarize it to any great extent.  He was linguistically precocious.  He mastered Greek, Latin, Finnish and other languages including the ones he made up.  He went to Exeter College Oxford.  He changed his degree from Classics to English Language and Literature.  While still at Oxford, World War I broke out.  He did not rush to enlist, but worked to finished his degree, which he did in 1915.

He did experience war first hand as a second lieutenant.  He was eventually sent to the Western Front and participated in the Somme offensive.  He became ill and was sent home to recover.  By the end of the war many of his friends had been killed.  After the war, he sought employment and returned to Oxford. He had several positions, but finally he was a Professor of English Language and Literature².

His imagination and love of languages enabled him to write masterpieces of fantasy literature.  He is known as the Father of Fantasy.  He was not however an easy author. Were it not for the advocacy of the publisher’s son, who had read and loved The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings trilogy would never been published¹.  Writing fantasy epics was Tolkien’s hobby not his day job³.  I am so glad that he wanted to spend time exploring language and fairy tales.  He has given us masterpieces for the ages.  Although The Hobbit was marketed as a children’s book, I consider it a book for anyone who loves rich storytelling and exciting adventure.

In preparing this short summary of his life, I was disappointed to learn that The Lord of the Rings trilogy was not an allegory of World War II.  I thought I had read some place in the past that he wrote portions of it for his son, Christopher, who was in the RAF during that war.  Alas, I was incorrect.

Upon Tolkien’s death, his son Christopher did comb carefully through his father’s papers and published several of his father’s works.

Here are some sources for more information on this author.




Wheels on the Bus

Wheels on the Bus Book coverRaffi.  Illustrated by Sylvie Katorovitz Wickstom.  Wheels on the Bus.  New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1988.

Elijah had to have a book to sing for his little library. I loved to sing to and with my girls and I thought he and his Mama or his Daddy might like to sing together was well.  I liked this version of Wheels on the Bus a Raffi Song to Read book so I included it in his library. I advised him to learn to sing this song so he could bellow out the words, “The baby on the bus goes ‘Wah, wah, wah’…” I figured he could make his Mama a little crazy. You are most welcome, Gigi!

This is Raffi’s version of a traditional song.  I, back when pterodactyls roamed the earth, remember singing this song. Wheels on the Bus, right along with  99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, is one that parents used to keep their children amused on long car trips. Conversely, it is a song like 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall that children use to drive their parents crazy on long car trips.  Do you remember when you learned a song like this?  Do you remember doing the action to accompany the words?  Take a look at this YouTube video with Raffi:  It will help you get in the mood to teach it to a young person in your life.

Alexis, Sarah and I loved to sing this song even when we weren’t traveling.  We sometimes made up our own lyrics for it as well.  Growing up in suburban and rural Texas, my girls didn’t have the city bus experience that this books represents, but we loved this book and song anyway.

I loved to read and sing this story with a group of kids when I had the chance. First, I would read it to them and we would discuss the pictures.  Perhaps we might, as Raffi does in the video, discuss the type of actions to use when we sing the story.  Once satisfied that we had all the bases covered, we would launch into our loud and very boisterous rereading of the story.  We had such fun!  If I was lucky, Jim would play the guitar for us. It kept us on key and on time, still it was an excellent edition to our efforts.

If you don’t care for this song to read, find one that suits your fancy. Read and sing with the young (or not so young) people in your life!

Mercer Mayer Books

Just Shopping With Mom Book CoverMayer, Mercer. Just Me and My Dad. New York, Golden Books, 1977
Mayer, Mercer. Just Me and My Mom. New York, Golden Books, 1990
Mayer, Mercer. Just Shopping with Mom. New York, Golden Books, 1977

I think that Mercer Mayer must be one of the most prolific children’s book author! You can find his Little Critter books in the grocery store, WalMart, Target, Barnes and Noble… and nearly any other location that sells books. How could I omit a book or two that made me chuckle when I read them to my girls?  I couldn’t so Elijah’s Little Library contain Just Me and My Dad and Just Me and My Mom.  I didn’t add these two books in Alexis’ section, because she didn’t remember that they were a favorite of hers until a day or two after I purchased them.  As I was writing up the book for Elijah’s library, she told me about her favorite Little Critter book. I hope that Elijah’s parents take the opportunity to enjoy these books with him on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and any other day. Alexis, Sarah and I loved snuggling up and reading about Little Critter and all his adventures. They are fun and funny!

It surprises me, but I don’t have a copy of the Just Me and My Dad or Just Me and My Mom.   I can’t imagine why I do not.  I do have a copy of Just Shopping with Mom.  I reread it this week in preparation for this blog.  It made me snicker, chuckle and sigh. I remember my shopping experiences with two small children.  Have you every been shopping with small children?  It is an event not to be taken lightly.  If you haven’t had this experience, read this book.  You can sigh, shake your head and have some sympathy for Little Critter’s Mom.

Mercer Mayer

Mercer Mayer was born in Arkansas in 1947.  He had a penchant for collecting snakes, frogs and other critters and reading.  He moved often as his Dad was in the Navy.  He finished high school in Honolulu, Hawaii.  He went to art school there.  As with many illustrators, he drew lots of pictures.  At one point a potential employer suggested that he get rid of his portfolio and look for another profession¹.  I am so glad he did not follow that suggestion.

He writes about things that happened to him, to his children and to his grandchildren². His work was often compared to Maurice Sendak’s and not always favorably.  He chose not to care as he thought the publicity was good for his book sales³. As I said earlier, his books can be found almost any place you can buy a book!

While I love his Little Critter and Little Monster books, he has been called to illustrate for other authors.  Take a look at this illustration for a retelling of the tale Beauty and the Beast:   It is luminous.  I had forgotten about this facet of his talent until I was prepping for this blog.  I will have to keep an eye out for a copy of one of these books.

More places to read about Mercer Mayer.