The Lump of Coal

lumpcoalSnicket, Lemony. The Lump of Coal. Brett Helquist, Illustrator. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.

Here is another book from my holiday collection. I was wandering through a bookstore several years ago and this little volume leapt off the shelf into my hands. What can you say to a book that has a scowling lump of coal dressed in a rumpled black suit on the front cover? How could a person resist the teaser on the back cover, “Miracles can happen even to those who are small, flammable, and dressed all in black.”

This book, of course takes place near Christmas. A lump of coal is blown out of a sack of charcoal on a blustery winter day. Mr. Snicket must live where it is cold, because there is a lament, a word used here to mean “an expression of sorrow or grief,” that “barbeques, sadly, are for summer.” He doesn’t live in Texas, a land where we barbecue all year! This would have been a very short story, if the lump of coal had lived in Texas. However, in this story, with no barbeques for the lump of coal to ignite, he rolls off to find something interesting.

In the course of his perambulations, a word used here to mean “to walk or to travel about,” he has several near miracles. It is interesting to find out what happens when he is given as a punishment to a boy, who is considered a “brat”. The lump of coal is sad and despondent as he waits in the boy’s stocking, but he considers it better than nothing. Do things get to be much better than nothing when the lump and boy meet? Read this book and discover what happens. There are miracles and they may or may not surprise you.

Mr. Snicket uses this book to remind us about the miracles in our lives. Here is how this wonderful, little book ends.

All these things are miracles. It is a miracle if you can find true friends, and it is a miracle if you have enough to eat, and it is a miracle if you get to spend your days and evenings doing whatever it is you like to do, and the holiday season—like all the other seasons—is a good time not only to tell the stories of miracles, but to think about the miracles in your own life, and to be grateful for them, and that’s the end of this particular story.


The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

santaclausBaum, L. Frank. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. New York: Signet Classic, 1986.

I have a large collection of Christmas books. As I was unpacking them for the holiday season, I came across this slim gem. It has been a number of years since I have read it so I picked it up for my holiday reading pleasure. What a delightful treasure it was. Written in 1902, this book answers some of these age-old questions about this important jolly gentleman.

  • Who is Santa Claus? An orphan.
  • Where does he live? Laughing Valley
  • What was the first toy he made? A carved cat figurine
  • Who was the first child to receive a toy? Weekum
  • Who helps Claus build and color the toys? Ryls, Knooks and Nymphs
  • How does he manage to travel over the entire world on Christmas Eve? Exceptionally swift reindeer
  • Who were the first two reindeer? Flossie and Glossie
  • How many reindeer pull Santa Claus’ sleigh? Ten (Flossie and Glossie, Reckless and Speckless, Racer and Pacer, Fearless and Peerless, and Ready and Steady)
  • Where does Santa Claus get his sleigh bells? The King of the Gnomes
  • Who now rides in the Sleigh with Santa Claus? A fairy, a pixie, a knook, and a ryl

Pick up a copy of this little, but informative book on Santa Claus. He is a wonderful man and friend to children everywhere!

This year for Christmas I purchased a copy for each of my youngest nephews. I love to send books for Christmas. In keeping with my plan to send something for now and later, this was the book for Christmas Future. I can imagine each of my nephews snuggled up with one of their parents being read this charming book.

December 26: Jolabokaflod and Other Book Matters

bookflood_afterIt is the day after Christmas and there is peace in the house.  We had a delightful holiday.  We enjoyed each other’s company, delighted in each other gifts and ate until we were full (and then some).  We are fortunate to have our family home with us this year.

We enjoyed our Christmas Book Food (Jolabokaflod ) books.  If you saw my last post, you saw the wrapped books waiting for distribution on Christmas Eve.  Here is the stack after we opened them.  I love my daughters!  They put such careful thought into selecting just the right book for each of us. Sarah, with Alexis’ help, chose the books for everyone except herself.  Alexis chose the book for Sarah. I provided the chocolate, but we were too full to eat it.

Jim received Death Wave by Ben Bova. He was delighted with this selection for his reading pleasure.  Ben Bova, a master of science fiction is one of his favorite authors.

Jim’s sister, Mary received a copy of the graphic novel Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier. She has a hard time reading, but she loved this novel.  She took it to bed to read.

Alexis likes Neil Gaiman and graphic novels.  Her gift was a graphic version of Gaiman’s Coraline.  It is a beautiful book and Alexis is savoring it.

Sarah wanted a mystery, light and fun.  Alexis made a trip to the book store to discover Leslie Budewitz’s Assault and Pepper (A Spice Shop Mystery). Sarah, must be enjoying this book as she has been reading it nonstop, when she hasn’t been sleeping. I am hoping she will share it with me, when she is finished reading it.

I saved the best for last, my book!  Sarah found me The Complete Father Brown Stories by G.K. Chesterton!  We have been watching the Father Brown Mysteries on our local PBS station.  I remarked how much I liked them and that I had read a few of them in the past.  I am delighted with Father Brown!

I received one more book bonus under the tree this year.  It is a game called Bring Your Own Book, The Game of Borrowed Phrases.  You can find out more about this game on this website:  Here’s what is written on the back of the box.

Your old favorite book is now your new favorite game!  Draw a category card, grab a book and then quickly skim to satisfy the chose prompt (and the judge!) with the most entertaining phrase.  Can you find a “ridiculous tabloid headline” in that latest best-selling novel? How about “dating advice” in your well-worn cookbook? Since you can use any book, you can play with any group and find limitless potential on every page!

It is a wonderful game!  We played two rounds this afternoon.  We played with Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Ree Drummond’s Dinnertime, and Ray Bradbury’s The Toynbee Convector.  It was marvelous fun even if I didn’t either of the rounds.

Happy Jolabokaflod!

christmasevebooksHappy Christmas Book Flood

We are a family of readers.  Every year at Christmas, we give books as gifts and we get them as gifts in one form (print) or another (ebook).  We think a holiday cannot be celebrated properly without a good book.  This year, Sarah found an Icelandic holiday tradition, which will allow us to incorporate more reading into the holidays.  She found the Jolabokaflod and decided we needed to celebrate it this year.

Why is it called Christmas Book Flood?  This Icelandic tradition originated during World War II, when there was restrictions on currency and foreign imports. Paper was plentiful so books emerged as a popular Christmas present. In later years, Iceland didn’t have a large enough population to support a year round publishing industry so publishers flooded the market with new titles for sale in the last few weeks of the year¹.   From this book flood, the tradition of exchanging books and reading on Christmas Eve emerged.

For this new tradition at our home, the girls chose the books.  They are wrapped and ready for distribution this evening.  I can hardly wait to see what was chosen for me.  I was informed that eating chocolate (always a good idea) while you are reading is also a part of this holiday celebration. The chocolate bars are my contribution to this evening’s festivities.

So tonight by the light of our Christmas tree, we will be spending some quality time with family and good books!  This is a tradition, I can support!

If you want to read more about Jolabokaflod.  Check out these websites.


The Hero and the Crown

hero_crownMcKinley, Robin. The Hero and the Crown. New York: Firebird, 1984.

Here is a tall tale of a young hero.  It is a coming of age story of Aerin Firehair, daughter of King Arlbeth of Damar.  She feels she has many strikes against her.  She is a daughter, not a son.  Her mother, the king’s second wife, was a foreign and was rumored to be a witch.  For these reasons and perhaps others, she is not her father’s heir.  Her people treat her with cautious respect, but also with suspicion.

As the story opens, Damar, a relatively peaceful country, has become embroiled in border skirmishes and threats of secession from one of its nobles.  To add to Damar’s woes, dragons have re-appeared in the countryside to harry and harass the citizenry.  These difficulties are whispered to be caused by the loss of the Hero’s Crown.  The crown was reported to have warded the county against mischief. It has been gone so long, that no one remembers why the crown is an important defense of the country.

But mischief is lurking in and round Damar. King Arlbeth must ride to “treat” with his unruly noble and fight errant dragons, where they are found. Aerin, wishing to be of service, asks permission to ride with him.  After a gentle but, painful refusal from her father, she is humiliated by a snarky courtier. He provides public, scornful commentary on her upbringing.  He suggests she needs some slaps for her scandalous behavior. I think perhaps he goes a step too far.  This courtier is nearly called out by the Tor, the king’s heir and friend to Aerin. King Arlberg steps in and asks the offensive courtier to apologize. The courtier hurls an angry apology at her as he leaves the room. He does manage to get in one last nasty, jibe, “Go slay a dragon, lady!  Lady Aerin, Dragon-Killer!”

These taunting words, send Aerin down her path, one she was destined to follow in some way.  How to slay a dragon becomes consuming work for her.  Dragons are pesky, dangerous and hard to kill.  Many a dragon slayer does not return or returns badly charred. Before venturing forth to slay dragons, she seeks an advantage.  Does she find one?

Aerin is hopeful, persistent, stubborn and courageous, all the qualities we love in our heroes. Read this book to find out how she uses all these strengths in her quest to slay dragons, find the Crown and save her people. It is a terrific story for readers of all ages.

Robin McKinley

Reading her biography on her website, she reminds me of my daughters, it appears she likes to name objects.  She has a Steinway named Rhodanthe¹.  I wonder if she names her cars.  Actually, it appears she does.  I just read one of her blog postings².  It possibly may be named “Wolfgang.”  With that name, I imagine a grand, old German car.  You never can tell about people and names.  Our Ford 500 wound up with the name “Teapot.”  The girl who came up with name, never had an explanation other than “I don’t know, I just call it Teapot.”

Robin’s father was in the Navy and they were stationed in different places.  Robin charted her life by where she read a book for the first time.  For example, she read The Chronicles of Narnia in New York and The Once and Future King in Maine³.  I like the fact that it was for the first time, which implies that perhaps she went back and re-read her favorites a time or two. I love to re-read books.  It to me is like visiting an old friend.

She is talented and fortunate.  Her book Beauty was accepted on its first submission to a publisher.  She like to write about strong, heroines.

She has been a teacher, an editor, and book store employee. She has lived on a horse farm.  Currently she is living in England in a cottage with a garden full of roses.  To learn more about this author, visit her webpage, Facebook page, and blog.

Other Robin McKinley interviews that may interest you.







Little Bear’s Visit

littlebearvisitMinarik, Else Homelund. Little Bear’s Visit. Illustrated by Maurice Sendak. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1964.

I thought this would be a good book to share in this season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when many of us visit with friends and family. As the title suggests, it is a book about a small bear’s visit to his grandparents.  This is a thing Little Bear liked to do.  He liked Grandfather’s goblin toy in a jar and he really liked Grandmother’s cooking.  He has such a good time.  It is a charming story about his visit. He laughs, he skips and best of all he gets a story about Mother Bear from Grandmother.  When Grandfather wakes up from his nap, Little Bear prevails upon him to tell story.  They hold paws as Grandfather might be frightened by the “Goblin Story”.  After a busy day and a terrific visit, Little Bear lies on the sofa to wait for Mother and Father Bear to take him home.  He is not tired.  He has had a fun day.  As Little Bear and his parents are leaving, Grandfather ask, “Little Bear are you tired?”  Little Bear wasn’t just tired, he was asleep.  A visit with Grandmother and Grandfather was a very exciting and exhausting day.  I think he will be ready to do it all again in the morning!

This would be a wonderful book for a beginning reader to carry on a visit.  That youngster could read it with a friend, with a Grandmother, or with a Grandfather.  What fun that would be.  It might inspire someone to tell the young reader a story about his/her Mother or Father.

Else Homelund Minarik

I wanted to give you a little bit of information about the author Else Homelund Minarik, but she must have been a very private person so not much is available. She was born in Denmark in 1920 and came to the United States when she was four.  She had a happy childhood.  “Little Bear is me in Denmark,” she told the Star News. “I was cuddled and loved.”¹ She earned a degree in psychology and a master’s degree in education.  After completing her education, she became a teacher.

As a teacher, she did not like the “Dick and Jane” reading books.  Perhaps they were good for phonics, but their stories were boring and did little to inspire the love of literature in students. She wrote the Little Bear stories for her students and daughter.  Her publisher connected her with Maurice Sendak and the Little Bear series began¹. Little Bear began the “I Can Read” series from Harper & Row.

It was suggested to her that she change her characters from bears to humans.  I am so glad she did not!  Little Bear and his family are enchanting.  Here’s what she had to say about this matter.

“I thought to myself, all children of all colors would be reading the stories,” Ms. Minarik told The Star News of Wilmington, N.C., in 2006. “All children love animals. The bear is fine. I love them because Mother took me to the Bronx Zoo every day, and I fell in love with the cubs. My bears were a family.”²



November 2016 Reading Report from Northern, Central Texas

nov2016This month our stack is not so tall.  We did a lot of reading, but some of us read on electronics.


It was a busy month for me so I didn’t have as much time to read.  I am still reading the first volume of The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe that I started at the end of last month. It was on a list of the best Science Fiction books.  It is the dense, rich fantasy type of novel that I really enjoy.  Despite its appeal, I did take time out to read the book on the top of the stack,  The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley for a future blog posting.

  • Wolfe, Gene. Book of the New Sun, Volume I. London: Gollancz, 1981.


This month Jim finished The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu, the second book of the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy.  He is onto the final volume Death’s End.  He finds the books very dense and intriguing.

  • Liu, Cixin. The Dark Forest.  Translated by Ken Liu. New York: Tor, 2014.
  • Liu, Cixin. Death’s End. Translated by Ken Liu.  New York: Tor, 2016.


Sarah had extra reading time this month.  She spent quality time with her tablet and read much of Thanksgiving week.  They were all humorous books and she loved them. She liked the Maggie books.  Maggie’s a writer whose characters are so lifelike, they come out of her books and begin to solve mysteries with their author.

  • Pratchett, Terry. Wee Free Men. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.
  • Pratchett, Terry.  A Hat Full of Sky. New York: Harper Collins, 2005.
  • Michaels, Kasey. Maggie Has an Alibi.  New York: Kensington Books, 2003.
  • Michaels, Kasey. Maggie by the Book. New York: Kensington Books, 2004.
  • Michaels, Kasey. Maggie without a Clue. New York: Kensington Books, 2005.


Like most months, the lion’s share of the stack is Alexis’ reading.  She is in the process of reading all the rest of the books in the stack.  She seems to be a serial reader.  She was very excited this month that Grunt by Mary Roach became available at the library.  She has had this book on hold for 6 months or more.  This book has the subtitle of “The curious science of humans at war.”  She has enjoyed other books from this author like Stiff and Spook.  She has also been reading The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp. She started to tell me about this book’s two anti-heroes, a thief and a warrior-priest.  The more she described the book to me, the more I thought Fritz Leiber and his great characters Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser.  She said, “Yes, it is a lot like his books.”  Then I turned the book over and a reviewer referred to this book as a “sword and sorcery at its rollicking best, after the fashion of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser.” I may have to check it out and read it myself.

  • Roach, Mary. Grunt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016.
  • Kemp, Paul S. The Hammer and the Blade. New York: Del Rey, 2012.
  • Palma, Felix J. The Map of Time.  Translated by Nick Caistor. New York: Atria Paperpacks, 2008.
  • Stross, Charles.  The Atrocity Archives.  New York: Ace Books, 2004.