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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Forest Feast

This morning my youngest son and I walked around the lake east of our home. Trees are budding, pussy willows look like large dew drops on their branches, loons and a trumpeter swan floated with the mallards on the small patches of open water, and seed pods fluttered in the breeze. The surrounding forest echoed with birds calling to each other and woodpeckers tapping on tree trunks. It was a feast for the senses.

Back at home Erin Gleeson's The Forest Feast rests on our table. It, too, is a feast for the senses. Organized into appetizers, cocktails, salads, vegetable dishes, and sweets, it contains basic - yet somehow inventive - vegetarian recipes. Each is featured on a double-page spread with step-by-step instructions and photographs (taken by the author) of the ingredients and finished product. Her choice of Traveling Typewriter and Vintage Typewriter as the fonts is perfect, as is the occasional use of her own handwriting in the directions. Each section is prefaced by a list of the recipes in it, annotated with some notes about flavors, serving, and recipe history. It is a beautiful book, and the recipes are intriguing enough that I just might have to buy this book.

Will I ever remember some of her flavor combinations or ideas if I just try to keep them in my mind? How about Curried Crispy Carrots or Guacamole Deviled Eggs? The Green Salad, the Yellow Salad, and the Red Salad all look delicious, as do the savory Polenta Portabellos. Mmm. Treat your body and mind by pursuing and using this excellent cookbook!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Passing Quickly

One morning this week, I returned to the library with a third grader who was returning a book. "Sometimes books pass too quickly," he told me thoughtfully. I agree completely (though I might not have felt the same about the book in his hand: a Captain Underpants volume). It is happening to me today. In fact, I left The War That Saved My Life (written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley) to write this, knowing I will finish it when I return to my sunny chair.

I have spent part of the last day in the English countryside during the early years of World War II with Ada Smith, her younger brother Jamie, and their unlikely caretaker, Miss Susan Smith. Though not related to the children, she accepts the evacuees and provides for their well-being. The two live in fear, having been mistreated, neglected, and malnourished by their biological mother. Ada, in fact, had never been allowed out of their third floor apartment, constantly told by her mother it was her fault she had a deformed foot. But Ada is a determined girl. Alone in their apartment, she teaches herself to walk - however painfully - in order to escape the prison imposed on her by her bullying mother. 

And then she meets Susan Smith, the pony named Butter in Susan's field, a stable caretaker named Fred Grimes, and numerous other kind and compassionate folks whose generosity and concern slowly turn her mistrust into hope. With Susan, I discovered how terribly sheltered the children had been. Words they should know need explanations and modeling. Their assumptions about people and meanness must be wore down with reassurance, bedtime reading (The Swiss Family Robinson), baths, three meals a day, and attention. 

I have been laughing, pondering, celebrating, and shaking my head as the pages of this book pass too quickly. May you feel the same way about it.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Naming Nail Polish

Though I have never been good at keeping my nails evenly shaped, the polished nails of others look so pretty. So colorful. The names of those colors are like a game for me. What would I call each one? When I turn over a bottle, I often sigh, feeling a connection with the person who named a color the same thing I would have chosen.

Melody Bishop, the main character in Honey by Sarah Weeks, has a knack for naming colors, and the owner of a new salon lets her name all one hundred original colors at the Bee Hive. What joy! Not one to get a manicure herself, Melody originally comes to the Bee Hive on a mission with her best friend Nick Woo. It seems someone overhead at the salon that Henry has been bitten by the love bug. With her dad behaving strangely (putting a copy of The Red Badge of Courage in the freezer, for example), Melody assumes her dad is that Henry! Coincidences do not always align with facts, of course, and through the course of this compactly told story, Melody discovers things about her dad, the mother she never knew, and a dog named Wolgang Amadeus Mozart. 

Readers will delight in the wonderful friendship between Melody and Nick, wishing they could have friends like those two. They will relate to the antics of Teeny Nelson (polish #54 is named Teeny's Tutu) and laugh at her description of the flavor of Dum Dum mystery suckers. And perhaps they will carry colors in their hearts and heads, accurately putting words to the colors that bring them happiness, thoughtfulness, and pondering. Some of Melody's nail polish names bring an instant image to my brain: Sea Glass, Pillow Fight, Creamsicle, Midas Touch. Her #101 is named Honey, and I'll let you discover why.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Poor Doreen: A Fishy Tale

I could never imagined an Ample Roundy Fish - or any fish, for that matter - with such a distinctive voice as that of Miss Doreen Randolph-Potts. On her way "to visit her second cousin twice removed who's just had 157 babies," Doreen mistakes a fisherman's lure for a tasty dragonfly. Thus begins a harrowing journey that involves a Great Blue Heron, a remarkably speedy dash through the water, "a BIG BELLY-FISH-FLOP," a bit of a rest in a bucket, a swooping snap into the sky, a plummeting flight, and an introduction to those many babies.

Sally Lloyd-Jones has filled Doreen's adventure with wonderful language, imaginative swirls and shapes, incredible optimism, and asides that continually bring the reader closer to the tale. Watercolor illustrations by Alexandra Boiger fabulously paint the fish's journey with picturesque emotion and excitement. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Connecting with Characters

My friend and reading workshop collaborator often laments how difficult it is to teach readers to make true connections with characters. "I'm tall, and so is my character" is not an example of what we hope readers will share about their books! As I read Heather Vogel Frederick's new novel Absolutely Truly, I thought about why l loved the main character Truly Lovejoy so much. She's tall, and I'm short. She likes books, but they do not hold the same passion for her as they do for her younger sister Lauren (or for me). She often feels like no one in her family truly listens to her (not so much for me). She loves swimming (not me). But her deep interest in birds - and her life list of those she has seen - fascinated me. Truly even classifies the people she meets into bird species! She says, "Mom I've always thought of as a robin. They're such cheery, dependable birds. And Dad's an eagle for sure, what with his strong jaw, piercing gaze, and prominent nose." (p. 37)

As a narrator, Truly lays out both the faults of others and herself. She accepts her lot in life, learns to adjust to the town of Pumpkin Falls, New Hampshire, embraces a mystery presented to her in the pages of a first-edition copy of Charlotte's Web, and is open-minded enough to accept the classmates in her new, small school. Because the Lovejoys are there to run the family bookshop with Truly's namesake, Aunt True, literary references abound, especially at story time (which I would love to attend!) in the shop.

The book's subtitle - a Pumpkin Falls Mystery - leads me to believe I will get to join Truly and her family and friends in another adventure. Until then, I will content myself with making a batch or two of Aunt True's Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies (served every afternoon, recipe provided on the final pages of the book).

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Reusing and Retelling

There are certain articles of clothing I like so much I find ways to keep them in use despite decades of wear. That said, I am not quite as resourceful as the grandfather in Jim Aylesworth's new book My Grandfather's Coat. As a young immigrant, "on the luckiest day of his life," he fell in love. A skilled tailor, he fashioned a handsome coat to wear on his wedding day. With rhythm, rhymes, alliteration, and repetition, the storyteller freshly retells the Yiddish folk song "I Had a Little Overcoat." Barbara McClintock's detailed watercolor illustrations add to the text as grandfather ages along with the blue cloth he adores, showing the passing fashions and family events along the way. It is a perfect picture book, combining entrancing words with supporting artwork and tied together with wonderful notes by the author and illustrator that encourage readers to reuse things in their world and seek stories retold in their families.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Making a Unique Book

One of the joys in my life is watching my friends' books transform from idea to draft to final copy...and come to the hands of readers. Brother Hugo in Katy Beebe's new book Brother Hugo and the Bear has a slightly different path involving the creation of a book. When the copy of St. Augustine's letters is due at the abbey's library, he must confess to the Abbot that the words were "as sweet as honey" to him, they were much sweeter to the bear who devoured them. As penance, he must make the trek to the Grand Chartreuse, borrow their copy, and recreate a book for his own abbey, all before the season of Lent has passed.

Without giving away too much of the plot here, readers should expect humor and helpfulness as the beautifully named brothers of the abbey (Caedon, Aelred, Hildebert, Eadmer, Anselm and others) assist their friend in the process. Supplies are generously shared, and Brother Hugo works with dedication to copy the book perfectly, all the while hearing the rumblings of a bear's hunger for words. His return trip to the Grand Chartreuse offers readers a surprise. 

S. D. Schindler's illustrator's note explains the process of creating a book in the Middle Ages, and an historical note tells about the origin of manuscripts, as well as the scrap of paper that served as the idea for this book. 

The book is a wonderful blend of text and artwork that brings the mood of the monastery and Brother Hugo's dilemma to readers. It is one of those books I have resisted returning to the library because I want to keep holding it and gazing at the intricate artwork. When I return it, I will imagine a bear, rumbling behind me, longing for its sweet words.