Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Cozy Children’s Books for November

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Can I just say right now that I am a sucker for children’s books? Any kind of books really, but especially children’s books. And it KILLS me that my kids are too old for these! It almost makes me anxious for grandchildren just so I can have somebody to read them to . . . almost.

I think I’ll just find somebody else’s children to read aloud to. In the meantime, here’s a short list of my favorites for this time of year. I listed them as Amazon links because it’s an easy way to show the covers, but I’m not trying to twist your arm into buying these. In fact, I recommend finding these at your local library instead, unless you fall in love with them and absolutely must have your own copy. This happens.

I really love detailed illustrations that fill the whole page. Every time you read the story, there’s more to see and more to appreciate. My kids would hold the page down with their hands to stop me from turning the page too soon.

Illustrated children’s books are like poems; stories and moments pared down to the most essential perfect words, but embedded in a vision that tells the rest of the story.

Do you have any favorite cozy books for November? If so, I’d love to hear about them, please share in the comments below.

Good Books for Teen Girls

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As a follow-up to my previous post about dark books for teens, my daughter and I have been trying to make our own list of books to read. It’s tricky, because book reviews are so subjective. What one person loves may not appeal to another. So this is a list that might appeal to a younger teen girl who likes nature, fantasy and historical fiction. I haven’t actually read these yet (except for Jane Austen and Jack London), so I can’t vouch for them, but it’s a place to start:

Alexander, Lloyd   Vespers Holly series

Austen, Jane   Emma and Northanger Abbey

Bunce, Elizabeth C.   Star Crossed and A Curse Dark as Gold

Bond, Nancy  A String in the Harp

Hautzig, Esther  The Endless Steppe

Holt, Kimberly Willis   The Water Seeker

Isaacs, Anne   Torn Thread

King, Laurie R.   The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

Kingsolver, Barbara   The Bean Trees

London, Jack   The Call of the Wild

Lunn, Janet  The Root Cellar

Milford, Kate   The Boneshaker

O’Brien, Caragh M.   Birthmarked

Perkins, Lynne Rae   As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth

Porter, Gene Stratton   Freckles

Reeve, Philip   Fever Crumb

On this list, you could add The Carbon Diaries, 2015 by Saci Lloyd, an “eco-thriller” which my daughter just finished. She found it interesting, and the premise made her ask questions about how much food we’re storing for a future with less carbon energy. I didn’t even know about this book, so I wasn’t trying to influence her – honest. She found it herself.

She also wants to read all of the Jean Craighead George books she missed, even though they are for a younger audience, and she might read the Anne of Green Gables series to herself, although I read them aloud to her years ago.

My boys want to add to the list the Terry Pratchett books featuring Tiffany Aching, starting with The Wee Free Men. They adored these books and absolutely cannot wait until their sister reads them.

Dark Books for Teens

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There has been a lot of talk this week in the media about the value of young adult books with heavy themes like suicide, sexual abuse, homophobia, self-mutilation and other destructive behaviors. The Wall Street Journal ran a piece written by a mother who was frustrated trying to find a book for her 13 year old daughter when the shelves were full of gruesome dark stories. This story received a lot of criticism, particularly from librarians, who accused her of advocating censorship. They praised the value of honest stories that help tortured youth find someone with the same problems they experience.

I have to admit that I was not even aware of this trend. We usually do our book shopping on Amazon, and my boys prefer fantasy authors like Terry Pratchett, Patrick Rothfuss, Raymond Feist, and of course, J.R.R. Tolkien. My daughter likes fantasy too (she is currently finishing the Golden Compass series), but she has also enjoyed books by Sharon Creech, Katherine Paterson, and Gary Paulsen. I guess those are really considered juvenile fiction though, not young adult. (more…)

Charles Dickens

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The Making of a Writer

Great writers always seem to start out as great readers.  But before they can write anything of substance, they need to have some experience and observations to draw from.  Charles Dickens was no exception.  His experiences of great books, a happy childhood and an unhappy adolescence all combined to create one of the greatest authors the world has ever known.Frontispiece for Forster’s Life of Charles Dickens in the Household Edition: Dickens as a boy having fallen asleep over a desk, pasting labels

Before he went to school, Mrs. Dickens, “A dear good mother and a fine woman, had taught him thoroughly well at home,” as his old nurse Mary Weller recalled.[i] She also remembered Charles as “A terrible boy to read,” holding his book with his left hand, holding his wrist with his right hand and constantly sliding it up and down while he sucked his tongue.[ii]  His mother also taught him some English and Latin before sending him to a dame school for an unknown period of time. 

He then switched to a school run by a Mr. Giles, where Charles made rapid progress.  He enjoyed reading books such as Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, The Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, Robinson Crusoe, Arabian Nights, and Tales of Genii.  He loved to act out his favorite characters from these books, as well as put on magic lantern plays with his sister. 

With the other schoolboys, he romped in the fields, rowed, skated, and enjoyed Twelfth Night and Guy Fawkes celebrations around bonfires.  Charles would also walk with his father to work in the mornings, absorbing all the sights and sounds of town, along with his father’s elaborate vocabulary.

Charles’s father, John Dickens, was kind hearted and genteel, but unfortunately lived beyond his means.  In 1822, the family was forced to move to a cheaper area and ten-year-old Charles was taken out of school.  He missed it terribly, and was embarrassed by his family’s reduced circumstances.  His father was very much in debt, and was soon sent to debtors prison.  At the age of 12, Charles was forced to go to work in a miserable blacking warehouse and fend for himself for 4 to 5 months.  This episode had a dramatic impact on Charles, and he never spoke of it again until the end of his life.  But he became very determined, and resolved never to be in such poverty again.

After being released from the blacking warehouse, the boy was able to attend Wellington House Academy for two and a half years.  Relieved and happy to be there after his ordeal, Charles worked very hard.  He then worked as an office boy before teaching himself shorthand so he could become a reporter. 

As soon as he was 18, Charles applied for a “Reader’s ticket” at the British Museum.  He then devoured books, especially Shakespeare, Addison and histories, along with attending the theatre every night.  By the age of 21, he had risen to some prominence as a short hand reporter with the publication, “Mirror of Parliament.”  His first real literary success was The Pickwick Papers published in 1836, when he was 24.

Dickens would of course go on to become world famous, writing such classics as Great Expectations, David Copperfield, and A Tale of Two Cities.  The opportunity to read great books as a child (and adult) undoubtedly contributed to his future writing.  But it wasn’t just his style, but his substance that made Dickens great.  That episode in the blacking warehouse gave him a perspective on poverty and suffering that he might not otherwise have had.  It was uncommon for working class poor at the time to have access to great literature (or the time to read).  So Dickens experienced a unique combination of both privilege and poverty.  This combination, plus a heap of determination never to be poor again, is what propelled Dickens to write his hugely popular books.

[i] “Charles Dickens:  His Tragedy and Triumph, Vol. 1” by Edgar Johnson, p. 13

[ii] ibid

Resource for Great History Books

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I found the following link while searching for good historical fiction:

It is called A Guide to the Best Historical Novels and Tales by Jonathan Nield, courtesy of Project Gutenberg.  Wow!  It makes me want to clear my schedule and just read for the next three years.  Mr. Nield has even included a special section at the end covering recommended literature for youth.  The only problem is he stopped the list at the 19th Century and I was trying to find books about the early 20th Century.

Never mind that – it’s still a great resource!

Learning to Read

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New home-schoolers are often intimidated by the idea of teaching their kids to read.  They know it is vitally important and therefore must be complicated to teach properly.  I think it would be complicated to teach to a classroom full of squirmy six-year-olds of varying levels of readiness (my heart goes out to those poor teachers).  But it really isn’t that hard to teach your own.  It’s actually pretty fun – assuming you like to read yourself.

To begin with, it’s wonderful snuggling up on the couch or outside on a blanket, reading piles of delightful children’s books.  Every day – not just before bed – read to your kids and enjoy the expressions on their faces and the comments they make.  Don’t make them hold still.  They can roll on the floor, play with blocks, draw or do whatever quiet thing they like and still enjoy the stories – but they will usually want a front-row seat to see the illustrations.

Eventually your child will want to know what you are doing when you read.  They may ask questions about letters or words – then you know they are ready to start learning.  Not all kids are ready at the same time and it has nothing to do with intelligence so don’t worry about it.  In fact, I am fairly convinced that many of the so-called reading disabilities (apart from genuine dyslexia) are caused by forcing kids to read before they are ready.  For more info on this, read Raymond and Dorothy Moore’s excellent book, Better Late Than Early. (more…)