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Reading Roundup: November


The flurry of December’s Debatable Reindeer vs Penguin sidelined my usual attention to reviewing previous monthly reads. Here’s the scoop for November:

Pilgrim’s Progress by Gary Schmidt

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Pilgrim’s Progress is a classic appreciated for its allegory of the walk one makes in faith and belief. It would be difficult to improve upon it, yet Gary Schmidt creates a version for contemporary audiences that deserves noted acclaim for keeping the original message intact while providing a more approachable format.

Barry Moser’s agreeable, stunning watercolor illustrations aptly and deftly accompany Schmidt’s retelling.

Appropriate for middle readers, yet probably more appreciated by adults who remember the original Bunyan version.

Nowhere to be Found by Emily Thomas

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Irresistibly drawn to series that combines creating a library in a renovated house plus a cozy mystery. An enjoyable, undemanding read that combines Christian values with a well-paced plot.

Whisper by Lynette Noni

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This is one of those books that is so captivating that finding a place to bookmark for the night is difficult. Best to start earlier than later in the day.

The first 100 pages are spellbinding. Jane, as in Jane Doe, a young woman is being held prisoner in a secret facility. She suffers silently because she refuses to speak to anyone. This is not only because of sheer determination, but because JD is afraid to do so. In her case, words do have power.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

It’s a quick, quiet, uneventful cadence of vignettes with the theme of a grandmother and her young granddaughter circumnavigating each other’s quirks while living on an island for the summer. Being Finnish in original intent changes some of the dynamics of the characters, yet the bond between the adult and child holds well.

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Written by a son and mother team, this is #8 in an ongoing series about Bess Crawford, a nurse who likes to solve mysteries.

An intriguing idea to have a WWI nurse solve a tangled mystery involving a wounded soldier of dubious identity. Unfortunately, the plot becomes muddled with confusing details such as too many suspects with similar names, and the device of Bess, the protagonist, running around annoying people with her questions while healing from her wounds received at the front. The mystery itself proved intriguing, yet the solving was drawn out

much too long. The characters are agreeable and the writing is accomplished enough to look into other books in the series at some point.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

One problem with experiencing the movie before the book is that so many book scenes become overlaid with cinematic scenes. Clare is Rachel McAdams and Henry is Eric Bana while I read and I’m annoyed when the author changes things up character and plot wise. Then again, she had it all mapped out first. Lesson: read the book first.

Review wise: interesting beginning, muddled middle, and melodramatic ending. Not a romance book fan, and without the time traveler gimmick this would not have kept my attention, as the plot device of a woman constantly waiting for her ideal man to return to her is a metaphorical irritation after awhile.The swearing and sex scenes detracted instead of added to the plot. At one point the characters ask if their sex life is normal. Well, if you have to ask…

Alba, their daughter, makes it worthwhile to finish out the ending. I’m rooting for a sequel with Alba working out her own time traveling agenda.

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Author Spotlight: Ezra Jack Keats


Back when I began college, I enrolled in the Early Childhood Education program because I could earn an AA after studying little kids for two years. One of my better education decisions.

One of the highlights of the program was Children’s Literature. No kidding. The class was all about reading books for children. Every children’s writer should take such a class. We learned all about what makes for a successful children’s book, read all kinds of books, even learned how to run a proper story time. There is an art to reading a book out loud. I am so ready for the day when my book gets published and the local librarian invites me in to read it to wiggling masses of kiddos. That day isn’t quite here, but my AA in ECE has me primed and ready.

One author I briefly remember studying was Ezra Jack Keats. Mike Allegra’s recent Debatable (and *sigh* win) about Peter in The Snowy Day got me reminiscing about my Keats encounters. He wrote several books about Peter, and I remember we studied what a trailblazer he was for his colorful collage style combined with simple, yet meaningful text. There was also the fact that back when Peter first appeared he was among the first picture book characters of cultural diversity. We noted it, but I don’t remember dwelling on it. We instead focused on the appeal of Peter as enjoyed a snowy day, discovering how to whistle, finding goggles–just enjoying being a nice kid growing up with friends and family in the city.

One thing we didn’t touch on was Ezra Jack Keats. Looking him up, yah, Mike got me curious. I was surprised. I had made assumptions, and Chef Boyardee did I learn a lot. This article presents Keats so much better than I can. He is definitely an author deserving a spotlight.

So–go enjoy your inner child and read all about Peter. He is Macy’s Parade balloon worthy–almost as much as Tigger.

November Debatable: Hot Air Argument


With Thanksgiving ads beckoning us to ready for the annual rite of feasting with friends and family, it seemed appropriate to center our monthly debate on another annual tradition, Macy’s Parade.

More specifically, we take on which kid lit character should become the next parade balloon.

I’m going for Tigger.

It’s a natural choice–right?

Mike is going for Peter from The Snowy Day. Cute, but not as uplifting as Tigger.

So–make your way over to Mike Allegra’s site and weigh in your thoughts and send up your vote.

Debatables: Scariest Villain


Hi all, and welcome to Debatables, a new semi-regular column where literary questions of sometimes deep,

and often frivolous nature, are mulled over, pursued with flair, and debated in a spirited manner with commentary from readers.

My cohost and regular debate opponent is the personable Mike Allegra. Well-known for regaling humorous

tales of family, as well as encounters with home repair, his other talents include editor, doodler, and writer.

His newest chapter book series is under the pseudonym of Roy L. Hinuss, aka Prince Not-So Charming.

Mike is really, really funny. Check out his blog and you’ll see why.


On to Debatables:

Here are the ground rules: Each Debater is allowed one brief argument (fewer than 300 words) on a
previously agreed-upon topic. These brief arguments will then be followed by a briefer rebuttal (fewer than

150 words).

Today’s Topic: Who is the scariest villain found in juvenile literature?

Cricket is nominating Cruella de Vil from Dodie Smith’s classic 101 Dalmatians.

Mike is suggesting: The cat from Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat (haven’t we been here before?)

Mike’s Argument

Many of the most evil villains in history have one trait in common: they pretend to serve the best interests
of others. Hitler was elected on a promise to lift Germany out of its economic crisis. Lenin and Stalin
promised to give more power to the Working Man. And The Cat in the Hat promised an innocent boy and
girl a little fun on a rainy day.


What the Germans, Russians, and Seuss Kids ended up with, however, was far different than what they
were promised.


Yet The Cat in the Hat is sneakier than the other villains mentioned above, for he has a talent for charm and
charisma—personality traits he uses to mask his villainy. The Cat is so skilled in this regard that many
readers fail to notice (or are happy to overlook) this felonious feline’s evil acts!

(Mike says Sally is being clotheslined–not exactly pictured)

“Oh, The Cat isn’t that bad,” some might say. “After all, he did clean up the house at the end of the book.
Shouldn’t that count for something?”


No, it shouldn’t. And here’s why.

In only 64 pages, that cat racks up a long list of terrible deeds. He breaks into a home, destroys property,
abuses an animal, abets assault and battery (via The Things), and endangers the welfare of two children.


He does it all with a smile on his face.

And he gets off scott free!

The Cat’s cleaning machine might erase the physical damage he created—but consider the psychological
damage. The Cat’s amoral actions would terrorize any child—and would almost certainly result in lasting—
perhaps lifelong—repercussions. His victims could end up suffering from recurring nightmares, anxiety,
trust issues, and clinical depression. That’s a lot of damage, and The Cat doesn’t have a machine to clean
that mess up, does he?

Cricket’s Argument

While I am amewsed Mike chose the Cat from Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat,villains are a serious business
and dog gone it, selecting the scariest villain in juvenile literature leads to the one and only Cruella de Vil.

Before Disney catapulted her to fame as the diabolical dalmatian-kidnapper, Cruella de Vil held her own
in Dodie Smith’s 1956 story of Pongo and his attempts to save his fifteen puppies from becoming Cruella’s
newest fur coat. Right there, the fact that this woman wants to slaughter puppies to wear as a fashion
statement should make you twitter up a rage post.

Villains are aptly named. Dodie gave her readers a big hint: Cruella de Vil? A spin off of “cruel devil.”
Although Disney’s portrayal of Cruella is transfixing, Dodie defined her pretty well in the novel. Here are
the facts:

  • eats everything with pepper and tastes like pepper (found out when nipped by a puppy)

  • drowned dozens of her Persian’s kittens

  • her family home is called Hell Hall

  • her fireplace fires are as hot as (see above)

  • her house interior is prone towards red

  • she drives a zebra-striped car with the loudest horn in England

  • expelled from school for drinking ink

  • her London flat was originally purchased by Count De Ville, an alias for Dracula

Here is an extra tidbit: ranked 39th on the AFI list of villains

A megalomaniacal tyrant with a streak of narcissism, she is a cruel devil of a woman who even
contemplated skinning the kidnapped puppies alive. Double yikes! This scary villain has found her way
into all sorts of popular culture, from song lyrics to movie lines to Lady Gaga’s choice costume. Puppy
stealer, kitten drowner, pepper eater, and related to Dracula–this is a way scary villain. Plus she is a terrible
driver. Lock up your puppies and stay off the roads if she is about.

Look at this illustration from the novel. Yikes!  

Check out this song:

https://youtu.be/R-YkJdYQzis

Mike’s Rebuttal

Cruella is evil. Very much so. But she wears her evil like a badge of honor, advertising it to everyone. Her
very existence is a harsh warning to stay away.


Now, if I may quote Kaiser Sose, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he
didn’t exist.”


The Cat is the devil we didn’t know existed. He can hide his evil behind false innocence and a perceived
eagerness to please. This is the M.O. of the most effective predators: the fellow in the park “looking for his
lost dog,” or the friendly stranger who kindly offers “to give you a lift home.”  


The Cat is cut from a similar cloth. Once he wins over his audience with a smile and a tip of his hat, he
becomes an agent of chaos. And, like The Joker from The Dark Knight, The Cat delights in the horror he
creates.

Cricket’s Rebuttal

Mike implies Cruella wants people to stay away from her and that she advertises her evil like a
well-deserved medal. This assumption would mean she cares about what people think of her. Truthfully?
She could care l
ess what people think of her. Her actions indicate she doesn’t care about anybody except
herself. All the havoc she creates from personal insults to animal abuse is because she is self-centered with
a hateful regard towards others. Her devilish behavior doesn’t require an audience like Seuss’s Cat.
Cruella’s evil deeds are not beguiling antics that are mischievous or even ambiguous in their intent.
Cruella is all about villainous, malodorous mayhem. She doesn’t care who she hurts and doesn’t try to be
charming—she is and will always be Cruella, Cruella de Vil.
If she doesn’t scare you then no evil thing will.

Debatables Recap


As the timer sounded, the family of bears hailing from suburbia stood quivering in anticipation–or was that fear-upon their stand.

Meanwhile, the two contending bears (not to be confused with contentious) transformed from cuddled–not coddled–ursines, into their primal heritage and took off running into the forests, not only surviving their ordeal, but thriving.

Well, that could have been the scenario…

If you are wondering how the last round of Debatables went down, the Hunger Games question of who would survive–Team Paddington and Pooh or Team Berenstain? Let’s just say that host Mike Allegra found himself so disheartened by the results that he couldn’t bear to post the results.

Yes, of course Team P&P won!

Blogsters soundly recognized the superiority of Paddington and Winnie-the-Pooh over the Berenstains. Nice family, but it’s been way too long living the easy life in their house. Foraging for honey and living in the forests with tigers let alone Heffalumps and Woozels–I totally forgot how Pooh had to deal with those monstrosities–makes for a tough bear. And Paddington, being so plucky and managing to shake off any of the dilemmas he finds himself in, made for the perfect partner.

Well done, bears. This just goes to show how these bears are not in competition with each other, no matter what some are trying to project on the Internet.

Debatable score stands at Mike: 1 Cricket: 2

Stay tuned for the upcoming October Debatable: Scariest Villain found in a Kid’s Book.

Author Spotlight: Madeleine L’Engle


Although she wrote numerous books ranging from picture books to middle reads and YA to reflective nonfiction to poetry, Madeleine L’Engle is best remembered for changing children’s literature with The Wrinkle in Time. Awarded the Newberry Medal in 1963, the book remains popular and turned 50 in 2013, and became a Disney released movie in 2018. The Wrinkle in Time is one of the titles found on banned novels list, being ironically praised and criticized for its spiritual themes and approach.

A newly released book on Madeleine L’Engle, A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual of Madeleine L’Engle, Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Sarah Arthur is not so much a biography as it is an exploration of Madeleine’s spiritual beliefs and how they were intertwined into her writing.

Like C.S. Lewis, L’Engle infused her stories with spiritual metaphors and even direct references to God. However, unlike Lewis, L’Engle often found herself criticized for what some deemed a New Age approach to story telling, that her spiritual beliefs were too bound in a universalism that some thought misleading or confusing for her young reader audience.

Praised or censured, Madeleine L’Engle’s impact is significant, especially A Wrinkle in Time.

I was in fifth grade when I read about Meg and Charles Wallace and tesseracts. The book opened my reader’s eyes wide open. Time travel, intergalactic worlds, good versus evil, scientific concepts, interpersonal family dynamics, and so much more. The landscape of reading changed for me. I had that Dorothy moment of stepping from the barren black and white lands of Kansas to the Technicolor world of Oz. Reading for me did begin with that over the rainbow moment and L’Engle provided a colorful palette of possibilities.

I decided to reread A Wrinkle in Time as part of my Classic Club challenge. Reading it almost fifty years later I marveled how well the story kept my interest, and how much I anticipated certain plot points: Charles Wallace and his cocoa session with Meg in the kitchen, syncopated ball bouncing, Aunt Beast, the complicated plot, challenging vocabulary, along with its scientific concepts–this was way beyond the Homer Price and Henry Huggins fare on the library shelves. I don’t know how well I comprehended the entire story of how a girl could take on space and time and fight evil, but I do know Meg was the first of many underdog protagonists that would be added to my reading dance card.

I’m just discovering that The Wrinkle in Time is one of five books in the series and I am checking out each title and revisiting with Meg and Charles Wallace.

What are your impressions of A Wrinkle in Time?

The cover as I remember it.

August Reading Round Up


Whilst wrapping up my last two weeks of summer break I dove into a variety of books, ranging from a balcony sun fun page turner to a couple of mistrials to a classroom textbook.

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

Image result for nine coaches waiting

Mary Stewart knows how to rock a mystery romance. We have castles, Machiavellian types, Byronic heroes, and of course, a plucky heroine. Fun read. Just the page turner I needed.

Noah’s Compass and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

Image result for noah's compassImage result for dinner at the homesick restaurant

Having had Anne Tyler on my TBR list for some time I thought I would give her a trial run, in hopes of finding a new author. Didn’t happen. Both books featured characters that I found so pathetic I could not muster empathy in any way or hope to. I grimaced my way through both. Dysfunctional families are not my idea of a relaxing time. Not one character in either book had a shred of normalcy. If you are a Tyler fan, let me know if there is another book on the shelf worth  trying.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Image result for blink gladwell

Gladwell seems to be a buzzword when it comes to paradigm shifting. Teaching AP Language for the first time means I need to look into and at non-fiction in a different way. Blink definitely got me thinking about I think and I think I will consider it as a textbook for the class.

Now that school is underway my leisure reading is slowed down miserably. I have set my GoodReads Challenge at 101 this year and I’m just at the 80% range. We’ll see if I can squeeze in some time in the next couple of months.

 

Author Snapshot: D.E.Stevenson


As we know authors wax and wane in popularity. Books that eager readers  once  grabbed off the shelves now forlornly gather dust, or go out of print or end up in the free bin. That’s why it’s exciting when an author can rekindle interest and prove she still holds staying power forty years after her death and last book was published. The author? D.E. Stevenson. Her devotees are known as “Dessies.”

  Some fine facts:

  • Dorothy Emily Stevenson was a related to THE Robert Louis Stevenson.
  • Educated by a governess and denied college because her father didn’t want an educated woman in the family.
  • She published nearly fifty books in her career.
  • At the height of her career, her books sold in the millions internationally.
  • A granddaughter discovered a couple of manuscripts in the attic in 2011 and they were immediately snapped up and published.
  • Being Scottish, most of her plots center around Scotland and England, with WWI and WWII’s affect on its people often being a main theme. 
  • Her books gave clear insights into the lives of those who called the countryside their home.
  • Adept at characterization, her books often overflowed and intermingled with one another.
  • Died in 1973, yet beginning in 2009, her books are slowing being reissued.

A snippet from a BBC article

Members of Stevenson’s family are amazed by her enduring popularity. Her daughter, Rosemary Swallow, remembers how her mother worked.

“She would sit down on the sofa, put her legs up and light a cigarette,” she said.

“She had a special writing board, a wooden board covered in green baize and she would just carry on writing whatever was going on around her.

“She was very, very good at character writing. There’s no rude sex or anything like that, just a good yarn with a beginning, a middle and an end.”

On a personal note: 

I discovered her books about twenty years ago when working at a public library. A friend and co-worker knew I preferred “gentle” reads and suggested Stevenson. I read everything the library owned, and even ventured into the scary overflow storage basement to retrieve forgotten copies. 

Currently I’m on a mission to read all her titles. The writing is solid, with its intriguing plots involving mysteries, light romance, and brilliant characterization. When I’m feeling a bit lost due to stress from a long week, I find myself again by reading a Stevenson novel.  

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