book review

Quick Bedtime Stories For Toddlers

Here are some books I turn to when bedtime is running late. I enjoy reading them and they are always well received.

Pat the Bunny

Pat the bunny is such a classic. One that I did not grow up with and was happy to discover with my first toddler. It’s an Interactive book that maintains a certain simplicity and elegance. Children love it and it’s fun to read. My favorite page is the little book within a book.

Time For Bed

A sweet rhyming goodnight story. Peaceful and soporific. Jane Dyer’s illustrations are beautiful.

 

Little Donkey Close your eyes

Another rhyming goodnight story, this one is by the beloved Margaret Wise Brown. It is similar to Time for Bed in it’s lulling verse and tender illustrations. A cozy read.

Each Peach Pear Plum

Here’s another interactive book, it’s an eye spy in verse. The rhyming makes it easy to read out loud and children love finding the different fairy tale characters on each page.

Fierce Bad Rabbit

Beatrix Potter’s Fierce Bad Rabbit a concise cautionary tale of a very naughty rabbit a bedtime story for when brevity is key.

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.

A Bedtime Shadow Book

I stumbled across this book today at a local thrift store. When I opened it up I knew  I had found that perfect gift for my girls. I’ve never seen a book like it with its window illustrations designed to cast shadows on the wall as you read. I quickly bought it  along with some glow in the dark flashlights -Yes, glow in the dark flashlights!-The story line itself, although short, is rather sweet and among the light and shade you will find fireflies, a skunk, a night owl, a raccoon, a  girl and a cat.

-Mrs. Cooper

Some Recent Discoveries

 

 Poems An Early-Start Preschool Reader

This is a great little reader. In the front it has a very handy list of the 107 words used inside. The book itself contains famous little poems by Robert Louis Stevenson, Christina Rossetti, some short stanzas from Tennyson and some famous nursery rhymes.  I must admit having my daughter practice reading from this was  a nice break from the  Dr. Seuss and Frog and Toad readers. The Rhyme and meter seem to help beginners anticipate the next word, making their reading voice smoother and less labored. The selected verses are very accessible to small children, the illustrations are well matched. My only complaint was it’s brevity which is hardly a complaint at all.

Dogs & Dragons 
Trees & Dreams 

 Dogs & Dragons Trees & Dreams is currently out of print which is a pity. Karla Kuskin (Author of Roar and More) has complied some of her poems for children to create a great introduction to poetry. Throughout the book she gives quick synopses and talks a bit about poetry. Her commentary is informative, concise and easy to skip over if you just want the poetry to speak for itself. (She even gives you permission to ignore them.)  In this book you’ll be happy to find funny poems, somber poems, romping poems, nature poems, narrative poems, descriptive poems, even counting poems.

-Mrs. Cooper

The Romanov Sisters

The bulk of my personal reading time last month went to a book about Russian history: The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport. I’ve been wanting to read more history for awhile — and failing to. This book however has the pace and human interest of a novel. One of Rappaport’s stated goals was to bring the characters of the four daughters of the last Imperial family of Russia out of their brother’s shadow and into clear focus. She sought to extricate them as individuals from the family group and from “hagiography” that erases human vividness. To do this, she drew richly on personal letters and diaries. In the process, she also gives a wonderfully sharp portrait of their parents — and their brother too. (For me, in many ways, he even remained the most compelling character among a cast of characters each thoroughly compelling.)

I fell completely in love with the entire family. Rappaport struck me as more critical of Alexandra, the mother, than of the others, but I found her intensely sympathetic and the criticisms, one and all, beside the point.

The Russian Orthodox Church canonized the whole family. One can look at that with skepticism but I was convinced, by this deliberately non-hagiographic account, of their real sanctity. They were spiritual relatives of the Martin family (what might have happened if Louis Martin had been on earth the King he was in his daughter’s eyes). And the only possible consolation for the wrongness of their murders will be to see them reign with Jesus King of Kings forever.

Mrs. Aldertree

In Noah’s Ark by Rumer Godden

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I just finished In Noah”s Ark by Rumer Godden and thought this Book Review captured the book’s charm rather well:

“No two people will read this with even similar reactions. To some it will be sheer enchantment of poetic flight of fancy. To some it will be symbolic, a philosophic and satiric approach to the world’s conflicts. To some it will be a fairy tale, extension of the folktale of all people, imagination off the beaten track…. To others it will be an irritation, pot-pourri of childhood jingles, phrases clipped from a book of quotations, woven together with tongue in cheek. To others it will be a parable, difficult of interpretation, signifying what you will. …. Who but Rumer Godden could have conceived Pegasus-uninvited- the disturbing element among the survivors of earth’s inhabitants, alone and single, owning no man as master. A story-teller who now beguiles the other creatures with his tales — and now disturbs their fancied peace with new and revolutionary ides. Ham has clipped his wings, Pegasus is himself, restless, unsure. And then death comes; the scorpion has slain a duckling; the whisper spreads that Pegasus is to blame; the court sits in judgment- death the verdict. A flame goes up and Pegasus disappears, no ash remains. Only a great restlessness over all…until at last the ark comes to rest on Ararat, and the faithful dove brings back the leaf of green. A new Rumer Godden is here. But then- to those for whom she always holds magic, there is always a new Rumer Godden. Don’t sell as “”a story in verse”” — but as Rumer Godden. Format promised as “”worthy of its distinguished content.””

A Review: Marie Kondo’s Master Class

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I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Marie Kondo’s  second book, “Spark Joy an illustrated class to the art of decluttering and organizing.” After consuming her first book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying and setting forth on my tidying festival almost two years ago, I was ready to be disappointed by this book, what advice could she possibly have left to give?  But I loved it.

The principles remain unchanged and there’s a lot of overlapping material. She even recommends skipping over parts if you feel the need. But what makes this book work so well are her stories about her clients, family, and marriage. They bring her method to life and are sure to bring a smile to your face.

Though her focus has always been on surrounding yourself with things that spark joy she also talks about appreciating things that you don’t love but others in your household do, as well as creating a joyful place with the things you wish to keep. For example she gives you permission to go ahead and keep those useless things that spark joy but recommends finding other uses for them if only decorative. There is also a wonderful section dedicated to the kitchen which I found helpful.

The book  has some very cute illustrations that are useful. My children took to them immediately and the folding diagrams inspired them to fold their clothes. Magical?  Joyful? you bet!

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Do you need this book in order to complete her tidying method? No, the first book will do just fine. But if you enjoyed her first book not just for her practical advice but for her humor, her light and yet fierce spirit, you’ll love this one.

4 (more) Things To expect From an Anita Brookner Novel

10 Things to Expect from a Brookner Novel  and 4 (more) :

1.Alice-like protagonist.

2.Yearning for offspring.

3. The rewards of solitude.

4. The unpredictable.

1. Alice-like protagonist. Anita Brookner does not write fairy tales. She could even be said to write anti-fairytales. However her novels are anti-fairytales the way Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is an anti-fairytale. Like Carroll’s Alice, Brookner’s female protagonists/heroines have heads full of rules and meet situations in which they don’t seem to apply, characters who betray no awareness of the codes that they hold sacred. They are well-brought up little girls trapped in Mad Tea Parties, conscientious people blandly trampled by sociopaths. Like Alice, they scold themselves. Like Alice, they doubt themselves. The dynamic that results when people with principles too vaguely grounded run up against an unprincipled world is one of the main sources of interest in Brookner’s fiction. The obscure frustrations, the repetitive situations endured by her heroines have the dream quality of a mundane Wonderland.

2. Yearning for offspring. Anita Brookner does not write fairytales. However, the archetypal yearning for a child that begins so many fairytales is at the marrow of her fiction. The women she writes about have husband, lovers, friends, mothers, in various combinations. And, yet, those without children (almost all of them) are in a state of constant longing (more or less conscious) for a child. There is a profound recognition of the good that motherhood is for a woman, a good so fundamental to her that no other earthly good can substitute or compensate for its lack.

3. The rewards of solitude. Though Brookner makes no claims, explicit or implicit, that the rewards of solitude are equal to the rewards of motherhood, she does acknowledge them. Each of the Brookner books that I have read contains at least one lyric passage in which the experience of the details of ordinary life, without losing a jot or tittle of its ordinariness, in fact because of that very ordinariness, becomes a source of wonder. A person, a woman, in solitude, has a sudden access of freedom and becomes her true self. Becomes a child. These moments are delicately, all but imperceptibly, entered into and easily passed out of. But they verge on the mystical.

4. The unpredictable. Anita Brookner’s novels are never boring. They’re often characterized as books in which nothing, or very little, happens. But, within the limited “claustrophobic” scope of her fictional situations, nothing that happens can be clearly anticipated. What her characters think, say, do and fail to do continually surprises, while it almost never — and never gratuitiously — shocks. You observe human life as if watching the chaos at work in sunlit dust motes. You are fascinated by chaos held in a deeper, greater, obscurely intuited order.

-Mrs. Aldertree

 

 

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Children in Dystopia

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Dystopian fiction is a genre I avoid. So is science fiction. However I found myself allured to Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, despite its classification as science fiction, and unwitting of its classification as dystopian literature. Why did I read so far outside my usual preferences? Because (perhaps because the classroom was such an exotic world to my homeschooled childhood) I often have a strong pull toward school stories. A book about a unusual school for gifted children proved irresistible.

Never Let Me Go is charged with the pleasure of unwrapping surprise after surprise. True, there is a gradual unveiling of a dimly understood horror. But there is also the miraculous development of friendship and love, of complex and beautiful characters. The true texture of childhood, with its concomitant menace and tensions, is given here: the piecing together of clues about the adult world, sometimes very wildly; the significance of “games” as apparatus to interpret the universe, to reconcile it with the interior world where we know what *ought* to be.

Ishiguro’s novel, as few do, meshed with my own thought processes to the extent that I dreamed about the book regularly during the period in which I was reading it. However, the other recent read that affected me that way was also oddly a dystopian school story, the kid lit book The Mysterious Benedict Society. It has some striking similarities to Never Let Me Go, being about gifted children, in a “privileged” school setting, working together to unmask the real motives of the adult authority figures they deal with.

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As a high school age reader, I absorbed a lot of Sozhenitsyn’s writings. These too are dystopian but they are dystopian literature of witness. Like the two books already mentioned, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich took over my dreams during the week I read it. It lingered in my mind a long time afterward, as if the prison camp had been a personal memory.

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School is for many children a dystopian experience: a totalitarian system, a social concrete jungle, an indoctrination camp. Within and outside this world, the growing soul struggles for its nourishment. Joseph Brodsky, who grew up in Soviet Russia, relates the experience of childhood behind the Iron Curtain to the lives of school children everywhere in the closing words of his essay “Less Than One.” On his way to school, “if he had two extra minutes,” the little boy would pause “slide down on the ice and take twenty or thirty steps to the middle. All this time he would be thinking about what the fish were doing under such heavy ice.” Then he runs the rest of the way to school and gets settled in his seat. “It is a big room with three rows of desks, a portrait of the Leader on the wall behind the teacher’s chair, a map with two hemispheres of which only one is legal. The little boy takes his seat, opens his briefcase, puts his pen and notebook on the desk, lifts his face, and prepares himself to hear drivel.”

It is those two extra minutes the authorities have disregarded that will be their downfall. It is that fleeting experience of what is real that exposes their entire project as “drivel.”

-Mrs. Aldertree