Mrs. Renner

Mrs. Renner managed the classroom with authority,  humor and a pinch of sarcasm. She was probably the best teacher I ever had; for she introduced us to good books. We read: Where the Red Fern Grows, Number The Stars, The Phantom Tollbooth, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Bridge to Terabithia.

I didn’t realize at the time what an impact those books would make on me or how they would help me later in life. When Mrs. Renner read to us, we weren’t listening to improve our language skills, we were encountering life, it’s beauty and it’s pains. These books taught us how to live, how to cope with boredom, loss, how to think.

I don’t remember ever being tested on these readings, they were given without attachment to scores, or outcomes. Mrs. Renner did not come between the student and the book. This made all the difference; these books spoke and she simply let them.

I was not a big reader at the time, but I quickly became entranced by  Billy’s love for his two dogs Old Dan and Little Ann, Karana’s shrewdness, her grief at losing her brother,  Annemarie’s courage, Milo’s adventures, but Bridge to Terabithia was my favourite.

Initially, I was disappointed that Terabithia was not another Narnia. A new world did not unfold, rather a sad story of friendship. In it I encountered grief in a new way. In Island of the Blue Dolphins the struggles were of a far off land in circumstances beyond my little world but in this one, loss was confronted in everyday life. The book stayed with me as good books do.

Four years later, my younger brother fell from a tree in our backyard woods and died. Those woods were our romping grounds. We were children in those woods, warriors, pioneers, confederate soldiers, doctors, nurses and then we weren’t. Childhood ended with the shock of death, the sharp pain of loss, the dull ache of grief.

As a Catholic, I had hope in eternal life. As a young girl with no actual experience of death until then, books inadvertently became a guide to grief. Thankfully, good ones had been set in my path by a good and loving teacher. And when I had the courage to walk in those woods again,  Billy, Karana, Annemarie, Milo, Jess and Leslie all came back to me, their losses, their grief, their grit. I was not alone.


 -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

How To Style Your Bookshelves


Step 1. Empty bookshelf.

Step 2. Dust books and shelf.

Step 3. Put books back on shelf.

Step 4. Do you have  lonely, empty space on the shelf?  An easy solution to this problem (it never fails) –  a trip to the bookstore!*

Step 4. Fill in empty slots with new books.*

Step 5.  Let your wolfish eyes select the perfect title from your now stunning bookshelf. Sit back and read.

*one may also buy a cat, which also fills in gaps quite nicely (as pictured above) but most people find more books to be an easier solution.

*or new cat.



A Book Review: The Gulag Archipelago Authorized Abridged Edition

It is incredible what Solzhenitsyn has done! Compiling this book bits and pieces at a time, in secret, never actually seeing his work as a whole. This is the first of its kind! It is not just a history or a catalog of crimes against humanity it is a mediation on the human soul its light and darkness. Solzhenitsyn is a purist and his writing has forever changed my own style. His words his stories will forever be with me. Please read!:

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn is like no other book. He is right when he claims this to be the first of its kind an experiment in literary investigation.  What did I expect when beginning this book? A list of crimes against humanity, a memoir of suffering and trials, a catalog of pains for posterity’s sake. Yes, this is what I expected, as opened the book: a grim work of non-fiction one should read to be ready, forewarned, prepared – it could happen to you! 

The book is all of that but it is also much more. It is grim, at parts unthinkable but it is not unrelenting. It delves into man’s heart and faces it in all its light and darkness. It condemns evil yet it rejoices in the refining fires of suffering, of prison itself! It reads like a story, but it is also a history, a documentation and tribute to those who suffered under the Soviet Regime, certainly it is an exploration in journalism.

Solzhenitsyn’s writings reveals the power of memory, literature, poetry and Rosary beads made from dried bread.  I will never look at a book in the same way after reading about the joy one  prisoner had when given a book to read. How he proceeded to memorize as much as he could before the treasure was taken away. The prisoner later attributed his sanity to that book! I will l never look at a poem in the same way either. For imprisoned men became imprisoned poets, composing and memorizing their compositions meticulously, methodically line by line for lack of pen and paper. How many poets died there? How many died with unheard beauty metered in memory ? And humbled, I finger my glass rosary beads with greater love and tuck it into my pocket with greater care.

It is incredible what Solzhenitsyn has done, writing this book in secret, never actually seeing his work in one place. Its publication is a literary miracle! Horrors fill these pages, but not despair. Solzhenitsyn shares the stories of thousands of humans in hope that they will live on somehow. And they will. These stories will forever be with me.

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.

A Book Review: An Episode of Sparrows

An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden occupies some middle ground between children’s literature and literature for grown-ups. I read it for the first time last year and now I’m reading it aloud to my nine-year-old daughter. Like Rumer Godden’s books for the younger set, it reads aloud very well. Its plot structure too is very reminiscent of Fu-Dog and The Kitchen Madonna: a quest, undertaken by strong-willed and independent children. As a child, I found books in which young protagonists give up on their goals extremely disappointing. I also found resolutions brought about by adults stepping in less than satisfying. In Rumer Godden’s books, adults are important in children’s lives and interdependence is a prominent theme but the children do a lot of thinking and planning and the lion’s share of accomplishing their goals themselves.

The rather simple basic underlying structure of a quest that An Episode of Sparrows shares with the other two books mentioned above becomes a rich and strange thing as Rumer Godden works her distinctive storytelling magic. Interleaved with the omniscient narration are comments from various characters, shining a multifarious light on the events of the story, from a spectrum of perspectives. It is a kind of polyphony, though much more primitive than anything in Dostoyevsky. The quest becomes the occasion to unfold a detailed world, teeming with sensory detail, peopled with a variety of types. In An Episode of Sparrows, the world is the world of the Street, a London row which nuns “with quiet skirts and noisy beads” share with crazy cat ladies, where a mover-and-shaker social worker type can meet her match in a Irish mama bear — and where the secret lives of children appear in their full magnitude.

An Episode of Sparrows can be compared not only to some of Godden’s children stories but to the consummate classic The Secret Garden. The echoes and allusions, the analogies are too many and too pronounced to be accidental. It is The Secret Garden re-imagined, the urban Secret Garden. Lovejoy is another Mary Lennox, a vulnerable heart and powerful determination masked by a sullen exterior. Tip is another Dickon, confident and generous, though less simply good. Even Ben Weatherstaff has his counterpart in the slow-spoken gardening guru Mr. Isibister.

A slightly whimsical supernatural thread weaves through the novel too as the virtually motherless Lovejoy is drawn into the radius of the warm love of the Blessed Mother and the Catholic Church. The book gives us a vision of Our Lady’s prayer over derelict places and ruins and over the poor. She shines quietly in the background of the story, almost as she does in the Gospels, invisibly and serenely undoing knots for those who need her assistance desperately, even though they don’t deserve it.

Middle ground between children’s and general literature? There are certainly elements in Lovejoy’s life that no child should have to deal with but many children do. I’ve found it prudent to skip a couple paragraphs in my reading aloud. While this is clearly a novel intended as general literature, something about Rumer Godden’s writing in general, and in this book more than others, speaks to the inner child, to a naive experience of the color and texture of the world, that can be re-awakened in us all.

-Mrs. Aldertree