For all of you adults and teens and older middle grade readers who have loved Little House on the Prairie and hoped for a wider perspective on that time period and setting, I have a lovely book for you today!
A Sky Full of Song is the story of a Jewish family that flees persecution in Ukraine to make a new life on the North Dakota prairie. The middle child of five, Shoshana struggles with fitting in in her new school and new life, and wonders if it would be best to hide their Jewish heritage from her new schoolmates and friends.
Here’s the publisher’s description:
After fleeing persecution in the Russian Empire, eleven-year-old Shoshana and her family, Jewish immigrants, start a new life on the prairie. Shoshana takes fierce joy in the wild beauty of the plains and the thrill of forging a new, American identity. But it’s not as simple for her older sister, Libke, who misses their Ukrainian village and doesn’t pick up English as quickly or make new friends as easily. Desperate to fit in, Shoshana finds herself hiding her Jewish identity in the face of prejudice, just as Libke insists they preserve it.
For the first time, Shoshana is at odds with her beloved sister, and has to look deep inside herself to realize that her family’s difference is their greatest strength. By listening to the music that’s lived in her heart all along, Shoshana finds new meaning in the Jewish expression all beginnings are difficult , as well as in the resilience and traditions her people have brought all the way to the North Dakota prairie.
This book is spectacularly written; highly compelling, deeply moving. I loved learning more about what it would have looked like for a Jewish family to transport their customs and traditions to the New World. Shoshana is a complex and very likeable character, and I loved the big family interaction with her siblings (super cute literary toddlers are my favorite).
I would give a content warning before you hand this to young readers who loved Little House and want more of the same. The content is definitely more intense than anything you’d encounter in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, particularly the depictions of the violent persecution Shoshana and her family experience both in Ukraine and North Dakota. There are also a few scenes revolving around Libke getting her first period, and she and Shoshana are very scared until their mother explains what’s going on; while ultimately their mother’s explanation is very positive, I wouldn’t want my young reader to read the “scary” descriptions if we hadn’t had a chance to discuss this together yet. (I did wonder why the mother in the book wouldn’t have prepared Libke for her first period, and it seemed a little bit forced to add drama.) I’ll be handing this off to my 12+ readers, but your children may be ready at a different age.
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, check out Always in the Middle!
Besides being amazing writers, do you know what Lewis Carrol, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, T. H. White, G. K. Chesterton, Madeleine L’Engle, Brian Jacques, and Neil Gaiman (and many, many others) have in common? They were all deeply influenced by the writing of a humble Scottish minister and pioneer of fantasy literature, George MacDonald.
Sarah Mackenzie, author of The Read Aloud Family, often discusses a concept she calls “reading upstream.” Basically, use your love of a certain book or author as a starting point to explore more books and authors. If you delve into the things that influenced that writer or work, you’re “reading upstream” and gaining a greater understanding of the thing you love—as well as finding new things to love! If you begin reading upstream of almost any fantasy author of the past century, you’re going to find yourself at a big river of inspiration called George MacDonald.
I’ve read a few of MacDonald’s works aloud to my family—they’re particular fans of The Princess and the Goblin illustrated by Arthur Hughes. But it can be hard to find some of his lesser-known works, so I was thrilled when I discovered that Word on Fire Spark just came out with a beautiful new edition of The Golden Key, including two more of MacDonald’s lesser-read fairy tales, The Light Princess and Little Daylight. Just look at this beautiful cover! And the illustrations by Anastasia Nesterova are perfect for these stories (which is saying a lot, considering that MacDonald has been illustrated by some of the greatest artists of the golden age of illustration).
While each of the stories in this collection are fairy tales rich with symbolism, they are very different from one another. The Golden Key is about two neglected children who stumble into a fairy world and must go on a quest. The Light Princess is a wry and humorous story about a princess whose gravity (both on a physical and metaphorical level) has been stolen by an evil witch. Little Daylight highlights MacDonald’s humor as he creates a topsy-turvy verson of Sleeping Beauty, in which the princess is cursed to sleep during the day and wax and wane like the moon when she awakes at night.
For those of us who have the pleasure of reading MacDonald in a post-Tolkien age, it’s impossible to read without Tolkien’s thoughts on fairy stories intruding (pleasantly) into our minds. Take this quote, for example, from his essay On Fairy-Stories: "It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of the words, and the wonder of things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine."
You don’t have to search hard in MacDonald’s stories to find this potency and wonder. But what struck me most on my current reading was another fairy story element Tolkien wrote of at length: that of the comfort of finding true joy and happy endings.
In today’s world, you only need to pick up your phone to find a world full of unhappy stories. So perhaps fairy stories, with their reminder that happy endings are possible and true, are more important now than ever. Did you ever hear the Albert Eistein quote about fairy tales? “If you want your children to be intelligent,” he said, “read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” Tokien or Lewis or L’Engle might adapt that for today’s audiences. I certainly will: “If you want your children to be resilient… to be faithful… to be hopeful… to be kind… read them fairy tales. If you want them to be saints and heroes, read them more fairy tales.”
The Golden Key is a good place to start.
Here is the link to order from Word on Fire Spark (I think it’s on sale right now!): https://bookstore.wordonfire.org/products/the-golden-key
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, check out Always in the Middle!
I am so, SO excited to share with you all a book I'd been dying to read since I first heard of its existence. The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry won't be released until March 5 of next year, but I hope you all start pre-ordering and requesting your libraries to buy it as soon as you can, because it's beautiful and poignant and old-fashioned and wonderful.
Here's the publisher's description:
Lucy, a spirited French-Ojibwe orphan, is sent to the stormy waters of Lake Superior to live with a mysterious family of lighthouse-keepers—and, she hopes, to find the legendary necklace her father spent his life seeking…
Selena Lucy Landry (named for a ship, as every sailor’s child should be) has been frightened of the water ever since she lost her father at sea. But with no one else to care for her, she’s sent to foster with the Martins—a large Anishinaabe family living on a lighthouse in the middle of stormy Lake Superior.
The Martin family is big, hard-working, and close, and Lucy—who has always been a dreamer—struggles to fit in. Can she go one day without ruining the laundry or forgetting the sweeping? Will she ever be less afraid of the lake?
Although life at the lighthouse isn’t what Lucy hoped for, it is beautiful—ships come and go, waves pound the rocks—and it has one major It’s near the site of a famous shipwreck, a shipwreck that went down with a treasure her father wanted more than anything . If Lucy can find that treasure—a priceless ruby necklace—won’t it be like having Papa back again, just a little bit?
But someone else is hunting for the treasure, too. And as the lighthouse company becomes increasingly skeptical that the Martins can juggle Lucy and their duties, Lucy and the Martin children will need to find the necklace quickly—or they may not have a home at all.
The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry is a timelessly sweet tale of found family from rising Ojibwe voice Anna Rose Johnson, author of NPR Best Book of the Year The Star That Always Stays . Perfect for fans of L.M. Montgomery and Karina Yan Glaser!
I'd like to say that if any of you aren't at least a little bit tempted by a description that encompasses 1) a heroine reminiscent of and L. M. Montgomery character, 2) a big family story, 3) a treasure hunt, and 4) A LIGHTHOUSE… well, you might be human but are you actually a happy person? ;) Those elements make me very, very happy as a reader. They really made this story so beautiful and so much fun.
I won't write at length today about each of the lovely elements of Lucy Landry. But I do want to focus on the big family aspect, as that's solidly in my wheelhouse. A lot of big family stories capture the chaos and fun of a family of many siblings. Many get the sibling rivalry spot on, and most portray the firm bond of love between brothers and sisters. Few, in my experience, capture the way that it's not just the good things about us, but also our flaws and failures and annoying little habits that allow us to help each other grow. Family is a school of love and a school of life. Without rubbing up against each other's rough edges, we wouldn't have the chance to smooth out our own. The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry portrays this aspect of big family life more accurately than any story I've ever read. Lucy is a very flawed character. The Martins are, too. They don't get along very well at the onset, and it's not just a misunderstanding they grow out of—it's their flaws, front and center, there for everyone to see. But Lucy and the Martins are also, well, wonderful. They are more virtuous than they are flawed, and those virtues do a lot to ease that work of softening edges. And of course, you can't go wrong when you throw in a good adventure and a treasure hunt!
As I said, The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry is available for pre-order now, and releases this coming March. In the meantime, you can check out Always in the Middle for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations!
I remember writing a review years ago (can't track it down now) in which I said I'd read a grocery list if Kate DiCamillo wrote it. I stand by that sentiment. Kate DiCamillo has the ability to take the most basic, simple of stories and make it captivating.
I bring that up only because it was rather hard to pin down what is so wonderful about Kate's newest book, The Puppets of Spelhorst. The ostensible main characters of this original fairy tale are puppets, therefore they cannot make choices or—in themselves—move the action forward. They move from the hands of one person to another, hardly allowing the reader the pleasure of following any human character just as you start to really care about them. The story is simple. The entire drama unfolds in under 150 small, highly illustrated pages.
And yet… it's no grocery list.
Kate DiCamillo's storytelling is incisive. With simple language and not a single wasted word, she gets to the heart of what it means to be human, what courage looks like, what beauty can do to us, what it means to be part of a story. She masterfully weaves together the simple, passing tales of each of the humans the puppets encounter as the toys look for their own story, and only the reader can really see the deeper story, the deeper roles they play.
To borrow a quote from the book itself, the feeling I had the entire time reading it was, "It's all so beautiful… I wonder what will happen next."
Finally, I can't neglect to mention Julie Morstad's gorgeous illustrations. They complement and enhance the simplicity and beauty of the author's writing perfectly. A complete delight.
So, friends, do you know what you’re doing on March 12 of next year?
Let me tell you.
You’re going to get a package on your doorstep. And you remember, “Oh, yes, today is the day my pre-ordered book comes! Faith Elizabeth Hough loved this one so much I just couldn’t resist the chance to have it the day it comes out.”
You tear open the packaging, and pull it out. The Funeral Ladies of Ellerie County, by Claire Swinarski. It is gorgeous. “Just as beautiful as Faith said it was!” you think. But you’re a smart, experienced reader, so you won’t be swayed by something so superficial as a gorgeous cover. (You’re totally swayed, but your secret is safe with me.)
So you think, “I’ll just read a page or two to see if it’s as good as she said. Then I’ll make a cup of tea and really settle in.”
You open the cover and slip into the world of Ellerie County, Wisconsin, a place where the winters are snowy and cozy and the sumers are spent on the docks and the people come together to help one another through thick and through thin. A place so vivid it’s almost a character in its own right. But the characters! The characters are even better. There’s Esther, who reminds you a bit of your own grandmother, with her steadfast faith and the perfect pies and casseroles she whips up with her “Funeral Lady” friends for each and every funeral at the town’s little Catholic church. There’s Iris, her granddaughter, who is thoroughly modern with her Instagram savvy and her business plans, but who also is happy to fill in for her mom’s hour of Eucharistic Adoration every week. You get excited right along with them when Ivan Welsh, the Food Network celebrity chef, arrives in town for a funeral, along with his sassy teenage daughter and kind but haunted son, Cooper.
At this point you realize you’ve made some good choices in your life, because somehow a cup of tea has appeared in your hand and you don’t even remember how it got there. (You’ll thank them later.) You enjoy each sip, even while wondering what that chai would taste like with a hint more cardamom, or perhaps accompanied by a slice of apple pie. But you can’t dwell on it long, because Esther's kind heart got her in trouble, and Iris has a plan to help, but it’s kinda crazy and she might be falling in love with Cooper, and he’s got issues to deal with and what’s going on with Ivan, anyway, and can Esther’s good heart and perfect pie crust really save the day?
Somewhere mid-description of a gorgeous culinary creation by either a midwest grandmother or a Food Network celebrity, you realize you probably should eat something (and, for some of you, make a meal for those wonderful little humans that have been uncharacteristically self-directed in their play or schooling all day). You prepare the meal with exquisite attention to each detail, because your reading has reminded you that the little details matter and that food is a pretty darn good way to show love.
After your meal, you’re dying to get back to the book—but you pause. Because it’s also made you think a little more carefully about the time you spend with those little humans or other people around you. You muse, “If I take anything away from this book, it’s going to be that we have to be there for one another. We have to love and we have to forgive, but first we just have to show up. With a casserole or a book to read or arms open for a hug.” So you choose the right thing, and you hug your humans, and you just might slip into bed and read under the cover until you turn the very last page.
Sometime around March 13, you order a few extra copies, because The Funeral Ladies of Ellerie County is the perfect choice for your brilliant idea of a three-generational-book club with your grandma and mom and sisters. While you’re on the computer, you think, “I should send a quick note to thank Faith for convincing me to click on that pre-order link back in September. What a difference it made!” But instead you remember what Faith said, and you send a quick email off to the author, Claire Swinarski, thanking her for the time and energy and heart she put into writing such a beautiful book. Because imagine what a bleak March 12 it would have been without the chance to lose yourself in a perfect pie and a midwest town and your new favorite story.
Besides, Faith might be busy re-reading her shiny new copy, if she's not making a pie.
I'm sure I wasn't the only one to do a little happy dance in my mind when I found out there's a new book coming out in September from Kate Albus, author of A Place to Hang the Moon. Any of you fellow happy dancers? Kate's debut novel completely stole my heart and won an honored place on my shelf, so I couldn't wait to see what she'd write next!
Like A Place to Hang the Moon, Kate's second book is set during the Second World War, but Nothing Else But Miracles takes place on the other side of the pond, in Manhattan's Lower East Side. Twelve-year-old Dory Byrne and her brothers Fisher and Pike have to fend for themselves while their young father is fighting overseas. They rely, as their father told them to, on their neighborhood—their community in Manhattan that has always been there for them. But when their friendly landlord suddenly dies, their security is threatened. Luckily the neighborhood steps up in an unexpected way—Dory discovers an old, abandoned hotel, accessed only through a rickety hand-operated elevator, above their friend's restaurant. Hiding away there provides them the secrecy and safety they need when their father goes missing—all the while their neighbors continue to provide them with the love and help they didn't even know they needed.
Did I really have to say more than "old, abandoned hotel" for you to know I'm obsessed about this story? I mean, HOW COOL IS THAT? (And it's based on a real place!) Add it to my list with Bag End, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Boxcar Children's boxcar, of "places books convinced me I want to live."
But beyond the evocative setting, Dory's story has a heart as big as the Big Apple itself. Her struggle to find safety in insecure times, to choose love over resentment, and to cling to hope when all seems lost are what make Nothing Else But Miracles a truly excellent book, and one that you'll want to share with everyone you know.
Nothing Else But Miracles releases September 5—trust me, you want to preorder it now so you can read it as soon as possible. Many thanks to Netgalley and Holiday House for providing me an electronic review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, check out Always in the Middle!
It’s not every day that one of my all-time favorite, overlooked classics of a book is mentioned in a new middle grade novel. When Pandita Paul, the main character of Hope in the Valley, by Mitali Perkins, discusses Maud Hart Lovelace’s Emily of Deep Valley with the elderly man she has befriended at an assisted living facility, my little readerly heart squealed.
But it’s REALLY not every day that a new middle grade novel actually reminds me of one of my all-time favorite, overlooked classics of a book. Throughout Mitali Perkin’s story—from the title on out—little nods to Emily of Deep Valley come out in theme and words and style. Most noticeably, Pandita’s growth into a young woman who is confident enough both to speak her mind and to change her mind (and isn’t that the harder of the two?), echoes Emily’s growth in Lovelace’s novel. Is it a retelling? Not in the least. Will Emily’s fans rejoice to find a modern book full of the same heart and strength and old-fashioned goodness? Absolutely.
Here’s the publisher’s description:
Twelve-year-old Indian-American Pandita Paul doesn't like change. She's not ready to start middle school and leave the comforts of childhood behind. Most of all, Pandita doesn't want to feel like she's leaving her mother, who died a few years ago, behind. After a falling out with her best friend, Pandita is planning to spend most of her summer break reading and writing in her favorite secret the abandoned but majestic mansion across the street.
But then the unthinkable happens. The town announces that the old home will be bulldozed in favor of new―maybe affordable―housing. With her family on opposing sides of the issue, Pandita must find her voice―and the strength to move on―in order to give her community hope.
“Activism” is a charged word right now. Everywhere I look, it seems like someone is picking a fight in the name of “activism” instead of learning to sit down with their neighbor and see their point of view. Sometimes it seems like a very modern idea, but old books from Emily of Deep Valley to Rose in Bloom—not to mention everything Dickens ever wrote—remind us that activism is a necessary part of grappling with the injustice that has existed in the world since the fall of man. Just like those old stories, Hope in the Valley is about a young woman who wants to make the world a little better, who sees a wrong and is compelled to leave her comfort zone in order to right it. But her activism is a far cry from screaming protests and hard-headed insistence. In fact, it’s the time that Pandita spends with people who disagree with her that most influences and informs the way she makes her case. Any of us who have struggled with how to stand up against the evil in the world without adding to it will be inspired by the example she sets for us.
Auntie Mitali, thank you. You’ve written the classic story we need in 2023 and for generations to come.
(Note: I happened to read this during my last week of the Vintage Kidlit Summer reading challenge that Anna Rose Johnson and I are hosting. I didn't realize when I started how perfectly it would fit into the week's theme: A New Book with a Vintage Feel! I'll have a recap of my summer reading very soon, but in the meantime, find this lovely book!)
I remember the first time I cracked open The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—I was ten or so, I think? Like the Pevensy children, I fell right into the world of Narnia and never looked back. I didn’t need to get used to the world or think too hard about justifying the magical system. I just lived and breathed the story. For me, any good fantasy story must have that same element of naturalness. If I can’t fall right into it, it’s probably not the fantasy story for me.
That feeling of naturalness is the first thing that struck me (when I stopped to think about it, which I didn’t right away because the story was so compelling) about Emma C. Fox’s soon-to-be-released The Carver and the Queen. The story follows Petr, an orphaned Russian serf who longs to become a renowned and succesful carver of malachite, and Lena, the housemaid to Petr’s teacher who likewise dreams of better things, particularly things better than the arranged marriage to the town’s cruel bailiff. In the process of chasing his dream and his chance to win his and Lena’s freedom, Petr falls into league with Malachanitsa, a cunning sorceress, queen of the underground malachite kingdom.
The limited magical elements (no keeping track of complicated systems here!) and battles between gain and selflessness, good versus evil—and of course the alluring evil queen—kept up the Narnia vibes throughout the entire story. It also reminded me, in its fantasy/historical setting and lyrical prose, of Shannon Hale’s early works, particularly The Goose Girl and the other Books of Bayern. It would probably appeal most to readers of the same age as those books as well—advanced 11-year-old readers through teens (and adults, as well!).
The Carver and the Queen releases October 3, but you can preorder it now. Many thanks to Owl’s Nest Publishers for the review copy of this book—my delighted opinions are entirely my own.
Good morning, friends! I'm so excited today to welcome Rhonda Ortiz, author of the historical novel In Pieces and its sequel, Adrift, which releases today (8/8)! You guys are going to love reading what Rhonda has to say about her writing and life--I had so much fun with this!
Before we get started, here's a little more about Rhonda:
Rhonda Ortiz is a lay Dominican, award-winning novelist, nonfiction writer, and founding editor emerita of Chrism Press. A native Oregonian, she attended St. John’s College in historic Annapolis, Maryland and now lives in Michigan with her husband and children. Find her online at rhondaortiz.com.
FEH: Welcome, Rhonda! I've read so many books about the American Revolution or about the Napoleonic Wars from French or English perspectives, but In Pieces and Adrift are two of very few I've read set in America during the 1790's. What was it about that time period and location that first sparked a story?
RO: Great question. My first attempt at writing Molly Chase’s story was set in 1770s England with an entirely different cast of characters—not even Josiah Robb was there, if you can believe it. Frankly, that story stank. It had a properly structured plot, but the characters had zero chemistry, and I knew deep down that I was missing something fundamental. The Robb family, back in Boston, hovered on the fringes of my imagination, and as soon as I let them into that story, Molly herself came alive. So that was Step One. Step Two came of researching the time period. Josiah is a sailor, of course, and when I learned that over ten thousand American merchant sailors were pressed into British naval service during the French revolutionary wars, I knew I had my time period.
FEH: You jump into the historical time and place in such an immersive way in your stories, and you particularly brought the relatively obscure worlds of dressmaking, sailing, and early espionage to vivid life. What area of research required the most effort from you? Which did you enjoy the most?
RO: My answer is the same for both questions: everything related to nautical life! The Age of Sail lends itself to romantic visions of men perched upon topgallant masts, the wide sea stretched before them in all directions. But the reality…and the details… I had to learn to sail in my head in order to write Adrift, and what was more, I couldn’t always take the easy way out by writing the sailing scenes from the lubber’s point of view. Writing from Josiah’s viewpoint meant getting both the language and the sailing itself right. Sailing in general has its own jargon, quite thick and difficult to learn, and sailors can be persnickety about its usage. I don’t know what I would have done without my boating beta reader! This said, I’m right proud of myself for having learned as much as I have.
FEH: What was your favorite bit of research that never made it into your story?
RO: Going back to that failed 1770s English-set story: I learned a fair amount about the history of recusant Catholic families in England. Maybe someday I’ll work that up into a story.
FEH: As a Catholic writer, what were the challenges of writing devout, non-Catholic characters?
RO: I’m a convert, so writing Protestant points of view is like speaking my native tongue. The greatest challenge is the translation problem: how does one depict various Protestant ways of thinking and being in a manner that makes sense to Catholic readers and doesn’t repulse them? That evangelical fiction is “preachy” is a common cant, but I suspect the problem is largely cultural. Much—not all—of Protestant Christianity tends to be heavily dialectical in its expression, which is not the case for Catholic and Orthodox Christians. What sounds “preachy” to everyone else is perfectly normal for them.
In the end, I decided the best approach was to show Protestants as they are, as expressed by each individual character, with respect to denominational differences, and keeping in mind both the religious landscape of late eighteenth century Boston and the influence of various Enlightenment philosophies on religion. Josiah and his mother, as Congregationalists, like to discuss and debate; Molly, as an Anglican, lends more toward liturgical and spiritual experience. And so on.
FEH: I've heard romantic stories (including the works of Austen, Montgomery, and Alcott) criticized as setting up unrealistic expectations of what a relationship should look like. I was thinking about those comments as I read your story, which constantly struck me as a realistic view of courtship and marriage, touched with an optimistic joy and hope. (I guess I'm showing my cards here, since I think optimism and realism go hand in hand.) What would your response be to such comments?
RO: As a woman writer, the best way to curb romantic idealism is for me to ask my husband for his feedback. I have to chuckle at the number of times Jared has told me, “A dude wouldn’t do that.” For male writers, the reverse is true. Female archetypes abound—the angel, the mother, the temptress, the femme fatale, Action Girl, etc.—which are also romantic ideals. Archetypes, male or female, are but a starting place; the challenge is to go beyond the archetype by allowing each individual character to act as each he or she would in real life.
I have also found it helpful to frank about male sexuality, which many romances gloss over. I maintain a light touch in terms of its depiction, but I do acknowledge it. The secondary cast of characters have been particularly helpful here, particularly Mark Findley, Josiah’s raffish friend.
Finally, a few rapid-fire questions:
FEH: Who's your favorite Doctor of the Church?
RO: St. Thomas Aquinas!
FEH: What's your favorite pizza topping?
RO: All of them? I’m an equal opportunity pizza eater, and that includes Canadian bacon and pineapple. My New York Italian-Puerto Rican husband thinks pineapple on pizza is an abomination. I suppose he’s allowed to be an expert on these things, but, hey, sweet and savory is a great combo. Right?
FEH: Mountains or shore ?
The Oregon coast is my happy place—and that counts for both mountains AND shore!
FEH: Three authors you admire greatly?
RO: Sigrid Undset, Patrick O’Brian (a recent discovery), and too many contemporary authors to name: Roseanna White, Stephanie Landsem, Jocelyn Green, Eleanor Bourg Nicholson, Karen Ullo, Natalie Morrill… Another favorite book of mine is Catherine Marshall’s Christy. I also love children’s author Elizabeth George Speare. There’s a little bit of Nat Eaton in Josiah Robb, not going to lie.
FEH: Thanks so much, Rhonda! This interview was a lot of fun!
RO: Thank you for allowing me to share about my writing! It was my pleasure!
Remember, everyone, today is Adrift's RELEASE DAY! Join Rhonda Ortiz in celebration of Adrift by entering the GIVEAWAY and joining the Virtual Launch Day party on Instagram; here's the link to her profile over there: @writingrhonda.
Launch Day Post: rhondaortiz.com/blog/adrift-is-here
It's a three-for-the-price of one day here, as you get three weeks of vintage reading recommendations all at once! (To learn more about the Vintage Summer Reading challenge that Anna Rose Johnson and I are hosting, click here.)
First up, for the "Big Family" theme: Canadian Summer, Hilda Van Stockum.
I think I mentioned that I had planned to read one of the All-of-a-Kind Family stories for this category, but I have a bit of a problem in my house where my avid reader children steal my books. It's a good problem to have. Maybe it's one Hilda Van Stockum might have had, as she had six children herself. Those children inspired her many beautiful books, especially her series, The Mitchells, of which Canadian Summer is the second of three books.
Of course, as a mama of a large family, my reading of this series zeroes in a bit on Mrs. Mitchell, the wonderfully realistic and yet wonderfully warm and understanding mother of the crew. I think my goal in life is to be Mrs. Mitchell. She takes the mud and the mess and the quarreling and near-death-escapes of her crew in stride (for the most part—as I said, she's wonderfully realistic and she has her moments of fury and panic!). Her understanding brings out the best in each of her children. She may rail against her family's living situation at the beginning of the story (a cabin in remote Canada! with no electricity! or paved roads! or nearby grocery stores! or railings to keep the baby from plummeting off the porch!) but she quickly resigns herself to the situation and joins her children in making what seems less-than-ideal actually become an opportunity for growth and peace and fun. I dare you to read this and not want to rent a remote Canadian cottage for the summer.
Call my petty, but my favorite scene is when the six children are stuck at home all day during a thunderstorm and get into a raging, screaming, name-calling brawl. It was a good reminder that even delightful fictional families are at their worst when they can't get outside and run around.
For Week 8's theme of Talking Animals, I chose an obscure title by Robert Lawson: Mr. Wilmer. William Wilmer is an accountant at an insurance company who hates his life and his job…until one day he discovers he has the power to talk to animals. What follows throws story-telling rules to the wind. Because pretty much one good thing after another happens until almost the end of the story when a small (but crucial) conflict is cleared up in a single chapter. And yet I was still at the edge of my seat the entire time…because I just wanted to know what the next good thing would be! It's a rags to riches story that would have made a perfect Gary Cooper movie back in the day.
And the illustrations! Robert Lawson was amazing.
In Week 9 we decided to dive into Vintage Picture Books. To coincide with a quick family trip to Boston, I had to choose Robert McCloskey's masterpiece, Make Way for Ducklings. If you haven't read it… it follows Mr and Mrs Mallard and then their eight little ducklings as they look for a place to raise a family, eventually landing upon (literally) the Boston Public Gardens.
It's adorable and timeless.
And because I love discussing these things, here's a little bit of my recent instagram post about this week's reading, in case you're not on that platform… I'd like to know what you think about this topic!
I have a great story about Make Way for Ducklings. When I was doing student teaching for a pre-school class in college, I planned a story time and craft based around this book. The classroom teacher had reservations. "The kids probably won't be into a book so old," she said. "And the illustrations probably won't engage them much, seeing as they're black and white. I mean, you can TRY, but..." The sentence faded away into ominous obscurity.
You guys are my people, so probably none of you are surprised to find out that this group of a dozen three and four year olds absolutely loved this old, black and white (I mean, sepia and white, to be accurate) story. They hung on every word. They played ducklings for the rest of the school year. They told me how the way the mallards had to find a new home made them think of when their parents bought a new house.
I think some people have a tendency to write off old books just because they're old. Surely kids won't like them as much as the ones that are shiny and new, right?
On the other hand, some people tend to write off new books, because they're afraid the shiny newness can't possibly be as good as the old, tried-and-true goodness.
Old books aren't inherently good or bad because they're old. New books aren't inherently good or bad because they're new. You can find goodness, truth, and beauty in both. And you SHOULD.
If we stop reading old books (and checking them out from the library), they'll fade into obscurity and we'll lose that beauty, those good stories and profound lessons. If we stop reading good new books, artists trying desperately to share the stories and art and ideas that God placed on their hearts won't be able to live that mission.
That's why I care so deeply about sharing good books, old AND new, with my children and with all of you.
Hi! I'm Faith. I blog about books and creativity, family and faith. Welcome!