Welcome to Edition 1 of 12 in my Vintage Kidlit Summer Reading reviews! (You can learn more about this summer reading challenge that Anna Rose Johnson and I are hosting in this post.) This week's theme is Summer Vibes—it was NOT easy to choose just one vintage book for this theme (and I may have cheated—overachieved?--a little by reading other summer stories with my kids. But today I'm spotlighting my official read and new discovery: Seacrow Island, by Astrid Lindgren of Pippi Longstocking fame.
Don't get me wrong: I enjoy Pippi very much. But I can't understand how so much of Astrid Lindgren's reputation seems to rest on that one character. If you haven't read Ronja, the Robber's Daughter or The Children of Noisy Village, for example, you're missing out on much of Lindgren's humorous and emotional depth and breadth. Seacrow Island took me in a very different direction, but no less delightful, as it's a story that was contemporary when Lindgren wrote it, and solidly in the realm of realism. The mention of blue jeans and polo-neck sweaters and motor boats made me forget temporarily that I was in a Lindgren novel—until the humor hit. And Seacrow Island really is one of the funniest realistic fiction stories I've ever read.
Some of that humor is situational, but for the most part, it's all about the people. Much like Jane Austen or L. M. Montgomery, Astrid Lindgren has the ability to write characters that make you laugh out loud while still being essentially human and deeply real. We laugh at them, but we never mock them—perhaps because we see in them a bit of ourselves or of someone we love.
Seacrow Island is inhabited by a cast of intensely lovable and mostly humorous human beings—with a few animals thrown in for good measure (I have never had such a warm feeling toward wasps as I did when reading this!). At the center of the action is the Melkerson family: Melker, the dreamy and ever-so-slightly pompous-in-a-lovable-way writer; Malin, Melker's oldest daughter, who at nineteen is the mother figure for her motherless brothers and the irresistible love interest for any nearby young men; Niklas and Johan, the 11- and 12-year-old adventuresome and trouble-making brothers; and Pelle, the 7-year-old, tenderhearted baby of the family. When the Melkersons rent a tumbledown house on Seacrow Island for the summer, the children are quickly befriended by the locals, particularly Tjorven, the six-year-old "queen of the island," who has the entire population wrapped around her chubby and charming finger.
There is little intense drama in the story, and yet I found myself unable to put it down. The everyday drama of forming friendships and falling in love and fearing change and wanting a pet—all these familiar situations were so adeptly crafted that they held my attention with the magnetism of a thriller. Besides the characters, Seacrow Island itself was such a well-drawn and delightful setting, I wanted to book a plane to Sweden before I'd turned the last page.
Thank you so much, Anna Rose, for recommending this book!
Now, friends, what have you been reading? If you've joined in the Vintage Kidlit Summer, please share! I'd love to read your own book recommendations; if you've highlighted one for this week's theme, please leave a link in the comments—or use the comments section to share a one or two sentence spotlight here. :)
As a treat for my kindred spirits, I'll be giving away a paperback copy of one of my vintage favorites. Just leave a comment here about what you've read, or share on instagram with the hashtag #vintagekidlit summer (and, if possible, tag me and Anna Rose in your post @faithhough42 and @annarosewriter). I'll choose a winner on Wednesday 6/7, and can mail a copy within the United States. Good luck!
Two O'Clock in the Morning Courage
"As to moral courage, I have very rarely met with the two o'clock in the morning kind. I mean unprepared courage, that which is necessary on an unexpected occasion, and which, in spite of the most unforeseen events, leaves full freedom of judgement and decision."
Ah, two o'clock in the morning. We're old friends now. When I was young, and my first baby was born, I delighted in her midnight murmurings which meant I could wake up and stare at the astounding perfection of her features. A few years into mothering, with a backlog of missed sleep, it did indeed require a certain moral courage.
Luckily, by that point, I lived directly across the street from a Dominican monastery, where women of all ages awoke to pray throughout the night, without the alluring reward of baby snuggles. They were summoned by a bell and I by a baby's cry, but it was comforting to unite my own drowsy prayers with theirs on the mornings when my eyes simply didn't want to open. "O God, come to my assistance," I would pray (and still do), "Lord, make haste to help me."
In subsequent years, I've come to have a true appreciation for these early mornings of nursing and wakefulness. I wish I could say I always open my eyes with joy and alacrity every time… I don't. I'm middle aged now, and energy is in short supply. But once I do rustle up some motivation, I genuinely enjoy being awake while the rest of the household sleeps. I am glad for the time to speak and listen quietly with God. When I finish prayer, I enjoy reaching for a book (or my kindle, thanks to its backlit screen) and diving into stories while the baby nurses. It's another kind of two o'clock courage, I suppose, to open a book instead of scroll on a phone.
A few weeks ago, a friend asked my favorite question: "Do you have any books to recommend?" She needed some reading recommendations for her own two a.m. nursing sessions, and I was most happy to oblige. Since then, I've put some extra thought into this question… What makes for the best early morning reading during the early months of motherhood? Not just any book will suffice. It needs to be engaging, certainly, but also not require too much deep thinking. (I love a good, philosophical treatise…but not at two a.m.) For me, it can't deal with any terribly stressing topics--no child abductions or violent, traumatic deaths on this list. At that time of day, I tend to prefer character-centric works over plot-centric ones (although there are exceptions), but the pacing needs to skip along just as well as if it were a thriller.
Without further ado, then, my list of Best Books for Two O'Clock Nursing Sessions—or anytime you need some good, lighthearted, and brilliant stories in your life.
The Blue Castle is L. M. Montgomery's only "adult" novel—its main character is twenty-nine and there a couple more mature themes than her other books. It's funny and clever and heartwarming, and one of my two favorite books ever.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Excellent historical fiction that will definitely make you want to plan a trip to Guernsey.
While you're daydreaming about Guernsey… Green Dolphin Street, by Elizabeth Goudge, brings the nineteenth century version of the island to life in a thought-provoking and challenging book about the sisters and the power of the presence of God and the decision to love.
Daddy-Long-Legs, by Jean Webster, may technically be categorized as a children's or YA book, but its sweet romance, low stress, and epistolary style makes it a go-to recommendation for me to give anyone at all.
And if you love Daddy-Long-Legs, you should definitely give Katherine Ray's Dear Mr. Knightley a read! Her books (that I've read so far) are all delightful, with at least a touch of literary influence for you book nerds like me.
A recent (and wonderful) discovery for me was the writing of D. E. Stevenson. Her Miss Buncle's Book trilogy is lighthearted and hilarious, while still being very intelligent. I found the whole series, but the third book in general, full of sound advice for a good marriage. Bonus!
Maybe it's living in New England, but I will always love a good Revolutionary War story, and In Pieces, by Rhonda Ortiz fits that bill to a T. Romance, intrigue, beautiful dresses (the main character is a seamstress, and the descriptions are rich and historically accurate), philosophy, faith… This book has it all.
A Countess Below Stairs, by Eva Ibbotson is the perfect lighthearted read for those of you who binged Downton Abbey.
I love every word I've ever read by P. G. Wodehouse, but Lord Emsworth and Others is my favorite nighttime reading collection of his stories. I consider "A Crime Wave at Blandings" to be a perfect short story.
There are moments in my nights when my prayers are less like peaceful meditations and more like anxious raging. In those moments, I find the stories of The Little World of Don Camillo, by Giovanni Guareschi, particularly comforting. Even better than their steady humor is the beautiful relationship between God and the character Don Camillo portrayed in these stories. God is tender and patient and ready with a witty answer when needed. Don Camillo is imperfect but sincere. It's so good.
Are there any books you'd add to this list? What gets you through wakeful seasons of life with peace and poise—or at least general sanity?
All right, friends, get your pre-order buttons ready. Today I’m reviewing a soon-to-be-released middle grade book which jumped right onto my “Top 10” and “Better at least get a Newbery Honor” lists.
Here’s what the publisher had to say about Jacqueline Kelly’s The International House of Dereliction:
In this not-so-scary ghost story from Jacqueline Davies, bestselling author of the Lemonade War series, quirky, tool-wielding Alice Cannoli-Potchnik begins to repair the dilapidated mansion next door—only to discover the old house is home to ghosts, and they need mending, too!
Home is where the heart is. But can a house have a heart of its own.
Ten-year-old Alice is moving for the eleventh time.
She’s lived in so many houses, each more broken than the last, that home to Alice is nothing more than a place you fix and then a place you leave. After all, who needs a permanent home when you’re a whiz at fixing things
But when Alice arrives at her new home, she can’t take her eyes off the house next door, the stately dark house that hulked in the dimming light. The once-grand mansion, now dilapidated and condemned, beckons Alice; it's the perfect new repair job!
As Alice begins to restore the House to its former splendor, she senses strange presences. Is there a heartbeat coming from the House’s walls? Is someone looking at her? Soon she realizes she’s not alone. Three ghosts have been watching, and they need Alice’s help to solve their unfinished business.
Will Alice be able to unravel the mysteries of the House and find her forever home ... before it’s too late.
Quirky is the right word! I loved Alice and her eccentric Cannoli-Potchnik family. I loved the lighthearted touch with the ghosts. I love the crazy, old house, and the interesting neighbors. It’s all very eccentric and quirky and lighthearted—and yet. The International House of Dereliction is somehow the most believable portrayal of homeschooling I’ve recently come across in a work of fiction. Alice’s education is clearly well-rounded, but she has immense amounts of freedom to pursue her passions. She repairs the International House by herself, and quite capably—and if this sounds unbelievable to you, I invite you to meet some ten-year-old homeschoolers. Admittedly, I only know a couple who’d be capable of home repair (I do have a few nephews who probably could have accomplished this when they were ten), but I know many who have achieved incredible levels of proficiency at the things they are passionate about.
I’m not saying all homeschoolers are like this. Guess what? There’s some totally average and completely below average homeschoolers, too—just like students you’d find in school. But what makes me excited is to finally see this side of homeschooling represented in a work of fiction. It feels like for many years we’ve been bombarded in fiction with the idea that homeschoolers need to be saved from their social ineptitude by a timely entrance into public school. Are there socially inept homeschoolers? Sure. Are they the majority? Let’s just say I know more homeschoolers who can capably put up drywall at age ten than homeschoolers who are socially inept.
I won’t devote all my review to the positive homeschooling rep, much as I could. But Jacqueline Davies deserves mention of her spectacular characterization, her deftly-handled descriptions, and her perfectly-timed and developed humor. I will never use this comparison lightly: at moments, the humor reminded me of P. G. Wodehouse. And I really can’t give any higher praise.
The International House of Dereliction releases in July, but is available for pre-order now. Be sure to add it to your TBR lists!
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, check out Greg's blog at Always in the Middle!
As a mother of eight, it has been hard at times to know what to prioritize for my children. The older I get, the more I see the evidence that St. Paul was right: whatever is true… whatever is honorable… whatever is pure… whatever is lovely… think on these things. Instead of focusing on the evil and injustice in the world, we look closely at the good and the fair fighting against it. Instead of simply deploring ugliness, we look deeply at beauty.
Keeping that in mind, there's little better to share with my children than stories of the saints: real-life heroes, pointing with their vastly different lives to goodness and truth and beauty. I'm so excited for the recent renaissance of excellent saint stories and picture books for children, and Light of the Saints, by Cory Heimann, illustrated by Tricia Dugat, is a perfect example. No dry and yawn-inducing text here, but lively stories with interactive illustrations that bring them even more to life.
In some ways, you really need to experience this book for yourself to truly appreciate it, but the concept itself sells it: on every other page, a "hidden" illustration appears when you shine a flashlight through the other side. I love this for the sheer creativity, but even more so because it works so appropriately for a book of saint stories, to show that God's activity in their lives is often secret and hidden until it shines gloriously through.
I was kindly sent a copy of this book by the publisher to review (it's the first book from Word on Fire's new children's imprint, Spark!), but as it happened, I already had a copy of my own—so I'd love to pass it on to one of you to share with your children! To enter, just leave a comment telling me who your favorite saint is. I'll choose a random winner next Thursday. (I can ship only to the U.S., but you international readers are welcome to share your favorite saints with us anyway—just let me know you're not officially entering!)
A Vintage Kidlit Summer!
I have such an exciting announcement today, about three of my favorite things: books, community, and good, old-fashioned life. My friend Anna Rose Johnson and I are co-hosting a Vintage Kidlit Summer! We each plan to read twelve vintage books over the course of the summer (from May 27 through August 12), and to share about them each week on our blogs and Instagram. Want to join us?
Each week has its own category—I'm pretty excited about "Moody and Mysterious" and "Big Family Stories," personally. We even threw in a week for picture books, in case the idea of reading twelve novels this summer seemed unattainable for those with busy lives. All you have to do to take part is to choose a book from the week's category to read, then share it with the rest of us—anything from full blog posts to comments on our blogs to Instagram posts or stories (you can use the hashtag #vintagekidlitsummer over there) is perfect. One of my favorite parts of reading is the way it can bring people together, and I'm hoping this summer challenge can build up a community here—as Anne Shirley would say: "the race that knows Joseph."
You're free to choose your own favorites, of course, but in the next couple weeks, Anna Rose and I will be rolling out a fun list of our recommendations for each category, so maybe you'll discover something new to you. We're also planning giveaways for participants throughout the summer, so this could be a great chance to build up your vintage book collections!
And reading challenge or no, be sure to check out Anna Rose's blog—I absolutely love her dives into vintage literature and her family history/background posts about her lovely middle grade novel, The Star that Always Stays (which would make a great choice for that last category!).
Are you in? Let me know some of your favorite vintage books in the comments!
Happy Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, everyone! I had planned to write a review of the first book in The Wingfeather Saga, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, for you all today. But it seemed a bit redundant for me to review it when the series' biggest fan lives in the next bedroom over from mine. So please welcome back my fifteen-year-old daughter, Lucy, to introduce you to her newest obsession.
When people ask me about The Wingfeather Saga, I usually say something along the lines of ‘The Wingfeather Saga is a four book series by singer and songwriter Andrew Peterson. It focuses on Janner Igiby, a bookish twelve-year-old boy who lives in the world of Aerwiar. Nine years before, the vicious Fangs of Dang, a race of snakey, lizardy beings, took over most of Aerwiar, from the beautiful Shining Isle of Anneira, to the entire continent of Scree, which is where the Igiby family lives, in the town of Glipwood. But, despite living under the scaly thumb of the Fangs (and through them, a darker, nameless evil, named Gnag the Nameless), Janner, along with his brother, Tink, and his sister, Leeli, live fairly happy lives… as long as they don’t have any weapons (including garden tools), or stay out after dark, or complain too loudly about the smelly Fangs.’ At that point, I pant heavily.
Assuming that you are one of those listeners who is begging me to continue, I will take a deep breath, and go on. 'As revealed secrets and increasing danger take the Igibys across Scree and beyond, they each must learn to trust each other— and themselves. With delightfully funny companions, such as Peet the Sock Man and the bookseller Oskar N. Reteep, and with the love and support of their mother, Nia, and their grandfather, Podo (a retired pirate!), can the Igibys resist the Fangs' attempts to steal the mysterious lost Jewels of Anneira and avoid the many dangerous creatures in Aerwiar?'*
*such as Quill Diggles (spiky!), Horned Hounds (sharp teeth!), and Toothy Cows (also have sharp teeth! Beware!)
The Wingfeather Saga has rocketed to one of the top five spots in my ‘favorite book series list,’ and I’m fairly certain it’s going to stay there for a while, if not for life. It’s a wonderful series for children (and adults) who love The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter. I love the humor, and I love the world building. I’d recommend this series to anyone who has started to read novels (or listen to them! There are audiobooks!). All my younger siblings, down to my seven-year-old brother, have been going through the series, and loving it! We also have been loving the new animated series of Wingfeather from Angel studios. Oh, and the soundtrack! And the poems! And the companion books!
‘Beware the Toothy Cow!’
Feel free to leave a comment with any questions, and I'll tell you more! It was hard to narrow it down to just this much. :)
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews, check out Always in the Middle!
Review: You Are Loved gift set
Happy [it's still] Easter! I have a lovely product to recommend to you all today: The You Are Loved gift set from Warner Press. I was sent a copy to review, but am more than happy to spread the word about this lovely set, which includes a reflection journal and a stack of cards comprised of an affirmation on one side and a corresponding scripture passage on the reverse.
Look how beautiful these cards are! Honestly, they came at just the right time—not that there's a bad time to be reminded of God's love!—because the last week of Lent was full of challenges and necessitated continual reminders of truth.
I often tell my kids (taking a hint from Gary D. Schmidt's Pay Attention, Carter Jones), "Remember who you are…and remember whose you are." Scripture is full, of course, of God's words of love to us: that we are beautiful in his sight, that we are never alone, that we are loved, that we are His. These cards are perfect for moments when we need to remind ourselves or those in our lives of these ever-new truths.
I tucked a card into each of my children's Easter baskets this year, hand-selected for whichever reminder I thought they most needed right now. They'd be perfect to slip into a birthday card or package or lunch box, one at a time, but with the journal they make a lovely gift set that would be ideal for Mother's Day or even a Bridal or Baby shower gift.
For me, the cards are the heart of this gift set, and the journal is a cherry on top. My only complaint, if you will, is that I'd have preferred a smaller journal size (I'm pretty picky about this, though). It was a standard 8.5 x 11, but a half size journal always feels less intimidating to me.
For the months of April and May, you can purchase this collection for 30% off using the code BLOG30; check it out at this link:
By popular demand! Mainly the demand of my own children. :) Today I'm reviewing the new graphic novel by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle See Nutter, Squished. Because it's about a large family (not a blended family, but several siblings with the same parents), of course I had to read this as soon as I could! I read with some trepidation, as the description (below) sounded somewhat negative about big family life, but overall I loved this!
From the publisher:
Eleven-year-old Avery Lee loves living in Hickory Valley, Maryland. She loves her neighborhood, school, and the end-of-summer fair she always goes to with her two best friends. But she's tired of feeling squished by her six siblings! They're noisy and chaotic and the younger kids love her a little too much. All Avery wants is her own room -- her own space to be alone and make art. So she's furious when Theo, her grumpy older brother, gets his own room instead, and her wild baby brother, Max, moves into the room she already shares with her clinging sister Pearl! Avery hatches a plan to finally get her own room, all while trying to get Max to sleep at night, navigating changes in her friendships, and working on an art entry for the fair. And when Avery finds out that her family might move across the country, things get even more complicated.
Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter have once again teamed up to tell a funny, heartfelt, and charming story of family, friendship, and growing up.
While Squished didn't shy away from some of the hard parts of big family life, it did an excellent job of showing how much joy and love and growth and companionship can be squished into life right alongside the squabbling and jealousy and bedroom sharing.
My three oldest kids all read this as well, and I was surprised that they didn't like it as much as I did. My 11-year-old wondered why Avery cared so much about having her own room (she, perhaps, related more to Avery's younger sister who always wanted someone else around). My teens thought it strange that Avery's friends would tease her about her family size. I realized that my children, with their support system comprised of so many other big families, don't think of us as anything strange. Their homeschooled peers don't fall into teasing about family the way school children can be more likely to. This is all a bit different from my own childhood, where my family of five children was often looked at askance. The themes of moving away and starting a new life in a new state also felt (sometimes painfully!) familiar. So I suppose it makes sense that we'd feel differently about this story, with so many different parallels to our own lives. And even where we disagreed, we absolutely loved talking about it!
Bottom line: we all recommend this graphic novel, whether for large families looking to see themselves in a story, or those curious what big family life might look like. My favorite part was seeing the way all the children worked as a team to take care of the most important thing in their life: their family. The Lees were loving, supportive, creative, and just very normal, and I really appreciated seeing that!
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, check out Always in the Middle!
I'm not sure what happened from 2020-2023 (is anyone?), but clearly my head wasn't screwed on straight, because I missed that my favorite living British author had not one, but two new books released. The advantage of this was that suddenly, just when I needed a pick-me-up, I had an amazing book to read, all at the ready! If you've been following the saga of The Hough Children Get Sick Once Again, you'll know just how valuable that pick-me-up was... After all, there's nothing like a new book to help you feel better about cancelling all plans for two weeks while your children catch and recover from a stomach bug.
Frank Cottrell-Boyce is my favorite living British author for good reason. His books are all laugh out loud funny, true. And they're paced to perfection, yes. But what really stands out is the juxtaposition of humor and gut-wrenching pathos. The pathos is all the more effective because of the humor it's sandwiched between...which means I can rarely get through a Cottrell-Boyce novel with a dry eye. Certain ones (Millions and Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth) leave me absolutely bawling. And it's no mere writer's trick. It's the deep truths about human nature that he tucks into rollicking adventures like treasures for you to find.
Speaking of treasures... Noah's Gold. :) Here's the publisher's description:
Being the smallest doesn't stop you having the biggest ideas.
Eleven-year old Noah sneaks along on his big sister's geography field trip. Everything goes wrong! Six kids are marooned on an uninhabited island. Their teacher has vanished. They're hungry. Their phones don't work and Noah has broken the internet. There's no way of contacting home . . . Disaster!
Until Noah discovers a treasure map and the gang goes in search of gold.
I love a good kids-on-an-island story. What made this stand apart (besides the aforementioned humor and pathos), is the recurring question of what role our phones and technology should play in our lives. It's never answered for you, and even the characters likely have mixed feelings. But the question is there for you to ponder and consider on your own.
Have any of you read this one yet? I'd love to hear your thoughts...and then I need to go get my hands on Cottrell-Boyce's other book (Runaway Robot) that I missed...!
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, check out Always in the Middle!
The obvious question to start out with here is, How on earth is everything Gary D. Schmidt writes so good? I realize I’m basically a Schmidt fan girl at this point, and will jump to read anything he writes with an alacrity lacking in most areas of my life. You could either take that as a warning: maybe I’m a little biased here—or as an endorsement: you, too, should become obsessed with any writing that is this good. Let’s go with the latter.
Hercules Beal is starting out a new school year, at a new school, with a new teacher (Lieutenant Colonel Hupfer, who is just as strict as that sounds). His parents recently died in a car crash, and he and his adult brother are trying to manage to keep up the old family business of the Beal Brothers Nursery and Garden Center in Truro, Massachusetts, the most beautiful place on earth, according to Hercules. As you can imagine, that’s plenty difficult—so when Lieutenant Colonel Hupfer assigns him a project to study and re-enact the labors of Hercules in his actual life, it’s, well, a Herculean task that will require all his ingenuity, friendship, and heart to achieve.
If you’re thinking that the structure of this story is gimmicky—eh, it is. But I DON’T CARE. Because it WORKS. I’ve come to think that the magic element to the really great writing in the world is that its authors know when to follow rules and when to break them. Gary D. Schmidt breaks a few with abandon in his newest book, but does so with confidence and aplomb. The result is a book that is a pleasure to fall into, because you know you are in the hands of a master.
Like most of Schmidt’s books, this is chock full of interesting characters, particularly Hercules’s teachers and neighbors in Truro, and his brother’s girlfriend, Viola, who “is obviously a vampire.” Again, like much of this author’s work, The Labors of Hercules Beal could be given out as a handbook for how to become a good human being. It’s going right to the top of my “Books My Son Must Read Before Becoming a Man” shelf (next to Pay Attention, Carter Jones, incidentally).
This gem comes out May 23, so go ahead and pre-order it now.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with an electronic copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All gushing opinions are my own.
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, visit Always in the Middle!
Hi! I'm Faith. I blog about books and creativity, family and faith. Welcome!