Monday, May 28, 2018

12 Favorite Book Families

 I finished The Penderwicks At Last by Jeanne Birdsall.  Thank you, Ms. Birdsall, for reminding me of endless summer days of pretending and running and spinning and tracking and...all those things we can do when we are not quite teens. 

1.  The Penderwicks are one of my all time favorite Book Families.  The blended family of His; Rosalind, Jane, Skye and Batty; Hers, Ben; and Theirs, Lydia, grows over the five book series.  Neighbors become lifelong friends or banished enemies.  Summers are long and idyllic when not beset with possible runaways, thieves and sibling disagreements of the mild kind. School years are beset with classroom anxieties and friendship struggles.  

2.  The Casson Family (Start with Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay)  - Mom, Dad, Cadmium, Saffron, Indigo and Rose.  This "artistic" family and their neighbors delve into all kinds of problems from finding one's passion to finding one's soul mates.  The adventures start when Saffron suspects that she is actually a cousin, instead of a sister and she sets off to Italy (!!!!???)  with her neighbor and best friend to learn the truth.  Oh, the madness never stops with these four.

3. The Conroy sisters - also by Hilary McKay.  Ruth, Naomi, Rachel and Phoebe appear on the scene when they are shipped off to Big Grandma's for the summer, hence the title of their first book, The Exiles.   Phoebe, the youngest, is intractable and endlessly creative in indicating her displeasure.

4.  The Fitzgerald-Trouts from Look Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts by Esta Spalding. Kim, Kimo, Peppa and Toby are sort of related to each other.  No matter, they live in a car on the beach and every now and then, one or the other of their assorted parents hands over some cash.  The kids look after themselves, cooking, washing their clothes, getting to and from school.  But when the older kids' legs get too long to sleep comfortably in the car, the four head off to find a real home.  There are two books about this crazy family.

5.  The Incorrigibles.  Start with the Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood.  What list of favorite book families is complete without siblings raised by wolves?  Miss Penelope Lumley, barely more than a girl herself, has been hired to teach the three Incorrigibles how to behave like regular children.  They were found in the forests that surround Lord Ashton's estate.  All three children, Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia, are delightfully smart, brave and loyal although their speech is punctuated by howls.  Their governess is beyond reproach and quite a lot of fun.

6. The Applewhites.  Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Tolan.   Jake Semple has one last chance to keep out of Juvie and that's as a foster child at the artists' colony/school run by the Applewhite family.  Every single Applewhite, - parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, the lot - has some kind of artistic genius - except for E.D.  Their talents make them absolutely worthless in the real world.  So it is up to E. D., who has a special genius of her own, and Jake, who fits in better than he likes, to keep the "school" afloat.

7. The Stanleys.  (The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder).  David and his three siblings welcome Amanda, their new stepsister, into the family in this first book of four.  Amanda studies witchcraft and beguiles them all.  Then ghostly things begin to happen in their new house, where a ghost decapitated the wooden cupid at the foot of the banister.

We can't forget THESE families, either...

8.  The Blossoms by Betsy Byars. (Not-Just-Anybody Family). Pap is supposed to be watching his grandkids while their mother is traveling with the rodeo. But how was he to know that Junior would try to fly off the barn roof?  Then, HE gets picked up for littering when the tailgate of his truck comes loose.  And Maggie can't get in touch with her mother.  Sounds sad?  It's a hoot.  All the Blossom family books are.

9. The Moffats by Eleanor Estes, Mrs. Moffat has her hands full trying to keep a roof over the heads of her brood.  But they all help whenever they can, keeping an eye out for each other, doing odd jobs, learning to read and write, creating museums and other great stuff.

10. or the Melendy family by Elizabeth Enright. While their widowed father works in the city during the week, the Melendy children are left home with the gardener and loving housekeeper to explore the countryside, rescue an abused neighbor who becomes their brother, travel into the  city on the weekends and create games and codes and mysteries.

11. or the five children or Five Children and It by E. Nesbit.   I enjoy them best because of the sand fairy and the adventures he/she sends them on.  Still without these five siblings we'd never have this classic fantasy.  (Alas, I don't know their names.  I did once.  But I've forgotten.)

12. OR - and here I am showing my age - the Pepper family of Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney.  Totally old-fashioned, earnest and full of "family values", these fatherless children manage to help their struggling mother keep body and soul together while having plenty of "scrapes" and "adventures". 

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Murderer's Ape - Five things to like.

Now, that's some title! The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius.

When Captain Henry Koskela is unjustly accused of murder, only his ship's engineer, the gorilla Sally Jones, believes that he is innocent.  She saw the whole thing!  She saw the man pull a gun on Henry.  She saw Henry chase the man down the pier.  She saw the man slip and fall into the water.  It was an accident.

But, she can't tell anyone.  Gorillas can not talk.  And the police search for her, as well, in order to put her in a zoo.

Sally Jones finds a friend in Ana, and a job with Ana's landlord, who builds and repairs musical instruments.  As the Chief, as Sally Jones refers to Henry in this account, sits in jail, Sally Jones tries to find proof of his innocence.

Here are five things I like about this book:

1. Accordions - mostly button variety, but there is one fabulous piano accordion in this book. 

2.  The settings:  Lisbon, Portugal is where a lot of the action takes place.  A Maharajah's palace in India also sees a lot of action. Let's not forget the ship that takes Sally Jones from Lisbon to India. Although dates are not mentioned, the time period seems to be in the 1910s or 1920s, not long after the end of the Portuguese monarchy.

3. The music.  I could almost hear Ana sing a fado - a melancholy Portuguese singing style.  Listen to a famous fado singer here.  Listen to the guitars and Amalia Rodrigues' voice.

4.  Sally Jones.  She is not a human in a gorilla's body.  Her thought processes seem to be different, more meticulous, perhaps.  That makes her an excellent ship's engineer.  Her heightened senses and her attention to detail save her more than once.

5.  The intrigue:  Why did the young man hire Koskela and Sally Jones to pick up four crates of "tiles"?  Who was the laughing man known as Papa Monforte?  How are the police involved?  Will the Chief ever be freed? 

I do have questions.  What happened to Ana's secret admirer?  What is next for  Sally Jones?  Will she head back to sea? Could we have another adventure, please?  

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Storyteller? Teller? Oral Interpreter? Wordflinger?

If you search for the term "storyteller" online, you get posts about writing, music, and videos for little children.  You might get info on nationally famous tellers, such as Jay O'Callahan or Elizabeth Ellis or Donald Davis.  But a large percentage, (I'd estimate 80%), of the listings are for song and story writers.
How's this for a costumed children's performer?
The videos of lesser known storytellers telling to young children are charming, but they sometimes fall into the category of "cute video of Pirate Fred goofing around in front of the first grade".  (I suspect that videos of my classroom presentations would fall into that category as well.)

Professional storytellers, those who work hard every day to learn the best way to present stories to adults and to children, struggle with how to identify what they do.  The confusion between storytelling and story time is maddening.  Tellers find that what they do is equated with "reading aloud from books", rather than tailoring a story to their audience.  When audiences read or hear the word storytelling, they envision a motherly woman holding an open book in front of a group of preschoolers.

What should we call ourselves?  Tellers?  Are we tattling on our peers, or folklore characters?  (And when did folklore turn into "stories for children"?)
Oral Interpreters?  What does that even mean?  "Listen as I interpret the words of Homer." (from the original Greek, perhaps)? Story artists?  I see visions of someone quickly painting a "story" on a canvas.

Wordsmith means the same thing as poet or writer.  Wordsinger -  'nuff said. Aha!  Wordslinger!  I see impassioned spectacled poets declaiming during a Slam.  Wordwinger!  Word bringer!  Word clinger!  Word springer!  Ooh, I like that one! Word stingers - no, that's poets again.

OK, let's forget the word "word".  Are we tale tellers?  How is that different from storytellers?  Story performers?  One Person Shows?  Folklorists? Liars?  That one is used from time to time for Tall Tale festivals.

Eventually, we go back to storytellers, where we are lumped with preschool story readers and costumed children's entertainers.   Some of us use our years of experience, and the countless workshops and courses we've taken, to call ourselves Master Tellers.   If that title was reserved for people who had a certain amount of experience, or who had finished more than X number of workshops, it would carry more weight.

Until there is some kind of criteria levied on the title of Storyteller, every "life of the party" can hang the moniker of storyteller behind her name.  Those of us who work to present the very best stories that we can find will struggle to find a worthy title for what we do.

Oracle?  Hmmmm... oral historian?  He who talks out loud without ceasing?  Myth weaver?  Mythologist??  Wait, what about.... Word swinger??  Nice.

Friday, May 11, 2018


I've been "resting".  Isn't that what actors say when they have periods of downtime, planned or not?  And it's true.  I got new lenses.  They make it harder for me to read comfortably.  By the time, I remember that I have reading glasses by my bed, my eyes are so tired that I nod off, ten minutes into any stories.

So, I HAVE been resting - my eyes, that is.

A recent ad for the second book in the Longburrow series, The Gift of Dark Hollow, by Kieran Larwood, reminded me so much of Redwall that I stopped resting to tell you about it. (By the way, that ad allows you to request a galley of the new book.)

I actually read Podkin One-Ear, the first book in this series and it was pretty darn good.  It had quests and danger and good-vs-evil and clever rodents and disguises.  There was food - but not exactly Redwall worthy food - is there any series that reveled in food like Redwall? - and singing or, at least, cryptic rhymes.  But the battle against evil-spewing iron overrode all else.  Podkin One-Ear has the advantage(?) - or disadvantage - of being at least 100 pages shorter than a standard Redwall entry.

So, fellow Booklings, if on long evenings you have wished for a series like Redwall, where intrepid animals fight the followers of evil to bring peace to their woods and meadows, where swords and trickery combine in heart-racing battles, your wish may well have been answered.