Tuesday, October 7, 2008

From Head to Toe

Eric Carle is a household name in most homes with young children. His art captivates children, and many of his books are simple enough for the youngest child to enjoy while also introducing early academic concepts (time, color, shape, animals, letters, numbers, etc.). Our current favorite is From Head to Toe. Published in 1997, it's had a solid decade on the market, but for some reason I was unfamiliar with it. It should be put right up there with The Very Hungry Caterpillar!

In FHtoT, children mimic different movements of animals (penguins turn their heads, gorillas thump their chests, cats arch their backs, and so forth). After every movement, the child on the page (and, presumably, the child hearing the story) says, "I can do it!" This invites so much participation from children! It's a book to read when you have time and energy to be active, not a bedtime book. It captivates young children, gets them directly involved in the book, and is a lot of fun to share. I think the bigger book version is better (as opposed to a board book) because the pictures seem to do well in a bigger format. Check it out from your local library at your next visit!

For other Eric Carle books, click here. For activities that relate to FHtoT, click here.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A new reviewer...welcome, Melody!

Melody is an avid and thoughtful reader on many subjects...she is a true friend of librarians (which is how we became roommates before we happily found more permanent arrangements in blissful matrimony to our sweethearts). I have been trying to persuade her to contribute her insights to LiterariTea, and so here is one of her submissions:

The Mother-Daughter Book Club: How Ten Busy Mothers and Daughters Came Together to Talk, Laugh, and Learn Through Their Love of Reading by Shireen Dodson

This club started with a mother’s worries about the growing lack of communication with her 10 year old daughter. Since both mother and daughter loved to read, the mother broached the idea of starting a book club with the daughter’s friends and their mothers. They met once a month on Sunday afternoons and discussed a book that they had all read. The biggest benefit of the club mentioned again and again was the improved communication with the pre-teen. The book discussions allowed the girls to talk about someone else’s problems and family, thereby discussing issues without talking about “me and you.” Moms were able to say things that would have seemed like preaching had it just been the one mom and her daughter. Another side benefit of the club was moms and daughters brought together for a purpose other than school, homework, and chores. The Mother-Daughter Book Club instructs readers how to start their own club, how to run it, gives book suggestions, and activity suggestions etc. I also loved the book recommendations in the margins scattered through-out the book.

The conclusion of the matter

(at least for now...)

Since you have all been so patiently waiting, diligently evaluating, weeding and sorting all your books, here is how to display, acquire and safely lend books.

Shelf labeling

Now that you have organized your books, give them the dignity of shelf labels. You can purchase very nice products at Demco or Highsmith, or you might fashion your own with cardstock, either hand-written on cardstock or printed in appropriate font. Whatever you do, make sure you can adjust the positioning of the label on the shelf as necessary.

Self-interview questions when considering a book purchase (yes, even if the book only costs $0.10 at a library booksale) (Questions 1-8 were taken from The Bloomsbury Review; I will personally be asking #9 for the rest of my life. Thankfully, my Darling doesn’t usually ask.)

1. Do I need this book? This book, right now?
2. Is this the best book on the subject?
3. Will it make me a better person, a happier person?
4. Can I find it in a library?
5. Do I already have a copy of this book? Is this copy better?
6. Do I have room for this book?
7. Do I have money to take care of this book? (i.e., shelf space)
8. Is this a great book?
9. Can I justify this purchase to my husband?

A few places where I like to get books:
(A very cruel thing to do to people who already have more books than they need)

www.abe.com of course
If it's in print, and I have to have it, and someone kindly gives me a gift certificate for Christmas... This is also a good place to find reviews, both peer and professional, if you don’t subscribe to Horn Book or School Library Journal.

Givens Books in Lynchburg, VA.
I’m all in favor of supporting local independent bookstores. They will gladly place special orders for you, make recommendations, etc. If you're looking for character, try local independents.

Borders/Barnes and Noble.
I admit, I like looking at their bargain books, but I am getting much more picky these days. You should never feel obligated to buy a classic just because it has a bargain sticker on it. Make sure it is of unique benefit to you.

Where to find out about new books:
- Ask your librarian! (Do Like a Duck Does or Kitten Red, Yellow, Blue might be currently checked out)
- Scan the new books shelf at your local library
- If you want reviews, read Horn Book or SLJ (ask a librarian if they have copies you can scan). You can also check Amazon.com
- Many magazines have lists of “great new books” and authors you should become familiar with. (Ignore 99/9% of the celebrity titles they promote. I’m rarely impressed with them.)
- The New York Times Parent’s Guide to the Best Books for Children
- Check your library catalog homepage for links to the Boston-Globe Horn Book awards, along with many others. Don't limit yourself to the Newbery and Caldecott prestige.

Lending out your books
You’re a homeschooler. You have just finished a unit on the Middle Ages, and have an enviable collection that you have gathered from library booksales, discount bookstores, and even chosen from catalogs. Now a family that you have known for years wants to cover the same material. You see them every month at support group meetings and field trips. Safe, right?

You’ve just read a great book that has inspired you deeply. Insisting to your friend that she’ll love it as much as you did and it will revolutionize the way she cleans house, loves her husband, raises her kids, flips pancakes and sees the world, you lend it to her, knowing that she’ll read it as quickly as you did and return it next week.

I hate to create mistrust among friends, but there’s no quicker way to lose a book or create tension in a friendship. Believe the testimony of one who has lent (and lost) many, and returned borrowed items two years later. There has to be a system of accountability. Why do you think libraries charge fines? Not because they depend on them for salaries and book budgets, but to make sure that items are returned in a timely manner.

Bloomsbury Review Booklover’s Guide has a sample contract (211). A simpler approach would be to keep a register, whether it’s a notebook, index card file, receipt log or in your computer database. But as much as you trust anyone, write down the title, borrower, the borrower’s phone number, the date of lending, and perhaps a general agreed-upon date for return. This creates accountability and demonstrates that you do, indeed, care about the book’s return. If the borrower is not prepared to read it in the allotted amount of time, suggest that they write the title in their "books-to-read" notebook with top priority. (You all keep a list of books you intend to read, right?) Or offer the book again when you know your friend is going on a long trip and is more likely to have time to read, since you believe it will matter so much.

The Conclusion of the Matter
Start with one shelf. Before you remove the books, look at it and evaluate what your general classifications might be. Go through a box. Are there any that are not entitled to an investment of time and space and would be of better service elsewhere? When you have determined your essential collection, begin with the first stage, organizing, and carry it through. Make notes of your classifications so that you can be consistent later. If some of your books must remain in boxes, so be it, but make sure you know where each item can be found. “Somewhere” isn’t satisfactory.

Later you can indulge in the task of making a list, once you are comfortable with each book in its home. Keep it simple, so you can keep up with it. You may enlist the help of someone who can be trusted with maintaining the system once it is introduced, so that you do not give up hope if you fall behind.

Introduce yourself to your personal library, your newly settled companion. Enjoy your fresh acquaintance and role as its guardian, proud of your achievement, and wait for your bibliophile friends recruit your expertise in conquering their own gathered assembly.

Select Bibliography
Basbanes, Nicholas A. A gentle madness: bibliophiles, bibliomanes, and the eternal passion for books. New York: H. Holt and Co., 1995.

Challies, Tim. “How to Organize a Personal Library.”

Coblentz, Kathie. Guide to Organizing a Home Library. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2003.

Ellis, Estelle, Caroline Seebohm and Christopher Simon Sykes. At home with books: how booklovers live with and care for their libraries. New York: C. Southern Books, 1995.

Raabe, Tom. Biblioholism: the literary addiction. Golden: Fulcrum, 1991.

Rabinowitz, Harold, and Rob Kaplan, eds. A Passion for Books. New York: Random House, 1999.

Rosenberg, Margot. The care and feeding of books old and new: a simple repair manual for book lovers. New York: Thomas Dunne, 2002.

Wagner, Patricia Jean. The Bloomsbury Review booklover's guide: a collection of tips, techniques, anecdotes, controversies & suggestions for the home library. Denver: Bloomsbury Review, 1996.

Earlier posts in the series:
Home Library Organization, Part 1
Home Library Organization, Part 2
Home Library Organization, Part 3
Home Library Organization, Part 4
Home Library Organization, Part 5 

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Life Lessons from Frog and Toad: "The List"

Frog and Toad Together is my favorite of the Frog and Toad collections by Arnold Lobel. These "I Can Read Books" contain more profound insight into human nature than most grown-up literature. Take the first story in this collection: "The List." Toad makes a to-do list and loses it. That's the short version. The details, though, cut to the quick....

Toad wakes up and makes a to-do list. He decides to write "wake-up" as his first item. Then, he already has something to cross off! I've done this, I confess. I so want to cross those items off that list so that at the end of the day it will look like I've accomplished something. So, I've actually written down things that needed to get done, but which I've already done that day! (sigh) Anyone else out there in this camp?

In addition to the glorious satisfaction of crossing items off the list, Toad reveals another human foible (that I also share): he tells Frog, "'My list tells me that we will go for a walk.'" (emphasis mine). How many times do we let our to-do lists dictate our day? If the weather is beautiful outside, but I've planned a big day of housecleaning, I often still do the housecleaning.

After Toad accomplishes some of the items on his list (get dressed, eat breakfast, go see Frog, go for a walk with Frog, ...), he loses the list. (gasp!) Well, this little event paralyzes Toad. When Frog suggests that they chase after the list, Toad's response is telling: "'running after my list is not one of the things that I wrote on my list of things to do!'" I'm like that, too. I let myself get paralyzed by my list: if it's not on the list, it's not as important as the items that are on the list. This is something I'm trying desperately to overcome. If one of my precious children, for instance, is in the middle of discovering something huge (putting food in his mouth by himself for the first time, for instance, or taking his first, staggering, Frankenstein-looking steps), then I need to pull up a chair and enjoy the show! Who cares if watching junior cram a saltine in his mouth is not on my list of things to do?! What if our power goes out (like it did a few months ago), and I really can't do anything on the list? Then, instead of sitting there fretting like Toad did, I need to seize the day. (Which, thankfully, is what we did).

If you're in this boat, too--paralyzed by your to-do list that will never, ever get accomplished again because you now have a husband and/or children--then take a step back. Some things that have helped me immensely in this area are the following:

1. write only 3 things down: if you only get these three things done, then you're done for the day. Everything else is extra. This is very helpful for me. I put down the truly most important tasks (this might include dinner prep, a load of laundry, and scheduling the twins' one-year checkup...that's it!).

2. plan only one "Big Event" of the day: this might be your shower if you have a newborn in the house, and you're sleeping every other waking minute. Perhaps it's the kids' doctor's appointment, and you know you really won't have time to do anything else during the day. Or, it might be calling a friend you really need to talk to, knowing it will be a long conversation.

3. write down the things you know will be doing, but that are still meaningful: when I was a mother of only one newborn, I wrote down how many times I'd need to nurse her that day, along with taking a shower and taking a walk on my to-do list. At the end of the day, I realized that I might not have done anything around the house, but I was clean, my daughter had been fed 8 times that day, and we had both gotten fresh air. Pretty important in those early days for both of us.

Thankfully, the Lord doesn't have a to-do list when dealing with us, at least not in the way we understand to-do lists. In fact, in addition to all the Scripture encouraging us to be zealous for the faith, do good deeds, love other people, etc. etc., there are some priceless messages to be still, to know that He is God, to wait for the Lord. A personal favorite is the New American Standard Version of Psalm 46:10: Cease striving, and know that I am God.

This is also posted at The Tarnished Teapot.

Monday, July 7, 2008

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

(Quick, name the poem from which the title of this post comes!)

What bibliophile has enough bookshelves for that glorious book collection? When we moved into our current house, I made note immediately that the upstairs hallway was wide enough to house a nice bookcase specifically for my children's book collection (after all, our first child was due 2 months later--what better thought to have on one's mind?). I said this rather pointedly to my wood-working-loving husband.

Three years (and 3 babies, massive home improvements, job switch, etc.) later, here it is!!!!!! I need hardly tell any of my fellow bibliophiles what an ecstatic moment occurs when a bare, naked, in-desperate-need-of-books bookcase lands in your hallway. To add to the bliss, I had already categorized the boxes of books still lingering in our attic for just such an occasion. 1 hour later, all interesting children's books were released from captivity and placed lovingly on the shelves awaiting precious children's hands, eyes, and ears. (sigh) Isn't it wonderful?

Here I must make an addendum to Megan's infinitely helpful home library organization system: if you have a large collection of picture books, you may find it necessary to do some size-organization as well as topic/theme/etc. I had my husband build a bookcase with varying shelf dimensions in order to better use the space; some of my picture books are quite tall, while others (such as the Beatrix Potter collection on the very top) are quite small.

I should also mention that I believe it's crucial to have books appropriate for little hands all over the house--within reach. We have a bottom shelf of a bookcase in the living room devoted to kids' books, a small bookcase in the play area full of books, and one in each child's room for his/her books. I think it's better to have a few different places which encourage reading than have all children's books neatly organized in one place. Remember, one of the best gifts we can give these little ones of ours is a love of reading! With that, I'll close with this picture of one my boys below--in the midst of a play room/dining room painting project in which all furniture had been moved to the center of the room and most of it drop-cloth-covered, here sat one of my little ones, contentedly pouring over each book his little hands could find. He didn't move for 20 minutes (this is a 14-month old!).

Southern Women Writers

During the past 5 years or so, I've read quite a few books by Southern women writers. My time at Hollins University (MA in Children's Literature along with Megan!) helped pique my interest in this sub-category of fiction, particularly in the works of Lee Smith, also a graduate of Hollins. I've read almost all of Smith's work and have enjoyed it. Other authors I've read include Gail Godwin, Fannie Flagg, Barbara Kingsolver, and Sena Jeter Naslund. I've begun to see some trends in these women's works, including some things to note before you "jump in" to Southern women's fiction. This will serve as a brief introduction to these authors' work as a whole; I will follow up with short reviews of the different authors and their works in the weeks to come.

First, these novels and short stories tend to showcase the protagonist(s) relationships and conflicts with family (including siblings, parents, children, and spouses), tradition and culture, and the land. Second, Southern authors showcase the rich tradition, especially present in the Appalachias, of storytelling. Third, these works are almost always intergenerational; that is, several generations are involved in the story. Fourth, the works focus on personal struggles; these are frequently somewhat depressing in nature which is why I have to take a break every now and then! These struggles include everything from family tension, racial issues, identity crises, and the like.

Stay tuned! I'll look at one author at a time.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Inexpensive Loose Tea

Recently, my husband and I ventured into a small Asian market. In addition to being a great source for all things Chinese he remembered eating when he was in China, it had an abundant supply of loose tea. This was very ordinary tea--plain green tea and oolong. I'm learning to like oolong, so I thought I'd give it a try. The bag I bought was $3.99: at home, I filled almost 3 quart-sized canning jars! The bags were simply plastic bags someone had filled with tea; no brand name, ounce equivalent, or anything like that. If you enjoy fresh loose tea, check out your local Asian/ethnic grocery stores. You might find a deal! (And, since I'm not an oolong connoisseur, I don't really know if the tea is outstanding, but it's definitely fresh.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Thursday Next in Audio Format

The Well of Lost Plots is part of a series of witty, tongue-in-cheek novels featuring Special Operative Thursday Next. Jasper Fforde is the author/creator of this heroine and her friends/enemies. These books are bibliowit--you must be well-read to appreciate and enjoy the little quips and references to various literary situations and characters (for instance, Falstaff and Tiggywinkle are paired up at one point...). Hearing them read aloud is an added bonus for two reasons: first, the narrators I've heard for these books have all been British and therefore make the setting (London) much more believable. Second, the names in these books are often references to well known phrases and/or characters and/or books. For example: Braxton Hicks, Millon de Floss, etc. It is easy to miss some of the humor when reading these names silently. Hearing them pronounced makes the correct pronunciation (and reference) much clearer. If you're looking for some amusing road trip audio entertainment and you consider yourself a bibliophile, you might want to check these out. Be warned, though, that there is at least one character with a crude name.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Unfortunate Events in Audio Format

Another favorite of mine in the audio realm: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events as narrated by Tim Curry. Several of the books in this delightful series have been narrated solely by the author (Lemony Snicket) and, frankly, they're not as good as Curry's renditions.

This series lends itself well to audio format because there's a great deal of authorial intrusion (when the author breaks from the plot to tell the reader something specifically; in the SOUE books, this happens most often when the author tells the reader what a word means). Curry's narration makes this authorial intrusion come alive. His wry sense of humor comes through and his inflections and emphases are perfect. The books are quite funny on paper; in audio format, they're hilarious. There is also some rather weird, but fitting, music at the beginning and, occasionally at the end, an "interview" with Lemony Snicket himself. Highly recommended for road trips and boring house work.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Water for Elephants in Audio Format

If you're remotely interested in reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, then I highly recommend you "read" it via audio format, specifically the production by HighBridge Audio.

WFE is a fascinating book in which an older man alternately reflects on his encroaching senility and frailty (he's in his 90's in an assisted living facility) and recounts his memories of his time spent as a veterinarian with a traveling circus in the 1930's. The circus memories are, not surprisingly, a bit salty (language, some sexual scenes, and violence), and, in my opinion, those are a little more pronounced when heard in audio format as opposed to simply reading them silently. However, the book is quite interesting; the salty elements are, for the most part, not condoned/encouraged; and the reflections on old age are wonderfully written. Gruen elevates the story from a simple coming-of-age plot in an interesting setting to a much more insightful reflection on humanity and aging. (Given the unsavory elements, this is not a book to listen to when children/less mature audiences will be listening.)

HighBridge Audio's production of this novel was Audible.com's "Best of 2006--Fiction Winner" and for good reason. There are two narrators (David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones) so that the reflections of the older man are recounted in an older sounding voice and the circus memories are recounted by a much younger sounding man. Both men are excellent narrators and enter fully into their characters. A well written story narrated by talented performers is such an experience!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Home Library Organization, Part 5: Some classification ideas

Need to catch up on the series?
Home Library Organization, Part 1
Home Library Organization, Part 2
Home Library Organization, Part 3
Home Library Organization, Part 4

Should I use LOC? Dewey? My Own?
Don’t feel tied to either. Your private library may not have the same emphasis as a public institution. Here are some ideas to structure your launch. Be creative—whatever you do, make it your own!

Alphabetical Book Classification Scheme (sample headings)
A - Art
B - Biography
C - Cooking (properly "cookery")
D -
E - Education
F - Fine arts, recreation
G - Geography, travel, customs
H - History
I -
J - Juvenile
K -
L - Literature
M - Music
N - Natural Science
O -
P - Poetry
Q - Quotations
R - Religion
S - Science
T - Tonsils
UV -
W -
XYZ - Zoology

Library of Congress
A – General Works
B – Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
C – Auxiliary Sciences of History
D – History (General) and History of Europe
E – History: America
F – History: America
G – Geography. Anthropology. Recreation
H – Social Sciences
J – Political Science
K – Law
L – Education
M – Music and Books on Music
N – Fine Arts
P – Language and Literature
Q – Science
R – Medicine
S – Agriculture
T – Technology
U – Military Science
V – Naval Science
Z – Bibliography. Library Science. Information Resources (General)

000 - Generalities (reference, computers, museums, etc.)
100 - Philosophy and psychology (ethics, paranormal phenomena)
200 - Religion (Bibles, religions of the world)
300 - Social sciences (sociology, anthropology, politics, economics, government,
education, customs, and especially folklore and fairy tales)
400 - Language (linguistics, language learning, specific languages)
500 - Natural sciences and mathematics (general science, mathematics, astronomy,
physics, chemistry, earth sciences, palaeontology, biology, genetics, botany,
600 - Technology (applied sciences) (medicine, psychiatry, applied physics, engineering,
agriculture, home economics, management, accounting, chemical engineering, etc.)
700 - The arts (art, architecture, photography, music, games, sport)
800 - Literature and rhetoric
900 - Geography and history

Other Possibilities:
Science/Creation Module
I found this model on the Internet several years ago, organized by a woman whose family library must be substantial. She is a Christian, mom and homeschooler, and I appreciate her original and very detailed planning. She organizes her non-fiction by the seven Days of Creation. Just another example of how you can be comprehensive through other approaches.

Me? To tell the truth, although I love classifying and cataloging, I haven't yet organized my entire collection, though I'm working on my Mom's when I go home to visit. Of all of the above, I would probably use some Dewey, but mostly broad categories, as long as authors and fairy tales are grouped together. Let me know what works for you!

Next: Shelf labeling and acquisition. We're almost done!

Home Library Organization Conclusion

Stein and Steig: Which notion is more preposterous, creation or evolution?

When I recently saw the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, I was thoroughly impressed at the logical reinforcement of what I have always been taught, that we are not here by random chance or accident. While I strongly believe in creation for biblical reasons, Expelled gave scientific support to the claim that there must be intelligent design behind the complexity of DNA, let alone the universe.

I am surprised that somehow I have heretofore missed Yellow and Pink by William Steig. Steig is better known for his Caldecott winning Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and his Newbery honor book Dr. DeSoto. Even the movie Shrek (which I have not seen) was based on a picture book by Steig, so he’s quite reputable as a storyteller. So I like his stories, I like his art, but how could I have missed Y&P for so long?! I am grateful to Marti Anderson for sharing this with me on a rainy evening.

Two figures are lying in the sun on a piece of newspaper. After a while they “wake up” and begin to ask each other how they got there and why. The first fellow, “Pink,” assumes that, since they were so admirably formed, someone must have made them. The second, “Yellow,” scoffs at the notion. Being so perfect and intricate, they must have been an accident, just “happened” after a series of natural events over millions of years that resulted in both of them being so much the same, and yet quite different. Yellow is soundly convinced of his theory, even though it is so full of holes and he has no greater evidence than Pink’s simple theory of design.

[Pink] suddenly gave Yellow a challenging look. “Explain this,” he said. “How come we’re painted the way we are?”
Yellow took a few circular turns pondering this question. “The paint,” he muttered, “the paint. Well, suppose when we rolled down those hills, or whatever it was we rolled down, we rolled through some paint someone had spilled…” (emphasis mine)

Finally Yellow protests that he can’t answer all the questions, that some things are just a mystery. Oh well. And then a man comes along and finds them nice and dry, and carries them back where he came from. Makes me think of Pinocchio.

Of course, we were not left to wonder about our true origins. If we will just read and believe the creation account that was supplied in Genesis, furnished by the only firsthand witness, all those silly questions are answered and we wouldn’t waste such time. Steig’s story makes this plain enough to children, though many of his stories are really a nudge to adults. See if your library has a copy of Yellow and Pink. And make sure you see Expelled at your earliest opportunity!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Harry Potter in Audio Format

As I mentioned in my Narnia in Audio Format article, a well narrated book is a true delight. My all-time favorite books to listen to are the Harry Potter books, narrated by Jim Dale. I remember vividly trying to dream up new house work while I was working my way through one of the HP books. Finally, I gave up and plopped down on the couch, merely sitting and listening. I couldn't stop! Dale is one of the best narrators I've ever heard (and I've listened to a LOT of audio books). Whenever I actually read one of the books, I hear the characters in the voices he gave them. I must confess that I'd rather listen to him read the books any day than read them to myself silently. I even was disappointed in the first movie because the actors weren't saying their lines right (meaning, weren't using the same inflections/tones Dale used in his narration). If you're an HP fan, you MUST try these books in audio format. Each one is many hours long, but a true delight. Check your local library before hitting the road for summer vacation.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Home Library Organization: Part 4

Catch the first parts of the series: 
Home Library Organization, Part 1
Home Library Organization, Part 2 
Home Library Organization, Part 3

Classification and Cataloging
“Classification refers to the system you use to organize your books and their contents; cataloging is the location of the book in the system…The main difference [between a home library and a publicly accessible library] is that your library must please only you, while public and academic libraries must please everybody” (141)

“You can create a library that is a map of your world.” (145)

“Home librarians have been known to do something that accurately resembles the amorphous nature of the world. It is, to the best of my knowledge, almost totally unknown in the world of the real library. Home librarians acquire more than one copy of a book, and then put the different copies in different places!” (146) (this works well when Charlotte’s Web is one child’s favorite, and then Grandma gives a copy to the other child for Christmas.)

As you evaluate your shelves, develop a list of classifications that could be used for sorting. Use broad categories; you can subdivide later. My collection, for example, consists of numerous meta-books (books about books), books about children’s books, fairy tales, classics, poetry, picture books, easy readers, and various forms of fiction. As you go through your stacks of books and determine their classification, make sure you keep a list of your subject headings so you can maintain consistency for searching and organizing purposes.

Your Method
“Your system for organizing your library should allow you to change your mind frequently. Whether it be a computer program or pieces of paper in a file folder, you should choose tools that allow you to expand your ideas about your books.” (152)

“What information do you need to capture in your cataloging system?

“The basic bibliographic information includes title, author or editor, publisher, and the year the current edition was published or copyrighted. Home librarians often like to keep track of when and where they acquired a book, the price, and a personal annotation, which could include their opinions of the book or of the person who gave it to them.” (152)

“In any formal classification system, the most important category is the one marked “Other.” This is where you put your ambiguities, your one-of-a-kind items, your leftovers, and your painfully new ideas. Then, as you play with the data in this category, you will discover new relationships among the pieces of information, and if you don’t find an established category to put them in, you will create a new one.” (153)

Make sure everyone in the house has responsibility for his/her own library. Books ought to be where they will be easily used. Why would you keep cookbooks in the den? Each member of the family can learn to organize the books they want to have near to them for use. (Computer and reference books in the office, bedtime stories and favorite fiction in each child’s bedroom, et cetera.)

Cataloging Your Collection
Free: Excel
Not readily searchable, but you can create a list with author, title, publisher, classification, binding, price, where purchased, shelf location, whether or not you’ve read it, and brief comments. Limited, but basic. Allows you to organize alphabetically, then by classification.

NYPL/Running Press Your Home Library software kit
For those who are committed, need lending records, and want to store more detail in a searchable database. Kit includes binder and handbook. Available through Running Press, NYPL, or Amazon.com. It was produced five years ago, so I think there are some improvements over the software, but the handbook by Kathy Coblentz (NYPL cataloger) is well-done.

$10-$25: www.LibraryThing.com
This is my new personal favorite, as I have just completed classifying, cataloging, and processing the church library and intend to approach my own collection in the coming months. It’s a great site, and you can even order a “cat” scanner so you don’t have to manually input all those ISBNs. Tim Challies of “Discerning Reader” fame (see bibliography) uses LT and explains more thoroughly how it works.

Another site where you can organize and share your books with the world, though I have not yet thoroughly explored this one. Anyone care to comment?

Where to find information about most books:
Look at the copyright information on the back of the title page for cataloging data as supplied by the Library of Congress. You can also find subject headings which may be helpful in organizing; just make sure that whatever you use is consistent. If you can’t think of the right subject heading, by all means visit your library in person or online! Ask your librarian to show you how to find the appropriate subject heading in the online catalog.

What's next? Possible classification schemes, if you want to be formal about it. Then we have to talk about further collection development...how to further manage your personal library.

Home Library Organization, Part 5 
Home Library Organization Conclusion

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Narnia in Audio Format

Audio books are wonderful ways to pass the time on a road trip, encourage children's reading comprehension, or simply fill in the time while doing housework and other projects around the house. A really well narrated work is a true delight.

C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia are undisputed children's classics (and Christian classics). Due to the recent well done movies, Lewis's Narnia books are enjoying a resurgence of popularity. I highly recommend "rereading" these books via audio format if you get a chance. The set pictured with the movie photo of Aslan is the new cover for the HarperAudio set of CD's I own. Produced in 2006, each book is narrated by a different well known British actor/actress (Lynn Redgrave, Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Michael York, Patrick Stewart, Alex Jennings, and Jeremy Northam). The set pictured with the illustrated version of Aslan is the HaperChildren'sAudio version (2004). My CD set actually has this cover, although the cover now is only on the older version which has older recordings narrated by different actors. If you find a set in a used book store or at a place like Sam's (where we found ours), you might check the date and/or list of narrators if you're picky.

I can't recommend the set I have highly enough!!! These narrators are good at what they do. Even though I know the books backwards and forwards, I find myself wanting to dream up new errands to run simply so I can see what happens when Shasta and Bree head across the desert. What about Reepicheep heading to the Aslan's country? The narration makes these books come alive in a different way than merely reading them silently. Even my two year old is interested in them; while driving, I'll hear her pipe up from the back seat, "Mr. Tumnus" or "Lucy." She doesn't get the entire plot, but she has really picked up on the different characters.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Glass Castle

Truly fascinating book--I couldn't put it down. A memoir, The Glass Castle is about the author's life during childhood as she struggled with her siblings to survive poverty, a drunk and often absent father, a self-absorbed and neglectful mother, and a generally hostile world at large.

The voice throughout the book is what makes this book so worth reading. Written without rancor, TGC takes us through a young girl's own dawning realization of the reality of her life and her parents' roles in her struggles. At the beginning, she idolizes her parents; by the end of the book, she sees them for who they are, yet still seems to love them despite the fact that they could have turned their lives around so easily and at least provided food for their children.

The book has some earthy moments and some crude/vulgar language (when quoting the father), but it doesn't seem over the top or gratuitous given the scenes/reality being described. I'm curious as to whether the people reading this (clearly a lot since this is a bestseller) will take to heart the realization that poverty is still very much present in our world/country. Redemption comes in a manner at the end; it reminded me that Christ loves each and every one of his children even though we must also appear filthy, delusional, and unlovable.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Home Library Organization, Part 3

 Catch up!
Home Library Organization, Part 1
Home Library Organization, Part 2 

Um, yes…also known as “culling” or “weeding.” This has always been a painful subject, but it is true that some books may have outlived their usefulness to you.

The purpose of weeding is to cultivate the quality of your collection. I have found myself freed from obligation by giving myself "permission" to not own a book. (This also applies when considering a purchase.)

There are good reasons to weed. There are good reasons not to weed. There are many personal considerations to weigh: quality, shelf space, cost of maintenance, usefulness, value, etc. Libraries weed for good reason, and although you may have taken advantage of their castoffs, you may find yourself ready to improve the appearance and usability of your own collection.

My primary rules for evaluating a book to keep (or acquire) are:
1. “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
2. “You shall not covet.”
This puts everything in perspective.

My secondary question is: Why do I have this book?
1. “Because it was free (or $0.25) is not a good answer. Is it valuable enough to your collection development purposes that you would have paid at least half price for it? Is it worthy of taking up shelf space? Does it validate buying new bookshelves (or renting a self-storage unit) to make room?
2. “Because I paid good money for it” (half or full price) is not adequate either. Have you (your tastes, interests, circumstances, etc.) changed since then? Have you acquired a comparatively superior item? If you are unsure, sort and evaluate. You do not need multiple collections of H. C. Andersen’s fairy tales unless they are either especially unique or you are an avowed collector of his works, which should be stated in your personal policy. If a book does not meet criteria, put it in the “sell” pile.

Wagner recommends the MUSTY model (the succeeding comments are mine):
- Misleading, inaccurate, out of date. Unless you’re an official depository for books containing scientific theories that have since been disproved, don’t feel guilty about discarding books about NASA from 1975.
- Ugly. Books ought to be beautiful, if at all possible. Books that are attractive will appeal to readers.
- Superseded. If a better book comes along, don’t feel obligated to keep a former edition or favorite unless you are sure it has lingering value.
- Trivial. People know I like books, and with the best of intentions they sometimes give me volumes that I really have no use for. Remember their thoughtfulness, thank them sincerely, but if you can find a better home for them, you will all be better off.
- Your collection: This book is no longer appropriate for your current passion. If you are finished learning everything there is to know about raising orchids and have moved on to quilting, donate the orchid books to a local club who can use them before they grow misleading, inaccurate and out of date for anyone else.

Consider whether you have read it already and intend to do so again, or if you haven’t read it, will you? Really and honestly? Consider the less fortunate, someone who needs to read a good book.

Become a literary charity. You have such good taste in books, shouldn’t you share with your friends? This is also good justification for purchasing duplicates at library booksales. I used to own about seven copies of C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, but I am down to two. The rest have been loaned out, and I’ve forgotten to whom, but I can always buy more. On the other hand, I have given away sixteen copies of Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss because that is a book that must be read repeatedly over a lifetime, and no kindred spirit of mine ought to live without that book. (Actually, only fifteen of those copies were my own to give away—I still owe one to my mother, having donated hers to a friend of mine!)

So having torn out your fingernails and shed a few drops of blood, what do you do with these books before you change your mind? You could sell them or donate them. Or…look around you. You are surrounded by people who love books and who all have the same happy problem and would love to make it worse! Agree to meet for a book swap (make sure food is included in the plan!) and set up tables where your friends can feed their addiction. Is this helping? If you have weeded your shelves to the point where you have room, you might return with new members of your literary family (make sure anything you pick up meets your criteria). Anything that’s left can be donated. (There are more good suggestions in Wagner’s book.)

You might also choose to give selections from your collection to people who would appreciate them as you would. Your thoughtfulness in matchmaking book with reader is second only to introducing a worthy man to his future wife.

Once you have limited your collection to what you really want to keep, it's time to decide how to make the best use of it.

So how do you actually organize what's left? Coming soon in Part 4.

Home Library Organization, Part 4
Home Library Organization, Part 5 
Home Library Organization Conclusion

What CAN You Do With a Shoe?

What Can You Do With a Shoe? by Beatrice de Regniers and Maurice Sendak (illus.). A young child's delight: this book asks all sorts of questions concerning what you can do with ordinary household objects (shoes, chairs, brooms, cups, etc.), and then provides all sorts of answers--most rather fanciful, but just the sort of answers a young child might provide! Sendak's illustrations are, as always, just the right touch and fill in the text nicely. For example, the first few title pages show the two children getting on their dress-up clothes, so when the text starts with the title question, the children are clearly already in the midst of playing. Regniers ends her list of questions appropriately with the children asking, "What can you do with a bed?" and Sendak shows them getting into bed and drifting off to sleep.... Highly recommended!

Monday, May 12, 2008

"Mighty" Good Tea at a Chain Bakery?!

I put my tea snobbery to rest last weekend. Or, rather, I refueled it by finding a genuinely good black tea at the Corner Bakery last weekend (in Chicago). I stopped by on a Saturday morning with some friends; we were all in town for another friend's wedding. They all wanted coffee and were convinced that the Corner Bakery would provide both coffee and vittles. I kept my mouth shut, planning to either drink the expected inferior tea in silence or abstain from caffeine all together.

The Corner Bakery carries Mighty Leaf Tea instead of the usual Republic of Tea or Tazo that is generally offered in similar establishments, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. It was great! I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful tea, and the tea bag was cool to boot. This had genuine black tea flavor--clean with no off flavors (no dusty or musty overtones). It tasted fresh and was the perfect strength.

I've done a little research and since discovered that this tea is a touch more expensive than something like Twinings or Celestial Seasonings, but you can indeed find it in some grocery stores (I saw it in Whole Foods) and online. It's worth a try for a good, bagged tea.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Home Library Organization, Part 2

See Part 1 of our Home Library Organization Series.

The Beginnings of Home Library Organization
Being lovers of books, either for learning or as objects, there is a tendency to accumulate vast quantities of “someday I mights” and “I’ve always wanted tos” in addition to the “essential must-haves.” You may not have time to read them all in the next thirty years, but you hope someone in the family will. How can you resist attending another library booksale when you can easily multiply your collection for the same price as two or three new hardcover volumes?

When the time comes that you are hunting in multiple locations for the sundry titles you have collected on pioneer living and find duplicate copies (some battered, others in more suitable condition), but know you lack several that you lent to a fellow homeschooler or biblioholic two years ago, it may be time to organize.

Are you ready for another major project when your days are already consumed with obligations? When you consider that the average bookshelf holds 40-70 books, multiply the number of your shelves by an average of 55. The results may be discouraging. How much time can you afford to invest and remain committed to the project? The following principles, drawn from the experiences of book lovers, collectors and professional librarians, can help you manage the project without becoming overwhelmed.

The Reason for Organizing
As a personal collection expands into a home library, there follows an obligation to maintain order. Your books are of no use if you are the only one who knows what you own and where to find it. Function requires predictability.

This should not mean that you have to take a cataloging class and affix your spines with classification numbers. Nor should you feel obligated to lose the wonderful spontaneity that comes with your command over the objects, to keep a stack by your bed, or left out tantalizingly on the table. It does mean that there is purpose to grouping your Lenskis, and to knowing that if your interests tend towards colonial America, you should not have to wander to find the titles you have gathered over the years and scattered through bookshelves around the house.

Be proud of your books. They are beautiful, lending color and decorum to any room. But where will their attractiveness prove most successful? In seeing them removed from their shelves and used regularly.

What you have, and Why You Want to Have It.You must have space for your books. Shelves or boxes, your goal is to know the content and purpose for your collection. Have you accumulated beyond your management capability? Has your focus changed? The ages and needs of your children? What are your present and anticipated requirements for your library?

As you approach your shelves to begin to organize them, evaluate:
- Why did you buy this book?
- Has it served its purpose?
- Will you need it again?
- Is there a better book on the subject?
- Is there someone else who can use this?
- Do I have enough room?

It is better to develop a high quality, functional, focused collection, rather than have lots of books that are of little use. Spend your organizing time and energy on the best of what you have.

A lesson on "deacquisition", also known as "weeding," is next...

Home Library Organization, Part 3
Home Library Organization, Part 4
Home Library Organization, Part 5 
Home Library Organization Conclusion

Monday, April 28, 2008

Of Making Many Books there is No End: Home Library Organization, Part 1

Per Betsy's request, I am posting a series on "How to Organize your Personal Library" by a literarian-librarian-bibliophile. This is based on a presentation that I gave to a homeschool group in Iowa when I was a professional librarian about four years ago, though I have updated my thoughts based on what I have learned since then. I will be referring to several helpful books and websites in the process, and welcome all fresh insights!
I will begin with Why You Should Organize: The Theory, The Fact We Prefer to Deny, and The Gathered Assembly.

The Theory:
(from Patricia Jean Wagner, The Bloomsbury Review booklover's guide: a collection of tips, techniques, anecdotes, controversies & suggestions for the home library. Denver: Bloomsbury Review, 1996.)
“Booklovers read, and, therefore, think they know everything. They think they can milk cows, fly planes, grow orchids, and build sturdy, beautiful, inexpensive bookcases, relying only on the information they find in a book. If this were true, booklovers would be the richest, most physically attractive, longest-lived, and most influential group of people on the planet.” (Wagner 111)

The Fact We Prefer to Deny: (also from Wagner, p. 120)
“If your collection is growing, and you don’t weed at the same rate at which you acquire books, and you don’t build more shelves, you will run out of space.” (Wagner 120)

So how do we organize what we want to keep?

The Gathered Assembly:
Although many objects may be gathered to form a collection, books are unique because their identity and content may go a long ways in defining the multi-faceted character of their keeper. One’s past, formative reading is mingled with his present interests and future intentions, building thought upon thought and inviting conversation with any who observe the nature of the collection, or between oneself and the author. How else could you have tea with someone you have never met in person, whether dead or alive? Would you expect to form an intimate acquaintance with C. S. Lewis or Christina Rossetti and summon them to into your presence at will? Even kings are limited in such jurisdiction.

Collecting is a curious appetite. Is it the hunting or the having which brings pleasure? The hunt provides excuse to inquire at every bookshop whether there are any titles by Mrs. E. Prentiss available, any unusual illustrators of Alice in Wonderland, the potential for discovering the unanticipated, the developing of new acquaintances. But to have is to hold, with a story to tell when the volume is admired, the spreading of one’s reign, the satisfaction of possessing a pearl of great price.

(To be continued...)

Home Library Organization, Part 2
Home Library Organization, Part 3
Home Library Organization, Part 4
Home Library Organization, Part 5 
Home Library Organization Conclusion

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Oprah's Book Club

This is an addendum to the post below; I've done a bit of looking into the current Oprah's Book Club selection, and I was wrong to glibly categorize it as self-help. It appears to be Buddhist philosophy revamped for today's undiscerning reader. I hope Oprah isn't going that direction with her book club in general, but it does underscore the point that we must always be discerning readers--read what the national public reads (I frequently like to in part to have conversation topics with my neighbors), but be aware of who and what you're reading!!

I'm a member of a women's book club with other women from my church; we read the classics. For the months of April and May, we're tackling Anna Karenina. I overheard one of the women sheepishly confessing (or, rather, lamenting) to another that she could only find the recommended translation in an "Oprah's Book Club" copy.

I, for one, am very thankful for Oprah's Book Club and have no problem with publishers rushing new editions to major book stores with her book club emblem on the front cover. Why am I in favor of her club? While not every book on her list is one I might recommend (Midwives comes to mind), she has picked some outstanding books, both classics and modern fiction, over the last ten years. Cry, the Beloved Country, The Poisonwood Bible, Anna Karenina, and The Good Earth are each good examples of books which have been superbly written, are extremely thought-provoking, and were a pleasure to read. Others, like Night, aren't so "pleasurable" to read, but well worth reading for what they have to say. Oprah is bringing back to the public's attention some great books and people are reading again. Who can complain about that? Why feel guilty that we're helping support such a lofty endeavor? Anyone who will encourage the mass public to at least consider reading Anna Karenina should be applauded. She even has a link on her book club web page with ideas for starting your own book club.

When you see the Oprah's Book Club emblem or other nation-wide popular "book club" choices, don't immediately write them off. As I mentioned before, I do not recommend all of Oprah's choices (her current one is in the self-help category and I likely won't even pick it up; I'm also not a fan of Toni Morrison who appears on her list several times), but I do encourage you to consider some of her choices, perhaps even picking a few up to read. It's a good insight into what the nation is reading and might introduce you to a classic you thought would be boring (The Good Earth is a book I read simply because her emblem was on it--it was a great book!).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Best Scones Ever

(post also published simultaneously at full tummies)

I realize that's a pretty boastful recipe title, but these scones are the best I've ever tasted or made (and I've made a lot of scones over the past 10 years or so and eaten my fair share actually in England/Scotland). In fact, a British lady I knew used to pay me to make these for her because she liked them better than any she could find in the local coffee shops here in the Southeast (U.S.).

The original recipe is from Country Baking, but I've made a few wee changes. I'll include my variations first in each case.

2 1/2 cups flour (white, white whole wheat, or combination--I've done all)
2 t. grated orange peel (~the zest of one medium-sized orange)
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. craisins, raisins, or currants
1/2 c. plain yogurt or sour cream
1/3 c. honey
1 egg, slightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease baking sheet*; set aside.
2. Combine flour, orange peel, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in craisins/raisins/currants. Combine yogurt/sour cream, honey, and egg in medium bowl until well blended. Stir into flour mixture until soft dough forms. Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface. Knead dough 10 times. Shape dough into 8-inch square. Cut into 4 squares; cut each square diagonally in half, making 8 triangles. Place triangles 1-inch apart on baking sheet.
3. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown and wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean (scones will have risen slightly and will begin to split every so slightly along the sides when done). Remove from baking sheet. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes. Serve warm or cool completely. These also freeze well once cooled. To thaw, simply remove from freezer the night before. You can also underbake them slightly and then freeze (once they've cooled). Once thawed, pop them back in the oven for a minute or two to finish browning and to warm up.
4. Serve with butter, lemon curd, strawberry jam, or...to be really authentic...clotted cream. Mmmm.... These are perfect for breakfast or tea time.

*I highly recommend a stoneware baking sheet (which does not need to be greased); it has made a big difference for me with these scones. They rise higher and seem to cook better all the way around on a stone sheet.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sue Monk Kidd: The Secret Life of Bees

Currently drinking Twinings' Earl Gray--good if you get a fresh box.

Sue Monk Kidd is a relatively new Southern writer. The Secret Life of Bees (Bees) (2002) is her first work of fiction, a work that has been a tremendous success by all secular accounts. On the New York Times Bestseller list for more than 2 years, it has been chosen by countless book clubs.

Kidd herself sums up the novel with the word "Homecoming," although many other reviews usually describe this novel as a coming of age story. In fact, Kidd's web page describes it as such: "powerful story of coming-of- age, race-relations, the ability of love to transform our lives and the often unacknowledged longing for the universal feminine divine, the novel tells the story of a fourteen year old Lily, who runs away with her black housekeeper in 1964 in South Carolina and the sanctuary they both find in the home of three eccentric beekeeping sisters."

There is no doubt that Kidd has genuine talent; my favorite feature, if you will, of the novel is Kidd's amazing characterization of Lily, Rosaleen (her black housekeeper and surrogate mother), Zach (a young black boy), and the three bee-keeping sisters (August, May, and June). I found myself continuing to read long after the plot ceased being appealing simply because I was enjoying the time with these quirky characters. As is typical of much Southern fiction, SLB centers on the relationships the protagonist has with these characters and her father, T. Ray; there is racial tension and reconciliation, intergenerational angst, and spiritual connection between characters.

The plot of Bees felt a bit contrived for me, like Kidd was trying too hard. If Kidd wasn't such a talented author on the characterization and setting front, then the book would fall flat. On the surface, it's rather typical of most coming-of-age stories: girl's mother dies when she's little, father is mean, she runs away and "finds herself" in a new group of people/vocation. The end.

What Kidd does, though, that makes this plot jump off the predictability diving board and land, with a large splash, into the pool of "out there" is her emphasis on the divine feminine. The motif of the Black Madonna is present almost from the beginning of the novel; a picture of her is one of Lily's only mementos of her late mother. The quest to find this Black Madonna, hoping it will be a clue to her mother's life, is partly what drives Lily throughout the book. The bee keepers are the source of the picture as they put this picture on all the labels of the honey they make. But it's more than that: they have a black figurehead from a ship that they worship (no other word for it, really), they have a group called the Daughters of Mary, and they talk about Mary all the time. The idea of the divine feminine is so pervasive in this book, it's inescapable. It's a little too much for me to really enjoy the book. What I found so especially disturbing was the conclusion at the end of the book.

(Spoiler Alert)
I'm glad Kidd refused the temptation to make things end perfectly for Lily; her mother was indeed a sinner like the rest of us. Lily herself has committed a large atrocity/crime. Yet, for August to tell Lily that the answer lies within herself (within Lily) was the nail in the coffin for this book for me. The answer does not lie in ourselves. We, in and of ourselves, are not strong enough to meet all of life's demands. Kidd goes one step further from this typical sentiment and claims that Mary is in each of us, helping us to live better.

Kidd has written other books, most notably in its connection to the philosophy and theology behind Bees, is her earlier nonfiction work, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. I'll end with the summary of this book as written on her website: "With the exceptional storytelling skills that have helped make her name, the acclaimed author ... tells her very personal story of the fear, anger, healing, and freedom she experienced on the path toward the wholeness that women have lost within patriarchal faith traditions. From a jarring encounter with sexism in a suburban drugstore, to monastery retreats and to rituals in the caves of Crete, she reveals a new level of feminine spiritual consciousness for all women— one that retains a meaningful connection with the “deep song of Christianity,” embraces the sacredness of ordinary women’s experience, and has the power to transform in the most positive ways every fundamental relationship in a woman’s life— her marriage, her career, and her religion."

Friday, April 4, 2008

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Currently drinking Ugandan tea which my parents brought back for me from a recent trip. mmmm

Year of Wonders
by Geraldine Brooks is a troubling book for me to review. Perhaps because I read it so close on the heels of Stepping Heavenward, the portrayal of the protagonist's struggle with her faith during a year of unimaginable struggle, trial, and loss left something to be desired.

YOW is a riveting, historical fictive account of a small English village during 1665-1666 that chooses to isolate itself in order to prevent spreading the Plague to neighboring cities and towns. (There really was such a town: Eyam.) The rector and his wife, along with Anna Frith, the protagonist, are the backbone of support, care, and faith for the other villagers as they quickly lose two thirds of their number. Brooks does an excellent job of keeping the suspense going throughout the book while giving the reader a feel for the slow pace of life a 17th century village might have.

During their struggle with the Plague, the villagers struggle profoundly with faith, superstition, ignorance, and loyalty to one another. Terrible things happen. Redemption is brought about. People live and die. But, here is where Brooks fails me as an author.... (the ending will be revealed in the next paragraph, so stop reading if you plan to read the book!)

Brooks is a secular author who has spent quite a bit of time as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East as well as much time researching this book in England. Therefore, it should have been no surprise to me that a book which has a strong feminist undercurrent should, in the end, place the protagonist in a setting that shows a female triumphing over her circumstances; I have no problems with that necessarily. That the rector is proven to be a complete hypocrite, and Anna ends up finding comfort and meaning in an Islamic community on the Mediterranean seemed to me to undermine so much of the struggle these people when through during a real time in history. I truly can't imagine watching my husband and two children die, my friends die, my neighbors turn against each other, and finally have to run for my life. Yet, I'd like to think I would face these trials more as Katy (Stepping Heavenward) did, turning to Christ in all of them, than as Anna did--left only holding out a vague hope of something better at the end. Up until the last couple of chapters, this book was a terrific read, very educational as well as enjoyable. Brooks gave in to modern society's preference for faiths other than the true one and its interest in strong female characters that can raise children without a loving husband.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Another "Revolution" sample

(What I'm reading: The Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carman)

I’m catching up on describing some of the interesting teas I have tried lately. My next Revolution tea sample is Dragon Eye Oolong, a very unusual and distinctively flavored tea. It tasted green, flowery, fruity, smoky and dignified, just what I can imagine Smaug drinking while he hoarded his treasure. I don’t have much experience with Oolong yet so I’m not sure how this compares to others (I’ll let you know). It’s a bold, wild tea, not quite calming for evening or meditative for Scripture reading and prayer, but worth experiencing if you’re ready for something really different.

I'll post book reviews soon, I promise!

Republic of Tea, bottled and iced

I know this is not Betsy's favorite brand of tea, but it still works for me.

Malls create a natural environment for indulgence, and after several hours visiting one overgrown shopping center, I needed cold, unsweetened refreshment. I happened to stop by one store that carried bottles of Republic of Tea Passionfruit Green Tea, which just hit the spot that day. Although I’m not usually a green tea fan (though I might learn to adjust, given the right inducements and varieties), this did not have a strong “green” flavor. It tasted more like light, unsweetened fruit juice, with the right amount of tea-ness I desired. I am also fond of several Celestial Seasonings herbal iced teas, and this was a similar experience. It is expensive (over $3.00 for 12 oz. at this venue), but perfectly suited to my need. Definitely one I’ll try again (or maybe another flavor next time…).

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Am I Big or Little?

Am I Big or Little? by Margaret Park and Tracy Dockray (illus.) is a fun library check out. It is a simple book about the conflict between being big and little at the same time--perfect for toddlers and young preschoolers who also have little siblings at home. How often do we tell our little ones to "act like a big girl" or "you're too little for..."? Park does a nice job of juxtaposing these ideas ("little enough to sit on Mommy's lap but big enough to put my arms around her"), and gives both the mother and child a voice. The illustrations leave a little bit to be desired, particularly the consistency of perspective in the mother's face. It just doesn't work for me on some pages. In addition, the illustrations picture a young girl, so this may limit its audience. However, the illustrations overall are cute and work well with the text. This book is often requested by my two year old (who happens to have young brothers at home!).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Round is a Pancake

Round is a Pancake by Joan Sullivan Baranski and Yu-Mei Han (illus.) is a rollicking concept book about round things. The colorful, boisterous illustrations make this book come alive. The text is a simple, rhyming one listing various objects that are round (cherries, buttons, pancakes, ... even cartwheels). Han's illustrations go the extra mile for a simple concept book, though, and in addition to including the items mentioned in the text, adds many more objects to which children can point that are also round (such as the decorations on dresses, picture frames in the background, balloons, etc.). My toddlers requests this book often; see if your local library has a copy!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Stepping Heavenward

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss is a marvelous book. The general story covers a young girl's maturation physically and spiritually. But, so much more can be said--and should be said--about this gem! The heroine in the book, Katy, begins a journal at age 16; the rest of the book is that fictional journal which is supposedly heavily based on Prentiss's own journals. Katy yearns to know Christ better and to know how to show her love for him in ordinary, daily life. I think many women will see themselves mirrored in Katy's experiences and struggles with the confusion of adolescence, the heartache of a lost love, the delight of a true love fully shared with another, the adaptation to married life, the delights and stresses of children in the home, the relationships with in-laws, the loss of loved ones both young and old, and the tedium of the ordinary.

This is a book to be read and reread; read during one stage of life and picked up again in another. Read with pen in hand to underline the many lines of wisdom in this Christian classic. Katy's firm conviction by the end of the book is a godly one: the Lord sends us joys and trials to bring us closer to him. We must view the hardships, the annoyances, the delights all as sent by him to teach us more of his ways and to bring us into full submission to his will. More love to thee!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Four Titles by Johannah Bluedorn Stanford

(Disclaimer: JBS is a longtime friend and I was asked to review her books.)

Bluedorn, Johannah. My Mommy, My Teacher. Muscatine: Trivium Pursuit, 2002.
-- The Lord Builds the House: The 127th Psalm. Muscatine: Trivium Pursuit, 2004.
-- The Story of Mr. Pippen. Muscatine: Trivium Pursuit, 2004.
-- Bless the Lord: The 103rd Psalm. Muscatine: Trivium Pursuit, 2005.

Johannah Bluedorn writes and illustrates based on her experience. My Mommy, My Teacher is a fictionalized account of an idyllic young family engaged in many traditional activities throughout the day. Literature is obviously a high priority; at least six books are mentioned being read through the day, in addition to the Bible. Animals are named in MM, MT, reflecting the role they play in Bluedorn family life as well.

The Story of Mr. Pippen is an affectionate memoir of raising a raccoon from infancy to his return to nature, complete with photographs at the end. Hints of red and green appear on every page spread, pointing to Mr. Pippin’s love for cherries. There are plenty of amusing details: Mr. Pippin peeping around the quilt on the title page, Mr. Pippin gorged with cherries and sneaking jelly beans, meeting the future Mrs. Pippin who is holding a bouquet of cherry blossoms. I like how Johannah captures the unique postures of a raccoon, so that he looks almost real.

The Lord Builds the House and Bless the Lord illustrate how these verses may apply in life, both in nature and in the home. The reader will be rewarded by paying attention to the details (is that Mr. Pippin and his family?).

In all four books, Johannah’s illustrations are undoubtedly lovely. Her eye for detail is highlighted in frames and borders that compass the text or subject on nearly every page. Her settings have a consistently old-fashioned feel, paying homage to the work of Tasha Tudor.
Her affections are obvious as she includes recognizable family members, pets, weaves flowers and vines in many scenes, and scatters neatly-ordered bookshelves throughout the pages.

Johannah’s artistic skill matures with each book, though I must briefly comment on a few weaknesses. From a literary standpoint, MM, MT and TSoMP lack conflict and tension, so that beyond quiet narratives, the stories have limited depth. I am also uncertain about the intended audience of MM, MT, because I expect that most young ladies who are reading Men of Iron would say “Mother” or “Mama” instead of “Mommy.” In BtL, some of the twilight/wooded pictures are too richly detailed at the cost of clarity in the illustration.

Overall, however, the influence of Tasha Tudor is evident, the artwork charming. The primary question should always be, would children enjoy these books? My toddler son enjoyed looking at the pictures, and I am always glad to read Scripture to him. I look forward to seeing more of Johannah’s work.

Sampling VariTEA

I'm working on broadening my horizons.

Yesterday I went to The Fresh Market and indulged in purchasing samples. I’ve been cleaning out my tea drawer, discarding teas that are past their prime and using up favorites to make room for new varieties. Having agonized over where to begin reviewing, I finally chose Revolution: A variety of tea flavors (2) which contains five charming, individually boxed teas in a classy matchbox-style wrapper. I confess I was seduced by the presentation! This is charming enough to be included in a gift basket, though at $2.69 ($0.54/cup) it is nearer the luxury value. The flavors in this package are Dragon Eye Oolong, Bombay Chai, White Tangerine, Southern Mint Herbal and Honeybush Caramel. Last night my husband and I enjoyed the Southern Mint and Honeybush Caramel.

My husband is very fond of Plantation Mint and Mint Medley, so he tried the Southern Mint. We agreed it has a fine (read that “quality” not “acceptable”) smell and looks quite green in the cup! It tastes good with a purer peppermint taste than Mint Medley, which is blended with other ingredients. He liked it—very good.

My Honeybush Caramel (sugar, no milk this time) is delicious. Mmm, smooth and sweet. Not too complicated, but the flavor pleasantly lingers in my mouth with no bitter aftertaste. A good complement to dessert for those who are sensitive to caffeine.

Both flavors are definitely recommended. Further commentary will follow.

Cheap Green Tea

I am a tea snob. There, I've confessed it to whoever didn't already know. I prefer loose tea from pricey places like Teavana. I scorn most Republic of Tea offerings (no offense, Megan). I'm more than willing to drink cheap black tea (i.e. Bigelow, Twinings, etc.) when I'm in a hurry, there is no other choice, or simply desperate for some quick caffeine; this is because tea is absolutely crucial to my current existence, even in cheap form.

That confession out in the open, I must now confess to an even deeper secret: despite trying some of the best, most authentic green tea out there, I do not like it.... I do not like green tea loose, I do not like green tea with a moose. I do not like green tea in a glass, I think green tea tastes like grass. I do not like it, Sam I Am.

However, I do like Celestial Seasonings Green Tea with Antioxidants! This is an inexpensive green tea that is readily available at grocery stores. I believe it's now called Green Tea with Antioxidant Boost. Why do I like this particular green tea? Because it doesn't taste like green tea! It's got a slightly citrus-y flavor that is very refreshing, particularly on warmer days when a steaming cup of black tea seems a touch overkill. It's a great vitamin C booster as well. Try it! (I also like Moroccan Mint from Teavana because it doesn't taste like green tea either....)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Homemade Chai Concentrate Recipe

This is the beverage that has helped cultivate and maintain happiness in our marriage. My husband likes it better than Tazo or Oregon Chai, and it is much cheaper to make. I have learned to buy the dry spices in bulk, measure and bag them in an assembly line for convenience, using either muslin reusable teabags or disposable bags that can be sealed with a hot iron. Tea and spice blends with the recipe attached also makes a wonderful gift. Everything you need should be available at a health food store or online.

Homemade Chai Concentrate Recipe
(makes 1 quart concentrate, enough for 2-3 quarts chai)
1 qt. cold water
1 family size black teabag (or 4 individual black teabags)
2 cinnamon sticks (or 1 tsp. chopped cinn. sticks)
2 tsp. cardamom pods
1 inch piece fresh ginger (or 1 tsp. tea-cut dried ginger)
1 tsp. whole cloves
1 tsp. vanilla (optional)
1/3-1/2 c. sugar

Put water, teabag, cinnamon sticks and ginger in saucepan. Combine cardamom and cloves in teaball, put in pan. Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer 5 minutes. Remove teabag, cinnamon, ginger and spices. Stir in vanilla (optional) and sugar.
Put spices and tea in teaball (I use large press 'n brew teabags; a drawstring muslin bag also work well) and place them in a quart canning jar. Fill jar with boiling water and let stand (I leave it half an hour or so). Remove tea and spices. Add sugar and stir until dissolved.
To store for future use, pour mixture into container and refrigerate. To serve immediately, mix chai with milk in proportion of 1/3-2/3 or 1/2-1/2 . Adjust to taste. Delicious warm or cold.

The Little Scarecrow Boy

The Little Scarecrow Boy by Margaret Wise Brown and David Diaz

Some authors seem to have a knack for getting down on a child's level. Margaret Wise Brown is clearly one of them. Her Goodnight Moon has been one of the most well-loved children's books of all time. The Little Scarecrow Boy is a very different sort of story and suited to a slightly older child than Goodnight Moon, but it is a wonderful story that both appeals to children and is a great read aloud. The text contains some slight repetition which adds to that appeal ("And every day of the world his little scarecrow boy wanted to come too. And every day of the world old man scarecrow said,..."). The story is a classic one: a little boy wants to help his father but must wait until he grows up; he's not "fierce enough to scare a crow." David Diaz's pictures are a perfect compliment to this charming story. He manages to capture the feel of a ripe cornfield in the morning light with his color choice, and he also gives the scarecrows wonderfully "fierce faces" without being frightening. If you want a chance to show off your dramatic skills and make some fierce faces, this is the book to read aloud to a child or group of children! Check your local library for a copy.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Clever Counters

Counting and numbers books abound, many following the same old format: the number (i.e. "3") with a picture of that number of objects (i.e. 3 kittens). While my daughter (currently 2 years old) enjoys some of the standard format numbers books, she really enjoys some of the more clever counting books out there. Below is a short list of some of our favorites, in no particular order.

Raindrop, Plop! by Wendy Cheyette Lewison and Pam Paparone
Raindrop, Plop! has a charming, rhythmic text that counts forward to ten and then back to one. Illustrations cleverly highlight the number being mentioned. For example, one page's text reads, "Seven raindrops plop in a cup." The picture is full of raindrops, but seven are drawn a bit more clearly and prominently.

Doggies (Boynton Board Books (Simon & Schuster)) by Sandra Boynton
Not only does Boynton's tradmark illustrative style mark Doggies, but the dogs each bark uniquely and in a number according to the number on the page. The reader must be prepared to get creative with "ruffs," "bow wows," "arfs," and so forth. The tenth animal is a cute surprise.

One Was Johnny: A Counting Book by Maurice Sendak
Sendak and his characters have a quirky way of connecting with young children and Johnny, "who lived by himself and liked it like that!" is no exception. This book counts up to ten and back to one.

Anno's Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno
My toddler doesn't "get" Anno's Counting Book entirely, but loves its pictures just the same. This book cleverly counts to twelve with no words or numbers. Each page is a new month of the year; each month's number is revealed in the subtle illustrations and a stack of blocks in the margin. The month of April, for example would show seasonal weather/landscape and feature four of everything: buildings, children, adults, trees, flowers, etc.

Pigs Love Potatoes by Anika Denise and Christopher Denise
Pigs Love Potatoes is our latest favorite. Another book with delightful illustrations and a catchy, rhythmic text in which numbers of piggies and potatoes are embedded. "Now four pigs peel potatoes, and four pigs sit and wait, when four pigs' next door neighbor comes strolling through the gate." Lots of fun! Of course, "the very piggy piggies eat each and every bite" at the end!