Showing posts with label Children's Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Children's Books. Show all posts

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Canning Tomatoes-An Excerpt from The Melendys

Today is the beginning of the canning extravaganza-where every surface is covered in pulp and seeds and we all collapse on random kitchen chairs at 7 pm, wearily watching the last canner.  Every year that I do this, I wonder why I think this is a good idea, but when I see the beautiful ruby red jars full of tomatoes sitting in the basement, I feel completely gratified.  The other thing that always crosses my mind is the story of the Melendys, written by Elizabeth Enright.  The Melendys have all sorts of adventures (see this post, where I wrote about them), but here's an excerpt from their canning adventure, accompanied by pictures of our canning mess.   Enjoy!
Onions in the food processor, for pizza sauce.  (Note the clean kitchen.
It's the last time you're going to see a tomato-less surface for the rest of this post)

So in summary, Cuffy (the kindly housekeeper) has left to take care of her sister-with-a-broken-leg, widower Father is on some vague business trip (he frequently is), and that leaves the four children at home, the oldest of whom is fourteen.  You heard that right, fourteen!  It's August and the garden is, of course, overflowing.  Mona (the 14 year old) is completely enchanted with cooking and proposes that she and Randy (the 12 year old) can the produce-

""We eat tomatoes for every meal except breakfast now," Randy said.  "And the cucumbers are just getting boring."  "Maybe we could sell them," offered Oliver helpfully.  "Nix, small fry.  In a rural community like this it would be coals to Newcastle."  "Canning is the answer," Mona said.  "Oh, if only Cuffy were here!""

"A moment later she looked up, striking the table with her mixing spoon.  "We'll do it ourselves!  We'll surprise Cuffy."  "O-o-oh, no!"  said Rush.  "And have us all dead with bottling bacillus or whatever it is.  No, thank you."  "Botulinus bacillus," corrected Mona.  "Oh, Rush, don't be so stuffy.  I'll get a book about it and do everything just the way it says.  I'll only can safe things like the tomatoes and I'll make pickles of the cucumbers."

"Mona slept an uneasy sleep that night, and her dreams were long dull dreams about tomatoes.  She rose early the next morning, got breakfast with Randy, and studied her canning book.  By the time the boys and Willy began bringing the vegetables, she knew it almost by heart.  She and Rand were enthusiastic about the first bushel-basketful of tomatoes, it seemed a treasure trove: an abundance of sleek vermilion fruit, still beaded with dew.  The second bushel also looked very pretty, the third a little less so, and by the time the fourth one arrived she stared at it with an emotion of horror.  "There can't be that many, Rush!"  "You asked for it, pal.  There's the living evidence.  And in twenty four hours, there'll be this much over again." …."The kitchen was swamped with vegetables."

"It was a long, hot, clumsy business.  Mona dropped sterilized lids on the floor, and they had to be sterilized all over again; Randy cut herself with the paring knife; Mona half-scalded her fingers getting the first jar into the boiler.  Randy skidded and fell on a slippery tomato skin which had somehow landed on the kitchen floor.  They lost two jars of tomatoes from the first batch when they were taking them out of the boiler.  The first was dropped by Mona when she thoughtlessly took hold of it with her bare hands.  The second exploded like a bomb, all by itself.  "I guess there was something the matter with it," said Randy brilliantly.

"Her [Mona's] face was scarlet with exertion.  Her hair was tied up in a dish towel, and her apron was covered with tomato stains.  Randy looked worse if anything.  There were tomato seeds in her hair and an orange smear across one cheek.  She was wearing nothing but a faded old playsuit and an apron.  "Gee whiz," she said.   "You know how I feel?  I feel like an old, old woman about forty years old, with fallen arches."

I hear ya', Randy, I hear ya'.

Still, later…"They look sort of nice.  The tomatoes, I mean, not your arches.  Look, Ran."  They were nice.  Sixteen sealed jars of scarlet fruit, upside down on the kitchen table.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Henry Reed

I'm back again today with yet another wonderful children's book, this time for slightly older readers.  This book is in my personal library and the other day I just randomly picked it up and started reading it.  The book is called Henry Reed's Babysitting Service.  Henry Reed is the son of an ambassador who travels all over the world.  Every summer, he comes to his aunt and uncle's cozy little 1950s New Jersey neighborhood.  There are several books, but my favorite is definitely Henry Reed's Babysitting.  After the previous summer which is covered in the first book, Henry returns to Grover's Corner and proceeds to plan another moneymaking scheme with his friend Midge.

After conducting lengthy surveys of all the neighbors, they see that there is a real need for babysitting.  And there starts the fun.  There is the busy housewife for whom they cook hamburgers, little knowing that the "hamburger meat" is really ground horse meat for the poodle; and there's the extremely naughty little girl who is surprisingly good at hiding from her caretakers.  But no matter what Henry and Midge do, they always have surprising adventures.  And of course, as in all good 50s children's books, adults are blissfully absent, meaning that the children can have uproarious times without any supervision whatsoever.
Henry and Midge

The book is written in a diary form (something I don't normally enjoy reading), but the stories are so funny and interesting that it works quite well.  I think that the diary form actually works very well for the reader because Henry's voice comes through so clearly without interruptions from the author.

I first heard of these books in middle school, when my dad read one of them aloud.  I remember loving them at once, so it was fun to read through this book again. This story is really great for any age.  Along with Henry's very funny voice are the great illustrations.  All 5 of the Henry Reed books were illustrated by the famous Robert McCloskey (who illustrated and wrote Blueberries for Sal).  Anybody as young as 6 would get the humor and the adventures and there is something timeless about the stories, even with the 50s American references.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Alfie and Annie Rose

This darling little book is in a genre that I don't normally read, but it's such a sweet book that it really deserves it's own review.  The Alfie and Annie Rose books are stories about two little 80s/90s British children and their happy lives.   The stories are told mainly from Alfie's perspective, but Annie Rose definitely plays a big role in the stories.  Alfie is a 4 or 5 year old and Annie Rose is a toddler, so she's probably anywhere from 1-3.  I just read recently that Alfie would be 30 now if he were a real person.  That surprised me so much because Alfie lives in my mind as a 5 year old.  He has all kinds of adventures from going to a birthday party where his friend gets very wild and naughty to befriending the "big boy" (a first grader) at school.  Alfie and Annie Rose live charming, normal lives and I remember how much I identified with them.

Just recently, my mom got one of the Alfie and Annie Rose books just for fun.  It was fun to flip through those pages again and remember so many of those stories.  I grew up reading these stories and I was amazed how much I remembered about the books.  I think that these books are so enjoyable in large part because Shirley Hughes (the author) clearly knows children so well.  She understands just how excited and out of control children get at a 5 year old birthday party and she knows about naming inanimate objects funny names (I had a pumpkin named Perenkin when I was about Alfie's age).  In addition to all these wonderful qualities, the illustrations are gorgeous.  The family's cluttery, cozy little London flat is so much fun to see.
An illustration from one of the books.

I really do recommend these books for anybody.  If you have some contact with any children (or if you don't), I think these books are a must-read.  When there are so many unlikeable characters in children's books and sub-par stories, these books are very refreshing.

Monday, May 19, 2014


Quick!  Quick!  The Midnight Garden, a blog that focuses mostly on young adult and middle grade fiction, is hosting a giveaway of L.M. Montgomery books published by Sourcebooks Fire.  As many of you know, I adore L.M. Montgomery, so you'd better bet that I went over there are entered at once.  If any of you are interested, head on over there.

Here's the link.  Enjoy!

There are two sets of books being given away: a set of the six Anne books and a set of six non-Anne books.  The books in the non-Anne set are Jane of Lantern Hill, A Tangled Web, The Blue Castle, Pat of Silver Bush, Mistress Pat, and Magic for Marigold.  Of these, I have only read The Blue Castle, so I'm pretty excited about this.

I'm blogging about this at the last moment, so you only have 15 more hours to enter this giveaway.  Good luck!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Secret of Platform 13

After a particularly busy and stressful week, I was coming down with a nasty chest cold, so I brewed myself a pot of peppermint tea and went to the crate that holds our library books.  Nothing quite suited me, until my eye fell on a little title that I had picked up on a whim the week before.  The book was called The Secret of Platform 13.  I had first heard of the author from the lovely Penderwicks.  Jane, the middle sister, loved books by Eva Ibbotson, so I decided that I needed to read at least one of her books.  Sure enough, Jane's book recommendation was true and I like to think that The Secret of Platform 13 was what put me on the road to recovery.

The Secret of Platform 13 is the story of four very different magical creatures who come from a magical island that can be reached every 9 years for 9 days going through on the abandoned Platform 13.  On this island, harpies, ogres, feys, and witches live together in harmony, but there is one little twinge of sadness.  The human king and queen lost their son 9 years ago when the prince's three nannies lost him to an evil kidnapper named Mrs. Trottle.  So, an ogre, a little hag (our heroine), a very old wizard, and a fey travel through Platform 9 thirteen years after the boy was kidnapped to save him.  They discover, much to their horror that the boy who is the prince is quite awful and the boy that they wish is the prince is only a kitchen boy.

This story reminds me of Roald Dahl, E. Nesbit,  J.K. Rowling, and other British magic-writers.  I highly recommend this gripping, yet gentle little story for any age.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Graveyard Book

I first heard of Neil Gaiman through a family member, who raved about how interesting and wonderful his writing was.  While at the library, I did a little search through the young adult and adult fiction by Gaiman and settled on The Graveyard Book.  I was quite unimpressed by the cover: very typically young-adulty-sci-fyish looking, but I went ahead and checked it out because a.) it won a Newberry and b.)  the summary of the book looked very intriguing.

The Graveyard Book is the story of a boy named Bod, short for Nobody, who lives in a graveyard and is raised and educated by ghosts and his guardian, a strange creature who is neither a ghost or a human.  He has all kinds of adventures, from keeping away from the evil man who murdered his whole family, to meeting the Indigo man who lives under a hill.  He makes friends and has a loving family, just like a normal human child, but all of his friends and family are ghosts, with exception of a girl named Scarlet.
An illustration from the book

This book is so intriguing and I loved every minute of it, from Bod's doting ghost parents, to the thrilling adventures he has.  While I was reading it, I didn't think for a moment, "This is definitely a young-adult book."  This story can be enjoyed by all ages.  So, I recommend it and I guarantee that, even if you've never cared for ghosts stories, you will love this charming book.

Another illustration from the book

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Tribute to Elizabeth Enright

Today I have another great children's author.  Elizabeth Enright was truly magnificent.  I think she was one of the most clever authors of children's literature that I have ever read.  I also think that her writing is a great peek into the American 1940s and 50s.  Let's do an overview of some of my favorites of her writing, shall we?

She wrote two books called Gone Away Lake and Return to Gone Away.

They are two stories of a life-long dream of mine.  In this story, Portia and her brother, Foster, go to visit their cousin Julian in the country.  Portia and Julian discover a dried up lake and a row of Victorian lake homes. The meet the lovable sister and brother Mrs. Cheever and Mr. Payton.  They have wonderful adventures exploring the old houses full of old clothes (eek!), furniture, and fantastic cubby-holes.  In the second book, Return to Gone-Away, Portia and her family buy one of the old estates, renovate it, and turn it into their home.

One of the wonderful illustrations from the book.

The Melendys is another wonderful book set in about 4 siblings in the 40s. Their names are Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver.  Aren't those interesting and pretty names?
There are 4 books written about the children and it is some of the best writing I think I have ever read.
Here's a link from this blog with wonderful quotes from the Melendys.

My copy is a pretty, old one with lovely illustrations, but this is the only one I could find online.


The Saturdays is about the 4 Melendy children and the clever way they spend their Saturdays.  They agree to pool their money, and each Saturday one of the siblings gets to go on some outing.  Along the way they meet people and have all kinds of adventures.

The Four Story Mistake is the story of the Melendys moving to an old country house.  The house is every child's dream with a huge attic and a huge basement full of treasures.  At their new home, they skate on the frozen brook, make new friends, milk goats, and hold a huge auction to raise money for war bonds.

In Then There Were Five, the children get a new sibling named Mark who lived on a neighboring farm with his dastardly cousin.  They have more adventures like those in The Four Story Mistake.

In Spider Web For Two, Mark, Rush, and Mona have all gone to boarding school.  Randy and Oliver are lonely, and so their father puts together a list of clues leading to a big surprise.  I didn't enjoy this one as well, maybe because the three older ones weren't there.  The four children balanced each other so well and I felt that lack of balance in this book.

Enright wrote many more children's books, but these are the two series that I loved the most.  If you pick up one of her books, be sure to set aside a hefty chunk of time, because you won't want to stop reading once you start.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Penderwicks

Ah...the Penderwicks series.  They are one of those wonderful children's books that can be read by everybody at any age and enjoyed.  If you are 5 or 85, these books are such fun reads

The first book introduces the four Penderwick sisters: Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty and their father, Martin Penderwick, a botany professor.  Their mother is dead and they live in Connecticut, raised mostly by their father and their aunt.  Rosalind is calm, gentle, and slightly bossy.  Skye loves math, soccer, and astronomy.  She reminds me of a modern day Jo March, of Little Women.  Jane is a writer and her dramatic lines make me laugh.  Batty is the youngest and loves animals.  They are staying in a little cottage at the edge of the property of a great big mansion for a few weeks in the summer.  The girls have all kinds of wonderful adventures, from meeting the truly awful Mrs. Tifton and her very nice son named Jeffrey who live in the mansion, to a run-in with an angry bull.

The second book is set at the Penderwick's home, on Gardam Street.  There, the sisters have more adventures, but there is something that they're all worried about.  Their wonderful aunt Claire whom they all love appears with a blue letter written by their mother.  This letter tells their father that he needs to go on 4 dates in a month.  And so, the girls come up with the Save Daddy Plan, where they will find 4 awful dates for him and then he will be able to go back to normal life.  Along the way, there are a lot of funny parts, from Skye and Jane's writing mix-up, to Batty's adventures spying on the neighbors.

The third book is set at another summer vacation spot.  I can't fully tell about the plot because there would be spoilers galore.  Jane, Skye, and Batty go with their aunt Claire to Pointe Mouette in Maine for 2 weeks.  Skye is very anxious about this vacation because she is the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick) for 2 whole weeks.  Their father, Martin Penderwick, is in England and Rosalind is finally getting a much-needed break with her best friend at the beach.  The whole story revolves around Skye, Jane, and Batty's vacation, which includes, much to their joy, their dear friend Jeffrey from the first book.

Jeanne Birdsall's plan is to write a total of 5 Penderwick books.  I can't wait to read the next one.  I highly recommend these books and hope that you enjoy them, too!