Category Archives: Children’s Fiction

National Read a Book Day Should be Every Day

National Read a Book Day

I have been unable to discover who decided September 6 is National Read a Book Day, but it really doesn’t matter. People should be reading books every day. Most teachers, librarians and booksellers would agree. My nose has always been in a book. I can’t understand why more people aren’t  turning off the TV. I’ve always found reading more entertaining.

Life Without Books?

As one who’s always been surrounded by books, I  don’t want to think how dull life would be without them. I usually read three to five books a week. I’m currently reading A Lady of High Regard by Tracie Peterson, a Christian historical romance.  As I write this it’s still free in the Kindle edition, but the price could go up any time.

I cut my bookworm teeth on picture books. Later I read my way through most of the juvenile section at the public library near my home. I walked there nearly every day. The librarian “didn’t notice” when I had checked more than the total books I was allowed at one time. By the time I hit high school, I was reading  my way through any nonfiction books in the adult section I found interesting. You might conclude I was a voracious reader and you would be right.

Television  Lost when Competing with Reading

When I was very young, TV was new. I was  six years old when the first neighbor bought one and we all gathered to watch Beanie and Cecil on the Leakin’ Lena. Here’s a sample show of the type we saw — the original black and white puppet version.

Is it no wonder that I preferred the Thornton Burgess animal stories?  TV shows for children in those days could not compete for my attention with Amanda, by Wolf Von Trutzschler. It was my all time favorite picture book. Amanda was a friendly snake who wanted to help all the other animals, most of whom loved her. Her best friend was Archibald, a monkey, who acted as her hands. The pictures in that book will stay with me forever. The book is now collectible and expensive, but I wanted you to see the cover anyway. I’m glad I still have my copy, even though it’s worn out.

 Amanda by Von Trutzschler, Wolf (1990) Hardcover

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 Some of my   favorite stories and poems came from  the big orange Childcraft books (1954 edition) Mom had on the shelf. I poured over the folk and fairy tales, adventure stories, and illustrated poems day after day.

Among other books I loved was Make Way for Ducklings,  a book no child should miss. I loved the scene where the policeman held back  traffic so the duck family could safely cross the street.

The Little Golden Books are Unforgettable

Back then there were not many quality picture books, but we did have the Little Golden Books. Some of my favorites are still available today.  These books sold for only a quarter when first published. I had a large assortment. These are the illustrations stored in my mind. For the most part, these are the editions I loved.  Newer editions of The Three Little Kittens have dropped a few pages deemed politically incorrect today.

Noises and Mr. Flibberty-jib was one of my favorite books because  noise bothers me, too. That’s one reason I moved to the country, just like he did. I made my mother read me The Taxi That Hurried over and over. I wanted that taxi to get to the train station on time.  The Poky Little Puppy appeals to the children who like to stop and observe what they see, even if it makes them late for dinner.

 Classic Characters of Little Golden Books: The Poky Little Puppy, Tootle, The Saggy Baggy Elephant, Tawny Scrawny Lion, and Scuffy the Tugboat The Poky Little Puppy (A Little Golden Book Classic) Noises and Mr. Flibberty-Jib (A Little Golden Book) The Taxi That Hurried Walt Disney’s Pinocchio (A Little Golden Book) Three Little Kittens Little Golden Book 50th Anniversary Edition (50th Anniversary Commemorative Facisimile Edition) Walt Disney’s Dumbo (Little Golden Books)

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My Preteen and Teen Years: Books vs TV

As I grew older, my parents watched westerns and variety shows. I sometimes watched Hometown Jamboree with them, since I liked Tennessee Ernie Ford.  My parents didn’t join me when I watched the Mickey Mouse Club .

Annette Funicello was about my age, and I idolized her.  She finally got her own series on the Mickey Mouse Club. Disney featured Annette’s series in a collector’s DVD set.  It includes biographical information on Annette, as well. I read her autobiography, A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, not long before  she died.  It satisfied my search for more information about the  person I had identified with so much during my middle school years.

 A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes: My Story

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My family  watched Lawrence Welk and I loved the Lennon Sisters. I recently read their autobiography, Same Song, Separate Voices, written by all four of them, and loved it. They grew up in Los Angeles County, as I did, and they weren’t rich. I had watched them sing on Lawrence Welk for years and the book showed me how they got started,  what those years meant to them, and what came after them. Every fan should read this book.  This video shows the sisters when they were young on the Lawrence Welk Show, as I knew them.

As a preteen I spent most of my free time in my room devouring the historical fiction of Gladys Malvern. I had loved Behold Your Queen — the fictionalized version of the Bible‘s Esther.  I wanted to read all Mavern’s books. Now they are available in Kindle editions.  I see I missed some my library didn’t have. Nancy Drew was also required reading  when I was young, so I read through the original series.

I still preferred books to television when in my teens. The  only shows I really cared about were comedies. Our Miss Brooks was my favorite. I love to laugh, and that’s something Eve Arden always makes me do. Other shows I watched were I Love Lucy, and the Burns and Allen show. Those shows accounted for about 90 minutes a week, so I had lots of time left to read. Most of my friends read, too, so we shared book recommendations.

What I Read While I Was in College

I continued to read classic fiction. I was an English major, so a lot of the fiction and poetry I read was assigned. If I enjoyed authors, I tried to read more of their books. I read German poets in the original.

College was also a time of spiritual inquiry for me. By my junior year I had returned to faith in Christ after a three-year period of exploring other religions. I read a lot of Christian nonfiction to better understand my faith and inspire me to live it out in everyday life. The books I read in college were the classics of evangelical students in the 1960’s, and I had the privilege of meeting some of their authors at conferences.

One of these was John R. W. Stott, a prominent Anglican priest and world-renowned Bible teacher. His most well-known book is Basic Christianity.  His writing is alive with truth and challenges to apply it to life.

I also met Elizabeth Elliot, first missionary and later a college professor.  She was widowed three times. Her most famous book is Through Gates of Splendor, the story of the martyrdom of her husband and four other American missionaries in a jungle in Ecuador. After his death, she edited and published his journals.  Shadow of the Almighty reveals the innermost thoughts of a man totally committed to following Christ — even to death.  It required careful and thoughtful reading.

The End of the Spear is a movie that tells the story of the five missionaries’ deaths from the point of view of the Waodani warrior who led the raid that killed them. The movie also reveals the good that came from this martyrdom.

 End Of The Spear Through Gates of Splendor Let Me Be a Woman Shadow Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot (Lives of Faith) The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 : Christian Counter-Culture) Basic Christianity Men Made New: An Exposition of Romans 5-8

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Reading Beyond College

You now know some of the books that satisfied my need for stories and knowledge during my youth. I will skip the years of early marriage and parenting. I have shared some of what I’m reading now in other reviews on this blog. Most of the books here are now available in Kindle editions.  That means you could actually buy a book today for National Read a Book Day.  If you don’t have a Kindle yet, I review the one I use here.

If you opt for picture books, I hope you will get physical books rather than eBooks. I think real books provide a better reading experience for children and allow for better interaction with the pictures.

No matter what day today is when you read this, go read a book and help your children to do the same. Take a trip to the library to celebrate Read a Book Day. Then take your treasures home and read them. Enjoy.

National Read a Book Day Should be Every Day

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Books for Aspiring Young Ballerinas

Many little girls want to learn to dance. Many start out with ballet when they are very young. As they see others dance in recitals and ballets, some yearn to go on and become professional ballerinas. Very few get that far. Still, though, many remain ballerinas in their hearts.

When I was young , my cousins were taking ballet, and I wanted to join them. The teacher was Russian and the classes were half an hour from my home, since my cousins lived in a different city than we did. Like many young girls, I dreamed of being a ballerina. My mother let me take classes to help me develop graceful movements and good posture, but it began to get hard for Mom to keep taking me for classes. We’d miss a few classes and then I would have to start over again each time. I knew I’d never get good enough to perform, and finally I quit. Mom was tired of taking me.

My college roommate had gotten much farther along than I ever did. When we met at UCLA she was no longer dancing. Right after graduation she had foot surgery to correct damage to her feet caused by her earlier toe dancing. She had talent, but her injuries had forced her to quit. The characters in the books I review below, had other hindrances.

 

In Dancing on the Inside by Glen Strathy, Jenny Spark dreams of being a ballerina. She had never seen a live ballet or met a ballerina in person, but her grandparents had given her a DVD of Swan Lake for Christmas, and she had watched it over and over. She could envision herself as one of the dancers.

Jenny’s parents are concerned because she has no friends. Jenny had been home schooled for the first three grades because the family had lived in an isolated area, and, unlike all the home schoolers I have known, including my own children, she hadn’t had outside activities where she could get to know other children. She gets panic attacks when she is having to relate to people she doesn’t know or do things in front of them. Jenny’s parents want her to make friends by getting into some group with girls who share common interests. Jenny wants to learn ballet, even though her mother is pushing her toward Girl Guides Pathfinders.  Jenny vigorously resists this. It doesn’t interest her at all.

We first meet Jenny and her mother, Marilyn Spark, in the car on the way for Jenny’s first ballet lesson. Jenny’s mother reminds her that if Jenny doesn’t want to continue with ballet, she has to drop out after the first lesson. After the second, her mother’s money would not be refunded. Jenny’s family has to watch their pennies. They have already bought Jenny’s shoes and her white leotard and tights. She already has her shoes on, even though it’s a rainy day. In the office of the Kingston Ballet School, Marilyn fills out papers and Jenny and her Mom meet the teacher, Madame Beaufort. She tells Jenny that her leotard and tights are the wrong color and she needs to wear her hair up off her neck. She also should have waited to be inside before changing into her ballet slippers. This made Jenny feel that she’d gotten off to a bad start.

Jenny immediately felt she didn’t belong there. She was about to leave and tell her mother to get the refund when the other girls started to arrive. In the studio where her class for twelve-year-olds was about to start, she looked for a place to hide and found it under the cloth covering the piano in one corner. She could just peek out to see and hear the other students, most of whom were returning from last year. Then Ara, the most awkward girl, but the one appearing to have the most fun, discovered her hiding, pulled the cloth up from over her hiding place, and asked ‘Who are you?’

About this time Madame Beaufort called the class to order and asked the girls to gather round, but Jenny just couldn’t move. She was getting light-headed and a bit dizzy. Madame Beaufort realized something was wrong and gave her permission to just sit on the piano bench and watch. She pays careful attention to everything the class does planning to practice later at home. After making sure she was the first to leave, Jenny goes to the car and when asked how it went tells her mother the class had been fine. That night Jenny quietly went into her father’s office where she could practice everything she had observed in class. Then she moved to the bathroom because it had a mirror where she could watch herself, and her dad walked in as she was standing on the toilet seat trying to use the towel rack as a barre. Her dad talked with her and told her she should probably leave that sort of practice for class. They talk about the class a bit and Jenny’s dad asks if she would like to be a dancer. She affirms it but expresses her doubts about ever being to dance like the others in her class. He dad says if she really wants to dance, she will find a way. She realizes he has faith in her.

Later she overhears a conversation between her mother and father about her. Marilyn expresses her fears that Jenny might convince herself she wants to be a professional dancer someday and not be good enough to make it and they would have wasted their money. Her father replies that they should just let her have fun for a while and make some friends. Jenny remembers how paralyzed with fear she was at the beginning of the class. She wonders if it will keep happening. She is scared to death to let anyone see her dance, and she cannot participate in the class without other people seeing her. All she really wanted to do was to continue to observe, take notes, and practice on her own at home, away from the others, but she knew her mother would consider that a waste of money. Then she had an idea – an idea that made her feel guilty. She put it into practice, and she did make a friend in the class. By the end of the book she and her teachers discovered she had a special talent.

Dancing on the Inside held my attention, even though it’s aimed at upper elementary and middle school students. Although I found the plot unrealistic, few fiction plots for this age group are realistic. The characters were fairly well-developed. The girls in the dance class act just the way I saw my students and my children and their friends act, but the author doesn’t stoop to using language in narration or dialogue that imitates current teen slang the way some authors for this audience have. I appreciate that. I would recommend this for girls interested in ballet, for there is a lot of dance method and talk in it. It might also be good for children who are shy, since they will discover that self-consciousness can fade away when attention is focused on helping others.

Disclosure: I received Dancing on the Inside free and requested to honesty review it. I have done that here.  It is available in both eBook and paperback format.

 

Ribbons by Laurence Yep

I just reread this book by award-winning author Laurence Yep for purposes of this blog because I remembered its ballet theme. It has been years since the first time I read Ribbons, and I enjoyed he second reading as much as the first. Like Dancing on the Inside, it’s about much more than dancing. Ribbons is just as much about the clash between generations in American Chinese families as it is about ballet.

Robin is a talented dancer whom we first meet during a performance of a shortened version of The Nutcracker, where she stars in a solo Morning Butterfly role. She appears to be recognized by the others in the recital and her teacher as the most gifted student. She was the first in toe shoes. But after the performance, as the group is breaking up and the Christmas break approaches, Robin is surprised to hear her teacher, Madame Oblamov say to her, ‘How I shall miss you.’ Robin couldn’t understand what she meant.

Later she found out from her parents that they could no longer afford to pay for her lessons. Instead, the money is having to go to help bring Robin’s maternal grandmother from Hong Kong to their San Francisco home to live with them. Hong Kong was about to be returned to Communist China, and Robin’s mother wanted to get her out before that happened. It was an expensive process and Robin’s parents did not have much money. Robin’s mother had already brought her two younger brothers to live with her, paid for their college educations, and finally they started their own families, and became successful in their own careers. In fact, they were now wealthier than Robin’s family, and their homes were much bigger.

There was no guest room in Robin’s home, so when her grandmother finally came, she had to give her own room to Grandmother and share a room with her five-year-old brother Ian. That was hard for an eleven-year-old girl to swallow, especially when he started defacing her prized dolls and then said Grandmother had given him permission. It was also obvious that Grandmother favored Ian, giving him special treats, and even telling him he could eat the ice cream bar with her name on it she had been saving and looking forward to all day. When she came home that day, it was gone, and she found the wrapper with her name on it in the trash.

 

She missed her ballet and her ballet friends with whom she practiced. They didn’t understand why Robin couldn’t dance with them, and Robin was not allowed to tell anyone, especially her grandmother, the truth.  She felt as though something inside her was dying when she couldn’t dance. She was determined to keep up with her practicing, even though she had to do it on the concrete floor of the garage. Meanwhile, she could not get her parents to commit to when she might be able to start lessons again.

Up until this time, Robin had lived a normal American life. Her mother was Chinese and had come from Hong Kong. Her father was a Caucasian American. Her friends at ballet were from many races. She had not been exposed much to Chinese culture outside the United States. She gradually learned that culture was responsible for the decisions her mother was making. Men were favored in Chinese culture. That’s why her mother did not ask her brothers to assist with Grandmother’s support  and made excuses for their lack of help, even though they were in a better financial situation to provide it. Robin and Ian were cut to one small Christmas present each that year, but at the family celebration their cousins were announcing all the expensive presents they had gotten. It just didn’t seem fair to Ian and Robin. Robin’s resentment against Grandmother (and her uncles and cousins) just kept building.

Then one day, she accidentally discovers a secret Grandmother never wanted her to know. The discovery changes how she feels and her life begins to change for the better. You will have to read the book to see what happened to get Robin dancing again.

Although both books are written for the same age group and share the ballet theme, they are very different in style and vocabulary. Dancing on the Inside was a well-told story. It had a message, but one had to suspend one’s knowledge of the real world to accept the plot. The Ribbons plot is consistent with reality. I have spent a great deal of time with Chinese Americans from the first, second, and third generations. I have very close Chinese friends who have discussed their family problems with me. I have seen some of these same themes of inter-generational misunderstanding and conflict as we’ve talked. I’ve met both parents and their children.

Probably the first thing I noticed when I opened Ribbons again after just finishing Dancing on the Inside was the difference in style. Dancing on the Inside is a well-written story. Ribbons is literature. Ribbons has a more extensive vocabulary and more complex characters. It also has a more universal theme. Wannabe ballerinas will probably enjoy both books, but teachers will probably find more discussion topics in Ribbons
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Lili at Ballet by Rachel Isadora

Very young children who take ballet or want to know what happens in a beginning ballet class will enjoy Lili at Ballet by Rachel Isadora. It’s picture book story about Lili, who takes ballet lessons four afternoons a week. The story is a loose framework for a visual presentation of ballet positions, steps, and terms. It illustrates everything beginning students do and wear . It’s a great introduction to give a young child who wants to take ballet so she will know what to expect. Both male and female students are shown in the pictures. Note: The cover illustration for this book is more vivid than it looks on the Amazon page, and the tutu shows up much better. 

 

What You Can Expect on the Menu at Bookworm Buffet

Child Reading book in Swing
I have always loved books. This was taken outside sitting in Cousin Edna’s swing when I was about two.

I have loved books for as long as I can remember. I not only had parents who read to me, but there were two single teachers in our extended family who were nearing retirement when I was growing up. Cousin Edna, my first cousin three times removed,  treated me like a grandchild, since she had no children. Her roommate, whom we called Auntie Lucile, taught science, and treated me like a niece. They both liked to read to me on our Sunday visits, and they made sure I was always supplied with books.

They knew me well, and always chose books I enjoyed. I’m glad that there were no media inspired series of books being published when I was a child in the 1940’s. Instead I got imaginative stories that my family read to me — until it appeared I was getting ready to learn to read for myself. The only series I read a lot of when I was approaching school age was the Little Golden Books Series. If I had to choose a favorite from it, it would be The Poky Little Puppy
I think most children can identify with this curious little puppy who is interested in everything he sees and hears, and always stops to investigate, even though it makes him late for dinner.

Some of my favorite books when I was young.
Some of my favorite books when I was young.
Amanda p.18 illustration, @ Wolo
Amanda p.18 illustration, @ Wolo, 1941, William Morrow and Co. Amanda makes a slide of her body to give the winged monkeys such a good time they will tell her how to get to the Blue Lake. Archibald, the monkey hitting the water, is Amanda’s best friend.

The books in this photo came from my Cousin Edna, I absolutely loved Amanda, the story of a kind snake. She had polka dots, wore a ribbon in her hair and a necklace, and on  the tip of her tail was a golden bell.  Amanda was helpful to everyone. I can still visualize the illustrations by Wolo (Wolf Von Trutzschlerafter 67 years. This featured illustration was scanned from my well worn first edition that had been read countless times.

Amanda goes in and out of print. See which Amanda editions are available now at Amazon.  As I searched for them, I discovered Wolo also had a series of animal stories I had never known about before I did my search. I’m sorry I missed them.

For me, Mother Goose will always mean the verses I saw in the the collection pictured above, collected, arranged, and illustrated by William Rose Benét,  whose illustrations now seem overly bright and somewhat gaudy to me. Some used and collectible copies can be found on Amazon, if you like the style or remember it from your own childhood. Children’s book illustrations have some a long way since the 1940’s. Some verses are timeless, though, even though some writers have tried to revise them to be more politically correct or to teach a particular religious view.

The third book, The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad, is one of a set of six I received for Christmas when I was six years old. It was another present from Cousin Edna. It not only taught me that toads have beautiful eyes, but the author, Thornton Burgess, also opened a whole new world of nature and wisdom to me. His animal characters wear human clothes and have human personality traits , but they also have the habits and characteristics of the wild animals that they are.

Burgess weaves these together to draw young readers into the world of the Green Forest and the animals and birds found there. Children can taste the fear of Chatterer the Red Squirrel as he runs from Shadow the Weasel and they will root for him as he devises his escape plan to make Shadow the hunted rather than the hunter. Chatterer was the first Burgess character I met, but I’ve never forgotten him. I devoured that first book and had all six read before New Year’s Day. I eagerly looked forward to each new book in the series. These books helped me learn to love wildlife.

I didn’t mind the morals in the short verses Burgess included. He was trying to help young readers realize there are consequences to teasing, stealing from others, and other undesirable behaviors . Here’s an example of his mild moralizing in prose as part of the story:

If he (Chatterer) hadn’t called Bobby Coon names that morning at the top of his voice, Shadow the Weasel might not have found him. 

My favorite books as they appear in the photo aren’t easy to find today. I have given you links above for my Amanda and Mother Goose books if they interest you. The illustrations, along with which verses have been selected,  probably will determine which edition of Mother Goose your young bookworms will want to devour, and tastes vary. You can choose the Mother Goose edition you like best on Amazon by looking inside the books.

Thornton Burgess books are much easier to find, since there are inexpensive paperback versions still in print, collections of the books in slipcases, and story collections in single volumes. As I write this, Kindle editions of most of the original Burgess stories I mentioned here can be downloaded for free. I just think most young bookworms would prefer the paper editions or hardcover illustrated collections, such as this one: Burgess’ Bedtime Story-Books, Vol. 3: The Adventures of Chatterer the Red Squirrel, Sammy Jay, Buster Bear, and Old Mr. Toad. It contains my four favorites in the series.

I read so many books as a child that I’ve forgotten most of them. A few do stand out and are still much loved by today’s children. I will be introducing more of my favorites, including those still in print, as I have time, and they won’t be limited to children’s books. Soon I truly will have a buffet for bookworms laid out that will please the diverse fiction and nonfiction tastes of all readers, young and old.