In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"Just-right" reads

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Here in New York, we are happily wallowing in our post-Christmas reading glut -- the books you sent, coupled with a number of others from relatives and a select few that Jeff and I bought for the girls, are keeping us very happy.  Thank you!

Scrolling through headlines in the New York Times today, I was caught by a feature called "What's 'Just Right' for the Young Reader?" It poses the question, "How do you know the age at which to introduce children to certain books that might have 'big kid' themes?" and then asks eight people with expertise in children's literature -- authors, librarians, a middle-school teacher, academics -- to answer it briefly.  The short response essays are interesting and varied in content.  They touch on some themes we've written about here: what's "too scary" for your younger child? Your chapter-book reading age child? Most of the focus in these mini-essays is on books for kids who are reading on their own, and several mention the Harry Potter problem: the series which begins as appropriate for one age, but by book four becomes weighted with far more adult themes.

The consensus seems to be what we've come to many times over: it's good to be up to date on what your kids are reading, and to be able to have conversations with them about difficult material (see here and here).

This train of thought started me thinking again about what it means for a book to be "just right" for a kid.  There's "just right" content, which is largely what the NYT essays talk about.  There's "just right" reading level, as we're beginning to experience regularly with Eleanor.  Now that she's in kindergarten, she brings home a new set of five books every week, chosen from the bins that have been deemed right for her reading level.  These are tiny paperback books, most of them not terribly interesting in content, which help her practice what she can read on her own and push her to challenge herself a little bit.

There's "just right" in terms of what kids want to have read to them before they can read to themselves: for whatever reason, Isabel recently became enamored with a picture-book version of Dumbo, and we had to read it several times a day so that she could keep engaging with the story.  (Her latest obsession, thank goodness, are the two Alfie treasuries you sent for Christmas.  Much more fun to reread!)

One of the essayists, Deborah Pope, writes about the importance of older kids, even kids who are able to read chapter books alone, returning regularly to picture books.  Happily, I am so often reading the same books to both girls at the same time -- and of course, the arrival of baby #3 will continue the trend -- that Eleanor will be interacting with picture books for years to come.  For Christmas, Eleanor drew a pop-up book for her grandparents, containing a story told entirely through pictures: "Like Flotsam," she told me, when I asked if she wanted to include some words.

Finally, there's "just right" in terms of what a kid gets out of the same book, years or even just months after reading it for the first time.  This week, my in-laws have been staying with us, and Eleanor's Lala read her the third Nancy Drew book.  It was fascinating to see how Eleanor responded differently to Book #3 than to Book #1.  The excitement over possible danger was still there, in spades -- this girl cannot sit still when there's any kind of suspenseful moment -- but added to that was a whole layer of far more active participation.  She kept asking Lala to pause, and then would engage her in conversation about what might happen next, looking ahead and using the pictures and captions to make inferences and predictions.  Her ideas were pretty good, too.  Essentially the same book, but the kid, six months older, engaged with it in a totally different way.

As always, I am left feeling grateful, and feeling like I have a tremendous amount to look forward to in the years ahead.

Love, Annie

Monday, December 24, 2012

Dear Annie,

Ah, the Nutcracker!  Ah, Christmas!

Both my daughters are home now.  We trimmed the tree last night (complete with a cookie-cutter-shaped star you made circa 1982).  Then we read one of our many Christmas Eve books so that we can get through the rest of the huge pile tonight.  It was a perfect way to feel that family holiday time had started, while keeping one foot in my retail world.  The book is about matching a toy, a child, and a grown-up, with some lovely scenes in a toy store. 

The Story of Holly and Ivy
by Rumer Godden (pictures by Barbara Cooney) is probably the entire family's favorite.  Here's the beginning:
This is a story about wishing.  It is also about a doll and a little girl.  It begins with the doll.
Her name, of course, was Holly.
It could not have been anything else, for she was dressed for Christmas in a red dress, and red shoes, though her petticoat and socks were green.
Holly is placed in the window (note red-clad doll in center of illustration) and told by the other toys that "We must be sold today," Christmas Eve.  They all long for a home and the touch of children's hands.
( I feel right at home with this picture.  Last night I'd just been through a pretty intense day of last-minute shopping, with another coming up today.)

The story is full of longing: Ivy, an orphan in a city, announces she's going to spend Christmas with her grandmother, even though (as she's scoffingly reminded by Barnabas, another orphan) she is without relatives.  Ivy is sent to another orphanage for the holiday, but gets off her train at a small town.  She wanders through a Christmas Eve market, buying food, tea and a balloon.

We start following a local couple -- the husband is a policeman.  The wife is longing for something -- or someone.  She buys a Christmas tree and candles.  He goes to work, reminding her to have his breakfast ready when he finishes the night shift.  Ivy looks in their window and wants to live there.  First, though, she spends a night alone.  Holly goes unsold, despite the efforts of the store owner and his assistant Peter.  During the night, Ivy spots Holly through the store window, and both know they're destined for each other:
"My Christmas doll!"
"My Christmas girl!"
and they wish very hard.

Eventually the policeman finds Ivy (I'm leaving out a sub-plot here), who says she's staying at her grandmother's house, and leads him to his own home.
  Mr. Jones seemed rather surprised.  "Are you sure?" asked Mr. Jones.
   "Qu-quite sure," said Ivy [shivering from the cold].  "She has m-my breakfast ready."
   "Did you say . . . your breakfast?" asked Mr. Jones.
  "Of course," said Ivy, "L-look in at the w-window.  There," she told him.  "Th-there's my Ch-Christmas t-tree."
   Mr. Jones thought a moment.  Then: "Perhaps it is your Christmas tree," he said.
   "Sh-shall we kn-knock?" asked Ivy.  But, "You needn't knock," said Mr. Jones.  "You can come in."
As the girl and the grown-ups are realizing that they're getting their wishes, Peter takes Holly (part of omitted subplot) from the store and leaves her under the Joneses' tree, where Ivy finds her.  This all leads eventually to Ivy's adoption by the Joneses.  When the orphanage director visits to arrange the adoption, Ivy says, "Please tell Barnabas."

The end of the story recaps everyone's fulfilled wishes, concluding:
I told you it was a story about wishing.
So satisfying.

May wishes come true for you and yours and everyone reading on this Christmas Eve.

Much love,

Deborah
 


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Classic Christmas ballet

Dear Aunt Debbie,

What an excellent post from Bob!  I've never read any Rosemary Sutcliff, but it's clear that I should.  She'll go on my maternity leave reading list, for sure.

This weekend has offered the first breather for me in quite a while, after a punishing week of teaching and grading and kids' school holiday parties.  Thanks to my most excellent in-laws, yesterday I had a chance to finish my Christmas shopping, including a visit to Book Court, our favorite local independent, to pick up a few last books I'd ordered.  Seeing the crowded, cheerful store, I thought happily of the business you've been doing.

In the children's section, there were several Christmas-themed picture books facing out, including one I've been wanting to write about for a few weeks: The Nutcracker, by Susan Jeffers.  We discovered this book a couple of years ago, completely unconnected to the Christmas season: Eleanor picked it up at the library, and then wanted to read it every night for three weeks.  My general rule on library books is that if they occasion two or three requests to renew them or take them out again, we'll go ahead and buy them, so about a year ago I bought Eleanor this copy.

It's a clearly-told, sumptuously illustrated version of the story which hews closely to the plot of the ballet, and contains lots of good dancing pictures.  One of the charming and odd things about it is the number of pages where, if you look closely, no one's feet are touching the ground: everybody seems to be floating.


(Apologies for the slightly cut-off text -- the pages are oversized, and my scanner is not.)

The Mouse King is a little creepy, but not too terribly frightening, and there are pages of dancers in various costumes, allowing both Eleanor and Isabel to announce on reaching each page which of the dancers they'd like to be.  (Eleanor is partial to the Sugar Plum Fairy, natch.)  We went to see a version of the Nutcracker ballet this year, and Eleanor was slightly confused that the name of the heroine was Clara -- in Jeffers's book,  as apparently in Alexandre Dumas's retelling of the original and creepier E.T.A. Hoffman story, the girl is called Marie.  Marie or Clara, she points her toes and flies through the air here in a totally winning, slightly cheesy manner which both of my girls adore.

It's a good book for Christmas, or for ballet-loving kids, or for anyone in the mood for a slightly loopy fairy-tale story that ends well.

Love, Annie

Friday, December 21, 2012

Guest blogger: History and Lit

Dear Annie,

I can never quite remember from year to year the rhythms of the holiday season in the toy and book store, but it sure has been intense this year.  So my spouse is stepping in, delivering an entry I've been hoping he'd write for quite a while.  Without further ado, here's Bob Thompson, guest blogger:


At some point in the early 1960s, when I was maybe 12, I picked a novel by Rosemary Sutcliff off a shelf at the public library.  Half a century later, I'm still rereading her.  This says a lot about the way certain books can grab you, emotionally and intellectually, when you're young, and also about the uncanny ability of Sutcliff –- a prolific British writer of historical fiction –- to evoke lost worlds.

original 1959 cover
The Sutcliff I'm rereading right now is The Lantern Bearers, and the lost world it evokes is Britain in the 5th century A.D., at the very end of Roman rule.  Waves of Germanic invaders, known generically as Saxons, threaten to overrun what's left of Roman Britain (it is no secret that they will eventually succeed) while a half-Roman, half-British war leader named Ambrosius Aurelianus struggles to keep them at bay.  Ambrosius is a real though extremely murky historical figure, plausibly reimagined.  His successor, who plays a supporting role in The Lantern Bearers but stars in Sutcliff's adult novel Sword at Sunset, is the historical antecedent of the legendary King Arthur.

A heroic, doomed fight against long odds that emerges as legend: Who can resist that narrative?  It goes back to Thermopylae and beyond.  Yet what made Sutcliff's version stick with me are the individual stories woven into the larger drama –- people I came to love, and the adult-level complexities of their lives.

The Lantern Bearers begins with a quick sketch of family happiness in perilous times.  Aquila, a young Roman cavalry officer, arrives home on leave to his father's farm.  Flavia, his sister, has turned 16 since he left.  “I don't suppose you can even run now,” he tells her.
     She sprang up, her face alight with laughter.  “What will you wager me that I do not reach the terrace steps ahead of you?”
     “A new pair of crimson slippers against a silver buckle for my sword-belt.”
     “Done!  Are you ready?”
     “Yes.  Now!
Flavia wins, but Aquila's debt goes unpaid.  Without warning, Rome pulls its last troops out of Britain.  Aquila makes an agonized decision to desert his command and stay.  Days later, Saxons kill his father, burn the farm, and carry Flavia into captivity.  Her screams will haunt his sleep for years.

Aquila survives his own, separate captivity with one goal remaining: to find his sister.  Yet by the time he does, her Saxon ties –- a man, a child –- are too strong to break.  Looking for a cause, and an outlet for his bitterness, he seeks out Ambrosius and ends up commanding a British cavalry wing.  By this time, however, he has withdrawn from risky human connection, and when forced into marriage, for political reasons, he is equipped only to do damage. 

Here is his wife, Ness, condemning his self-protective callousness:
It is never the things that you do, but the way that you do them.  You took me from my father's hearth as you might have taken a dog -– no, not a dog; I have seen you playing with Cabal's ears and gentling him under the chin -– as you might have taken a kist or a cooking-pot that you did not much value.  Did you never think that I might have knifed you with your own dagger one night, and been away in the darkness?
She does not knife him, and slowly, after the birth of their son, his human feeling returns.  Naturally, this opens him to the pain he has been suppressing.

Ness is a subtly-drawn character, as are so many in The Lantern Bearers; I can’t do them justice here.  I’m also slighting the action part of the plot.  War is a constant in Aquila's life, and Sutcliff describes the fighting with heart-stopping vividness.  Then, in the aftermath of one last battle, the public and private narratives converge.  Aquila encounters a wounded Saxon warrior with Flavia's face, and is forced to decide -– as when choosing between Britain and Rome –- which loyalty to betray.

Spoiler alert: It turns out to be no contest.

“You must tell her that I send her son back to her,” Aquila tells the wounded man -– at last putting his own grievous wound behind him -- “in place of a pair of crimson slippers.” 

Thank you, Bob.

And love to you, Annie.

Deborah 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Psst -- look to the right: book lists!

Dear Aunt Debbie,

What a roller coaster of a week.  I missed a post this week because of total exhaustion and overwork, we welcomed cousin Ava (hoorah!), and yesterday's events in Newtown have left me and every other parent I know deeply shaken.  We were out and about in Manhattan today, feeling both joy in the holiday atmosphere and the strange dissonance of knowing about unspeakable tragedy and needing to go on and prepare for Christmas.

Because, as you've been posting from the retail front lines, the holidays are upon us!

Earlier this week, a friend expecting her second child emailed to ask me if I had some recommendations for books about older siblings welcoming younger ones into the family.  Yes! I emailed back immediately.  In fact, we have a whole list!  I directed her to our Picture Book list, and advised her to scroll down to "New Baby Books."  She responded with thanks, and a lovely Facebook post in which she applauds our lists.  At the risk of being self-serving, I'll quote from it here:


the book lists she has compiled are astounding! books for babies, picture books, learning to read, early chapter books, not to mention subcategories like "awesomely british," "books with holes in them," "books with racially diverse/mostly non-white characters," and "mice who like to use human things." just when you thought you had read them all, i promise you haven't even come close. behold this wonderful resource then go and refresh the bookshelves of your favorite kiddos at your local book store.


I love putting together these lists, categorizing and adding to them as we post each week.  After more than two years and 500 blog entries, they're pretty comprehensive.  So here's my plug for tonight: readers, check out our book lists, over there to the right, as you're finishing up your Christmas shopping!  It's the next best thing to being able to walk into Child's Play and have a face-to-face conversation with you, Aunt Debbie.

Love, Annie




Thursday, December 13, 2012

Santa: the origin

Dear Annie,

Ava!
We have another cousin!  Ava was born on 12/12/12 (what a great date to carry through life).  Her parents had the first amazing wedding of the 2010 Summer of Amazing Cousin Weddings.  Ava is Eleanor and Isabel's third cousin -- and she'll soon get a third third cousin from your family.  Welcome, Ava!

Life stays busy in the toy and book store.  I feel like I'm constantly racing to replace sold-out books.  Since my last post, the dam has broken on the Calvin and Hobbes complete set, we keep selling the Lord of the Rings boxed set, and now the box that won't sell is the first 28 volumes of Magic Tree House at $140 -- not my favorite series, as you know.  It's fun to wonder what won't be there anymore after my day off on Saturday.

The Charles Santore-illustrated Wizard of Oz is doing quite well, as always.  This year I've brought in more of his Snow White because I was thinking good thoughts about it after your post.  We're carrying  a Santore-illustrated Night Before Christmas (in large and small editions).  And Santore has another L. Frank Baum story: a retold version of  The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.

It's an odd story -- one could argue that all of Baum's are.  And although you know how much I love Santore's Wizard of Oz illustrations,  these veer toward the more cloying end of the artistic spectrum.  I've scanned two for your perusal.

The story starts in the Forest of Burzee, where immortal magical beings live -- fairies, nymphs, etc.   Somehow a foundling comes into their midst, and a bored and disgruntled wood-nymph named Necile decides to raise him, despite local rules against the presence of humans -- "I need a task, and this baby is helpless."   An exception is made for this kid, whom she names Claus.  Everyone in fairyland thinks he's sweet.
(redhead is Necile, Claus's mom)
He's a cute little kid and a hunky late teenager, taken from his mom by Ak, the Master Woodsman of the world, to get an education in the world of humans.  Claus discovers there are a lot of children who are human like he is, and there's a fair amount of poverty.  He decides to live in the world and work to make children happy.  Various magical creatures are sent to look after him, and Claus starts whittling toys for children.
(colored beings are magical helpers)

His walking expeditions to deliver toys to the locals grow into a nighttime trip to a new town with two Burzee deer and a sleigh:
Right away he saw a problem.  Because it was nighttime, all the townspeople had gone to bed.  "The doors are locked," he said.  "I can't get in, so I can't give the children their toys!"
Glossie [one of the deer], however, had a suggestion.  "Why don't you climb down the chimney?"  And with one leap, the deer had pulled the sleigh to the roof.
He keeps Glossie and partner Flossie out too late, so the royalty of the magical kingdom decide to limit his travel with their deer to one night a year -- Christmas Eve.  Claus gets eight additional reindeer for the evening: "Racer and Pacer, Reckless and Speckless, Fearless and Peerless, and Ready and Steady."  In the following years, Claus delivers toys, starts the tradition of gifts in stockings hung by the chimney (more efficient than delivering to bedrooms!), and invents the Christmas tree by delivering one to a family in a teepee on the plains.  One wonders if Baum's original prose would include a little more sense of the ridiculous in all these feats.

Ultimately, Claus gets old and white-haired.  The immortals come to visit, giving him their Cloak of Immortality, which keeps Claus alive and energetic enough to keep manufacturing toys and jumping down chimneys.

I, for one, am glad Claus is still making those leaps.  Here's hoping he'll bring new baby Ava some wonderful books in just 12 days.

Love,

Deborah

Friday, December 7, 2012

December: notes from the front lines

Dear Annie,

Oh my, you've posted so many things recently that I want to respond to thoughtfully.  I have other books by George MacDonald, and the wonderful combination of L. Frank Baum and Charles Santore sitting by the computer waiting for scanning and blogging.  I need to comb through my shelves for some good books with Latino characters.  And I'll get there too -- just not tonight.

I was in the store 11 hours today, working flat-out the whole time.  Hanukkah starts tomorrow, so the holiday rush has heated up more quickly than in some other years.  (Heaven knows what'll happen to shopping madness next year when the first night of Hanukkah is the evening before Thanksgiving.)  Some of the many things that happened to me today:

-- In YA: at closing time, we had only one copy each of Every Day, The Fault in Our Stars, and Where Things Come Back: I suspect they'll all sell out before noon tomorrow (more coming on Monday).  We seem to be selling more YA books than in the past.  There's a great crop of new ones this year, but I also suspect that more families that have been shopping in my book section since their kids were tiny now have teenagers -- and they keep coming back!

-- After giving a very enthusiastic description of the Anna Hibiscus books to one customer, I reached for the first in the series, only to find it completely gone.  I know that we had 20 copies a little more than a week ago.  A thorough search unearthed our last four copies in the back of an overstock shelf, but I ran to the computer to place an urgent order for another few dozen to get us through the next weeks.

-- An African-American grandmother asked if we had an early chapter book series starring a black girl.  As I pulled books to show her -- we had five series in stock -- another woman (white) came over to listen because that was one of her interests.  There was only one copy of a few of the titles I was showing; I worried about that, but left them amicably perusing all the books.

-- A discussion of the depressingly bad grammar in the Junie B. Jones early chapter series veered into talking about Latin -- the customer teaches it at the college level -- and its strict grammar.  I really liked the woman, and before long we were talking about college texts of the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh epic.  I could have gone on in that conversation for a while, but too many others called.

-- Someone walked past me carrying volumes 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the Wrinkle in Time books, leading me to worry that we were out of #1.  No, she smiled, her daughter had read the first and wanted to read all the rest of them.  That quick interaction meant I didn't have to stare at the gap on the shelf trying to remember what had been there.

-- The man who ordered the gorgeously illustrated three-volume hardcover boxed set of The Lord of the Rings ($100) came to pick it up.  But I have yet to sell one of our four-volume paperback boxed sets of the complete Calvin and Hobbes comics (also $100).

-- I had to explain that although, no, we don't have a book with animal characters that would explain sex to a three year-old, we do carry some good ones with people.  I don't know what the outcome was on that.

These conversations are all part of daily life in the job of a bookseller, but the volume and variety increase at this time of year.  It's what makes things interesting.

Love,

Deborah

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ripped from the headlines

Dear Aunt Debbie,

My wonderful friend and poet Emily alerted me this evening to an article in today's New York Times about the dearth of Latino representation in children's books, especially those taught in schools.  We've written recently about looking for books which reflect different kinds of families (gay parents, adopted kids, families with three children), so that kids can have some experience of seeing themselves reflected in the books they read.

Because we've been talking about this so much lately, I almost hesitated to post about it tonight -- I don't want to fall into the same discussion of under-representation.  But then I was reminded of a tremendous TED talk I watched earlier this year, titled "The danger of a single story."  The speaker is Nigerian-born novelist Chimamanda Adichie, and if you have 20 minutes to spare, it's a thought-provoking listen.

Adichie talks about growing up in Nigeria reading British novels, never seeing people like herself and her family reflected in the pages of stories.  When she wrote stories as a child, they were filled with the same white characters and references to British experiences that she's read about, because that's what she believed stories were.  

I think of my own students -- the great majority of whom are Asian, either immigrants themselves or first-generation -- and how many of them, when given the chance to write fiction, populate their stories with blonde, blue-eyed heroines or characters with flat, white-sounding names rather than the constellation of names in a variety of languages which we hear every day in our classroom.  

The Times article says that the people creating the new Common Core curriculum are working to address this disparity, to increase diversity in the books they recommend, hopefully without making it feel like tokenism.  I wish them luck.

Love, Annie

Monday, December 3, 2012

Can't stop looking . . .

Dear Annie,

Ah, Charles Santore.  I've always felt the cover of his Snow White is one of the weaker illustrations in the book -- makes it seem bland, which it isn't.  Your choice of internal pictures was great.

I've just spent an hour poring over a wonderful mostly-wordless book, trying to pick just the right pictures to scan.  Here's Matthew, who (we are told) runs every morning.  He starts out on a spring day . . .

 but encounters a banana peel . . .

then meets Isabella and her dog Max, who have just what he needs . . .
 and they go shopping together to get something else he needs.

Isabella and Matthew end up chatting together on a park bench.  The fun of all this is that it takes some time to find Matthew -- or any of the other many characters -- in every picture:
If Richard Scarry were transformed into a tasteful German graphic designer, this would be the result.  Author and illustrator Rotraut Susanne Berner has created her world with a wonderful sense of humor and details that just don't quit.  She also did the delightful illustrations for The Number Devil, another great German book.

In the Town All Year 'Round
is divided into four seasons.  At the start of each section we meet more than a dozen characters -- each comes with a caption:
Emma and Jonas want to play ball in the park
...
Oliver will be surprised while working in the garden.
...
Will Suzie lose something while riding her scooter?
...
What is a fox doing in the city? [Note fox in picture above, chasing a goose.  It ends up investigating dumpsters.]
During the course of the year, there's lots of weather, a construction site that results in a new kindergarten, evolving relationships, and much more.  That was just the beginning for Isabella and Matthew: by the fall they're using their cell phones to find each other in the crowd, looking a little irritated.  Another of my favorite characters is Martha, the penguin-loving nun -- although I can't tell if the penguin she carries around is real or a stuffed one.

There's just so much to look at.  A reader -- child or adult -- can get sucked right in, seeing all the tableaux, following changes from page to page and season to season.

Love,

Deborah

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A lush Snow White

Dear Aunt Debbie,

It's funny that you brought up Curious George this week.  The day before your post about him, my friend and colleague Mark was talking at lunch about reading so many Curious George books to his twin boys, so often, that he and his wife have started trading ideas for an adult spin-off about what the Man in the Yellow Hat does every time he goes off and leaves George alone.  One concept: the Man in the Yellow Hat is secretly trying to abandon George in every story, but in various ways keeps getting pulled back to him.  These are the thoughts going through the brain of the parent forced to read the same not-so-great books ad nauseum....

We're starting to think about gift-giving at our house too, though the regular drumbeat of kids' birthday parties always has us looking for the best books to give kids around Eleanor and Isabel's ages.  This morning we went to Isabel's friend Sydney's party (she's the one whose mom gave Isabel the gorgeous Bird, Butterfly, Eel).  When asked what we should get for Sydney, our newly-princess-loving Isabel didn't hesitate: "She'd like Snow White."

Charles Santore (he of the brilliantly illustrated Wizard of Oz, still one of my favorite go-to gifts) has illustrated Snow White with a similar lushness.  His paintings are gorgeous, and the book includes a few spectacular two-page spreads, including one of Snow White running through the forest filled with wild animals on her way to the dwarfs' house:


Santore's dwarfs are individualized, but not buffoons -- they look like real people, small middle-aged men:


You may notice that Santore, hewing close to the original text, depicts Snow White as a young girl: she's seven years old when she becomes more beautiful than her stepmother, and has her death sentence proclaimed.  She's a kid here, rather than Trina Schart Hyman's young teenager, and her youth makes some of her decisions a little more understandable, though still not exactly smart.  In this version, the evil queen disguises herself as a peddler woman not once, but three times, leading to Snow White's death and resurrection from lace-up dress and poisoned comb before we get to that deadly apple.  You think she'd learn.

The picture on the cover is one of the last ones in the book.  To move away from the creepy idea of Snow White as a child bride, Santore has her age in the illustrations as she sleeps; when she wakes up again, she looks to be in her early 20s, and a wedding makes sense.  Reader alert: Santore's faithfulness to the original Brothers Grimm includes the fate of the wicked queen, who is forced to put on a pair of magic slippers at Snow White's wedding to the prince:

The minute they were on her feet, the slippers forced her to dance and dance, faster and faster, until she dropped down dead.  There was great rejoicing in the hall, and Snow White and the prince lived in the palace and reigned happily over the land for many, many years.

Um, yay?  Eleanor and Isabel both really like this bit -- such a vivid, strange way to kill your enemy -- but it would be easy for parents of more squeamish children to leave a sentence or two out.  The final picture shows only the shoes.

Love, Annie


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hanukkah surprise

Dear Annie,

It was so delightful to see you and yours over Thanksgiving.  I already feel like that was quite a while ago.  The toy store is gearing up to full holiday mode: we're close to sold out of advent calendars, and sales are brisk enough in both toys and books that we know which hot items won't last until Christmas.  And the first night of Hanukkah is only ten days away.

Both those holidays have to do with finding comfort and joy in unexpected places.  I've been happily surprised by the discovery of not joy exactly, but satisfaction, from an unlikely book.  It's a Curious George knock-off -- there's a multi-level industry of CG-related books and cartoons that were never imagined by his creators, H.A. and Margret Rey.  I'm not very fond of  them -- although I carry a few of the better ones.  But Happy Hanukkah, Curious George, a board book written by Emily Flaschner Meyer, fulfills its purpose quite nicely. 

The two- or three year-old setting off to Hanukkah celebrations with the relatives will get the entire rundown of what's going to happen, and a little advice on thinking about others too.  Each page of the book, marked by a tab, hits one event, starting with George and the Man in the Yellow Hat (hatless) wrapping gifts.  They arrive at a party, light the menorah, play dreidel, make latkes and clean up -- most of it in straightforward rhyme.  Except for a more chant-able cooking scene:

On the last page, George washes dishes and learns about "doing helpful mitzvahs/All throughout the year."

It's not literature by any stretch, but it's oddly endearing -- I don't think I'm doing a very good job at explaining why.  It's offering a little help for a new situation.

And even though this is a knockoff decades after the Reys died, it seems right that Curious George is celebrating Hanukkah.  In 1940, the Reys were German Jews living in Paris: they fled the city on bicycles the day the Nazis marched in.  They carried a few belongings and the manuscript for a book about a monkey named Fifi.  After they arrived in the U.S., Fifi changed to George, and the book empire began.

Love,

Deborah

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Goblins! And, you know, princesses too.

Dear Aunt Debbie,

It was so lovely to see you, Bob, and Lizzie this week!  Much joy of Thanksgiving pies and reading of books.

Your mention in your last post of a YA book involving goblins made me think of one of my childhood favorites, which I remember my father reading to me: George Macdonald's 1872 fantasy The Princess and the Goblin.  We have a bit of a goblin mythology going in our house, sparked by Jeff's habit of telling the girls that the metal doors in the sidewalk (going down into store basements) or in the walls of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel are "goblin doors."  Many a morning walk to school has involved Jeff's elaborate goblin stories, with Eleanor's eager participation.

Because of this, and because of my fond memories of the book, I picked up The Princess and the Goblin with Eleanor maybe a year ago, only to run into the Stuart Little Problem.  Perhaps it's time to try again.

It's a bit of a dark tale, centering on eight-year-old Princess Irene, who lives a cloistered life in her father's castle, unaware of the goblins who live in the hills just below.  One evening, she and her nursemaid Lootie stay out too late, and are almost captured by goblins, but are saved by a miner boy named Curdie, who sings to drive them away (in this world, goblins hate singing).  Irene becomes aware after this incident of the danger and darkness just outside her walls and beneath her feet.  Through Curdie's underground spying, she later learns of a plot the goblins have to make war on the humans, who exiled them belowground years before.  My memory is that there's some sympathy for the goblins' predicament, but that they're largely described as unpleasant and ill-formed -- a tribe of Calibans.

On the upper floors of the castle, Irene discovers her great-great grandmother, who lives up in a high attic raising white pigeons, and offers Irene advice.  I can't remember if the great-great grandmother is supposed to be some kind of spirit or is definitely corporeal -- it's that kind of book.  Over the course of the story, Irene develops a friendship with Curdie, who gets a chance to rescue her from the goblins later, and there's a sequel about the two of them: The Princess and Curdie.

In the last few weeks, Isabel has caught the Princess bug, and there's been a lot of Cinderella role-playing going on (though she likes to be one of the stepsisters more often than not, because she can pretend to be really mean).  I have a feeling we'll be reading princess books for quite some time yet.

Love, Annie

Monday, November 19, 2012

Flood waters: the National Book Award

Dear Annie,

Yes, happy 500th post!  

This past weekend I read
Goblin Secrets
by William Alexander, winner last week of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.  As you know, I often try to predict the American Library Association's Newbery and Caldecott medals.  But I'm always clueless about what kids' book the National Book Foundation is going to pick.   I don't know what to make of this choice.

Goblin Secrets takes place in the city of Zombay where some people have been turned into not-quite-people (a play on name of city?) because their hearts have been removed and replaced with machinery.  Other parts of some people are machinery too: eyes and limbs.  The hearts are used as fuel -- "coal" -- to power other machines.  This world has some wonderfully original imagery: there's so much dust in Zombay that dust fish live in the piles on street corners, for instance.  It's a richly imagined, although not always understandable place.

Rownie, who's maybe 8 or maybe 10 years old, is a street urchin kept (not really cared for) by Graba: she's Baba Yaga in an urban setting.  His older brother Rowan has disappeared, believed to have become an actor.  Acting is illegal in Zombay "Players are liars," declares an official edict.  "Citizens may not be players and must not pretend to be other than they are."  Rownie falls in with a troupe of goblin actors.  Goblins appear to be humans who have "changed" into something more magical but are ostracized by the rest of society.  They wear masks in their performances, which may (or may not) have personalities of their own.

The tension in the tale comes from both the fascination with the illegal art of acting, and predictions of an impending flood which is anticipated to wipe out the poorer half of Zombay.  There are also the witch Graba's attempts to recapture Rownie.  Plot elements abound in this book.  There are wonderful moments.  But for me, the moments didn't add up.   The climax of the book centers on whether a flood can be stopped and a city saved.  I admit I wondered when the judges made their choice, and in what city: was it pre- or post-Sandy?

The writing is up there in the higher levels of kidlit, but the story doesn't knit together.  Goblin Secrets does not feature an early adolescent boy who must save the world through individual physical combat, for which I am grateful.  The boy only needs to save one city.  And it doesn't end on set-up for a sequel, although one is possible.

It feels like a good debut novel, with issues one feels the author is good enough to work through in the future.  Awards -- so odd.

Here we are facing Thanksgiving week, and about to see each other -- I can't wait!  So, dear readers, we're taking the rest of the week off to enjoy the holiday.  We'll be back next week.

Love,

Deborah


Saturday, November 17, 2012

A few more adoption titles

Dear Aunt Debbie,

It's funny that you wrote about adoption-appropriate baby books on Wednesday -- that very morning, my friend Jonathan was talking about the search for a baby book for his adopted daughter.  There must be something in the air....

After guest blogging for us last week on Ethiopian children's books, my friend Jean checked in with the adoption listserves she's on, and has passed along a few more recommended titles:

Whoever You Are
, by the excellent Mem Fox, is not directly an adoption book, but focuses on the ways in which all children share a common humanity: "Little one, whoever you are, wherever you are, there are little ones just like you all over the world.''  It's full of richly-colored pictures of children of all races and cultures, and the message seems similar to Fox's Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, one of our favorites.


God Found Us You, by Lisa Tawn Bergren, is directly about adoption -- in this case, a mother and baby fox -- and, as the title indicates, comes with a strong religious viewpoint.  The text is largely a conversation, with Little Fox asking Mama Fox to retell the story of "the day I came home."  In the comments I've found on the book, there's a split between adoptive parents who find the book's message loving and reassuring, and those who feel like it puts too much emphasis on how depressed the mother fox was before Little Fox came.


I Love You Like Crazy Cakes, by Rose Lewis, is the first-person story of a single mother who travels to China to adopt her daughter, and is based on Lewis's own experience.  It seems particularly applicable to families adopting internationally, and the illustrations are warm and loving (by Jane Dyer, who also illustrated Mem Fox's Time for Bed).



On the distinctly documentary-feeling side, there are the books When You Were Born in Vietnam,When You Were Born in China, and When You Were Born in Korea, each filled with cultural information and a lot of photographs of orphanages and adopting families.  A good resource for international Asian adoptions.

Finally, Jean pointed me to this blog, The Wayfarer, which has a list of books for both parents and children about adoption, specifically adoption from Ethiopia, and largely with a Christian focus.

I'm excited for Thanksgiving, and looking forward to seeing you then!

Love, Annie

P.S. Happy 500th blog post on Annie and Aunt!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Baby book, adoption-style

Dear Annie,

Thanks to your pal Jean for the Ethiopian books.  It's interesting how the folklore stories feel very similar to ones from European traditions.  Congratulations to Jean, Casey and family on their new arrival.

On occasion, adoptive families are faced with small reminders of their differences from birth families.  In the world of books, those reminders often show up in one of the staples of baby shower gifts: The Baby Memory Book.  They're those books that one always intends to go back and fill in the spaces one was too tired to write at the time: exact time of birth, weight, baby's first smile, baby's first solid food/steps/words/etc.  The first page often includes spaces for details of pregnancy ("Mommy's food cravings") and childbirth ("what Mommy was doing when she went into labor" etc.). 

Along with those books, I also carry
Our Chosen Child: How You Came To Us And The Growing Up Years
by Judith Levy.  It's a fill-in-the-blanks book chronicling an adopted child from "Waiting for You" all the way up to "Teenage Years"  and "Looking Ahead."  It's got the how mom and dad met stuff, and the family tree (no mention of birth parents, but one can add lines fairly easily if one chooses).  Once the adoption's official, it keeps following the milestones in a child's life.  Like many books in this genre, it can get cloying fast:
We're two loving people,
Almost as happy as we could be.
We just needed a special angel,
To join our family tree.
And like some of the gay parent books we talked about, it doesn't make being adopted the point of the book.  The focus is the kid growing up, and the adoption is one of the details.

Love,

Deborah


Monday, November 12, 2012

Guest blogger: Ethiopian children's books


Dear Aunt Debbie,

I've often wondered whether the people who design the covers of many YA books ever actually read the books themselves.  The cross-legged stance of the girl on the cover of A Corner of White might keep me from picking it up, too.

I've written recently about our friends who are adopting a 1 1/2 year old girl from Ethiopia.  Jean, mom of Eleanor's friend Casey, who will be the big sister, is our guest blogger tonight.  When I asked her if she knew of any international adoption books she'd recommend, she said that instead, they've focused on books which will give Casey a clearer understanding of Ethiopian life (and a little bit of the Amharic language) before her sister arrives.  Here's Jean, with a summary of some of her favorites:

So here are the Ethiopian books I was telling you about.  Hope this is helpful for your blog!

Silly Mammo, retold by Gebregeorgis Yohannes
Silly Mammo is the story of the obedient, if not the most astute, young boy of Weizero (Mrs.) Terunesh.  When Weizero Terunesh finally decides Mammo needs to start helping with expenses, she sends him out to earn a living.  But while obedient and hard-working, Mammo never quite figures out how to bring his earnings back to his mother.  One mishap after another (e.g., carrying money in his hand, falling and dropping the money because he didn't know to put the money in his pocket - upon his mother's scolding that his earnings should be in his pocket, he goes out the next day, finds work and is paid with a bottle of milk . . . which he dutifully pours into his pocket . . . and the story continues with similar mishaps about how to get the earnings back to his mother).  Meanwhile, a beautiful, but mute girl, Tewabech, lives in a nearby town.  Her father heard that she would be cured if she could only laugh and offers her hand in marriage to any man that can make her laugh.  You can see where this is going.  As she sadly gazes out her window, she sees the obedient young Mammo carrying a donkey on his back - another failed attempt to follow the instruction of his mother, at which point she promptly breaks out into laughter.  Mammo is brought into their home and they fall in love.  It's a cute story and Casey enjoys all the silly antics of Mammo.  What's also neat is that it incorporates some Amharic words, so exposes Casey to a few additional words in another language (e.g., Ababa (dad), Weizero (Mrs.), eshi (ok))  Also, in  the version that we have also, the story is printed both in English and in the Amharic fidel (Amharic characters), so she becomes familiar with a different kind of script than the English letters.
A Saint and His Lion tells the story of Tekla, who at birth is determed to be destined for greatness, but ultimately suffers a crippling accident that affects his ability to walk.  While he is bed-ridden, he falls in love with scripture and dreams of becoming a priest.  Despite his disabilities, he attempts to find monks who will teach him to become a priest.  On his way to the monks, he discovers an injured lion and cares for the lion until he is healed.  Thereafter, he settles in with the monks and, upon mastering his biblical studies, he sets out to share the good news of Christ.  But as he is attempting to travel, he falls.   After many attempts, given his bad leg, he simply cannot stand back up.  But the same lion he once saved returns, carries him on his back to safety, and ultimately travels around with him.  Being able to enter villages on the back of the lion does wonders for spreading the word of Christ and opens people's minds to the faith.  Despite his set backs, his good heart and perseverance allows him to achieve the greatness he was destined for at his birth.  

Fire on the Mountain
, by Jane Kurtz
Fire on the Mountain is the story of Alemayu, who is orphaned after his parents died.  He journeys to find his sister, who is working as a servant in a rich man's estate, where he is also able to find some work.  One day, the rich man brags how he is braver than others and can withstand the coldness of the air on the mountain.  Alemayu speaks up and says, matter-of-factly, that he too could withstand such coldness.  Offended that someone would seemingly challenge him, the rich man makes a deal with Alemayu.  If he can withstand one night with only a light shawl on the mountain, he would give him money and four cows, so he would no longer have to work as a servant.  But if he loses, he and his sister would have to leave the estate, never again permitted to work there.  Alemayu accepts the challenge and passes the evening shivering on the mountain, listening to the hyenas in the distance.  When Alemayu returns the following morning, cold but alive, the rich man asks how he did it.  Alemayu responds that he survived by staring at a  fire of a shepherd on a distant mountain, and pretending that the fire was also warming him.  Based on this, the rich man claims that Alemayu lost the bet, on the theory that staring at a distant fire was the same as making a fire.  The rich man intends to prepare a great feast to celebrate his having won the bet.  He tells Alemayu that he and his sister can stay this one night, but they will have to leave the next morning and never come back.  The other servants are appalled at how devious and unfair the rich man acted.  But they spend all day preparing injera and Ethiopian stews for the feast, which fills the estate with the incredible smells of the food for the occassion.  After the rich man arrives, he sits down and waits, but no food is served.  He demands music, and the musician moves her fingers, but no sound emerges.  When he demands to know what is going on, they explain that smelling the food is the same as eating it; pretending to play an instrument is the same as enjoying its sounds.  The next day, the rich man gives Alemayu his cows and money he owes him.

Tsion's Life is not so much a story, as a detailed account of a day in the life of a young girl in Ethiopia.  It provides examples of customs, ordinary daily activities, and cultural examples of Ethiopian life, while teaching some Amharic words in the process.  For example, it tells you how to say palace in Amharic (bet mengest), and then tells of various Ethiopian palaces, like the Lalibela, where eleven churches are carved out of a stone mountain and connected by tunnels. Or it tells how to say mother in Amharic ("enat") and then proceeds to talk about Tsion's mother and what she does for a living in Ethiopia.  It's a good book to use to teach kids about the similarities and differences between Ethiopian and American cultures and experiences.

One other book I thought of, which isn't an international adoption book, but is adoption related, is Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born. It's written by Jamie Lee Curtis, and is a cute story about a young girl asking her parents to tell them about the night she was born, how they received a call that her birth mother was in labor, how they frantically boarded the flight, how perfect she was when they saw her, etc.  I think its a pretty popular book for families who find each other through domestic adoption.

All the best,
Jean

And love from me,

Annie

Friday, November 9, 2012

Another problematic cover

Dear Annie,

It's so cheering that there are lots of books out there that we have yet to introduce to each other.  I'm so glad Moomintrolls are new to you.  You guys are in for a treat.  I'm curious what part of the Moomintroll oeuvre your friend Mark is particularly fond of.  I only recently learned about the comic books; in our household the chapter books were everything.

And I want to hear the family verdict on Wind on the Moon after you finish it.  It will continue to veer into new plot elements.

Lately I've been reading lots of books which are due out mostly between February and May of next year.  They include a first novel by the wonderful Shirley Hughes (creator of Alfie and Dogger and many more), a riveting account of a plot to steal Lincoln's body in the 1870s, and wonderful parallel-worlds story.  I plan to write about all of them as we approach their publication dates.  But your headline about not judging books etc made me want to vent a bit about one particular cover.

A Corner of White by Australian author Jaclyn Moriarty comes to the U.S. in April under the auspices of Arthur A. Levine, the editor who obtained rights to both The Golden Compass and Harry Potter.  He knows how to spot a good book.  This one has little whispers of The Golden Compass: it entails communication between two parallel worlds; the characters in our world live in Cambridge, England.  The worlds once had easy access to each other, but the medieval plagues led the Kingdom of Cello to sever the connection.  We focus on three teenagers (two girls and a boy) in Cambridge who are are studying, among others, Isaac Newton and Lord Byron.  Newton's theories of light become important to Elliot Baranski, the teenager who is the center of the story in Cello: colors occasionally form themselves into storms that can alter moods and sometimes injure and kill.  Elliot's father has disappeared from his village -- maybe voluntarily, maybe carried off by a Purple.  In Cambridge, Madeline, whom Elliot refers to as the-girl-in-the-World, has run away from her father.  Madeline and Elliot discover a crack between their two worlds: it's just big enough to wedge a piece of paper into it, and they start a correspondence.  Madeline thinks Elliot is a guy who's inventing a magical world, not someone who's in one.

There are plots and sub-plots.  Friendships evolve, kids deal a lot with loss and the uncontrollable aspects of their lives.  It's intelligent fantasy -- and by no stretch of the imagination would I put it in the chick lit category.  I would like to think that Arthur A. Levine was out sick the day they designed the cover of the American edition:

How am I going to be able to sell this to a 12 year-old boy who's looking for a good fantasy book?  A few guys might go for it, but the vast majority will glance at the cover and go on to the next offering.  This screams chick-lit: dreamy-eyed girl, flowing hair, breezy day.  I carried this galley with me to Maine and back again before I picked it up to read -- there's nothing in this cover that hints at the originality of the content.

Tonight, while trolling for a good quality image of this cover, I discovered what the book looks like in Australia, where it came out last month:
Hmm.  Can't say this makes my heart beat faster, even though it's more literally true to the story: lots of discussion of the light spectrum and rainbows.  And the crack between worlds is right there.  Will this encourage a 12- (or 16-) year-old to pick it up?

We'll have to see what they do with the paperback cover...

Love,

Deborah

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Don't judge a book by its cover

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Believe it or not, I had never heard of the Moomintrolls before reading your post earlier this week.  I read it at work (Election Day professional development!), made some comment aloud, and was pounced on by my friend and colleague, and our guest blogger, Mark.  Mark fervently loves the Moomintrolls, and has promised to bring in some of Tove Jansson's books for me to borrow.  I'm looking forward to it.

Back home, we're deep into another wild, gripping chapter book which you sent Eleanor quite a little while ago, but which we hadn't picked up until this week: Eric Linklater's The Wind on the Moon.

The reason we hadn't yet read it is mildly embarrassing, given that I'm a big reader and an English teacher to boot.  It was because of the cover.


It's not like it's a bad-looking cover.  It looks...sweet.  Looking at this cover, you might imagine that the long novel it encases is a young coming-of-age story, perhaps about a girl who yearns poetically for something.  The title does nothing to combat this impression.  Of course I knew that you had sent us the book, which meant it was going to be good, but we haven't really been in the mood for sweet long novels.

Turns out that "sweet" is just about the last thing The Wind on the Moon is.  It's a strange wild romp of a book, surprising at every turn, full of adventure and mystery and animals, not shying away from conflict or violence.

The story focuses on two sisters, Dinah (that's her on the cover) and Dorinda, who try not to behave badly, but can't quite help themselves.  Their father, the Major, goes away at the very beginning of the book to fight a war in a far-off country, and leaves the girls with these words:

"There is wind on the moon....I don't like the look of it at all.  When there is wind on the moon, you must be very careful how you behave.  Because if it is an ill wind, and you behave badly, it will blow straight into your heart, and then you will behave badly for a long time to come."

The "bad behavior" the girls exhibit starts out on the Paddington Bear level: they try to help their father pack his suitcase, and end up rolling up all his clothes so they're wrinkled, and putting dirty boots on top of white shirts.  Then the Major leaves, and Dinah and Dorinda's bad behavior expands.  They decide that being greedy is one of the best ways to be naughty, and immediately start eating extraordinary amounts of food.  Here's where the narrative starts to get surprising:

They got fatter and fatter.  They got so fat, and quickly got fatter still, that every three or four days they burst their frocks and split their vests, and were quite unable to pull their stockings over their fat round legs.  So every few days their mother had to buy new clothes for them.  But if she bought them new dresses on a Tuesday, they were sure to burst the seams by Friday, or Saturday at the latest....By and by they grew so fat they were almost completely round, like balloons.  And one day they found they could hardly walk, so they rolled downstairs and bounced into the dining-room, just as if they were balloons.

Eleanor bounced on the couch next to me in delight.  Neither of us expected this!  We were even more thrilled when, a few pages later, Dinah and Dorinda drink a magic potion and turn into kangaroos in order to take revenge on some nasty village children.

That's right, kangaroos.

They remain kangaroos for about 100 pages, with a plot involving a private zoo inhabited by a variety of animals with fabulous names: the ostriches Sir Bobadil and Lady Lil, the grizzly bear Bendigo, the giraffe detective Mr. Parker.  There's a mystery about the theft of ostrich eggs, and a plan to free the beautiful wild Puma and Silver Falcon.  We're about halfway through the book, and I have no idea where it's going next.

I have a feeling this is going to be the birthday present all of Eleanor's friends get for the next year or so.  I'm about to become an evangelist for this book.

Love, Annie

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ice is nice


Dear Annie,

There's a chill in the air here: the first frost is predicted for tonight.  And who better to get us thinking about winter than the Moomintrolls?   I'm startled that they've never made an appearance in Annie and Aunt.  Another day I'll write more about their odd and delightful personalities, their chapter books, comic books, cartoons, and intense following around the world, especially in Russia and Japan.  Tove Jansson, a Swedish author living in Finland, created them in 1945, and kept cranking out books until the '70s.  They focus on a family of, well, Moomintrolls and a variety of their friends.  It all feels slightly Winnie-the-Pooh -ish, in a Finnish sort of way.

Today I'm sticking with Moomin's Winter Follies, a comic book first published in 1955. Moomintroll, the son and main character in the Moomin family, wakes to discover "Glass all over our pond." It doesn't stop him from attempting his morning swim:

(Moominmama is never without her purse; Moominpapa's top hat is his identifying object. )
The attempt at hibernating lasts only a few pages: when they leave the house, they discover snow everywhere and the energetic newcomer Mr. Brisk organizing Winter Games.  Skating, skiing, snowball fights -- the charmingly zaftig Moomins aren't the competitive sports types.  Two female characters develop crushes on the oblivious Mr. Brisk, much to Moomintroll's dismay.  All works out in the end, of course.


Then there's the lovely small
Twelve Kinds of Ice
by Ellen Bryan Obed, with illustrations by Barbara McClintock.  Obed remembers the many kinds of ice she and her siblings observed over the course of Maine winters.  First Ice "came on the sheep pails in the barn -- a skim of ice so thin that it broke when we touched it."  The fourth kind of ice, Field Ice, is frozen puddles in the fields big enough for the first skating of the season. 

The family devotes a 100-by-50 foot space to an outdoor rink, clearing weeds and stubble and putting up framing boards.
When the snow came, we began making garden ice.  The first step was snow packing.  Everyone worked on this -- Dad and Mom, my brothers, my sister and I.  We stamped and packed the snow hard with our boots and shovels.  We packed it with our skis.  We packed it with the toboggan, on which one or two of us sat to be pulled back and forth across the hardening surface.
   Suddenly, Dad would say, "Time to get the hose!"
The rink becomes a neighborhood center, with hockey games and figure skaters.  In February there's  an ice show, attended by fans from near and far.
The show is the climax of the season, and the thaw isn't far behind.  There's Last Ice, and then -- until the late fall -- Dream Ice:
This ice came in our sleep.  We never knew when it would come, but when it did, we could skate anywhere we wanted -- down roads, in and out of yards, and over the tops of trees.  We could do any jump we pleased without practicing.  Double axels over houses and splits over telephone wires.  We did spins on chimney tops and spirals down slanting roofs.  We lifted off our skates into the sky to land on the back edges of clouds.
I hope all this ice has been a little respite from the news.  Here's hoping for a good day tomorrow.

Love,

Deborah