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Obviously, it’s been awhile.  I’m moving. In so many ways. Find out about it at Touching the Glory.

Our Quiet Christmas

We woke up slowly and gently, snuggling together in our king-size that feels smaller every day. I shuffled downstairs following the sounds of joyful discovery to stop them from ripping their stockings off the mantle. Matthew joined us to light the final Advent candle and we enjoyed hot chocolate with our lovely breakfast of oven french toast. Christmas scripture reading followed, and then the kids dived for their presents. By which I mean they scrambled for the gifts they picked out at the thrift store for us. (I got jingle bell earrings) There was something about this Christmas that felt as though it was our first Christmas as a family. For the first time, both of our kids really “got it.” To open these gifts from them, to see them exchange gifts, so perfectly selected for each other, was magic.

As far as elving I’ve been doing, *wry smile* there’s really only one thing. And since I don’t have a camera I can’t show you. But I’m pretty happy with it. I made the kids a card table playhouse. It’s a cloth playhouse that fits over a card table. It has 2 windows, a door, a mail slot. They love it. And I love watching them in it.

But to me Matthew’s gift to the kids is the crowning gift of the day. It was a gift to the kids, but it ended up being such a huge gift for me as well (which really isn’t fair since we decided we weren’t giving each other gifts and I didn’t have one for him). Anyway, here it is. Matthew’s gift:

 

The rest of the day was restful (literally, Matthew and I slept through all of Rudolph and longer). We had a nice Christmas dinner (in spite by my breaking 5 dishes on the counter and all over the (1st batch of) gravy. The kids played well together overall, loved their gifts and watched their movie at least 4 times. It has been a beautiful day.

So, I reviewed this book way back before I was even compiling Newbery lists. But I had to bring it up again since it is one of the few that I’m saying Yes! to.

The Summer of May post

This is a charming, nostalgic tale. Birdsall has the feel of so many gentle novelists I grew up with, Louisa May Alcott or L.M. Montgomery. I know that I should have recognized this book as the 3rd in the Penderwicks series, but in spite of being a children’s librarian I hadn’t actually read either of the first two. Not that it hurt my enjoyment of number three, but if I had known the characters, I may have cared more about the oldest Penderwick, Rosalind.

You see, Rosalind is not really a part of this book, as she is heading off for the summer with a friend, leaving Skye as the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick). This is a frightening prospect for all sisters, especially Skye, who would much rather ponder black holes than brush 6-yr-old Batty’s hair.

There are 2 deliciously enjoyable aspects of Birdsall- her characters and her writing. Here is what I mean.

By characters: The responsible, good-hearted Rosalind who everyone manages to keep in the dark about the near tragedies that ensue during their time apart because they don’t want to worry her. The straight-talking, no-nonsense Skye, who is desperate to fulfill her OAP duties but completely falls apart if “feelings” ever edge near her. The dreamy, loquacious Jane, who decides her latest book must be about love, aside from the unfortunate hiccup that she herself has never experienced it. And energetic Batty, who struggles the most with the absence of Rosalind, yet, through harmonicas and golf balls, manages to come into her own. These and other characters are so rich and so perfectly drawn that you truly feel as if you have known them, if not your whole life, at least for a summer.

And by her writing: It is magical the way Birdsall is able to create such a timeless, perfect feel. Except for scant references to recent books the children read or the occasional cell phone, this story could be set in almost any time within the last century. Yet the incredible thing about it is that none of it is forced in any way. And in particular with dialogue (especially children’s dialogue) that is next to impossible to achieve.

Still, this story is rather tame. The “big issues” that tend to push a book towards Newbery are not present, nor are the originality and excitement of a fantasy adventure book. The Penderwicks is a perfectly crafted, marvelously delicious Thanksgiving apple pie, in a world that is looking for the book version of an Asian-Euro fusion confection. But, flashy isn’t everything.

Newbery Contender? Maybe. But probably not.

I realize not everyone is fed up with the vampire/werewolf craze in YA lit, but if you are, this is a refreshing supernatural read.
Almost from the time she learns to speak, Mellie Turpin knows that the Parvi Pennati absolutely hate being called fairies. After all, she has a “small person with wings” as a best friend. What she doesn’t know is that most kids don’t. And when she tells her kindergarten class about her winged friend, she finds herself alienated, not only from them, but also from her Parva Pennati.

Now a cynical, jaded 13-yr-old, Mellie has put up with years of carrying the label “Fairy Fat” and has completely sworn off anything that is not scientific fact. When her family inherits her ornery grandfather’s ramshackle inn, Mellie is in for a shock. Not only do the Parvi Pennati soon overrun her new home, but she discovers that her family are their ancestral guardians.

This was an enjoyable romp. Truly. Mellie is funny in a snide sort of way, and very believable as a strong girl who has been at the receiving end of bullying. The whole SPWW world (sorry, but “small persons with wings” is just too long) was very unique.  There is more depth to this book than I expected, mostly dealing with bullying and family relationships.

In spite of their dippiness, I loved Mellie’s parents, more even than I liked her.  It is such a treat to have a loving set of parents in a teen protagonist’s life. Of course, they are incapacitated for a significant part of the plot, or how else would Mellie remain the main character?

But the development of the SPWW history and magic (the 3 different kinds of magic, the circulus, the moonstone ring) were a bit overdone and tedious. There was too much, explained too poorly for it to really “work.” Also, the “mystery” of the antagonist’s identity seemed rather obvious. The plot in general felt more elementary than young adult, yet with a teen protagonist this book seems a bit unsure of the age group it is meant for.

Newbery Contender?  No, though a fun read.

Kelly Barnhill writes a fresh fantasy, mysterious and eerie. Jack is sent to live with relatives for what he believes is a short stay. But the odd relationship he seems to have with the rest of the world, is a haunting indication that there is something permanently unique about him. At first, his comments about being “invisible” sound like the usual interpretation of an adolescent introvert. But at his crazy aunt and uncles oddly animate house, he is noticed, for the first time ever. Not only do the town inhabitants notice him, but some of them take a somewhat unhealthy interest- namely the powerful mayor who just might wish him dead.

This twisted fairy tale is about greed, destiny and mostly, belonging. Jack is painfully out of place, a misfit who wishes desperately to have his family return his affection. He is a likable character, and as he unravels the mystery surrounding the town and himself, we eagerly wait for him to recognize his own role. I’m trying not to give too much away, but when Jack comes “into his own” I did feel somewhat thrown. As if the person we were first introduced to as protagonist is suddenly gone.

Thankfully there is still Frankie and Wendy, who I thoroughly enjoyed. The layers of story in this book are interwoven so seamlessly, including the mystery of mute, damaged Frankie and his tough sister.

The dreamlike quality of this book comes just as much from the writing, (disembodied narration from a dark and hidden “someone”) to the plot itself (a dark sacrifice in the town’s past, magical guardians, children who disappear and the town’s memories of them fade within days or even weeks).

There are too many plots devices that seem shallow or unexplored to truly make this as solid a book as it could have been. The characters are many and interesting, but not what I would call rich. And while the uniqueness of this fantasy is part of it’s appeal, I tend to think it’s just a little too “out there” for Newbery.

Newbery Contender? No.

Okay for Now

Gary Schmidt’s novel is like a sepia photograph that is too achingly present to let you slip into nostalgia. Nothing about this book feels distant, in spite of it’s 1960s era setting (think Vietnam and baseball).  The voice of 14-year-old Doug is perfect, so matter-of-fact, yet ironically honest in the way he keeps secrets from us readers. Describing an incident with his older brother, he says he, “Pummeled me in places where the bruises wouldn’t show. A strategy that my . . . is none of your business.”

Despite his best attempts to avoid the subject, his father’s presence is a heavy, smothering shadow. Shcmidt is a master at revealing the entire, heart-breaking, unraveling web of Doug’s family. He does it slowly, almost gently, through small vignettes or off-hand remarks that reach deep into your gut.

And then comes the moment that Doug’s life begins to change. Entering the library in “stupid Marysville”, he spies a painting of a bird in book of Audubon’s art. From there unfolds a connection with art that sweeps him away despite his resistance, through the crusty old librarian whose son is missing in Vietnam.  When feisty Lil, the grocer’s daughter, decides to give him a chance, a couple of teachers start to look a little closer at some of his secrets, and the kindly old gentleman at his dad’s company picnic befriends him, things begin to happen.

Doug is the quintessential flawed hero, wounded, battered but strong enough to stick it out. When he determines to stop the town from selling off pages in the Aubudon book one by one, it seems an impossible task. Yet not as impossible as crafting a believable, gripping story for kids that includes Vietnam, child abuse, paintings of dead birds, Jane Eyre, and terminal illness.  Somehow, Schmidt pulls it off, and beautifully.

The only weakness I find is in some plot devices that stretch the imagination (the Broadway play, for instance). Also, I’m torn between feeling that his father’s redemption is a welcome balm on the spirit and wanting to watch the bastard suffer instead. 

But overall, I have to say…

Newbery Contender?  Yes!!!

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