the best of books, pt. 2…

If you’ve been following along with my last book post, I began this lengthy write-up for an Australian friend who wanted some book recommendations for her kids. And then it grew from there… except I got completely side-tracked by being back in school, and never finished it until recently. Or I suppose I can’t say I’ve finished it yet, since this is the other half? But honestly, I went through my entire book collection (not including what might be on my Kindle) and wrote down all the authors that would be excellent for teens and pre-teens to read. And these are all books that I enjoyed when I was a kid, or still enjoy, now that I’m a grown-up.

But if you’ve ever read any of my posts about books before, you’ll know that I have a bone to pick with bookstores that provide all sorts of fantastical books for the “young adults”, and deceive them into thinking that the only “good” reading is about vampires, werewolves, demons, and zombies. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are decent, and most of them are not. And that’s not even getting into the dystopian category, which is the new writing fad. I like to remind everyone that Barnes & Noble (and other brick-and-mortar stores) have a dreadful habit of putting a lot of the good reading in the “children’s section”. You know, the 12 and under section. Going to try and convince your teen to walk past the picture books, in order to find something good to read? But that’s where the Newbery Medal books are, as well as many other good books!

Sure, there’s garbage in the Childrens’ section, also. Every adult/parent needs to search through these books, and make good choices for their children or for themselves. There are a lot of fantasy tales out there… but there are still amazing family oriented stories like the Penderwicks (Jeanne Birdsall) and the Boxcar Children (Gertrude Chandler Warner), with not fantasy involved. It can be done, people! And if it’s well-written, there’s nothing wrong with a retelling of a classic fairytale, or a new story about an amazing new world. Ask for advice from friends that read, and look for recommendations on Amazon and Goodreads! There are even books listing good books for children (and the one I found was printed in the 90’s, so I’m sure it has some good stuff in it.

Now, I’ll try and get off that rabbit trail and get back to work, talking about books that I love now and books that I remember loving from when I was a child. Remember, no matter what I recommend or the age group I suggest, check up on it yourself, and read along with your kids! Some of these books, I’ve read many, many times, and will continue to do so until I can’t read anymore (perish the day…). And so, continuing with my list of authors and some of their books…

Astrid Lindgren – Pippi Longstocking, Pippi in the South Seas, etc.. –  Ah, Pippi… for some reason, I didn’t have a copy of the first book, when I was little, so I grew up reading Pippi in the South Seas, though I had seen the movie version of the first book and loved it. It was always excessively comical, her amazing strength, despite her size, and how she didn’t think quite the same way as normal kids and people. Just really good fun for the readers.

Lois Lowry – The Giver, Number the Stars, etc.. - I always tell myself that one day, I need to read Number the Stars. Any author that can win TWO Newbery Medals with her books, as well as several Newbery Honor mentions… her books are known to be fantastic. But for some reason, I’ve never gotten around to it, because it’s well-known that this particular book concerns the Holocaust. Serious subject, not a long book… everyone should read it, including me. However, I’ve always been fascinated by her book, The Giver. Yes, I know some of you are aware that it’s being made into a movie, but I’m very skeptical of all the trailers. It seems like they decided they needed more action, and the trailer does not seem to be completely true to the book. I love Walden Media, but I do NOT want them screwing this up. When I first read it, I didn’t know what a dystopian future was, nor am I still sure it’s even set in our future. What is understandable that Jonas is just like every child in his village, waiting to see what his vocation will be, when he turns twelve. In their world, they don’t choose for themselves, but their leaders always choose correctly, as far as the children know. He has a family that loves him and jokes with him… but only when he meets the Giver himself will Jonas realize that his life is NOT in fact, normal. This book is part of a series, now, but it stood on its own when I first read it, and I’ve never needed another. The other books to follow are well-written, especially the last one (which I thought fell flat at the end, as if an end was required, but not enough heart was put into it), but I don’t find that they tie well together, and none of them ever held the fascination of the first. You and your kids can decide for yourself, of course.

M. I. McAllister – The Mistmantle Chronicles: Urchin of the Falling Stars - I actually have three books from this series, and I’ve only read the first one. They reminded me of the Redwall books, and yet they’re not QUITE as good. However, the characters and the drawings were delightful, and I think that anyone who loves animals would enjoy the adventures involved. But like I said, keep an eye on things, since I didn’t read the sequels.  : )  My opinion remains that no author can beat Brian Jacques, however.

Robin McKinley - The Blue Sword, The Hero and the Crown, Chalice, Pegasus, Beauty, Rose Daughter, Spindle’s End - Please be warned… as much as I love McKinley’s books, I do not recommend them all. If they are not on this list, be very careful. Sunshine and Donkeyskin, especially, are NOT for children. Several of her other books are fun or strange, by turns, but the above list are my favorites. Well, except for Hero and the Crown. For some reason, her Newbery Medal book is not my favorite, but that’s not because it’s bad. My older brother really liked it, but I always found the dragon strangely creepy or dark… I can’t explain it. But this is personal preference, whereas the ones I warned you against have stuff you do not want your kids reading. Hero is actually the “prequel” of sorts to The Blue Sword, which is one of my favorites, and understandably, it won a Newbery Honor. My younger brother and I still rave about Harry’s adventures… Anyone would enjoy that one! Beauty and Rose Daughter are two different retellings of Beauty and the Beast, one having been written many years before the other, and the first was for younger readers. Both are excellent. Spindle’s End is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty and it’s probably my favorite of them all. Unless Pegasus beats it, but I’m still waiting for the Pegasus sequels. Again, some of her books are for young readers, and some are definitely NOT. Please be aware of it…

Marie McSwigan – Snow Treasure - This one is supposed to be based on a true story. I wouldn’t know, but it’s a fantastic story. Set during World War II, the country of Norway is invaded by Nazis, and the villagers must figure out how to rescue the millions of dollars in gold bullion that has been hidden from the Germans. The local children, with their sleds, are drawn into the race to save the gold bullion from the enemy, and get it safely to America. I never grew tired of this book, and eventually, the cover got worn off from too many readings.

Catherine Marshall – Christy - Loosely based on Marshall’s own time spent teaching in the Appalachian Mountains, Christy tells about a young woman from the city leaves her family to teach in the backwoods. The poverty of the locals is extreme, prejudice against her city ways is rampant, and while not set during the pioneer times, it might as well be for the little these people had. While the author writes very true to life, she doesn’t paint over the hardships… but unlike some books nowadays, she doesn’t glorify the hardships, either. Maybe “wallow” is the word I’m looking for. Some books can be very dark, because the authors seem to revel in the dirt. Marshall only tries to make you see the backwoods people through her heroine’s eyes, but people do die of disease or injury. Just be aware that an avid young reader can handle this, but you may want to read ahead of them, in case they’re not ready for it.

L. M. Montgomery – Jane of Lantern Hill, The Blue Castle, Anne of Green Gables series, Pat of Silver Bush (duology), Emily of New Moon (trilogy) - Oh, dear… I shall try my best to avoid one of my favorite “rants”. We’ll see how I do. But if you’ve read or watched Anne of Green Gables, yes, it’s a fantastic book and great movie. But you need to read the rest of the series. ALL of them. And while I enjoy the first two movies, which are an amalgam of 4-5 of the books, I have never and will NEVER watch the third movie, because it’s a load of hogwash. Gilbert does not go to war… but I can’t rant about that, because I may give away some of what happens in the later books. The truth is, I love Anne, but I love her children just as much, and it’s very possible that Rilla of Ingleside (#8) is my favorite. Rilla was Anne’s youngest daughter, if you’re wondering, and that book was set during WWI… but I won’t tell you any more because I can’t give away Dog Monday or anything else. But since I’m talking about Montgomery, please remember that these may SEEM like girl books, but they’re wonderful stories, and boys should take the time to read them, too. The mischief, the fun! And for the record, Anne may be the best-selling of her books, but she’s not my favorite character in the books. My favorite set is probably the Pat of Silver Bush duo, and probably because not only is Pat great fun, but those books contain Judy Plum. There’s never been a more amazing character, I’m quite sure. And yes, I love the Emily trilogy, as well, and everyone needs to read those, too.

But if you’re looking for a SINGLE book of Montgomery’s to read, no series or trilogy involved, it’s a toss-up between Jane of Lantern Hill or The Blue Castle. Well, the best one is definitely The Blue Castle (probably my absolute favorite book), but I can see where the younger kids may enjoy Jane, first. While both books center on characters that have been lonely and put upon for their whole lives, Jane is a pre-teen who is sent to Prince Edward Island to meet her father, while Valancy is a 29 year old spinster who dreams of love that she thinks she can never have. Don’t be deceived by any blurb that’s ever been attached to The Blue Castle… you won’t believe the incident that brings Valancy out of her shell, and the hilarity that ensues. But no matter which book of L. M. Montgomery’s that you read, one thing never changes… even in her short stories… the characters are REAL. They are so well-written that you expect them to walk off the page, and you will adore them and break your heart over them, every time. It doesn’t matter how many hundred times I’ve read some of them, my heart still cries out over certain parts, and I still laugh over others. Sit your family down and read them ALL. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Robert O’Brien – Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Silver Crown - If you’re like me at all, you were raised on not only Disney animated films, but on Don Bluth films such as The Land Before Time, An American Tail, and… The Secret of NIMH. I have no recollection if I knew beforehand that NIMH was based on a book or what, but if you’ve seen the movie, they really changed the storyline around a LOT. It’s still a good film, but concentrates on magical elements which aren’t in the story. That said, I finally got around to reading it, and it’s really a wonderful book (no wonder he won a Newbery for it), following the story of these super-intelligent rats that have made a home for themselves in the country, and how they work together with Mrs. Frisby to save her son. My memories of The Silver Crown are rather vague, but I just read a review of it on Amazon. That reviewer says that they’ve loved this book since they were 10 years old, but that it has a few mature or alarming incidents that some less mature readers might not be ready for. It all depends on your reader! But I do remember that the little girl wakes up with a silver crown next to her pillow, and must find out what it’s there for and what she’s capable of doing with it… Tantalizing, don’t you think?

Scott O’Dell – Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Black Pearl, Sing Down the Moon, etc.. - I’m pretty sure that O’Dell wrote about a million books, because I’m always coming across them in used book stores, and many are stories that I’ve never heard about. Many are historical fiction, but parents should also be aware that they do not all end happily. The one that I read the most was Island of the Blue Dolphins, and maybe some of the sadness of the book was a bit much for me, at the time… but I still liked it. What would it be like to be stranded on an island, alone, and to have to make your own clothes, a shelter out of whale bones, and befriend the wild dogs and the cormorants? And I’m pretty sure at that age, I thought the “elephant fight” was between real elephants, instead of elephant seals… but even that doesn’t change anything to a child’s imagination. You learn from these things. The Black Pearl was darker, as I remember, and tells the story of Ramon and his finding of a lustrous black pearl, which may set El Diablo after him… I don’t even remember what happens, I think I thought it was scary, at the time. It isn’t very long, however, so you can easily read through it to see whether your child can handle it. But I should perhaps mention that Island won the Newbery Medal, while Black Pearl won a Newbery Honor, as did Sing Down the Moon, which is a tale of soldiers forcing a Navajo tribe on a forced march (though I don’t know if I ever read it). Others of his stories involve Eskimos in the Iditarod, and pioneers all over America.

Baroness Emmuska Orczy – The Scarlet Pimpernel - Everyone should read this. I don’t care how old you are, this book is amazing. Yes, there are amusing movie versions, but even they never get it quite right. This is the story of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, made up of some of the rich lords of England, doing their best to save the aristocrats of Paris from the Terror, but it is also the tale of the beautiful Marguerite, married to the stupidest Englishman of them all… but is he really? Blackmail and intrigue are involved, and some of the best comedic scenes ever… I can’t even describe the wonders of this book. My older brother and I read my mom’s copy so many times that the cover came off and the book was falling apart, so we had to buy her a new one. This story doesn’t have anything too hard for the young folk to read, though the wording might be a little more formal than they’re used to. And for those that are worried about issues of a touchier nature, there is an episode with a Jew, near the end of the book, which talks about the qualities of their “race”, and isn’t very flattering. I only mention this in case your children take note of it, and you want to know what they refer to… but I had probably read the book a hundred times before I even noticed anything odd about it. All in all, a fantastic adventure/love story.

James A. Owen – The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica: Here, There Be Dragons, The Search for the Red Dragon, etc.. -I’ve been reading this series for about ten years now, and the last one was published this year. It’s very sad. But it’s an amazing series, and I highly recommend it! Especially if you not only love a fantasy adventure, but love literature. Because Owen involves three famous authors, right from the start of the first book… and as the books progress, you meet more of them. In this world of the Chronicles, there are always Guardians of the Imaginarium Geographica, a book of maps of the worlds of fantasy. In every century, there are new guardians and apprentice guardians, who can travel back and forth between our world to the Archipelago of Dreams. And the Archipelago itself? It’s where all our favorite magical lands are located, and some that have never been written about. For example, the land of Prydain. But the lands are not always exactly like how we read about them, because different authors/guardians use them for inspiration, or invent their own lands. And when they invent a new land in a book, it’s very likely that a new one will appear in the Archipelago. By the final book, I was amazed at how Owen could bring characters like Mark Twain, Shakespeare, Jules Verne, and many more, to life within the pages, and keep it from being confusing! But it doesn’t start that way. With the first book, John, Jack, and Charles are swept off on an unexpected adventure after the death of their mentor… and they are thrown headfirst into a guardianship that they know nothing about. You’ll meet the talking badgers, led by the wonderful Tummeler (who always calls the scholars “Scowlers”), as well as Captain Nemo, Mordred, and the descendants of Arthur Pendragon. It’s a wonderful tale, just right for all those book lovers and literature geeks… some of whom are still only kids. Be aware that there are a few dark themes, and some characters don’t make it through the story, as a result of run-ins with the Shadowborn (think something like a Ringwraith, but different). These are great for kids, but keep an eye on them, in case they can’t handle a few scary spots or the loss of a beloved character. You should read them with your kids, if you have the time… I just LOVE this series.

Linda Sue Park – A Single Shard - Set in long ago Korea, this story is of an orphan who dreams of becoming a master potter, and even travels to the Royal Court eventually, in hopes of achieving that dream…. It’s been several years since I read this, so my memories are vague except that it’s excellent and won the Newbery Medal. I find that I get it mixed up with one of the following books by Paterson, but Amazon says it’s for Grades 5-8.

Katherine Paterson – Bridge to Terabithia, Lyddie, Of Nightingales That Weep, Jacob Have I Loved, The Great Gilly Hopkins - Not every person likes Bridge to Terabithia, and I don’t even remember all of what I thought as a child, reading it. It ends sadly, so please be aware, for your child’s sake. But the other part that sticks in my mind is how the children go to a remote location and pretend it’s their own country, and they use their imaginations to make up the adventures they have. What child doesn’t love that kind of thing? But despite it being a Newbery Medal winner, the adventures they had in their own world… I didn’t remember much about it, until I saw the movie and then reread the book. But while it may have fantastical elements, this is a story of friendship between outcasts and how life doesn’t always pass us by, when the hardships come. So, you may want to read it before your child, or keep an eye on them, in case you find them in tears at some point. Still, an excellent book. Lyddie is much more of a farm story (I think), but Nightingales is a totally different ballgame. I’m not sure whether to recommend it for the kids or not, despite it being a fascinating story about a young girl in Imperial Japan… but the twist at the end and who she marries… it’s a good story, but is it appropriate for the kids? You might need to read this one ahead of your child. Or wait. Katherine Patterson is an amazing author, so no wonder she received a Newbery Honor for Gilly Hopkins and a Newbery Medal for Jacob Have I Loved. I’m pointing this out ahead of time, because I’m completely prejudiced when it comes to Jacob Have I Loved, and want you to understand that it’s probably a good book. But I have a history of disliking most books that I had to read in middle or high school, because we had to “dissect” them so much, or even because I just didn’t like the stories. Maybe I should re-read it, but I’ve yet to get past my dislike of several books I had to read in middle school (including Jack London’s Call of the Wild). This book deals with a pair of twins, one who feels like she is the least loved, and how she deals with her growing up years. The reviews are good on Amazon, so I’m just trying to be honest… you should probably give it the chance I’ve never been able to give it.  : )

Edith Pattou – East - A retelling of the tale, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, this story follows Rose as she lives in a land where significance is seen in the direction a child was facing when they were born. Rather than admit her child is a wild North-born, her mother hides the truth, but Rose can’t deny who she is. Eventually, she will go on a great adventure, in order to save her family, an adventure you will love to read about. Now I want to read this again, it’s been so long since I read it.

Donita K. Paul – DragonSpell, DragonQuest, etc.. -There is a genre known as Christian fantasy… I don’t know what you think of it, but some is good, some is strange. I really enjoyed this series, though it won’t stand up to Tolkien, by any means. Kale is a young girl who starts out as a slave, raised amongst a people not at all like her, sent on an adventure, where she encounters dragon eggs and then the small dragons that hatch from them. The people she meet tell her about the wonders of Paladin (you can see the parallels to Jesus), who himself is the servant of Wulder. It’s very obvious where the parallels are, and I’m not really a fan of stories that make it so obvious, because Jesus and God are… well, they’re not meant to be trivialized. But somehow, these books manage the parallels, and some of the characters like the Wizard Fenworth are enormously fun… and I love stories about dragons. So, while I think the early parts of the series are better than the later books, these are an enjoyable read, and you could probably have some interesting conversations with your children about what the author’s trying to say about us, as well as about God and Jesus.

Rick Riordan – Percy Jackson, The Heroes of Olympus - I enjoy mythology, just like I enjoy fairytales. So, I got a kick out of Riordan’s modern take on the mythology of old, both Roman and Greek. And even if these are written in a manner to imply it’s narrated by a teenager, the Percy books are still quite fun. However, I think Riordan stepped it up a notch when he reached Heroes, because he has to really work at mixing Greek and Roman mythology, and making sure the characters are believable. So, while I’m enjoying the second series more than the first, you have to read the first series to get to the second. And while I’m remembering, I started to read his Kane Chronicles, and didn’t enjoy them at all. Those are stories based on the mythology of Egypt, but I quickly stopped caring about the story or the characters.

J. K. Rowling – Harry Potter series - Of course, everyone has heard of Harry Potter. At this point, you’ve either read them all and watched all the movies… or you’ve still avoided them completely. Back in 2000, I was working in a book store and still avoiding them completely, because our store would put on really ridiculous parties for the days when a new book was published. My coworkers and I all avoided those books, because they were so popular and the kids in their costumes were SO annoying. Lightning bolts on foreheads? I didn’t know why and I didn’t care. I knew what all the covers looked like, though, and hated them. Some of you are still like this, I’m sure. Many years later, probably a year or three before the final book came out, I think I discovered that a cousin of mine, whose opinion I trust, had read and enjoyed them. I decided it was time to give it a chance, and I was hooked. You know what? They’re fun. I already like fantasy, and this was good writing with a believable world, and yes, everyone wishes they could magically make doors open and that they could fly on broomsticks. But while I truly enjoy the books, and I’m still working on getting one of my bookworm brothers to give them a chance (my less book-reading brother started them at Christmas, and then bought himself the series, reading them within two weeks), I understand the people that still avoid them. I was one of you, so I’m not going to judge… well, not much. But while they are not Tolkien by any means, they do have a very recognizable fight between good and evil, and we want for the good guys to win. If you don’t mind your kids reading about magic, then your whole family will enjoy these. Though you may want to keep an eye on them with the last book or two, because it can get pretty dark in spots. Also, for the movies… if you haven’t seen them, please be warned that the opening scenes of Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1 is really creepy and scary. I was a bit horrified, and I knew it was in the book. And that isn’t the only frightening scene with the snake in the movie (or the book), so please be cautious.

Brittney Ryan – The Legend of Holly Claus - This is such a beautifully illustrated book, don’t miss out by getting a Kindle edition, even if they do include pictures. Ryan’s book tells the story of St. Nicholas, who is the ruler of the Land of the Immortals, and he is finally asked what HE wants for Christmas. He and his wife want a child, and so Holly Claus is born… but she has a spell cast upon her at birth (rather like Sleeping Beauty). She is raised by her loving parents, but someday must figure out how to break her curse. I love this story.

Ruth Sawyer – Roller Skates - I remember loving this book, though I only vaguely remember what it is about. It won the Newbery Medal, and follows the story of a little girl who goes around New York City (early 1900’s) on roller skates, making friends, and having adventures. I was younger than 10 when I read it, which is why I don’t remember what happened at all, except that it’s a wonderful book.

George Selden – The Cricket in Times Square - Likewise, I don’t really remember what adventures that Chester the Cricket has with Mario, Tucker the Mouse, and Harry the Cat, just that it was a fun book (also a Newbery Honor book).

Brian Selznick – The Invention of Hugo Cabret -This is a good book, but technically, it isn’t very long. You see, this one won a Caldecott Medal, which is for illustrations. So, while it looks like a really thick novel, it’s mostly pictures. They’ll be fascinated to your kids, I’m sure, but I felt like I’d been robbed, when I realized the story wasn’t as long as the pages of drawings. The artwork is amazing, though, and the movie is good fun, too.

Elizabeth George Speare – The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Bronze Bow, The Sign of the Beaver, Calico Captive - Many years ago, I think my older brother gave me a copy of The Witch of Blackbird Pond for my birthday, and I never looked back. Kit Tyler arrives from Barbados in the colony of Puritans in Connecticut, to their great surprise. But while she is welcomed, they are not well-to-do, and don’t understand her outgoing ways. She knows how to swim, makes friends with Quakers, and wears silk dresses. But she comes to love her family and when Kit is accused of being a witch (think like in the Salem Witch Trials), what will happen next? This book definitely deserves the Newbery Medal it won, and remains one of my favorite childhood books. Speare also wrote other books that won the Newbery Medal (The Bronze Bow) and the Newbery Honor (The Sign of the Beaver), as well as an Indian captivity tale (Calico Captive). If you want to get some historical fiction, as well as learn how the main characters strive to get along or understand those that are different from them, these are excellent reading for you.

Johanna Spyri – Heidi - My favorite version of this movie stars Michael Redgrave, Jean Simmons, and Maximilian Schell. Not Shirley Temple. Though, in a strange way, the Shirley Temple version is more true to the story. Well, maybe, I can’t remember exactly. But in the book, Fraulein Rottenmeier is a very strict lady who is not a big fan of Heidi, while the Jean Simmons version has her as a delightful woman who loves the girls. For once, I don’t care, I adore that movie. My heart stops every time Clara is left on the mountain to try and walk… Ok, I’m getting away from the point. This is a wonderful story of an orphaned girl who goes to live with her grandfather in the Alps, but when she has to leave him to go to the city, she becomes dreadfully homesick. However, she comes to love the spoiled Clara, who can’t walk, and hopes to make her better by coming to see her on the mountain. It’s a heartwarming, wonderful story that every boy and girl should read. And watch the 1968 television version of the movie… because Redgrave, Simmons, and Schell! That’s why! They’re amazing.

Trenton Lee Stewart – The Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict – A mysterious ad in the newspaper brings any number of children to a building to go through lots of mind-boggling tests and riddles. The rewards for the winners? To create a society that will be able to go on a secret mission that only children can fulfill. These books are delightful, with their fascinating puzzles and riddles, with the children each finding many different ways of solving them. And after reading the trilogy, I really enjoyed the prequel, though it had less riddling and more development of Nicholas Benedict’s character. It was fascinating to see how he didn’t really believe in love, despite his extensive learning, because he had never seen love in action. You and your family will enjoy these books.

Noel Streatfeild – Ballet Shoes, Dancing Shoes - While Streatfield wrote several dancing stories after Ballet Shoes, that one is the first and best of the set. The story is about Great-Uncle Max (known as GUM) who brings back several baby orphans from his travels. Named Pauline, Petrova, and Posy, their family becomes poor while Gum goes away on his travels, so they set out to help their family earn some money. Along with learning to dance and act, the girls have many adventures in the process of finding out what they are good at and what they can become when they grow up. This is a WONDERFUL book.

Sydney Taylor – All-of-a-Kind Family - While this book is part of a series, they have mostly been out of print until recently, so I haven’t read them all. But my cousins and I love them. This is the story of a Jewish family in New York City, in the early 1900’s… a family with five girls. They are not precisely poor, but they are not rich, either. I grew up, delighting in how their mother makes dusting the front room into an adventure, how one of the sisters becomes so very stubborn that she won’t eat her dinner, but her parents lovingly expect obedience from her. The girls have adventures at the library and buying penny sweets at the general store, and always, they are celebrating the Jewish holidays with their family. One of my favorites was when they visiting their papa’s shop and found books that had been donated, and they took some of them home. Do these sound like very simple stories? But you see, the quality of writing is excellent, and the love of family and friendship is palpable. I wanted to sample the foods and see the book of paper dolls that they discovered… I still hope to read all of these books, someday. You should, too.

J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit - By now, you know that I compare many other fantasies to Tolkien. That’s because he sets the bar. And despite my mom being raised on LOTR and my older brother reading them through our childhood, I think I was intimidated by the scary picture of Gollum on the cover. I’m not sure, exactly. It wasn’t until the first trailer came out for the first movie, that I went and picked up a copy at the book store. And was hooked from the first word. Perhaps you think they’re too long or too wordy. Don’t be intimidated by the length, because the story is so amazing that it’s completely worth it, once you’re caught up in it. And while I love the movies, the books are so much better.

Mark Twain - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - I first read Tom Sawyer when I was very young, though I reread it a few years ago, and was amazed at all the details that I didn’t remember. The mischief that Tom would get into! I’ve since discovered that Twain wrote sequels to it, but most people don’t know of their existence, because they’re not in print. I have them on my Kindle, though I haven’t read them yet. And Huckleberry Finn is a harder read, but just as worth it. It often gets put down by certain literary critics because of how it was set in the American South when there were still slaves, and words are sometimes used that would be considered racist, nowadays. But you can make your own decisions about what you want to read and how to approach the truth about history, and how we can always treat people better and more kindly.

James Ramsey Ullman – Banner in the Sky - This Newbery Honor book follows young Rudi, whose father died trying to climb The Citadel, the unconquered peak of the Alps. Rudi would like to conquer that portion, in his father’s memory, but can he get past the heartbreak of his father’s memory?

Cynthia Voigt – Dicey’s Song, A Solitary Blue - I haven’t read all of the books about the Tillermans, but Dicey’s Song is about how she’s brought her siblings to her grandmother, and no longer has to be the one in charge. But can she figure out who she is and what to become, without her usual role? I only vaguely remember the Newbery Medal book, but some of Voigt’s other books have also won Newbery Honors, and they’re all supposed to be excellent books.

Gertrude Chandler Warner – The Boxcar Children - I didn’t get around to mentioning the Bobbsey Twins books or even the Nancy Drew books, because I don’t know if I ever read them, and remember… this list mostly includes what I own. But if your children like mysteries, those books can be looked up, also. But I grew up reading the stories about the Boxcar Children, a wonderful story about the Alden family, who make their home in a boxcar… and end up finding a grandfather. It’s been so long, I don’t remember how it happens, exactly. And while the series continues for many, many books, you may wonder how they always fall into mysteries. But why does it matter? They’re wonderful, fun books, and you’ll be glad your kids have gained such a love of reading, when they make their way through the entire series.

Kate Douglas Wiggin – Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm - Written in 1903, this book was beloved by Mark Twain and Jack London, amongst others, and follows the story of young Rebecca, who is sent to live with her stern spinster aunts. They are unused to having a child live with them, but are trying to help out her mother, who has many children to look after. I haven’t read this since I was a little girl, but anyone who has ever read it will tell you it’s wonderful, and you’ll be thankful to have your children reading such a classic. But the Amazon reviews even suggest that adults continue to love it, also.

Laura Ingalls Wilder – Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, On the Banks of Plum Creek, Little Town on the Prairie, The Long Winter, Farmer Boy, By the Shores of Silver Lake, etc.. - Of Wilder’s 9-book series, she won Newbery Honors for five of them. I’ve been wishing I could re-read them all, but we must have worn out my mom’s copies, some time ago. These are for school age children, I don’t care what country you’re from, and American kids (at least when I was growing up) were raised on them. Yes, maybe you’ve heard of the old TV show, but I’ve never watched it. Not because it wasn’t good, but because it’s nothing like the books, not at all. I even bought the series for one of my Aussie girls, for her birthday. These semi-autobiographical stories follow Laura Ingalls’ family from Laura’s early years in the big woods until she marries, while living on the prairie. How I loved to read about Ma and Pa making and baking food for the winter, and parties with family, and making snow candy from maple syrup… and that was before they reached the prairie! On the prairie, there were locusts and Indians and blizzards and other adventures. If I recommended any series of ALL the books I’ve talked about so far… this is the one that I most highly recommend. Boys and girls. My brothers and I read them and loved them. Your children MUST read them. And I’ve heard good things about the prequel and sequel series, which were written by Wilder’s daughter, but I have never read them myself.

Patricia C. Wrede – Dealing With Dragons, Sorcery and Cecilia, Snow White and Rose Red, The Seven Towers, Thirteenth Child, etc.. - The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, which includes Dealing With Dragons are SUCH good fun. While being wonderful books, they don’t take themselves overly seriously, telling about Princess Cimorene, who is tired of being a princess and wants adventure in her life. So, she runs away to live with dragons. Who wouldn’t? You and your children will laugh over them. Sorcery and Cecilia, or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot starts off a trilogy set in an earlier time in England, but in a world that includes magic. So, if you want to imagine your Regency era (or maybe slightly later) while wizards were around, these are for you. My recollection says the kids will enjoy them, too, though they may be a little wordier than the dragon books. Snow White is a fairytale retelling, of course, and The Seven Towers is a standalone fantasy tale that I haven’t read in years, but should be fine for young teens. Take a look for yourself and see what you think. Also, I’ve recently been reading her newest series, which starts with Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic series), and takes place in a frontier America where magic exists. She explores what it’s like to be the unlucky thirteenth child, who happens to be the twin of an excessively lucky double seventh song, and how they grow up and explore the frontier. I think a mature reader of ten years old could handle them, but again, you know your kids best.

Johann David Wyss – The Swiss Family Robinson - Maybe you’ve seen the Disney movie, which is wonderful, but the book is quite different (while still amazing). In the book, there are more kids, and much more details about the many, many dwellings that the family builds on their new home, after they’re shipwrecked. And I’m telling you, the father of the family has SO much knowledge about everything, it’s fascinating, and I always  wonder what he read when he lived in a “civilized” land. But this book was written before all the countries and islands of the world had been discovered, so Wyss was able to create an island where every animal or tree or plant that he wanted could live. Penguins, flamingos, and everything else… they’re all there. But this is a classic, excellent story that every child will love reading, because who doesn’t want to know that they can survive if they’re shipwrecked on an unknown island? An excellent story.

Jane Yolen – The Devil’s Arithmetic, Briar Rose - Yolen is an interesting author. While she’s now well-known for writing a series of picture books about dinosaurs, some of her literature is much more serious. While Briar Rose is technically a Sleeping Beauty retelling, it is tied to the Holocaust and is no easy read. I’m not even positive that I’ve read it, but you’ll know best whether your teen can handle it. The Devil’s Arithmetic… now, I do remember reading that one. Set during more modern times, it tells of a young girl who has little appreciation for her grandparents’ having survived the Holocaust, but during Passover, she opens the door to symbolically let Elijah in… and is transported to the past. Along her historical journey, she begins to see signs of what she knows about the Holocaust and does her best to warn people… but they think she’s silly. She is swept away on the trains to the death camps… but will she survive to return to her family? This story is not an easy read, but no Holocaust book ever is. But Yolen takes an interesting route of showing you what the times were like, and how this young girl grows up and learns to understand her own family’s history.

Wow, I finished it! Wasn’t sure if that would ever happen!

But already, my previous book list has caused my Aussie friend to have some good memories of the book Baby Island, and how much she used to love it. This is what I’ve been hoping! That people will remember their old favorites, that they lost track of… or that they’d find new ones! So many books that showed up in our elementary school book fairs, school libraries, and the Weekly Reader style book pages that we would take home to order from! I still have an old favorite that I must have lost, but the title isn’t well-known and at the moment, I can’t remember the author. But I still remember the cover and the time travel involved, and how the teenagers went back in time and one of them got stuck in an old-fashioned elevator fancy wire elevator during a power outage… and there was a maid named Pegeen! I know that must sound idiotic, but this is the one book that always slips my memory, even though I bought it from a school Book List, and I think the author’s first name was Richard. Hopefully it will come to me later.

But while I was searching for authors by first name, I came up with this list on Wikipedia of Children’s Literature authors, and when I eventually finish this post, I may go back and see what books I missed. I’m sure there are many that I’ve read and never owned. Presently, I’m going to go see if Astrid Lindgren is on this list, because every child, boy or girl, should read the Pippi Longstocking books.

How nice! It wasn’t on this post, originally, so good thing I checked.  : )

Now, I really hope that this very long list will give you some excellent ideas of what to read, or for your kids to read, and take advantage of how Amazon says that “people who bought this book also bought”, and see where it takes you. You can find some excellent reads just by seeing what others are looking at, if they’re already looking at some of the classics outside of the recent run-of-the-mill fantasy novels. Enjoy and feel free to share if I’ve missed something that I shouldn’t have!

Thanks for being patient with me!

P.S.  I found it! After scrolling through pages of Richards on Amazon, I finally found Richard Peck… who wrote a lot of great books, too. Including a Newbery or two, I’m pretty sure. Anyway, the book I couldn’t remember was called Voices After Midnight. But be sure to check his books out, as well, when you’re looking for good reading!

congrats to the blues…

When I woke up this morning, I discovered that the large number of views from Australia mean there was another State of Origin game happening (or actually, had already happened). So, I skipped over to FB and discovered my one Aussie friend that cheers for the NSW Blues… well, she was yelling her head off, let’s say. And googling the subject confirmed my suspicions. So, congratulations to New South Wales for ending the Queensland Maroons’ 8 year winning streak! It must have been quite a game, and I’m sure a few of my friends screamed themselves hoarse over that game. Yes, I can be generous because I wasn’t there watching, even I’ll always cheer for the Maroons.  ; )  But honestly, from what little of rugby league and State of Origin that I saw… those players are ALL just phenomenal, so all props to the winners, and I know that QLD will be just as determined to take back the title, next year.

On a totally different note, for anyone keeping up with my book posts, I promise I’ve been working on the other half of my “best of books” list, and should have that up in another day or so. And now, I better go sit down and relax after that meal I just ate. I had some curry fried rice at the Thai-ger Cafe in Clemson, and it was pretty yummy. And filling. 10471395_10152482293854976_1946647377_o

the best of books…

Recently, I finally finished a beloved book series, The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica, by James A. Owen. I discovered the series about seven years ago, and beginning with Here, There Be Dragons, I’ve never looked back until I finished The First Dragon. Yes, it is a fantasy series, but aimed at younger readers, it takes the readers into adventures in the imaginary worlds of the most well-known and best writers of literature. Not only into those worlds, you travel there with the writers themselves. I can’t imagine a better series to introduce children and adults to some of the best authors that have ever written.

But rather than write a whole review of the books, I had something else in mind with this post. After I posted a glowing review of the series on my FB page, an Aussie friend asked me for some book recommendations for her 13 year old, and asked if this series would be good reading for her son. I agreed that it would be a wonderful series for her kids to read, or for her to read aloud to the younger ones. In this case, her son has already read The Lord of the Rings, so I know he can easily handle this series.

Perhaps some of you would have chosen to ask if they’d read Harry Potter to judge their reading habits, but as much as I enjoy HP, the real way to judge a person’s reading habits is if they’ve read Tolkien. No contest. And this is no slam against you if you’ve never read LOTR, but in the case of kids, it tells you what length and subject matter they can handle. While LOTR has serious themes and storylines in it, it is never gratuitously violent or bloody. And Tolkien is… well, Tolkien. HP may be awesome fun, but Rowling is no Tolkien.10465795_10152468486919976_697175406_o

Ok, enough of that. I became interested in the subject of good reading for my friend, and suggested that I could take the time to go through my own books and make a list. However, as some of you know, I have a huge book collection, so not only did it take a little while, but I came up with a very large list. So, I told my friend that I was upgrading her list to a blog post, because some of you out there might be interested, also. With all the reading and studying I have to do for school, even at the beginning of the semester, I knew this would take me longer than originally planned.

My list includes some books that are on the Newbery Award list, but I decided to provide the link to the official list, which should be especially useful to Aussies, because they don’t have the Newbery Awards over there. If you’ve never heard of them, the Newbery Medal is awarded to one book every year, which is considered the best contribution to children’s literature in that year. Most years, they award several Newbery Honor awards, as well, for the runner-ups. I’m also including the link to the Caldecott Medal winners, which are awarded to the best illustrated children’s book of each year. I was raised on Blueberries for Sal and The Polar Express, so even your younger children can get in on some reading fun.

Just one warning to all parents and readers… these books are my favorites and those of my friends and family, but that doesn’t mean some of them don’t have serious themes. A few of them, I haven’t read for many years, and just remember them being wonderful, but I may have forgotten a serious element that you will object to. Quite a few of these are fantasy, but many are not. If you have objections to stories about magic or tales of fantasy, that’s your call. No matter what I recommend, you should use Goodreads, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble’s websites to read other reviews or just read the blurb on the back of the book. You should always know what your kids are reading, no matter what I say about these books. That awareness will allow you to have good conversations with your children, or decide whether your child can’t handle that type of subject matter yet. YOU know your children best, so make your own decisions about these books, please. :)  Happy reading!

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Louisa May Alcott – Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins (or the Aunt Hill), Rose in Bloom, An Old-Fashioned Girl - Of course, everyone has heard of Little Women, but how many people have ventured beyond Alcott’s most well-known book? I tend to prefer Little Men to Little Women, because of the antics of the boys, and her writing quality goes downhill in Jo’s Boys. But the latter three on this list… I might possibly love them more than the first three. If you’ve never read the duology of Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom, then you need to, and An Old-Fashioned Girl is a wonderful story of how the Country Mouse met the City Mice and helped them out by being herself. Who doesn’t need a story like that to help them through life?

Alan Armstrong – Whittington – I think this one is a Newbery Honor book, and though I don’t remember much, I remember that it was a really good book.

L. Frank Baum – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Ozma of Oz, The Tin Woodman of Oz, The Emerald City of Oz, The Patchwork Girl of Oz, etc.. - Most of us were raised on the movie version of Wizard of Oz, but the original book and the rest of the series is even more magical for any child’s imagination, and I read and reread many of these when I was a child. Baum had a marvelous imagination, and when I was a child, I was enthralled at the idea of all kinds of queer creatures and objects coming to life in Baum’s stories.

Jeanne Birdsall – The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street - It’s been a while since I read the first one, but I still need to get my hands on the rest of Birdsall’s books about the Penderwicks, because they’re a fun-loving and charming family that remind of what it was like when our children played outdoors with animals and each other, rather than staying inside on their computers.

Michael Bond – A Bear Called Paddington, Paddington Helps Out, etc.. - I read these for the first time, recently, and especially for younger children, the unthinking mischief of Paddington will be charming.

Carol Ryrie Brink - Caddie Woodlawn, Baby Island - Caddie is the most famous of Brink’s books, as she won the Newbery Medal for it, but if I’m honest, I’ll say that my copy of Baby Island is so worn out that it lost its cover long ago.  The premise that two little girls could be shipwrecked with a boatload of babies to look after, and end up on a desert island… What’s not to love?

Frances Hodgson Burnett – A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, The Lost Prince, Little Lord Fauntleroy – Burnett is another author that gets short shrift over what I consider her best book. I grew up reading The Lost Prince, and as much as I love A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, the adventures of Marco and The Rat were just as fascinating, if not more so. And if your children (girls AND boys) have been raised on the movie versions of her books, then I tell you now that they NEVER get the story right concerning these books. Shirley Temple is amazing, but her movie version of A Little Princess is all wrong, and the same goes for The Secret Garden. Every child should read these books, and fall in love with the correct version of the story. Also, I never read Fauntleroy until I was in my twenties, but I found that story charming and great fun, as well.

Susan Butler - The Hermit Thrush Sings - It has been many years since I read this one, so I should probably reread it. Amazon refreshed my memory… this is a dystopian tale from before The Hunger Games and other books became popular. It’s a world where people live in numbered villages and very few people go out of the villages, because the animals are so dangerous. Leora is a young girl who is different in a world where they’re expected to be perfect physically and think in the same way. Amazon says it’s for age 12 and up, but I think younger readers can handle it… I don’t remember anything too dark for them.

Beverly Cleary – Beezus and Ramona, Ramona the Pest, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Runaway RalphI loved reading the Ramona books, when I was younger, and even further back, I know I read the Mouse books. Beverly Cleary is the voice of my childhood, and even the movie version of Beezus and Ramona is pretty good. These can be read by any age group, and parents will enjoy them as well.

Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games trilogy - Since I don’t jump on every bandwagon of popularity, it took a recommendation from my cousin to get me to read these, several years ago. I enjoyed them so much that I’ve read them several times since then, though my younger brother doesn’t see the attraction. They’re a set of books to make you think, when you consider how our world of reality television affects our lives, and every parent needs to decide for themselves if their child can handle the violence of the Games. Also, I’ve heard about Collins’ other books, the series about Gregor the Overlander, but I haven’t read them. Always worth taking a lot, however.

Caroline B. Cooney – The Ransom of Mercy Carter - All American kids were raised on the stories of cowboys and Indians, and westerns… at least, they used to be. Not only was I raised on Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey (the best of the American Western books), but when I was in high school, I read everything in the Native American non-fiction section of the library. Without arguing with anyone on the treatment of the American Indians, I read every book of non-fiction and fiction that I could get on the subject, at the time. And that brought me to Cooney’s tale of Mercy Carter, which is based on a true story. Cooney’s books are normally more like The Face on the Milk Carton, which I have never read, but her other books are supposed to be good. The true stories of how some Americans were kidnapped and/or ransomed by the Native Americans, back during pioneer days, covers a lot of territory… some of them never returned to their families and some took the opportunity to be ransomed or to escape. Cooney wanted to explore the whys and wherefores behind Mercy Carter’s own story, and crafted this book as a result. You won’t be disappointed.

D. M. Cornish – Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy: Foundling, Lamplighter, Factotum – Cornish’s trilogy has a flavor of Charles Dickens to his writing, complete with his fantastic drawings and a glossary of his world. A world where monsters exist and are a serious danger, and young Rossamund is in the middle of it. The title of the trilogy is a little off-putting, I suppose, but the reason for it is more innocuous than you might realize. If your kids already read fantasy, then this may be for them, because it was written for young teens, or even pre-teens. While looking for an age recommendation on Amazon, I saw a write-up that said a grandparent had bought one of these for their 9 year old grandson. If you have a serious reader, who likes fantasy, on your hands, this series will be for you.

Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Sign of Four, etc.. - These titles are only a few of the books or short stories that Conan Doyle wrote about Sherlock Holmes. By now, we know that the movies and TV shows have enduring popularity, but everyone should look back on the books that began it. Readers of any age should be able to handle them, though the younger ones might be a little unnerved by The Hound of the Baskervilles. I was warned to not read it after dark, but I did it anyway, and was prepared. I’m not sure that my younger self would have been ready for it, though.

Sharon Creech – Ruby Holler, Chasing Redbird, Walk Two Moons, The Great Unexpected - These books are for any age, and though I don’t remember specific details of all of them, they’re very much along the lines of Caddie Woodlawn and other adventures for any age. Sometimes the stories contain magical elements, but several of them involve children in reduced circumstances, going through adventures they never expected.

Alison Croggon – The Books of Pellinor: The Naming, The Riddle, The Crow, The Singing - I would describe this series as slightly Tolkienesque, though not as good as Tolkien, of course. You can see where the description of the Hulls were probably affected by what we know of the Ringwraiths, and yet, this is still Croggon’s own amazing tale. Maerad is raised as a slave, having no knowledge of her background, until Cadvan rescues her. In a world of magical Bards, she must learn to control her powers and use them to save her world. I originally found the first book in a YA section in a Borders (remember Borders?), when YA could be for pre-teens, also. I’d guess these are for age 10 and up.

Karen Cushman - Catherine, Called Birdy; The Midwife’s Apprentice; Matilda Bone; The Ballad of Lucy Whipple - With several Newbery Honor mentions and one or two Newbery Medals to her name, Cushman’s books are for any age. If your kids like some history, several of her books are set in the 1400’s or 1500’s, while Lucy Whipple is (I think) during the pioneer days of America.

Charles Dickens – The Pickwick Papers - I didn’t start reading Dickens until recently, though I always knew OF him, because the characters in Little Women loved his books. So, if you get the chance, start your kids on these classics early, even if you have to read them aloud and do all the voices. I think Pickwick could be handled by most ages, but some others might wait a little while because there are some darker themes in Little Dorrit, Oliver Twist, and Bleak House. And for the record, the recent BBC mini-series versions of some of these are amazing, and were helpful to me in getting into the story before reading them.

Julie Andrews Edwards – Mandy, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles- In case you didn’t realize it, this is the Julie Andrews of The Sound of Music fame, and a published author, in her own right. My favorite is Mandy, which is the story of a young orphan girl who adopts a little house for her own, to fix it up, and where this project leads her. An adventure for any age, boy or girl.

Elizabeth Enright – Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze, Thimble Summer - I have only vague recollections of when I last read Thimble Summer, but this book won Enright the Newbery Medal for her story of Garnet’s special summer. Spiderweb was always one of my favorites, though, with the Melendys embarking on a summer of solving riddles and looking for clues, searching for the treasure at the end of the line. At one point, I realized that there were other books about the Melendy family, but I’ve never actually read any of them. But anything written by Enright will keep your children happily enthralled for their own summer.

Walter Farley – The Black Stallion, Man O’War - I have read the books, somewhere along the line, but these were more my older brothers line of reading. I always enjoyed The Black Stallion movie, but I was more into reading other horse books. Farley wrote many more, and they’re well-loved by girls and boys alike, so look them up!

Jean Craighead George – My Side of the Mountain, Julie of the Wolves, etc.. - Again, my memories of Julie are very vague, as I was probably younger than ten years old when I read it. It won the Newbery Medal. But my favorite was the story of Sam in My Side of the Mountain, and how he learned to survive in the wilderness, even to the point of making friends with several animals and carving himself a home inside of a tree. Doesn’t every child, at some point, want to live in the wild and have their own hawk for a pet?

Elizabeth Goudge – The Little White Horse, Linnets and Valerians - It was sometime in my twenties when I came across The Little White Horse in a Borders bookstore, and I was caught from the very first word in the story. Any age could read this story of young Maria Merryweather and how she returns to her family home to discover an adventure in involving unicorns, lions, and a somewhat magical friend of hers. Who knew that an argument over favorite colors, pink or red, could cause so much trouble? I look forward to reading this with my own children, some day, and it didn’t take me long to go looking for Goudge’s other books. Actually, she’s written several books for adults that I haven’t read, but some of which I still would like to. However, Linnets and Valerians was also written for children, and it’s a charming story of a group of siblings that move to a village with their stern uncle and wondrous things begin to happen around them.

Kenneth Grahame – The Wind in the Willows - Like a lot of kids, I had seen the Disney version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Adventure, but for some reason, I don’t remember ever actually reading this book. And then I discovered Robert Ingpen, and I never looked back. Ingpen is an amazing illustrator from Australia (I learned this long before I went to AUS), and I fell in love with his version of Wind in the Willows. My family loves books with beautiful illustrations, and I would happily own any story that Ingpen had illustrated. While reading, it amazed me that I could not have read this wonderful book, despite loving the Redwall books as much as I do. So, don’t neglect this story, but find Ingpen’s version, if you can.

Shannon Hale – The Goose Girl, Princess Academy, Book of a Thousand Days, etc.. - While aware that Hale has written several other books, including two more that are supposedly a trilogy (?) that go with Goose Girl, I’ve never read the rest of the books of Bayern. That’s no slam, I just never felt the need to find them, when I finally heard of them. As I love re-tellings of classic fairy tales, I was delighted by this book’s ability to flesh out the story of the princess who had to become a goose girl, and then how she triumphed over her adversity. On the other hand, Thousand Days is a story of a servant girl who befriends a rich girl, and they are locked into a tower together for seven years. I think I read somewhere that it was based on a fairytale by Grimm, but I was never aware of it when I read it. Excellent reading for girls AND boys, because the boys need to be convinced that just because a girl is the main character doesn’t mean it isn’t a good story! I read plenty of adventure stories with boys involved when I was growing up, so the boys shouldn’t miss out on all the other adventures available.

Rachel Hartman – Seraphina - Fairly recently published, I’m looking forward to when Hartman’s sequel is published, which will continue the story of Seraphina, who struggles to hide her own dangerous secret, amidst the intrigues of the court, in a world where humans and dragons are still struggling to find peace with one another. This one can be read by the pre-teens, also.

Marguerite Henry – Misty of Chincoteague; King of the Wind; Stormy, Misty’s Foal - Do you remember that I mentioned horse books that I preferred to the ones my brothers were reading? While there were others, we read our way through Henry’s books about Chincoteague and the wild ponies that lived there. My older brother and I wanted to go there and see them for ourselves, and reading about them was the next best thing, for Chincoteague is a real place, even if most of the horses were fictional.

James Herriot - All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Wise and Wonderful, The Lord God Made Them All - Do your children like animals? Or are you a grown-up animal lover? Herriot’s books were written for any age, and tell the true story of his own veterinary adventures in the Yorkshire countryside, though the names are changed. He doesn’t pull any punches with stories of cows in labor and some of the things that happen to the animals around him, but the language was never bad, and we read these repeatedly, when we were growing up. Still do. You can also find picture books of his dog stories, if you’re looking for something for the really young kids. Every person should have a steady diet of James Herriot’s veterinary tales.

Brian Jacques – Redwall, Mossflower, The Long Patrol, Marlfox, Martin the Warrior, Castaways of the Flying Dutchman, etc.. - I was visiting my cousins in New York State, when I was in my late teens, and they introduced me to the books of Brian Jacques. While I was there, I read through an entire shelf of his books, and as soon as I returned home, I began to add them to my own collection. The adventures of the animals of Redwall Abbey and Martin the Warrior are full of thrilling battles, delicious feasts (you’ll be drooling, I promise you), and fascinating riddles. I spent most of twenties in waiting for the next book to come out, every year, and when I found that Jacques had died, my heart just about broke. No more new stories? He was only three books into his Flying Dutchman series, too, which while not as awesome as Redwall, was very good. And I own a copy of The Redwall Cookbook, too, because life without shrimp ‘n hotroot soup would be extremely dull. Take your children to Redwall, and they’ll thank you for it!

Rudyard Kipling – The Jungle Book, Just So Stories - Like most of us, I grew up on the Disney version of Kipling’s book, but I did eventually read his collection of stories about Mowgli, and probably should read them again. Like Dickens, these are classics that every child should read, and teens should be torn away from the horrors of the YA Paranormal Romance section in the bookstores. Give them some GOOD stuff to read!

Louis L’Amour – To the Far Blue Mountains, Ride the River, Jubal Sackett, Sackett’s Land - While not every L’Amour book may be for children, my brothers and I (and my mom and uncles before us) were raised on these Westerns, especially the Sackett books. While his The Walking Drum is one of my favorites, it’s heavier reading than the Sackett books, and there’s nothing wrong with the language, nor are you subjected to unnecessary bedroom scenes. No, L’Amour knew they weren’t needed. His books were about pioneers and cowboys, mainly, but some were set in more “recent” times. You can’t go wrong with this author, though every parent should, of course, keep a close eye on what they’re having their child read.  : )

Madeleine L’Engle – A Wrinkle in Time, The Wind in the Door, Many Waters, etc.. - Growing up, I was creeped out by the picture on my brother’s copy of Wrinkle in Time, which is probably what kept me from reading it until I was in my twenties. But knowing that L’Engle had won a Newbery medal for it, I eventually persevered and read her main five books and then a few more. Her books are very interesting, well-written, and… well, they can be quite strange. The fantastical parts, at least. They follow Meg Murry and her brother Charles Wallace as they travel into the unknown to save their father. I find her books making me wonder if she believes in a Creator God, or if she’s just trying to make her readers think about what is out there. Many Waters is a foray into a time-travel visit to the time of Noah, so she definitely delves into the ideas of faith, what is in the cosmos, and what is inside ourselves.

Andrew Lang – The Blue Fairy Book, The Crimson Fairy Book, The Violet Fairy Book, etc.. - I love fairy tales, especially when I don’t have to “dissect” them for any English Literature classes. I think I actually own all of Lang’s color books on my Kindle, but it’s not the same as having them in your hand. His series of fairy tale collections is a must for anyone who loves fairy tales.

Jane Langton - The Fledgling (Hall Family Chronicles) - Not for the first time, I found out that the one book I’ve read by a particular author was only one of a series, but I’ve never gotten around to finding or reading the rest. I just know that this book won a Newbery Honor award and it was about a little girl who discovered she could fly and made friends with the local geese. Or that’s what I remember about it. And if I could have a super power, I’d want to fly, and when I was younger, I dreamed about flying. So, this book was right up my alley, as a child.

Lois Lenski – Strawberry Girl, Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison, Betsy-Tacy - I only vaguely remember Strawberry Girl and I’m not even sure if I ever read Betsy-Tacy, but that means that I read them when I was very young. I was always reading above my age level, and these are wonderful books for children. But if you read my comments above concerning Mercy Carter, then you’ll realize why I had to pick up a copy of Indian Captive. Both are extremely well-written, but go in totally different directions, both geographically as well as story-wise. Lenski is a must-read author for children of most ages.

Gail Carson Levine - Ella Enchanted, Ever, Fairest - I don’t have that many pet peeves, but if there’s one thing that annoys me, it’s when a fantastic books is made into a really, really, really bad movie. Why would anyone go read the book, if they’ve seen a perfectly dreadful movie? Doesn’t matter that it was my first introduction to Anne Hathaway, NEVER EVER let your child go see the movie version of Ella Enchanted. Because the BOOK was a Newbery Honor book and was an amazing re-telling of the Cinderella story, with an unforgettable finale. Yes, the premise of the story is that she has an obedience spell cast upon her, as a child, and she can’t disobey anyone who knows it. It’s a fantastic story, and it still has one of my favorite endings to any book for young people. And what the movie did with it! Excuse me while I go cool off… Before I forget, all of Levine’s books are wonderful, so pick up any you can get your hands on.

C. S. Lewis – Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Horse and His Boy, etc.. -With the arrival of the Narnia movies in theaters, a new generation was introduced to the beloved stories of C. S. Lewis. But no one should stop there, because The Chronicles of Narnia are so much more amazing than the movies could ever be. Any age can read them, and they’ll read them again and again. I certainly did. While I never went banging on the walls inside my closet, I have known people that did so, because of reading these books when they were children. What child wouldn’t want to discover a new world from the back of their wardrobe? According to Lewis’s books, boys can be total brats but learn to be brave and strong, girls can act silly or be selfish and then learn to do right… and you can’t change the past, but you can choose different actions to have an effect on your future. These adventures are for girls and boys of all ages, even for the grown-ups! I still love reading about Aslan, Tumnus, Puddleglum, Trumpkin, and many, many others.

Yes, I know, I had to call a halt. I plan to finish up soon, I promise! But since I began this post back in January and then got tied up with school, it’s about time I posted it… wouldn’t you say so? The rest of my list of authors are already waiting for me to fill in the blanks, in another post, but after wracking my brain to writing about over 30 authors, I need a short break. Remember, this is not a complete list, and there are many, many more wonderful books and authors out there! Take advantage of all the sources online to see what others think of the individual books and be fully aware of what your kids are reading, and I truly hope that this list will help you turn your children into avid readers with imaginations that know no boundaries.

Read on!

 

trying to do better…

My blog views are “rocketing” today, and I just realized that State of Origin must be happening in dear old Queensland, Australia. I wrote those posts so long ago, but what I had to say about rugby league football and the Queensland Maroons still applies, even if I’ve been away from AUS for more than 2 years now.

Meanwhile, summer is in full swing, and I haven’t felt like writing. Or posting. Despite just having been to Seabrook for my conference. So, I will try and shape up, and get back to posting now and then. If you have a blog, you’ll know that every blogger goes through ups and downs, trying to figure out where they are as a writer, and having days when you’ve got nothing to share. Or don’t know how to share it.

I even know that my stats tell me that I have over 400 followers, but even that can be a little depressing when I can tell that many of them are those “blogs” where they tell you how to get rich and travel the world… is that even fair, that they use you for advertising, when there’s no proof that they ever read your blog? I would like to know that what I write and the photos I take… I want them to be interesting to someone, or even to brighten someone’s day. No one wants their “followers” to be a bunch of fakes.

I don’t mean that to sound that harsh. Many of you have been following me since I was in Australia, and some of you probably do read my posts. I wish I could write something exciting and fun, like I used to, when I was chasing my Aussie kiddos…

If you’re a fellow blogger, and know what it’s like, I hope you’ll have a cheerful word for me. Some of my writing mojo is missing, and I can’t seem to find it again. Hang in there, and I should figure this out again.  : )DSC_0818 DSC_0821

a home for akubras…

At the end of last month, I finally remembered to ask my dad about something. It had been percolating in my brain for some time, so it was high time I asked. DSC_0661

When I brought home two Akubras (and one fedora) from Australia, it hadn’t occurred to me where I would store them. You see, they’re supposed to either be on a hat rack, or sit upside down on a flat surface, so you don’t warp the brim (or something like that). Because both of them have a fair-sized width to them, I didn’t have a good shelf to set them, nor did I really want them collecting spiderwebs and dust. Or, if they did collect those, I still wanted the hats to be somewhere I could see them.DSC_0666But while putting them on the bedposts, when I was sleeping in the bunk bed, worked just fine, things changed when I came downstairs. I wanted my bed posts for the occasional bag, but not for the hats. They could get bumped or messed up, and you couldn’t display them properly. So, in my head, I began to puzzle out what I could do with them.DSC_0673

Ever seen a hat rack in a store, or a hat stand? Ever wonder how the big hats fit on them, because the hooks are often close together? No ready made hat rack seemed like what I needed, and then where would I put it? My new room has mostly cinder block walls, which are awkward to punch holes into, for any reason. So, there’s only one wall with drywall in it, where the closet is. I was debating whether my dad could build me a hat rack that would hang the hats at two different levels, just above my closet doors.DSC_0670

DSC_0667When I finally asked him, we looked at pictures online, and debated exactly what I was looking for. How far apart would the hooks be? How did I want them shaped, to protect the inside of the hat? And where, oh where, would we put it. DSC_0754

I didn’t come up with any of this design. He took what I wanted and ran with it. Of course, he has an Akubra, too, so he could play around with mine, until he’s perfected the design for his.  : )  And he was the one that realized the hat rack could be attached to my bookshelves, and hang out over my dresser. DSC_0752

Before I left for my weekend in Georgia (back around the 4th of July), He had come up with the size of the “base board”, the shape of the wood to go inside the hats, and we experimented with the angle of each one. I wanted the hats to tilt outward, so you could see them, not just look up the underside of them.DSC_0753After I returned from Georgia, he took the time to paint the rack white, and then staple brown felt onto each horseshoe, to protect the inside of the hats. And because my fedora is smaller, it fits easily inside of either Akubra. My brother was unable to figure out what the rack was for, when it was sitting upstairs, waiting to be painted. It’s true that if you didn’t already know its intended purpose, you would never guess.DSC_0758He did a great job, didn’t he? My Aussie friends will all be jealous, I know.  : )  My “The Boss” and “Riverina” hats can now rest comfortably.DSC_0756

sweet sunshine…

The hawk is hanging out in our back yard again. He seems to think that we placed our swing set and volleyball posts there, just for his benefit. And for all the “use” they’ve had in recent years, the vball posts might as well belong to him. We haven’t had a net out there in over ten years, I’m sure. And I seem to recall, many years ago, a local owl taking its turn, hanging out on the backyard perches. But if they’re like any of the people ’round here, they’re all just enjoying the sun. Now that the rain has stopped… again.

I read somewhere that Aussies talk about the weather, all the time, but I don’t remember if that’s true. The weather seems to be a normal kind of subject, no matter where you live. But now I know that we’ve never talked about the weather as much as we have, this summer. I’m not even going to go into talking details about our winter and spring. They must’ve been smoking something, for all the jumble they were in.

But the rain… the endless rain. We’ve seen the sun, in the last few weeks, but every time, we’ve been so surprised that we don’t know what to do about it. And all those that want to trim their backyard jungles, keep hoping that it’ll stay dry for a while. No such luck. The lakes are at flood levels, and they’re going to release some water from the dam spillway, in order to get the lake levels down. I’m sure the people downstream from us will enjoy that.

I talk about many things to the students that come into my workplace, and we mention the weather now and then. Well, we used to. Before the last month, I knew most of the regulars well enough to talk about all sorts of things. But the wetter it go, the more we couldn’t resist the urge… the dreadful urge to gripe about it.

In a way, we really do have reason to gripe. Our poor Western neighbors could really use the rain, but we’re unable to mail it to them. I know I’ve griped about that. If someone could tell me how to pack it up and send it away, I would be grateful.

And the trees. Every storm brings down trees and branches, all over the place. Someone finally reminded me why it’s so dangerous, after all the rain. Because we’ve been in drought for so long, the trees have grown weaker. Now, they have all the water they could want… and the excessive amount of water is loosening up their roots. Huge oak trees come down with one storm, and then another, at the next puff of wind.

Just this last weekend, we had a colossal thunder storm, in the middle of the night, and everyone in town (with the exception of some really heavy sleepers) heard it. If they slept through it, I’ll give ‘em brownie points, but I know their friends told them about it. “That storm” (yes, that’s how we all referred to it, all day today) woke me up, and it was frightening to listen to, the lightning and the thunder coming at the exact same time, the windows rattling, the ground shaking…  I am only unnerved by storms when I’m not completely awake, and then I can imagine all sorts of terrible things that might happen. I was sure that our maple tree, or our neighbor’s pine trees were going to uproot and blow through my window, at any second.

I read the weather report, incessantly, though I barely trust it anymore. I don’t think the weathermen even trust themselves, or what they read anymore. They just predict thunderstorms for every day, and don’t mention when the downpours will occur, because they don’t know. Partly, I read the weather report because my co-workers will ask me about it. I have to have an answer, because they think I’ll know.

If I were really being good, I’d also be reading my dictionary, on the side, as well as checking the weather, because one co-worker regularly treats me like his personal dictionary. Kind of like a certain brother of mine, he expects that I’ll be able to define “incorrigible” and… something close to “asinine”, at the drop of a hat (I can’t remember the exact word. It’ll come to me, later.). Of course, I know what these mean, but sometimes explaining them is more difficult than understanding them in context. But it’s nice that someone thinks I’m brilliant, I suppose.

Now, I’m hopefully looking at this week’s weather report, hoping that it’s accurate. Sure, I’m not a fan of the 90 degree weather and oppressive humidity, but beggars can’t be choosers. The words “partly” and “mostly” are starting to be paired with that blissful word “sunshine”. Might it be true? Could they be right? One of these days, we’ll be able to go to the pool again, and other people will be able to break out the lawnmowers.

I know I’m not the only one that will be happy if the sun stays out. Some of my Indian friends have admitted (ruefully, after I comment on their own weather complaints) that their country has a rainy season. Does that mean they’re enjoying this weather any more than we are? Nope. They don’t particularly like their own rainy season, so they’re ready to be done with ours. Amen and amen. Let it be so. And let it go out West, where they truly need it.

P.S. Now that I’ve spent an entire POST talking about the weather, I really don’t want to talk about it, ever again. Well, not for a while. I’ve even made a game of it, at work, trying to not talk about the weather, nor take the bait when someone else mentions it. It is very difficult. I vote we forget the weather exists, for at least a week or two.

once upon a time…

Once upon a time, a young woman spent a wonderful year in Australia, working as a nanny and looking after five little girls. Before she went there, she considered the possibility of being able to travel for years and years, visiting several different countries, and taking care of children. She loved children, you see, and as she was still single (and therefore, childless), nannying seemed to be a wondrous idea. Unfortunately, she was past the cut-off age for work & holiday visas, in most countries, so Australia would be her only overseas gig.

Instead, when she returned home, she thought that she thought that she would soak up being with her family and friends again, and then find another nanny job in the United States. There were plenty of states that she still wanted to visit, and what better way to get to see them than moving there for a year at a time? During her first summer back in the U.S., she packed up her car and drove to Minnesota.

It wasn’t meant to be. She learned a lot from that trip, but two weeks later, she drove (the two day trip) home. Admittedly, she was a little down, after this “failure”. Why had it happened? Was she NOT supposed to go, or did the Lord want her to learn something from that short trip?

She began to apply for jobs again, but just like before she left for Australia, she wasn’t finding anything very high on the pay scale or any higher on the job “quality” ladder. Once, she had been a business owner  and house cleaner, and then a full-time manager of housekeeping for a camp. Now, she was ready to step up and work at the desk in a hotel (in business clothes, instead of scruffy t-shirts and shorts), or something that had nothing to do with cleaning. But with the problematic economy and a limited resume, she wasn’t finding anything.

Fortunately, she still had some good credit with a local company that she had worked with before, and was hired almost immediately. This took her to working as a cashier, at Clemson University. The pay wasn’t high, but the location was a definite improvement on her food service experience in the same company. Every week, she told herself that she would find something better, and this job would hold her over until then.

The weeks went by, and something strange happened. She began to find that she actually enjoyed her job. Not because of the job itself, because cashiering doesn’t call for too much skill, but because of the students and professors. Especially, the graduate students, who were closer to her age. As she also had a college professor for a father AND grandfather, and graduate students had practically lived in her home when she was growing up, she began to feel right at home with them.

But still, she knew that it wasn’t easy to make friends with people, in her position. When students only speak to you for a few minutes every day, they don’t really see you as a person, and potential friend. She wasn’t sure how to cross the line to becoming friends with them, either guys or girls. She didn’t have a lot of local friends, having lived away from Clemson for several years, so she was trying to figure out how to make some.

As she began to persist in learning the students’ names, they began to see her as a person worthy of friendship, and call her by name, in return. And as each friendship developed, she found herself less and less inclined to look for another job, though she knew she needed to. She needed to earn more, but this company was not the right place to do it. But abandoning her new acquaintances, before they really became friends… that was a hard choice to make.

Did I mention that she wrote a blog? I know, you’re stunned. At about this time, she was paying more attention to her photography skills, and began to take more pictures of flowers and buildings, instead of children (as when she was a nanny). Especially, buildings on the Clemson University campus.

This caused her to take an interest in Clemson that she had never had before, not even when her dad taught there, or when she had attended one semester there. Just like when you get a new house (or car), clean it, and place your things just so, making it your own… her wandering photography tours of Clemson were making their mark. Clemson (the city) was already home, and now the University was getting there.

She would tell you that it’s the blog’s fault, really. On some days, she would think about random topics, trying to think about what else to write about. And one day… she had a blog post idea. But she never wrote it. It would have been a fascinating post, I’m sure, but the reality was so much better. I’ll tell you about it, in a few minutes.

With the beginning of the New Year, some of her acquaintances truly became friends. And during one online conversation, she discovered that Clemson University was hiring for a job. A job that was in the same department as most of her friends. If she had never made friends at her workplace, with the students, she never would have heard about it. Because when it was finally listed online, the listing was only there for a week, and you had to be ready for it.

Her friend had thought she would be interested in this job, for herself. As thrilled as she was by this placing of confidence, she knew that she couldn’t take it. Are you wondering why? I’m still coming to that aforementioned, non-existent blog post. Instead, she told her mother about this job opening, and encouraged her to apply for it. Her mother was so much more qualified, and it was about time she worked for a place that would appreciate her that much more!

When her mother applied for it, she was certain that her mom would get the job, though no one else was certain. And then… she did get it! Why had she been so certain? It didn’t really make sense, did it?

But then again… she (the daughter, not the mother) had gone through a long process of not finding employment, after coming home from Australia, and then developing an interest in an uninteresting job. An occupation that was made interesting because of the people. And if she had never gotten to know those students, she never would have helped her mom find her new position. She marveled at how the Lord must have had that plan in place, when she returned from Australia, but of course, she didn’t know about it!

Many people were excited for her mother, after she was hired for the new position, and encouraged her daughter that “they’d find one for her, too!”. She didn’t say anything about how she could have applied for that same opportunity, but that she knew it wasn’t the right one. The Lord had other plans for her, and she’d known it for a long time.

You see, once upon a time, she thought about how much she liked to read, and especially how she read a lot of history books. And because she was always working or taking photographs on the Clemson campus, she began to think about (for a blog post), what she would major in, if she ever decided to go back to college. She had hated college, the first time, and hadn’t had any subject that she enjoyed enough to keep her there. And she knew that you did NOT need a degree to succeed in life.

But while she was thinking about this imaginary blog post… it finally hit her. If she wanted to, she COULD go back to college. She loved to read non-fiction, everything from the subject of the Founding Fathers, the writing of the Constitution, and the forming of the United States, to the Civil War and the Cold War. She spent most of her spare time reading these subjects, for fun… why wouldn’t she enjoy getting a degree in history?

She did her research on getting a history major, and what jobs can result from that type of degree. She applied to Clemson, and was accepted. She jumped through every hoop they held out for her, and they moved those hoops around a LOT, for returning students! She wrote appeals letters for several committees, and scrambled to find out what information they had forgotten to tell her. And at the moment, she is still in the final stages of getting financial aid, and waiting to register for classes (because returning students can’t register until late July).

Think about it. Over a year ago, the Lord knew that she would NOT get a job outside of Clemson, but stay there, making friends. He knew that she would begin to like the campus and the people, and that her friendships would help her mother find new employment. He knew that her reading, blogging, and photography would eventually lead her to reconsider school.

He knew this, while she was crying over her “failure” in Minnesota. Was it a failure, though, if the Lord had His hand on the situation? He knew this while she was worn out by mono, and unable to even think about finding another job. He knew it, when she was unable to afford to travel anywhere, but slowly was becoming accustomed to staying in Clemson. He always KNEW where she would go, and what He had planned for her!

~

And now that you know, I might as well switch tenses to finish the tale. Barring any problems with financial aid, I will be starting undergraduate classes, in about six weeks. I may still be a little worried about the issue of funds, but I sincerely believe that the Lord’s been leading me this whole way, all this time. So, if that is true, then money should not be a worry. He has it under control.

I would appreciate your thoughts and prayers, as I am quite nervous about starting school. I don’t have fond memories of my lone semester at Clemson, and even if it was because I was immature and overwhelmed, the memories can spring up and swamp me, at times. Also, I was serious when I said that I had to jump through hoops, as a returning student. Every time I turn around, I’ve missed some important information, or they forgot to tell me that I need to sign another paper, or write another letter to someone.

Please pray that all the necessary paperwork will come together. That even if I’m nervous, I won’t be overly worried and/or terrified. Panic attacks are NOT welcome. And please, please pray that I’m not having a mono relapse (or that I will get over it soon), because I really want to have the energy to pay attention and even enjoy what I’m doing and learning.

~

I will be very busy, over the next four years, so my blog posts may become much more infrequent, and the subject matter of both word and photo may change (again). But please hang in there, because I truly enjoy blogging, and do not intend to give it up. Perhaps you will even come to enjoy my rambling about life as a 30-something college student. At least, I hope you will!  : )

of publix, soup, & chocolate…

We had a new Publix grocery store open, recently. Everyone in Clemson knew it was coming, of course, because they ripped up and reformed a whole section of land in a hole-in-the-wall section of Tiger Boulevard. Some were aware because of the construction traffic, others because their bank informed them they would be moving to the new plaza. And then, eventually, the ads came in the paper for the Opening Day.

The last time I was at a Grand Opening for a grocery store, I was in Australia, and took my kiddos there twice in one day, and they got balloons and were oh-so-excited about it. I tried to block out this memory enough that it wouldn’t bother me much, when I got to the new Publix. If you break down in tears, in the middle of a store, people will think you’re nuts!DSC_0475

I waited a few days, and then went to see what it looked like. Fortunately, I remembered in time that they were probably still going overboard with their “We’ve Just Opened!” friendliness, so I braced myself. Sure enough, a line of managers were greeting everyone at the door, along with someone dressed up in a dinosaur costume. If I was a little kid, I would’ve been horrified by the costumed greeter, instead of enthralled. As it was, I hurried past the greeting committee, hoping to stay unnoticed while I wandered.

Fat chance. It seemed that in every aisle I went down, someone in a dress shirt and tie would greet me and ask to help me, and I managed to smile and say “no”, when I wanted to tell them to go away. Come on, I just want to wander and think and be left alone! I’ll ask you if I need help! You may think I’m a crank, but seriously, the cheerfulness can be taken too far, and how can you ever see anything if people are constantly stopping you? No, I can’t find anything, because you won’t let me look!DSC_0483

And then, I came to a halt in the International Food section, staring at a small section of shelves, loaded with what was mostly British treats and sweets. But among other things, I found Mars bars and chocolate-covered Turkish Delight. I became excited, and even hoped to find Vegemite, but no, all they had was a small container of Marmite (British version of Vegemite).

I waffled over what to get, after wandering the whole store, and eventually came back for the chocolate candy. That was after I had ascertained that they had every imaginable thing in the frozen food section, like pot pies and pizzas, but not a meat pie to be seen. It was a sad sight. After getting the chocolate, I remembered one other thing that I had run across earlier.

My shopping expeditions do not usually have me looking closely at anything that’s labeled “organic”, but I accidentally came across the organic soups. And after staring for a moment, the butternut squash soup finally caught my attention. Once the wheels began to turn, I realized that this was probably the only “pumpkin” soup that I would ever find in an American grocery store. Because our squash is Aussie pumpkin, and I still haven’t figured out what their green pumpkin is, in the United States. But butternut “pumpkin” soup? I had to take it home and try it, even if it was organic and more expensive than it should be.DSC_0480

Once I got home, I tried out the candy, cutting up the Turkish Delight so that my brother could try it. I saved some pieces for my parents, too. It isn’t that I loved Turkish Delight, whether covered in chocolate or not, but I remembered it especially. When I first found it in Australia, I had always wondered what it was like, after reading about it in the Narnia books (and then seeing it in the movie). My first try of plain Turkish Delight was dreadful (it tasted like floral soap), but for some reason, Aussies really like Turkish Delight in their chocolate. Cadbury puts it in some of their chocolate bars.

Mostly, my family wasn’t a big fan of it, but I hadn’t really expected them to be. I just wanted them to have a chance at trying it. It’s not something I could bring home in my suitcase, because it would have melted. And the texture of “jelly” is different than many of our gummy or jelly candies. It’s a bit thicker than a gum drop but softer than a gummy bear. I wanted them to have one small experience that I had, while I was away.

The Mars bar… I’ve never been sure, but I think it’s somewhere between a 3 Musketeers bar and a Milky Way. No, I didn’t look it up online, so I’m exactly sure of the difference. But it was just something that I had pretty often, when I was overseas. A memory triggered by taste.DSC_0485

The soup was wonderful. It doesn’t really look like much in the pictures, but to someone who got to eat it regularly for an entire year in AUS, this tasted fantastic. When there was a variety of brands to choose from, in Emerald, I eventually figured out which were the best-tasting of the canned ones, though the best type was really homemade. I should probably get a recipe from my Aussie friends and make it myself. Americans don’t know what they’re missing. I think they’re just put off at the idea of eating squash, because it’s a vegetable that not everyone is a fan of.

After escaping any number of Publix employees and managers, I took my few items to the register, and the bagger ( who had to be ten years younger than me) called me “hon”, several times. I’m not a fan of being called pet names, unless you’re close to me, or you’re a waitress in a diner (then, I put up with it). But then he offered to carry my bags out to the car for me, which told me that the managers had INSISTED that they offer this service to everyone. “Don’t take no for an answer!”, is what I can just imagine them saying.DSC_0484

Now, remember, I had two bags that probably weighed less than my Nikon camera. I told him I’d be fine, I could take them out myself. And then he tried again, a little more insistently. I almost got snappish with him (almost), and practically had to snatch my grocery bags from him.

And before anyone decides to be silly and suggest he was being sexist, don’t think it. I’ve met managers like those that were probably drilling the “Don’t take no for an answer!” into their heads. He probably had it written into his contract to do that with everyone. I hope that if ANY person with a huge load of groceries came through, he would offer to help THEM, and not waste his time with my bags. My grocery bags had “heavy” things in them, like tweezers, cards, and soup. It took some muscles, but I managed.  : )

So, there you have it. The new Publix is open, everyone in there is excessively friendly and helpful, and they have some soup that I will have to go back and try again. I’ll avoid the chocolate, after this, because buying them is not good for my waistline or for my wallet.DSC_0487

the sound & taste of australia…

As my YouTube account plays the sounds of the Voice Australia artists, it occurs to me that I didn’t share a recent surprise with you! A week or so ago, my dad suddenly came up and handed me a box, informing me that it was a late birthday present. Since it’s now June, and my birthday was at the beginning of May, I had no idea what could possibly be in it.

Once the box was open, I found myself staring at a jar of Vegemite. Hooray! I had finally run out of the last container, and was considering whether to get some in Greenville, or to order it online. Turns out, my dad had noticed that I had run out, and went ahead and ordered it for me. Talk about being observant! Now, the next item on my to-do list ought to be trying a “vegemecado” sandwich, with Vegemite and avocado. That’s because we seem to have avocados in the house, all the time. But I haven’t tried that concoction yet, even it was advertised on the Vegemite container.DSC_0359

My YouTube playlist is full of Karise Eden (last year’s Voice Australia winner), Kiyomi Vella, Celia Pavey, and all the rest of this year’s artists. If you have some spare time, go search Season 2’s artists, as they’re just fabulous. And no, I don’t watch the American version, as I’m not a big fan of the judges. The judges on the Aussie version are what makes it worthwhile. They’re so likeable, and good at coaching!

I’ll admit it, I really wanted Kiyomi in the final, but Danny Ross’s voice is pretty awesome, as well. From there, my choices for the positions of the top 4 were a bit off. When it came down to Luke Kennedy and Harrison Craig, I thought for sure that Luke would win. But I was wrong, and that 18 year old young man has a long career ahead of him. With his “chocolate/velvet/butter” voice (as my friend describes it), he’ll sell a million records, and being self-deprecating and kind, everyone will continue to love him. There’s an innocence about him that reminds me of Rachael Leahcar from Season 1.

While I’m on the subject of Australia (which all Americans are probably confused over, since I haven’t provided links to the singers), I missed the first State of Origin game. And since I know who won, I haven’t watched it yet. But now that I know where I can watch it online, I’ll be watching next time around. Go Maroon! Yes, I know that New South Wales hasn’t won in forever, but my adopted state of Queensland will always have my heart. Sorry.

My mention of Vegemite reminds me of a promise I made to friends, that I would send them a box of American goodies, after they sent me some Aussie tidbits. I haven’t forgotten! Being busy or paying bills at the wrong time have kept me forgetting. But I promise you, I’ll mail those boxes, eventually! I plan to have s’mores ingredients, so you can know what a real American s’more tastes like. Also, I have America’s favorite Easter candy hidden away in the freezer, which I hope will survive the trip. Sure, they’ll be a bit melted, but if you throw them in the freezer when they arrive, they’ll still be awesome!

And now, I look on FB and realize that some of my Aussie friends have had babies since I left there. One of them was expecting her FIRST child when I arrived in Australia. How about that for time passing? Craziness! The bubs just keep growing, you know!

Anyway, this post is definitely for the Aussies. I love you all, and keep things around that remind me of you. You’ll never be out of my heart.

tea time…

Ever since I was introduced to flavored coffee, at the age of eighteen, I’ve been a coffee drinker. At that time, I found both regular coffee and tea to be dull. But remembering how much I enjoyed the different FLAVORS of coffee, I would try out different flavors of tea, like Bigelow’s Raspberry or Constant Comment. Eventually, I discovered that I loved the different flavors of tea, especially the spicy teas and chai. DSC_0240

Then, I went to Australia, and found that what I termed “regular tea” could be pretty good, too. Don’t ask me what lapsong souchong and such are, but I started to learn my way around. You’ve heard some of this before, but the Aussies (like the British) are tea drinkers. I couldn’t help but learn about tea! Sure, they drink coffee (mostly instant), but that’s only a side note to all the tea that they drink at tea time (and every other time). I learned quickly to refer to that time as “smoko”, but I can’t say for certain whether that was what all Aussies called it, or just Queenslanders.

Since moving home again, I have created a tea & coffee drawer for myself, in our family’s kitchen. As the person who drinks the most variety of coffees and teas, it was necessary to have a spot for them all. The flavors of coffee come and go, but the tea types always stay the same. Not just because they last longer, but because once I’ve settled on a flavor of tea that I enjoy, I stick with it. I thought I’d take the time to share with you about it. DSC_0241

Returning to the U.S., I found out swiftly that my newest favorite tea, Russian Caravan, is not generally sold in the United States. Twinings has all sorts of flavors in the U.S., and I keep Earl Grey and Lady Grey in the drawer at all times (flavors I came to enjoy, in Australia)… but not Russian Caravan. Eventually, I ordered some from the UK, two good-sized bags of the tea leaves. Having tea leaves on hand, I had to make sure I had a way to brew it properly, too.DSC_0242

Some time ago, I bought my little blue tea pot from a specialty store in Pennsylvania. It holds about two mugs worth of tea. However, since we don’t have a tea kettle, at present, I cheat a little when I’m making it. After heating several cups of water to the boiling point, in the microwave, I pour it into the tea pot with the leaves, and leave it to steep. Some of you tea drinkers will be shocked, but I work with what I have.

At first, I would pour my tea (full of tea leaves) through a small basket sieve into my tea cup, but then I made a visit to the Charleston Tea Plantation, last May. Instead of spending money on the actual tea, knowing how much of it I already had in my drawer, I bought several accoutrements to go with the tea. DSC_0243

One is the scissors-like tea ball that you insert into the bag of leaves, scoop out however much you want, and then leave the entire thing in your cup to steep. But I always end up with more leaves in my tea cup, because it’s hard to close the “tea ball” part of it, without getting tea leaves trapped in the cracks. DSC_0245

So, I brought out my other purchase, the fancily decorated tea strainer, complete with butterflies and flowers on the handle. You pour your tea (and leaves) through the slotted ladle, into your mug, and then put the strainer into its pewter “cradle” that it came with. This one really reminded me of how we made and poured tea in Emerald, though their tea strainer wasn’t as fancy.DSC_0246

My tea drawer also includes some green tea that my brother likes to drink, so he experiments with all my tea-making gear, as well. A few days ago, we also added to the collection of tea, when a Greek friend sent us a bag of what he called “mountain tea”. I haven’t actually tried it yet, because it smells a bit like rosemary, but I’ve been meaning to.DSC_0248

Per the pictures, you’ll notice that my favorite chai tea is of the Tazo brand. I don’t know why, but the best chais always include black pepper and cardamom. If you get any general brand of cinnamon or spicy tea, it won’t have a big enough variety of spices included. I don’t understand how black pepper contributes to the flavor of a tea, seeing as I don’t particularly like pepper in my food… but it works. DSC_0250

For years, another favorite was a flavor that I bought at Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million, called Hot Cinnamon Sunset, which tasted like you were drinking liquid fireball candy. I never liked fireballs, because they were too spicy for me, but when it’s turned into a tea, that changes the game completely.

When I’ve tried the mountain tea, I’ll have to let my tea-drinking readers know what it’s like. Our friend has warned us that it’s very strong. DSC_0251