Reading Aloud to Older Kids

Apr 29, 2015

I've mentioned before how much I treasure the time I spend reading aloud to my kids. It is the time of day I look forward to the most. They are calm and quiet as they snuggle up next to me, and we have enjoyed some of the best books together. I have every intention of continuing this tradition as they get older. There are so many more books I can't wait to read to them when they are a little more mature.

Not every parent shares my enthusiasm however. It seems like some are just biding their time, waiting for their children to become fluent readers so they can wean them off being read to. This breaks my heart, and I have to wonder why they're having a different experience than I am.

Today I'm over at What Do We Do All Day, making a case for why reading aloud to older kids is so important.

Read the post here: Why You Should Read Aloud to Older Kids

Do you read aloud to your fluent readers? Tell me why you do it!

The Things That Last

Apr 28, 2015

The day I've been alluding to for months (and months) is finally here.

Today Mike and I are celebrating ten years of marriage.

In many ways, we still feel like newlyweds, but then something will happen that brings the reality crashing down on us.

For example, a few weeks ago, we arranged a blind date between my sister and a friend's son. Mike and I decided we should double with them since we were the mutual connection between them. But there was no way to hide the fact that we've been married for a long time (for one thing, we were doing it at our house, and even though our kids were in bed, they were still there, making their needs known). Plus, Mike kept making comments that sounded exactly like things his grandpa used to say.

It finally hit me: The time for pretending we're newlyweds is past. We don't look it or act it or talk like it. Ten years has turned us into an old married couple.

And we love it.

A few weeks ago, I was thinking about our ten years, and I got to wondering if any of our physical possessions have lasted the entire ten years with us. There weren't many, but I scrounged up ten that I could share with you today in honor of the day.

1. The vacuum. We received it as a wedding present, and we're still using it today (although I wish we weren't. I think it's past its prime).

2. A handmade quilt from a dear family friend. (Unlike some quilts that we might feel like we couldn't use, this one is very functional. It's gone with us to picnics in the park, been made into forts, and is great for curling up under with the whole family.)

3. A blue plastic pitcher. My younger brother gave it to us, along with two matching cups, and we still use it frequently.

4. Our mattress. It was really the only thing we splurged on after we got married, and even though we'll probably get a new one in the next couple of years, it was worth the money we spent on it. We always miss it when we're traveling.

5. Our A.P.P.L.E. t-shirts. When we were dating, we created the A.P.P.L.E. club (that stood for Anti-Procrastination, Preparation-Loving Enthusiasts). For Mike's 22nd birthday, I had my uncle make shirts for us with our motto, "An A.P.P.L.E. a day will get you an "A," embroidered across the front. During my recent clothing purge, I almost got rid of mine. It was in the donation bag, but I rescued it. I realized that while most of my t-shirts from family reunions, races, and choirs have lost their sentimental value, for some reason, this one hasn't yet. It still brings a smile to my face every time I see it.

If you want to know what ten years looks like, you should see little nephew Sam today (hint: he's not so little anymore)

6. The microwave. Mike and I are amazed that it's still kickin'.

7. A chef's knife. I'm sorry to say I can't remember who gave it to us (I think it was one of Mike's friends?), but it has definitely been one of our most-used gifts. Besides it, the only other knives we had were a cheap little $10 set (which we actually still use, btw), so this knife seemed especially nice.

8. A nightstand. It has actually lasted much longer than ten years since Mike made it as a sophomore in high school. It started out as an end table for us, then served as my nightstand for many years, and then recently got demoted to the spare room in the basement (but hey, we kept it!).

nightstand, lamp, and temple plate all conveniently pictured together in our first apartment

9. A lamp. I still love it just as much as when we originally unwrapped it. One evening, my kids knocked it off the table, and I was sure they'd broken it. I was so sad, but it survived.

10. Temple plate. We were sealed in the Mt. Timpanogos Temple, and so someone gave it to us as a wedding present. It serves as a reminder of the covenants we made, and have kept, for ten years.

I'm reminded of the scene in These Happy Golden Years when Mary asks Laura, "Do you really want to . . . marry that Wilder boy? Why do you want to leave home and go with him?" Laura answers, "I guess it's because we just seem to belong together."

That's what ten years have taught me. The past has been wonderful. The future looks bright. And Mike and I just seem to belong together.

P.S. For more musings on anniversaries, see Eight is Great and The One.

Why My Kids Read the Book Before They See the Movie

Apr 24, 2015

In my recent review of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I mentioned how my childhood experience with the book was tainted by the 1979 animated movie. The first time I read it, I may have been reading the words, but the movie was playing in my head. Even as an adult reading it to my kids, I couldn't escape mental scenes from that darn movie.

Hoping to guard against that, I read the book to my boys first, and I didn't even mention the existence of a movie. I wanted them to use their own imaginations for Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy. For Mr. Tumnus, the Beavers, and Father Christmas.  For the White Witch. I didn't want that to be colored by someone else's interpretation.

After we were done with the book, I bought the audio dramatization. They listened to it at least a dozen times. It was maybe a little closer to the movie but still gave them plenty of room for their own ideas and imaginings.

Somehow though, they found out about the movie. (They always seem to know when there's a movie.) Every time we went to the library, Maxwell checked the "L's" for it, but I wasn't quite ready to relinquish their imaginations to Hollywood, so I did little to help him out.

Finally though, after several more weeks had passed, I figured they'd probably cemented their own pictures in their brains and we could give it a try. I put it on hold (and then Mike reminded me that we actually own it--which I guess is proof of how often we watch it).

My boys were so excited. And then Maxwell, with a twinge of awe in his voice, said something like: "So this is the real story."

I jumped in so fast, he didn't have time to say anything else: "Hold it. The book is the real story. Not the movie. The book came first. The movie is just one person's [actually, many people's . . . ] interpretation of the story. The way you pictured it when I read it to you is just as real as the movie."

I can see why he made such a mistake: The book is just words on a page. The movie is made up of real people, an incredible location, and live action. Of course the movie looks more real. But it is that very authenticity that makes it so deceptive and makes it so that kids no longer feel the need to use their imaginations.

And without imagination, the real things (even the making of non-real movies) will cease to happen. Imagination is the key to all our ambitions and hopes and dreams.

How do you preserve your kids' imaginations? Do you prefer reading the book or seeing the movie first?

P.S. And, completely unrelated, here's a little something extra for your Friday. I've told you before how much I love The Read-Aloud Revival podcast with Sarah Mackenzie, but the last two episodes have been especially fun because my kids shared their favorite books in her "Let the Kids Speak" segment.  Max and Bradley can be heard in Episode 23 at 52:30, and Aaron is on Episode 24 at 22:10.

Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes

Apr 22, 2015

Book review of Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes. This book had us on the edge of our seats! We were desperate for Ginger to get back home to his family.
I am well-acquainted with the cover of Ginger Pye. I must have seen it a hundred times when I was growing up. It seemed like one of my siblings was always reading it, and I would see it stacked on an end table or tented on the back of a couch or hiding under the bed.

And yet, with all that exposure, I never read it. I think this was because we didn't own a copy of it until I was a teenager, but I could be making that up. In any case, I'm going to maintain that as the reason for why all my brothers and sisters read it, but not me.

One of those siblings (my sister, Anna) was here visiting over the weekend. When she saw that I was reading this to the boys, she claimed she didn't remember much about it, but then proceeded to say, "Do the kids earn the money to buy Ginger by dusting the church? Oh, and is this the one where the father and mother met because the father tried to run up the down escalator and ran into the mother? And, I also remember that--what's the girl's name?--oh yeah, Rachel. Doesn't she say something like Boston was more important than New York because the two o's made it look more important?" Somehow she didn't convince me that she couldn't remember it. She also made me feel like I really missed out.

But not anymore. If Ginger Pye comes up in a conversation, I'll finally be able to hold my own with the rest of them.

The Speedy's dog had puppies, and 10-year-old Jerry Pye has his eye on one of them. If he can earn a dollar by Saturday, then Mrs. Speedy says it's his. Jerry and his sister, Rachel, wrack their brains, trying to come up with a way to make the money. Then, in a brilliant stroke of luck, Sam Doody comes by and asks Jerry if he wants to dust the church for him since he needs to go into town that afternoon and buy a new suit. He'll pay him a dollar. Of course Jerry says yes, and he and Rachel (and also Uncle Benny, who, although their uncle, is only three years old) dust all the pews in the church. It takes all afternoon, but they work fast and make it to the Speedy's before 6:00.

The puppy is theirs, and they are thrilled. They name him Ginger, and he turns out to be everything they wished for in a dog: playful, affectionate, loyal, and incredibly intelligent. But then, on Thanksgiving Day, Ginger goes missing. Jerry and Rachel can't imagine how he escaped from the yard, and they spend the evening searching everywhere for Ginger before finally coming to the conclusion that Ginger was stolen! And the only clues they have to go on are an old yellow hat and some mysterious footsteps.

Written in 1951, Ginger Pye felt very similar to another book we've read: Half Magic by Edward Eager, which was written in 1954. (Also, I always get Eleanor Estes' and Edward Eager's names all mixed up--too many E's or something.) We read Half Magic nearly two years ago, and at the time, it was just a little over my boys' heads. We still liked it, but I remember thinking the length of the chapters and scarcity of pictures made it hard for them to stay engaged. I think it took us about three months to read. Ginger Pye took us about three weeks, and reading it made me realize how far my kids' attention spans have come in two years. It might be time to read Half Magic again because I'm pretty sure it would be a completely different experience this time around.

We all really liked Ginger Pye. Bradley, who is three, usually has his own storytime with Mike while I read to the older boys, but even he got pulled into the story and sat and listened to many of the chapters. Aaron and Max liked it for its mystery and suspense and adventure, and I was surprised by some of the profound insights I gained from it. The boys' favorite character was Uncle Benny (they were so intrigued by an uncle who was younger than his niece and nephew), and my favorite character was Sam Doody (I told Aaron and Max I want them to be just like him when they're teenagers).

(Spoilers ahead! Read further at your own risk.)

Maybe I'm reading too much into it and pulling out meaning where there isn't any, but I was struck by how Jerry and Rachel's sadness over losing Ginger mimicked the pattern and cycle of grief. At first they were supported by many friends who helped them look for Ginger, "but after a while [those friends] grew tired of the same old search. Though they all promised to keep their eyes open for the man whose pictures they had examined at the Town Hall, and his hat which Jerry described, one by one they dropped off. Then, only Jerry and Rachel looked, either together or by themselves."

Ginger is gone for many months, and as the days pass by, normal life resumes for Jerry and Rachel (just as it moves forward for anyone who is grieving). In some ways, they are able to find joy and excitement even without Ginger (some of their best adventures (East Rock and West Rock, for example) happen during this time). But always, always, Ginger is at the back of their minds. Jerry keeps a continual lookout for him, both with eyes and ears. And sometimes, they are gripped with a sharp pain of sadness because they miss him so, so much. And some things do not go back to normal. For example, Jerry and Rachel have this long-standing tradition of making up stories about Martin Boombernickles when they go to bed at night, but when Ginger disappears, so do the stories. They just don't have it in them anymore.

I also kept thinking about this line after Jerry and Rachel realize that the thief is Wally Bullwinkle (a fellow classmate of Jerry's): "'We didn't know Wally was a thief and he didn't look like the picture we drew of the unsavory character. We didn't know an unsavory character could be just a boy in my class,' said Jerry." We didn't know an unsavory character could be just a boy in my class. Jerry says that line at least three times. He just can't believe that Ginger was so close all along, and he never guessed the thief could be someone he knew (although the reader can figure it out very early on). So often we make quick and hasty judgements that end up hindering us in the long run. If Jerry hadn't assumed that the "unsavory character" was some villainous looking man, he might have found Ginger much sooner (and you also have to wonder (at least, I have to wonder) if maybe a faster discovery would have helped Wally Bullwinkle out of a bad situation as well.

The ending made me want to cry. Having Ginger reunited with his family was touching and tender, yes, but there were some hard truths beneath the surface . . . such as that Ginger was most likely abused during those many months; such as that Wally Bullwinkle had a hard home life that he was not rescued from; such as that for all that time, Ginger was desperately trying to get back to his family. It kind of hurts my heart to think about him in the Bullwinkle's backyard, listening to Jerry and Rachel's calls, straining at his rope, but unable to get to them (I loved Mrs. Pye's surmise that hearing them "helped [Ginger] remember [them] and keep [them] in mind until the right moment came for his escape.'") 

This review turned a little deeper and darker than I was planning on, but I have to say that while all those elements were there, the overall tone of the book was light and happy and hopeful. I don't think my kids were too young to listen to it, and I think it's a book that will grow with them. They can reread it in four or five years and pick up on some of those things they were too young to understand this first time.

Did you read Ginger Pye when you were a child? Have you read it to your kids? What was the most memorable scene for you?

KidPages: How to Catch a Mouse by Philippa Leathers

Apr 20, 2015

A couple of years ago, I reviewed Philippa Leathers' The Black Rabbit. At the time, it was her only book, and I was so hopeful that it wouldn't be too long before she came out with another one.

Well, I'm thrilled to tell you that day has arrived (or almost--release date: April 28th).

This one stars a little orange cat named Clemmie (cute name, don't you think?). Clemmie is an excellent mouse catcher . . . she thinks. To date, she's never actually caught a mouse, nor, erm, ever actually seen one either. But she knows exactly what to look for: a whiskery, pointy nose, two round ears, and a long pink tail. And she's seen nothing that meets that description. It must be because all mice are afraid of her.

What she doesn't know is that the mouse (because, in fact, there is one) has been taking lessons right along with her and has found a way to disguise his incriminating body parts. But the disguise gives him a false sense of security, and Clemmie soon learns that two can play at this game . . .

As with The Black Rabbit, the reader is immediately armed with some important information that the main character doesn't know. (In The Black Rabbit, it was that the "rabbit" he was so afraid of was actually his shadow; in this one, it is that the mouse happens to be much closer than Clemmie thinks.) My kids loved finding and pointing to the mouse each time. They tried to get Clemmie to see her error, but she was too busy chasing down things that met the mouse description but that weren't actually mice.

The illustrations are charming. My favorite one shows Clemmie studying a book about mice. Unbeknownst to her, the mouse is standing right behind her, taking careful note of everything as well. Each picture is a careful balance between the sneaky and the obvious. It's one of those books that makes a great readaloud (which you would think all picture books should be, but trust me, they're not). And although it was great fun to read it to just my kids, it would also be an excellent choice for a large group story time.

I have to admit that I'm getting a little sick of picture books that end with two enemies becoming friends (the wolf and the lamb, the fox and the rabbit, the shark and the fish, etc.). Don't get me wrong, that's a great premise, but sometimes it's entirely unbelievable. So I love it that this book ends with no such resolution. It leaves you with a bit of a cliffhanger: the chase is still on, their relationship is still fraught with distrust, and you know there are still many exciting times ahead.

Philippa Leathers has created another winner, which leads me to say what I said in my review two years ago: "I'm so hopeful that she'll write and illustrate many, many more."

Many thanks to Candlewick Press for a hardback copy of this book to review. All opinions are my own.

Are You an Underbuyer or an Overbuyer?

Apr 17, 2015

This week I've been reading Gretchen Rubin's newest book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives (I mentioned it several weeks ago, but just this week, I finally had time to start it). It is so good. I might like this one even more than The Happiness Project or Happier at Home (and you know that's saying something). Perhaps it's because I've noticed how habits are inextricably linked to my own happiness, and so a book that's all about how to form and maintain those habits is just completely fascinating and interesting.

One of the first things Gretchen sets out to do is help you identify your own personality style in regards to forming and keeping good habits. She does this by laying out four broad tendencies (I'm pretty sure I'm an Obliger who leans heavily towards Upholding) and then personalizing them by asking a series of questions.

I've been thinking a lot about one question in particular: Are you an underbuyer or an overbuyer?

Gretchen talked about this question in The Happiness Project in relation to the question, "Can money buy happiness?" (The answer: yes.) But she brought it up again in relation to habits because it's helpful to know if you're the type of person who will go out and buy all the latest running gear in order to make running a habit or if you're more likely to run in whatever you already have available.

I am an underbuyer. No question. In answer to the running example, I run in a pair of two-year-old Nikes (that felt like a big splurge at the time), a pair of men's athletic shorts (when the weather is warm enough) and an old family reunion t-shirt. I cut a mean figure, that's for sure. Granted, I'm not that serious about running, but there are still many days when I'd like to own different running attire . . .  but just not enough to actually buy any.

But it's not just running. My underbuying tendencies influence everything I do. (And no, I don't think this tendency has anything to do with money trauma in the past. Thankfully, I've always been blessed with enough.)

When we go out to eat, I rarely order anything to drink besides water, and I always begrudge the tip at the end (I know! I promise it has nothing to do with not appreciating the waiter; I would just rather have the tip included in the total cost so that it doesn't feel like a decision). It's the same thing with paying a babysitter. Yes, I know she just watched my four wild children. Yes, the money was well-earned. But oh wow, it hurts to hand it over.


I've been on the hunt for a new pair of sandals for summer. But I cannot get myself to buy anything. I just keep making excuses: Maybe I'll find something cheaper. Maybe I'll find something I like better. Maybe I should check the thrift store one more time. Maybe there will be a sale. Maybe I could hold out another three weeks . . . or twelve months.


It honestly doesn't seem to matter if I'm spending a lot or a little, making a big purchase or a small one. Recently, I stopped in at The Children's Place because they were closing that particular location and so were liquidating the entire store. Everything was $1.99, and so I started grabbing up pants in all sizes for my boys. (Side note: people often tell me that it must be nice to have four boys because I can just pass the clothes down to the next one. That's nice in theory but totally untrue. Boys are so hard on clothes, particularly jeans and shoes.) As I was standing in the checkout line with my arms almost breaking under the weight of so many pants, I couldn't help thinking, This is going to cost so much. Yes, I actually thought that, even though I was saving hundreds of dollars.

Mike, on the other hand, is an overbuyer (but a wise and conscientious one). When he was working on his doctorate and we didn't have any money, he didn't spend it. But once he had a real job, his spending habits gradually changed with the increase in cash flow. Going to Costco and filling his cart to the brim gives him a happy little thrill. It sends me to the edge of anxiety.

However, the great irony is that on the rare instances when I make myself spend money on something I want or need, I actually do feel happier. Take Gretchen Rubin's book, for example. I bought it. I almost never buy books for myself (after I read Notes From a Blue Bike, I went to the bookstore to buy it. I held it in my hands and walked to the checkout counter, but once I actually got there, I told them I didn't want it). Sure, it hurt to push the checkout button on Amazon, but once it came in the mail, I was so happy to actually own it.


A few weeks ago, my hair was driving me crazy. I passed the mirror, saw the gross split ends, and texted my friend on the spot. I avoid haircuts almost as much as going to the dentist. It seems like such an exorbitant cost for something that's going to grow right back . . . especially when I'm not even changing the style but just getting a trim. But oh wow, after I'd done it (and paid her and the money was gone), I was so happy. It was the best haircut I've ever had. I didn't settle for the cheapest option like I usually do, and even though I agonized a ton before I went, I didn't have a single regret after the fact.


I've been turning one of our basement bedrooms into a little library (and I'm excited to show it to all of you in a few weeks!). One of the things we splurged on was a cushion for a little bench seat. I had all of these ways to save money (try to find an old couch that we could steal the cushions from, buy a foam pad and cover it myself, etc.), but in the end, we hired someone to upholster one for us. It was such a great purchase! It was done much more satisfactorily than we could have done ourselves, and, more importantly, it actually got done, whereas it maybe never would have happened if I'd waited on myself.

I think I will always be an underbuyer. And for the most part, I'm happy about that. It means that we stay well within our means and that we use what we have. But, I'm slowly realizing that there are benefits to being an overbuyer as well. Overbuyers are generous and kind. They don't keep track of how many granola bars the neighbor kids are eating, and they look forward to buying a present for a baby shower.

So while I hold tight-fisted to most of my money, I'm going to make a conscious effort to relax my grip . . . just a little.

What about you? Are you an underbuyer or an overbuyer? Examples of ways you spend or hoard money are welcome in the comments!

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

Apr 15, 2015

As soon as I cracked the cover and read the familiar names of Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty, I sighed with contentment. It was like coming home. I dearly, dearly love the Penderwicks.

In my opinion, these books just keep getting better and better. While I've always loved the characters and the writing, I feel like the plots have improved with each one. This one dug deep, tugged hard at the heartstrings, and resolved some long buried issues.

Several years have passed since the vacation in Maine with Aunt Claire. Rosalind is a freshman in college, and Skye and Jane are teenagers. Batty is 10-almost-11, Ben is in the second grade, and Lydia (yes, a brand-new Penderwick!) is almost two. The Geiger boys across the street are both grown up too (Nick is in the military and Tommy is in college), and Jeffrey (still an honorary Penderwick) lives in Boston with his father.

With so many characters mulling about (and really, that Penderwick house always seems to be filled to bursting), it would have been so easy for this story to be chaotic or disorganized, but Jeanne Birdsall gave it all to Batty (keeping this series firmly fixed at the middle grade level). It felt similar to the other books in that we still get glimpses into the lives of the other family members (and happily, their voices are as distinct as ever), but the story belongs to Batty.

Her butterfly wings have long-since been abandoned, but she is still the same (shy, musical, and devoted to her family). When Mrs. Grunfeld (her music teacher at school) discovers her rare singing voice, Batty has big ideas of planning a Grand Eleventh Birthday Concert to surprise her family. So she sets out to make money in order to pay for her own voice lessons.

But things don't go as planned (there would be no story if they did). The only job she can find is walking the Ayvazian's obese dachshund, and she was hoping to avoid any pet-watching since she still feels guilt over Hound's death six months earlier. There's also trouble with the boyfriend Rosalind brings home from school, not to mention her mounting pile of unfinished book reports. But the real problem arises when Batty accidentally eavesdrops on a private conversation between Jeffrey and Skye (Jeffrey is madly in love with Skye, while Skye wants their relationship to stay rooted in loyal friendship). Skye, as insensitive as ever, says something that is indescribably cruel and hurtful. Granted, it wasn't meant for Batty's ears, but she heard it anyway, and it sends her into a deep chasm of despair and guilt.

At first, I didn't know how I felt about the leap in time, but I ended up loving it. It was so fun to see how Rosalind, Skye, and Jane were still very much themselves even while being on the brink of adulthood. Rosalind is still the practical, responsible one (even though I was very disappointed in her choice of boyfriends--I think her neglect of Batty was one of the things that hurt the most about this story, even though it was eventually resolved); Skye is still brusque and rude and not the least bit interested in love (I loved it when Jeffrey gave her a birthday present, and she said, "That's a small box. If it's jewelry, I'll kill you"); Jane, as you might expect, is constantly entertaining a houseful of boys, but she is interested in them more for the sake of research for her latest novel and less because she has any real interest in them. It was delightful to remember them as little girls but get to see what they're like in the next stage of life, a rare occurrence, especially in a book that doesn't grow with them (like Anne of Green Gables or Betsy-Tacy).

But still, there are those missing years, and I long to know all that happened during them. It's obvious that we missed out on some good times. And nowhere did I feel this hole more acutely than with Nick and Tommy Geiger. These rambunctious brothers were a part of The Penderwicks on Gardam Street but neither of the other two books (which take place during summer vacation). When this novel opens up, the Penderwicks are anxiously awaiting Nick's return home from being overseas. Even though he's only home for a brief three-week leave, he plays a big role in this story, and I kind of fell in love with his cocky-but-nevertheless-sincere self. I wish there were more stories with him and Tommy.

The emotional depth in this book is amazing. I felt Batty's pain and loneliness so acutely, especially when the ones that should have been there for her were not (Rosalind. Jeffrey. I'm looking at you). One of the most painfully realistic scenes was when Batty goes to Mrs. Grunfeld's office for a voice lesson. She can't sing because one, she can't stop crying but two, because her worry and anxiety have caused her to tighten up so much that no sound will come out. Mrs. Grunfeld is comforting but practical. She says they don't need to sing that day; they can just go over the rhythm of breathing. She begins the lesson, "but Batty had started to cry again. Mrs. Grunfeld wrapped her arms around the sobbing girl and kept hold of her for a long time." I remember being an eleven-year-old girl and not being able to stop the flow of tears when I felt overwhelmed by something (heck, I know what it's like to be a 30-year-old girl who can't stop crying), so that scene felt so real to me.

My one complaint is that, as with the other books, sometimes the drama just went a little over the top. For example, it's obvious from the get-go that Rosalind's boyfriend, Oliver, is a real loser, so the scene where he brings in these ridiculous bouquets for Skye and Rosalind and then yanks off Lydia's dandelion crown to replace it with roses (and she, in self defense smashes quesadillas all over him) seemed like a little too much. I have a feeling kids will love that scene though.

In an era where authors are cranking out one or two, sometimes even three, books a year, I can't tell you how impressed I am with Jeanne Birdsall's slow writing place. She takes her time to live with the story, and as a result, all of her books are tightly woven, beautiful little packages. Of course I'm dying for the fifth (and final! sob!) book to be out, but I would rather wait three years and have it match the others in quality than have a sloppy job in my hands right now. (Three years also gives me plenty of time to speculate: will the story take place in winter, the one season we haven't seen the Penderwicks in yet? Or will it be another summer novel since the Penderwicks do summer so very well? Will time elapse again? Will the story focus on Lydia (if that's the case, I have definite mixed feelings--she's not one of the original Penderwicks, after all). Will anything happen between Rosalind and Tommy? Skye and Jeffrey? So many things to anticipate!)

Oh wait, here I am wrapping up this post, and I forgot to mention my very, very favorite scene! Rather than go back and stick it in the middle, I'm just going to tell you about it here at the end (how's that for editing?). I told you about Jeffrey's birthday present to Skye (it was in a small box, but thankfully it wasn't jewelry--Jeffrey knows Skye better than that, even if he is in love with her), but I forgot to tell about Jeffrey's birthday present to Batty. Batty's birthday is a week after Skye's, and by that time, Jeffrey is back in Boston with strict orders from Skye not to come back until he can stop with the ridiculous love talk. So he sends Batty's present in the mail. And it is just so perfect. I won't say what it is because that is not a moment I would want ruined for anything. But just know, you're in for a treat.

If you haven't read these books, I would definitely start with the first one rather than jumping in with number four. And also, if you're wondering about audio vs. written, I don't know which I'd recommend. I listened to the first three, but I read this one, and I found both experiences to be equally pleasant. I wish these books had been around when I was a kid.

Have you read any of the Penderwicks' adventures? Which is your favorite book? Which Penderwick do you most relate to?

A Heart Revealed by Josi S. Kilpack

Apr 13, 2015

I took voice lessons for a brief few months when I was 14 or 15. They didn’t last very long, and now one of the only things I remember from them was that my voice teacher was overwhelmingly positive . . . to a fault. She was constantly kind and complimentary, praising me up one side and down another, so you would have thought my self-esteem would have soared under her tutelage. But it didn’t. After just a few weeks, I felt like I couldn’t trust her. I didn’t know which compliments were real and which ones were there because she was afraid to hurt my feelings. I became so grateful for my piano teacher who was formidably honest about everything (including the color of my fingernails). But when she gave me a compliment, I glowed with pleasure because I knew it was the real deal.

I have thought about that contrasting experience many times over the last three years as I’ve written about and reviewed books on this blog. When I’m hesitant to share something I didn’t like, I remember my experience with my two music teachers. I realize that if I only write glowing reviews, they will soon become meaningless because no one will know if I’m giving my true opinion or just gently smoothing over the surface, being careful not to disturb the waters underneath.

You’ve probably guessed from that little introduction that the review I’m about to write is one that would make my piano teacher proud because even though it might not be overwhelmingly positive, it will be honest.

Set in England during the Regency Era, Amber Sterlington has it all: beauty, wealth, and her choice of eligible bachelors. When she enters a room, other people notice . . . including Thomas Richards, who is in London for the Season before returning to his country estate in Yorkshire. Thomas is but the third son of a country lord and knows he doesn’t have a chance of winning Amber’s attention. But still, her obvious arrogance and condescension towards him make him burn with humiliation.

This arrogance affects Amber’s other relationships as well, including those with her mother, sister, and maid. She doesn’t recognize the damage she has done until she unexpectedly begins to lose her hair. As her condition worsens, she is shunned from society, and she realizes she doesn’t have a single friend or family member to turn to for love, comfort and support. After many months, and as her prospects permanently crumble, Amber’s heart softens, and she emerges a much kinder and wiser person.

Because of its focus on a rare health disorder, this is far from your typical Regency romance. I certainly appreciated the author’s boldness in branching out and tackling a difficult subject. However, there were times, many times actually, when I felt like the novel was using Amber’s condition as a crutch. Forming the plot around a unique disease does not instantly make a deep and touching story, and in the end, the originality was not enough to carry the rest of the book through some of its other flaws.

·       For example, the pacing was very slow. This isn't unusual for a Regency romance, but the conversations and details that happened in the meantime were so uninteresting and repetitive that I had a really difficult time making it through to anything that was actually noteworthy. There was very little interaction between Amber and Thomas (and what does happen mostly occurs with a wall between them). When they finally see each other and speak face to face at the end, it made me a little uncomfortable, rather than happy. I guess part of the problem was that I just never liked Amber. At first, she was too stuck up and by the end, she was too humble. It wasn't that I felt like her transition was unbelievable, just that I didn't like either result.

·         It also felt really preachy to me. That is an adjective I strive to avoid in my reviews, but in this case, I can't help myself. From Amber’s condition to messages about inner beauty to even comments about modesty (when Amber walks into the room in a revealing gown, Thomas chastises himself because he knows “he [is] the one in keeping of his own thoughts and ought not to blame her manner of dress for his own weakness”), I just felt like little ideas were being compartmentalized and forced onto me.

The book did generate some strong emotions from me, which I think says something positive for it. I liked Amber’s maid, Suzanne, and appreciated this thought from her, “I . . . believe that there are people in every society who would prefer the heart you have grown, to the beauty you left behind to find it.” (But it would have been more powerful if I hadn’t read almost the same sentiment several more times.)   

On the flip side, I felt a strong dislike for Amber’s family, who, instead of rallying around her, banished her to Yorkshire so they wouldn’t be tainted by her appearance. Her father’s words especially made me so angry: “That you have to endure such a thing is unfortunate indeed, but I should think you would not want your family to suffer along with you. I should think that as a woman of feeling and sound mind you should want to protect us from such derision, not ask that we share it with you.” 

As I've written this review, I've tried to think about how I would have altered it if I happened to personally know the author. Would I have mentioned the things I didn't like? Would I have focused on the things I did like? For sure, such a relationship would have made this review even more difficult to write, and I don't know what I would have done. However, in the end, I think my reaction to it was far simpler than I've made this review out to be. It wasn't so much like vs. dislike but just plain, old boredom. I guess it just wasn't for me.

I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Snacks 101

Apr 10, 2015

There are days when I feel like the lone server in a fast-food joint and like "mother" is just another name for "chef."

It's amazing how frequently little kids can be hungry (or "ravenous," as my boys usually say). I get it that their stomachs are small and that they're growing boys. But I'm also pretty sure they get bored after eating three bites and run off to play, only to realize a mere ten minutes later that they're still hungry. When you stagger that between four boys, it can feel pretty constant.

One of the things that has continued to stick with me from the book Bringing Up Bebe is that French parents have somehow figured out a way to confine their children's eating to three real meals + one afternoon snack each day. Since then, I've diligently tried to implement a similar schedule into our daily routine (except I add in a morning snack as well), but somehow my kids find ways to work around it. And I give in because they're much more whiny when they're hungry.

But a few weeks ago, I had had it. I felt like I could never keep the kitchen clean or do anything else because I was always meeting food orders. My life was being taken over by pleas of "I'm ravenous!" all. day. long.

Something had to change. It was time to get serious.

On closer examination, I realized that I was part of the problem. When they asked me for a snack, especially if it was Aaron or Max, I'd impatiently say, "Again?! Just go grab something out of the pantry!" So basically, I was encouraging them to eat little bird-sized portions every fifteen minutes because they could always go back for more if they felt the least twinge of hunger.

So the first thing I did was to delegate two times of day for snacks: 9:30 in the morning and 4:00 in the afternoon. (The afternoon is tricky because I'd like to do it earlier, but Aaron doesn't get home from school until 4:00, so if I don't wait until then, I have to serve up two afternoon snacks--and Maxwell and Bradley almost always want to join in on round two.)

Next, I brainstormed a long list of potential snacks. Max and Bradley were happy to help me with this, especially when I told them there were no wrong answers and let them include cookies and cinnamon rolls on the list. I was actually surprised by the length of the list. In the moment of hungry demands, it always feels so difficult to think up a snack, but I realized there are actually dozens of easy choices.

And finally, I planned out a week's worth of snacks, writing down what we were going to have on each morning and afternoon. Choices are great, but sometimes it lessens the potential for tantrums when you can just say, "It's time for a snack, and today we're having apples and peanut butter. It's written on the calendar. In ink."

As part of this goal, I also decided that I wanted to make a big batch of something (banana bread, applesauce muffins, etc.) on Mondays and freeze half of it so that after a few weeks, I could have another option for a quick, healthy(ish) snack.

All this planning happened several weeks ago, and I regret to say that I only made a snack plan for the first week. Yeah . . . my follow-through could use some improvement.

But it was such a good idea, and I hate to see it go so soon, so today I'm using my blog for selfish purposes: I'm telling all of you about it in order to make myself accountable.

So here's the plan: Every Saturday or Sunday, I'll write out the snacks for the coming week on our calendar. I'll also plan what I'm going to make and freeze on Monday. After four weeks, I'll share all the details here on the blog: what we ate, what I made, and what things worked and didn't work.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear about how you make snack time a success. What are your favorite snacks? What do you take when you go to the park? How do you help your kids keep from eating at all hours of the day?

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Apr 8, 2015

I've mentioned before some of the classic books I somehow missed out on as a child: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Little House series, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc. In a home that did a lot of reading, that's kind of some surprising holes right there. But one that I didn't miss out on was the Oz series.

My mom read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz out loud (and I remember loving it), and then I found most of the other thirteen books for 99 cents apiece at Wal-Mart. Thereafter, they were my go-to books when I couldn't find anything else to read, and I delighted in the adventures of Ozma, Rinkitink, Tik-Tok, and a whole host of new and familiar characters.

You can't begin with a chapter called "The Cyclone" and not have my kids' immediate and rapt attention. They were enthralled from the first page on.

I can't imagine you're unfamiliar with the story, but here's a brief recap anyway:

Dorothy lives in Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry where everything, including her aunt and uncle, are dull and gray. Dorothy herself would probably be sad and gray too if not for the companionship of her dear little dog, Toto. One day, a cyclone comes up unexpectedly, and before Dorothy can make it safely down into the cellar, she and Toto are carried away in the house and dropped down in the middle of a strange land (on top of the Wicked Witch of the East, no less). The Munchkins are thrilled to have been so miraculously delivered, but Dorothy is anxious to return home.

The Witch of the North tells her to go to the Emerald City where the great wizard will surely be able to help her get back to Kansas. And so Dorothy follows the (now iconic) yellow brick road and makes several friends along the way: the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion, who have their own requests to make of the wizard. They meet with many adventures along the way and even once they get to the Emerald City, they find that their journey is far from over. Early in the story, Dorothy says, "No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home." It is this belief that gives her the courage and determination to persevere even in the midst of almost insurmountable dangers.

If you have seen the classic 1939 movie with Judy Garland but haven't read the book, don't expect the two of them to be same. Even though I've seen and read both, I was still surprised at the differences I'd forgotten about. For example, the winged monkeys are not the slaves of the Wicked Witch of the West, but bound to her by a charm that she can only use three times. And speaking of the Wicked Witch, instead of being the villain for the entire story as she is in the movie, she takes up a brief thirty pages in the middle of the book. Also, after Dorothy misses her chance to go back to Kansas with the wizard, there's a whole other adventure as Dorothy and her trio of friends try to get to the Land of the Quadlings.

Luckily, many of the much-loved details are the same: Oz is still "a very good man," but "a very bad wizard," the Wicked Witch of the West's downfall is still water, and Dorothy still wears magic shoes (although they're silver, not red).

I held off reading it to my kids until now because I couldn't remember how scary it was. Quite recently, Maxwell was begging me not to read any more of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (even though he was loving it) because the White Witch was absolutely terrifying. We did finish it (but not until I had spoiled the entire ending for him), and he has since listened to the audio probably a dozen times, but I didn't know if we'd have a similar experience with Oz.

But the boys loved it, and really, the only part that scared Max was when the Cowardly Lion had to fight off the giant spider. I honestly think that fear came more because it was almost the end of the book, and by that time he had grown quite fond of the lion and couldn't imagine anything bad happening to him and less because it was actually a scary scene. In fact if I had to make a comparison, I'd say The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is quite tame next to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

My biggest problem with the book actually had nothing to do with the story and everything to do with the edition. I checked out two copies from the library, one with the original illustrations by W.W. Denslow and a newer edition with full-color illustrations by Michael Foreman. I wasn't happy with either. Some of Denslow's illustrations were so bizarre--particularly of the Wicked Witch (maybe I've just been tainted by the movie, but there's no description in the book that warrants her three pigtails or horrendously mismatched clothing). And while I liked Foreman's illustrations just fine, the book was a collector's edition, so the size was unwieldy and not really practical for bedtime reading. Doesn't some publisher want to put out a new edition, with all fourteen books matching and newly illustrated? I'll buy it.

One of the themes I really loved this time through was the idea that we are so much more than we think we are. The scarecrow thinks he needs brains, the Tin Woodman thinks he needs a heart, the Cowardly Lion thinks he needs courage, but the reader can easily see that it is the Scarecrow who is coming up with all the brilliant ideas, the Tin Woodman who cannot bear to even accidentally step on a beetle, and the Cowardly Lion who is fighting off such beasts as the ferocious Kalidahs. I just wonder how often we think we are incapable of something when we actually have the very skills that we need.

I have long wanted to dress up as characters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for Halloween. My family did it when I was about six (and I went as the Wicked Witch), and it is still one of my favorite costumes we've ever done. However, I didn't think I could convince my kids to go along with it since they didn't know the story. But midway through the book, I casually asked what they thought about Oz costumes for Halloween. They were thrilled with the idea (too bad it's only April) and immediately began planning out who would be who. I hope I can maintain this enthusiasm for six months, and if I do, I'll definitely post pictures. In the meantime, I'm trying to decide if, as Dorothy, I should wear silver or ruby slippers?

Have you read this book? Did you like it or the movie better (I actually might lean towards the movie)? Have you read any of the other books in the Oz series?

Raising Readers: Five Series for First Graders

Apr 7, 2015

Today I'm doing something a little different. I wanted to share a few of the series that Aaron (six-years-old, first grade) has been reading lately.

The problem is . . . I have not read any of these books. I picked them up from the library, read the first chapter (and sometimes skimmed a little bit more) and then handed them over to Aaron. And he promptly devoured them.

So I thought, Since I haven't actually read these books, why don't I have Aaron write these reviews and tell all about them himself?

Obviously I forgot which child I was talking about. Aaron is quiet and reserved, even to me. And when I ask him about anything, he limits his response to the barest of details.

 Me: How was your day?
Aaron: Good.
Me: What did you do at recess?
Aaron: I don't remember.
 So when I sat down to ask him about these books, I got a lot of, "Because I like it" to the question, "Why do you like it?"  So helpful, I know.

(As a side note, Maxwell, who is just nineteen months younger, is completely different. He analyzes and talks about everything. He loves to jump in and help Aaron with his homework (which is definitely not appreciated by Aaron). He always has an idea or an opinion, even if it's the wackiest, craziest, most falsified thing you've ever heard).

Anyway, I'm telling you all of this so that you'll take this list for what it's worth: a recommendation from a six-year-old with reserved approval from his mother. I can't promise that these won't contain potty language or rude words (my #1 pet peeve with books for this age group), but I can definitely tell you that they are first-grade approved and great for increasing reading speed and fluidity.

Read on for Aaron's (brief) thoughts:

1. Oliver Moon series by Sue Mongredien (12 books)
"Oliver Moon is a kid wizard who does tests with other kids in his class about magic. One of my favorite books is Oliver Moon and the Spell-off (#6). Oliver and Casper (a new boy) do a spell-off. He has to do one potion and three spells. So whoever won, they would just win, and whoever lost would have to blindfold themselves and go to the top tower and walk around blindfolded, but it was a tie so they just did it to the bully." (I'm not sure I completely understand what went on except that if you won, the glory of winning was your only prize.)

2. Dragon Keepers series by Kate Klimo (6 books)
"It's about Emmy. She's a dragon. Two kids own her. Their names are Jesse and Daisy. A bad guy named St. George is always trying to steal Emmy because he thinks she belongs to him. I like these books because I like dragons. And I like that it's a series because I like the story to keep going instead of having to read one really long book (like 100 chapters)." (I'm not a dragon fan, so I'm glad Aaron can read these on his own.)

3. Melvin Beederman Superhero series by Greg Trine (8 books)
"It's about a kid named Melvin Beederman. He's a superhero. He's an orphan and he went to a superhero academy, and then he went to Los Angelos. He helps good guys. I liked it when the aliens tried to take Melvin Beederman to their planet for science, and then Melvin and his friends escaped. The glass from that planet was not breakable. Melvin Beederman put a dot on it, and all of them turned on their x-ray vision, and it went straight to the dot and melted it. (I've read bits and pieces from several of these books." They're all fairly entertaining.)

4. Roscoe Riley Rules series by Katherine Applegate (7 books)
"These books are about a boy named Roscoe Riley who always gets into trouble. I like Roscoe because he's funny. One time he was trying to help his friends. He glued them to their chairs so that they would stop sword fighting." (I agree with Aaron; these are funny.)

5. Frank Einstein series by Jon Scieszka (2 books, so far)
"Frank is a boy who likes to invent things. He tried to win a science contest, but someone else won it. He invented a flying bike. And then a robot built itself, and then that robot built another robot, and they help him build stuff. I like these books because I like  the inventions, and I want to read more to see if there are more science projects." (The illustrations are my favorite part of these books.)

Aaron went into first grade reading very well, and so I tried to get him to read a couple of longer and harder books. But even though he could read the words and understand the plot, the length was daunting to him. He likes to be able to take a book to bed and finish it in an hour or less. He's still building his speed, and so it helps him keep up his momentum if he can read several books in a week instead of one book over several weeks. Oliver Moon, Melvin Beederman, and Roscoe Riley are all short, fast reads. Dragon Keepers and Frank Einstein are a little bit longer but are still books that can be read over just a few days' time. They're all increasing Aaron's love of reading, which I think is the most important thing.

Are you familiar with any of these series? What are your favorite series for first graders?

The Life-Changing Magic of Folding

Apr 3, 2015

After my review of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was posted, my mom sent me an email that said, in part: "I’m really confused about your latest book review.  [Isn't] this the book that you keep quoting to me all the time so that I will get rid of . . . a million . . . things that don’t bring me joy?" Um yes, that's the one. I definitely favored the negative in that review (which I openly admitted) because I felt like other reviewers had favored the positive, and I wanted to balance things out a bit. (Thanks for all your great comments, by the way. I was truly inspired by the way you're using The Life-Changing Magic to actually change your life.)

Still, you might remember that nestled among all the things I didn't like was this little paragraph about what I did like:
I actually agreed with a lot about this book and am going to go through all my possessions while asking myself the simple, but profound, question, Does this bring me joy? My possessions should not be a burden, and I don't want to be a slave to things I don't really care about. Reading this book gave me the freedom to bid a fond farewell to those items I've held onto out of guilt.
Earlier this week, I took the first step in that direction, and I wanted to give a report back to all of you about how it went. Marie Kondo says that the first category you should tackle is clothes. She says that you should pull out every single item and lay it on the bed or the floor so you can go through it one piece at a time.

And so I pulled everything out of the closet, out of my drawers, off of hooks, and I even brought up a bin of seasonal clothing from the basement storage room. And then I did just as Kondo suggested: I held each item in my hands and seriously asked myself, Does this bring me joy?

Just asking that question gave me the freedom to let go of some things I've been hanging onto for a long time (since before I went to college 12 years ago) solely out of guilt.

I've done many other clothing purges before, but I've never taken everything out at once, and I've never made it a priority to consider each item one at a time. Let me tell you--it was definitely freeing to be able to say good-bye to some things that made me irritated every time I had to pass over them to get to the clothes that I really wanted to wear.

But then came the tricky part. As I asked myself the question, Does this bring me joy?, I realized I had three responses: 1) no, definitely not, 2) no, but I still wear it regularly, and 3) yes! I love seeing it in my closet. Unfortunately, I think only about seven items got a #3 response. (That's because I've had so many of my clothes for so many years that I'm just sort of sick of them all.)

In the book, Kondo acts like it's okay if you whittle down your closet to basically nothing because it will force you to replace things with items you love. However, I felt like that was being rather materialistic and a luxury that I just don't have right now. As much as I would like to replace my entire wardrobe, it's not in the budget, and I have to wear something--preferably more than a rotating two outfits. It felt a little presumptuous and stuck up to me to say, "Nope, that doesn't bring me joy" and throw out a shirt I just wore yesterday.

And so, in the end, I kept some things that didn't bring me joy because they're practical, functional, and most importantly, I actually do wear them. And I will keep wearing them until I can replace them (slowly but surely) with clothing I do love. But even disobeying the rule, I still got rid of two full garbage bags, and it felt so good.

And then came the fun part--putting it all back in my drawers using Kondo's folding method.

Kondo says:
"The goal is to fold each piece of clothing into a simple, smooth rectangle. First, fold each lengthwise side of the garment toward the center (such as the left-hand, then right-hand, sides of a shirt) and tuck the sleeves into to make a long rectangular shape. It doesn't matter how you fold the sleeves. Next, pick up one short end of the rectangle and fold it toward the other short end. Then fold again, in the same manner, in halves or in thirds. The number of folds should be adjusted so that the folded clothing when standing on edge fits the height of the drawer."

Sounds simple, right? And for the most part it is. But I've run into three problems that maybe you can help me with:
  1. It takes longer than my other way of folding, but maybe I'll get faster over time. (Also, the perk is that it's way faster to find my clothes when I'm getting dressed, so I'm saving time there.)
  2. You have to have just the right number of things per drawer so that they all stay standing up without being so tight you can't put things in or take them out or so loose that they just fall over (and this seems like a rather difficult balance to maintain with the constant clean-dirty-clean cycle of laundry).
  3. I don't know what to do with jeans. In order to get them short enough so that they'll clear the drawer when I close it, I have to fold them over so many time that they're really thick and bulky. 
I will say that I tried a similar method to this one several years ago (where you rolled all of your clothes into logs and then stood them up in the drawer), but I like Kondo's method infinitely better.

And really, there's just no substitute for the joy (or at the very least, satisfaction) I feel when I open my drawer and see this:

Between purging and folding, I've cut down significantly on the frustration and irritation I feel when I'm getting dressed in the morning. So, life-changing? Maybe. But life-improving? Definitely.

I would welcome any thoughts/opinions you have on finding balance between joy/practicality/frugality and also your best tips on how to fold clothes.

Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery

Apr 1, 2015

I read the first book in the Emily trilogy, Emily of New Moon, when I was a teenager. Ten years later, I decided I wanted to read the other two, but by that time, I couldn't remember the first very well. So I reread it. And then I stopped again. If that isn't a testament to my inability to finish a series (even ones I love), I don't know what is.

But have you seen the new covers illustrated by Jacqui Oakley (<----)? In spite of my love of books, I'm not a huge book-buyer. But when I saw the new Emily covers, I splurged.

And then I decided it was finally time to read Emily Climbs (and soon, Emily's Quest (how convenient that it's one of my reading goals for 2015)).

This installment chronicles Emily's high school years. Blair Water doesn't have a high school, but Shrewsbury does. Most of Emily's friends (Ilse, Perry, even Teddy) are planning to board in Shrewsbury and attend school there for three years. Emily longs to further her education and go with them, but Aunt Elizabeth is dead set against it. But then suddenly, miraculously, one week before school starts, she relents--on one condition: Emily must give up writing.

Emily is stunned by the request. As much as she wants to go to school, she realizes to give up writing would be as impossible for her as to give up breathing. She would die without it. She knows this, and so she declines the offer.

However, Cousin Jimmy (good ol' Cousin Jimmy!) knows what this opportunity will mean to Emily, and so he acts as mediator between them. He convinces Aunt Elizabeth to be satisfied with Emily only giving up writing fiction, and he convinces Emily to be okay with only writing truth for these three years.

Emily's beloved (but curt) teacher, Mr. Carpenter, thinks this is a good idea and that it will greatly improve Emily's writing . . . and hopefully cure Emily of her excessive use of italics. (After Emily complains to him that he only says disagreeable things, he counters with, "It might be a nice world if nobody ever said a disagreeable thing, but it would be a dangerous one.")

Because of this emphasis on truth, much of the book is made up of entries from Emily's own diary where she diligently tries to give an accurate account of her experiences and the people who take part in them. I loved these sections. They made Emily come to life, and I could see her writing maturing and improving over those three years. However, I found the spacing of these journal sections a little awkward. There wasn't any particular pattern for when they would be inserted, and often they seemed like a means to cover several months in one gulp. But overall, I appreciated them and really found it invaluable in a story about a girl who loves writing and dreams of becoming a writer to get to see examples of her actual writing.

The story itself is rather slow-paced. I found it easy to set it aside and read other books (El Deafo, The Crossover, etc.) in between. But if you could see all my dogeared pages, you'd know that its words still touched me in a multitude of ways. L.M. Montgomery's descriptions are more vivid and real to me than almost any other author's.

And even though it's not a page-turner, it's still filled with so many delightful little scenes. Let me tell you about one of my favorites:

While Emily attends school in Shrewsbury, she boards with her Aunt Ruth, who is even more formidable and disagreeable than Aunt Elizabeth. During her first year there, Emily takes part in a school play, and when Aunt Ruth finds out about it, she is outraged. She calls Emily sly and forbids her to take part in it. But Emily is stubborn and loyal and won't back out at the last minute, so she participates.

When she returns home that evening, she finds all the doors locked. A fiery anger overcomes her, and she decides she is through with Aunt Ruth. No human being can be expected to put up with such abuse for so long. So, in the middle of the night, she walks the seven miles home to New Moon. By luck, Cousin Jimmy is still awake, eating a crockful of doughnuts no less. Of all the people who might have convinced Emily to return to Shrewsbury and continue to endure Aunt Ruth, he's probably the only one who could actually do it. Then at two o'clock in the morning, Emily walks the long road back to Shrewsbury (can you imagine doing such a thing today?!), and, as it turns out, Aunt Ruth is very relieved to see Emily.

I never thought I would like Aunt Ruth (L.M. Montgomery calls her "a rather stupid, stubborn little barnyard fowl trying to train up a skylark"), but even she came through in the end and defended Emily at a critical moment when no one else would have been able to help her. After that, Emily thinks, "I wonder where I put my Jimmy-book. I must add a few more touches to my sketch of Aunt Ruth." By that time, Emily had been living with Aunt Ruth for almost three years and thought she had her pretty well figured out, but this was a great reminder to me that humans (fictional or not) are multi-layered and that usually we make assumptions too quickly.

(Another favorite scene was the dog mix-up between Miss Royal and Emily. That one was so incredibly funny, but I don't want to spoil it since it happens towards the end of the book, but if you've read it, I'd love to talk about it with you.)

It's always a little sad when you don't love the boy who turns out to be the romantic interest, but in this case, I have to admit that I didn't love Teddy (that's part of the reason the Emily books will never surpass the Anne books for me). However, I think he's a perfect fit for Emily, and I really love their timid and slowly unfolding relationship. It's adorable, and so even though I would never want to marry Teddy, I can't help but wish it for Emily.

Although a slow book (I guess slow second books in trilogies were a thing even in 1925), I still really liked this book, and I'm looking forward to the last one.

Have you read the Emily books? Who do you like better--Emily or Anne?
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