Saturday, November 26, 2016

Family Sabbatical (1956)

Family Sabbatical
Carol Ryrie Brink, il. Susan Foster
1956, Viking
2015, Two Lions/Amazon as A Book Crush Rediscovery (cover Joanne Lew Vriethoff)

So then they had gone in, through the vast lobby with the torn carpet and the potted palms and the cherubs painted on the ceiling. They had gone through the small hall with the two great mirrors opposite each other, arranged so that if you stood between them you could see yourself reflected back and forth hundreds of times until you receded away into the distance on either side and vanished into two points. Then they had gone on through the writing room, which would be just the place for Mother's and Father's work. And then they had come to the  garden! It was very large and old and overgrown. 

The Ridgeway family of Midwest City have come to France for their professor father's sabbatical. For six months, he will work on a history book while their mother works on a sequel to her recently published mystery. Their first stop is Canne, where they stay at The Grand Hotel Majestic et de l'Univers, where the elevator is frequently not 'walking.' There, the children acquire a governess and befriend a mysterious old woman who is key to meeting a real princess.

Susan (13), George (10) and Dumping (7) were first featured in Brink's Family Grandstand.  In that book, the professor's children were cozily established in their Minnesota hometown.  Here, they explore another country and culture. The two older children frequently ask Dumpling, the sturdy youngest, to ask her if this experience or that place is nice.  Yes, she always responds, but home is better.  At times, the others agree.  They get homesick for American food, staring longingly into a store which sells expensive imported Campbell's Soup, and hate their school in Paris, where all three end up in the same class for much younger children because none of them speaks a word of French.

As a child, I found this book memorable for the brief glimpses of an unknown world. The Marseille market selling Christmas Nativity scenes, the cats of Paris,  the oubliette where Irene is lost, the Chateau d'If, the rock garden in their Cannes hotel garden.  I loved it for the family scenes, like the improvised Halloween the children stage, complete with haunted house, and the Christmas decorations they make on a cold, rainy day in Paris.

I am clearly not the only one who recalled this book.  It was republished in 2015, as part of Nancy Pearl's Book Crush Rediscoveries. The first book, Family Grandstand, was also included in this series by Two Lions.  I'd suggest adding The Pink Motel to round out the list.


Monday, September 7, 2015

Return To Hackberry Street (1967)

Return To Hackberry Street
Christine Govan, il. Peggy Bacon
1967, The World Publishing Company

The last week of August was hot and dry. The leaves fell from the trees and lay in brittle, dull-green drifts along the sidewalks and the roads…. “What a time to start school!” cried Jessie, crossing the room and pulling up the shade. She threw herself down on the bed and Katie lay back in the big split-bottomed rocker near the window. It was too hot to move, so they just talked again about the new girl.

Jessie Bolton and Katie Warren are grousing about startin  Across town, Laura Hewitt is miserably protesting her family’s move from cosmopolitan Nashville to small town Madison for the umpteenth time. Her mother suggests she invite her city friend to visit, and Laura isn’t comforted.
g school the next day, about the new bank manager’s daughter, and how they just know she’s going to be a snob like the last, their old enemy Gladys Joyce.

“What would they do in this dead, ugly, dried-up little one-horse town? Oh, Mamma!”

The girls inevitably clash.  Since there are only 5 girls in the entire class, Laura quickly becomes a recluse.  Jessie’s little brother Frank, meanwhile, loses his happy if mostly useless hound mix Spot after unwisely (and untruthfully) bragging to some shifty locals about the dog’s hunting prowess.  Laura’s role in bringing Spot home helps reconcile the girls, and brings about a happy resolution.

Atmospheric and nicely interested in minor action, like Jessie’s little sister playing paper dolls in the bathtub.

On the other hand
Kirkus, the long-lived book review, has a tendency to go for the throat. Their brief review of this book is brutal: 

Return is also to some once upon a time, maybe the turn of the century, but it's an indigent little story with old fashioned fixin's (paper dolls, the Sears Roebuck catalog, sprigged muslin). Laura Hewitt moves from Nashville to a small town and faces the coalition of Jessie Bolton and Katie Warren. This deals then with the resolution of city girl-country girl, old girl-new girl resentments, with a little action in the disappearance of a favorite coon dog, Spot....""Lawzee""--lethargy on the back porch.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Autumn poetry

They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here—
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock. 

When the Frost is on the Pumpkin
James Whitcomb Riley was never married and never had children, was an indifferent student who would never have a good word for a teacher, a drunk, and a wildly successful writer of sentimental poetry for children.     

My mother read me his poems when I was a child; I remember the spooky ones best:

Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
Ef you

His poems lent themselves to impassioned readings, and that was how Riley lived for years; he made a fortune off travelling around reading his poetry.  Hugely popular in his time, he’s now regarded as a minor poet, more noted for his effect on American culture and reflection of American history than for his work itself.

*landscape photo by Huw Williams (Huwmanbeing) (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, of The Hoosier National Forest near Patoka Lake in southwestern Orange County, Indiana.
*haunted house image from the Children's Museum of Indianapolis
*postcard image from

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Emily (1959)

I've run into technical difficulties, so am resorting to posting sans images. Which is a pity, as this book has very lovely paintings. The cover can be seen here.

Emily (aka Emily, The Traveling Guinea Pig)

Emma Smith, il. Katherine Wigglesworth

1959, an Astor book published by McDowell, Obolensky

Emily was a guinea pig who loved to travel.

When Emily decides to take an excursion to the sea, she worries that her brother Arthur, a gardener who tends to be somewhat hapless, will be lost without her. No worries, assures her brother. He'll be fine. So Emily sets out.

She carried an umbrella and a capacious canvas bag. They hampered her walking, but she did not know how she could go on a journey with less. She had to have an umbrella as shelter against the sun or the wind or the rain. And as for the bag, it was full to the brim of neccessary things. Her painting equipment and her diary ; food and a change of clothes ; kerosene lamp and tea kettle, a rug, hammock, a ball of string, a pair of scissors ; adhesive tape and iodine in case of an accident, and needs and thread in case she tore her dress ; also a box of matches. Emily liked to be ready for anything.

She meets various creatures, but her most important encounter is with the rather silent weasel, who helps her carry her useful but heavy bag, shares a meal, and is a rather sinister presence.

Meanwhile, back at the house, Arthur and his bachelor buddies are having a wonderfully lazy time eating and sleeping and not lifting a paw to do chores.

Will Emily reach the sea? Will the weasel prove predatory? Will Arthur clean the kitchen before Emily returns home? It's all very sweet, and accompanied by beautiful Kate Wigglesworth paintings.

About the Author


aka Elspeth Hallsmith

The online verdict seems to be that she had a brief, early flash of high respectability with her first two novels, then vanished off the face of the earth after starting a family. She re-emerged recently under the support of novelist Susan Hill.

About the Illustrator

____ - 1986

Katherine Semple married biologist Vincent Wigglesworth in 1928, and they had four children. She lived in Lavenham, a village in Suffolk, England. The village made the news this year after scenes from the upcoming Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows film were shot there. Lavenham's scenes will be used to bring to life Godric's Hollow, the place where Harry lost his parents and acquired his scar.

Other books - children's

Emily's Voyage (1966) il. Irene Haas (sequel)

Out Of Hand

No Way Of Telling

Other books - adult

Maidens' Trip

The Far Cry

The Opportunity Of A Lifetime

The Great Western Beach (memoir)


A list of guinea pigs in fiction

The original publisher, Astor Honor

Lavenham website

Sir Vincent Wigglesworth obituary

Suffolk Free Press story on Harry Potter filming

Thursday, March 11, 2010


A post from March, a review of The Witch's Bridge, has been updated with a photo of the paperback cover.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Big Snow (1949)

The Big Snow
Berta and Elmer Hader
1948, Macmillan Publishers

The winner of the Caldecott Medal for 1949, this picture book follows the world of a forest after a blizzard.

About the authors
Berta Hoerner (1891–1976)
Elmer Stanley Hader (1889-1973)

They were friends with Rose Wilder Lane, dating from Berta's days as Rose's roommate

The Hader Connection
Beyond Little House

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Picture Book awards 2010

Picture-Books in Winter

Summer fading, winter comes--
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs,
Window robins, winter rooks,
And the picture story-books.

Water now is turned to stone
Nurse and I can walk upon;
Still we find the flowing brooks
In the picture story-books.

All the pretty things put by,
Wait upon the children's eye,
Sheep and shepherds, trees and crooks,
In the picture story-books.

We may see how all things are
Seas and cities, near and far,
And the flying fairies' looks,
In the picture story-books.

How am I to sing your praise,
Happy chimney-corner days,
Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
Reading picture story-books?

Robert Louis Stevenson


from Chester, The Worldly Pig, written and illustrated by Bill Peet, 1990 Caldecott Award Honor winner for Bill Peet: An Autobiography.

It's awards season for the entertainment world, books no less than movies, and a slew of kid book awards got announced this month. There is one large difference between awards given to material intended for adults, and awards given to children's entertainment - the judges in the latter case are very free to indulge their own biases, preferences and fantasies without regard to the intended audience, as that audience is completely absent from the judging. I'm not sure that's a reality that can be or should be changed, but it does make judging children's literature a different kettle of fish. The situation is intensified in the case of picture books, where the audience is too young to acquire or consume the books and completely at the mercy of adults to provide both the book and the reading.

The Caldecott Medal winners for 2010 were announced this month. This award goes to "the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children."The 2010 winner is The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney. 2010 Honor winners were All The World, illustrated by Marla Frazee and written by Liz Garton Scanlon, and Red Sings From Treetops: A Year in Colors illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski and written by Joyce Sidman. Pinkney is the first individual African-American to win the Caldecott Medal, which has been won twice by an interracial couple.

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award goes to the author and illustrator of the year's "most distinguished contribution to the body of American children’s literature known as beginning reader books published in the United States". This year, the winner is Benny and Penny in the Big No-No! written and illustrated by Geoffrey Hayes. 2010 Honors winners include I Spy Fly Guy! written and illustrated by Tedd Arnold, Little Mouse Gets Ready written and illustrated by Jeff Smith, Mouse and Mole: Fine Feathered Friends written and illustrated by Wong Herbert Yee, and Pearl and Wagner: One Funny Day written by Kate McMullan, illustrated by R.W. Alley.

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards were also announced this month. The 2010 illustrator winner is Charles R. Smith Jr. for My People. The 2010 Honor for illustrators was The Negro Speaks of Rivers, illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Both were written by Langston Hughes.

And the Schenider Family Book Awards "honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences." Their 2010 pick for Young Children's Book was Django, written and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen.


The Caldecott Medals Home Page at the American Library Association

Coretta Scott King Awards at the ALA

The Schneider Family Book Awards at the ALA

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award page at ALA

Seattle Times interview with Jerry Pinkney

Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers (The Lion & the Mouse)

Beach Lane Books (All The World) - a Simon & Schuster imprint

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (Red Sings From Treetops, Mouse & Mole)

Toon Books (Benny and Penny in the Big No-No! and I Spy Fly Guy!)

Dial Books for Young Readers (Pearl and Wagner: One Funny Day) - Penguin Putnam

ginee seo books (My People) - an Atheneum Books for Young Readers imprint

Jump At The Sun Books (The Negro Speaks Of Rivers) - an imprint of of Disney Book Group

Roaring Brook Press (Django)

The New York Times bestseller list for Children's Books (Jan 29, 2010)