Monthly Archives: June 2013

Was Summer Ever This Perfect?

summerRiding bikes, eating ice cream, swimming in a lake, fishing, catching butterflies … this is how the two kids in the Beginner Books classic Summer, by Alice Low (1963), spend their hot-weather days. I dare any parent to read this book and not be overcome with nostalgia and longing for a simpler time. Did these kids go to a day camp that cost their stressed-out parents $4,000 for six weeks? Did they beg and plead for the Minecraft Pocket Edition for iPhone because they’re the only ones of all their friends “forced” to play the free version? Did they properly coat themselves with broad spectrum water-resistant sunscreen? For that matter, did these two kids even own a pair of shoes?

I’ve decided we should revisit this book at the start of every summer. These kids are so  happy — even with only two choices of ice cream flavors:

They are so happy. And there are only two choices of ice cream flavors.

Check out their diving board at the swimming hole. It’s a wooden plank and some rocks:

summer-swimOnce again: no shoes:


summer-fireflyThe last spread of Summer never fails to get me. After the two kids run around catching fireflies, they flag down a passing farmer in a field who gives them a moonlit ride home on his horse-pulled wagon. It’s all so idyllic.

Er, where are their PARENTS, you ask?

summer-hayrideAbsolutely nowhere. Suddenly you realize: these kids have been totally out there by themselves, finding their own fun at their own pace. Which is, in the end, what makes this book so captivating.  The Charlie Brown-type absence of parents is also what makes this book so unrealistic in 2013. So no, we’re not going to let S & L jump into some stranger’s horse cart after sundown. But maybe they’ll have a better appreciation for a lazy day outside with a homemade fishing pole.

Reading level note: Summer is one of the Beginner Books that’s not by Dr. Seuss but has the Cat in the Hat on the spine (a la Are You My Mother? and The Best Nest). It’s a lovely read-aloud for toddlers, and now that my son — who just finished kindergarten — is just getting the hang of decoding, it’s a good level for an early reader (think Frog and Toad, but with rhymes).


If Amelia Bedelia Were a Chanel Client

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Amelia Bedelia, the bumbling, literal-minded housekeeper whose exceptional baked goods constantly save her from getting canned. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Amelia character (she’s a little too much of a Gilligan, if you know what I mean) but I’ve always admired her uniform.

amelia_bedeliaIf Zooey Deschanel ever does take on the role of Amelia [see genius BookRiot post], this Chanel look has her name all over it.

Chanel RTW – Fall 2009

If Your Son Sleeps With a Light Saber: The Novelization Worth Seeking Out

I would not go as far as to say that Star Wars is sacred in our household. But let’s just put it this way. I never made the slightest effort to keep S and L from the truth about Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. But I was PISSED when someone told them that Darth Vader was Luke’s father.

Star Wars coverAt any rate, now that the kids have seen the first couple films (Episodes IV and V, that is) I’ve been looking for some good Star Wars books. Most bookstores have the usual: the Clone War novelizations, the ubiquitous Lego Star Wars almanac, the sticker books. But in our school library I found exactly what I was hoping for: a chapter book adaptation that faithfully retells the plot of the 1977 movie in easy language, scene by scene, with tons of color stills. This 1985 adaptation by Larry Weinberg is part of a now defunct series from Random House called Step-Up Movie Adventures. It’s perfect, because even a really obsessed seven-year-old most likely misses some plot points from the film. But this book spells out everything — for instance, Ben’s last moment:

Just then Obi-Wan Kenobi turned his head. He seemed to be looking straight at Luke. A smile was on his face. This was Vader’s chance. With the speed of light he slashed at Ben. The blow should have cut the old man in half. It sliced right through his robe. But the Jedi was gone … Luke thought he heard a voice whispering in his ear. Ben’s voice. “Run, Luke,” it said. “Run!”

Star Wars spread Star Wars spread - LukeAlthough the book is out of print, there seem to be plenty of inexpensive copies available online. And it’s got to be better than this:




What Would Half-Pint Do?

With its crushing mortgage payments, hailstorms and diptheria outbreak, The First Four Years has got to be the grimmest book of the Little House series. (What nine-year-old wants to meet spunky little Laura as a stressed-out mom?) But thanks to this contribution from my longtime colleague and fellow-children’s books obsessive, Rory Evans, I have  come to see Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book in a whole new light. Thanks, Rory!


In February Laura’s 19th birthday came. Manly’s 29th was just a week later so they made one celebration for both…It wasn’t much of a celebration, just a large birthday cake for the two of them, and a little extra pains were taken in the cooking and arranging of the simple meal of bread, meat, and vegetables.

Laura had been at home so long, she wanted to go for a sleigh ride to see Ma and Pa. Could they take the baby out safely? They were sure they could. Some blankets were put to warming the stove. Manly drove the cutter close to the door and made a little warm nest of them in the shelter of the dashboard. Rose was wrapped in her own little warm blankets…and tucked tightly in among the blankets in the cutter. Then away they went.… Several times Laura put her hand in among the blankets and touched Rose’s face to be sure that she was warm and that there was air beneath the veil.

Mr. and Mrs. Boast lived by themselves on their farm. They had no children of their own… When at last the visit was over and Mr. Boast was standing by the buggy…he finally said in a queer voice, “If you let me take the baby in to Ellie for her to keep, you may take the best horse out of my stable and lead it home…You folks can have another baby, and we can’t. We never can. Manly gathered up the reins, and Laura said with a little gasp, “oh, no! No! Drive on, Manly!” As they drove away, she hugged Rose tightly; but she was sorry for Mr.

A friendly, stray Saint Bernard, a huge, black dog, had come to the house and been adopted…[He] seemed to think his special job was to watch over Rose, and wherever she was, there he would be curled around her or sitting close to her… Laura and Manly both liked to stay out in the sunny hayfield, and leaving Rose asleep with the big dog watching
over her…

It was quiet and there was nothing to do after supper when Rose was put to bed…she slept soundly for hours. So Laura and Manly came to saddling the ponies and riding them on the road before the house, on the run for half a mile south and back, then around the…house, a pause to see that Rose was still sleeping, and a half mile run north and
back for another look at Rose.

As the days passed bringing no [ruinous] hailstorm, Laura found herself thinking, Everything will even up in the end; the rich have their ice in the summer but the poor get theirs in the winter. When she caught herself at it, she would laugh with a nervous catch in her throat. She must not allow herself to be under such strain. But if only they could …sell this crop…Just to be free of debt and have …money to use for themselves would make everything so much easier….

It was a busy summer for Laura, what with the housework, caring for Rose, and helping Manly whenever he needed her. But she didn’t mind doing it all, for Manly was recovering the use of his hands and feet.

How could she ever keep up the daily work…there was so much to be done and only herself to do it. She hated the farm and the stock and the smelly lambs, the cooking of food and the dirty dishes. Oh, she hated it all, and especially the debts that must be paid whether she could work or not. [But Laura would] be darned she’d go down and stay down and howl about it.

–Rory Evans

The First Four Years