Category Archives: Uncategorized

Podcast Passion

Recently my consumption of audiobooks has taken quite a hit in favor of a new listening option. I have become obsessed with the podcast – several specific ones actually. It started around the new year with the discovery of  NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, which introduced me to Overdue and my current obsession- The History Chicks.  I highly recommend you check out all of these podcasts – which are perfect for long drives, working out, cleaning the house, cooking dinner, or any time you find yourself able to plug in headphones.

The History Chicks give short – approximately 1 hour – synopses of the lives of notable women in history.  I enjoy the feminist take as well as the opportunity to fill in gaps in my knowledge.  I am particularly partial to the way they end their show, with suggestions for books, movies and television shows that complement the topic.   I’m slowly plodding my way through the back episodes and just yesterday I caught the one dedicated to Hatshepsut, the Egyptian “King” (Queen? he/she?)  who reigned more than a 1,000 years before Cleopatra.   Not only did the podcast give me a great insight into the life of Hatshepsut, about whom I knew absolutely nothing, but it got me thinking about one of my absolute favorite series of all time – the Amelia Peabody Mysteries.

The Amelia Peabody mysteries, written by Elizabeth Peters (Barbara Mertz), follow intrepid, accidental explorer Amelia as she breaks free of her rigid British upbringing and traverses the Egyptian landscape in search of adventure and intrigue.

apcrocodileCrocodile on the Sandbank Meet Amelia Peabody, a proper British lady on the cusp of spinsterhood who’s newly awarded inheritance enables her to travel and indulge her interest in Egyptology.  It is 1884, and Amelia is drawn to the exotic world of historic Egypt- and the freedom she hopes to find from the stifling expectations of her upbringing.   She wasn’t expecting to encounter tomb raiders, kidnapping plots or Egyptologist Radcliffe Emerson – perhaps the most frustrating man she’s ever met! MBS

Follow Amelia’s adventures at the forefront of the international archaeological excavations of Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th century and the ensuing quest for fame and fortune as factions battle it out it the search for antiquity.   Even encounters with murder, mummies and mayhem won’t interfere with the progress of the unflappable Amelia Peabody.  Pick up one of the 20 novels in the series and enjoy a well-written historical adventure.

For great children’s books on Egypt check out the PBP page on Egypt.


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Marooned Without A Compass

Today is “Marooned Without A Compass Day”.  I love a holiday, any holiday, so I enjoy that there is a designation for pretty much every day of the year should you choose to celebrate. I’m a particular fan of “Talk Like A Pirate Day” (Sept. 19) and “Squirrel Appreciation Day” (Jan. 21).


Now I realize that today, “Marooned Without A Compass Day”, I could go all existential and talk about the deep emotional feelings of being adrift in life without guidance or direction, searching for meaning and fulfillment, alone and trapped in an existence made of chance or misfortune. Or there is the whole “moral compass” angle to consider.  Or I could wax poetic as a travel-blogger about going forth to discover the world without plans or preparation to fully immerse yourself in genuine (or scary, unsafe, life-threatening) experiences.

What fun is that? I prefer to embrace this holiday with the same attitude that I give to “Name Your Car Day” (Oct. 2)*, with a bit of humor and irreverence. Today I choose to pay tribute to those literary characters who really were “marooned without a compass”.  Check out these classic, and not-so-classic stories of shipwreck, deserted islands, and survival.

gsshipwreckedShipwreck on the Pirate Islands –  In the 18th book in the Geronimo Stilton series we find our intrepid mouse hero stranded on a deserted island, searching for buried treasure.  How Geronimo, who seems to long for a quiet life in Mouse City, always winds up in the most precarious situations is a mystery – but always a fun read! (ER-2)

shipwreckedsailorThe Shipwrecked Sailor: An Egyptian Tale with Hieroglyphs – by Tamara Bower is the retelling of a centuries old tale, discovered on papyrus, written in hieroglyphs, that tells of a shipwrecked sailor who soon discovers he is not alone. He befriends a mystical serpent prince who bestows riches upon the sailor to take back to the King of Egypt when he is finally rescued.  (MR-3/4)

maroonedpirateMarooned On The Pirate Coast – by Melinda Rice is part of the Lone Star Heroines Series, focusing on Texas state history.  I’ve included it because the main character is 11 year old Georgina, who is shipwrecked off the coast of Texas, near Galveston, and learns to survive with help from the Karankawa tribe.  And she is rescued by famous pirate, Jean Laffite!  This story of a strong female heroine holds a place among the boy-centered stories!  (MR-3/4)

shipwreckedjapanShipwrecked!: The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy– Rhoda Blumberg enthusiastically brings to life the story of 14 year-old Manjiro.  In the early 1800’s Manjiro’s fishing boat is shipwrecked 300 miles away from his home in Japan.  He knows, due to the laws of the time, that he can never return.  When he is finally rescued by a whaling ship, Manjiro takes a chance to go where no Japanese person had gone before, to America!   In his quest to understand American culture, receive an education and undertake amazing adventures Manjiro becomes a hero in his homeland.

robinsoncrusoeRobinson Crusoe – The ultimate, classic shipwreck story, written in 1719 by Daniel Defoe, is a survival booklist must-read.  Crusoe is by far the most famous literary character ever to be “marooned without a compass”.  This novel, told in journal form, of his struggle for survival is required for anyone looking for deserted island adventure . (MR-5 – click here, Robinson Crusoe, for the unabridged YA/Classic version)

swissfamilyrobinsonThe Swiss Family Robinson – If being shipwrecked alone is a bit much to handle, there is always Johann D. Wyss’ tale of the Robinson family, who find themselves stranded on a tropical island.  Together, with their wits, ingenuity, love – and quite a few supplies they salvage from the wreckage of their ship – they make a home out of the uninhabited jungle.  (MR-5 – click here, The Swiss Family Robinson, for the unabridged version – Classic/YA/MR-6&up)

*I just got a new car this week. We haven’t named him yet, but I doubt we’ll wait for next October before christening him with a delightful moniker which will hopefully embody all the awesomeness that is a minivan.

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Witchy Wonders

As part of my eldest daughter’s “13th birthday in Boston” celebration it was her decision how to spend the morning before our drive home.  Possible options included a trip to the Museum of Science, Boston for the opening day of the “Science of Pixar” exhibit or visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, a locale from our favorite Boston based middle-reader book Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne.

In the end it was the irrepressible draw of Salem that determined how we would spend our final hours.   The allure of history and witchcraft is powerful, and the heart of our visit was really to just get the feel of the place.  Salem is peppered with hokey museums and theme driven gift shops, but actually being present in a location full of witchcraft lore totally overpowered the touristy vibe.  We took the obligatory, if outdated, tour of the Salem Witch Museum, had a delicious chowder lunch, and picked up dessert at the Salem Ice-Screamery.   All-in-all it was a worthwhile diversion and time well spent, especially the time browsing the gift shop bookshelves for witchy reads!   This Halloween, if you can’t be in Salem, pick up one of these fun, fantasy or non-fiction books to discover a new view on witches and witchcraft.

room on broomRoom on the Broom by Julia Donaldson – A little witch gets some help from some special animal friends but now they all want a ride on her broom….will there be room for everyone? (PB)

witchWitches by Cheryl Christian – Adorable rhymes bring to life this story of Halloween preparations for a group of little witches. (PB)


littlewitchLittle Witch by Anna Elizabeth Bennett – This 60th anniversary edition brings the story of the very reluctant little witch, Minx, to a whole new generation.  Although it sounds fun to be the daughter of a witch, Minx just wants to be a normal girl.  She takes it upon herself to attend the local school and her adventures are heartwarming and fun.  (ER-2) 

worst witchThe Worst Witch by Jill Murphy – Mildred Hubble is the ready for her first year at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches, but things aren’t as easy as she thought they’d be and, just when it can’t get much worse, it seems she’s made Ethel, the favorite student, her sworn enemy.   A funny, fun precursor for witch crazy readers not quite ready to tackle Harry Potter. (ER-2)

witches dahlThe Witches by Roald Dahl –  The enduring tales  Grandmamma tells are about witches, real witches, that look just like regular people.  But they hate children, and the warning stories are never more important than when coming face to face with the Grand High Witch!  A true classic tale as only Dahl can tell it!  (MR-4)

truesalemWitches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer – This award-winning retelling of the hysteria that shook Salem in 1692, told in engaging text and highlighted by riveting illustrations.  (MR -5/6)


blackbird pondThe Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare –  In 1687, Kit is uprooted from her home and thrust into a new life in colonial Connecticut.  As she struggles to find her way in these new harsh surroundings she finds happiness a new friendship with Hannah Tupper, but Hannah is believed to be a witch.  Can Kit hold true to her heart, and what she knows is right?  Or will duty sway her in these difficult times?  1959 Newbery Award Winner (MR – 6)

crucibleThe Crucible: A Play in Four Acts by Arthur Miller –  Not just for High School English classes anymore, this classic tale of mass hysteria, based on actual events of the Salem Witch Trials, is fascinating as an historical observation.  Take it to another level – when placed in context of the political climate during its writing, the vilifying McCarthy era, it is a social commentary on the power of group mentality.  (YA)

Check out some spooky witchy reads from Mom’s Bookshelf.

deliverancedanceThe Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe – Connie Goodwin is spending the summer cleaning the dilapidated old house in Salem, left to her family by her grandmother, and working on her doctoral proposal.  While cleaning she comes across a lead on original historic source that could change her academic work, her relationship with her advisor and her understanding of her family’s history. (MBS)

discoveryofwitchesA Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness – After a lifetime suppressing her abilities as a witch in favor of academic research, Diana Bishop discovers an ancient manuscript that pushes her to acknowledge her gifts, embrace and challenge the relationships between creatures, and redefine her beliefs.  The story continues in Shadow of Night and concludes in The Book of Life. (MBS)

witchesdaughterThe Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston – Centuries ago Bess watched her mother hang as a witch, and her desire to escape the same fate led her to Gideon, who awakened power in her – but who has chased her across the centuries to exact payment for saving her life.  Now, in the 21st century, Bess has discovered a young protege.  In sharing her knowledge Bess has awakened feelings she’s kept hidden, but also led Gideon back to claim her soul.   Continue the story of Bess and Gideon in the upcoming sequel The Return of the Witch (publication date 3/8/16)  or discover more “witch” stories by Paula Brackston: The Midnight WitchThe Winter Witch, and The Silver Witch. (MBS)

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Z is for….

How do you hang on to the past?

Zip by Ellie Rollins

zipLyssa’s mother was magic.  Everything had just a little more sparkle when she was around.  But Lyssa’s mom died, and the magic went with her.  Now Lyssa is stuck in a new town, in a new state, in a new house, with a stepfather she barely knows and no matter what she does there just doesn’t seem to be a way to bring the magic back into her life.  When she learns her old house in Texas is about to be destroyed there is only one thing for Lyssa to do – she hops on her scooter and zips her way across the country to the one place that still holds the memories and, hopefully, the magic of the time with her mother.  Along the way she meets a cast of characters that help her learn about who she was, and who she wants to be.  Lyssa’s search for home leads her exactly where she belongs.

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Y is for….

One curious little monkey has a best friend.  He is the man in the

Yellow Hat

curiousgeorgeThe Complete Adventures of Curious George by Margaret and H.A. Rey  – George is a curious little monkey and he is more than a little prone to finding himself in difficult situations.  Lucky for him he always has the Man in the Yellow Hat to help him.  With seven original stories there is plenty of Curious George to keep young readers entertained for years.  And the sweet relationship between George the the Man in the Yellow Hat is a lovely example of true friendship.


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Classic Disney

I’m going to DisneyWorld – tomorrow!  I pretty much love all things Disney, but in true Paperback Pigeon form, my absolute favorite Disney films, rides, and attractions come by way of classic literature.  Which also means that many of my favorites harken back to the 60’s and 70’s.  These adaptations were some of my mother’s childhood favorites, which she lovingly introduced to me.   I’m super excited to continue the tradition and share my “classic” favorites with my girls – visiting the attractions and meeting the characters that first entered the world via storybooks.

Check our some of my favorite novels that became Disney films and attractions.  Planning a visit to DisneyWorld?  Read your favorite before you visit.  Not traveling anytime soon?  Grab one of the stories below for a virtual trip to the classic Disney universe.

mary poppinsMary Poppins by P.L. Travers  – The Banks house will never be the same after Mary Poppins arrives to take care of Jane, Michael & the twins.  She’s a most unusual nanny who, with a little magic and make believe, changes the Banks family forever.

Brought to life in the 1964 musical starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition is a true Disney classic.  Looking for the story behind the making of the film?  Check out Saving Mr. Banks, with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, which tells the story of Disney’s quest to adapt the novel for movie audiences.

Looking to meet Mary Poppins?  Enjoy the Supercalifragilistic breakfast at 1900 Park Fare at Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel & Spa where she regularly makes an appearance.  Or if you are heading to EPCOT make sure to stop at the United Kingdom Pavilion where Mary Poppins makes multiple visits each day.

swissfamilyrobinsonThe Swiss Family Robinson by Johann D. Wyss – When the Robinson family is shipwrecked on a tropical island they must create a new life for themselves in this uninhabited paradise by creatively using the items they salvaged from the wreck of their vessel.

Disney’s 1960 live action Swiss Family Robinson brings this remarkable adventure to the screen.  With an amazing treehouse, an ostrich and elephant race, and pirates, this relic from the Disney vault is worth a watch.

Who wouldn’t love to live in a treehouse, if just for a day?  Visit the Swiss Family Treehouse in Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom Park to walk through the treetops and see how the Robinson Family used some ingenuity and innovation to make their shipwrecked life spectacular.

tomsawyerThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain – The classic tale of boyhood uses humor and wit to evoke a simpler time, highlighting memorable adventures of a 19th century childhood.

Disney translated the novel to film in 1995’s Tom and Huck.

Enjoy your own adventure on Tom Sawyer Island in Frontierland at Magic Kingdom Park.  The original attraction was designed in 1956 for Disneyland by Walt Disney himself!  Want to get up close and personal with author Mark Twain?  He is the animatronic host of the American Adventure, along with Benjamin Franklin, at the America Pavilion in EPCOT.  This 30 minute show highlights events in American History.

peter panPeter Pan by J.M. Barrie – The story of a boy who never grows up, but spends his days having adventures in Neverland, leading his band of Lost Boys, and cavorting with fairies and mermaids.  However, when Wendy and her brothers join Peter he questions his path, and Wendy must face difficult decisions that will determine her future.

Disney’s animated Peter Pan is a warmer version of the classic tale, charming and lighthearted without the dark undertones in the original story.  Once they’ve seen this movie every child can’t help but wish for a little pixie dust and membership in the Lost Boys.

Take a trip to Neverland when you visit Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom Park – a ride on Peter Pan’s Flight is a must!  Just around the corner you can meet Peter and Wendy.  Pixie dust more your style?  Head to the Town Square theater where you can shrink down to fairy size and meet Tinkerbell.

aliceinwonderlandAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll – A trip down the rabbit hole takes Alice to a nonsensical universe where nothing is quite as it seems and with each turn of the page things get “curiouser and curiouser”.   From the Mad Hatter to the Cheshire Cat, everyone Alice meets introduces her to a wacky, wonderful world

Alice in Wonderland, Disney’s 1951 animated version plays on the whimsy of Carroll’s original and brings the iconic characters to life.  Everyone is here  – from Tweedledee & Tweedledum to the Queen of Hearts!  The 2010 live action Alice in Wonderland starring Johnny Depp is a more sophisticated take on the surreal world of Wonderland.  Nothing is as it seems for a more grown-up Alice, except the creative influence of director Tim Burton is evident in every aspect of this magical adaptation.

Ready to take a whirl into your own Wonderland?  Join the Mad Tea Party and spin yourself silly in Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom Park.  When you are done, if you’re not too dizzy, you can meet characters from Wonderland just outside the ride.  Or if you happen to find yourself in United Kingdom Pavilion at EPCOT you can find Alice in the gardens, perhaps recalling her time in Wonderland.

poohThe Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne – Everyone loves the endearing, charming, sweet chubby bear that is Winnie-the-Pooh.  He’s charmed children for generations and his dear companions in the Hundred Acre Wood, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore and Christopher Robin, provide enduring friendship and endless adventures.

Even the young, or young at heart, can embrace classic literature through Disney adapted films and attractions. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Disney’s 1977 animated film is a wonderful introduction to Pooh and friends.  Many additional films followed, but start with the original to keep close to the storybook’s classic tales.

Enjoy the Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh in ride form, as you travel via honey-pot through the Hundred Acre Wood, in Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom Park.  After the ride stop in for a delicious buffet meal at the Crystal Palace, where Pooh and friends can be found making the rounds at every meal.  No time to stop and eat?  No worries, you can also meet Pooh & Friends just outside the attraction entrance.  Pooh also makes an appearance in the United Kingdom Pavilion at EPCOT. He can be found, often with one of his friends, in Christopher Robin’s room.

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M is for…

Two ordinary kids, a tree-house in the woods, and books about every subject imaginable.  Add a little magic, mystery, and adventure and you’ve got the classic early-reader series that transports every kid to places they’ve only dreamed of!

Magic Treehouse Series by Mary Pope Osbourne

Jack and Annie, siblings from Frog Creek, Pennsylvania, are transported through time and space to help the mythical Morgan LeFay save the library at Camelot.  Along the way they meet dinosaurs, visit ancient Egypt, tackle ninjas, sail on the Titanic, immerse themselves in American History, and more!   Each book is its own stand-alone adventure, but the books connect in groups of 4 to solve larger mysteries. There is a Magic Treehouse story to complement just about any trip, holiday, or historical event.

These are great stories for those ready to tackle chapter books.  However, they are perfect for older Pre-K and Kindergarten readers who are ready for a complex read-aloud.   Suitable for a wide range of readers, Magic Treehouse books address a variety of experiences in an age appropriate way.  And for more inquisitive readers, the Magic Treehouse Fact-Trackers are fantastic non-fiction companions to the series.  For even more check out to play and learn with Jack & Annie.

*A Paperback Pigeon All-Time Top 10 Favorite*

mth1-4Magic Tree House Boxed Set, Books 1-4: Dinosaurs Before Dark, The Knight at Dawn, Mummies in the Morning, and Pirates Past Noon – Real dinosaurs?  Medieval Knights?  Ancient Egypt? Swashbuckling Pirates?   Adventure is just a turn of the page as Jack & Annie begin to discover the magic in their treehouse! (ER-K-3)

mth5-8Magic Tree House Boxed Set, Books 5-8: Night of the Ninjas, Afternoon on the Amazon, Sunset of the Sabertooth, and Midnight on the Moon –  Time and space are no match for the Magic Treehouse – or for Jack & Annie – when they travel to ancient Japan, voyage down the Amazon River, tackle the Ice Age and land on the Moon!!!

mth1-28Magic Tree House Boxed Set, Books 1-28 – Sets of 4 books just not enough to satisfy your curious reader?  Get all 28 of the original Magic Treehouse Books and join Jack & Annie for every single magical, mystical adventure from Shakespeare’s England to George Washington’s Revolutionary War encampment.

mthchristmasincamelotChristmas in Camelot (Magic Tree House, No. 29) – In the first book in the Magic Treehouse Merlin Missions, Jack & Annie take on more mythical challenges.  The series elevates in reading level, growing with its readers, as well as in content depth and story length. (ER-2/3)

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To Thine Own Self (and The Bard) Be True

Infuriating, confusing, verbose, witty, hilarious, tragic, magical, satirical – there are many things one can say about Shakespeare, but to say that he’s outdated or overrated would be a mistake.  Unapproachable might be a good term, especially for those of us whom Shakespeare was thrust upon us in a 9th grade English class.  But what if Shakespeare wasn’t a requirement, but more of a secret discovery?  Introducing Shakespeare earlier rather than later, by choice rather than requirement, can make these classic works more approachable and in the end enjoyable.Shakespeare-Plays

Start with a comedy, which is less heavy  in content and language. My choice for first Shakespeare?  A Midsummer Night’s Dream for upper elementary or early middle schoolers.  It has royalty, fairies, mischief, and a character named Bottom.  This fact alone is hilarious to kids, but then he gets a donkey head and is called an Ass – highly amusing and a little naughty.  Seeing a production in your area is the best way to introduce Shakespeare – as there is nothing like the visual combined with the words to make it come alive.  We just went to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at a free production of Shakespeare in the Park.  To me this is the ideal way to see Shakespeare – live theater, warm summer night, and a nominal donation means we can enjoy Shakespeare to the fullest – and if necessary leave early without regret.

Some preparation is good before you attend a Shakespeare play.  Sparknotes are a great resource to give an overview of the production in contemporary language. Shakespeare: The Animated Tales is a 4 DVD set with twelve of Shakespeare’s well known works.  This BBC production is extremely well done, using some of the Shakespearean language but keeping the story clear and concise.  Either of these options are great preparation for watching a full production, and will help to ensure it is a positive experience.

Shakespeare has been reinvented and re-imagined many times.  Another great way to introduce and enjoy Shakespeare is to compare and contrast different interpretations.  Read or see a production of The Taming of the Shrew and then check out the teen comedy  10 Things I Hate About You to see a modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s classic story of sisters Bianca and Katerina.

In addition there are some helpful series to make Shakespeare more accessible including No Fear Shakespeare by Sparknotes – which gives the full Shakespeare text on one side and a modern translation of the opposite page.  This is helpful for slightly older readers who want to tackle reading the plays on their own. Shakespeare Can Be Fun! is a series by an elementary school teacher Lois Burdett from Stratford, Ontario, Canada (home of the Stratford Festival each summer) that rewrites the plays in rhyming couplets for easy interpretation or performance.  The brand new book How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig provides guidance helping your child grasp the far-reaching influence of Shakespeare as well as the cultural implications that are relevant to this day.

If Shakespeare on his own isn’t enough, or maybe he’s just a little too much, you can start with these fun Shakespeare themed reads to get your young reader excited about the Bard.

romeoandjulietbabylitRomeo & Juliet: A BabyLit Counting Primer is a delightful board book for the littlest readers.  Based on the characters and story of Romeo & Juliet toddlers can have their very first introduction to Shakespeare while learning their numbers and counting. PB

mthstagefrightsummernightJack and Annie are on another adventure in the Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne.  In Stage Fright on a Summer Night they travel to Elizabethan England and meet William Shakespeare at the Globe Theater.  When actors in his latest play fail to show up can Jack and Annie fill in and save the day, even if it means performing for the Queen herself? ER-1/2

shakespearessecretShakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach is the story of Hero, a young girl with an unfortunate name -or so she thinks- who discovers a mystery involving her elderly neighbor, a million dollar diamond and Shakespeare.  With the help of the coolest kid in school, who surprisingly wants to help her, Hero discovers the truth to the mystery and a little about herself.  Read Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to learn the story of Shakespeare’s Hero. MR-4/5

secretsofshakespearesgraveIn Deron R. Hicks Secrets of Shakespeare’s Grave Colophon Letterford loves the family publishing company that was founded by Miles Letterford hundreds of years ago.  But now her father’s role as head of the company is at risk and her mysterious cousin Julian needs Colophon’s help to piece together a mystery that is the heart of all the Letterford family is founded on.  Unravel the secrets hidden by time to help Colophon discover a priceless treasure. MR-4/5

shakespearestealerGary Blackwood’s The Shakespeare Stealer is an historical drama set at none other than Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. Widge is an orphan with a unique skill – he can write in a special code.  Ordered to steal Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, Widge works his way into the Globe to copy the lines of the play.  However, the players in the acting troupe welcome him.  Can Widge betray them and follow orders?  Or has he finally found his true home? MR-5/6

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What Happens in Vegas…..

My husband and I rarely go away without our kids, the occasional overnight to attend a wedding or reunion.  But last summer we took two nights in the Catskills, which was amazing, and made me realize how important it is for us to connect (meaning have a conversation that isn’t interrupted 15 times, watch a show not on Disney channel, or enjoy a meal where we don’t have to cut someones food into bite sized pieces – mind out of the gutter people!).  So this year we have a pretty big anniversary (please feel free to send crystal).  We decided to take a trip together to mark the occasion.  Actually I said “Honey, I’m going on a trip for our 15th wedding anniversary.  Please feel free to join me if you’d like, but either way I”m going away without the kids”.  He wisely chose to come with me.

So where to go?  As with any trip time, cost, and childcare are major considerations.  I selfishly like quantity of vacations, so we were planning our trip, but budgeting for a family trip later in the summer, too.  This ruled out Scotland and Morocco (my choices), and Norway (my husbands recent fascination – the poor man has been subjected to Frozen one time too many).  We tossed around US Virgin Islands, and domestic locations from Key West to Charleston.   Since my in-laws (bless them) are taking our kids for the entire week (did I mention bless them?)  we were checking flights out of NYC, Hartford and Boston, calculating car rental and scouring hotel options.  Then my parents offered to help us secure rooms in Vegas, as they visit there several times a year and had access to some great deals.  Deals that were tough to pass up when looking at the financial crunch of this trip.  So…We’re going to Vegas, baby!

At first thought Vegas isn’t a destination that comes to mind when I think of “kid-friendly” vacations, one of the reasons it was so appealing for our anniversary get-away. However, in recent years there has been a definite push to make it a more family oriented vacation locale.  “The Strip” has a themed hotel for every interest, a diverse “world tour” at your disposal.  And there are great books that can connect to all these locations.   I created this list of kid reads, and adult counterparts, for my (and your) next trip to the Vegas Strip.    You can check out location specific kid-reads on the Locations: Las Vegas page or Mom’s Bookshelf: Las Vegas if you want a Sin City themed grown-up read.   “TheVegas Strip” booklist below touches on select hotel resorts and complementary reads to enhance your experience.

lasvegas welcome sign

Start at the south end of the Strip at the Luxor.  It’s pyramid shape evokes the mystery and wonder of an ancient pharaoh’s tomb.  Kids will enjoy reading from the Locations: Egypt page.  For a beach read mystery grown-ups should try Crocodile on the Sandbank,APcrocodileonthesandbank the first book in the Amelia Peabody Series by Elizabeth Peters.  If a more literary historical novel is what you are looking for try twelveroomsofthenileThe Twelve Rooms of the Nile by Enid Shomer, an imagining of the friendship of Florence Nightingale’s and Gustave Flaubert, who both traveled down the Nile in 1850.

Make your way north to the Excalibur, and enter the age of knights and ladies. The Castle in the Attic (MR-4) by Elizabeth Winthrop is a classic castleintheattic for middle readers.  The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradleymistsofavalon is an adult retelling of the Arthurian legend from the point of view of the women at the heart of the tale, divulging their true influence and power over the legendary knights.

New York New York is a mini Big Apple!  Check out the New York City kid lit on Locations: New York.  To indulge in a more scandalous poolside read adults can check out Candice Bushnell’s  newest book One Fifth Avenue.  onefifthavenueFor a comprehensive historical immersion delve into Edward Rutherford’snewyork New York: The Novel,  a breathtaking historical-fiction saga that spans centuries.


The iconic Eiffel Tower marks the Paris Las Vegas.  Kids can read up on favorites like Madeline or make new friends on the Locations: Paris page.   pariswifeGrown-ups can embrace the 20’s literary ex-pat life with The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, putting you right in the center of the tumultuousparis life of Hemingway and his first wife during their time in Paris.  Looking for the novel that covers the history of Paris in-depth?  Edward Rutherford does it again with his newest tome Paris: The Novel.

The Flamingo is the oldest resort on the Strip still in operation, a throwback to the days when gangsters ruled Vegas and Hollywood glamour reignedflamingomoon supreme.   sylvieKids will enjoy Sylvie (PB) by Jennifer Sattler, about a curious flamingo that discovers her pink color comes from what she eats and experiments eating different things.  Flamingo Moon by Carolyn Holm is a poolside guilty pleasure read about mothers, daughters, growing up and discovering your true self.

Caesars Palace has the glory and pageantry of the Roman Empire.  Young readers can travel with Jack and Annie in the Magic Treehouse caesarswomenSeries #13, VMTHvacationunderthevolcanoacation Under the Volcano and explore the non-fiction companion Magic Tree House Fact Tracker #14: Ancient Rome and Pompeii (ER-1).  Colleen McCullough’s riveting tale of the women at the mercy of Caesar’s power is recounted in the adult read Caesar’s Women.

gstilton48veniceFlash forward in Italian history and cross the Strip to The Venetian where kids can solve a mystery and learn about Venice in midwifeofveniceGeronimo Stilton’s The Mystery in Venice (ER-3).  After a gondola ride take a look at the riveting life of The Midwife of Venice in Roberta Rich’s tale of a Jewish midwife in 17th century Venice.

howibecameapirateSwashbuckling pirates take to the high seas at Treasure Island. Pirate Boy by Eve Bunting (PB) is an endearing tale of  a mother’s enduring pirateboylove.  How I Became a Pirate (PB) is the story of a boy plucked from the beach and thrust into the world of princessescanbepiratestoopirates, as long as he’s back in time for soccer practice.  A charming story by Melinda Long.   Don’t forget that Princesses Can Be Pirates Too! as this picture book by Christi Zellerhoff reminds us!  For older readers try the treasureislandflintandsilverclassic Treasure Island (MR) by Robert Louis Stevenson.  For the story before the story adult readers can check out Flint and Silver: A Prequel to Treasure Island by John Drake.

At the north end of the Strip join in the fun at Circus Circus!  Add to the entertainment withshowmustgoon oliviasavesthecircusOlivia Saves the Circus by Ian Falconer (PB).   When all the performers are out sick with ear infections it is up to Olivia to take over, luckily she knows how to do it all in true Olivia style!  Kate Klise’s charming story of Sir Sidney’s Circus kicks off the Three-Ring Rascals series with The nightcircuswaterforelephantsShow Must Go On! (ER-3).   Adults can delve into a mature take on the circus in The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

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Reading is reading…

mangelou With the recent passing of American poet and storyteller Maya Angelou many of her quotes surfaced across the internet.  Her words are powerful and empowering.  It is this quote that I find myself turning to often as my children are becoming independent readers.

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”

We never actually taught Shakespeare to read.  By the time she was in first grade she was just reading, a lot.  HuskyGirl adamantly refused to even try reading until her first grade teacher, a goddess of education for so many reasons, said, “Leave her alone, I’ll take care of it.” Sure enough, by the end of the year she was devouring the original unabridged version of Heidi all on her own.  When in doubt you’ll find both of them in their rooms deep in their latest book.

But not Weezy-Jean.  Oh, she can read.  Well above grade level in fact.  But she doesn’t like to do it.  Perhaps it is just that she is a purely social creature and needs others to feed off of.  Or  she can’t stand the silence.  When she does read, we’ll hear her reading aloud to herself!  We have yet to find her “thing” either.  So choosing books for her to work through is really tough!

But then I remember Maya Angelou’s quote.  And I recall my sister.  You see in elementary school I was a voracious reader, living by the motto “A Nancy Drew A Day”.  My sister, not so much.  Until she discovered Sweet Valley High books.  By following the adventures of twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield in their Fiat convertible she made “a habit of reading”.  My parents encouraged her to read for enjoyment.  Because in the end that’s what reading should be, fun.  As an adult she is a avid reader, more diversely well-read than I’ll ever be.

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”

Forming habits, good or bad ones, takes time.  In order to really excel you need to practice.  Reading is really no different.  For a period of time Weezy-Jean was really interested in The Rainbow Fairies books.  These were the bane of my existence.  I really thought my brain was going to explode if I had to read another one aloud.  My husband and I would battle to the death just to get out of being the reader.  Each story is EXACTLY THE SAME as the rest in the series.  Just change the name of the fairy.  So why are they so popular?  Why do they, and their counterparts, span series that fill rotating racks at the library?  Because they allow kids to practice reading.  Yes, the stories are often regurgitated nonsense.  But our kids are looking for comfort and familiarity as they practice the skills they need to be successful readers.

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”

So I take a different approach with Weezy-Jean.  When we go to the library to load up on books she can pick whatever she wants.  I let her browse, and select based on her desires at that moment.  No longer do I suggest based on the merit, “Your sister loved this book….”.  I want her to create a habit of reading and that means she needs to enjoy it, on whatever level that is.  Which is why for several months this winter her nightstand was littered with Adventures of MaryKate and Ashley books.   She will learn great literature, work on comprehension, have guided reading, and be assessed at school.  In our house, reading is reading, and any book that you enjoy reading, helps you practice reading, and makes reading FUN is welcome here.

Thank you Dr. Angelou for reminding me of that


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