Embracing Baking

Weezy-Jean was home sick for two days this week.  After a dose of ibuprofen, two American Girl movies, and an epic Skip-Bo tournament, I relented and we spent an afternoon watching Food Network.  I’m the first to admit that I’m not a good cook, nor do I enjoy cooking.  I do, however, love baking.  There is something about measuring, mixing, and a warm oven that calms my spirit.  We watched TV hosts visit diners, make sandwiches, and create culinary masterpieces, and I was inspired to bake.  With no butter in the house (catastrophic!) I took to Pinterest in search of a delectable sweet treat requiring only what we had on hand.  Our valiant attempt – peanut butter honey coconut cookies- taste like paste.  Or what I imagine paste tastes like.  I didn’t want to waste calories trying paste, so I just had another cookie.

The other big news of the week is a huge storm hit the East coast, keeping millions housebound.  Where I live we scoff at the extreme panic that a little snow causes the Mid-Atlantic region.  However, if by some chance I were snowed in all weekend, you can bet I’d be doing two things – baking and reading.

For those stuck at home, regardless the reason, here are some perfect reads to inspire creative confections for bored bakers of all ages.

mousecookieIf You Give a Mouse a Cookie  by Laura Joffe Numeroff.  When you give mouse a cookie one thing leads to another.  Before you know it, an afternoon of adventure is behind you, and you are right back where you started.  This charming story is sure to be a favorite in any household!  A reading of this book isn’t complete without whipping up a batch of cookies.  Be sure to check out the other books in the If You Give A… series for culinary inspiration – from muffins & pancakes to cupcakes & donuts!  PB

mimiMimi’s Adventures in Baking Chocolate Chip Cookies by Alyssa Gangeri.  Join Mimi and her Nonni as they follow the perfect recipe to make chocolate chip cookies.  Enjoy the story/recipe book and make your own batch of cookies just like Mimi.  Gangeri, a professional pastry chef, has more baking fun in Mimi’s Adventures In Baking Gingerbread Men and Mimi’s Adventures in Baking Allergy Friendly TreatsPB

cocoCoco: My Delicious Life by Kyla May.  Coco loves baking cupcakes – and saving animals!  With her friends she sponsors a bake sale to save the snails.  Follow along in this easy reader – set as Coco’s diary and filled with graphic art illustrations – to discover how teamwork and friendship go a long way.  Part of the Lotus Lane series. ER-1/2

graceGrace by Mary Casanova.  Part of the American Girl book & doll series. (Grace is the 2015 Girl of the Year).  Grace’s loves to bake and she has big plans for a summer business with her best friends.   Putting her plans on hold seems a small sacrifice since her mother is taking her to Paris – to visit the city of lights and delectable delights! But, when the trip doesn’t go quite as planned, Grace needs to whip up a solution to save her Parisian holiday and her friendships.  Follow Grace as she cooks up more adventure in Grace Stirs it Up and Grace Makes It Great.  ER-2/3

blissBliss by Kathryn Littlewood.  Rosemary’s family runs the local bakery, and their recipes are magical – literally.  When her parents go away they leave Rose in charge to protect the family Cookery Book -but under no circumstances is she allowed to use it.  When mysterious “Aunt Lily” arrives the whole game changes.  One or two little recipes couldn’t hurt, could it?  Continue to follow the magical adventures of the Bliss family in A Dash of Magic and the conclusion to the trilogy, Bite-Sized Magic . MR-4/5

cupcake diariesKatie and the Cupcake Cure by Coco Simon.  The first book in The Cupcake Diaries series introduces readers to Katie, a new middle-schooler struggling to figure out just where she belongs.  When Katie’s best friend seemingly abandons her to be part of a “popular” club it seems as if Katie is doomed to misery and loneliness, until she realizes all she needs is the perfect cupcake to bring a group of new friends together.   Follow aspiring bakers, Katie, Emma, Alexis and Mia as they navigate middle-school and the kitchen together! MR-4

cupcake queenThe Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler.  When Penny’s parents separate she’s forced to relocate from New York City to a small town.  Trying to fit in and make new friends is tough, especially when the popular girl is out to get you.  It’s not all bad, though.  There are things Penny really likes about her new home of Hog’s Hollow, like working in her mother’s cupcake bakery, the couple good friends she’s met, and there is that cute boy who has definite potential.  But just as Penny finds her footing she’s faced with a decision that could change everything  – and ruin the life she’s built in Hog’s Hollow forever.  YA -12up

baking blindThe Art of Baking Blind: A Novel by Sarah Vaughan.  Back in the mid-1960’s Kathleen Eaden was the queen of American dessert baking.  Decades later five unique individuals, unlikely compatriots, are forced together in a competition meant to crown the next reigning monarch of the amateur baking world.  They’ve all arrived with something to prove, demons to battle, and a desire to create perfection in the kitchen.   The lessons they learn along the way aren’t just about how to create an ideal dessert, but about how to live your best ordinary life. MBS

cake therapistThe Cake Therapist by Judith Fetrig.  Renowned pastry chef Claire O’Neil is finally coming home.  With her life in shambles it seems only right to return and start her own bakery.  For Claire it isn’t just about the delicious desserts – she can actually taste feelings – and has an intimate knowledge of how to put this skill to work, providing people with exactly what they need to heal a broken heart, take a leap of faith, or celebrate a great joy.   Now at home she finds that there are hidden secrets longing to be shared, and perhaps this is the one thing she needs most to heal herself. MBS

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Super Series – Century Quartet

Four kids.  Four cities.  And the fate of the world at stake.

Seemingly brought together by coincidence Harvey, Mistral, Sheng and Elettra discover that they are part of an ancient mystery that must be resolved every hundred years.   If they fail, disaster awaits.  They’ll need each other to survive and succeed – their lives depend on it.  Written by Italian author Pierdomenico Baccalario, this series is filled with history, mystery, action, danger, and friendship and makes for an exciting journey around the globe. MR-5/6

century1Ring of Fire (Century Quartet, Book 1) –  A strange mix-up in hotel reservations bring Harvey from New York, Mistral from Paris and Sheng from Shanghai to Elettra’s family hotel in Rome, where they all have to share a room.  Stranger yet the kids discover they all have the same unique birthday.  Is their meeting really just coincidence?  Then, a mysterious man asks them to take care of a briefcase for him.  But when the mystery man winds up murdered, things take a decidedly sinister turn.  Now there is no going back, for once the four new friends open the briefcase and begin the hunt for the Ring of Fire – a centuries old center of power – they’ll travel throughout Rome’s most secret places on a life or death mission relying on their wits and each other to survive.

century2Century #2: Star of Stone – Reunited in New York the four friends discover that the professor who sent them all over Rome isnt’ done yet.  This time a series of coded postcards provide the clues necessary to send Harvey, Mistral, Elettra and Shang throughout hidden New York City on a quest of the Star of the Stone – another ancient and powerful object.  However, new threats are at every turn and this quest will be anything but easy.

century3Century #3: City of Wind – This time it’s Paris, Mistral’s home turf!  A gift from a friend of Harvey’s father turns out to be the key to unlocking the mystery to yet a third object of power.  The gift, a clock once owned by Napoleon, takes the four friends throughout Paris’ museums and famous churches on a race to discover its hidden secrets.  But this time they’re not alone, and someone sinister is keeping an eye on their every move.

century4Century #4: Dragon of Seas – Across Shanghai the four friends, led by Shang, search for the fourth and final piece of the puzzle to save the world – for at least another century. With only an odd collection of seemingly useless items to help in their quest for the Pearl of the Sea Dragon, the kids begin to rely on strange visions that Shang is having, which lead them throughout the city on their final quest – for they will succeed or surely perish as the danger is the worst they’ve faced yet!

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Super Series – 39 Clues

If your middle reader is looking for high action, intense adventure, and danger at every turn  – all while scouring the globe securing essential information, both for the heroes success, as well as to keep it out of the wrong hands – then this series is sure to please.

The 39 Clues – by Rick Riordan & Various Authors

Amy and Dan Cahill set out on a quest to discover the 39 missing clues that will reveal the true power of the Cahill family – but they aren’t the only branch of the mysterious family searching for answers, and not everyone has noble intentions.  As Amy and Dan travel the globe each mission becomes more dangerous, it becomes less clear who to trust, and their motives are constantly questioned.  Do Amy and Dan want to find the clues or just discover what happened to their parents?  What role do they play in the larger story of the Cahill family history, and what obligation do they have to keep the clues out of the wrong hands?

Initially I loved these books, they were fun, exciting and engaging.   The appeal for middle readers was three-fold – constant action, a distinct lack of adult supervision, and familiar authors who excel at this escapist type of novel.  I was won over by the incredible locales across the globe that the kids visit throughout their quest.  Eventually, though, the repetitive nature and implausibility of the perilous situations Dan and Amy constantly find themselves in wore thin.  (Seriously, how many times can two kids be trapped in a dark cave without any light being chased, attacked, etc.)  However, most middle readers, once they are hooked, will enjoy seeing the series through.  And if they want even more 39 Clues there are additional series, Cahills vs. VespersUnstoppable, and Doublecross for readers to enjoy.

39 clues1The Maze of Bones (39 Clues, No. 1) by Rick Riordan – Author Riordan, known for the Percy Jackson series and The Kane Chronicles kicks off the series with Dan and Amy choosing between a million dollars or embarking on the quest for the 39 clues.   As they meet the other branches of the family,  the search for the clues becomes more sinister.  Danger and mystery await as Dan and Amy travel to Philadelphia and then Paris chasing after the first clue.

39clues2One False Note (The 39 Clues, Book 2) by Gordon Korman – The competition between the warring factions of the family gets fierce as Amy, Dan, and their au pair chaperon Nellie lead chase through Austria in the second book, this one authored by Korman who is known for the Swindle and Island series.

39clues3The Sword Thief (The 39 Clues, Book 3) by Peter Lerangis – Amy and Dan discover more clues that lead them through Japan and Korea where an unlikely alliance could be their undoing.  This installation is authored by Lerangis, who is known for the Seven Wonders series and the Spy X books.


39clues4Beyond the Grave (The 39 Clues , Book 4) by Jude Watson – Egypt is full of danger and mystery as Dan and Amy face betrayal and find themselves trapped in their hunt for the next clue.  Author Watson has written extensively for the Star Wars series.


39clues5The Black Circle (The 39 Clues , Book 5) by Patrick Carman – A mysterious telegram from someone known only as “NRR” lead Dan and Amy to Russia where they infiltrate the Lucian base to get the next clue.  Carman also authored the Floors stories, a PBP favorite.


39clues6In Too Deep (The 39 Clues, Book 6) by Jude Watson – Amy and Dan head to Australia to follow their parents trail on the hunt for the 39 Clues.  Being so close to their parents memory is painful for Amy and her clouded vision leads to betrayal and the loss of an ally. Will they all survive?

39clues6reallyThe Viper’s Nest (The 39 Clues, Book 7) by Peter Lerangis – Danger hits close to home in South Africa, sending Amy and Dan running from the police.  That’s the least of their problems as they discover a final, devastating secret about their family branch that could change everything.


39clues8The Emperor’s Code (The 39 Clues, Book 8) by Gordon Korman – What happens when you think you are on the right side, but it turns out you might not be?  Amy faces her toughest challenge yet when she and Dan are separated in China -does she go after Dan or the clue?  How can Dan and Amy live up to who they thought they were, or who they want to be?

39clues9Storm Warning (The 39 Clues, Book 9) by Linda Sue Park – As they explore the Bahamas and Jamaica, Dan and Amy realize that they are finally about to confront the mysterious man who’s been tracking their movements throughout the search for the clues.  However, this meeting uncovers more secrets, and reveals the truth about the Madrigal branch of the family-one Amy and Dan never could have expected. Park is also the author of the remarkable A Long Walk to Water, which chronicles the stories of two Sudanese children.

39clues10Into the Gauntlet (The 39 Clues, Book 10) by Margaret Peterson Haddix – In England it is up to Dan and Amy to finish this, once and for all.  They are tired of playing by someone else’s rules and determinedly vow to end the hunt for 39 Clues their way.  Do they have enough strength to finally put all the pieces together and come out victorious?  Or do they just want to come out alive?  Haddix is well known for The Shadow Children Series and her The Missing Collection.

39clues11Vespers Rising (The 39 Clues, Book 11) Authors Rick Riordan, Peter Lerangis, Gordon Korman and Jude Watson come together to weaving four different stories, each by one author,  about the history of the Cahill family and their enemies, the Vespers.  While this book ties some loose ends together, it also leaves plenty of room and raises enough questions to introduce the next series The 39 Clues Cahills vs. Vespers.

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A Christmas Carol

I’ve always adored the timeless, enduring message of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Perhaps it stems from my youth, when my parents would take us to the theater to see the annual stage production. Or perhaps it was my academic focus on 19th century history and literature as a college student that bred my fondness for Scrooge’s reformation. Maybe it’s that I cherish the sound of laughter and togetherness watching the The Muppet Christmas Carol with my girls. Whatever the motivation, A Christmas Carol has cemented itself as a necessary staple of our holiday season. Through Scrooge we are reminded that Christmas isn’t about things, that sharing is more wonderful than getting, family matters most, it is never too late to turn over a new leaf, and that forgiveness is easily given.   I adore many of the film versions, from the aforementioned Muppets (Gonzo is spectacular as narrator, and Miss Piggy does a perfect Mrs. Cratchit), to Scrooged, a commentary on ’80’s indulgence (with a fantastic Bill Murray), to the terrifying iterations of Scrooge as done by Patrick Stewart or George C. Scott.  However, I recommend giving the written story a try – from the original work, to adaptations for younger readers, to inventive interpretations –  curl up by the fire and experience the true magic of Dicken’s classic tale.

christmascarolPBA Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Illustrated by Brett Helquist – This picture book version of the beloved tale of Scrooge and his midnight apparitions is a wonderful addition to every holiday library and a perfect introduction to the story for younger readers.  It would make a wonderful holiday tradition to gather round the fire to read this aloud together as a family. (PB/RA)

mth christmas carolMagic Tree House #44: A Ghost Tale for Christmas Time by Mary Pope Osborne – Jack and Annie are transported to Victorian England where they meet up with writer Charles Dickens.  Although he appears to have everything he needs, Dickens has secrets about his past that haunt him.  Can Jack and Annie save the beloved writer of a Christmas Carol?  For more information on Dickens London check out Rags and Riches: Kids in the Time of Charles Dickens the non-fiction companion book by Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce.  (ER-1/3)

cracked classicsCracked Classics: Humbug Holiday by Tony Abbott – When Frankie & Devin need a little boost with their English homework they usually get banished to the library where, to their surprise, they are frequently zapped into the books they are supposed to be reading.  This time they are in Victorian England where they come face to face with the grumpiest grouch they’ve ever encountered.  Can they help soften Scrooge’s cold heart and make sure he listens to the visiting spirits? (MR-4)

christmas carolA Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Illustrated by Yelena Bryksenkova – A beautifully illustrated edition of the classic story of Ebeneezer Scrooge, a miser who, through the midnight visitations of three spirits, learns the true meaning of Christmas and discovers it isn’t too late to embrace the joy of the season and change his fate.  (MR 6+/YA/RA)

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Super Series – Agatha: Girl of Mystery

It’s easy to see why she pops up on nearly every page, because she’s traveling the world solving mysteries on almost every continent.  The very definition of a “super series”…..

Agatha: Girl of Mystery by Sir Steve Stevenson

Twelve year-old Agatha Mistery is called on by her cousin Dash to help him solve mysteries and complete assignments from his prestigious academy – the Eye International Spy School.  Jet-setting around the world, Agatha uses her remarkable photographic memory, Dash’s cool spy school gadgets, and the help of her intrepid former-boxer butler, Watson to gather clues and solve crimes.  Exploring locations across the globe – from Egypt to Scotland to Niagara Falls – Agatha tackles curses, heists, treasures and murder.  This exciting series keeps readers turning the pages while introducing diverse and exciting locales around the world. ER/3-RA

agathamystery1The Curse of the Pharaoh #1   In this debut story Agatha is off to Egypt to recover a missing artifact from an archaeological dig in the Valley of the Kings.


agathamystery2The Pearl of Bengal #2  Agatha heads to India to discover the truth behind the theft of the Pearl of Bengal.  With the help of Dash, Watson and her Uncle Raymond, a wildlife photographer, Agatha is sure to solve the crime.

agathamystery3The King of Scotland’s Sword #3  A missing sword leads Agatha to Scotland where she tackles mysterious curses and frightening ghosts to solve the mystery.


agathamystery4The Heist at Niagara Falls #4  A jewel heist takes Agatha to Niagara Falls where she and Dash encounter Canada’s most notorious thief.  Can they take on this mastermind criminal and return the jewels to their rightful owner?

agathamystery5The Eiffel Tower Incident #5 The stakes are higher in the city of lights….this time it’s murder.  Agatha and Dash rush to Paris to solve the mysterious murder of a Russian Diplomat.  As they travel the streets they only have the clue “Red Rose” to guide them in catching the culprit.

agathamystery6The Treasure of the Bermuda Triangle #6  A missing gold Mayan calendar leads Agatha on another adventure, but this time solving the mystery isn’t the only challenge- the Bermuda Triangle has it’s own mysteries and dangers that Agatha and Dash must contend with.

agathamystery7The Crown of Venice #7  – The Crown of Venice is missing!  This famous ancient artifact was stolen during carnival and everyone is a suspect!


agathakenyaThe Kenyan Expedition #8  – A rare giraffe has disappeared and it is up to Agatha and Dash to help find it.  Luckily they have a cousin who is a safari expert who can team up to help solve the mystery!


agathahollywoodThe Hollywood Intrigue #9  – Someone is trying to sabotage the Hollywood movie set for the new action film, Fatal Error.  It is up to Agatha and Dash to save the movie, and save the day!

agathanorwegianThe Crime on the Norwegian Sea #10  – It is hard work solving mysteries, so it makes sense that Agatha deserves a vacation!   But there is no rest for our intrepid detective, or her cousins!  They have to stop a spy, steal secret documents and prevent a murder – can they do it without getting caught?

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The Third Sighting of Nellie Bly

I am a strong believer in signs.  If something comes into your sphere take note, for it is likely meant to guide you towards your destiny.  Ok, so mildly melodramatic.  It could be that once I hear or see something my subconscious is more aware of it and takes note.  But what fun is that?  I’d rather interpret it as signs, a nudge to take action, or even fate.

Today I came across the third (yes, the third time seals the deal for me) reference to Nellie Bly in the past couple weeks and I knew it was fated that I post about this intrepid-journalist turned world-traveler.  I admit, although I had heard the name before, I knew little of Ms. Bly’s adventures.  The first mention of her was on a educational television program that provides insightful historical anecdotes.  Ok, fine.  I watch Drunk History religiously.   It’s as close to reality TV as I get, and it’s for history geeks!   So this is where Nellie Bly, and her counterpart Elizabeth Bisland, first crossed my path.  Then, just a few days later I attended the Rochester Children’s Book Festival, where author/illustrator Matt Phelan was signing books.  When I came to his table what should I discover, but his graphic novel Around the World– which depicts the story of Nellie Bly!  Hmmm…twice in one week?  Coincidence perhaps, but I wasn’t ready to dismiss her just yet.  And today, a post in my Facebook feed from A Mighty Girl (one of my favorite sites to follow) heralded the anniversary of  the start of Nellie Bly’s around the world trip, which she began on November 14, 1889.

Clearly it was meant to be.  I encourage you to check out these inspiring stories about Nellie Bly,  a 24 year-old female journalist who, over 125 years ago, took on the challenge of beating Jules Verne’s fictional journey Around the World in 80 Days.

daringnellieThe Daring Nellie Bly: America’s Star Reporter – Author Bonnie Christensen shares the story of adventurous and groundbreaking journalist Nellie Bly, as she reinvents the rules to become one of the most famous and influential investigative journalist in history.  (ER-2/RA)

aroundphelanAround the World – Matt Phelan’s intriguing graphic novel recounts three amazing journeys around the world – all more than 100 years ago!  Travel the high seas with Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail around the world alone, hop on a bicycle with Thomas Stevens as he pedals his way across the globe,  and follow journalist Nellie Bly as she takes on a record-breaking challenge and becomes a celebrity of the times.  (MR-5)

blyinvestigativeNellie Bly and Investigative Journalism for Kids: Mighty Muckrakers from the Golden Age to Today – Ellen Mahoney brings to life the story of Nellie Bly, and her exploits as one of the first investigative journalists in the United States.  Highlighting Bly’s influence, and following the evolution of this new form of journalism and it’s headline makers up to modern day, this is an excellent introduction to Bly and her counterparts that changed journalism forever.  (MR- 5)

72 days blyAround the World in Seventy-Two Days and Other Writings – The collected works of Nellie Bly, including the travelogue of her unchaperoned journey around the world in 1889. (YA+)



blybislandEighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World – by Matthew Goodman. Follow the voyages of journalists Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland as they attempt to best Jules Verne’s hero Phileas Fogg and journey around the world in less than 80 days. Traveling in opposite directions, the two female journalists, pioneers of their day, keep readers at home enthralled with tales of their exploits and discoveries, as they journeyed through foreign lands competing against each other, and time, to be the first to return to New York.  (YA+)

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Starting Super Series

The newest Paperback Pigeon page is found under Booklists and it is all about Super Series.  Over then next few months there will be quick posts adding the best series, for all ages of world travelers.  Through these books readers jet-set around the globe – discovering culture, history, art, architecture and cuisine – alongside the favorite characters they know and love.

A Walk In Series- by Salvatore Rubbino

With three titles in this series the youngest readers visit the highlights of New York, London and Paris alongside a beloved adult.  Enjoy a virtual vacation to see the iconic sights, while also soaking in the delightfully unique atmosphere of each location via charming illustrations.  A fun and fact filled adventure awaits on every walk. (PB)

walknewyorkA Walk in New York – From the Empire State building to the Statue of Liberty discover the wonders at every turn in New York City!


walklondonA Walk in London – Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London are just a couple of the sights you’ll find in this tour of London!


walkparisA Walk in Paris – La Tour Eiffel to Notre Dame – the heart of French history, culture and cuisine is discovered here!

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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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Graveyard Ruminations

Down the street from my elementary school, hidden behind a ring of trees, on the grounds of a golf course, stand three simple gravestones.  Weathered by time, they are illegible and unmoveable.   We visited them once, as a class, when learning about the early settlement of our town.  And so began my fascination with cemeteries.   I love looking at them from the highway, stopping in small towns, or historic battlefields.  Old cemeteries are best, ones with tilted stones half buried in earth, tabletops washed free of writing by centuries of wind and rain, elaborate mausoleums bearing family names holding old secrets.   Discovering headstones with tragically short lives elicits sadness, and a grateful heart for the blessings of 21st century medicine.  Come across a particularly long life to wonder at all that soul bore witness to, as time marched on.  I’m especially fond of the park-like setting and rolling hills of Mt. Hope Cemetery where, one day in early November, women come to place their “I Voted” sticker upon the headstone of Susan B. Anthony in thanks, and as a reminder never to take the hard-won right for granted.   For cemeteries are places to honor, remember, grieve, but also to connect us with the lives of those who have gone before us.susanbgrave

This time of year we associate graveyards with the spookie and scary – home to the hostile undead looking to haunt those careless enough to cross through the gates after dark.  There are many frightening tales to enhance this image of cemeteries -but there are also plenty that show a softer side of these final resting places.  Check out the unusual spin these great reads take on the traditional graveyard tale.

43 cemetery roadDying to Meet You (43 Old Cemetery Road) by Kate Klise – When Ignatius B. Grumply moves in to 43 Cemetery Road he presumes it is abandoned, but to his surprise, and frustration, it is occupied by eleven-year old Seymour Hope- and a ghost named Olive C. Spence.  This delightful epistolary novel tells how very different people can come together, opening their eyes and hearts to become a family.   A riveting page-turner, it leaves you wanting more – luckily the series continues in Over My Dead BodyTill Death Do Us BarkThe Phantom of the Post OfficeGreetings from the Graveyard Hollywood, Dead Ahead, and The Loch Ness Punster(MR-4/5)

graveyard bookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – Bod Owens hasn’t had a typical childhood.  When his family is murdered the toddler crawls to the graveyard where he is taken in by the resident spirits who raise him, albeit unconventionally, as part of their family.   Things begin changing when Bod questions the world outside the graveyard and where he fits between the living and the dead.  Dangers lurk outside the gates for Bod as the man who murdered his family is out to finish the job. (MR -5/6)  

spotted dogThe Spotted Dog Last Seen by Jessica Scott Kerrin – Derek was sick the day the 6th graders signed up for their community service requirement, so he’s assigned the least desirable project – care and maintenance of the cemetery.  Not only does it sound boring, but Derek carries his own grief from a childhood accident that took the life of his friend.  Surprisingly the lessons and work at the graveyard turn out to be interesting, and a secret mystery discovered in the pages of a book leads Derek and his new friends to uncover the truth about the past – and help him come to terms with the tragedy of his childhood.  (MR -5)

graveyard girlGraveyard Girl by Anna Myers -A haunting historical fiction novel set during the yellow-fever epidemic that, during the summer of 1878, ravaged Memphis, TN.  Eli’s father has fled, unable to handle the loss of Eli’s mother and sister to the disease that has been raging throughout the city.  It is left to Eli to bury them at Elmwood Cemetery, a place hauntingly busy as evidenced by the constant ringing of the bell by the Graveyard Girl.  Just a bit older than Eli, the Graveyard Girl has nursed her father through the fever, but as he’s still too weak, and she has taken over the duties of recording the dead and tolling the bell for each soul lost.  It is through the Graveyard Girl that Eli learns to find strength to go on and the hope to keep living. (MR-5/6)

This October wander through your local graveyard or, for the more ambitious, take a trip to visit one of these remarkable American cemeteries.  Though I highly recommend daylight hours, because it is awfully close to Halloween and you never know who you might meet.

Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia – Set just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC this hallowed military burial ground located on the previous estate of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is a sobering reminder of the sacrifice of our nation’s military.  The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and President John. F. Kennedy’s grave are highlights of this extensive burial ground still in use.

Gettysburg National Cemetery , Gettysburg, Pennysylvania – The first national burial ground for the military dead of the Civil War.  It was at this cemetery’s dedication that President Abraham Lincoln gave his heartfelt 3-minute Gettysburg address.

Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia – Known for its Southern Gothic architecture, Bonaventure is hauntingly beautiful and inspiring.

St Louis Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, Louisiana –  The historic, unique, above-ground mausoleum cemetery only encompasses approximately one block in downtown New Orleans, but holds thousands of souls.  Due to new regulations visitors must be part of a paid tour group to visit the cemetery grounds.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California –  Part cemetery, part cultural events showcase, Hollywood Forever is the final resting place for some of some of the entertainments industries most famous names.  Visitors can see the burial sites for Johnny Ramone, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. & Jr. and  Cecil B. DeMille.  Or take in a concert at the Masonic Lodge, a performing art hall inside the cemetery.  This is truly a unique graveyard – as only Hollywood could do it!

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