Monday, January 31, 2011

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories

Olivia -my seven year old daughter- has recently gotten into Nancy Drew mysteries in a big way. It started with her asking if there were any books she could read that were a little "spooky". "You know... something kind of mysterious that will scare me a little, but not give me nightmares." Nancy Drew was the best I could come up with at the time. She's read five books in a week and a half, and has two more to go from our current library stack. I asked her the other day what she would tell other people who were thinking about reading the books. Olivia said (Mom typing furiously while she talked):
"It's fun to read about what happens to Nancy and her friends. You don't know what's going to happen, and that makes it feel spooky and exciting. You start getting interested in the story right away, and I like how unexpected things happen. I have read four [now five] Nancy Drew books already, and am I'm excited to read the others. My favorites so far are The Clue in the Jewel Box, The Secret in the Old Attic, and The Clue in the Broken Locket. It is a good series to read if you like mysterious and exciting stories."
  There you have it.
  I remember loving the Nancy Drew books, when I read them as a pre-teen. And they are clean reading, which is why I've allowed Olivia to read them. I think they've held up fairly well over the years, because they are fast paced with interesting (for kids) plots.
  Reading them as an adult...mmmm, not so much. Highly improbable situations, slightly absurd scenes, irritating characters, and -dare I say it- cheesy writing. These books do not cross the boundry into good adult reading, BUT, I don't think it's necessary that they do. While I think a great book remains a great book no matter the age of the person reading it, I also think it's okay that there are books that only the young can appreciate.
Some interesting sites where you can read up on the history of Nancy Drew:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Book Review: The Golly Sisters series by Betsy Byars; illustrated by Sue Truesdell

We discovered the Golly Sisters books by Betsy Byars at our local library. And we've checked them out a LOT! Written in the 1980's and early 1990's, these books are a delight.

Meet the Golly Sisters: two singing, dancing, thoroughly lovable, slightly dim-witted sisters traveling west in their covered wagon, who love putting on shows for people in the towns they pass through. They get into one misadventure after another.

I think the antics of the two sisters really resonates with my girls, because it reflects the rivalry and love that real sisters have. And Sue Truesdell's whimsical, funny illustrations fit the text perfectly. These books make my six year old laugh out loud and come running to share passages and even whole chapters with me. They are great fun for reading aloud to your non-readers, too.

Published by HarperCollins Publishers. Later versions list them as a reading level 3.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pa's Fiddle Project Based on Laura Ingalls Wilder's Books

  The Little House on the Prairie books are a favorite of all who've read them. They're certainly a favorite at our house. I was introduced to them through my first grade teacher reading Little House in the Big Woods aloud to the class. A few years later, I read the whole series myself. Twice. In a row. A year (or so) ago, I introduced them to my own girls and they love them, too. One of the things I love about them is the way music plays such an integral role in their family life. In reading through the series with my girls -we just finished By the Shores of Silver Lake- we have often lamented the fact that we can't sing some of the songs that we come across. And we have discussed how wonderful it would be if someone compiled all those songs and made a CD, so we could hear what they sound like.
  A month ago, I was browsing on Amazon, contemplating getting the audio book versions of the series. They are fabulously read by Cherry Jones. (We have borrowed them quite a few times from the Library, but some of the library versions are so damaged they don't play properly.) Anyway, I was browsing the Little House audio books on Amazon -I put "Laura Ingalls Wilder" in the search engine- and was scrolling down when I came across this:

Happy Land - Musical Tributes to Laura Ingalls Wilder

  I was beside myself with delight, ordered it on the spot, and eagerly awaited the CD. I am beyond thrilled, and it has become the new listening favorite. The song versions are such a treat to listen to; all the performances were amazing. The songs include (with the artist in parentheses):
  • The Girl I left Behind Me (Jep Bisbee)
  • The Girl I Left Behind Me (Pat Enright)
  • Sweet By and By (Andrea Zohn)
  • The Blue Juniata (Riders In The Sky)
  • Oh! Susanna (Keith Little)
  • Roll the Old Chariot Along (The Princely Players)
  • Highland Mary (Deborah Packard)
  • Arkansas Traveler/Devil's Dream (Pa's Fiddle Band)
  • Captain Jinks (Riders In The Sky)
  • Oft in the Stilly Night (Deborah Packard & John Mock)
  • The Big Sunflower (Douglas B. Green)
  • Happy Land (Peggy Duncan Singers & Pa's Fiddle Band)
  • Barbara Allen (Deborah Packard)
  • Nelly Was a Lady (Dave Olney)
  • Uncle Sam's Farm (Douglas B. Green)
  • Promised Land (Harpeth Valley Sacred Harp Singers)
  • On Jordan's Stormy Banks (Walnut Grove Church)
  • Bonus Track: The Devil's Dream (Jep Bisbee)

Inside the CD cover is a touching tribute. It reads:
This recording pays tribute to Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) for her efforts to illuminate, explain, and capture the place that music-making once occupied in the family life of ordinary Americans. Embedded in her classic series of eight Little House books are references to 126 songs and tunes. There are parlor songs, stage songs, minstrel show songs, patriotic songs, Scottish and Irish songs, hymns, spirituals, fiddle tunes, singing school songs, play party songs, folk songs, a Child ballad, broadside ballads, Christmas songs, catches and rounds, and references to "cowboy songs" and "Osage war dances." Throughout, the guiding musical spirit is Wilder's father, Charles Ingalls (1835-1902), who missed few opportunities to sing and play his fiddle. And it's "Pa's fiddle," carefully wrapped, stowed in its fiddle-box, and cushioned by pillows, that accompanies the Ingalls family through all its adventures and comes to symbolize the endurance of the family unit in an often wild and threatening frontier world. Indeed, Wilder wrote to her publisher that "(t)here is one thing that will always remain the same to remind people of little Laura's days on the prairie, and that is Pa's fiddle."
  There may be no books in American literature of comparable standing and popularity where America's music is so central to the themes, assumes such a narrative role, and is found in such rich abundance. If Laura Ingalls Wilder penned what have become the books that best express "The Great American family," then the music she referred to in those books has become an important part of that mythology too. This recording is an effort to give new voice and sound to music that has lain silent on the page for far too long. For as Wilder herself wrote, "if you want the spirit of these times, you should [hear] these old songs."
  My family and I want to express our gratitude to Dale Cockrell, professor of Musicology at Vanderbilt University for his wonderful "Pa's Fiddle Project", for bringing these songs back to life, and giving such added depth to our experience of reading the Little House series. A big thanks to the artists (and producers, too), for the outstanding performances on the CDs. 

 Please go here to learn more about Pa's Fiddle project, and to order all three of CDs that have been produced thus far. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Review: "The Giver" by Lois Lowry

From the back cover:
"Jonas's world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community.
  When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back."

I am ashamed to say that The Giver has been on my TBR pile for over a year, being constantly passed over for other books. (I am also ashamed to say that I have never read any of Lois Lowry's books before.) I am heartily sorry I waited so long to read it, because this story Blew. Me. Away! This is a story that grabs you at your emotional center and shakes you to the core. It will scare you, humble you, make your mind reel. This is a book that will stay with you long after you have put it down. It was the 1994 winner of the John Newbery Medal and it is very well deserved. Read it with your kids (or your spouse) and have some great discussions. (See below for some discussion questions I thought of as I read.)
  I will now go back and read all the books she has ever written. (Thus growing my TBR pile by leaps and bounds!) I'll start with the two companion books to The Giver: Gathering Blue and Messenger.

 Some Discussion Questions (for AFTER you read the book): What does it mean to be a part of society? What do people give up to be a part of a society? What do they gain? How does Jonas cope with the knowledge he gains: about society in general and his family in particular? How does training Jonas change The Giver? What would you do if you were the Receiver of Memories? Why do you think The Giver was in pain? How do you think the Society coped after Jonas left?