6 January 2018

My son chose the first book for us to read together as a family in 2018:  Pee-Wee Harris on the Trail, by Percy Keese Fitzhugh.

Pee Wee Harris On the Trail

Back in November, after finishing Samuel Clemens’ The Prince and the Pauper, my son chose the first book in the series, Pee-Wee Harris, for Bedtime Story Time.  The first of three 1920s era Pee-Wee Harris books that I purchased from the auction site Everything But the House , it told the story of a Boy Scout, Pee Wee Harris, and his summertime adventures in rural New Jersey with his adopted girl-cousin Pepsy.  And while the book didn’t focus as much on scouting as I thought it would, since it was published with approval of the B.S.A. and featured the very boy scout that had starred for years in his own comic strip in the Boys’ Life magazine, it was still a worthwhile read, namely because it was humorous to my own thirteen-year-old boy scout.

The second book in the series, which we are reading now, appears to be a bit better written and the humor a bit less forced and a little less dated than that found in the first volume.  And although it continues to make much about Pee-Wee’s  insatiable appetite, vivid imagination and capacity for thoroughly bungling any situation, it is clear that the virtues of the scouts (trustworthiness, loyalty, helpfulness, friendliness, courteousness, kindness, obedience, cheerfulness, thriftiness, bravery, cleanness and  reverence) and of good citizens, in general, are being championed throughout.

So while the book isn’t an award-winner and in many ways is a relic of days long past, I think it is shaping up to be a real fine comedy of errors with a message for children that should never go out of style.  A good place to start in 2018.


4 November 2017

I am grateful for Bedtime story time.

I wrote about this nearly-nightly practice a few months back.  (See Bedtime Story Time: Detectives in Togas)  Ongoing for practically the last 12 years, it is the close of our day.

In October, it was my turn to choose, so after reading a few poems and short stories by Edgar Allen Poe and other Weekly Readers from my own childhood to get us in the Halloween spirit, I picked up an old family copy of Samuel Clemens’ The Prince and the Pauper. 

Prince and the Pauper2

Set in medieval England, it is the story of two boys of vastly differing circumstances, who are so identical in appearance that when they meet and decide on a whim to dress as the other, fate intervenes; whereby the pauper becomes a prince and the prince becomes a pauper.  Misidentified and driven from the castle, the prince is caused to suffer injustice, derision and deprivation at the hands of the world, finding no one to really believe his claim of royalty.  Likewise, the pauper, who is believed to be suffering from a mental malady when he claims to be other than the prince, is trapped in the castle and must come to terms with the inequities of court life, customs and the law of the land.  A tale about the folly of judging others solely on the basis of appearance, the brutality and at times absurdity of the law, as well as the virtue of mercy, its message is as relevant today as it was when it was first penned almost 140 years ago.  It is a story worthy of sharing.

For Bedtime story-time, for cuddles at the close of the day, for stories whose messages are ageless, I am truly thankful.

24 September 2017

Percy Jackson Books

Bedtime Story Time is still going strong even though I have failed to post about a single book that we’ve read since February, and there have been many:  Kathy Appelt and Alison McGhee’s Maybe a Fox; Marguerite Henry’s 1949 Newberry Medal winning book King of the Wind; Henry Winterfeld’s Mystery of the Roman Ransom, the sequel to the book Detectives in Togas that I wrote about on February 21, 2017; Miriam E. Mason’s A Pony Called Lightning; and the first three books in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series.

In August, the boy child chose the 4th Percy Jackson book, The Battle of the Labyrinth, for story time, and then, upon its conclusion, coaxed his sister into choosing the fifth and final book, The Last Olympian.  With only half of the chapters remaining, we are certainly going to miss the adventures, antics and attitudes of the characters. Percy, Annabeth, Grover, Thalia, Nico, Tyson, and a host of Gods, Goddesses, monsters, mortals and demigods have made this series truly memorable.

A few years ago, my son began reading the first book, The Lightning Thief, and because I AM THAT MOTHER, I read it too.  Afterwards, he and I  both devoured the other four books in the series, watched the two movies that corresponded loosely with the first two books, and read Rick Riordan’s other Percy Jackson titles Greek Gods and Greek Heroes.  To say we enjoyed them all would be an understatement.  My son even got an orange Camp Half-Blood tee-shirt that he wore proudly in his school’s character parade and for nearly every week thereafter until he sadly outgrew it.

I don’t know exactly what the allure is, since we are now almost finished reading the entire collection for a second time, only this time aloud and with my daughter, but I think it has much to do with the wit and the sarcasm of the author.  The mythology of the Greek Gods, with all of their bad behavior and familial intrigue in tow, as well as the tales of their oft-times doomed half-human progeny have new life breathed into them.   There is nothing dry here, just a rollicking progression of mishaps and monsters and monstrous mishaps that pique your interest for the ancient myths and give you a hearty chuckle on almost each and every page.

These are great books to read aloud, especially if you have a penchant for voices, since there are many, many characters that you will have to give voice to.  But the benefit of all of these characters is that there is someone, or in many cases some thing, that everyone can relate to: the nature lovers, the book nerds, the underdogs, the neglected, the handicapped, the special and on and on and on.  My daughter’s favorites are the studious Annabeth and the artsy Rachel Dare.  Mine and my son’s, the simple but crafty one-eyed Tyson.  My husband’s–well he is not presently here to ask!

We are cheering on the half-bloods as the final battle against the Titans draws close.  And even though we don’t know if the heroes will be able to stop Kronos, or if the Titans will once again reign supreme (well my son and I do), reading the books in the evening before bed has certainly slowed time down for my family, even if just for a short while, and given us many nice memories; and for that, I am and will always be eternally grateful to Mr. Riordan, Kronos and the fighting demi-gods of Camp Half-Blood.

Bedtime Story Time: Detectives in Togas


I Read.

I read fiction.  I read biographies and autobiographies.   I read history.  I read science.  I read for learning.  I read for pleasure.  I read for enlightenment.

I read to my children.

It is where I am in life, still holding on to every moment of mothering I can,  including  bedtime story time, knowing that one day soon one of my double-digit children is going to realize that cuddling with Mom at the close of the day is no longer cool.  Propped on pillows, cuddled under covers we travel the world, and out of it, fifteen to twenty pages at a time.  Mount Olympus, Treasure Island, England, Japan, America. Ancient times and modern.  Make believe and real.  We each take turns choosing a book and sharing an adventure together.

I remember my father doing the same, although by the time I was my children’s present age, this ritual had ended.  Tucked in close, under a canopy, in a room papered with fantastic doll houses, I listened to the melodic drawl of my father’s old southern dialect reading picture books about wild things, talking rabbits and monkeys counting stars.  It was enchanting, a soothing balm.  Body tired, eyes heavy, consciousness floating between reality and dream, his words droned, the comfort settled.

Bed-time story time is a memory worthy of re-creating until time ticks it out, until it is no longer routine, no longer habit, no longer expected, no longer knowingly missed.  Soon my children will depart my bed to begin their own night-time routines, but while and for as long as it lasts, it was, is and forever will be my prelude to sweet dreams.

* * *

Last week, when it was my turn to choose, I chose Henry Winterfeld’s 1956 mystery Detectives in TogasMostly, it was my pick because it had just arrived in the mail, a discarded treasure from the Adriance Memorial Library in Poughkeepsie, New York.  Also, because the children are studying the history of Ancient Rome, and I thought it would be informative and perhaps fun to read a book set in that period.

The book  features seven young classmates under the tutelage of a Greek professor that they not-so-lovingly call Xantippus after Xanthippe, the nagging wife of Socrates.  After one of the students is expelled for etching Caius is a dumbbell on his tablet, a series of quick-step actions occur–an evening assault on Xantippus and the defamation of the Temple of Minerva– that seem to also have been committed by the same expelled student.  In order to clear his name and keep him from a terrible fate, the boys race to figure out who actually committed the crime.

Since I also like to have a reference book or other resource handy when reading fiction, I chose David Macaulay’s 1974 pen-and-ink illustrated book City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction to accompany “Detectives”.  It is a beautifully illustrated book of the planning and construction of a typical, albeit fictionalized, Roman city.  So when the boys are traipsing around Rome trying to figure out whodunit, we will be able to get a better visual understanding of the city layout and buildings in which the story unfolds.

The boy child chooses next.  I wonder what adventure awaits…