Sunrise was at 6:04 and sunset will be at 8:23. Just about 10 minutes less daylight than last week. It's dark when I get up, now. There's just the barest bluing of the air, the wind picking up as the sun gets higher, but it is obvious that we're heading into winter. The lilac leaves are turning bright red already, the maple's helicopters are huge and still attached (thank ALL the gods) to the maple, and the blackberries smell like cobbler when it's warm (a very autumnal smell). It's hot, everything is dry, and I come up our hill at the end of the day anticipating the beer at the end of the trip home (which I drink out on the porch next to the bubbler, reading just one more chapter).
Lately, I've been reading a few first and second grade readers, those in-between books that give kids practice reading, give them confidence and then lead them into the whole grand world that is literature. I love the books written for this age and grade level - there are some wonderful stories out there now for kids who are ready to make that leap into longer and more complicated books. And the best thing is that authors are writing these stories without using simple words or simplistic storylines!
Kate DiCamillo's Mercy Watson series is hysterically funny, well-written, has great artwork, and a porcine heroine with an amazing capacity for toast. Kate's now added a new character to her younger reader books, Leroy Ninker (a man who works at a drive-in movie theater) and his horse Maybelline. Well, when the story begins, Leroy has boots, a hat and a lasso, but no horse! Leroy Ninker Saddles Up is the story of how Leroy meets and becomes friends with Maybelline, a four-toothed horse with a love of beautiful words, especially those directed at her.
Leroy Ninker Saddles Up is funny and made me tear up at the end. It's a book filled with angst and fear, great love and joy, a wonderful ending, big words, and complicated feelings. The thing I liked best about the book were the words used: Solemn, Exceptionally, Emboldened, Concept...wonderful phrases like "purple mountains", "rue and regret", "take fate in your hands and wrestle it to the ground"...Many of the words can be figured out from their context and once learned will be remembered forever. I just love that Ms. DiCamillo doesn't write down to an age, she writes the reader up to a new level. (Ages 5-10, Candlewick Press.Available this month, August! $12.99.)
In this, the 6th, I think, in the series, Alvin and his family go visit his grandparents in Beijing. Very funny, very realistic, Alvin is worried about everything, again. He can't go up and down in the elevator, loses his dad's passport, won't go to the Great Wall... and yet still prevails, learning so much. The best part was when he could NOT use the public toilets. I really like these books. Alvin is such a sweetheart, he always means to do the right thing, he just doesn't always get there. I loved the part where he and his dad are lost in an alley and they go to a fortune teller. She tells Alvin that he will be married and Alvin freaks, yelling that he won't be getting married and "HISWIFEISGOINGTOBEAHAMSTER!"
The books really appeal to this age group, 6-9, and the experiences will resonate with them. There is a lot of information in these books and a pretty amazing glossary in the back, although the definition of EUNUCH is not included. There's enough artwork to give kids' eyes a break from the text, and the art's pretty funny stuff, too. (Ages 6 and up. Schwartz & Wade, Available now. $15.99)
The classics are still good, too: Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books, Syd Hoff's Danny and the Dinosaur and Who Will be My Friends, Cynthia Rylant's Mr. Putter and Tabby series and the Cobblestreet Cousins series. All of which are probably at your local bookstore on the shelves NOW! No waiting. No online problems, no censorship, you will be able to pre-order and buy whatever books you want from Hachette, Disney and any other publisher you can think of! Who needs the store in the sky when there are so many bookstores waiting for you to be a part of their community of neighbors and ideas?