Tag Archives: children’s books

Comfort Books

11 Sep

I don’t have comfort food. I have comfort books. There are certain books which, if I’m feeling ill or weary, I’ll go to on the shelves. The Chronicles of Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, Harry Potter. (Obviously there’s a theme to my comfort books!) Just the title, “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” makes me feel happy. That book, plus a cup of coffee with just a tad bit of cream…well, what more could a girl ask for?

I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. I had shelves along three walls of my bedroom growing up – not the entire walls, and there were just three shelves, but there were so many books that I sort of grew up in a library. If I sneezed, I knew the Kleenexes were located between C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. It was a handy thing to know.

The living room in the house I grew up in had (surprise!) four walls: one wall had the fireplace, one was a huge sliding glass door out to the deck, one was floor to ceiling windows (and it was a cathedral ceiling, so yeah, a lot of glass) and the last wall was floor to ceiling book shelves.

In other words, my parents had a lot of books.

When it came time for us to move out of that house, the ratio of boxes of books to boxes of everything else was pretty humorous. I’d wager that the ratio was about equal, actually, though I might be wrong. There might have been more boxes of books.

Over the years I have come to follow in my parent’s footsteps. Though, I admit, this hasn’t always been a good thing. Especially when, combined with my husband’s appreciation of the written word, it means that the bookshelves in the playroom (yes, books belong in the playroom) are three-deep, resulting in our Ikea shelving giving way over the summer and revealing a terrible truth: we needed to thin out our library.

And so began a process which is almost done – I say almost because really, it must continue if I’m ever going to buy more books…which of course I am. We started sorting and the piles grew higher and higher: piles for give-away. Piles for the library book sale. Piles for nieces and nephews. As the process went on, it became easier and easier to ditch certain books. You know: the ones that weren’t mine.

But when it came to my books…oy, that wasn’t so easy. I mean, maybe I don’t want to read it ever again, but maybe my kids will someday? And hey, this is a classic, we can’t get rid of this. And my old college anthologies will come in useful someday. You know…when our kids go off to college and maybe find themselves doing research into late 1980’s textbooks…

Okay, okay. I know. I still have some work to do. But for now, the shelves are fixed. The books are neat. Everything fits. And who knows? Maybe when I bring the biggest box of all to the Bookshop in Sioux Falls to sell, they’ll give me so much money for them that I can shop to my heart’s content and get a whole lot of new books? Won’t that be fun?

Trouble is, my husband says that we need to have a new goal of getting rid of one book for every new one we buy.

(Why do you think I kept all those anthologies?)

Okay. Gotta go. I’ve got some book readin’ to do.

The Telling Stone

12 May

Hey! It’s me again. I’ve been writing for a newspaper, creating a radio show, finishing up writing my second book (though the first one still is sitting on the shelf for a few months waiting for me to edit it down yet again) and doing all of the usual things a mom of a 15, 13, and 8 year old does all day. I’m hoping to begin shopping around for a publisher for this second book by autumn.

Obviously, all of my writing and running around hasn’t included much blogging. But here I am for today, at least!

A few years ago I reviewed a book written by my friend, Maureen McQuerry. (You can read that review here.) Today I get to review a second book by Maureen! I know that book reviews by friends are perhaps subject to suspicion. I mean, she’s my friend for a reason and I’d probably like anything she likes, right?

Not necessarily. I have a lot of friends who, if they wrote books, I’d never be able to honestly write my opinion of them because while they may be my friends…they don’t necessarily read and/or write stuff that I’d agree with or enjoy.

But, thankfully, I like Maureen’s book. A lot.

I have always like fantasy books. C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien were some of my favorites. Still are. I also like a lesser-known children’s writer, also British, named Susan Cooper. In fact, for years I regretted the fact that I had not kept my series of Susan Cooper books, The Dark is Rising. Well, turns out, my mom had given them to my sister and she had given them to her daughters and finally, a few years back, I got them back.

Horray!

These books are fantasy, yes, but they’re more myth-based, and less magic-centered. Yes, there’s magic, but it’s not Harry Potter flashy magic, it’s more subtle, more realistic, if that’s possible to say!

Enter Maureen’s Time Out of Time series. Book one, Beyond the Door, came out last year. I enjoyed it as a well-written, entertaining, appropriate-for-kids book. I didn’t LOVE it, but I liked it. It reminded me of the Cooper books, and that felt good.

Then along came it’s sequel, available as of today, The Telling Stone.

This time I loved the book. I tend to like children’s books anyway (the kind kids call “chapter books”), but so often these days there is something in them to hold back my full love. They’re inappropriate in spots, or they’re badly written. This book is neither of those things. (Not that any of Maureen’s books are!)

Here’s my official review. (Yes, I’ve learned to be more succinct since the first review I wrote of her book, The Peculiars as linked above!)

The Telling Stone, while a sequel to Beyond the Door, stands perfectly well on its own. Full of adventure from the start, the story keeps its readers hooked though intrigue, suspense, and compelling characters. I felt like a kid again, sitting in my playhouse reading Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, books which I have gone back to as an adult. The Telling Stone too, will bring me back in the future because it is told by a writer who correctly handles her research. She includes interesting details that don’t overwhelm, has realistic characters and exciting plot twists, all of which prove McQuerry’s powers as an exceptional storyteller. We need more books like this in today’s world!

So there you go. Buy it for yourself. Buy it for your kids or grandkids or neighbor’s kids. Or at least ask your local library to acquire it. Thanks!

And I’ll be back again…hopefully more reliably soon…

Here’s the Amazon link…http://www.amazon.com/Time-out-Book-Telling-Stone/dp/1419714945/ref=pd_sim_14_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=0NJQCF6HPC3GN7PW45J2

The Mystery is Solved

23 Jul

I probably will never be able to pinpoint the exact moment in time that I knew I wanted to become a writer. Nor, for that matter, will I be able to pinpoint the precise reason. All I know is that when I was a kid I loved to read and I want to write books for other kids of that age to help them love reading as well as I did.

There were many places – both real and unreal – that fed my love of reading. Narnia, Middle Earth, Walnut Grove, Prince Edward Island. And there were authors: Susan Cooper, Madeline L’Engle, Enid Blyton, Author Ransome, Elizabeth Goudge. There were characters I fell in love with, and pets, there were styles of writing that I adored, and others that I found irritating or dull. There were turns of phrase, and words too, that changed my vocabulary, causing one friend in college to remark, “Gretchen, you have an entirely different vocabulary than I do.” Which, while untrue in many ways, was, perhaps, tinged with truth. I like to think that I never used those words to sound pretentious (the word I had used in that conversation was “vernacular” – not such a bizarre word, I didn’t think) but, perhaps, without meaning to, I sometimes did…

I recently returned from a wonderful vacation out on Orcas Island, Washington. I’ll post more about that in days to come. But for now, I’ll set the beaches and mountains and reunions aside to tell you about one small incident that occurred on the vacation that made my day…or, rather, my decade. At least in a literary sense.

For about ten years I have been searching for one of my favorite childhood books. Every so often I’d think of it and go to the internet to have a search. Only trouble was, I couldn’t remember the title, let alone the author. I thought the title was “The Mystery of the Hidden Staircase.” But every time I searched for that – or any variety thereof (The Mystery of the Lost Staircase, The Hidden Stairs, The Mysterious Staircase) – my search would come up with Nancy Drew books.

Not what I was looking for.

I even went so far as to inquire from a bookseller once if the book he was selling was set in Quebec and contained chapter titles about staircases. He never responded.

For, you see, those were the two of the four things I remembered about the book. I remembered the setting, I remembered the stairs, I remembered that somehow whistling came into play, and I remembered that the protagonist was a little girl and she solved the mystery of the stairs.

Beyond that I was stumped.

I did hold out one glimmer of hope over the years. My niece. She told me that she had a box of children’s books in storage and that when she could, she’d pull it out for me to look through. Finally the stars aligned and I was in Washington when the book box was available and so was I. Turns out there were actually two boxes. My hopes grew…yet I dared not hold out too much hope…it just seemed too much of a reach to think that they would have held on to that book for so many years.

I opened the first box. Lots of great books!! But not THE book.

Then I opened the second box.

I lifted out a book. Nope. Then set aside a few more, knowing they weren’t IT. Then I took out a gray, thin, hardback book.

The Mystery of Lonsome Manor, by Harriet Evatt.

DSC_0887

My heart began to race. Could it be?

I turned to the Table of Contents. Quickly scanned, my hopes grew.

Then I turned to page one, chapter one. The words, “French Canada” jumped out at me. I flipped a few more pages. An Indian – yes, that sounds familiar, albeit politically incorrect – a sledge, a girl, the old manor house. Suddenly I knew and I shouted out in the middle of my niece’s living room, “This is IT!!!!!”

I didn’t cry. I didn’t hug it to my chest. What I did was stand up from my place on the floor, walk to my purse, put the book in my purse and zip it shut. It rode home with me in my carry-on, not in the large Huggies Diaper box full of books that we checked as luggage.

Filled with books - from the sublime to the absurd.  But all worth the search.

Filled with books – from the sublime to the absurd. But all worth the search.

You may be thinking that I read it as soon as I possibly could.

Nope.

I savored it first. Reveled in the anticipation. I even finished the book I was currently reading first (I was almost done with it) simply because I loved the feeling of KNOWING I had it. I even let my daughter start reading it on the plane.

And then, the afternoon of our first day home, I began to read. I finished it before bed.

And no, I was not disappointed.

Oh, it’s a little politically incorrect, as I mentioned, and it’s a wee bit old-fashioned (it’s copywrite is 1962) and it’s very abrupt in its mystery-solving (no prolonged searches or plot twists), but it was simple and sweet and a wee bit exciting and definitely a little mysterious.

I love it.

And that’s why I write. So that someone, someday, when he or she is 43 and wracking their minds for a good book for their daughter to read, or desperately searching for that book they loved as kids, will think of my book.

And be glad.

No Man – or Girl – is an Island

26 Mar

I have been struck anew, this past week, over the tenderheartedness of my two daughters. Though, to be sure, their emotions are shown in different ways.

Boo, age 6, was watching The Lion King the other day. She came up to me, scared, but dry-eyed, when Mufasa the king was thrown off the cliff to his death by his own brother, Scar. I held her, and together we weathered the injustice of the jungle out there.

The Lion King

But her indignation at Scar’s behavior was not done. Later, at the end of the movie, as Scar is trying to convince a young Simba that it is his, Simba’s fault, that Mufasa died, Boo suddenly shouted from her place on the couch. “Dummy head! Double Dummy head!”

That, to Boo, is high abuse indeed.

I must say, I loved that what came out of her mouth in that moment of unguarded behavior was something so benign…and yet so full of truth.

She knew, though perhaps could not articulate, that the “jungle out there” is, truly, the jungle we all live in every day.

I couldn’t help but think of our other daughter, now age 11, who behaved much the same way when she was Boo’s age.

She and I were watching A Little Princess, a nicely-done movie based on the book by Francis Hodgson Burnett.

A little princess

She was sick that day, as I recall. She liked the movie, followed it along, understood – for the most part – what was going on. But every so often she would turn to me and ask, “Why is that woman so mean? What did Sara do to deserve that?”

I suppose I said something about injustice in the world. About bad people. About things not always working out the way we wish.

But then came the end – the part where Miss Minchin lies and denies that the amnesiac man is Sara’s father. And our daughter stood up on the couch and cried, “NO! NO! He is her father!” And she cried and cried and cried and could not be consoled.

Her tender heart has not changed over the years. Just now, at age 11, she came upstairs in tears. It’s well after bedtime, but she’s caught up in her book, Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, and Beth, the sweet, kind sister, just died.

Little Women

“Why do we care so much about storybook characters?” she asked me through her tears.

Because we love them, my sweet girl. Because books have power to change our lives. Because you have a kind and gentle heart and when you cry over injustice and sorrow and sadness in the books you read, you are really crying over the things in this world you have not yet faced, but you know are real. You know they could happen, and you weep for those they have happened, and will happen, to. You weep for the imperfections of the world. You weep because you are not an island. You are a part of the continent, a piece of the main.*

Never send to know, my darling girl, for whom the bell tolls.

It tolls for thee.

*John Donne, Meditation 17

I’m Done

12 Mar

So the story goes that J.K.Rowling, when she finished writing her seventh and last Harry Potter novel at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, wrote on the base of a bust of Hermes, “JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007.”

I have no statues or heads of statues nearby, nor do I have sufficient clout to assume that anyone would even want me to write on their statue should there be any around, so I am choosing, instead, to write to you, my blogland friends:

I, Gretchen O’Donnell, have finished editing my children’s novel, tentatively titled, “The Children of Eel Pond Island” on this day, March 12, 2013, in BenLees Café, in Worthington, Minnesota, at 2:00 in the afternoon.

I am full of caffeine.

I am heady with joy.

I am scared to death.

I am done.

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