• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

The Cybils shortlists…

have started to roll in. No, not from my panel (middle grade/young adult nonfiction) just yet — we have a new deadline of Saturday. But here are the earlybirds:

2007 Fiction Picture Books Finalists

2007 Poetry Finalists

2007 Middle Grade Fiction Finalists

2007 Science Fiction & Fantasy Finalists

Not too contemporary, I hope

My father sent me this article from last weekend’s Telegraph, from which this excerpt:

Paddington Bear is to face his most terrifying adventure yet; a police interrogation over his immigration status.

A new Paddington novel, released to mark the 50th anniversary of his debut, is to be published next June.

Famously, the young bear was a stowaway on a ship from Peru; and, lacking the appropriate identity papers, he is arrested and interviewed by the police about his right to stay in England.

Michael Bond’s Paddington books have sold more than 30 million copies in 30 languages since the marmalade-loving ursine first appeared in A Bear Called Paddington, half a century ago. However, this will be the first new novel since Paddington Takes The Test in 1979.

It is understood that Mr Bond, now 83, was reluctant to write a new novel without first settling on a storyline that updated the Paddington oeuvre into a strong contemporary setting.

Canadians in particular might be forgiven for being rather pessimistic about the prospect of Paddington in a strong contemporary setting, which lately has come to mean fatal Tasering at the airport.

Safe travels, Paddington.

List of Cybils nominees for Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction

Nominations for the 2007 Cybils awards closed last Wednesday (don’t say I didn’t warn you). So here’s the list of nominated titles in the Middle Grade/Young Adult nonfiction category. All of the Amazon.com and BookSense links Cybils-affiliated and provide a small commission to the Cybils to help pay for (modest) prizes.

1607: A New Look at Jamestown by Karen Lange
National Geographic
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Across the Wide Ocean: The Why, How, and Where of Navigation for Humans and Animals at Sea by Karen Romano Young
Harper Collins (Greenwillow)
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

America Dreaming: How Youth Changed America in the 60’s by Laban Carrick Hill
Little, Brown Young Readers
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Another Book About Design: Complicated Doesn’t Make It Bad by Mark Gonyea
Henry Holt and Co.
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art, compiled by Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Astrobiology (from the Cool Science series) by Fred Bortz
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Black and White Airmen: Their True History by John Fleischman
Houghton Mifflin
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Dinosaur Eggs Discovered!: Unscrambling the Clues by Lowell Dingus, Rodolfo A. Coria, and Luis M. Chiappe
Twenty-First Century Books
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Face to Face with Grizzlies (from the Face to Face with Animals series) by Joel Sartore
National Geographic
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

From Slave to Superstar of the Wild West: The Awesome Story of Jim Beckwourth by Tom DeMund
Legends of the West Publishing
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Grief Girl by Erin Vincent
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Halloween Book of Facts and Fun by Wendie Old
Albert Whitman
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Jeannette Rankin: Political Pioneer by Gretchen Woelfle
Calkins Creek (Boyd Mills)
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Let’s Clear the Air: 10 Reasons Not to Start Smoking by Deanna Staffo
Lobster Press
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Marie Curie (volume 4 in the Giants of Science series) by Kathleen Krull
Viking Juvenile
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail by Danica McKellar
Hudson Street Press
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Morris and Buddy: The Story of the First Seeing Eye Dog by Becky Hall
Albert Whitman & Company
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Muckrakers: How Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, and Lincoln Steffens Helped Expose Scandal, Inspire Reform, and Invent Investigative Journalism by Ann Bausum
National Geographic Children’s Books
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

My Feet Aren’t Ugly by Debra Beck
Beaufort Books
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Ox, House, Stick: The Story of Our Alphabet by Don Robb
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Periodic Table: Elements With Style! by Adrian Dingle, with illustrations by Simon Dasher
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Pocket Babies and Other Amazing Marsupials by Sneed B. Collard
Darby Creek Publishers
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Real Benedict Arnold by Jim Murphy
Clarion (Houghton Mifflin)
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Red: The Next Generation of American Writers — Teenage Girls — On What Fires Up Their Lives Today edited by Amy Goldwasser
Hudson Street Press
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Secret of Priest’s Grotto: A Holocaust Survival Story by Peter Lane Taylor and Christos Nicola
Kar-Ben Publishing
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Smart-Opedia: The Amazing Book About Everything by Eve Drobot
Maple Tree Press
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Sneeze! by Alexandra Siy and Dennis Kunkel
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Snow Baby: The Arctic Childhood of Robert E. Peary’s Daring Daughter by Katherine Kirkpatrick
Holiday House
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Social Climber’s Guide to High School: A tongue-in-cheek handbook by Robyn Schneider
Simon Pulse
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Superfood or Superthreat: The Issue of Genetically Engineered Food by Kathlyn Gay
Enslow Publishers
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Tasting the Sky: a Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Titanic: An Interactive History Adventure by Bob Temple
Capstone Press
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion (from the Scientists in the Field series) by Loree Griffin Burns
Houghton Mifflin
Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion (from the Scientists in the Field series) Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Ultimate Interactive Atlas of the World by Elaine Jackson et al.
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin by Larry Dane Brimmer
Calkins Creek (Boyd Mills
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Whale Scientists: Solving the Mystery of Whale Strandings by Fran Hodgkins
Houghton Mifflin
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

What’s Eating You?: Parasites — The Inside Story by Nicola Davies
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas by Russell Freedman
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Wildly Romantic: The English Romantic Poets: The Mad, the Bad, and the Dangerous by Catherine M. Andronik
Henry Holt
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The World Made New: Why the Age of Exploration Happened and How It Changed the World
by Marc Aronson and John W. Glenn
National Geographic
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Beatles, Beatlemania, and the Music that Changed the World by Bob Spitz
Little, Brown Young Readers
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

You Can Write a Story: A Story-Writing Recipe for Kids by Lisa Bullard
Two-Can Publishing, Inc.
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The rest of the nominees in the other categories are here. Happy reading!

One more day

to submit your Cybils nominations for your favorite children’s books of 2007. You can nominate one title in each category, including Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction. And then you have the rest of the day free to truss the turkey and pie the pumpkin…

Figuring out if Cybils-nominated titles are child-friendly

Over at the Cybils blog, Cybils co-founder Kelly Herold wrote a post earlier this week, “Who Put the Kid in Kid-friendly?“:

When [Cybils co-founder] Anne and I led a panel session on the Cybils at the 1st Annual Kidlitosphere Conference this [past] weekend in Chicago, one theme in particular kept popping up during discussions: How do we decide if a book is child-friendly or not?

This is an important question for the ninety panelists and judges evaluating the hundreds of children’s and YA books nominated this year. One of our main goals is to find quality books children will love. In other words, we’re looking for well written, intelligent, and kid-friendly titles.

But how do we — a group of 88 adults and 2 [3?] teens — decide what is child friendly? What are our criteria? Will we know child-friendly when we see it?

Tell us what you think. How does an adult reader recognize a child-friendly book? What are your tell-tale signs of a fun and compelling read? Feel free to answer in the comments or on your own blog.

One of the reasons I was eager to participate in the Cybils again this year is that my kids had so much fun with all of the poetry books that arrived last year. With yet another package slip from Canada Post in the mailbox requiring a trip to the post office to pick up a brown box or padded envelope, the kids started squealing, “It’s just like Christmas!”

My simple answer for how I recognize a child-friendly book is that my kids enjoy that particular book. And I don’t expect all three kids — a ten-year-old girl who prefers historical fiction and stories about horses, an eight-and-a-half-year-old boy who likes best Asterix and how-to manuals, and an almost seven-year-old who enjoys stories about horses, pioneers, and how-to manuals — to enjoy the same books, either. One out of three is good enough for me, provided that that one child thinks the world of that one book.

Last year, the easiest way to find which books the kids really liked was to search their beds. The books they didn’t like — that didn’t catch the kids’ interests or left them cold — stayed in the designated “Cybils piles” in the living room. The books the kids enjoyed were discovered in their respective beds, under pillows and stuffed animals and on top of quilts, and with bookmarks (sometimes just torn slips of paper) between the pages.

This year, with middle grade and young adult nonfiction on my plate, it won’t be quite as easy for me to read all the books with my children, since some titles will certainly be too advanced in language or emotion (or both) for them, at least for the boys whose combined age is 15; often, I’ll use one book on a subject for Laura and something simpler, usually a picture book, for the boys. From all the review’s I’ve read of Grief Girl, Erin Vincent’s memoir about her adolescence following the death of her parents in a traffic accident more than 20 years ago when she was 14, it seems the sort of book I would gladly give Laura in a few years, but not now at age 10.

But even with some books meant for older readers, the kids in general and Davy (not quite seven) in particular have made their way by looking at the pictures and reading, or having me read aloud, the captions. And after all the books we’ve read together, I have a pretty good idea what their thoughts and tastes will be in a few years, which books will be worth keeping, and even adding to our home school studies. As home schoolers, too, we have the luxury of adding any books that arrive to our late autumn/early winter curriculum, or just to our afternoon and bedtime readalouds. We can set aside for the moment Farmer Boy or our study of Lewis & Clark, to spend a few afternoons and evenings reading about trash, dinosaur eggs, and James Beckwourth.

One thing I found interesting last year was how some of the titles that tried too hard to appeal, and be appealing, to kids — whether they are “educational” (a definite concern in this particular category, where a lot of the titles are purchased by libraries rather than individuals and many tend to be the kind of book children use “just for reports”) or simply (and sometimes scatalogically) underestimate children’s senses of humor and sophistication and awareness of what’s clever were among those that did not make it to kids’ favorites lists. Which is why, last year, Adam Rex’s Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich — a true Halloween delight, by the way, which you still have time to order from your favorite bookseller or via interlibrary loan — made a considerably larger impression on the assembled Farm School children than, say, Hey There, Stink Bug!

* * *

By the way, speaking of children and nonfiction, don’t miss author Marc Aronson‘s current post, “I Want to Be a Historian” at his blog Nonfiction Matters on the subject, or the conversation to which he refers over at Alison Morris‘s ShelfTalker: A Children’s Bookseller’s Blog, with her latest post, “Who’s Borrowing? Who’s Buying?”.

Time to nominate your favorite children’s books of the year

over at the Cybils. The nomination period began on Monday (October 1st), and runs through Wednesday, November 21st.

You can nominate your favorite children’s books published in 2007 in the following eight categories:

Nonfiction Picture Books
Fiction Picture Books
Middle Grade and Young Adult Nonfiction
Middle Grade Fiction
Young Adult Fiction
Fantasy/Science Fiction
Graphic Novels

Just click on the appropriate category link above and leave your nomination in the comments. Just remember, please: nominate only one book in each category, and make sure the title hasn’t already been listed.

Gearing up for the Cybils

As I wrote last week, the Cybils are back, the Cybils are back!

I’m delighted to be on the Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction committee, wrangled and organized by Jen Robinson, on the nominating panel along with

Mindy at Proper Noun Dot Net
Susan Thomsen at Chicken Spaghetti
KT Horning at Worth the Trip
Vivian at HipWriterMama

Following up later will be the Judging Panel, comprised of

Tracy Chrenka at Talking in the Library
Emily Mitchell at Emily Reads
Camille Powell at Book Moot
Alice Herold at Big A little a
Jennie Rothschild at Biblio File

As a reminder about how wonderful this category is, last year’s winner was

Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Russell Freedman

and the rest of the short list included

Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman
Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh
Immersed in Verse: An Informative, Slightly Irreverent & Totally Tremendous Guide to Living the Poet’s Life by Alan Wolf
Isaac Newton by Kathleen Krull (from her Giants of Science series)

For information on all of the other categories, including poetry (which has a fond place in my heart, and where I see Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader and Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children are holding down the fort!) and interviews with various participants, head over to the Cybils blog.

Nominations in all categories open on Monday, October 1st, so put your thinking caps on. The categories include picture books (fiction), picture books (nonfiction), poetry, middle grade & young adult nonfiction, middle grade fiction, young adult fiction, graphic novels, and fantasy & science fiction.

A final note: I usually include links from Amazon.com when I write about books, not because I think that’s where you should buy your books, but because their listings seem to be the most comprehensive of the ones online, more so than the wonderful Powells which continues to be a dandy place to buy books in the US and the terrific Chinaberry which is thorough but highly selective (not a bad thing at all), and more so even than Amazon.ca, whose website is a shadow of its American self. Amazon.com’s “Search Inside this Book” feature is pretty nifty, too, especially for those of us living in the back of beyond, far from any bookstores, independent, big box/chain or otherwise. Well, as long as we’re not limping along with dial-up service.

Fall fun around the kidlitosphere

All aboard to Take a Ride on the Reading Railroad, the latest Carnival of Children’s Literature hosted by Charlotte’s Library. So put away the Monopoly board for now and get reading!

And a bit late (sorry…) — the September issue of The Edge of the Forest is up, with many features. I was delighted to find Kelly Herold‘s discussion of the different Anglo-American versions of Baba Yaga tales in her article, “Baba Yaga Heads West“. Lots of other good stuff, too!

Also, a reminder that the deadline for LiteracyTeacher‘s Picture Book Carnival, Part 3 is coming up. Submissions are due by Friday, October 5.

And two new blogs of note from new-to-me homeschoolers,

Learning. Living. Books!, with two posts so far, “What Are ‘Living Books’?” and “Twaddle Dee, Twaddle Dum”

A Storybook Life, KalexaLott’s thoughts on nature, children’s literature, poetry, and simple wonder.

The latest news from deepest darkest Peru

I thought it was bad enough when I heard the other day that my beloved Paddington Bear was going to get the live action treatment (just thinking of poor Stuart Little makes me shake). I went to the, erm, official website and not only was the movie business confirmed but there for all to see was the gloating about Paddington shilling for Marmite of all things. Of course, what do you expect of a beloved children’s literature figure who has become a licensing opportunity? In fact, the home page of the “official website” has four main buttons — “Paddington’s activity area”, “Mrs. Brown’s bear facts”, “Mr. Gruber’s collector’s corner”, and, in bright red lest you fail to notice it, “Mr. Brown’s company info”. That Paddington has become a company with important info to share (“For companies or individuals interested in acquiring a licence to make or sell Paddington products then you should choose Licensing Information.”) is just, sadly, a fact of modern commercial life.

But here’s the latest “Company Info”, from The Times:

The creator of Paddington Bear has criticised those responsible for putting the world’s best known duffel-coat-wearing immigrant from Darkest Peru in an advertisement for Marmite.

Michael Bond was not consulted about the advert – in which Paddington breaks a lifetime’s reliance on marmalade sandwiches and decides he “ought to try something different” – and feels that it was a mistake.

Fans have been outraged by what they see as a betrayal of the character’s integrity, many telephoning Bond to harangue him. Like them, the author feels that the advert was a mistake because Paddington’s characteristics are “set in stone and you shouldn’t change them”. The bear’s preference for marmalade sandwiches, often stored under his hat is “fundamental”, he said yesterday.

During the 1980s, when Paddington’s popularity was at a peak thanks to the television series narrated by the late Sir Michael Hordern, Bond retreated from the growing commercial operation to concentrate on writing books.

Karen Jankel, his daughter and managing director of Paddington and Company, now has final approval on all merchandising decisions. Despite strong reservations she agreed to the proposal from the Copyrights Group, Paddington’s licensing agents, because she believed the advert would lift Paddington’s profile and bring him back to British TV. But Bond would rather the whole thing had never happened.

“Now there’s no going back,” he said. “Paddington likes his food and tries anything but he would certainly never be weaned off marmalade.”

In a letter published in The Times today, Bond, 81, defends himself against allegations that he sold-out his best-loved creation. He writes of an “ill-founded rumour that I was responsible for the script of a commercial featuring Paddington Bear testing a Marmite sandwich” and “that one of the reasons may have been that Marmite paid me a truly vast sum of money.

“I should be so lucky – particularly since I didn’t write it,” he says. “Although Paddington found the sandwich interesting, bears are creatures of habit. It would require a good deal more than the combined current withdrawals from Northern Rock to wean him off marmalade, if then.”

The advert, by DBB London, features the animation format in which Paddington made his TV debut in 1975. He finds Marmite “really rather good”, before stumbling into a chain of unfortunate events. Unilever, the makers of Marmite, hope the campaign will appeal to the nostalgia of older viewers while encouraging younger ones to try the spread.

Nicholas Durbridge, of the Copyrights Group said: “Paddington has always been inquisitive. Now he has tried Marmite. It’s unfortunate if Michael’s not completely happy but Paddington will always be associated with marmalade and our client supported our recommendation to make the advert fully.”

Ms Jankel said last night: “From my father’s point of view, he’s the creator and wrote the books. The Copyrights Group are doing their job, looking to do what they think is best from the commercial point of view. I think Paddington is so strong that he will rise above all of this.”

Someone certainly needs to rise above all of this, but I don’t think it’s Paddington. And I think I need something stronger than either marmalade or Marmite to recover from all the news.

Cybils Season

It’s Cybils season again, the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards celebrating the best titles of 2007. Established and organized by Anne Boles Levy of Book Buds and Kelly Herold of Big A little a, the Cybils are ready for year two!

As of October 1st, you’ll be able to leave your nominations for the different categories — picture books (fiction), picture books (nonfiction), poetry, middle grade & young adult nonfiction, middle grade fiction, young adult fiction, graphic novels, and fantasy & science fiction. It’s time to start reflecting on your, and your children’s, favorite new books of the past year.

I’ve started going through our interlibrary loan titles from the year to put together our own list of favorite new books of 2007, and a few of the very best the kids are still talking and talking about. Though we don’t have a bookstore in our nearby town, everyone in the family gets very excited walking into the library to see the goodies glittering on the new arrivals table, or reading reviews in the newspapers and blogs and adding them to our wish lists and shopping carts.

If you’re not familiar with the Cybils, you can read about last year’s finalists here, and last year’s winners here.

And lastly, a special thanks to Kelly and Anne for letting me participate again this year. I’m on Jen Robinson‘s middle grade and young adult nonfiction book panel, which I’m very much looking forward to.

(Sneaking back to the fields now…)

Erm, no thank you

Dangerous Book for Boys to Hit Screen: “Disney has snapped up the rights to the bestseller after a fierce bidding war.” It will be more than interesting to see how the folks at Disney plan to make a movie of a politically incorrect how-to-book that includes instructions on skinning a rabbit.

We’ll stick to the print version. And the UK edition at that.

Fun with gunpowder

Last summer I wrote about my brief thoughts on The Dangerous Book for Boys (American website here); I said at the time I thought that for our purposes Daniel Carter Beard‘s classic, The American Boy’s Handy Book, was a better book for our purposes.

Now, with the news that my father is sending a copy of The Dangerous Book to Daniel for his eighth birthday, coming up this weekend, and after reading a piece on the Iggulden brothers, Conn and Hal, in the current issue of Vanity Fair magazine (which I like for the articles and the pictures), I’m prepared to admit there is room on the shelf — the one devoted to old-fashioned children’s pastimes — for The Dangerous Book as well. The main difference between the two books is that while The American Boy’s Handy Book includes only projects, The Dangerous Book includes guides to proper English usage, as well as a series of “Extraordinary Stories”, such as “the one on the exploits of World War II R.A.F. fighter ace Douglas Bader*, who racked up the fifth-highest number of kills in the Royal Air Force despite his flying with prosthetic legs”:

As Conn explains, it’s really not about the penknives and air rifles, “it’s to do with the way children are raised and what they consider important.” Which is why he considers “Extraordinary Stories” vital to the book. “If you put in a story of incredible endurance or courage, you are saying these are impressive values,” he says. “[Boys today] don’t get heroic stories in the way I did. And I think they’re desperately important.”

Somewhere, quite rightly, Charlotte Mason is beaming. And the folks at Flying Point Press who are bringing back the Landmark books should be smiling, too.

I was particularly heartened to read, while the Igguldens were expecting some British backlash because of activities involving “power tools, penknives, and — in the case of a procedural on rabbit-hunting — an air rifle and entrail work”, the backlash never came, since the book struck a chord with British families. The authors may not be so lucky in the US, where the publication of an American edition next month — next Tuesday, in fact — no doubt inspired the VF feature. Publisher’s Weekly interviewed one of the brothers, who, in response to the question “What do you think it is about this book that’s resonating with today’s kids, who clearly have a lot more than a book on how to tie knots vying for their attention?”, answered,

A lot of parents are getting fed up with an overly restricted attitude for their children, much of that coming from their government. Paper airplanes are being banned in the schools for fear of someone poking their eye out. That sort of thing is slightly annoying and really isn’t good for children, especially boys. They have to learn where their own limits are. We’re taking about managed danger here. We don’t want them running out under cars. But if they don’t [learn what their limits are], God knows what sort of pale, white, fat adults they’ll become.

To which both PW commenters so far unsurprisingly took exception (should one even bother to point out that what Mr. Iggulden was referring to were pale, white grubs? You know, the kind that live outdoors, in nature, under logs. Heavens, get those commenters out from under their logs and away from their computers for a bit of fresh air and sunshine.)

And then there’s this recent wire service article from various online North American news websites,

Exuding the brisk breeziness of Boy Scout manuals and Boy’s Own annuals, “The Dangerous Book” is a childhood how-to guide that covers everything from paper airplanes to go-carts, skipping stones to skinning a rabbit.  It spent months on British best-seller lists, has sold more than a half-million copies and took the book of the year prize at last month’s British Book Awards.

The book will be published in the United States May 1, allowing American boys — but not their sisters — to learn how to play marbles, make invisible ink, send Morse code and build a tree fort. …

It’s possible to see a less wholesome side to the book’s nostalgia. Girls are discussed, in a single chapter, as something akin to another species: “They think and act rather differently to you, but without them, life would be one long football locker room. Treat them with respect.”

Girls are explicitly — and, some argue, unnecessarily — excluded by the book’s title. …

Though why North Americans can’t figure out that girls, and women, are most welcome to pick up the book and make use of it, is a mystery.*

Danger on American shores, Will Robinson, danger!

*I will admit, however, to more than a bit of discomfort, however, at the Igguldens’ UK website’s shilling of The Goddess Guide, especially since it seems geared more toward women than girls. I apologize for any retching sound you may hear coming from my direction. I’m willing to bet my collection of pocketknives confiscated while doing the laundry that the mention is there by order of HarperCollins, who should give the decision a bit more thought. Especially since they made sure that the “Girls” page didn’t make it to the US website.

UPDATED to add: Just learned that earlier this month The Guardian‘s The Bookseller section included the following item:

The runaway success of The Dangerous Book for Boys has inspired Penguin to start a list of “boy’s own” classics. Six end-of-empire adventure tales are being given nostalgic covers, aimed squarely at the Father’s Day market in June. They are: The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; She by H Rider Haggard; The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope; The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers; The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan; and The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton. A dashing collection for any middle-aged boy’s bookshelf.

* If you happen to discover on TV the 1956 British movie Reach for the Sky, starring Kenneth More as Bader, watch it with your kids. Not on DVD in North America any more, though you can find it in the UK.

Keeping it clean

Thanks to Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy, I just learned about a new blog, Deliciously Clean Reads, from Emily at Whimsy Books, where she writes “about picture books, motherhood, and writing”. Emily, who’s looking for contributors for the new blog, describes its mission this way,

All reviewed books at Clean Reads must be free of swearing and sex (including thinking or talking about sex in an explicit manner.) I know that profanity is a bit subjective. A book may qualify as a Clean Read if it has less than five “strong words found in the Bible” (i.e. da** or he**). Any curse words besides these “strong words found in the Bible” automatically disqualify the book for Clean Read status.

Essentially, if books were rated as movies, we’d only accept reviews of G and PG books (and yes, even some PGs have more swearing/innuendos than we allow here at Clean Reads). If you aren’t sure if a book is Clean Read material, you can email me at any time and note any passages in question that may render the book inappropriate for our site.

Clean Reads can be from any genre of novel-length fiction. Please include a recommended age group after your review. (i.e. Recommended Readers: 12 and up)

Over at Whimsy Books, Emily also notes,

I’m the kind of person that hates conflict. And I’m sure a few of my readers will think this is a bad idea and may even call it a subtle form of censorship. But I’m not starting cleanreads.blogspot.com to keep people from reading anything. It is meant to be a resource for those who choose to read clean books.

The new blog already includes some reviews, for current and out of print books — including a few for books that would definitely be of interest around here (A Shooting Star: A Novel about Annie Oakley by Sheila Solomon Klass — which does still seem to be in print in surprisingly inexpensive library binding — and the new Misadventures of Maude March by Audrey Couloumbis) — and, on the sidebar, Lists of Clean Reads, including the Squeaky Clean and Books That Don’t Make You Blush. In addition to Emily, there are four contributors at the moment, among them a few book blogs, two Beckys, and at least one home educator. Not yours truly, though, who has been known to make truck drivers blush and to let her young children watch The Magnificent Seven, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and The Getaway, the last two on Christmas Day 2005 and 2006, respectively. And who actually stopped to wonder about any possible overlap between the Bible’s five strong words and George Carlin’s seven dirty ones. I blame too much Easter chocolate.

It strikes me that Deliciously Clean might be quite helpful for a) families with several kids, who want to make sure that the chosen readaloud is suitable even for the youngest listener, and b) parents of voracious and/or precocious young readers.

At the other end of this similar vein, Sherry at Semicolon has a straight shooting review of Nick and Norah (no, not that Nick and Nora), with a thoughtful comment by Camille of Book Moot.

March issue of The Edge of the Forest

has been out now for a bit. Hurray, and thanks to Kelly Herrold and all the contributors. Features that have caught my eye so far, since I just started reading through it:

Liz‘s interview with Kirby Larson, author of Hattie Big Sky (historical fiction set in 1918 Montana, and a 2007 Newbery Honor book)

Nonfiction reviews of Diego, a picture book biography (1994) of artist Diego Rivera conceived and illustrated by Jeannette Winter, with text (in English and Spanish) by Jonah Winter; and John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement, a picture book biography (2006) for older children

Sherry at Semicolon surveys a group of homeschoolers at her bowling alley for the latest Kid Picks column

This month’s In the Backpack features an interview with author Elizabeth Bluemle, who is also the co-owner of the independent Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont, one of my favorite towns

And there’s oodles, just oodles, more.

Aww, nuts

Apparently, librarians around the US and folks around the kidlitosphere are all atwitter over the “scrotum” kerfuffle surrounding the newest Newbery winner, “The Higher Power of Lucky” by children’s author (and librarian), and The New York Times article about the kerfuffle. Lissa has the rundown here.

Since the farm kids in our Farm School have known the word since they were knee high to a, well, scrotum — we spend part of every spring turning little bulls into steers (in other words, separating each from his scrotum) — the librarians’ objection reminds me of one of my favorite books when I was in high school, Cluny Brown, wherein can be found this advice: Nuts to the squirrels.

And the Cybils winners are…


The winners include Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow by Joyce Sidman with illustrations by Beth Krommes (Poetry category — hurray, hurray, hurray!); An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Aston with illustrations by Sylvia Long (Non-Fiction Picture Books); and Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Russell Freedman (Non-Fiction, Middle Grade and Young Adult category). For all the rest click the link above.

Many, many thanks to our fearless leaders, Anne and Kelly, and poetry wrangler Susan at Chicken Spaghetti. Being part of the Cybils, especially in this very first year, was great good fun!

By the way, I was quite thrilled to see the Cybils mentioned in an email announcement from the folks at Chronicle Books announcing their Best Chronicle Children’s Books of the Year Contest. Two of the books — Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow and Tour America — are listed as “Cybils finalists” and in fact made it to our Poetry short list. Hop over to the contest and enter your name, or your child’s, for a chance to win a gift basket of books. Besides the two mentioned, other titles include Ivy and Bean, Mom and Dad Are Palindromes, Emily’s Balloon, and, especially some of my kids’ especial library favorites last year — Ton and Tools, both by Taro Miura, and Masterpieces Up Close: Western Painting from the 14th to 20th Centuries by Claire d’Harcourt (Art Up Close).

From wisteria: "If your child could own only 25 picture books…

what would they be and why? I challenge!”

wisteria is thinking about buying, culling, and rereading books.

I decided to take her up on her challenge. Although wisteria asked about a single child, I decided instead to base the list on all three children’s favorite picture books, and a few of my own favorites as well. But for the four of us, I just couldn’t get the list down to 25. Thirty was the bare, non-negotiable, minimum between the four of us, and I’m sure we forgot a few. I’d like to see what others are able to come up with, and if they can keep to the 25.

So here’s the list, highly subjective, in no particular order, and influenced by the fact that when the kids were born our home library included all of my old children’s books. A big thank you to my parents in a small NYC apartment who never considered not saving them. Well, almost never. And yes, I still have a dim memory of going to the Willy O’Dwyer book signing on Fifth Avenue, upstairs I think, at Brentano’s or Rizzoli, I think…

1. Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty
2. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
3. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
4. Little Farm by Lois Lenski
5. Cowboy Small by Lois Lenski
6. Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle
7. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
8. Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton
9. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
10. Harold and the Purple Crayon
11. The Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown
12. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
13. The Tale of Two Bad Mice by Beatrix Potter
14. Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag
16. Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall
17. Pelle’s New Suit by Elsa Beskow
18. Roxaboxen by Barbara Cooney
19. Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack
20. Babar the King by Jean de Brunhoff
21. Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
22. The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier
23. Willy O’Dwyer Jumped in the Fire by Beatrice Schenk and Beni Montresor
24. Cinderella by Marcia Brown
25. Little Wild Horse by Hetty Burlingame Beatty
26. A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban
27. The Man Who Didn’t Wash His Dishes by Phyllis Krasilovsky
28. Five Minutes’ Peace by Jill Murphy
29. The Little Brute Family by Russell Hoban
30. What Do You Do, Dear? by Sesyle Joslin

Raising hep cats: Reading about, and listening to, modern American music

Children’s author and home educating father Chris Barton at Bartography is mulling over choices for picture books about modern American music and musicians, mostly for his almost three-year-old son, and wrote the other week, “As for those books already on the shelves, there are far more worthy titles than one family can take on in a single month. These that I’ve listed below are simply those that caught my eye. If you’ve read them already, what did you think? Which others would you recommend?” I started writing up my suggestions for the comment box at Bartography but when they started to grow like crazy I thought I’d better put them up here to avoid an unintentional hijacking.

Of the picture book list Chris posted, the ones we’ve read and liked the best, probably not so coincidentally, are the ones that come with an audio CD: Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land; When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson; What Charlie Heard (book with CD), about Charles Ives, by the always elegant and poetic Mordicai Gerstein; and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (book with CD). You might want to add a few more CDs to the mix, especially Guthrie’s “Songs to Grown on for Mother and Child” and as much Pete Seeger as you can manage, especially the American Favorite Ballads series.

And just a few more book suggestions, based on my own gang:

Aaron Copland pairs well with Ives, plus the cowboy ballets are particularly appealing to young children. The only dedicated picture book about Copland I can think of is the Mike Venezia volume in his “World’s Greatest Composers” series. But Copland is included in The Story of the Orchestra: Listen While You Learn About the Instruments, the Music and the Composers Who Wrote the Music! (book with CD) by Robert Levine; and also in Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought) (book with CD) by Kathleen Krull; meant for older kids so you might want to preview this for younger ones. Ives is also mentioned in The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (book with CD) by Anita Ganeri, which is a bit heavy for most toddlers and preschoolers but great for slightly older siblings.

I’d be a very bad Cybils poetry panelist if I didn’t suggest the recent poetry picture book Jazz by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by his son Christopher, and I’m glad to see that my fellow panelist Elaine was quick to suggest this one. Very nice when accompanied by the non-poetry picture book The Sound That Jazz Makes by Carole Boston Weatherford. And if you want to stick to a Myers & Myers theme, their Blues Journey (book with CD) is lovely; read it while listening to “Leadbelly Sings for Children“.

Davy found the new This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt at the library recently. It’s a counting book based on the song “This Old Man” (you know, the one with the knickknack paddywhack business), but even though he’s six and playing around with multiplication, he — and the rest of us — got a big kick from the book. For kids who don’t know jack about scat, this is a wonderful introduction, especially if you’re going to read the Ella Fitzgerald book and listen to her music.

I know I probably don’t have to say this, but especially when the subject is music, books — no matter how great they are — are just part of the picture. CDs and movies are a wonderful way to saturate your kids with the music, and, maybe even more importantly, to expose them to the original, real stuff rather than the kiddie version. With younger kids, you can always fast forward through the talky bits and head straight to the singing and dancing. I have three ardent Frank Sinatra (and Gene Kelly) fans, and their love of the music came about not from any books but from hearing the music around the house and watching old movies, especially Anchors Aweigh (and what could be more appealing than Gene Kelly dancing with Tom & Jerry?), High Society (with some great music by Louis Armstrong…), and, the best of the bunch, On the Town. For Gershwin (see below, too), it doesn’t get any better than An American in Paris, where you get the benefit of more Gene Kelly, whose athletic dancing appeals greatly to boys; and then you may as well get Singin’ in the Rain, which is about singing, dancing, and the early history of the moving picture.

Some other fun, older movies about music for the kids:

Ball of Fire: Barbara Stanwyck as a nightclub singer who moves in with eight old fogey professors, including the appropriately wooden Gary Cooper and the always charming S.Z. Sakall, to help explain “slang” for the encyclopedia they’re working on. Stanwyck performs a couple of numbers with jazz great, drummer Gene Krupa. It’s actually a 1940s screwball comedy version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with which it would pair nicely (though you might want to make sure it won’t scare your toddler/preschooler). Not to be confused, especially if you’re watching with the kiddies, Great Balls of Fire! about Jerry Lee Lewis, who, you might remember, married his 13-year-old second cousin.

As long as you’re watching Snow White, you should line up the classic Fantasia, which combines animation beautifully with classical music, including Igor Stravinksy’s “Rite of Spring” and Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”. Again, you probably won’t want to let little ones, or sensitive older ones, watch either Snow White or Fantasia without you nearby.

There are a bunch of movies about the birth of jazz that are fairly cheesy and have dubious historical accounts, but the music is wonderful: two of the better ones are New Orleans (1947) with Billie Holiday singing “Do You Know What It Means (to Miss New Orleans)” accompanied by Louis Armstrong and an all-star band; and Syncopation (1942), with Bunny Berrigan, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, and Harry James.

Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band is great fun, and so are some composer biopics, which tend to be rather stronger on the music than the actual biographical facts:

St. Louis Blues, the biography of W.C. Handy, played by Nat King Cole; with Ella Fitzgerald, Mahalia Jackson, and Cab Calloway

Rhapsody in Blue, the story of George Gershwin, played by Robert Alda (Alan’s dad); pair it with the picture book and An American in Paris with Gene Kelly

The Glenn Miller Story, with James Stewart, and appearances by Gene Krupa and Louis Armstrong

The Benny Goodman Story starring Steve Allen

One of my kids’ all-time favorites, Yankee Doodle Dandy with James Cagney as composer and entertainer George M. Cohan

Another patriotic toe-tapper, Stars and Stripes Forever, with Clifton Webb as composer and bandleader John Philip Sousa

Movie musicals are a whole ‘nother post (don’t hold your breath right now), but if you’re interested, to wet your whistle try That’s Entertainment and the website for the 2004 PBS series The American Musical.

Not a movie, but now on DVD and one of the best ways to teach young children about music is the classic Leonard Bernstein television series, “Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts with the NY Philharmonic”; check your library. The series, on nine discs, includes 25 of the programs, such as “What Does Music Mean?”, “What is Orchestration?”, “What Makes Music Symphonic?”, “What is Classical Music?”, “What is American Music?”, “Humor in Music”, “Folk Music in the Concert Hall”, “Jazz in the Concert Hall”, “Happy Birthday, Igor Stravinsky” (see Fantasia, above), and much more. Bernstein’s passion for the subject and love of children come shining through.

Beyond movies, there are some useful websites. The PBS “Jazz” series by Ken Burns is wonderful, and the website is still up, including pages for younger children, with some lesson plans and activities for those in grades K through 5.

The Smithsonian has a jazzy website, too, which offers “Smithsonian Jazz Class” for children and is divided into two sections, each titled “Groovin’ to Jazz”, one for ages eight to 13 and the other for ages 12 to 25.

And just for fun, for a swinging Christmas next December, keep these in mind and don’t forget to have the kids compare and contrast the versions of their old favorites: Verve Presents the Very Best of Christmas Jazz, Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas, An Oscar Peterson Christmas, A Dave Brubeck Christmas, Ray Charles’s The Spirit of Christmas, and Mahalia Sings Songs of Christmas! Though I’m not brave enough, with or without kids, for Christmas with the Rat Pack.

Speaking of fictionalized versions of history in the movies, don’t miss Chris’s recent post about fictionalized versions of history in children’s picture books. Good reading for those of us who enjoy historical fiction.

And happy listening!

Carnival of Children’s Literature and Edge of the Forest

Oops, I almost forgot to write about two important things, so I hope Kelly will forgive me. And Kelly, I did try to comment on your computer woes but Blogger won’t let me in for some reason; after my own laptop’s recent unauthorized encounter with a beverage, I can definitely sympathize.

The latest edition of The Edge of the Forest has been out for a while now, with all sorts of goodies, including A Day in the Life with children’s author Debby Dahl Edwardson of Barrow, Alaska, and a new “Sounds of the Forest” podcast.

And it’s time to send in your submissions for the upcoming 10th Carnival of Children’s Literature. The deadline is January 15th, and the Carnival will be hosted by Kelly at Big A little a on January 20th. Thanks, Kelly!

Poetry Friday: Happy Winter Fudge Cake

While editing my last comment on the previous post for too many italics (I forgot to turn them off), I discovered Elizabeth’s comment yesterday in last month’s Solstice post, asking for the Happy Winter Fudge Cake recipe mentioned. I’m happy to oblige, especially because it includes a bit of poetry.

(PS If you you ever have a question, please just email me offblog at the address to the left under the meadowlark; Blogger doesn’t notify me about new comments, so if I haven’t checked on an old post, which I rarely do, or tried to fix one of my mistakes at Haloscan — which is what I did last night — chances are any questions will languish.)

Here’s the passage about the cake (you have to imagine tiny pictures of butter, sugar, mixing bowl, beaters, etc. printed right after each line, just as it’s done in the book) from Karen Gundersheimer’s Happy Winter, followed by the recipe on the facing page:

“Happy Winter, time to bake
Some really yummy kind of cake.
So Mama flips through recipes
Just like she does for company
And reads them all — her favorite ones
Are Sunshine, Marble, Angel, Crumb.
But we pick Fudge, and no nuts, please —
Now tie on aprons, roll up sleeves.

The butter, sugar, eggs go in
A mixing bowl, then beaters spin
To stir up yogurt, thick and sour,
With baking chocolate, salt and flour.
The batter’s made, the oven’s set,
The cake’s popped in, and then we get
To scrape the bowl and beaters, too —
Last licks for me and slurps for you.
The timer pings! The cake is done —
Let’s slice it up and all have some.”

Happy Winter Fudge Cake

Please ask a grown-up to help you make this yummy cake.

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Grease tube pan (9-1/2″ x 3″)
3. Cut up 3 squares semisweet baking chocolate. Melt over very low heat or in double boiler. DO NOT BURN. Set aside to cool. [I use the microwave; follow directions on the Baker’s chocolate box.]
4. Get a medium-sized bowl and mix dry ingredients (with wooden spoon):

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt

5. Get a big bowl and mix wet ingredients (with electric mixer):

2 eggs
1/4 cup soft butter or margarine, cut into small bits [please, please, choose the butter]
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups plain yogurt
Cooled melted chocolate (from step 3 above)

6. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, stirring with spoon to blend.
7. Add 1 cup chocolate chips. Stir them all in.
8. Pour batter into greased pan and place in preheated oven (350 F)
9. Bake for 45 minutes or until cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. Cake may need another 5 minutes.
10. Let cool 30 minutes before turning out onto plate.
11. Slice it up and enjoy.

I bought the late, great Laurie Colwin’s More Home Cooking shortly after it was published in 1993, and ran across Happy Winter at one of our library’s semiannual sales about five years later, shortly after Laura was born. It became an instant favorite for each of us, probably more for me since she was so young and I found something terribly sweet and nostalgic about the book. Since I reread Colwin’s cooking books every year, it didn’t take too long to twig to the fact that, omigosh, we have a copy of Happy Winter. As happy as I was to own what Laurie Colwin calls the “small, charming volume”, mostly I’m delighted to have one small link to her life and an even smaller way of keeping her alive. Here’s what Laurie Colwin had to say about the book and recipe,

You never know where you will find a recipe. They are often hidden in unexpected places. I did not anticipate finding a chocolate cake in a children’s book, but in a small, charming volume titled Happy Winter, written and illustrated by Karen Gundersheimer, I did. This book, which was one of my daughter’s early favorites, tells a story in rhyme about two sisters on a snowy day. when they have finished playing dress-up and going outside to make snow angels, they come indoors to help their mother make a fudge cake. The recipe is given in rhyme and then written out on the facing page. It is easy, wholesome, and delicious and has now become my daughter’s standard birthday cake.


I make this cake in a springform tube pan with a scalloped bottom, and so it has a lovely scalloped top when it is is turned out. If you own one of those fancy cake-decorating kits that come with a pastry nail and dozens of tubes you will never use because you can’t figure out what they do, for this occasion you might produce some passable-looking roses and scatter them among the scallops, connecting them with green leaves. (Leaves are easy compared to roses.) The result is eccentric looking in a sort of demented Victorian way, but this cake is a hit with children who do not mind an uniced cake if it has tons of sugar roses. (A good rule for any birthday party is: a rose for every child.)

Really, what more could you ask for on a snowy winter day than a bit of Laurie Colwin, some Karen Gundersheimer, and fudge cake? Happy Winter, Elizabeth!

PPS Elizabeth, Happy Winter is sadly out of print. If you check Abebooks, you can find the original 1982 hardcover edition as well as the 1987 paperback reprint around $10 including shipping. Much as I prefer butter to margarine, I say go for the hardcover, which is just plain nicer and lies flat for following the recipe.


First round-up of the year, courtesy of Elaine, is chez Blue Rose Girls. Thanks, Elaine!