Farmer Boy: The Midnight Garden Classic Middle Grade Read-along (November)

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Illustrated by Garth Williams

First Published 1933, Harper & Row, 373 pages

#3 in the Little House Series

Recommended for All!

farmer boy

I LOVE the Little House books! I grew up with the yellow paperback boxed set, and it’s still one of my prized bookish possessions. I also watched the Little House on the Prairie television series with my family, so I had a hearty dose of Little House goodness throughout my childhood.

How excited I was to discover that the November book for The Midnight Garden’s Classic Middle Grade Readalong was Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder!

So here I am to share some thoughts about the story I haven’t read in years, before heading over to The Midnight Garden to join in on the discussion there. I hope you’ll stop by as well! (Next month the book is Little Women!!)

I still remember those gorgeous, thick descriptions of food in the Little House books. Menus, maple sugar making tips, pie and pancake eating—Farmer Boy especially is chock full of such wonderful things.

Here are a few examples:

“Big yellow cheeses were stacked there, and large brown cakes of maple sugar, and there were crusty loaves of fresh-baked bread, and four large cakes, and one whole shelf full of pies” (25). YUM!

Or how about this:

“Mother was frying pancakes and the big blue platter, keeping hot on the stove’s hearth, was full of plump brown sausage cakes in their brown grave…There was oatmeal with plenty of thick cream and maple sugar. There were fried potatoes, and the golden buckwheat cakes, as many as Almanzo wanted to eat, with sausages and gravy or with butter and maple syrup. There were preserves and jams and jellies and doughnuts. But best of all Almanzo like the spicy apple pie, with its thick, rich juice and its crumbly crust. He ate two big wedges of the pie” (38).

If I could get invited over for one of the meals from Farmer Boy, that would be a treat!

farmer boy meal uaAlmanzo’s story is a delight—this stand alone novel gives us more times with the boy who would become Laura’s husband—and what memorable times they are.

I had forgotten the perils of being a schoolteacher that are discussed in that first bit of the book, when Almanzo treks to school as a nine year old. That’s right—Almanzo’s school teacher actually faces the possibility of getting “thrashed” by the big boys at school who are disrespectful and just general HOOLIGANS!

Then the teacher breaks out a whip that Almanzo’s father supplied him with, and puts those boys in their place. This sounds a bit intense, doesn’t it? A teacher with a whip?? What’s going on with that?? I was shocked to read that the previous schoolteacher DIED after he was beat up by the bigger students. Did you know that school could be so dangerous back in rural New York state in the late 19th century? I hadn’t remembered any of this from my childhood reading, so it’s been fascinating revisiting FARMER BOY. This definitely also makes me want to do some research and find out more.

As I read, I actually used stickies to mark all the foodie passages. There’s a lot of apple pie being eaten, that’s for sure! And stacks of pancakes with maple syrup. Who wouldn’t want to visit Alamanzo’s house? Taking part in one of those meals would be fantastic.

Speaking of spirituality in children’s literature—I think there’s something to say about that here. To me, sharing a meal with people can be a spiritual activity. Not every meal, but there is something significant and intimate that can happen among family and friends when you eat together. The descriptive passages of the meals eaten in the Little House books highlights (at least to me) the importance that families in this culture placed on sharing a meal. After all, they had worked so hard to grow and prepare that food. I think there is a significant aspect of the book in those passages—there’s something to be said about how sharing and partaking of food encourages community. Go check out the descriptions of Almanzo eating at meal times and let me know what you think…

And–Almanzo and his siblings learn how to run the farm! I was amazed at the way Laura Ingalls Wilder describes so many of the activities a boy of Almanzo’s age living on a farm in the late 19th century would learn. Planting corn, keeping corn from freezing, protecting the potato crop, sheep shearing, getting ice for the ice house, breaking calves—the list goes on! All that hard work as a family would surely play a role in its strength—and I think this is apparent in the story.

Can you believe the way Eliza Jane saved Almanzo from getting whipped for ruining the wall in the parlor?

How about that exploding potato?

And the half dollar Almanzo’s father gives him after he asks for a nickel?

The story is filled with these episodes that paint a colorful picture of Almanzo Wilder’s life—the story delighted me as a young reader and it fascinates me today.

What about you? Did you grow up with the Little House books? Did you read Farmer Boy as part of The Midnight Garden read-along??

Do you have a favorite foodie passage from the book?

Parisian Rooftops: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (20130)

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (2013)

Suggested age range: 9 and up (Faber & Faber, 278 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars

Source: Personal Copy

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

rooftoppers-cover

“Perhaps, she thought, that’s what love does. It’s not there to make you feel special. It’s to make you brave. It was like a ration pack in the desert, she thought, like a box of matches in a dark wood. Love and courage, thought Sophie—two words for the same thing.”

The Book: Found as a baby in a cello case floating in the English channel, Sophie grows up with the eccentric and wonderful Charles, a loving guardian who only wants the best for this extraordinary girl. When authorities begin to question whether Charles is the best parent for a girl like Sophie, though, the two leave for Paris, in search of Sophie’s mother. What follows is an adventurous romp over the rooftops of Paris, as Sophie meets Matteo, an orphan who is an expert in living on the rooftops. Matteo will prove invaluable in helping Sophie navigate the city in the midst of her quest to find the mother she has longed for her entire life. Danger and mystery hover over the narrative, and once you begin this delightful award-winning British novel, you won’t want to stop the race with Sophie for her cello-playing mother.

Spirituality in Rooftoppers: The story celebrates several spiritual aspects—the first obvious one is the way that Charles intentionally loves and cares for Sophie—an orphaned girl with no one else in the world. When Charles is asked what he can possibly offer a child, he replies, “ ‘I am going to love her. That should be enough, if the poetry I’ve read is anything to go by’” (p. 6). Then there’s the aspect of hope—a hope that defies what the world is telling her. Sophie is continually told that there is little chance of being reunited with her mother. There were not survivors in the shipwreck; she can’t possibly be alive. However, Charles has taught her to take note of a “possible” and if it’s possible, it’s worth pursuing. This is a spiritual idea in the narrative that offers a lot of room for discussion and reflection. The way Rundell brings it up throughout the story, in my opinion, strengthened the book.

Who Should Read This Book: If you enjoy mystery or adventure or classic children’s literature, there’s something here for you. The book contains all the characteristics of a good story—fantastic characterization, a fabulous setting, a mystery, and thought-provoking themes. The spiritual concept of hope—of not ignoring “a possible” is especially strong in the story, and that alone gives it a high rating in my book. It also received the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in England. Rundell has another book published called Girl Savage (British title: Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms).

The Final Word: I had been waiting to read Rooftoppers because when I knew I was traveling to London, I decided I would pick up a copy there. After all, it was a British book, and I usually gravitate towards British covers more than the American covers of children’s books. When I bought the book, I immediately sat down with a cup of tea and a brownie and started reading. I was hooked from the start. I loved Sophie and her “father,” Charles, and I was on the edge of my seat as they fled London and traveled to Paris in search of Sophie’s mother. This is a delightful and heartwarming story for all ages—strongly recommended.

Books as Connection in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (2008)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shakker and Annie Barrows (2008)

(The Dial Press, 278 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars

Source: Personal Copy

Genre: Historical Fiction

guernsey

The Book: It’s 1946, World War II has ended, and Juliet Ashton is seeking ideas for her next book project. When she receives a letter from a man who lives on the British Island, Guernsey, everything changes. Dawsey is simply looking for a book recommendation from Juliet, but when he begins to write about the book club formed during the Nazi occupation of his island, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Juliet realizes this may just be the topic of her next book! She is drawn into the world of Guernsey and the heroic actions its inhabitants took during the war. Told through a series of letters between Juliet, her friends, and the members of society, this novel is a true gem. Illuminating the power of art, compassion, and the ways in which literature brings people together, this book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is one to be savored again and again!

Spirituality in The Guernsey Literature and Potato Peel Pie Society: This story is rich in spiritual themes and says a lot about the human condition and how we as people reach out to others in the darkest of times. I was especially interested in the character of Elizabeth, one of the women living on Guernsey, who does what is right, even in the face of great sacrifice. The way the people of Guernsey connect with one another and even their German occupiers highlights their spirituality—and this is certainly an aspect of the book that would make for rich and satisfying discussions.

Who Should Read This Book: If you enjoy historical fiction, you should read this book. If you want a story that will make you laugh and transport you to Britain during a significant point in its history, you should read this book.

The Final Word: This is my first review of a book for adults (and what does that really mean, anyways?) on the blog, and I am absolutely ecstatic that it’s this one. I bought a used copy of this at a library book sale and had been planning to read it for ages. During a recent holiday, I took the book along with me, and there were times when I just couldn’t put it down. Told through a series of letter, and some telegrams, I appreciated the different voices of the characters that came through their messages. Yes, there are incredibly happy parts and there are also sad parts. One can expect this with a novel that takes place just after World War II. But this book is worth it, in every way. Strongly recommended for reading groups!

 

Compassion & Love in 1930s Munich: Prisoner of Night and Fog (2014) by Anne Blankman

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman (2014)

Suggested age range: 13 and up (Harper Collins, 389 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars

Source: Personal Copy

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Night&Fog_jkt cvr

The Book: Gretchen is living in 1930s Munich—a time of rapid change, uncertainty, and darkness. Though her father is dead and she misses him terribly, Gretchen goes to school and dreams of one day becoming a doctor. She is adored by her “Uncle Dolf”, a close family friend…who just happens to be Hitler. And he is growing in power. It isn’t until Gretchen receives a message from a Jewish reporter about her father’s death that she begins to question all she has been led to believe about Uncle Dolf and what is happening in Germany. What begins as a search for information about what happened to her father turns into a dangerous and risky adventure that will affect Gretchen and her family far more than she thought.

Spirituality in Prisoner of Night and Fog: One reason why I appreciate books set during World War II so much is because of the way these stories often illuminate the simple bravery, compassion, and love found within people. Though there is also the very real juxtaposition of the battle between good and evil in such stories, these books highlight how people make sacrifices for one another, sometimes even for people they don’t know, because it is simply “the right thing to do.” This story expertly depicts how a person might be raised with a particular worldview, but that perspective can either deepen or change as other viewpoints come into focus. Gretchen’s character reflects someone who desires to connect meaningfully with others, and is not afraid to go after what is right.

Who Should Read This Book: If you liked The Book Thief or Code Name Verity or just a good historical novel with intrigue, suspense, and some romance, you should certainly pick up this new release by Blankman. I read this in one afternoon, and was thinking about the book for several days afterwards. What would it have been like to be a family member or close friend of Hitler’s? From the first page, readers will be drawn into an exciting story set within a turbulent and significant time in history.

The Final Word: I loved this book! It was one of my highly anticipated releases by a debut author for 2014, and I was not disappointed. I read the book as part of Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon and I would have read it all in one day, even if I hadn’t participated in the read-a-thon. The pace of the story was perfect, and the development of Gretchen’s character was not too rushed. I was very interested in her as a character—Blankman has created a female protagonist whose story I am anxious to know about when the next installment is released.

 

#AtoZchallenge: “P” is for Prisoner of Night and Fog (2014) by Anne Blankman

What would you do if your uncle was none other than…Adolf Hitler??

That is exactly the case for Gretchen Muller, the protagonist of Anne Blankman’s Prisoner of Night and Fog (Balzer & Bray), which will be in bookstores on Tuesday, April 22nd!!!

Today’s post is highlighting the novel, since it is one of my anticipated releases for 2014. Historical fiction is a favorite genre of mine, especially novels set during World War II. Some of my favorites include The Book Thief, The Devil’s Arithmetic, Number the Stars, and Tamar (The Invisible Bridge is a favorite in the adult genre). I am currently brainstorming a future research project on how reading and responding to historical fiction might nurture the spirituality of young readers and help them to be grow in empathy.

I’m very excited about reading this novel by Anne Blankman and am happy April 22nd is just around the corner!

Night&Fog_jkt cvr

Here’s the GoodReads summary:

“In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler.

And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.”

Are you planning to read this next week? What is your favorite historical novel for children or YA set during World War II?