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?

The World of the “Possible”: The Fourteenth Goldfish (2014) by Jennifer L. Holm

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm (2014)

Suggested age range: 10 and up (Random House Books for Kids, 208 pages)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Source: e-ARC from Net Galley

Genre: Middle Grade, Science Fiction

I received an e-ARC of this book from Net Galley & Random House Kids in exchange for an honest review.

goldfish

The Book: Ellie is eleven and in middle school. Transition is difficult in itself but throw in the sudden arrival of her grandfather at her home, and things are even more complicated. That’s because he’s thirteen years old! As a famous scientist, Melvin has successfully reversed the aging process through his discovery of a jellyfish compound, dubbed T. melvinus. So Ellie is essentially going to school with a teenager who has a 76 year old brain. Ellie and her friend Raj decide to help Melvin break into his lab in order to safeguard the compound, and if they accomplish this, perhaps the world will finally have its “fountain of youth.” What ensues is a humorous adventure in which Ellie discovers more about herself,  the changing nature of friendships, and the value of love from family and friends in the midst of growing up.

Spirituality in The Fourteenth Goldfish: The book’s ability to make the reader consider the realm of the “possibles” in the world of science is one of its highlights. I, for one, think that the relationship between spirituality and science is a relevant one. Especially when you get into quantum physics. I’ll save that for another post though. What I want to say is that some points and themes in the story leave gaps for spiritual ideas to poke through. For example, the cycle of life is important and the way that cycle runs is significant—if we have the power, should we be able to alter that? Should we play God? Such questions raise what could be heavy issues with readers.

Who Should Read This Book: Fans of When You Reach Me or A Tangle of Knots would get this title as a reading option from me (were you in my 6th grade classroom). The journey of a girl navigating the beginnings of middle school and also harboring a great secret (her grandfather who has discovered how to reverse aging is a teenager living in her home) is one that I think many readers of fantasy or science fiction would enjoy. I also think there are some cool events that could coincide with this text—jellyfish research and fountain of youth creations and even lunch at a Chinese restaurant where segments of dialogue could be read from the book in a reader’s theatre presentation. Don’t ignore the ‘possibles’ with this one!

The Final Word: Jennifer L. Holm is a three time Newbery honor winner, and this novel’s unique premise is reason alone to delve into the world of middle grade science fiction, if that’s not your normal cup of tea. If you found a fountain of youth, would you take advantage of it? If you could have your grandparent live with you, but as a teenager, would you say yes? You might never have to answer either of these questions in reality, but they’re amusing to think about. This story is charming, but it also gives science nerds something meatier to read as well. Readers that aren’t as interested in science might get a little bogged down at times, and there were a few points where I wanted more to happen faster, but all in all, I enjoyed the story and was satisfied with its conclusion. I’m especially drawn to middle grade novels that highlight enduring themes like this one: “Never ignore a possible.” Challenge accepted.

What did you think of The Fourteenth Goldfish? Are there other middle grade science fiction titles this reminds you of?

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust (2014) by Loic Dauvillier, Marc Lizano, & Greg Salsedo

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier, illustr., Marc Lizano, Color by Greg Salsedo, Trans., Alexi Siegel (2014, English translation)

Suggested age range: 10 and up (First Second, 80 pages)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Source: Library

Genre: Middle Grade, Graphic Novel

hidden

“It was hard…but we were together.”

The Book:  When her granddaughter finds Dounia crying late one night, Dounia takes Elsa on her lap and begins to share her story. Hidden tells the story of Dounia, who was forced to hide from the Germans in France in 1942.What ensues is a touching, and at times saddening tale of one child’s experience during the Holocaust. Her parents do all they can to keep Dounia safe, even at the expense of their own lives. Originally translated from the French, Hidden underscores the bravery and courage of those who helped Jews during the Holocaugreek hiddenst, but also highlights the resilience of the very young during a terrible time in world history.

Spirituality in Hidden: Needless to say, there are several ways this story revealed a spiritual landscape. First, in the area of relational connectedness: I love the stronger connection that develops between Dounia and her granddaughter as she shares her past—including its joys and tragedies. Because Dounia is opening up about her history, she also develops a deeper bond with her son, and this is revealed visually at the very end of the story. That alone is a strong spiritual aspect of the story and could be a meaningful point for readers. Another spiritual aspect to highlight with any group discussion of the book is the bravery and sacrifice of those who risked their lives and gave of their resources to help hide children during the Holocaust.

A question for you to think about: What’s so spiritual about people helping others they don’t even know? And risking their lives for them? Both the textual and visual geography of this graphic novel further reinforce the potential spirituality of children’s literature.

Who Should Read This Book: Recommended for age 10 and up. This would be an excellent book for the classroom, and I think it’s a graphic novel that would be equally as meaningful shared between parent(s) and child reader. Just as the story opens with Elsa on her grandmother’s lap, hearing about her grandmother’s past and heritage, children and parents could talk about their own family background after the reading of this story. There’s a plethora of other types of discussions that groups of readers could dive into with this story, and I’m sure educators would see a lot of potential for curriculum development with this book related to both language arts and social studies curriculum.

The Final Word: The teamwork revealed through this book among author, illustrators, and translator is brilliant. I especially would look closely at the relationship between the words and the pictures. There are rich gaps within the story—pictures that extend the text, and text that fills in gaps in the pictures. This isn’t a simplistic graphic novel, but a rich and rewarding experience. This is another one that might require the tissue box, but it’s worth it.

Strongly recommended! I waited too long to read this one, and I read it all in one sitting. A fantastic addition to the already rich field of middle grade graphic novels for 2014.

Have you read it? What did you think? Are there other graphic novels set in this time period that you would recommend?

Check out the French cover below:

french hidden

Endings Can Be Beginnings: Counting by 7s (2013) by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan (2013)

Suggested age range: 9 and up (Dial, 380 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars

Source: Library

Genre: Contemporary Realism

“And endings are always the beginnings of something else.”

counting by sevens

The Book: This heartwarming story opens with a tragedy, but is surprisingly hopeful and unique throughout the rest of the novel. In the narrative, we meet twelve year-old genius, Willow, who counts by sevens, is a math whiz, and loves making things grow. The story charts Willo’ws journey to discovering a community and a new family. The beauty and wonder of the natural world is celebrated through Willow’s reflective and unique perspective of her surroundings.

Spirituality in Counting by 7s: Willow’s journey into becoming comfortable with herself, a girl without parents, is one spiritual aspect of the story. I was particularly interested in the way the author revealed Willow’s spirituality though her gardening. The people Willow encounters affect her spiritual identity, and with them she develops community. The way Willow’s community support and love her represents a part of the story I fell in love with—as a reader I was cheering for Willow and the search for her to discover a place in a community that would value her. Her discovery of these people and  of a purpose really made this a strong book for me.

Who Should Read This Book: This middle grade novel is similar to ones by Kate DiCamillo in that I think it’s a story almost any age would enjoy. Whether you’re twelve or twenty, I think you can appreciate this story and Willow’s journey as she navigates a world without family. Readers may discover some aspects of Willow’s journey to relate to—we are all searching for belonging and identity in some way, and this journey doesn’t stop at a certain age, though it may become easier.

Using this book with young readers? After reading the book, you could give your readers the opportunity to either journal in response to a question such as: What is one thing in your life that makes you feel like you belong?” or draw a picture about something in the book they liked. Arts-based response would be fabulous with this book. Either way, there is a lot of potential for curriculum with upper elementary students, or any age for that matter. Discussion is a must for any activity that you use with your young readers.

The Final Word: The book is refreshing in the way it’s not predictable and features some surprising turns. That’s one of the reasons why I give this book such a high rating. I leave you with a quote from the book that relates well to that notion:

“What we expect rarely occurs; what we don’t expect is what happens.”

This 2013 story is not to be missed, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the book, in spite of my worries about it being too sad initially. Don’t be put off by the potentially tragic premise—Sloan’s novel is brilliant!

 

 

 

ALL FOUR STARS AUTHOR INTERVIEW: TARA DAIRMAN–WORLD TRAVELER

allfourstars_finalWhen I posted ALL FOUR STARS by TARA DAIRMAN as one of my top anticipated releases for 2014 at the beginning of the year, I had no idea the blog would be one of her interview stops, or that I would write a recipe-inspired post from the book. If you’ve read my review of this contemporary middle grade novel, out July 10th, you will know that it is one of my new favorites, and I absolutely fell in love with Gladys and her culinary antics!

I appreciate that Tara took the time to visit the blog and answer some questions I devised for her. I think you’ll enjoy reading her responses. And A SEQUEL!! She talked about a sequel!!

Enjoy!

Tara Dairman headshot

1. I loved All Four Stars and think the plot is fantastic. Where and when did the idea for the story start to brew?

Thank you so much, Katie! I was living in New York when I first started to write ALL FOUR STARS, and working as an editor at a small magazine. In that job, I had freelance writers who wrote stories that I edited, but I never met most of them, or even talked to them on the phone. So it occurred to me that if a kid was a good writer, she might be able to hoodwink me into publishing her. And if she could trick me, why not the biggest newspaper in New York? 

I was interested in food and cooking, too, so it made sense for me to make my young writer a wannabe restaurant critic. And I moored her out in the suburbs, where I grew up, with parents who couldn’t have been less interested in gourmet food. The rest of the plot just kind of flowed from that!

I loved the contrast of a foodie protagonist with parents who cooked using the microwave–brilliant! 

2. What’s your writing process like? Is it very structured? Do you have to write in a specific location, have a certain noise level, etc.?

These days, I tend to be more structured about my writing process than I used to be. I prefer to work in the mornings, either at home or in public. I don’t mind a low level of background noise, but I can’t listen to music while I write. A hot beverage next to the computer is nice. But really, I can write anywhere if I have to. I drafted parts of ALL FOUR STARS on the New Jersey Transit Bus during my morning commute when I was living on the east coast, and in various spots (mostly cafes) around the world while I backpacked for two years with my husband.

I love to write while traveling, and I love the idea that some of your story was written in different cafes of the world!

3. What would you say to young readers who pick up ALL FOUR STARS and then want to learn to cook or bake, but have never made anything before? What would you encourage them to start with?



That’s a terrific question! Well, first of all, I’d make sure you have permission from an adult and supervision if necessary, especially if you are going to use knives or the stove or oven. Then I would pick a recipe that has a short list of ingredients. If you’re baking, something like muffins or a quick bread can be a good place to start; for dinner, maybe pasta with a very simple sauce, like garlic and oil. And a fancy salad is easy to make and can be surprisingly delicious—baby spinach with sliced pears and blue cheese was the first salad I ever made, and I love it to this day!

That is a lovely salad combination!

4. I love Gladys’s determination to get that restaurant review completed—are there any parallels between Gladys’s antics and her experiences in the book and your own childhood?

Haha—not that I can recall. Gladys is much bolder and more adventurous than I was at that age. The only real parallel I can think of is that I eventually developed a taste for surprising people—for instance, in high school, I did Mathletes and cheerleading at the same time. But that was about as bold as things got for me. 🙂

I enjoy hearing about unique high school experiences–they definitely make for interesting plot lines…

5. These are important questions I love to ask authors who visit the blog: Favorite kind of donut, Favorite kind of pie, Favorite kind of cake?


My favorite donut is the peanut butter and jelly donut from Square Donuts from Terre Haute, Indiana! My favorite kind of pie is cherry (closely followed by rhubarb), and my favorite kind of cake is carrot. Mmm, now I’m hungry for all of these things.

Excellent choices! Cherry pie is such a perfect choice for this time of year–I have to say I wouldn’t mind a slice myself.

6. I read about your amazing two year journey around the world with your husband—could you name your top three favorite meals? (and places where you had those meals?)

Ooh, a trip down culinary memory lane! It’s almost impossible to narrow it down, but here are three amazing meals I had:

-Breakfast of pan de yuca (cheese bread) and yogurt smoothies in Quito, Ecuador (2009)

Breakfast of pan de yuca and yogurt

-Lunch of donkey meat in Beijing, China—surprisingly tasty! (2011)

Lunch of donkey meat in China

-Christmas dinner in Hyderabad, India—chicken saag, Hyderabadi biryani (a specially-prepared rice dish with beautiful, extremely long rice grains), and so many different kinds of bread that the waiter warned us that we were ordering too much (2010)

Christmas dinner in Hyderabad

These look like three amazing meals! My cousin is getting ready to visit China–I’ll have to ask her about trying donkey meat. That Indian meal is definitely making my mouth water….Thank you for sharing these wonderful photos! 

7. Will there be any future books with Gladys or do you think you will write another foodie book?



Yes—there will be a sequel to ALL FOUR STARS in summer, 2015! It’s set during the summer after sixth grade, and Gladys faces a whole new world of professional and personal challenges. I’ll hopefully be able to share more information about it soon. I’m really excited about it.

(jumps up and down) I can’t wait!

8. Is there a dessert place in NYC like Classy Cakes that you would recommend to your readers?

Classy Cakes wasn’t based on any one place, but the restaurant Serendipity 3 on the Upper East Side is pretty well-known for its pricey desserts (and its long lines and snippy attitudes!), so I may have drawn a bit of inspiration from it. 

The Internet tells me that there is also an all-dessert restaurant in Manhattan called ChikaLicious, which sounds a lot like Classy Cakes, but I’ve never been! Maybe next time I’m in town…

Yes! I’ve been to Serendipity 3–we waited a long time to get in, but we wanted to try that frozen hot chocolate. 🙂 

Thank you so much for having me, Katie! These were terrific questions!

Thank you, Tara!!

Do look up this debut author–see links below! And you can get her book, out in just TWO DAYS!

Social media links:

Website: www.taradairman.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TaraDairman

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TaraDairmanAuthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13598351-all-four-stars

Also, be sure to check out The Midnight Garden ALL FOUR STARS blog tour, if you haven’t already!

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