Middle Grade Monday: Little Author in the Big Woods (2014) by Yona Zeldis McDonough

Little Author in the Big Woods: A Biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Yona Zeldis McDonough, Illustrations by Jennifer Thermes (2014)

Suggested age range: 7 and up (Henry Holt, 157 pages)

Rating: 3.5/5 stars (This short and sweet biography with its charming illustrations is a good choice for fans of the Little House books.)

Source: Personal Copy

Genre: Nonfiction, Biography

little author in the big woodsThe Book: Divided into eight chapters and illustrated with charming and comfy black and white pencil drawings, McDonough’s biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder is a good choice for elementary readers interested in the life of the beloved Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie. Here we learn more about the lives of Laura’s parents, Charles and Caroline, and about Laura’s early life growing up in the “Big Woods.” The book follows Laura all the way until her death, providing details about her life with Almanzo, her daughter, Rose, and her life as a writer. Readers will recognize events shared in the biography if they’re familiar with the Little House books. This is something the author mentions—the fact that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about the life she knew—and which made her historical fiction that much more powerful. The book also includes quotes of Laura’s, “Games Laura Played,” a craft, and even recipes of foods mentioned by Laura.

Highlights: Love the map in the front of the book—“Places Laura Lived”—including the states of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas. At several points in the book, the author connects different events in Laura’s life to reinforce how those events contributed to her becoming a writer. These reminders made me think about how so many factors influence the roles we end up filling in our lives—but if we have a strong passion for something, it’s hopeful that we’ll end up nurturing that anyway.

Who Should Read This Book: Readers of the beloved Little House books will appreciate this short and sweet biography, peppered with charming black and white drawings of various scenes from Laura’s life. It’s an easy read, filled with loads of information and interesting details about the various moves Laura’s family took throughout her life.

To Read or Not to Read?: Yes! I’ve been a fan of the Little House books since I was a young reader, and I have always been fascinated by the fact that the books were inspired by the real life of a girl growing up on the Prairie. This biography reminded me of how much I loved reading about the Ingalls family and the daily routines of their life back in the middle of the 19th century. Historical fiction is a genre I ADORED as a young reader, and I still LOVE a good historical read today. You’ll notice I don’t post reviews of as many nonfiction books on the blog, but reading Little Author in the Big Woods has made me rethink that. Nonfiction literature for children and young adults is a valuable genre, and it may be that my jaunt over the vast space Laura Ingalls Wilder journeyed during her lifetime via this short read just may inspire me to pursue more nonfiction journeys for young readers in the near future!

Do you have a favorite Nonfiction read from 2014? Or from any year that you think I absolutely must read??

 

Middle Grade Monday: Nest (2014) by Esther Ehrlich

Happy Christmas Week! Things have been a bit slow on the blog due to travel by yours truly, but I’m settled in for the holidays now, so glad to be back! You may have noticed: my blog announcement hasn’t been made yet. That will change soon, so stay tuned.

Welcome to another Middle Grade Monday!

Nest by Esther Ehrlich (2014)

Suggested age range: 12 and up (Wendy Lamb Books, 336 pages)

Rating: 3.5/5 stars [I will definitely recommend it to readers who would be drawn to this type of story; The book was pretty good but not sure it’s for everyone and there may be a few things about the book that didn’t work for me.]

Source: e-ARC from Netgalley

Genre: Historical Fiction

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley from Wendy Lamb Books. This in no way influenced my review! Thank you, Wendy Lamb Books!

nestThe Book: Set in 1972, on Cape Cod, this middle grade realistic story charts the ups and downs in the life of a young girl whose mother becomes ill with multiple sclerosis. Along with her sister and father, eleven year-old Chirp wants to see her mother get better, and attempts to cheer her up in the midst of a very difficult season of life. Even though Chirp’s friend, Joey, has his own challenges at home, the antics of the two friends keep the story filled with humor. At times heart-wrenching, the story reflects the work of an author who doesn’t shy away from engaging with serious topics in this heartfelt and beautifully written story.

Spirituality in Nest: How does the heart heal after tragedy? Is the love between family members strong enough in the face of losing a loved one? Both of these questions are raised in the story, suggesting a deep and moving aspect of the book. This one definitely raises some thought-provoking moments, though it took me awhile to get into the story.  Chirp’s aesthetic appreciation for the natural world and her awareness and observation of that world is yet another aspect of spirit in the narrative. Her keen observation of birds and wildlife reminded me a little of the way Anne Shirley is in tune with the natural world.

Who Should Read This Book: Though booksellers might consider this book for readers younger than twelve, because of the subject matter and the way it’s represented, I’m going to suggest the book for readers twelve and up. Of course, parents may decide for themselves whether this book would work for a young reader or not. That’s just my two cents. There are some very serious and intense topics and moments in the story, but realistically, some young people have to face situations such as the ones the story brings up. In that case, the book would be extremely relevant.

The Final Word: It took me awhile to get into this story as I felt the pace was a bit slow, but once I reached a certain point—about halfway through—it seemed to pick up. I enjoyed the patterns and echoes Ehrlich employed in the story, and the motifs she used, such as the nest and the birds. I especially appreciated learning more about Cape Cod and the different types of birds living in that environment. The story reflects multiple moments of beauty and celebrates an aesthetic appreciation of the nature world. The story, though tragic at times, ends on a note of hope.

Have you read this new Middle Grade release? What did you think?

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?