Books: Angus and the Ducks, told and pictured by Marjorie Flack
1943, Doubleday & Company, Inc.
Happy May! I checked the hedgerows and the may is definitely blooming, so it’s official. Here is what we’ve been up to lately.
I recently reread Angus and the Ducks, a very fun little book about a dog named Angus (no, not that one). The pictures are very interesting and striking as well.
I’ve also been reading some classic mysteries, as usual.
As the weather gets warmer I always feel like eating things that are fresh and raw, but I don’t want to fiddle with complicated salads. I normally just chop up whatever’s about.
This is even nicer when you put it in a jar with some sea salt, olive oil and lemon juice and leave it overnight, and it goes with pretty much anything.
Before the grass gets too long and the bugs too numerous, now us a great time to walk around barefoot. It’s a long school term for us here, everyone is cooped up with SATs and things, when we’d all prefer to be enjoying the first warm weather. So we try to grab any chance we can to get outside.
Books: The Boy Who Didn’t Believe in Spring by Lucille Clifton; pictures by Brinton Turkle
1973, Dutton The Spring Rabbit by Joyce Dunbar; illustrated by Susan Varley 1994, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
Although we’re at the end of spring break, I have to say it’s still pretty chilly here, not to mention rainy. I know a lot of you are in mud season or even still socked under a load of snow.
Here are two books about how Spring can often feel a long time coming. The Boy Who Didn’t Believe in Spring is about a little boy called King Shabazz who didn’t believe in Spring. One day he gets fed up of hearing about crops growing and bluebirds (which seem mythical to him), and about Spring being just around the corner. He sets off with his best friend Tony on a big adventure: around the corner.
Along the way they see many interesting things in their neighbourhood, and the illustrations are really fun and realistic, showing the ’70’s city scene as the kids walk through it. The clothes and the cars alone are great.
Of course in the end they do find Spring, and it’s as magical and wonder-inspiring as it should be, even though it’s only the tiniest of signs. Which is a nice message and a good reminder that wherever we live, Spring is for us too…even if we don’t currently have nice weather or wildflower meadows to frolic in!
This is a really fun story which has a powerful feeling of a specific time and place, but it’s also pretty timeless. It’s very effective at getting the reader into the mindset of a child and allowing us to feel the wonderment at very little things which kids (even those who think they know it all!) feel.
The next book is called The Spring Rabbit and is about a rabbit named Smudge who desperately wants a sibling to play with, but everyone keeps telling him to wait until Spring.
Smudge has a very hard time waiting through the Autumn and Winter. He keeps looking and hoping, but everyone continually tells him to wait until Spring.
Finally, Spring arrives and Smudge gets two brothers and a sister!
This book really conveys the frustration of waiting for something, whether it’s a new sibling or Springtime, so it would certainly be a useful read for a child who is impatient about something. The illustrations are light and airy and have a real springy feeling.
When I think of Spring food I automatically think of eggs.
When it comes to eggs, it’s best to get the highest quality ones that you can. We are very lucky to live near a farm where we can get eggs from very happy pastured chickens. You can tell from how orange the yolks are that they have a lot of nutrition. Here are three ways to make eggs that are almost as enticing as Weissman’s buns and the take-out shop bar-b-q.
Eggs with Spring Greens
4 pastured eggs
2/3 cup milk (or coconut milk)
1 Tbsp butter or coconut oil
1 leek, chopped
2 cups sugar snap peas (mange tout), chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 handful fresh sprouts such as mustard or cress
Any other greens of choice (optional)
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
Hot sauce to serve (optional)
Heat the butter in a pan over a medium heat until it is a little sizzly. Add the garlic, leeks, peas, most of the sprouts, and any other green things you like. Cook down until the leeks are getting soft, about five minutes. Add the eggs and milk together in a bowl with the salt and pepper and whisk them until they are frothy. Then take the vegetables out of the pan and put them aside. Add a little more butter if you need it, and still on a medium heat, add the eggs. As they are cooking, pull the eggs in from the sides with a spatula to make big curds. When the eggs are mostly cooked (which should take no more than a couple of minutes) spoon the greens on top of them and cover the pan with a lid for another couple of minutes. To serve, top with the remaining mustard sprouts and hot sauce.
Two other nice ways to serve eggs are:
1. On toast with spinach and kombu.
2. With fried rice, green beans, carrots, peas, and sauerkraut.
Eggs on toast with spinach and kombu
Fried rice with green beans, peas, carrots, sauerkraut and eggs
Happy Spring, everyone! I’m sure it will be here soon enough.
Go on a signs of Spring walk and see what you can find. We saw these beauties today by the side of the road:
Book: Christmas in the Country by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Diane Goode
2002, The Blue Sky Press
Doing this series has been a lot of fun and has introduced me to some new and interesting books, many of which I will certainly revisit. I think being the last day, however, is even more reason to finish with full festiveness, a little looking back, and a little looking forward.
Christmas in the Country is written by the prolific and varied Cynthia Rylant. It is told from the point of view of someone who lived with her grandparents when she was a little girl. It basically just describes what Christmas was like for her then, from bringing home the tree to taking it down.
My favourite thing about this book is the extremely relatable details, such as how the mismatched and homemade ornaments remind her of her whole life, or how they always got a tree that was a little too big and so they had to squeeze round it in the living room, but how it was the prettiest thing they had.
Or how they put their wet boots and gloves near the stove to dry, and how the dogs all bark at the commotion of Christmas Day. The overall impression is one of appreciation for the little details of life which we often take for granted as adults. The natural, lively and expressive illustrations really enhance this.
Another reason I wanted to recommend this book for today is that many people feel a bit gloomy after the holidays. Even though my family will be leaving our tree up (and squeezing round it in the living room) for a while yet, and the time of “cocoa and blankets” will continue for months to come, there will be a time when we have to pack up the ornaments, and sweep up the fir needles.
But this book, in the beginning and the end, reminds us of all the other things there are to look forward to in the year: “spring walks and summer tomatoes and fall apples,” and then Christmastime again!
I hope your holidays were something special and your New Year continues to be so.
Book: Good King Wenceslas by J. M. Neale, pictures by Arthur Gaskin, with an introduction by William Morris
1904, Village Press
It’s Day 11 and we are coming towards the end of the 12 Days.
Good King Wenceslas was written in the 19th century, and this book was made soon after, although this particular reprint is from 1904. There is a short introduction by William Morris, and the illustrations are by Arthur Gaskin, who was part of the Arts and Crafts movement. You can find an online version here.
This Christmas carol (if you haven’t heard it) is about a king who sees a poor peasant gathering wood in the snow on Saint Stephen’s Day. The king is determined to personally bring the poor man meat, wine, and wood, and so he and his page travel through the wintry weather to carry them to him.
While the vocabulary might be a bit tricky and old-fashioned for younger readers, that doesn’t really matter as the story is quite straightforward.
The best thing about this book is that, because it is influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, the entire design is beautiful and intentional. Its typeface is designed to look like a medieval manuscript and has detailed illuminated letters and borders. The pictures have a medieval quality and look to be engravings. The simplicity and sincerity matches to tone of the song.
It’s important at this time of year to remember that caring for all those in need is not an extraneous act, but the most essential kind of justice.
With the seriously wintry and bitter weather we have been having this year, remember to look out for each other!
Book: The Tomten adapted by Astrid Lindgren from a poem by Viktor Rydberg, illustrated by Harald Wiberg
1990, G.P. Putnam’s Sons
It’s always difficult to go back to work or school after a holiday, especially when you have to get up in the dark. On Day 10 we have the story of the Tomten, who works all the winter night.
This version of The Tomten is another Swedish story, adapted by Astrid Lindgren from a poem by Viktor Rydberg.
Perhaps because it’s based on a poem, this is not a very plot-heavy book, but more about mood, mystery, repetition, description, and atmosphere.
The Tomten lives on an old farm. Every night he goes through the farmyard and the house, speaking to the animals and looking after them. To each animal he speaks a variation on a little poem about how Winters and Summers come and go.
The whole mood is a little melancholy. The Tomten seems a little lonely because he can’t speak to the humans in the house, and they will never see him, because he only comes out at night.The Tomten has seen many hundreds of winters, so it makes sense that he would have a good perspective for the animals who are longing for summertime. And he will carry on as long as there people at the farm for him to help.
This is a lovely book with evocative prose, and especially beautiful pictures of the snowy farm lit by brilliantly bright moonlight and snowlight.
It certainly makes me feel better about getting up in the cold and dark!
Book: Merry Christmas, Strega Nona story and pictures by Tomie dePaola
1986, Scholastic Inc.
For many people Christmas is over by now. We are going back to work tomorrow, and daily life will resume somewhat as usual. However, it actually is only Day 9!
Today is Merry Christmas, Strega Nona, part of Tomie dePaola’s series about an Italian grandmother/witch.
In this story Strega Nona is getting ready for Christmas. She loves it so much that she refuses to use magic to help with the work, much to the chagrin of her helper, Big Anthony, who is constantly being sent on errands.
She always makes a big feast for everyone at Christmas, but this year Big Anthony tells her that he has forgotten all the preparations for it, and since Strega Nona is determined to stick to her principles and not use magic, there will be no feast.
There follows a quite melancholy interlude as Strega Nona goes sadly to Mass, and comes sadly home. This section is accompanied by some of the loveliest and most minimalist of the illustrations.
In the end it turns out that this was a surprise plan by Big Anthony so that everyone else could make the feast for Strega Nona this time. Personally, this seems like a bit of mean trick on her, but thankfully she is quite happy about it.
Strega Nona’s Christmas Feast
One of the best things about this book is the charming illustrations, which have a lovely, timeless folk-art feel. I don’t know how authentic it is to southern Italian Christmas traditions, but it is nice to add to our internationalselection.
We never find out why exactly Strega Nona doesn’t want to use magic for her preparations, but it can be more rewarding sometimes to do things yourself, by hand, and put in the work for something worthwhile.
Book: Henry and Mudge and the Snowman Plan by Cynthia Rylant, pictures by Suçie Stevenson
1999, Simon & Schuster
You can’t go wrong with Henry and Mudge. On Day 7 we have The Snowman Plan, which continues our snowy theme. In this story, Henry and Mudge see a sign for a snowman contest.
This is obviously very exciting!
Henry tells his father, who is busy painting a chair green, and has gotten green paint all over himself. But his father is as enthusiastic about the Snowman Plan as are Henry and Mudge.
There are many interesting snowmen in the competition, but most especially Henry and his father’s, which is a depiction of the father painting a chair green.
In the end they win third place, for “most original”.
It’s nice that Henry and his father are as excited about winning third place as if they had won first. This is a very charming book, extremely positive and fun, with expressive illustrations, and small children will find it very funny.
For this New Year, I hope we all find something we are as excited about as Henry is about the Snowman Plan, and as Mudge is about dessert!
Book: Five Little Foxes and the Snow by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Cyndy Szekeres
1977, G.P. Putnam’s Sons
For Day 6 we have Five Little Foxes and the Snow. While The Mitten was about a boy who wanted his grandmother to knit him snow-white mittens, this little book is about a bunch of little foxes whose grandmother won’t let them play in the snow because their paws will get cold.
For five days the snow continues to fall, and to grow deeper and deeper around little foxes’ burrow. Each day one of the foxes asks their patient grandmother if they can play in the snow. Each day she puts them off by saying their paws will be cold, and suggesting another activity. Meanwhile she spends her time knitting by the fire.
Of course, when Christmas Day arrives they receive their gifts — five pairs of colourful mittens, so they can finally play in the snow!
This is a very cute and cozy little book. The main appeal comes from the illustrations, which have a very warm 70’s quality to them. The depictions of what the little foxes got up to are very detailed and amusing, and will be familiar to anyone who has ever been snowed in as a child — or snowed in with children!
The five little foxes had gingerbread men and warm cider on their snow days, but you can enjoy them whether you have snow or not. Just be sure to keep warm!
Book: The Mitten adapted and illustrated by Jan Brett
1989, G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Day 5 moves from Sweden to Ukraine. Jan Brett adapted a traditional tale about a boy named Nicki who wanted mittens made from wool as white as snow.
His grandmother, Baba, warns him that they will get lost in the snow. But she knits them for him and sure enough, he loses one in the snow when he goes out to play.
But the mitten looks so cozy and warm that a whole bunch of animals (including a mole, an owl, a badger, and a bear) that pass by decide to crawl inside. The Mitten stretches and stretches, but the last animal (a little mouse) is one too many. The bear sneezes and the Mitten shoots up into the sky.
The story is fairly simple, but the best thing about this book is the illustrations. All the pictures are surrounded by birchbark and embroidery in folk art patterns. To the left of the main picture we always see a smaller picture of what Nicki is doing (inadvertently scaring the animals towards the Mitten), and to the left we see the next animal coming along. They are very pretty illustrations, and full of fun little details.
Hopefully this story will inspire you to go play in the snow — or just seek out somewhere warm and cozy to eat something hearty and do some knitting.