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: 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: Summer Party by Cynthia Rylant; illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin
2002, Aladdin Paperbacks Poem: Fairy Breadby Robert Louis Stevenson
How is everyone’s Summer? We haven’t had many nice days here. It’s been rather cold. But Summer is fleeting and you have to make the best of it! We have had a couple of barbecues and similar festivities. One Sunday we even got out the pool but it was too chilly!
Recently I read a book about making the best of things. Summer Party is about Lily, Rosie, and Tess (a pair of sisters and their cousin, all aged nine) who live with their Aunt Lucy for a year while their parents are travelling with the ballet. They get to live in an attic and it’s all very bohemian and charming.
Although this is a short book, a lot of detail is put into every character. Rosie is the most sentimental, Lily writes poems, Tess wants to be an actress, etc. Aunt Lucy has a flower shop, and her boyfriend Michael, who is from a wealthy family but is studying to be a botanist, always looks a bit shy and crumpled.
As the story opens the girls are all quite sad because when their parents get back they will have to leave their aunt and each other. They are feeling very conflicted and weepy in the first couple of chapters.
But their aunt and Michael try to help them cheer up, not by ignoring their feelings, but by addressing them in an active way. Their aunt says that a good way to do this is to find something to look forward to and make plans for the future. The girls realise that they will be able to have reunions with each other and the whole family every year. They are also encouraged to do something fun now, and so they plan a summer party. The girls plan the food and the entertainment as well. Lily writes a poem, Tess plans a song, and they make little funny fortunes to go at each table place. Rosie wants to make “little vegetable people” although she eventually changes her mind, thinking they will wilt. Here is their menu:
Pink lemonade with colored ice
Cookie cutter sandwiches
A punch called the Cousins’ Crayon Concoction The girls are nervous to see their parents after so long, but when they arrive everyone is happy. The party is a great success, and at the end Michael proposes to Lucy. Although everyone is still sad to say goodbye, the last line of the book is “There was so much to look forward to!” This is quite a fun little book. It is not long, but it is a chapter book and might be difficult for under sevens to read on their own. The subject matter is interesting and could be helpful in discussing with children how to deal with sadness, particularly that of a friend moving away, or themselves moving away. The children’s feelings are acknowledged, and they are helped to think of things that they do have control over, such as making the party and arranging meetings in the future. Aunt Lucy’s mantra of “Be brave. Have hope. Make plans for the future!” is pretty good advice for that stressful situation (and many others). Since we are moving house in a couple of months, it was certainly helpful for me to think about.
And if it is cold outside I think it is perfectly fine to have a Summer Party inside! I was inspired by the cousins’ menu but made a few changes. I didn’t make the little vegetable people, although that would be fun, particularly with children. To make the cookie cutter sandwiches even prettier, I made fairy bread. For anyone unfamiliar, fairy bread is just bread with sprinkles on top. I made some the usual way (as in just one slice), and some as sandwiches with the sprinkles then added to the top. Cookie Cutter Fairy Bread Sandwiches
Bread of choice (I used Schär’s gluten free seeded loaf)
Sandwich filling of choice (I used Nutella)
Sprinkles of choice (these should be small and colorful. Too big and they won’t provide even coverage)
Whipped cream Method
First make the sandwiches (I figure you all know how to do that!). Then cut out desired shapes using cookie cutters. You may have to be very careful extracting the sandwich from the cutter if it is a complicated shape. Don’t waste the crusts you cut off, just save them for bread pudding or something! Then spread the whipped cream on the top of the sandwich. Butter is traditional but I wanted something that would preserve the white color of the bread and also spread very easily, without being soggy. You need a thin, even layer all over the top slice. Then cover with sprinkles!
The second idea that I had was to attempt the Cousins’ Crayon Concoction. Presuming this does not contain actual crayons, I wanted to create something that contained multiple bright colors, and the only way I could think to do that was bubble tea. Cousins’ Crayon Concoction Bubble Tea
3 black tea bags or equivalent in loose tea
4 cups milk, almond milk or coconut milk
3 -4 Tbsp honey to taste
1 1/2 cups colored tapioca pearls or boba, preferably multicolored.
First make the milk tea. Boil a cup of water and steep the tea for 5 – 10 minutes. Remove the teabags, add honey to taste, and let the tea cool for another 15 minutes or so. Then add the tea and the milk (I used coconut milk, but if you prefer it not to taste coconutty, then use something different) into a large container with a lid. As you may guess this makes a very weak tea, but I did not want the color of the tea to interfere with the color of the boba, so I intentionally made it pale. You can make it stronger by using less milk or steeping the tea longer. Put the tea in the fridge to cool for a couple of hours. You could add ice and have it ready right away, but I prefer it this way. While the tea is cooling make the boba or tapioca pearls (If you can’t find multicolored ones I would recommend looking in an Asian grocer or online, but any color will do). Boil a large pot of water, add the pearls slowly, and stir. In a minute or so they will float to the surface of the water. Cover the pot and cook on medium heat for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and simmer another 2 -3 minutes. Strain the tapioca and rest in cold water for half a minute, then strain out and roll in a little sugar or honey.
Next, take out your cold tea and give it a good shake. You can use a cocktail shaker, froth it with a mixer or just shake it in the jar. Put a portion of tapioca pearls in the bottom of each glass and top up with the tea.
And lastly, the pink lemonade. I used this recipe from last Summer, but I added 1 1/2 cups pureed strawberries. You can use a blender, but if the strawberries are ripe you can also use a mortar and pestle. I personally like to have a little strawberry pulp in there. The only thing to remember is that you might need less sugar if the strawberries are very sweet.
Enjoy your Summer party and remember, there is so much to look forward to!
Books: Mr. Putter & Tabby Catch the Cold by Cynthia Rylant; illustrated by Arthur Howard
2002, Harcourt, Inc. Henry and Mudge get the Cold Shivers by Cynthia Rylant; illustrated by Suçie Stevenson 1989, The Trumpet Club
Well, here we are again! I’m very sorry for the big gap in posts. I was so busy and tired that I just couldn’t keep up. However, I’ve since changed jobs and have much more time and energy. And I have a lot to catch up on!
Being so tired and stressed took a big toll on me, and I spent a long time being pretty sick. But this time of year many of us suffer from that one cold that goes around and gets everyone (especially if you have/work with kids). So I thought we’d start with a couple of books by Cynthia Rylant for sick days. Mr. Putter & Tabby Catch the Cold is part of the Mr. Putter & Tabby series. Mr Putter is an older gentleman who lives with his cat, Tabby. It would be suitable for kids of any age, but it would be good for those who are just starting to read chapter books, as it has four short, easy chapters and fairly simple text. It takes place during Winter. Mr Putter and Tabby love the snow and they love being cozy. They really know what to do on a snowy day: make tea and muffins, light the fire and watch the snow fall. Perfect! But then Mr Putter catches a cold by going out to get the newspaper funnies without a hat. When Mr Putter was a child, colds were fun. His mother brought him soup and tea and adventure books. But the plight of a grownup with a cold is different. You have nobody to look after you (and usually you have to take a lot of cold medicine and go to work…yuck). You can’t lie in bed with toys, soup, tea, and The Call of the Wild.
The rest of the story is about how Mr Putter’s neighbor, Mrs Teaberry, and her dog Zeke, help Mr Putter to get his soup, tea, and adventure book. Zeke brings Mr Putter a Thermos of chicken soup, and another with peppermint tea and honey sticks.
Mr Putter ends up having a great day, and goes to sleep “full of soup and tea and adventure”.
This book is a good read for a wintry day. The illustrations are fluid and charming. Sadly, we have not got a single flake of snow here this year, and I enjoyed looking at the pictures of the snow. If you are lucky enough to have snow, and have some time off, then light the fire, make some soup, muffins, and tea, get cozy, and watch the flakes fall. Still, even if we can’t spend the day in bed, minty tea and adventure books are something almost any of us can enjoy, at home or even during lunch at work. Another book by the same author on a similar theme is Henry and Mudge get the Cold Shivers: The Seventh Book of Their Adventures. Instead of a man and his cat, this series is about a boy and his dog. It has three short chapters and is similar in style and tone. Henry’s big dog Mudge likes it when Henry has a sick day and gets to stay home in bed. Nobody thinks Mudge can get sick, but one day he does, and he has to go to the vet. Henry is worried about Mudge, and the pages where he is sitting in the waiting room are actually quite sad.
It turns out that Mudge just has a cold, and the previous description of Henry’s sick days (Popsicles, comic books, and crackers) are contrasted with Mudge’s (ice cubes, a rubber hamburger, and crackers). Of course Mudge gets well and there is a happy ending. This is a fun book which actually does address how scared kids can be when their pet is ill. Having read this to a bunch of six year olds, they really liked it, particularly Mudge himself. The only food in the book is the Popsicles and crackers. I never had Popsicles when sick as a child, but I did have crackers in my soup. So here is my family’s recipe for classic chicken soup. Chicken Soup
1 chicken (preferably free-range or pastured), giblets removed
2 stalks celery
3 carrots Method
Put a big pot of water on the stove on high heat. You could cut up the chicken here, but I never bother. A 3 lb/1kg-ish chicken fits right in my big pot. The water does not need to fill the pot, it just needs to cover the chicken. Bring to boil and then reduce heat to simmer. As the chicken simmers, ‘scum’ will rise to the top. Get a big spoon and skim it off. This is mostly cosmetic, so I often don’t bother with this either. If you want a clear broth, you can always strain it later. Cut up carrots and celery into vaguely 1 inch pieces and add them to the pot. Cook, simmering, for about 1 to 2 hours, covered, or mostly covered. When the soup is done cooking, take the chicken out of the soup, cool chicken on a plate, then separate chicken meat from bones and skin. Put meat back into soup. Season to taste with salt. You can re-use the chicken bones by putting them in a crockpot with more water to make bone broth.
This soup should be a mild broth. It’s full of goodness and vitamins and will definitely make you feel better! You could add cooked rice or noodles, or have it with crackers.
Of course, if you are sick, and like Mr Putter have nobody to cook for you, soup from scratch might be too much work:
Lazy Chicken Soup Method
Prepare chicken and vegetables as above, put them in a crockpot with a little water, set to low, and go back to it in eight hours! Dilute the broth with water and serve as above.
Extra Lazy Chicken Soup Method
Use bought chicken broth and chicken. Whatever, you’re not feeling well!
Put on your flannel pajamas, crawl into bed with some comic books, and get some rest!