31 Days of My Favorite Children’s Books: “The Goldilocks Variations” by Allan Ahlberg

One of my favorite things about going to bookstores is discovering a new favorite book purely by happenstance. That’s precisely the way I ran across “The Goldilocks Variations”. I was browsing in the children’s section of one of my favorite bookstores when I decided to check out the picture-book aisle. Even though my children have long outgrown picture books, I’m always looking for exceptional titles to add to my collection. Plus, there’s the thought of grandchildren in the future–a distant future hopefully, but still out there. The whimsical cover artwork caught my attention, and when I saw the author was Allan Ahlberg, one of my favorites, I had to pull it off the shelf for a closer look.

This is a book you should absolutely have in your library, whtether you have picture-book-age children or not.  Who would have thought the old tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears could be so fresh and delightful! We all know the original story I’m sure, but only Ahlberg could come up with such variations as Goldilocks and the 33 Bears, Goldilocks and the Furniture, or Goldilocks and the Bliim. Bliim are space creatures, if you were wondering. Goldilocks encounters other fairy-tale characters along the way, and the author even includes a book-within-a-book in the form of a play, complete with audience responses.

The illustrations are lovely watercolors, and the book is chock full of interactive parts, such as pull-tabs and pop-ups, on every page. Young children will love it for these features alone, and the British wit of the writing will appeal to older kids as well as adults. It’s perfect for reading aloud, with made-up words like spoolz, snopperink, woodootog, and boozl. The play is especially good for children to take parts, using fun voices for the different characters. It is in the form of a pantomime, and has characters throwing sweets into the audience at one point. Really great fun!

But don’t take my word for it when you can see it in person. Here is a video that will give you the full, immersive experience the book deserves. Enjoy!

31 Days of My Favorite Children’s Books: “Five Children and It” by E. Nesbit


I’ve struggled in writing this post, mainly because so much of the humor and atmosphere in the book just doesn’t come across in a simple synopsis. Nesbit’s writing is engaging even in today’s world, and since this book was written in 1902, that’s saying something. The fact that it’s never been out of print since it was first published says more than I can hope to get across in a few words. Since it was written in a much different world than we live in today, be prepared for a touch of political incorrectness, although nothing disturbing enough to detract from the otherwise wonderful qualities of this story. Add to that fact that it’s written by a British author and populated by British characters, so some of today’s children might have a hard time relating to the story in places. That being said, it remains a glorious tale of magic and adventure, and that, all children can relate to.

The book centers around five children (obviously), siblings named Robert, Anthea, Cyril, Jane, and baby brother, the Lamb. The “it” of the title is a disgruntled sand fairy, or Psammead, the children discover while digging in a sand pit near their home. When they discover it is required to grant their wishes, they are overjoyed, but apparently, they have never heard the phrase “be careful what you wish for.” Disgruntled may be too gentle a term to describe the Psammead’s disposition; it gets thoroughly disagreeable several times during the book and seems to take a perverse pleasure in knowing that the children’s wishes won’t always be the marvelous adventures they’re hoping for.

Aside from the Psammead’s prickly nature, it’s not much to look at either. “Its eyes were on long horns like a snail’s eyes, and it could move them in and out like telescopes; it had ears like a bat’s ears, and its tubby body was shaped like a spider’s and covered with thick soft fur, its legs and arms were furry too, and it had hands and feet like a monkey’s.” Not exactly what you picture when you hear the word “fairy”, is it?

Once the children finally convince the Psammead to come out of its bed of warm, dry sand, they learn that it has lived there for several thousand years, enjoying a nice long sleep and resting up from the days when sand fairies were plentiful and all the people used them for wishing on a regular basis. Of course, the children are delighted to learn that it can still grant wishes, but when forced to come up with a wish on the spur of the moment, “…be quick about it. I’m tired of you”, they can’t think of a thing. Seeing that the Psammead is about to burrow back into its warm home, Anthea blurts out a private wish of her own. The Psammead pushes out its eyes, holds its breath, and swells itself out till it is twice as fat and furry as before, but finally lets out a big sigh and declares itself out of practice. After coming to an agreement that the children will ask for no more than one wish a day among all of them, the Psammead gives their wish another try, and voila!, the book is off and running.

Each chapter is basically a short story recounting the children’s wishes and their outcomes. As I said, “be careful what you wish for” is a main theme, but Nesbit manages to make this point fresh and consistently funny. Her writing seems to be effortless, and children will never feel they’re getting a morality lesson, as so many other books from this time period are prone to give. Nesbit addresses this issue directly in the book. “And that, my dear children, is the moral of this chapter. I did not mean it to have a moral, but morals are nasty forward beings, and will keep putting their oars where they are not wanted. And since the moral has crept in, quite against my wishes, you might as well think of it next time you feel piggy yourself and want to get rid of any of your brothers and sisters.”

Asides like this one are peppered throughout the book, giving adults a chance to enjoy it as much as children. Here are a few more: “Trees are all different, as you know, and I am sure some tiresome person must have told you that there are no two blades of grass exactly alike.” “But the happenings of strange things, even if they are not completely pleasant things, is more amusing than those times when nothing happens but meals, and they are not always completely pleasant, especially on the days when it is cold mutton or hash.” “No one had a foot-rule in its pocket, so Robert could not be measured, but he was taller than your father would be if he stood on your mother’s head, which I am sure he would never be unkind enough to do.” One last example: “Everyone began to talk at once…but these children were used to talking ‘by fours’,…and each of them could say what it had to quite comfortably, and listen to the agreeable sound of its own voice, and at the same time have three quarters of two sharp ears to spare for listening to what the others said. That is an easy example in multiplication of vulgar fractions, but I dare say you can’t do even that, I won’t ask you to tell me whether 3/4 X 2 = 1 and 1/2, but I will ask you to believe me that this was the amount of ear each child was able to lend to the others. Lending ears was common in Roman times, as we learn from Shakespeare, but I fear I am getting too instructive.”

If you are looking for an entertaining book that your children will enjoy, or if you feel like indulging the child inside and reading a children’s book yourself, this is an excellent choice.  The story is great fun, and the writing is witty and tongue-in-cheek. Give it a try. You may discover your next favorite.


31 Days of My Favorite Children’s Books: Growing Up a Reader

Just a bit about me for new readers. This is a post from when I first started this blog. Reading and love of books has been part of who I am for as long as I can remember.

Completely Booked

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books. From the moment I was finally able to decipher all those squiggly lines on paper, I have been addicted to reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. My family didn’t have a lot of money for incidentals when I was growing up, but there was always enough for my mother to buy me a Little Golden Book every time she made a trip to the grocery store.I still have those little books, proudly displayed on my daughter’s bookshelf, along with her copies of Fancy Nancy and Junie B. Jones.

Once I reached third or fourth grade, Weekly Readers and The Scholastic Book Club allowed me to add to my library. I still remember the excitement I felt when our teacher would pass out the book-order leaflets. How I agonized over which book to buy, (rarely was it…

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31 Days of My Favorite Children’s Books: “The Adventures of the Five Children” by E. Nesbit


In preparation for this week’s review of “Five Children and It”, I wanted to share this picture of my Folio Society boxed set of E. Nesbit’s magical trilogy, The Adventures of the Five Children. I could have picked any one of the three books to include in this writing series; they are all equally good and all three are favorites. What to do? What to do? In the end, I decided to choose the first in the trilogy, simply because it was the first book of Nesbit’s I ever read.

I had good intentions of having the review ready for today’s post, but with school being out for the Columbus Day holiday, I chose to spend time with my daughter instead. I hope you’ll check back in later this week to read about this delightful book. Here’s hoping all of you had a great Monday!

31 Days of My Favorite Children’s Books: E. Nesbit

I’m going to cheat a bit today and reblog a post from January, 2015. It’s actually a perfect post for the series, and the timing is just right. I had planned to write about several of this author’s books anyway, as she is one of my favorites. I hope everyone has a great weekend with the opportunity to do lots of reading!

Completely Booked

E. Nesbit E. Nesbit

If you were a reader as a child, I’m sure you had a favorite author whose books you just could not wait to get your hands on. If not a favorite author, then at least there was probably a particular genre of books that you found yourself drawn to over and over again. For me, that genre was fantasy, or more particularly magic, and the author was E. Nesbit.

If you aren’t familiar with E. Nesbit, it isn’t all that surprising. Edith Nesbit Bland, born in 1858 in Kennington, Surrey (now part of Greater London), had been dead about 50 years when I first discovered her books in the mid-1970s. As it happened, I only found her then through an author I already knew and loved, Edward Eager. If you aren’t familiar with Mr. Eager, I’ll make the introductions in a future post.

Edward Eager was obviously a…

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31 Days of My Favorite Children’s Books: “The Saturdays” by Elizabeth Enright


Every now and then, in today’s high-tech, fast-moving world, it’s really nice to read a book that harkens back to a simpler time. “The Saturdays ” is such a book. Written in 1941, this is the first book about the Melendy family. Four children, Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver, live with their father and his housekeeper, Cuffy, in a New York brownstone. All we are told about their mother is that it’s sad they don’t have one. Luckily, they have the best kind of father, there when they need him, and out of the way when they don’t. And Cuffy, is not only the housekeeper, but “nurse, cook, and substitute mother and grandmother, and aunt. She has “always been there, and it seemed as though she always would be.”

Mona is the oldest at 13, and she plans to be an actress when she grows up. Rush comes next at 12, and he is going to be both the greatest pianist in the world and a great engineer–the kind that builds bridges, dams, and railroads. Next, comes Miranda (called Randy), 10 1/2, who has dreams of being an artist and a dancer, and finally, there’s Oliver, only 6. Oliver plans to be an engineer too, but he is going to be the kind that drives trains. As the author tells us, “it was nice to have it all settled.”

When the book opens, the four siblings are hanging out in what they call the office, a playroom at the very top of the house “so they could make almost all the noise they wanted to.” It’s a rainy day, and despite having books, toys, art supplies, and a piano at their disposal, they’re bored. While trying to think of something new and interesting to do, they eventually happen on an idea that all self-respecting children come up with at some point in their lives: to form a club.

At this juncture, I must point out that I was enamored with this group of brothers and sisters immediately. Being the youngest of my siblings by 17 years, I was, for all intents and purposes, an only child. There was nothing I longed for more growing up than a big, messy family to have adventures with. Also, being the bossy sort, I was forever creating various clubs (with myself as President, of course), and coercing my nieces and nephews and whatever neighborhood kids I could dominate, to join up. I’m sure you can see the appeal this book held for me. It was as though the author had somehow read my mind and created my imaginary family out of thin air. I was smitten!

The children decide to pool their allowances–money they earned by doing chores, mind you, no free handouts in the frugal 1940s–give the combined amount to a different sibling each Saturday, and let him or her spend it all doing whatever they like best. Rush comes up with the perfect name, The Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club, I.S.A.A.C for short, thus explaining the book’s title.

Given the time period in which the story is set, it doesn’t turn out to be much of  a problem for the children to have their independent Saturday adventures without an adult present. Father’s rules are pretty basic: don’t get run over, if lost or in trouble always look for a policeman (“sooner or later you’ll find one”), don’t talk to strangers (“unless you know by looking at them them that they’re kind people, and even then think twice”), be home by 5:45, and finally, “see that you do something you really want…don’t waste your Saturdays on unimportant things.” See what I mean about being taken back to simpler times?

From here on, the book follows the children’s adventures over seven wonderful Saturdays. New friends are made, both human and canine, and lessons are learned along the way.  The writing is as warm and cozy as your favorite wool sweater. The 75+ years that have passed since this book was published do nothing to detract from the excitement a child feels when allowed to do something on his or her own for the first time. The Melendys are just as relatable today as they were when Enright brought them to life. Perfect for reading aloud or independently, take a break from iPads and smart phones and remember how it felt to just be a child with an entire afternoon all yours, and adventure waiting just around the corner. I think you just might like it. Happy reading!

31 Days of My Favorite Children’s Books “The Witches” by Roald Dahl

img_1827  Roald Dahl has been described as “the world’s most scrumdiddlyumptious story teller”, and I’m not about to dispute it. That being said, he has a decidedly odd and dark imagination. “The Witches” is one of his darker stories, in my opinion, so if you have a sensitive, easily frightened child, you might want to skip this one.

From the get-go, the author makes it clear that this is not a book about fairy-tale witches, who wear silly black hats and black cloaks and ride on broomsticks. He goes on to assure us that this is not a fairy-tale. This is about REAL WITCHES, and REAL WITCHES “dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women. They live in ordinary houses and they work in ORDINARY JOBS.” Dahl’s wickedly twisted sense of humor is in high gear as he lists all the ordinary occupations of witches, ending with this shocker: “She might even–and this will make you jump–she might even be your lovely school-teacher who is reading these words to you at this very moment.” I love it!

It suggests Dahl intends for this book to be read aloud, and it really should be. The reader will have loads of fun with the “gobblefunk”, Roald Dahl’s own made-up language, several words of which have actually been added to The Oxford English Dictionary. That’s in addition to the 8,000 words that appear in The Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary. I think it’s safe to say Dahl knew how to have fun with language, and so will you if you read this book.

We learn that a REAL WITCH hates children and spends all her time plotting to get rid of the ones in her particular territory. “She reckons on doing away with one child a week. Anything less than that and she becomes grumpy. One child a week is fifty-two a year. Squish them and squiggle them and make them disappear. That is the motto of all witches.” Fortunately for the children, there are a number of quirky habits that all witches have in common, and if “you know about these, if you remember them always, then you might just possibly manage to escape from being squelched before you are very much older.”

With this warning, Dahl begins the actual story, and what a story it is. Our narrator is a 7-year-old boy who goes to live with his grandmother in Norway after his parents are killed in a car accident in their home country of England. He and his grandmamma love each other very much, and they are quite happy despite the tragic circumstances that brought them together. Grandmamma begins to tell the boy stories every day, and he soon discovers that she is an expert on the subject of witches.

Through her stories, he learns that she has personal knowledge of at least five children who have been vanished off the face of the earth –taken by witches–and she has learned how to recognize a witch when she sees one. 1. A witch always wears gloves to hide her claws. 2. A witch is always bald, although she wears itchy wigs to disguise the fact. 3. A witch has slightly larger nose-holes than ordinary people, the better to smell out a child. It turns out that a very clean child smells just like dogs’ droppings to a witch, so the fewer baths, the better. 4. A witch has eyes with fire and ice in the center instead of a dark pupil. 5. A witch has no toes, just feet with square ends. 6. A witch has blue spit, exactly the color of ink.

‘”So there you are,” my grandmother said. “That’s about all I can tell you. None of it is very helpful. You can still never be absolutely sure whether a woman is a witch or not just by looking at her. But if she is wearing the gloves, if she has the large nose-holes, the queer eyes, and the hair that looks as though it might be a wig, and if she has a blueish tinge on her teeth–if she has all of these things, then you run like mad. “‘

The following summer, the boy  and his grandmother go on a vacation to a fancy hotel in England, and it so happens that at this very same hotel, there is a convention of a group of women going on. They say they are The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, but our narrator soon finds out, to his misfortune, what they really are. Yep, every single witch in England has gathered under this assumed name for their annual meeting. What’s more, The Grand High Witch herself is there with a plan to turn every child in England into a mouse with Formula 86 Delayed Action Mouse-Maker!

How a 7-year-old…um…boy and his 86-year-old grandmother outsmart the witches is an exciting tale full of chase scenes, narrow escapes, truly vile witches, and–being Dahl–a set of despicable parents encountered along the way.  Our narrator gets to be a real hero, albeit at a cost, with the help of his indomitable grandmamma. And in the end we learn that “it doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like so long as somebody loves you.”

For children who can handle a few scares, this is the perfect book for Halloween reading. The judges awarding this book the Whitbread Award said it best: “Funny, wise, deliciously disgusting, a REAL book for children.” What more is there to say?