Royal Reads (and movies, too!)

The recent release of a great new imperial biography, Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts, got me thinking that nothing could be more intriguing this wintry season than a little courtly intrigue! You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy stories about rulers of old. So, here are some suggestions for other books and movies that compliment each other nicely.

Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey offers a terribly readable and riveting account of Elizabeth I’s early years – a fascinating chapter of history with a totally astonishing young ruler at its helm. For a stunning film experience, try Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett and it’s sequel Elizabeth, The Golden Age.

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir, gives us a portrait of an educated, strong-willed ruler of her own lands as well as wife of two kings and a complicated family dynamic, to say the least. If you only have time for one film featuring this queen, The Lion in Winter is a must. With incredible performances from Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole, this is a must regardless!

Turning to fiction books, why not try Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund – lush and yet attentive storytelling from the perspective of this most infamous of queens. The movie Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst offers eye candy galore in the form of sumptuous sets, costume, and cinematography, in addition to some experimental touches that keep things fresh. And, well, it’s hard to stick strictly to fiction here when the movie is based on such a good bio: Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser.

Last but definitely not least, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel chronicles the oh-so sticky politics of Henry VIII, seen through the sharp lens of his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. Mantel endows this narrator with a bitingly intelligent voice that is exceedingly refreshing in the genre. I'm coming up short on films focusing on Cromwell’s perspective, but Anne of the Thousand Days focuses on the Boleyn side of the story, and A Man for All Seasons highlights Sir Thomas More’s role in the courtly goings on (both of which feature heavily in Wolf Hall).

Saving Simon: How a Rescue Donkey Taught Me the Meaning of Compassion

Simon the donkey was rescued by animal welfare officers in a raid on a farm in the middle of the night. Sunk in the mud, covered with lice, fleas and rat bites, his skin black with rain rot and unable to walk on his misshapen hooves, Simon hovered near death until Jon Katz, of Bedlam Farm fame, brought him home. Katz is well known for his many books about farm life and especially his dogs, donkeys and sheep. But rescuing Simon was to be the most difficult, and most blessed, experience he ever had with an animal.

Katz tells all in Saving Simon: how he restored Simon to health, how he struggled to understand and forgive the man who had abused the gentle donkey, how he came to feel a connection to Simon that felt spiritual and fore-ordained. Along the way, he also tells the story of acquiring Rocky, the 33-year-old, blind pony, and Red, his realio-trulio, meant-to-be-best-friends-dog. This is a complex and heart-breaking story, with much angst and depth and, ultimately, much reward. Basically, Jon Katz became a much better person through being friends with a donkey.

It turns out that donkeys are very special creatures and have a long association with humans. Many stories tell of this relationship (think Aesop, Sancho Panza, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jesus, and Juan Jimenez). Juan Ramon Jimenez was a Nobel Prize-winning poet who walked throughout the countryside and villages of Andalusia, Spain with his sweet, donkey-companion, Platero. His book Platero and I is a lyric contemplation of the good life and is considered a classic of Spanish literature. We own it here at AADL (in a Spanish/English side-by-side). Many others have written about the gentle, mystical and wise nature of donkeys; right now I am enjoying the book, The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World by Andy Merrifield. Who knew that donkeys, in spite of a long history of being over-worked, abused, and ridiculed were such evolved, forgiving and large-hearted friends?

PreK Bits - Odd One Out

Ms. Rachel presented stories of "one" in Preschool Storytime.

"One Lonely Candle" - a "Happy Birthday" story with props and sound effects ... from oral tradition.
JUST ONE MORE is a new book by Jennifer Hansen Rolli.
TEN IN The BED is a traditional nursery song ... that pushes everyone out, until only one is left in the bed.
Who's in the bed? "O" creatures ... Owl, Otter, Octopus, Opossum ...
Who's left? One Baby Owl ... and .... one Papa Owl!

Here are more stories of ONE:
ONE DROWSY DRAGON by Ethan Long. A Dragon bedtime countdown.
ONE TWO, THAT's MY SHOE! by Alison Murray. And the dog runs away with the shoe!
ONE TOO MANY: A Seek & Find Counting Book by Gianna Marino. For finding and counting farm animals.
ODD ONE OUT: A Spotting Book by Britta Teckentrup. A NEW seek & find book.
ONE LIGHTHOUSE ONE MOON. A classic counting book by noted author and illustrator Anita Lobel.
ONE HUNDRED HUNGRY ANTS. A classic counting book by noted author and illustrator Elinor Pinczes.
ONE HUNDRED THINGS THAT MAKE ME HAPPY by Amy Schwartz. A NEW book with numbers more than ten!

Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas

I love the unique new picture book, Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas, written by Lynne Cox and illustrated by Brian Floca (who won awards for his work last year in Locomotive). The adorably depicted book tells the true story of Elizabeth, a southern elephant seal who lived in the Avon River in Christchurch, New Zealand for many years. Most elephant seals live in large groups in and around the ocean, but not Elizabeth! In attempt to place Elizabeth in her natural habitat, volunteers tow her hundreds of miles out to sea on three separate occasions, but Elizabeth always manages to return to her home in the city. Her tremendous endurance and determination wow the locals, and are sure to impress readers as well!

“Nature and urban life rarely intersect so incongruously: There’s something inherently funny in seeing commuters gawp and swerve around the huge, regal mammal,” says The New York Times Book Review. “Children may wonder, “Who has the right of way?” That’s a very good question, which Cox, with great restraint, allows readers to ask — and maybe answer — for themselves.” Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas is truly a special new addition to the AADL collection.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #503 - “Letter writing is the only device combining solitude with good company.” ~ George Gordon Byron

For many of us who travel over the break, it is crucial to have the company of a good audio book. Here are some tried-and-true winners that take the form of epistolary novels and will keep you engaged and entertained.

I just returned That Part Was True (2014) by Deborah McKinlay. Charming and delightful, with mouth-watering recipes. Highly recommended.

"Spinsterly" (self-described) 46 year-old Brit. Eve Petworth is long-divorced, privileged and painfully shy. Then uncharacteristically she strikes up a pen pal friendship with successful American novelist Jackson Cooper (think Robert Parker) through their mutual love of food and fine cooking. Over time, they support each other through challenges (hers, a bridezilla daughter and his, writer's block) and personal relationship dramas before Jackson suggests they meet for a culinary rendezvous in Paris.

Attachments (2011) by Rainbow Rowell
Gossiping and sharing their personal secrets on e-mail in spite of their company's online monitoring practices, Beth and Jennifer unwittingly amuse Internet security officer Lincoln, who unexpectedly falls for Beth while reading their correspondence.

Frances and Bernard (2013) by Carlene Bauer (FFF, a Fabulous Fiction Firsts)
It is not love at first sight for Frances and Bernard. She finds him faintly ridiculous while he sees her as aloof. But after that first meeting, Bernard writes Frances a letter which changes everything and soon they are immersed in the kind of fast, deep friendship that can alter the course of lives.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2008) by Mary Ann Shaffer (a FFF)
In 1946, writer Juliet Ashton finds inspiration for her next book in her correspondence with a native of Guernsey, who tells her about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a book club born as an alibi during German occupation.

Letters from Skye (2013) by Jessica Brockmole (a FFF)
A love story told in letters spans two world wars and follows the correspondence between a poet on the Scottish Isle of Skye and an American volunteer ambulance driver for the French Army, an affair that is discovered years later when the poet disappears.

Safe travels.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #502 - "Faith is about doing. You are how you act, not just how you believe.” ~ Mitch Albom

In A Song for Issy Bradley * debut novelist Carys Bray, "(w)ith courage, warmth, and intelligence...sweetly and subtly breaks your heart", as the Bradleys come to terms with grief, each in his or her own way.

A man of strong faith and even stronger sense of duty, Ian Bradley, math teacher and Mormon bishop in a secular British neighborhood, embraces his calling often at the expense of his family's needs. His wife Claire (a convert upon marriage to Ian) feels overwhelmed and lonely in caring for their large family - Zippy and Al, teenagers who endure and rebel in equal measures; 7 year-old Jacob, sensitive and wise-beyond-his years, is the one who tries to hold the family together when 4-year-old Issy dies of meningitis.

"In this wry, original, generous-spirited debut novel, members of a family come to terms with grief...They wrestle with belief and disillusionment, desire and hopelessness, pervasive sorrow and moments of transcendent joy. The result is riveting, powerful, and quietly devastating." It will appeal to fans of Me Before You; Little Bee; and Tell the Wolves I'm Home.

A much anticipated debut this December is The Bishop's Wife * * * by Teen author Mette Ivie Harrison, her first try at adult fiction, inspired by an actual crime.

Unlike Claire Bradley, Linda, the mother of five grown boys and the wife to Mormon bishop Kurt Wallheim of Draper (UT), embraces the duties and challenges of being the bishop's wife, having been raised a Mormon herself. But Linda is increasingly troubled by the church's patriarchal structure and secrecy, especially when a neighbor, Jared Helm, appears on the Wallheims' doorstep with his 5-year-old daughter, claiming that his wife, Carrie, disappeared in the middle of the night. Carrie's worried parents present quite a different image of the Helm household. The more Linda learns about the curious circumstances at the Helms' residence, the more she suspects Jared is responsible for his wife's disappearance.

When Tobias Torstensen, another member of the church becomes gravely ill, Linda tries to provide support for his wife Anna, who helped raise Tobais' sons after the death of his first wife, a mystery that begins to unfold as Linda finds an unlikely item hidden in their barn. Despite Kurt's entreaties to leave these problems alone, Linda is driven to investigate. The discovery of two bodies produces devastating revelations for the close-knit community, but Linda never thinks of giving up her search for the painful truth. For those who enjoyed Cage of Stars by Jacquelyn Mitchard.

Both Bray and Harrison were raised in strict Mormon households. Their unique perspectives and candor lend authenticity to these debuts.

* = starred review
* * * = 3 starred reviews

Beary Good Stories

This week at preschool storytime Ms. Amanda told bear stories about all sorts of bears off on different adventures. We met a bear who had a little problem in “I Have A Little Problem,” said the bear and no one would listen to him. We also met a baby bear who liked to count all the new animal sounds he encountered as winter approached in Baby Bear Counts One. And we tiptoed around in Tiptoe Joe as we met a new tiny little bear cub. The library has so many wonderful bear picture books, and they are perfect for this time of year as you snuggle up with a good, warm book.

Waiting (Not So) Patiently for The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant?

Anita Diamant’s novel The Boston Girl is described as “a moving portrait of one woman’s complicated life in twentieth century America, and a fascinating look at a generation of women finding their places in a changing world.” Diamant is known for developing strong female characters, and Addie Baum is a perfect example, set against the background of an immigrant family and in a rapidly changing society, she combats adversity with intelligence, determination, and a sense of humor.

Below is a list of other titles that might appeal to those awaiting The Boston Girl. Some of these titles feature a historical setting, many explore the immigrant experience, and all of them introduce a resolute female character who face their challenges head on.

- Away by Amy Bloom - A Russian immigrant leaves the life she has built in 1920s New York to trek across the country in the hope of reuniting with her lost daughter.

- Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok - This modern day coming-of-age and coming-to-America story is fueled by determined and brilliant daughter Kimberley’s close relationship with her hard-working mother.

- The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell - Rose is a police typist in Prohibition New York who doesn’t realize her own naivete until she becomes influenced and infatuated with her new colleague, Odalie.

- The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston - This story of an ambitious young woman who follows her dreams to 1920s Paris, only to find the love of her life back in her own small town, is told using text amidst a scrapbook of letters, photos, postcards and other charming, everyday 20th century ephemera.

- Transatlantic by Colum McCann - A beautifully written multi-generational epic unfolds against the backdrop of three transatlantic voyages between Ireland and New York, moving between 1843, 1919, and 1991.

Jim Henson's Enchanted Sisters

Say Jim Henson’s name and what comes to mind? For some, it may be the loveable and prolific Muppets, who have starred in many movies and TV shows since their introduction in the 1950s. For others, it may be fond memories of watching Fraggle Rock or Sesame Street before school every morning. Cult film aficionados may think of the highly imaginative The Dark Crystal, or Labyrinth with the endlessly charismatic Goblin King. Wherever thoughts of Jim Henson may take you, there’s no denying that he and his company, The Jim Henson Company, have left an indelible mark on pop culture.

One of the more recent offerings from The Jim Henson Company is a chapter book series called Enchanted Sisters. It features four characters (Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer) who each have their own book and who are known as the Sparkle Sisters: daughters of Mother Nature who are responsible for the four seasons in the human (our) world. This girl-centric series is about friendship, adventure, and creativity--fans of Sofia the First and Disney Fairies should give this a try! So far only two books have been released. Look for Spring and Summer books next, well, spring and summer!

Abilities over Disabilities - PreK - 7th grade

There are many "human ability" stories and exercises that deserve to be shared and discussed with kids.
People request "stories for kids" especially when issues arise in school or family life.
Here are two public lists especially for kids through elementary school ages.
There are stories of real people who have lost abilities many take for granted.
These are stories of surprise, determination and success.
Some include simple life-style enhancements such as ... eyeglasses and good friends.
Others explain trained animal assistants, braille, prosthetics, insight ... and also humor.

This list is dedicated to stories of Autism, and Aspergergers spectrum disorders
Autism and Aspergers - Grades K - 6

This list spans as many abilities as possible, yet includes some stories from Autism spectrum too.
Abilities over Abilities - Grades PreK - 7

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