Classic Read: The Ladies of Missalonghi

ladies2I recently revisited an old favorite, a  short novel set in Australia in the early 1900’s. The Ladies of Missalonghi, a tale by Australian author Colleen McCullough, has a rather dismal start. Missy Wright, a thirty-three year old spinster, lives in the town of Byron with her widowed mother and crippled aunt. The three women scrape along in genteel poverty, the victims of manipulative and greedy richer relatives. Their days are always the same: meager meals, chores, and the endless handicrafts that they create to fill the empty hours.

Missy, who believes her lack of beauty and lack of money have doomed her to never marry, has one escape from the dreariness of her life. She borrows novels from the local lending library and imagines the most spectacular adventures in her mind. The librarian, a distant relation named Una, is bright and vivacious and very interested in Missy, who is generally considered a non-entity by her other relatives.

Slowly, as Missy interacts with Una, she begins to change. She stops letting local shopkeepers push her around. She stands up against a rude and condescending cousin. She takes walks alone in the bush, experiencing the beauty of her natural environment, an experience that has always been denied her in the interest of keeping her “safe”.

Missy’s evolution is an unconventional fairy tale. No one rescues her; she saves herself. Una is an example for Missy to follow rather than a fairy godmother who grants requests. There is a prince of sorts–John Smith, a mysterious newcomer to the town of Byron who is not searching for a princess but running from his past.

This short tale can be read in one sitting. Through-out the story, I kept  wondering if Missy’s newfound strength would backfire. Could she possibly stand up to an entire town, not to mention a tradition of systematic discrimination against the poor widows and spinsters in her family? Would those richer relations turn and crush her? Would her mother and aunt, who are so steeped in family tradition, even support her in her quest for freedom? There were a few surprises before I discovered the answers to these questions.

This light yet lovely tale is enjoyable.  A recommended read for those who like light romance with descriptive settings.

Book Club Picks for Middle Grade Readers

Book clubs are starting to pop up in libraries and schools for readers of all ages. While book clubs are a great way to encourage reading and picking up books outside a reader’s comfort zone, they are about much more than the books being read. Book clubs are about fostering a sense of community, creating or strengthening relationships, and shared experiences.

If your middle grade reader is interested in joining, or starting a club of their own (or perhaps a parent and child book club is more your speed) they might be at a loss as to what books the group will read next. It is a common issue with adult book groups, so I am sure it happens with younger readers as well. Here are some suggested titles to add to the list of possibilities. Some are tried and true titles that you might have enjoyed at their age, and others are newer books that are simply wonderful. your selections will bcpaperboydepend quite a bit on the interests and maturity of those in your group, but this can help get the selection process started.

Paperboy by Vince Vawter
Taking over a friend’s newspaper route in 1959 Memphis, an 11-year-old baseball enthusiast struggles with a speech disability while attempting to communicate with customers, a situation that turns dangerous when he has a confrontation with a thieving local junkmabcgrimmn.

A Tale Dark & Grimm (A Tale Dark & Grimm, #1) by Adam Gidwitz
Follows Hansel and Gretel as they walk out of their own story and into eight more tales, encountering witches, devils, warlocks, kindly strangers, and other helpful folk as they take charge of their own happily ever after.

bcsmileSmile by Raina Telgemeier
Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, severely injuring her two front teeth, and what follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabensteinbclibrary
Twelve-year-old Kyle wins a coveted spot to be one of 12 children chosen to stay in the new town library–designed by his hero, the famous gamemaker Luigi Lemoncello–for an overnight of fun, food and games, but in the morning, the kids find all the doors still locked and must work together to solve secret puzzles in order to discover the hidden escape route.bcmilkFortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
When a father runs out to buy milk for his children’s breakfast cereal, the last thing he expects is to be abducted by aliens, and he soon finds himself transported through time and space on an extraordinary adventure, where the fate of the universe depends on him and the milk–but will his children believe his wild story?

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Still looking for more ideas, or some great middle grade novels to read? Here are even more:The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood,  Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Inkheart (Inkworld, #1) by Cornelia Funke, One For The Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Matilda by Roald Dahl, A Wrinkle in Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #1) by Madeleine L’Engle, Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Charlie Bucket, #1)  by Roald Dahl, Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, The Giver by Lois Lowry, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall, Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff, Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1) by L.M. Montgomery, Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, #1)  by Philip Pullman, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli, Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff, The Mysterious Benedict Society (The Mysterious Benedict Society, #1)  by Trenton Lee Stewart, Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton, My One Hundred Adventures by Polly Horvath, Doll Bones by Holly Black, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate,Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee,The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald, The City of Ember (Book of Ember, #1) by Jeanne DuPrau, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter, #1)  by J.K. Rowling, One Crazy Summer (Gaither Sisters, #1) by Rita Williams-Garcia, and The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.

Alphabet Books that Break the Mold

When children are small we all want them to learn their letters, and start reading and writing. However, the typical ABC books can get boring quickly, and not just for the adults. Sometimes is is fun to through a special alphabet book that shakes up the monotony that is A is for Apple, b is for ball, and so on. Here are some of the best books that I have found and shared with my own children that make the alphabet more fun for them and us.

  1. B is for Bookworm by Anita C. Prieto, illustrated by Renée Graef
  1. An Edible Alphabet by Carol Watterson, illustrated by Michela Sorrentino
  1. S is for Save the Planet by Brad Herzog and illustrated by Linda Holt Ayriss
  1. When Royals Wore Ruffles: a Funny and Fashionable Alphabet! by Chesley McLaren and Pamela Jaber, illustrated by Chesley McLaren
  1. The Alphabet Theatre Proudly Presents the Z was Zapped: a Play in Twenty-six Acts by Chris Van Allsburg
  1. Q is for Duck by Mary Elting & Michael Folsom; pictures by Jack Kent
  1. The Hidden Alphabet by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
  1. Y is for yowl! by Laura Purdie Salas
  1. The Beetle Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta, illustrated by David Biedrzycki
  1. A Isn’t for Fox by Wendy K. Ulmer ; illustrated by Laura Knorr

If you are still looking for some unusual letter fun may I also suggest; A Fabulous Fair Alphabet by Debra Frasier, G is for Gold Medal by Brad Herzog, A Gardener’s Alphabet by Mary Azarian, Z is for Zeus: a Greek Mythology Alphabet by Helen L. Wilbur,illustrated by Victor Juhasz, T is for Tutu  by Sonia Rodriguez & Kurt Browning, Alphabet Explosion!: Search and Count from Alien to Zebra by John Nickle, The Freshwater Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta, Action Alphabet by Shelley Rotner, Tomorrow’s Alphabet by George Shannon, or The Icky Bug Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta.


Recommended Wordless Picturebooks

A great picturebook does not always need words to make it worth sharing. Wordless picture books can still help a young child learn to love books and set them on the path to being a great reader. Enjoying a well-done picturebook with no words can help a child build their comprehension skills, predict what will happen next, and enhance their ability to take words and meaning from pictures. These are important tools to have as reading skills develop and grow.
Most importantly, they can show even the youngest and most challenged readers the beauty of being drawn into a new world through the pages of a book.

Chalk by Bill Thomson
A wordless picture book about three children who go to a park on a rainy day, find some chalk, and draw pictures that come to life.

Shadow by Suzy Lee
A little girl uses her imagination and a light bulb to go on an adventure in a dark attic.

The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
In this wordless retelling of an Aesop fable, an adventuresome mouse proves that even small creatures are capable of great deeds when he rescues the King of the Jungle.

Journey by Aaron Becker
Using a red marker, a young girl draws a door on her bedroom wall and through it enters another world where she experiences many adventures, including being captured by an evil emperor.

Robot Dreams by Sara Varon
The enduring friendship between a dog and a robot is portrayed in this wordless graphic novel.

Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage
In this wordless picture book, follow Walrus on a happy-go-lucky spree through the big city, as he tries on different hats to disguise himself from the chasing zookeeper.

Tuesday by David Wiesner
Frogs rise on their lily pads, float through the air, and explore the nearby houses while their inhabitants sleep.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan
In this wordless graphic novel, a man leaves his homeland and sets off for a new country, where he must build a new life for himself and his family.

If you are still looking for more you might also want to check out; Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole, Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd,  Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola, Daisy Gets Lost by Chris Raschka, The Line by Paula Bossio, The Snowman by Raymond Briggs, Bluebird by Bob Staake,  The Adventures of Polo by Regis Faller, Home by Jeannie Baker,  Rainstorm by Barbara Lehman, Time Flies by Eric Rohmann, Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu, The Red Book by Barbara Lehman, The Secret Box by Barbara Lehman, Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle, Free Fall by David Wiesner, or  Flotsam by David Wiesner.

Gentle Reads for Young Adults

Young adult books seem to be getting closer and closer to that new adult genre. Some of the books marked to teens now have more sexual situations or violence than parents or teachers might be comfortable with. While our world is changing and our young adults are too, some authors are still handling tough topics, and universal conflicts, without crossing the lines that might make adults uncomfortable recommending a book for someone else’s teen or younger advanced reader. Here are some ‘gentle reads’ that you can recommend without blushing that are well written and far from dull reads.

Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
In 1793 Philadelphia, sixteen-year-old Matilda Cook, separated from her sick mother, learns about perseverance and self-reliance when she is forced to cope with the horrors of a yellow fever epidemic.

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
After the death of the uncle who had been his guardian, fourteen-year-old Alex Rider is coerced to continue his uncle’s dangerous work for Britain’s intelligence agency, MI6.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
After her mother leaves home suddenly, thirteen-year-old Sal and her grandparents take a car trip retracing her mother’s route. Along the way, Sal recounts the story of her friend Phoebe, whose mother also left.

All these Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin
In a future where chocolate and caffeine are contraband, teenage cellphone use is illegal, and water and paper are carefully rationed, sixteen-year-old Anya Balanchine finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight as heir apparent to an important New York City crime family.

Ten Miles Past Normal by Francis O’Roark Dowell
Because living with “modern-hippy” parents on a goat farm means fourteen-year-old Janie Gorman cannot have a normal high school life, she tries joining Jam Band, making friends with Monster, and spending time with elderly former civil rights workers.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
During the 1967 school year, on Wednesday afternoons when all his classmates go to either Catechism or Hebrew school, seventh-grader Holling Hoodhood stays in Mrs. Baker’s classrooom, where they read the plays of William Shakespeare and Holling learns much of value about the world he lives in

Have you read all of these or just want more suggestions? In that case, these books might be of interest as well; Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot, Beauty by Robin McKinley, A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Maas, The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene, Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce, Airborn (Matt Cruse, #1) by Kenneth Oppel, or All-American Girl by Meg Cabot.