“The Rules of Magic” : Basic Human Truths

The Rules of Magic

One of the reasons that I attend several book clubs is for motivation to try new genres and authors. Although I’ve read some books in the past that would be considered paranormal, I don’t know that I would have chosen to read The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman unless it had been a book club pick. It isn’t AT ALL what I expected.

This book is a prequel to Practical Magic, for which there is also a movie that I’ve never seen. Possibly it was the picture on the movie ad that made me expect The Rules of Magic would be light, autumnal entertainment. Not so; in fact, tears came to my eyes countless times in the reading. Yes, the blurb DOES mention “loss,” but I just didn’t anticipate the feelings this book would evoke.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many paranormal elements to the story, especially as the children…Franny, Jet, and Vincent break more and more of their mother’s rules aimed at protecting them from their history and connections to magic. No walks in the moonlight, no black clothing,  and no cats, just to name a few! Once their mother and father allow them to visit their aunt, however, things really start to devolve. Over time, they eventually break most of the rules they’ve been taught, including warnings against falling in love.

Before I get to those “basic human truths,” or BHTs (not to be confused with that suspect additive, BHT :) I want to mention that Ms. Hoffman’s use of setting…both place and time is excellent. The Northeastern U.S. with its change of seasons affords wonderful atmosphere, and I felt a comfortable familiarity with the times in which the children grow up and try their hands at being adults, the 1960’s and 1970’s. Now, for those nuggets of humanity that even the witches and wizards in this book experience:

winter scene from Pixabay.jpg no attrib. req.

“…forgetting her loss would be worse than the loss itself.”  (p. 231)

“…when you truly love someone and they love you in return, you ruin your lives together.” (p. 254)

“I just do the best I can to face what life brings. That’s the secret, you know. That’s the way you change your fate.” (p. 258)

“Life is a mystery, and it should be so, for the sorrow that accompanies being human and the choices one will have to make are a burden, too heavy for most to know before their time comes.” (p. 266)

“It is simply the way of the world to lose everything you have ever loved. In this, we are like everyone else.” (p. 297)

“Well, we can’t really know our parents, can we?…Even for those with the sight, parents are unfathomable creatures.” (p. 331)

“But rules were never the point. It was finding out who you were.” (p. 365)

“Know that the only remedy for love is to love more.” (p. 366)

***

The book closes with unexpected developments and a new set of rules, one of which I know from my own life: “Always leave out seed for the birds when the first snow falls.” I thoroughly enjoyed this story and look forward to reading others by Alice Hoffman!

Hoffman, Alice. The Rules of Magic: A Novel (The Practical Magic Series Book 1). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

To end this post, I’m including a link to a lovely song, “A Case of You,” by Joni Mitchell taken from the soundtrack of the movie, “Practical Magic,” which I plan to watch, someday very soon. 

If you’ve read this book or others by the author, please share some of your thoughts in the comments!

 

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Don Freeman: the Winding Path to Children’s Bookshelves

Come One Come All Don Freeman cropped copty

I recently wrote about my “fantastic find” at a bookstore of a signed copy of Hattie the Backstage Bat by children’s author, Don Freeman, which also sports an original illustration! This made me curious to find out more about the person, himself. I learned that he had written an autobiography as a young man before he and his wife had become published in the world of children’s literature.

The book, Come One, Come All, tells about his somewhat unusual childhood in California and his very early dreams about moving to New York and becoming an artist. It recounts his later struggles in New York, during the Depression, first supporting himself by playing the cornet in dance bands. We follow Mr. Freeman as he finally squirrels away enough savings to take painting classes with the inspirational artist, John Sloan.

Eventually, Don Freeman seems to find his artistic niche behind the scenes in the world of the theater. Some of his articles and illustrations were published in newspapers such as the New York Herald Tribune, the New York Times, and PM, in addition to making appearances in publications such as Stage and Theater Magazine.

Readers interested in the heady atmosphere of New York leading into the early 1950’s will find this to be a very interesting window into that period. The book ends happily with Don and Lydia, a young woman he had met earlier in California, getting married. We say goodbye to them as they are both experiencing their first tastes of professional success. What really grabs me about this well-written and charmingly illustrated book is that they had no inkling at the time how successful and admired they would later become in the realm of children’s literature.

This 244-page book was not a simple one to find! A few copies were available through Amazon or eBay for hundreds of dollars, each. That wasn’t going to happen, as much as I wanted to read it. Hurrah for WorldCat, the inter-library option, and I did find the book listed there!

The copy that I borrowed was through a university’s library and has been rebound, so no longer wears the interesting, illustrated cover shown above. No matter, since this copy DOES have something else that I find to be so intriguing. Tucked into the back is what I imagine to be the original card! This chronicles check-out dates in the 50’s through 60’s and being “mended” in the early 70’s. The borrowers’ names have been blacked-out, as shown, below. I love those old library cards and treasure a few used books in my personal collection that contain these. Digital means of book management are efficient, but sometimes I feel sad that we’ve lost a certain sense of history in the transition.

library card 2 001

Talking with Kids about A Culture of World Peace

Please check out this awesome book “All Are Welcome” by Alexandra Penfold — in this reblog from Patricia Tilton at Children’s Books Heal!    ~Becky

International Day of Peace, Sep. 21, 2018 All Are Welcome Alexandra Penfold, Author Suzanne Kaufman, Illustrator Knopf Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jul. 10, 2018 Pages: 44 Suitable for Ages: 4-8 Themes: Diversity, Inclusiveness, Classroom, School, Friendship Opening: Pencils sharpened in their case. / Bells are ringing, let’s make haste. / School’s beginning, dreams to […]

via All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold — Children’s Books Heal

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #1

hattie

Many of us are in agreement that we love bookstores. My favorite establishments are those that also offer used books and assorted vintage goodies, such as magazines, music and other miscellany. Although not widely traveled, I have wonderful memories of great bookshops spread from Duluth, MN, to Williamsburg, VA, with many in Michigan and Canada sandwiched in between.

As you can well imagine, I’ve made memorable “finds” in those visits. These items tend to fall into two groups: something specific I was looking for, or a totally unexpected piece. The coup that I will relate today definitely falls into the “unexpected” category.

Prior to my recent move to Texas, I had also lived and worked in this state for some years when my children were young. Before heading back to my home state of Michigan, I began studies toward earning elementary education certification and fulfilling my quest to become a teacher. Denton, Texas, being the home of two universities, is a logical place for a used bookstore, of course. Recycled Books, Records, & CD’s , at the time I lived there, was already bursting its seams at a small location, and is today housed in a larger spot within a former opera house in the picturesque town square.

That day, I had at least one of my daughters with me, and we were just scanning the small children’s section. An author’s name on a hardcover picture book caught my eye…Don Freeman of Corduroy fame. The title, Hattie the Backstage Bat, wasn’t familiar to me, so I decided to take a look. It was a former library edition, in good shape, with no tears or other visual damage. I then looked toward the front of the book to notice that it had belonged to the local, Emily Fowler Library, and at one time been sold out of the library’s used bookshop, before ending up at Recycled Books and priced at $1.50. Turning the page, I was astounded to discover this:

Don Freeman jpeg 001 (2)

I can just imagine Mr. Freeman visiting the library during the year following publication of this book, meeting the eager listeners, and producing this original drawing for them right on the spot. Yes, Hattie’s blue hat did get a little smudged, and unfortunately an uninformed or overworked library worker  stamped “discard” in the middle of her left wing. I love it, just the same, and will treasure this book always! As an added bonus, the story is charming, and I shared it (along with other Don Freeman titles) with countless children during my years in the classroom.

In doing a little more research on this author, who died in 1978, I find on a lovely website, run by his son, that he was not only an author and illustrator of children’s books, but also a painter and lithographer who “vividly portrayed the street life and theater world of New York City in the 1930s and 40s.” That site contains a wealth of information and images, so you may want to take a few minutes out of your day for a visit.

What is your favorite “find” from a bookstore?

~Becky

 

Ding Dong School: before Mister Rogers & Sesame Street

Miss Frances Ding Dong School
“Miss Frances”

The day after Labor Day was always the first day of school in Michigan. One of my earliest memories is of my older sister, Terri, heading out for school the year I must have been four. I can see myself sitting in the bay window of our living room, and she alerted me that she was leaving for school, but mentioned how “lucky” I was that I got to stay home and watch “Ding Dong School” on television.

It all seemed rather dubious to me, since I WAS looking forward to kindergarten the next year, but it was kind of her to make the attempt. My mother looked on and seemed to be trying to gauge my response. I suppose it was hard for me to face summer’s end and be the only child remaining at home, since my younger brother was not yet born.

I DID love the show, however, and since we only had clear reception of one network in our little town in Northern, Lower Michigan, I was lucky that it ran on NBC through 1956 (followed by syndication for some years after). The presenter, Dr. Frances Horwich, known to the young viewers as our teacher, “Miss Frances,” had a calm, soothing voice that seemed to be aimed directly at me. The show always began with her ringing the large school bell, of course. She read books to us, presented various types of interesting lessons, and demonstrated art projects. Children often sent their drawings and other works in to the show, and Miss Frances would sometimes share those, as well.

a suitcase with a surprise

Sources reveal that she was an experienced educator, but had very little familiarity with working in front of the camera. From a kid’s point of view, the show felt very natural and real, as if I was actually there in her classroom. Due to the show’s popularity, many different types of products carrying the “Ding Dong School” name became available, like finger paints, balloons, valentines, and records. I don’t remember having any of those, but we did own some of the “Golden Books,” such as these shown. Titles often focused on family, community, and the use of imagination in play.

The Big Coal Truck

My afternoon kindergarten the following year paled in comparison, naturally. With a large room full of actual children and no helpers that I can remember, I’m sure that our teacher had her hands too full to give us much individualized attention. I kind of missed those mornings spent at home in our sunny living room, with my mom nearby and Miss Frances talking to me out of the black-and-white television like I was the only kid in the world. Little did I know at the time that my future would also find me as a teacher in the classroom with young children.

When Ebay was still a novelty, I often looked up collectibles that interested me. One day, I saw some of Frances Horwich’s personal items related to the show up for auction, following her death, such as a custom-made chair with her name on it, her collection of school bells, and awards that she had received. I did some research and learned that she and her husband had no children, so I suppose there was no one in particular to leave these types of things in a will. At first this seemed very sad, that her belongings would simply go to the highest unknown bidders on the Internet. After giving this some more thought, however, I realized how insignificant “things” really are and how many thousands of individuals, like myself, remembered this woman for providing them with a pleasant first education experience. That seemed much more important, in the grand scheme of things.

~Becky

Collectible Stickers from Roller Rinks of the Past with “Atlas Obscura”

Growing up in the small town of Tawas City, Michigan, in the early to mid-1960’s, Friday night at the East Tawas Rollerdrome was THE place to go! My best friend, Jean, and I practiced skating without falling down and flirting with boys who were also trying to act cool and make it around the rink without hitting the wooden floor. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the rumble of wheels, smell the dust, and also hear the corny music, which thankfully evolved into “by request,” for teens who were willing to bring their own records from home. Here’s an image of the sticker from that establishment of long ago.rollerdrome

Now, on to the great article at “Atlas Obscura” that initiated this blast from the past!       ~Becky

Talking with Kids about Climate Change

After reading this week that some of Earth’s “old” polar ice is breaking up for the first time on record and that the current administration plans to further relax the pollution rules, I felt frustration beginning to boil. What to do? Write about it! No, I’m not going to write a children’s book about climate change (at least not now:) but I AM going to tell you about several good literature choices that are available. These books can help you broach this topic with our young and up-coming scientists, activists, and caretakers of the Earth.

climate change book tantrum

The Tantrum that Saved the World is by Megan Herbert (writer and illustrator) and Michael E. Mann (climate scientist). This rhyming book is available in hardcover and e-book from World Saving Books in Amsterdam. In the story, various people and animals who have been displaced by climate change come knocking. They don’t just want a place to stay, though; they want to get busy and make a change!

The story is easy to understand for young children, and the colorful illustrations add to the enjoyment. Toward the end of the book, you’ll find informational pages about the science of climate change that will add even more depth for somewhat older readers. The print book includes an action plan poster, and the e-book version offers a PDF of the poster, as well. Bill Nye the Science Guy recommends this book, which is certainly high praise.

magic school bus

The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge is just one of the adventures in this science series for kids written by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen. As a teacher, I loved sharing these stories of Ms. Frizzle and her class with my own enthusiastic students.

This particular book from the series explains in a kid-friendly way just why the Earth is getting warmer and explores what the children can do about the situation! The lively illustrations tell even more of the story beyond the text. Available in hardcover, paperback, and audio.

I’m wondering if any of you have read and discussed either of these books with your own children or students. If so, I would love to hear about the experience. In addition, please feel free to share any other titles on the topic of climate change geared toward young kids all the way up through YA! 

~Becky