Trying to get back into the groove (was there ever one? No..not really) of blogging, so how about a roundup of the best we’ve been reading lately?
1. Lots of Maite Roche
I had suggested to my mom that I was perusing Magnificat’s selection of children’s books, and that Lucia might like a couple for Christmas. I think she bought half their inventory. That said, Maite Roche’s Bible for Little Ones and various prayer books are lovely, and for once I feel like I can read a book of Bible stories or bedtime prayers without either a) rolling my eyes at syrupy “Jesus is my buddy!” lines or b) groaning inwardly at awkwardly pious and overly complicated attempts to pump little minds full of doctrine (St. Joseph picture books, I’m looking at you).* Roche’s vivid illustrations — pleasing to children’s eyes, yet not overly cartoonish — and succinct, young child-friendly texts somehow land in that middle ground between saccharine and, well, boring.
There is depth and doctrine there — the Bible for Little Ones is salvation history in a board book, bringing me back to chalkboard drawings in PBS I with Dr. Bergsma as it tells the story of God’s covenants with Man: The Garden of Eden, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, Jesus and finally Pentecost and the birth of the Church. Likewise, I was struck by the inclusion of a prayer for the deceased in My First Prayers for My Family: Lord, help us live and grow in your Spirit of love. Please welcome into the happiness of your kingdom all those who have left this life. You love us always. I entrust to you my family and all those I hold in my heart. Amen. The corresponding picture is of a young group of siblings looking at a family photo album with their grandparents. You can hardly find a children’s Bible that depicts the Crucifixion, much less prayers for deceased relatives — I think there’s something special here. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m realizing there’s a difference between simple and simplistic, and when you stumble across the hidden profundity of the former, you really don’t feel like reading anything else.**
*My apologies to any fans….to be fair, I’m not familiar with the particular books contained in this link, but as a former kid, I can attest that I.hated.every.single.one of the books in this series that I read.
** I should probably add here that one of Lucia’s all-time favorite books to bring to bed is “Disney Babies Go to the Circus.”
2. Tomie de Paola! Oh how I love Tomie de Paola.
The Clown of God is a classic, but I’d forgotten the story until a friend gave us dePaola’s retelling of the legend when Felix was born. The mere fact that there’s a juggler on the cover is what brought it into our daily reading rotation this week, per the toddler’s excited demands, but I don’t think I’ve read through it once without having at least the tiniest catch in the back of my throat by the end. It is exquisite.
Over Christmas, we also discovered An Early American Christmas, which takes on the intriguing idea of a German family who brings their rich Christmas traditions to a small New England town that shuns any celebrations of the holiday (those killjoy Puritans!). While not as overtly religious as The Clown of God, I loved the build-up as “the Christmas family” prepares — from the grandparents to the baby in the highchair — to transform their home for Jesus’ coming. The ending, too, is beautiful, as the family’s candlelit windows slowly draw the rest of the village into their celebration, and adoration, of the Christ Child.
3. And now for one heck of an aside. So you know the question, “Who do you really want to meet before he/she/they die?” It’s interesting, because it’s not, “Who from any era in history would you want to yank from the grave (or heaven, or hell, or purgatory if you want to get theological about it) and invite for tea,” or, “Which historical/literary/etc. figures would comprise your idea of One Seriously Awesome Dinner Party?” We’re talking contemporary, real — no elves, you Tolkien nerds — people whom, odds are, you could actually meet if you tried (lunging at the pope while
fighting off trying not to get trampled by hordes of Filipina nuns in St. Peter’s Square doesn’t count).
At the risk of coming off as a complete creeper, I confess that Tomie dePaola is on my list. Okay. He is kind of…my list.
But guys. His “favorite book for adults” is Kristen Lavransdatter. When I read that, everything else I love about his artwork, his storytelling, his themes….evaporated…and I just wanted to hug the computer screen, because TRULY this man is a soulmate. A kindred spirit. A bosom friend.
Go ahead, laugh, I’m going to bed soon anyway, at 9 p.m. on a Friday, like the lame mom I am.
Luke, actually, was the one who raised the “who do you want to meet before they die” question. His answer? Alton Brown. Who is not exactly pushing old age, so the thought of Luke ending up at a book signing and saying, “Mr. Brown, I’ve always wanted to meet you before you die!” just made me giggle. At least my guy’s got a white beard.
4. Adèle and Simon, written and illustrated by Barbara McClintock
I’d seen this book several times while scouring the shelves in our library’s playroom, but never gave it a second look past the spine while thinking, “Huh, two names I kinda like but Luke will never let me use for our children.” Yeah, yeah, don’t judge a book and all that. I’m so glad I eventually picked it up.
This book is such a delight on three levels: first, the story is simply charming, about a young Parisian schoolgirl and her intrepid little brother as they tramp around early 20th-century Paris (like…ALL OVER), and he manages to lose all of his belongings in the process. Adele’s exasperation and Simon’s happy-go-lucky attitude are spot-on. Second, the illustrations are GORGEOUS. I can honestly say that I enjoyed pouring over the pages as much as Lucia (who literally squealed when I pointed out Madeline’s small cameo in one of the scenes). Third, this is a seek-and-find adventure, as you scour McClintock’s amazingly detailed drawings to find Simon’s lost items. Fun, fun, fun. I’m only about 70% sick of it after reading it every day for two weeks.
Mommy’s bedtime, couch-time, and bathroom-time reading the past couple weeks, as Lucia so adroitly noted.
By the end, I liked it — maybe enough to buy it — but not without some significant eye-rolling and mental notes on how Adler’s approach to cooking “with economy and grace” would need to be modified for a busy family lifestyle. (I don’t know about you, but straight up bean broth — not bean soup, mind you, bean broth — served on its own in all it’s purity!and delicateness! and economy and grace! does not a meal make. Not unless you’re a Carthusian, or I guess a super serious Brooklynite.)
Also, I get that her prose is supposed to be recalling M.F.K. Fisher (whom I’ve never read), but as I told Luke, there’s a line between writing truly whimsical and memorable descriptions of simple ingredients, like eggs, and coming across as the type of person who, well — talks to eggs. “…Make an omelet but leave it unfilled and unfolded. Flat, round omelets are quiet, and a little serious.” Okay, Frances the Badger.
Or, “The eggiest thing you can make is mayonnaise. The degrading of mayonnaise from a wonderful condiment for cooked vegetables or sandwiches to an indistinguishable layer of fat has been radical and violent.” (Whoooo, girl! Worked up much? How do you feel about tartar sauce? [Don’t worry, she lets you know]).
She ends the egg chapter with a soaring ode to “their serenity, and the reassuring fact that so much privacy, cracked open, isn’t a fragile thing at all but ready for gusto, incubating euphoria.”
Apparently, she’ll be in Ann Arbor this spring, so, Michigan family, you can see for yourselves whether she gazes at her food as fondly as she writes about it.
6. I think I’m in an epic-reading mood next. Potentials include: The Bros K (if only it were named that), Les Mis (because this article in America on the novel was such a beautiful reminder of why I read in the first place), Sigrid Undset’s Master of Hestviken books, or, ahem, Harry Potter #7, whateveritscalled. (Hey — I never finished it.) I could maybe even touch LotR again. Any input/suggestions?
7. What we do when we’re not reading “Disney Babies” —