500 Acres and No Place to Hide

September 12, 2011

500 Acres and No Place to Hide - book When I picked up 500 Acres and No Place to Hide a few weeks ago, I was expecting a fish-out-of-water book, like Betty McDonald’s 1945 classic The Egg and I, or beloved columnist Jeanne Marie Laskas’ 50 Acres and a Poodle.  You know, city girl turns farmgirl — and hilarity ensues.  I was looking for a comforting, slightly funny book, and I’m happy to say that while this book was both, it was also so much more.

The book starts where Susan McCorkindale’s first book, Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl, leaves off, with Susan and her family firmly planted in a wonderful old farmhouse (Nate’s place, as it conjured up images of where Nathanial Hawthorne might have lived) in rural Virginia.  Susan is having trouble with her archenemy, the chickens, who roost in her windowboxes.  It gives them comfort, you see, and they insist upon it, as they’re still a little disturbed from a bad night when the fox visited and took out the rooster and six hens (the seventh died later of minor injuries).  Still shaky from that night and afflicted with poultry PTSD, they roost in the windowboxes and stare at the chicken coop until they get so peeved that they attack each other.  Again.  So off Susan goes, to replant the pansies.  Again.  But Cluckster just can’t leave well enough alone, and ….

Trust me.  By the time you’ve finished the first few pages (and the hilarious footnotes that could give Shallow Gal a run for her money), you’ll be entranced by this tractor tell-all detailing the life of a fashionable 30-something who trades in a comfortable life in the suburbs for the hard work of a farm – but won’t give up her heels.

The book is thoroughly up-to-the-minute, with occasional emails of the day’s happenings, frets about Facebook friendship and which truths to post, blogging bits, and even a recipe for the Hemingway Daiquiri, created by the good ladies of the Solomon Schechter Day School book club in New Milford, New Jersey, who the family left behind in presence but not in spirit.  Every detail rings true and believable, and whether she’s wearing one of Mommy Needs a Cocktail’s sweet t-shirts, sweating as photographer and friend Kim teaches Jazzercise, or planning to turn the bird-friendly storage shed into a completely modern dance studio, the reader feels right there alongside her.  And that is a hilarious – and comforting – place to be, as I found out at her book signing and reading in Georgetown last Wednesday.  Just look at all those books of hers behind us!


The tone changes a little – just a little – in the last third of the book, when Susan’s beloved husband Stu is diagnosed with cancer.  The neat thing is, LIFE GOES ON.  The animals still have to be fed.  The children still have to do homework.  The tractors still need to be driven, and we still see Susan traipsing around the chicken coop in heels, flustered chickens flying about her knees.  Just as they did before.  The difference is, now Susan becomes the primary farm manager and, gradually, her husband’s caregiver.  Don’t stop reading – there’s something important here.  In one of the first passages where cancer is mentioned, Susan berates herself for not counting the pain pills left in the bottle before the weekend.  A refill, of course, is a big deal, since we cancer patients need opiates and those scrips have to be picked up in person.  And, as you can imagine, the oncologist is not just around the corner when you live on a farm.  She makes it hilarious, but also teaches us just a little about the extra details that pop up when you’re both partner and caregiver, and I APPRECIATE THAT more than I can say in words.  LIFE GOES ON after cancer, and sometimes, it’s still even funny. 🙂 Susan manages to stumble over tragedy, confess her writer’s block, and then move on with both the book and with life, and for that, she is one of my new heros.

Disclosure:  I absolutely adore this book.  I was sent a copy of this book for review, but I loved it so much I bought two more copies for gifts on Wednesday and spent my day at chemo talking it up to all the nurses.  They were delighted that both cancer treatment and pallative care were mentioned in a positive light, and I agree with them wholeheartedly.  This book is a winner, and it’s a great idea as a holiday gift for bloggers, for families with cancer, and for anyone who deserves a little more laughter in their life.  


A bit about books

November 22, 2010

We’re looking for new good reads around here.  With boys 6 and almost 4, we’re immersed in the Encyclopedia Brown books, reading a mystery each night, after a classic picture book or two.  The boys love the stories of real(-ish) boys and relish the challenge of picking up the clues.  Widget even has made me a deal:  if he solves the mystery (by remembering the solution – we’ve now read the 8 books we have over and over again), I read the next story too!

I’d like to branch out a little and spin some yarns, with good solid writing and ideas that captivate the minds of adventurous little kids — but don’t scare them so they can’t sleep alone at night.  I’m starting Swiss Family Robinson again this week, but I’m totally open as to what else we try!  What mystery/adventure/battle books do you recommend as read-alouds for 6 year olds who want to hear “real” books but have a low tolerance for scary situations?

Edited to add:  Here are some of the suggestions that my friends on twitter provided – in the question I asked for “early elementary,” so please choose carefully depending on your child’s age and such.  What would you add? 

  • Indian in the Cupboard (@xtremeparnthood);
  • Nate the Great (@adjunctmom, @jennhoegg);
  • The Great Brain (@ejwillingham);
  • How to Train Your Dragon (@iampixiemama);
  • Magic Treehouse (@ejwillingham, @1of5hawks);
  • Emily Rodda Fairy Realm (@36balloons) ;
  • Rowan of the Rin books (@36balloons);
  • Private I. Guana, Sir Cumference, and Ace Lacewing books; Dracula Madness (graphic novel) (Sue);
  • Walter Brooks’ Freddy the Pig books from the 50s. (Sue);
  • Hoot, Scat, by Karl Hiaasen (@delora);
  • The A-Z Mysteries by Ron Roy (Anette);
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle (@noteverstill, @plainlysarah);
  • A Cricket In Times Square, The Borrowers, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Freckle Juice (@noteverstill); and
  • Shel Silverstein poems (@brandie185);
  • They’re probably old enough for read-out-loud Hardy Boys. You could also do the Roald Dahl books (The Witches and George’s Marvelous Medicine are particularly exciting for boys with their gross-out factors), and mouse-themed books were big in our house (Ralph S Mouse; The Mouse and the Motor Cycle; Stewart Little, etc) (@delora)

And these books were suggested for later:

  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Rick Riordan’s 39 clues, The Spiderwick Chronicles (@ejwillingham);
  • Percy Jackson series (@issascrazyworld, @iamkarinwithani, @ejwillingham);
  • Summer of the Monkeys, by Wilson Rawls (@xtremeparnthood);
  • Gordon Korman’s earlier books (Sue);
  • Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (@delora);
  • The Children’s Shakespeare (@brandie185);
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret (@brandie185);
  • The Sisters Grimm (@elleinthecity);
  • books by John Bellairs (Carolyn);
  • A Wrinkle in Time (@amytoast); and
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (@amytoast).

Mmmm, the memory of some of these books, and the promise that the others hold — just delicious!  What are your mystery/adventure faves for this (early elementary, read-aloud or on-your-own) age?

The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!

June 27, 2010

I just like to say the words in the title of the new PBS kids show, The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!

A few of us bloggers were invited to a celebration of the series launch last night downtown at the Newseum.  I don’t attend many of these launches, premieres, and sponsored events, as I don’t talk about products on this blog.  But I *do* talk about educational experiences, and I’m becoming convinced that this show might just be one. 

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Remember The Cat in the Hat?

Of course you do!  But do you know the NEW Cat in The Hat?  The one who guides children through remarkable science adventures through the natural world in the new books in the Cat in the Hat Learning Library?  We were delighted to discover these books when my oldest was a toddler, and we fell in love.  As he grew, we added more books, and we eventually had a full shelf of these entertaining nonfiction books complementing the original Dr. Seuss books and their flights of fancy.

There’s a book about trees.  There’s one about bees.  There’s one about mammals and camels, and one about miles and miles of reptiles.  We’ve been collecting these as our science museum souveniers, actually, since we love to browse in museum gift shops but don’t want to collect little stuffed animals with t-shirts or pencils and such.  At the Baltimore Aquarium, we bought Wish for a Fish.  We found Oh Say, Can You Say, What’s the Weather Today? at the Maryland Science Center.  As we left SeaWorld after a big day with our cousins last year, we bought A Whale of a Tale.  And at Goddard Space Flight Center, we found There’s No Place Like Space (and yes, they released a second edition when Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet). 

So the books are awesome.

And now, there’s a tv show coming out that brings our beloved Dr. Seuss characters — The Cat, the Fish, Sally, and her new best friend Nick, who lives next door (and strongly resembles her brother Dick, with a darker complexion) — to life!  Yes, yes, I had reservations too, but all of that dissapated the moment the room darkened and the Cat in the Hat spoke.  And it was the Cat!  A grown-up’s voice droned about how happy they were to get Martin Short to voice the role, but all I could hear was The Cat, brought to life just like he is in the books.  The Cat, the Fish, Sally — they’re all there, and they all sound just right.

We were told three guiding principles that the team is following for this new series:  1. The animation must look exactly like the books. 2. The Cat must be a trusted guide, not just a creator of mayhem (like in the first books, as entertaining as they are!).   Interestingly, the Cat isn’t an expert in the books and series.  The Cat in the Hat is still learning — exploring along with the kids. It is an unapologetically educational show, with entertaining characters.  (Point 3. Martin Short.)  The speakers emphasized that the show is not just for science kids.  It’s for ALL kids, and the creators wanted to show regular kids getting excited about science and looking to find the answers. 

I twittered the event last night, as I believe I was the only blogger present, and it was great to receive so many responses to my livetweets, from other moms and dads who grew up with and love the Cat as well.  I think it was a risk for Random House to lisence the characters for animation, but in the end, I’m glad that they did, and that they chose PBS kids as a partner. 

I trust PBS kids.  I trust Random House.  And I trust the legacy of Dr. Seuss, managed so well for so many years by his wife Audery Geisel.  We were told last night that she holds the legacy so dear that she would not allow anyone other than PBS to create animation, and she is quoted as saying, “It pleases me to no end to see our incomparable Cat lead this new millennium of children on a rollicking field trip to learn about the vast wonders of nature. All aboard the Thinga-ma-jigger!”

All aboard the Thinga-ma-jigger indeed!

Before I end, I have to tell you a story I learned last night.  Here’s how I jotted it down, in tweets:

Before his death, Theodore Geisel wanted to use early childhood literature to turn kids on to science.  He even went to NASA to suggest a partnership to bring The Cat’s investigative skills to the world of science — and he got approval!  According to Random House Children’s Books Chip Gibson, there was actualy a plan for joint outreach, with an upcoming NASA probe to Mars to have The Cat in the Hat on the nosecone!  All was in place until … (wait for it) … Dr. Seuss lost his battle with cancer.  All the NASA workers in the project were fired.  The End.

After his death, Audrey Geisel agreed to have the characters continue in the Learning Library series, and I am so glad she did. 

I have a several copies of a new paperback book released with the tv show to giveaway today to my readers.  If you’d like a copy of the book about nocturnal animals, called I Love the Nightlife, or one of the recent hardcover books about reptiles or the weather, leave me a comment and I’ll pick a couple of you at random.  Well, not exactly at random.  If random.org picks your number and I don’t know you from previous comments or events, I’ll pick again.  Disclaimer:  Random House and PBS kids hosted my husband and me at a reception, gave us fruity drinks called Thing One and Thing Two, and sent us each home with a totebag with two new books.  Books make me happy.


September 22, 2009

My kids are growing up.

Widget is big enough to play board games now, and our afternoons are filled with cute little cries of “Sorry!” and “I’m going to send you home!”  He counts the spaces out himself, and he’s learning to weigh which piece to move for the best outcome — a key skill that he’ll need for future decision making.

Little Bear is learning to count.  For six months, he’s been avidly “counting” using his favorite two numbers.  He points to a series of items and very seriously and solemnly counts, “6, 1, 6, 1, 6, 1.”  Now his brain is ready to translate that into real numbers.  We’ve been counting along with him, and just two days ago he finally did it.  He pointed at a toy with spots on it and counted, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.”  Well, there were only 10, but I figure that’s close enough.  I mean, he’s been doing “3, 2, 1, blast off!” with his toy rockets for months, but that’s not counting, is it?  It’s more of a celebration.

Tonight we’re starting a new book of fairy tales, a book that I loved to pieces when I was a child.  (Really to pieces.  It’s barely bound anymore.)  This will be their first exposure to some of the classics that have been so Disney-fied in our world, but told in the old-fashioned ways.  I’ve got Grimm’s book to start as well, and I think we’re ready.

But still, I’m hesitant to start any story that begins “After their mother died….”

I mean, how do I explain that to my kids?  I can’t really say, “Oh, but she was very sick,” because I was very sick.  I can’t just say, “That will never happen to YOUR mom,”  because it might.  And that’s not something I want to talk about when I’m well.

And do I really want to talk about wicked stepsisters?

Ugh.  I was so looking forward to the book of fairy tales.