Author Archives: Amy

The Home Ranch by Ralph Moody

In keeping with our accidental 2014 read-aloud theme of “let’s finish the series, or at least read another installment in it,” we closed out the read-aloud month with The Home Ranch by Ralph Moody.  This is the fourth of Moody’s books we’ve enjoyed together, and at this point, I can’t say which one is our favorite; we’ve loved them all.  For us, this one followed The Fields of Homeand I actually think we read them in the wrong order.  I think we should’ve read The Home Ranch before The Fields of Home, for according to the back of our copy of The Home Ranch, this story develops an episode that happens near the end of Man of the Family.  (This site has a good list of the books in order and with a brief synopsis for each one.)  At any rate, this story “feels” younger to me than The Fields of Home, and I like that.

In The Home Ranch, Ralph “Little Britches” has been hired by Mr. Batchlett to work as a hand on his mountain ranch for the summer.  Ralph is twelve years old but is quite the accomplished horseman, so this is not quite as unusual as it seems to our modern sensibilities.    The story unfolds as a summer of hard work and fun, with Ralph doing all the normal ranch hand things:  choosing his string of horses, cutting cattle from the herd for trading or selling, going on the trail with the ranch foreman to trade cattle, etc.  Plenty of adventures are to be had, too, for Ralph makes friends with Hazel Bendt, the ranch foreman’s daughter, who is quite the ranch hand herself. Hazel knows the inner workings of the ranch, so she advises Ralph in many arenas, including his choice of horses for his string.  One of the horses he chooses on his own is Blueboy, a half-wild beauty of a stallion.  One of the running storylines in this book is Ralph’s relationship with Blueboy and his hard work at learning the ways of this beautiful horse.  Of course, there are other stories here, and lots of them.  A few of the chapters develop the personalities of a couple of the other ranch hands:  mild-mannered Zeb, known for his constant singing of “She Wore a Yella Ribbon ‘Round Her Neck,” who walks softly but carries the proverbial big stick; and Hank, the ornery old cow poke who gets on everyone’s nerves with his boasting but who manages to save his crew from being swept away in a cloudburst (what I suppose we would know as a flash flood).  There’s a lot of excitement in this story, too, including a chapter in which Hank and Ralph get lost in the mountains and one in which Ralph and Mr. Bendt are caught in a dust storm.  Some of the excitement comes in the form of violence:  a new hand named Trinidad comes to the ranch, and he tries to “beat the time” (as my granny would’ve said) of one of the other hands with the pretty school ma’am, Jenny, and that tension eventually erupts into a bunkhouse brawl.  The book ends on a high note, and everyone from the forty year old reader down to the four year old listener loved the ending and would’ve been happy to plunge right into the next “horse book,” as the DLM called it.  The best way I can describe this novel is that it’s all the best parts of an old-timey Western, all written from the perspective of a twelve year old boy.  It’s chock-full of cowboy vernacular, too, which is interesting since Lulu and I have been hitting standard English usage pretty hard this year.  The novel has given me lots of examples to cite for Lulu.  ;-)  We love the Little Britches books and give them all (or at least all of them that we’ve read) a Highly Recommended.

Other Little Britches books we’ve read:

Animal Teachers by Janet Halfmann

I read Janet Halfmann‘s newest book, Animal Teachers, to the DLM and Benny as they sat snuggled in my lap, and it struck me how perfect this nonfiction picture book is for the preschool and primary set. (Actually, nine year old Louise was listening over my shoulder, so obviously it has older-kid appeal as well.)  It opens with a lovely illustration of a mother and daughter sitting under a blooming tree, looking at a book together.  The text on the page poses a couple of questions:

Who taught you how to do things?

Your parents and other who care about you were your first teachers.


Who teaches animals?

Let’s peek into some animal lessons and find out!

Each succeeding two-page spread is of an animal parent/child pair and explains various life lessons the babies must learn and how the parent teaches that particular lesson.  For example, the chicken is showcased on the “food lessons” page with the explanation of how Mama Hen allows the chicks to take seeds right from her beak, and after that lesson is learned by the chick, she drops seeds on the ground for the chicks to pick up.  The text ends with this statement:  “Soon the baby chicks know seeds from toes and are pecking thier way to full stomachs.”  Then, on the opposite page, two questions are posed:

Who taught you what’s good to eat?

Did you ever try to bite your toes?

Every opening follows this same format–explanation followed by a pair of questions that give the reader an opportunity to discuss the topic.  The animals that are discussed are chickens, otters, kangaroos, beavers, elephants, prairie dogs, chimpanzees, penguins, orangutans, cheetahs, dolphins, and bears.  The skills they learn range from eating to building to singing.   Janet Halfmann‘s prose is thoughtful and intentional, making this science-related book a pleasure to read.  Katy Hudson‘s illustrations are truly some of the lovelist I’ve seen.  This is a science book with heart, as are all of Halfmann‘s we’ve enjoyed over the years.  This one begs to be read aloud and discussed, and it even provides the questions for this dialogue between the parent and child.  I love this book and think you will, too.  Highly Recommended.  (Blue Apple, 2014)

Many thanks to Janet Halfmann herself for contacting me about reviewing her book and sending it our way!  This book has been nominated for a Cybils in the elementary/middle grade nonfiction category.  

Related links:


In the Sea by David Elliott

I picked up In the Sea by David Elliott at the library on a whim, and because the preschool class at our homeschool co-op had recently had an opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with a turtle, I took it to read to them.  What I failed to do is pre-read it before I took it, so I was more surprised than they were when it turned out to be a book of short and lovely poems!  (Here’s one of the many disappointing truths about me:  I’m not nearly as organized as people think I am.  I do a lot of things “by the seat of my pants,” and I pre-read almost nothing.  I realize this breaks a cardinal rule of reading aloud, but it’s the truth of my life.  Things usually work out okay anyway. ;-) )  Well, if I had to go all unprepared, I couldn’t have picked a lovelier book to do it with!  Elliott’s poems are short and very thoughtful, and while most of them probably did go over the preschoolers’ heads, isn’t that true about poetry for all of us, at least some of the time?  Since I can’t share a poem in its entirety, I will share a few of my favorite metaphors and images from In the Sea:

  • “The Sea Turtle”:  “Rare instrument of nature,/ fair compass in a carapace.”
  • “The Starfish”:  “the starfish shines/ in a sky of sand.”
  • “The Dolphin”:  “He’s the jester/ of the briny deep,/ an acrobat with fins.”

Holly Meade‘s woodblock prints which accompany these poems are gorgeous.  Woodblock printing is one of my favorite mediums, and this is a perfect pairing.  If you’re looking for a fun and beautiful book of short poems to share with poetry lovers, or even if you have some poetry skeptics to win over, this book would make a perfect pick.  (Candlewick, 2012)

This week’s Poetry Friday roundup is at Tapestry of Words.

Poetry Friday Button

The Good-Pie Party by Liz Garton Scanlon

I didn’t know anything about The Good-Pie Party by Liz Garton Scanlon when I requested it at the library, other than the fact that I recognized the author’s name and I loved the play-on-words that I detected in the title.  It turns out that this 2014 Cybils picture fiction nominee is a stand-out sort of book because it takes a real-life topic, moving, and puts a fun and poignant twist on it.  It’s the sort of book that might be used for bibliotherapy, but without the didacticism.  The opening sentence of the book is this:  “Posy Peyton doesn’t want to move.”  She especially doesn’t want to bid farewell to her two best friends, Megan and Mae.  After the girls help Posy box up her belongings, they decide there’s nothing left to do but bake.  While this is a bit unrealisitic (I mean, really–who bakes in the middle of moving?), it sets up the rest of the story:  the girls make ” ‘hot, sweet, good pie,’ ” which inspires them to embark upon an alternate going-away party, a “good-pie party.”  The next afternoon the Peytons host a backyard party attended by neighbors and friends, all bearing pies.  The story ends with Posy, Megan, and Mae gazing up into the night sky at the moon, the pie they can “always share.” I really like this story because it appeals to a slightly older audience than many of the fiction picture books we read; both the subject matter and the play-on-words have big-kid appeal.  Scanlon‘s wordsmithing skills (she’s a poet!) are displayed beautifully in this book.  Kady MacDonald Denton‘s illustrations will be very recognizable to Bear and Mouse fans; Posy and friends all have the same profile as Bear and Mouse.  the artwork is very emotionally warm and appealing.  It’s a very accessible and enjoyable story, and one I give a Highly Recommended for the right crowd.  (Scholastic, 2014)

WWW: Greenglass House by Kate Milford

I requested Greenglass House by Kate Milford at my library after reading Sherry’s review of it.  It’s a 2014 Cybils nominee in the middle grade speculative fiction category, so I’m also reading it as a part of my Armchair Cybils challenge.  I love how the story begins:

There is a right way to do things and a wrong way, if you’re going to run a hotel in a smugglers’ town.

You shouldn’t make it a habit to ask too many questions, for one thing.  And you probably shouldn’t be in it for the money.  Smugglers are always going to be flush with cash as soon as they find a buyer for the eight cartons of fountain pen cartridges that write in illegal shades of green, but they never have money today.  You should, if you are going to run a smugglers’ hotel, get a big account book and assume that whatever you write in it, the reality is, you’re going to get paid in fountain pen cartridges.  If you’re lucky.  You could just as easily get paid with something even more useless.

Milo Pine did not run a smugglers’ hotel, but his parents did.  It was an inn, actually; a huge, ramshackle manor house that looked as if it had been cobbled together from discarded pieces of a dozen mismatched mansions collected from a dozen different cities.  It was called Greenglass House, and it was on the side of a hill overlooking an inlet of harbors, a little district built half on the shore and half on the piers that jutted out into the river Skidwrack like the teeth of a comb.  It was a long climb up to the inn from the waterfront by foot, or an only slightly shorter trip by the cable railway that led from the inn’s private dock up the steep slope of Whilforber Hill.  And of course the inn wasn’t only for smugglers, but that was who turned up most often, so that was how Milo thought of it.  (1-2)

Intrigued yet? :-)