Category Archives: Juvenile Fiction

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

I read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken for this month’s Read to Know Bookclub, and I am so glad I did!  I chose to not read this one aloud to my children because I thought it might be scary, but it turns out that think this is one that we would’ve all enjoyed as a read-aloud.   Although this book has been on my radar for a while (after all, it was published in 1962!), it’s not one I’ve ever been inclined to pick up on my own.  I steer a pretty wide path around anything that seems like it might be scary or have questionably evil undertones, and for some reason that’s the impression I’ve always had of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.  While this story does contain a trio of dastardly villains (not to mention some pretty creepy wolves!), there’s nothing in here that I predict would cause my ten and eight year olds to have trouble going to sleep at night.  What is does have is adventure aplenty, with a duo of spunky heroines and a helpful gooseboy who comes to their rescue.  What I particularly love are the Dickens-esque characters and characterization and the delightfully descriptive writing:

“So I should hope!  Am I right in supposing that you are Miss Green?  I am Miss Slighcarp, your new governess.  I am also your fourth cousin, once removed,” the lady added haughtily, as if she found the removal hardly sufficient.

I was pretty sure from the outset that having a governess named Miss Slighcarp couldn’t be good.

Cold in spite of their furs, the children were glad to be sat down before a glowing fire in the night nursery, while Pattern scolded and clucked, and brushed the tangles out of their hair, brought in with her own hands the big silver bathtub filled with steaming water, in which bunches of lemon mint had been steeped, giving a deliciously fragrant scent, and bathed them each in turn, afterward wrapping them in voluminous warm white flannel gowns.

Next she fetched little pipkins of hot, savory soup, sternly saw every mouthful swallowed, and finally hustled them both into Bonnie’s big, comfortable bed with the blue swans flying on its curtains.

Doesn’t that make you want to curl up in Bonnie’s cozy bed and take a nap?

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is described as an “alternate history” of England, though I didn’t really notice anything terribly amiss in this particular story.  (Read more about this in Carrie’s post about the author, or on the author’s website.)  It did make me think about the steampunk genre, something I admittedly know next to nothing about but have been intrigued by.

I loved this story of orphans and near-orphans, villainous governesses, courageous girls, and one heroic gooseboy.  The only thing that seemed a bit off to me was the title; wolves enter the story only peripherally, so the title seems odd.  I can overlook that, though, and it makes me more eager to read more of the series.  I’d like to check out more of Aiken’s works, particularly her Jane Austen sequels.   I give The Wolves of Willoughby Chase a Highly Recommended, and I offer an enthusiastic thank you to both Carrie and the bookclub hostess for the month of May, Tammy of Bluerose’s Heart.

Reading to Know - Book Club

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

I was prompted to pick up Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a read-aloud because of the Alice’s Garden of Wonders event at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens.  Of course we had to read it before we could visit the gardens!  (I’d have my homeschooling mama credentials revoked if we didn’t, right?  ;-) )  I was very surprised by this book.  I had never read it, though maybe once upon a time I saw the Disney cartoon (maybe?), and my girls and I saw a stage version (with a very, very crazy Mad Hatter) a few years ago.   This book is pure lunacy, and I loved every minute of what I read.  My children didn’t appreciate the humor quite as much as I did, but they liked it well enough.  I positively laughed aloud numerous times.  I was reminded of The Phantom Tollbooth while reading this classic.  I don’t know whether or not Norton Juster cites Alice’s Adventures as inspiration, but it’s certainly reminiscent of it.  We ended up listening to the rest of the story via audiobook on our way to the gardens on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, and alas, I’m not a very good audiobook listener (especially while in the van with five other people!)   I need to go back and read the last couple of chapters myself, but my girls didn’t want me to read them to them since they are good audiobook listeners.  :-)  The girls did want to listen to Through the Looking Glass, so I took that as a good sign that they enjoyed the lunacy of Lewis Carroll.

Alice’s Garden of Wonders was purely delightful, and I’m really glad we read the book before we visited the garden.

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Down the rabbit hole:

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The bonsai garden housed a collection of doors decorated by locals in all sorts of Alice-themes.

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I loved this one with the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel.

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The caterpillar and his hookah:

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This scene in the book sent us scrambling for the dictionary to learn the meaning of the word lory:1-DSC04148

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I don’t think the snakeskin is a part of the original story :-)

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This is one story I’m really glad to have read, not only for the enjoyment, but also because now maybe some of the literary allusions won’t fly past me.  Highly Recommended.

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

We just finished up the fourth book in the Chronicles of Prydain, and as I told my girls, I think it’s my favorite so far.  Taran Wanderer is the penultimate book in the series, and we can finally sense that Taran is nearing the end of his quest to figure out who he is in the world of Prydain.  It actually might be argued that the chronicles are just one really long story, but of course, we’re just glad that Lloyd Alexander chose to break them into manageable bites.   I think the reason I love this one so much is because in it we see Taran’s maturation, and his quest to find out who he really is intensifies:

Taran shook his head.  “I give it up.  My quest has brought only grief to all of you.  And for me, it’s led me not to honor but ot shame.  Taran?  Taran makes me sick at heart.  I longed to be of noble birth, longed for it so much I believed it was true.  A proud birthright was all that counted for me.  Those who had none–even when I admired them, as I admired Aeddan, as  I learned to admire Craddoc–I deemed them lesser because of it.  Without knowing them, I judged them less than what they were.  Now I see them as true men.  Noble?  They are far nobler than I.”

“I am not proud of myself,” Taran went on.  “I may never be again.  If I do find pride, I’ll not find it in what I was or what I am, but what I may become.  Not in my birth, but in myself.”  (160)

In this story he is on a journey to find the mystical Mirror of Llunet, which is purported to be able to show the gazer his true identity.  Of course, this journey is not without its roadblocks, pitfalls, and actual villains that stand in the way of its completion.  It is full of action and even contains some slightly scary parts.  (I made the mistake of reading it at bedtime one night before I fully realized that it might not make the best bedtime story for those–like my children–who can be easily excited or scared.)  The themes in this story are universal, as are the symbols and tropes.  I love the ending so much–Taran continues to look for who he is, which in Prydain means he is searching not only for his parentage (which he hopes is noble, if not royal, so as to win the hand of the fair Eilonwy) but also his vocation.   He meets a metalsmith, a weaver, and a potter, and they all teach him about life, but ultimately he realizes that none of these vocations are his rightful one, so his quest continues.  As is true for the entire series, there are moments of sheer loveliness in the story:

The farmstead Taran saw to be a tumbledown cottage, whose walls of stone, delved from the surrounding fields, had partly fallen away.  Half a dozen ill-shorn sheep grazed over the sparse pasture.  A rusted plow, a broken-handled mattock, and a scant number of other implements lay in an open-fronted shed.  In the midst of the high summits, hemmed in closely by thorny brush and scrub, the farm stood lorn and desolate, yet clung doggedly to its patch of bare ground like a surviving warrior flinging his last, lone defiance against a pressing ring of enemies.  (135)

Although this entire story takes place away from Caer Cadarn, it is still peopled by a few of our favorite characters:  everyone’s favorite Gurgi, with his “crunchings and munchings” and the hyperbolic Fflewdur Fflam with his tattletale harp.  The only one of our favorites that is missing is Eilonwy, but now that Taran’s intentions towards her are known, it was sort of nice to not have her complicating the adventure.  ;-)  This is a fabulous series.  We’re on to the final book, The High King, tomorrow!  Highly Recommended.  (Macmillan, 1967)

Reviews of other books in The Chronicles of Prydain at Hope Is the Word:

Hokusai, Manjiro, and making waves

We’re still making our slow way through volume three of Story of the World.  We’ve settled into something of a routine this spring:  the girls read the sections and Lulu and I work on a narration together, going back and forth, until she has one or two paragraphs that we’re (er, I’m)happy with.  Louise, our resident second grader, and I often just discuss the sections using the suggested review questions, or at least we do when I have my act together (which is maybe half of the time?).  I often have some supplemental reading to offer them–usually from the literature section of the activity guide, and often something I’ve had to purchase since many of those books aren’t to be found in any of our four local public libraries.  Such is the case with The Old Man Mad About Drawing by François Place and translated from the French by William Rodarmor.  I decided to read this one aloud mostly because I was interested in it myself.  My girls and I had looked at Hokusai’s The Great Wave for a picture narration in FLL 2, so we were already a little bit familiar with Hokusai.  This is a short, somewhat pedantic book that written from the perspective of a young boy who becomes something of an apprentice to the elderly Hokusai.  We learn about the printmaking process, Japanese society and customs, and the phases of Hokusai’s career.   Despite the fact the book works a little too hard to teach us something sometimes, it’s still quite an enjoyable read.  The chapters are short and the illustrations are plentiful, colorful, and noteworthy.  (Place was shortlisted for the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen illustrator award.)  All in all, this story was the perfect short read-aloud to inspire us to take out our own art supplies, which is something that has been sorely lacking in our homeschool the past few months.

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I saw several art lesson plans based on Hokusai’s most famous piece of art, but this homeschool-mama plan from Harrington Harmonies was simple and just what I had in mind.  We did this with very little preparation on my part, so it didn’t turn out quite as well as it would’ve if I didn’t fly by the seat of my pants quite as much.  We drew our waves ourselves (instead of tracing them or having a pre-made copy, as according to the lesson plan), so ours are a little more “creative.”  ;-)  One change I’d definitely make to the plan is I would’ve used an oil pastel to outline the waves instead of a marker.  It was fun, though, and that’s the most important thing!

Mama's art
Mama’s art

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Lulu’s related assigned reading was Margi Preus‘ fabulous, Newbery honor-winning novel, Heart of a Samurai, a fictionalized account of the life of the young man instrumental in re-opening Japan to the West.  (You can read my review of this novel here.)
I also had her read a nonfiction account of Manjiro’s life, Shipwrecked!:  The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy by Rhoda Blumberg.  She enjoyed both books a lot and was quite taken with Manjiro’s story.  I love how all of this–the history, the stories, and the art–all worked together.  We don’t achieve synchronicity too often lately here at the House of Hope, but I love it when we do.

Read Aloud Thursday–April 2014

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Is it just me, or has this been a short month?  Whew!  It seems like March’s Read Aloud Thursday was just a week or two ago.   We’ve been reading, of course, but I haven’t had a whole lot of time or energy for blogging this spring.  Life is happening!  :-)

Because it is National Poetry Month, my focus this month has been on sharing a poetry book each Friday.  We have read and enjoyed poems from these books (and others!) during our poetry tea times this month:


We also finished the fourth book in the Chronicles of Prydain, The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander.  This one picked up almost immediately where The Black Cauldron left off and took Taran on a quest to rescue Princess Eilonwy.  There’s obviously the beginning of a romance in this one (or at least one-sided feelings of affection on the part of Taran), and that tickled my almost-ten year old.  I don’t really particularly like reading books with a romantic element to my girls just yet, but somehow this one seems okay.  I think it’s the theme of honor and nobility that runs through the series that gives it a very mature and upright feel.   After we finished it, I gave my girls the option of picking up with the next book in the Little Britches series, the Melendy Quartet, or the next Prydain book, and they both chose Prydain.  It’s a winner!


I also read aloud My Father’s Dragon this month.  I read it to my girls 4 1/2 years ago (!!!), and it is this month’s mother-daughter bookclub pick, so it was time to revisit it.  Plus, I really thought it time I give the DLM some intentional read-aloud attention, and what better book to start off with than My Father’s Dragon?  (I’ve shared some chapter book picks for the youngest listener here.)  Truthfully, the DLM listens along with the girls to whatever I’m reading to them, but I have a pretty massive amount of mama-guilt over what I’m not doing with him that I did with the girls (lots of things!), so My Father’s Dragon helped assuage that just a tiny bit.  :-)

I’m not sure what’s next after we finish Taran the Wanderer.  I’d really like to read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland because the Huntsville Botanical Garden is featuring Alice’s Garden of Wonders this spring, and we hope to visit.  I also still have the next Little Britches and Melendy books waiting in the wings.  :-)

What have you been reading with your children?  Please link up your blog posts below or share in the comments!

Happy Read Aloud Thursday!