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Good Reads

Greenglass House

Good ReadsDeane Watters2 Comments
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What were your childhood Christmas Eves like?

Were they cosy and warm, perhaps around a fireplace? Did the lights on your tree twinkle softly as you anticipated the coming days? Did your mom bake goodies sending smells wafting from the kitchen full of hope and tradition? Can you just settle down in your mind and find yourself as a kid eager for the Christmas holiday, time away from school and days full of food, family and rest?

This is exactly the way twelve-year-old Milo Pine felt on the first day of his holiday vacation. It was going to be great, just him and his parents padding around in their old ramshackle inn, Greenglass House. But just as he was feeling comfortable, finishing up homework so there would be no responsibilities, the old iron bell rang, announcing the arrival of an unannounced guest...on the first day of HIS vacation!

Little did Milo know that there were more rather odd guests on their way, each with a strange story connected to something in Greenglass House.  Milo, resistant at first, soon got into the mystery that led him to more questions and answers than he ever dreamed possible.

With themes of mystery, adoption, story telling, smuggling, role playing, burglary, love, and a bit of magic, this Young Adult novel kept my attention and pushed me to discover the final solution. Sarah Hunter called this book an "enchanting, empowering and cozy read."

It is just the kind of book to open on a quiet Christmas Eve...

Charlotte's Web

Good ReadsDeane WattersComment

My mom was an animal lover. That is an understatement. Rescue, nurture, feed: these were her go-to mantras. Back in the day when I was young, dogs ran freely. Sometimes if cruel people didn't want a dog anymore they just dropped it off on the side of a gravel road outside of town and drove away. Often those lost dogs would show up on our doorstep like they had followed a sign, unseen to humans, but neon bright and flashing to them: WELCOME! TURN IN HERE FOR FOOD AND A WARM BED. Sometimes these dogs just stayed the night, other times they lived out their lives under the gentle care of this lovely rescuer.

One day she discovered that a spider had spun a big web in her living room. It was under a window and attached to a buffet just within sight of the chair where she sat most often. Ninety-nine percent of us would have been appalled at such sanctuary, but not my creature loving mother! She let this little arachnid live, each day checking in to see how things were progressing. Often when her four-year-old grandson, Shaun, came to visit, she would lead him to the web where they could talk about all things spider.

(I was married and living far away when this was happening so I testify to the fact that I had no knowledge of this! My mother was not senile. She loved living things and wanted to use this innocent little spider as a teaching tool for her dear grandson.)

At least that is what she said.

In the fall of that year, probably thirty years ago, she was shopping one day when she spied a huge black Halloween spider. Immediately she made a plan as she took it to the counter, a twinkle in her eye and a little sly smile on her face.

The next time Shaun came over she carefully placed that huge hairy spider near the corner where the real spider hid. When he came in the house she exclaimed, "Shaun! Look! Our spider has grown!" His eyes got big and his face paled a bit but pretty quickly he smiled brightly at the trick his grandma tried to play on him.

I wonder if her real spider had a name. Could it have been Charlotte? If mom had looked closely could she perhaps have seen some secret words woven in the web? Words like SOME GRANDMA or TERRIFIC or HUMBLE? I like to think perhaps she would have. They would have all fit her perfectly,

This month our kid lit club read several selections by E.B. White. I chose to read Charlotte's Web, a darling story about one special spider, named Charlotte, who befriended Wilbur, a farm pig destined for the chopping block. It is a tender story about childhood, friendship, kindness, and love. I encourage you to pick it up if you haven't read it. You may have to wipe away a tear but it will have been worth it to travel back in time and re-experience a bit of your lost childhood.

As for my mother, I'm sure Shaun thought he had the best grandma in the world. And you know what? He would have been right.

Watership Down

Good ReadsDeane Watters3 Comments

If for some reason you or I decided we needed to move from our home, we would do a bit of research before actually leaving. We would tour a variety houses, investigate the schools, locate the closest hospital and check out the nearest grocery stores. Planning ahead to know where we were going would ensure a safe and smooth transition.

But rabbits are not able to plan ahead in this way! They don't have phones to call ahead or arrange tours of all available burrows in any nearby warren. So when Fiver, brother of Hazel, felt a terrifying premonition that something horrible was going to happen to their present warren, they had to just head out with little or no preparation. The Chief Rabbit deemed it to be trivial nonsense and would not call for everyone in the whole warren to escape the coming so-called doom.

So the brothers, Hazel and Fiver, made plans to leave. Hazel spoke to Bigwig, "Fiver and I will be leaving the warren tonight," he said deliberately. "I don't know exactly where we shall go, but we'll take anyone who's ready to come with us."  The plan was to leave fu Inle ( Lapine for: after moonrise).  A third rabbit, Pipkin, a friend of Fiver's decided to join them. In the dim moonlit night the three quietly waited and eventually collected others who desired to live elsewhere. This small band of rabbit brothers, Bigwig, Hawkbit, Dandelion, Blackberry, Buckthorn, Speedwell, Acorn and Silver, began their journey into the unknown in search of a new home with the hope of a bright future.

Richard Adams, the author of this lively tale, insists this is NOT a children's book. In fact the seven publishers and several literary agents rejected his submission on the grounds that, "Older children wouldn't like it because it is about rabbits, which they consider babyish; and younger children wouldn't like it because it is written in an adult style." But Adams persevered and eventually he found someone to take a chance on his book. It was a great hit and since that time, "the book has never been out of print and has been published in many translations throughout the world." A worldwide bestseller for over thirty years, this has become a timeless classic.

Personally, I loved this book! There were times when I couldn't put it down as the gripping action compelled me to stay with it. With no idea how the story would end, and with such dangers as  predators and other rabbits threatening them along the way, the outcome was unpredictable. Even the length of 476 pages did not put me off! I grew to truly care about the characters and was sad when the tale ended. There are some gruesome fights and descriptions of true rabbit dangers that led me to respect the life of the quiet unassuming bucks and does we see in the wild.

I would never leave my home without preplanning, but the lack of planning is just what made this an outstanding adventure tale certainly worth reading.

(We talked about this book in my Kid Lit Book Club and Olivia made a rabbit warren for us to eat as a snack after our lively discussion. The sprigs of mint added flavor to the tea we sipped while eating the (Oreo) dirt.)

 

Pumpkin Cake and Kid Lit

Recipes, Good ReadsDeane Watters3 Comments

Once a month a group of children's literature fans and I get together around a book written for kids. This talking together is great fun but what we really look forward to is gathering around the table afterwards to eat something delicious and continue our talk about the book or whatever else comes up. We usually end up laughing a lot, which is just so fun.

In our discussion last night, we recalled a scene in Eleanor and Park when the family sat down to eat a special Christmas meal. Their abusive step-dad (Richie) had given the mom enough money to buy ingredients to make a traditional Christmas dinner. In this dysfunctional family, Richie's anger ruled everybody with a terrifying control. After they were done eating Richie realized that there was no pumpkin pie and he went berserk, not understanding how she could forget to buy pumpkin to make a pie. Screaming and swearing, he threw the dessert she did make across the room. This was just one of many stressful moments in this heartbreaking young adult novel.

So in spite of this awful character, I made something with the pumpkin I didn't forget to buy:

Three Layer Pumpkin Cake

Ingredients

3 cups flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 3/4 cup unsalted butter (softened) 2 cups sugar, 3 large eggs, 1 Tbsp vanilla extract, 1 (15 oz) canned pumpkin, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 1 cup milk

12 oz. (1 1/2 packages) cream cheese(softened) 3/4 cup unsalted butter(softened) 3 Tblsp pure maple syrup, 2 tsp vanilla extract, 2 tsp cinnamon and 6 cups powdered sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease 3, 8-inch round cake pans. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl/stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla, pumpkin and vegetable oil. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk.

Divide batter evenly into prepared pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove pans from oven and immediately place in the freezer for 45 minutes. (This keeps the cake moist by immediately stopping the baking so the cake does not continue to bake when you remove it from the oven.)

For the frosting: In a large bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in maple syrup, vanilla and cinnamon. Add confectioners' sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high until frosting is smooth.

Assemble the 3 layers with a thick layer of frosting in between each layer. Then apply a thin crumb coat on the top and sides. Pop back in the freezer to harden the crumb coat for about 10 minutes.

Apply one final thick and even layer around the outside of the cake. Store in the fridge until ready to serve.

This is a delicious dessert and we have mostly reserved it as our Rachel's September birthday cake, because she loves anything pumpkin.

I hope you get a chance to bake one sometime.