Deane's Blog

kid lit book club

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.

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.

The Devil's Arithmetic

Good ReadsDeane Watters2 Comments

img_2013 How old were you when you first heard about the Holocaust?

My first memories are not clear but I have a fuzzy sense of being in sixth grade and having our teacher read to our class every day after lunch recess. We would come in hot and sweaty, lay our heads on our desk tops and listen as she read a variety of books to us. Only one of those books stands out to me. I think it was the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L Shirer. Perhaps it was a book like it. This one was published in 1960 so it would have been a fairly new book when I was in the sixth grade. Some of my fellow classmates with better memories than mine, might be able to clarify this, but I do remember feeling shocked and appalled over everything I heard.

This month our Kid Lit Book Club read a book that brought this time period, this unbelievable part of our world's history, to light at a child's level because it was written about a child. Hannah, a young girl from New York, was reluctantly celebrating the Passover Seder with her family. The routines of the meal bored her and she told her mother that she was tired of remembering things that didn't seem to have any connection to her. But she was not sympathized with. "Tired or not, you're going with us, young lady. Grandpa Will and Grandma Belle are expecting the entire family and that means you, too. You have to remember how much family means to them. Grandma lost both her parents to the Nazis before she and her brother managed to escape. And Grandpa Will lost everyone but your Aunt Eva. A family of eight all but wiped out"

Hannah didn't really know what that was all about but she knew she didn't have a choice; she was going to go through the motions of the Seder meal whether she wanted to or not. At one point in the meal she was asked to go to the door to invite Elijah in.

"Slowly Hannah moved toward the front door, feeling incredibly dumb. She certainly didn't believe that the prophet Elijah would come through the apartment door any more than she believed Darth Vader, or Robin Hood, or...the Easter Bunny, would. No one believed those superstitions anymore. No one except babies. Like Aaron.

Glancing over her shoulder, Hannah saw they were all watching her intently. Aaron bounced up and down on his chair.

"Open it, Hannah!" he called out loudly. "Open it for Elijah!"

But what happened next was to change Hannah's life forever. No longer would she fail to appreciate the horror of those years or treat lightly the losses that occurred across Europe.

When is a child old enough to hear of the horrors of the war? I wish one never had to learn of them. But when the time comes, this book would be a good introduction although it is graphic and not appropriate for the very young. I was intrigued from the beginning and interested until the very end when Hannah came back into the room to finish the Seder meal, seemingly minutes later, a changed, enlightened and suddenly, very interested, young woman.

 

 

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

Good ReadsDeane Watters2 Comments

Do you have a memory that includes a mouse or a rat? Opening our Kid Lit book club discussion of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH with this question led to some squeamish tales!img_1728

We heard testimonies of personal encounters that made our skin crawl!

One poor mouse got caught by the paw in a trap and dragged itself to a vent where it fell but stayed alive, flapping that trap for hours, until a way was found to get it out.

Another mouse was such an escape artist that it was given the name Houdini! After flying out of the toaster when the heat got intense, being chased by a broom numerous times and running across the floor in front of everyone and then disappearing for days on end, she was found dead on the front door step for no apparent reason.

One of our club members actually did research on rats when she was in grad school. After euthanizing the rat, she would remove its corneas and continue her study with a microscope. Imagining a dead rat in her hand while removing a part of its eye, certainly seems out of the ordinary...

Brian and I were on a ranger-led tour at Mesa Verde National Park when, shocking everyone, a rat fell "splat" onto the rock right into the midst of our group. "You might want to back away," the ranger advised.

These accounts led to a few bat stories where we all shuttered as the details were revealed.

But there is not much to squirm about in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH! This delightful story actually makes you forget that the main characters are rats and mice! The adorable Mrs. Frisby could be the sweet little neighbor lady next door who loves her children and will do anything to keep them safe. Even the rats in this story are likable, kind, smart and honorable.

With themes of loyalty, friendship, trust and bravery, this tale keeps pulling you to read more, wondering what will happen next.

Can you envision the scene where Mrs. Frisby, who will do anything to save her sick little son, gathers her courage, jumps on the back of Jeremy the crow, flies far above the forest and steps out into the hollow of an old tree to approach a wise old owl to ask for help? Those large, round, yellow eyes appear extremely menacing as the owl asks her to step into his home. Don't owls eat mice? But her love for Timothy emboldens her and forward she moves.

If you would like a warm, entertaining, thought-provoking read, I would encourage you to pick up this book. It led our Kid Lit book club to forget the squirmy long-tailed tales that colored the beginning of our evening's discussion and left us with a sweet story with a mostly-happy ending.

 

Do you have a favorite piece of children's literature? Let me know in the comments. Perhaps we'll pick it to read in one of the coming months.