December 1

The Advent calendar was made last year:  tiny muslin bags stitched with red and green baker's twine, clipped with clothespins to another length of baker's twine.  I haven't filled it all yet, but most of the bags have something inside.  Occasionally, it's a scrap of paper telling them to look in some hiding place, where I've hidden a book or in one case, a little box of Operation bandages.  (As in the game Operation.  The dollar section of Target always has some fun stuff!)  Only one bag has any candy in it, so far, and it's only two little squares.  Some bags will have craft supplies.  So how did we kick off the first day of December?

Big Sis has been wanting marbles.  Now they each have a bag.  

Time for hot chocolate and "The Cinnamon Bear."  Let's get this weekend started!

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland And Led the Revels There

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente, illustrated by Ana Juan.  Feiwel & Friends, 2102.
All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.) - from The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

This quote was the first of many, many passages in Catherynne M. Valente's first children's book that I fell in love with.  I copied it down.  I ate it like candy.  I worried as I read that a book so full of rich moments of narration would ultimately be bogged down under their flowery weight, overwritten and laughable.  But no.  I continued to love the book.  I wanted to be young September, traveling through a weird, wild Fairyland, saving the fairy world from the evil Marquess.

 Never mind the fact that I was almost 34 years old.  Please.

I have finally read the sequel, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There.  (I love these long, crazy titles!)  I was not disappointed.  Indeed, I thought the story was better and meandered less.  September is thirteen now, and traveling back to Fairyland to find that the world has new troubles, troubles that can be traced to September herself.  September must save the shadows of Fairyland, which have been sucked into Fairyland-Below, the underground flipside of Fairyland.  And the queen of that realm is none other than September's own shadow.

I love these books so much.  I read them like a hungry child, yet there are so many things about them I can only appreciate as an adult.  So many wonderful lines.  “The smell of loving is a difficult one to describe, but if you think of the times when someone has held you close and made you safe, you will remember how it smells just as well as I do.”  And another:  “Children are natural practitioners of the Queer and the Questing, for childhood is nothing but a quest through a queer country. Of course, they often have a good deal of trouble with the Quiet.”  I have never read anything else by Valente.  Even this series sprang from an adult title - a book within a book - which was then written and published on her website first.  I so seldom choose books from the "genre" sections of fiction.  Perhaps I should give her other books a try.   I love the illustrator, Ana Juan, though.  Picture book fans, seek out The Jewel Box Ballerinas, Frida, and The Elephant Wish, at the very least.     

I have decided these are children's books for grown-ups.  Grown-ups who still surround themselves with whimsy (my husband has crowned me the Queen of Whimsy - sometimes I'm not so sure that's meant to be a good thing) and would throw on wings and a headdress for fun, if they could possibly get away with it.  

This book was perfect for a late autumn read, Christmas lights twinkling in the next room, stove-popped popcorn and hot chocolate on hand.  
Time permitting, I think I'll pay a visit to the weird world of Wildwood next - another sequel awaits! - while continuing the trek to the Emerald City and stranger places in the fairyland of Oz.  I can't wait to take my youngest to The Dainty China Country for the first time!  

As always:

Merry Weekend and Happy Reading!

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Thinking About Pink

My favorite color is green.  It has always been green.  Yes, I chose a pink Holly Hobbie bedroom when I was 4, but not because I loved pink.  I just wanted to be different, and Holly Hobbie stuff was always blue, of course.  I trapped myself in flowery pink for 15 years!  (Do you know what else is pink?  Pepto Bismol!)

I was not the mom rushing out to buy pink everything for my girls, although I accepted pink gifts graciously.  I don't care for the idea of forcing colors on children based on gender.  I preferred my many shades of green, or a strong red ala Olivia. Yet somehow, Big Sis gravitated toward everything pink on her own.  Perhaps it was our Hello Kitty boombox. Or the color of her favorite yogurt containers.  Little Sis followed suit.  Everything had to be pink.  If you asked either girl to name their favorite color, pink ruled supreme.  Poor mom, you're overruled!

Now my girls are moving on.  Big Sis has gone from turquoise to light green, and Little Sis, while still a pink fan, prefers purple.  But both were gung-ho to see Pinkalicous! The Musical [the link takes you to the New York production] last weekend at the local children's theatre.  They look subdued, scarfing down their pre-show pizza in the picture below, but as you can see in the top picture, Little Sis was inspired to play Pinkalicious dress-up the rest of the day!

And Little Sis chose a pink mini Christmas tree this year.  (Big Sis picked our larger turquoise mini tree.)  Pink nutcracker, pink ornaments...  pink, pink, pink, merry and bright.

And they wore matching pink dresses on our Easter Sunday excursion through the Smithsonian and National Gallery in Washington DC.  They were gifts from my dad, but the girls loved them, and rushed to get hats and gloves to match.

Pink toys, pink books.  It's so hard to escape pink in Little Girl Land today.  I'm glad the girls tend to have such varied interests.  Little Sis may love her tutus and frills, but Legos (regular Duplos and Legos, not these) and drawing paper are her top toys.  Big Sis may drive me nuts with her little nail polish collection, but she's definitely my sporty, jeans and a t-shirt kid.  Here is some pinkness with their seal of approval.  (Fancy Nancy is a favorite, too, but I've been informed she likes purple.  Must listen to the little dictators.)

1.  Where Is Strawberry Moshi? by Mind Wave, Inc.  Candlewick, 2011.
2.  Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann and Elizabeth Kann.  HarperCollins, 2006.
3.  Lalaloopsy: Party Time by Lauren Cecil, illustrated by Prescott Hill.  Scholastic, 2011.
4.  The Absolutely Essential Eloise by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight.  Simon & Schuster,      1999.
5.  Hello Kitty Fun Doodles by Sanrio.  Running Press Kids, 2010.
6.  Priscilla and the Pink Planet by Jocelyn Hobbie & Nathaniel Hobbie.  Little, Brown, 2008.
7.  My Little Pony Storybook Collection by Hasbro.  HarperFestival, 2005.

My Ideal Bookshelf

Everyone's making their holiday gift guides.  I have no definitive guide of my own as of yet, but I do have a book to suggest.  My Ideal Bookshelf  [Little, Brown and Company; November 13, 2012; $24.99; Hardcover] captures the art of Jane Mount in book form.  Mount began the Ideal Bookshelf project in 2007. "I paint portraits of people through the spines of their favorite books: the ones that changed your life, that defined who you are, that you read again and again," she states on her website.

The book compiles the ideal bookshelves of "more than 100 leading cultural figures," to quote the jacket flap:  writers, actors, designers, artists, chefs, musicians, and more.  (And librarians - Nancy Pearl!)  Children's book author & illustrator Oliver Jeffers chose his books based purely on what their spines looked like.  I was thrilled to see The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder appear on the shelf of Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket.  I, too, was a big Snyder fan as a kid, although my favorite was The Headless Cupid.  Michael Chabon's ideal bookshelf includes The Most of S.J. Perelman, a favorite of my husband's.  I smiled seeing that Chabon's wife, Ayelet Waldman, had included Chabon's own The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.  

The essays are short and informative, accompanying each painting on the opposite page.  Some essayists choose to wax rhapsodic about one or two of the titles on their shelves, leaving you to wonder about the rest.  Occasionally this is irritating, such as when a particular favorite of mine shows up on a shelf, but the shelf's owner fails to mention why they chose it.  Most of the time, though, I'm content to follow the author's train of thought wherever it leads, especially when it leads to musings on the love of books and how they shape our lives, which I always appreciate.

The book would make an ideal gift for a book lover, sure, but pay a visit to Jane Mount's website for even more wonderful gift ideas.  There are affordable prints and cards, or take the plunge and order a gift card for a customized original painting.

So what would be on my ideal bookshelf?  I scanned all of our shelves, and started grabbing things that truly jumped out at me.  Perhaps it would look something like this:

Wait - no Jane Austen?  No Brontes represented period?  Ugh.  Where's my copy of Rebecca?  Little Women?  I know me.  All of these should be on my shelf.  Oh, how funny - I could be describing Stephenie Meyer's ideal bookshelf.  Who would have thought...

So lovely readers, what would be on your ideal bookshelf?  Are you like me, in love with so many books you couldn't possibly choose the right ones?  Do you have any long-term, die-hard favorites?  I'd love to know.

Disclosure:  I received a copy of My Ideal Bookshelf from the publisher, but all opinions expressed in this post are my own. Because you knooooooow I just had to love a book like this, right?  

A Little Christmas Crazy

Advent doesn't begin until this weekend, but I love my Christmas decorations!  I love my Christmas books and music and movies!  Thanksgiving is over, and we're going 'til Epiphany around here!

As you can see, our Christmas-themed library books alone cannot be contained by our giant tote.

Our home is very modest.  It's a small single story house, built in 1950.  We have a lot planned for it next year, including refinishing the girls' rooms floors, ripping up the horrid carpet in our knotty pine-paneled den, and painting the kitchen.  It's a work in progress.  Always.  But for now, I hope the tinsel and the lights pull the focus away from stained floors and other imperfections.

Here is our house as of now.  The real tree is in the living room, the small turquoise and pink trees are in the playroom, and the book tree is in the den.  The book tree, an idea that had floated around in memes and on Pinterest for a couple years now, was specifically inspired by this beautiful smaller version.  I like hers better, but ours is probably more "us."  I think my theme song this year is "Christmas Time All Over the World."   I fell in love with the cool matryoshka and kokeshi decor at World Market this year.  I love the whole Alpine Workshop collection.  Target has wooden matryoshkas for decor, as well as inexpensive tall nutcrackers.  (My littlest is Nutcracker Crazy!)  We get to go to Lindsborg for Lucia Festival on the 8th.  I want to bring the whole world into my house, I guess!

Obsessive Nostalgia Disorder Monday: Paddy Gets Into Mischief

This is a more obscure, Danzel-only type of ONDM post.  This is about a book I couldn't remember.  I could only remember an image:  a badger in a wire waste basket, covered in paint.  It drove me crazy for years.  I tried a book-finding website, but had no luck.  My copy was long gone.  Where did the image in my head come from?

Then one night, earlier this year, I thought of the name "Paddy."  And suddenly, it occurred to me that I had learned the word "mischief" from this book.  So I Googled "Paddy mischief" and suddenly, there it was!  I ordered myself a used copy immediately.

Paddy Gets Into Mischief by Molly Brett.  London: The Medici Society, 1972.

My mother told me she bought the book because the pictures were so beautiful, but that it took a few years before I could sit through a reading of it - it's a bit wordy.  It reminds me of a more modern Beatrix Potter.  Mrs. Bossy Badger lives up to her name, and Mr. Badger would rather sit and smoke his old acorn pipe.  Mrs. Bossy hates that pipe.  Mr. Badger takes off and leaves Mrs. Bossy and their son, Paddy, who would rather play and get into mischief than do all the work Mrs. Bossy wants him to do.  He finally realizes how lonely and overworked his poor mother is and resolves to bring Mr. Badger home.

Reading about Molly Brett, it is clear she was a well regarded artist and author.  Are any of my dear readers familiar with her work?

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