Under Wildwood and Other Things We're Reading


I have just finished reading Under Wildwood, the second book in The Wildwood Chronicles by Colin Meloy.  Meloy, as many know, is the lead singer and songwriter for the band The Decemberists, and the wonderful illustrations are provided by his amazing wife, Carson Ellis.  Wildwood was a book I was very excited to read.  I pre-ordered my copy via HarperCollins' Bookperk website (now on hiatus), because it came with a signed print!


A small signed print that I still haven't found a proper home for yet...  It hangs out around the living room bookcase, just chillin' with the books.  

While I liked Wildwood, I must admit I enjoyed this sequel more.  It's dark.  It leaves you hanging.  It's The Empire Strikes Back of The Wildwood Chronicles.  

If you're unfamiliar with the books, Wildwood is the name of the wildest section of a weird wooded area on the edge of Portland, Oregon called The Impassible Wilderness.  In the first book, young Prue finds herself beyond the magical barrier of the woods, chasing a murder of crows who have kidnapped her baby brother. She is followed by a classmate named Curtis.  The two have their own adventures in the woods, before joining forces to help the good people - and creatures - of the wood defeat the evil Dowager Governess.  





The sequel is full of adventure: shapeshifting assassins, a sinister orphanage, a hidden underground world of moles, and a new quest for Prue, among many other things.  There is no tidy ending.  We are left at a maddening cliffhanger.  I want to know what happens next NOW!  (Whine, whine, pout, pout.)


(If you actually click all my little linky-dinks, you will have noticed that I stuck a couple of links to Portlandia in there.  I love that show.  It makes me want to move to Portland.  I've never been to Portland.)

I have this overwhelming feeling that I really should read a grown-up book next.  I'm becoming a total kids' fantasy geek.  My own kids aren't even ready for these yet.  

So what have I read with the girls this week?  We've been working through our Christmas pile from the library.  I put our current "big kid" read, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, on hold so that I could read The Children of Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren.  This Saturday, my family is finally heading to Lindsborg for the Lucia Festival, which I have wanted to attend for years.  Alas, I worked retail for eleven years, and the last few years of that, I was the Saturday morning storytime lady.  Asking off was very difficult during the month of December, so we would always sigh and say, "Some other year."  Well, this year is that year(!!!), and I'm making in Scandinavian Week around here!

Last night, we started our bedtime reading much earlier than usual, because I had a lot to get through!  We read Christmas At Noisy Village, ooohing and aaahing over  Ilon Wikland's  charming illustration, before reading the Christmas chapter in The Children of Noisy Village.  After that, we settled in as I read Kristen's Surprise, the Christmas book in the American Girl Kristen series.  Kirsten was the Swedish immigrant doll, from 1854 Minnesota.  She was one of the original three dolls, sadly discontinued a few years ago.  (My sister bought herself a Samantha doll, also discontinued, back in the day when there were still only three dolls!)  Anyhoo, the point is that the Kristen Christmas story is actually a Lucia Day story (December 13!), and since my girls love their own American Girl dolls (Kit and Molly), I thought this would be a nice day to acquaint them with Lucia Day before our trip to Lindsborg.  The American Girl books are actually good.  For some reason, they always surprise me.  We quite enjoyed Kristen's adventure.


Tonight, we have a holiday party to attend, and I know we need to get to bed at a decent time, to be rested for our trip, but I do plan to read The Tomten and The Tomten and the Fox before shut-eye.  
That is our week in reading.  We have a busy weekend planned!  I hope everyone has a Very Merry Weekend!  I'll leave you with a little Colin Meloy, singing a song he wrote after the birth of his and Carson Ellis's son.



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Merry Scenes


It is the sixth of December, so Happy St. Nicholas Day!  

I'm the great-granddaughter of German immigrants, but I don't think St. Nicholas Day was something they ever celebrated.  I took German in all four years of high school, though, and every December 6, all the German classes in the city would convene at one of the newer high schools for a big celebration, where we'd compete in storytelling, caroling, table decorating, and baking competitions.  I loved it.  

Now the hubby and I follow our own path, and the legend of the real St. Nicholas is so lovely.  We don't actively follow the St. Nicholas Day traditions - no shoes left out, etc. -  but the girls had gold "coins" (chocolate) in their Advent calendar this morning!  

We have had our quiet moments of merriment the past week.  I thought I'd share a few simple bits of happy.
The top picture:  holiday tea and kokeshi doll infuser mugs!

(To veer off-topic a moment:  Remember my ode to matryoshka dolls from the other day?  I would also like to buy out World Market's selection of kokeshi doll everything!  And even more off-topic, I covet these tea pots!  And these bakers!)
This picture was actually taken the weekend after Thanksgiving.  They found my Polar Express storytime Santa hat and a reindeer headband among the Christmas decoration boxes.

A spectacularly decorated old mansion in our Historic Midtown district.  Believe it or not, this one used to come in second to another fabulous house around the corner.  That one is up for sale, though, and the decorations are on another much newer house.  



Really, really yummy cookies at Panera.

In the Advent calendar for December 5th!  Olivia is as much for me as for them.

In the Advent calendar for December 4th:  two monster finger puppets.  The littlest one decided hers made an excellent tree topper for our little white mini tree.

On my Christmas wish list (yes, mine more than the girls'):  I would love to have one of these precious little beauties in my possession one day.

Until then, we checked two of the books out from the library in their larger, somewhat less precious format.



A Christmas Stocking Story by Hilary Knight.  Katherine Tegan Books, 2003.



A Firefly in a Fir Tree: A Carol for Mice by Hilary Knight.  Katherine Tegan Books, 2004.











Both books are wonderful, no matter the size.  They make for very merry reading.  You can read a short synopsis of each at the marvelous Hilary Knight's own website.



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The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas


I've written about my love for Madeleine L'Engle before. (See Pinterest, too.)  Or at least I've written about my love for A Wrinkle In Time.  I read it for the first time when I was ten, then read it six to ten times before I finished sixth grade.  I also loved A Wind in the Door, but I confess, as a kid I never read beyond those two.  A Swiftly Tilting Planet disappointed me, because I didn't want to read about Meg as an adult, and I preferred Charles Wallace as a precocious small child rather than as a teenager.  I didn't read beyond the first chapter.  Then in 2007, five books were reprinted together as "The Time Quintet:"  A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time.  I loved the new covers, and I bought them all.  And this time I read them.  I also wanted to travel back in time and shake my 10-year-old self and tell her she should have never given up!

An Acceptable Time in particular spurred me to seek out other L'Engle children's books.  I had to check them out from the library.  When I started bookselling in 2000, the Austin family books and others were still available in paperback in our teen section.  By 2007, they were out of print.  What I discovered during that read-a-thon was that I loved the Austin family as much, if not more, than the Murrays.

The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas takes place when Vicky Austin is only seven.  She narrates this tale in that rather adult voice that would read as weird to anyone unfamiliar with the teenage Vicky.  In other words, she doesn't sound like a typical seven-year-old, but Vicky never sounded like a typical teenager, either.  The book is an Advent story:  Vicky is to play the angel in the church Christmas pageant.  Things are not going well early in the rehearsal process, but with her family's help, she is working hard to improve.


Each day, the family does one special thing to prepare for Christmas, as their way of observing the season of Advent.  One day, they make cookies.  Another day, they make a Christmas mobile from cut tin cans and ornament balls.  On still another day, Mrs. Austin retrieves a stuffed Santa from the attic for Vicky and her sister Suzy to take turns sleeping with.

As Vicky's fears about the pageant begin to evaporate, new fears set in.  She is scared her mother will go into labor and miss the pageant, and worse yet, she will in the hospital for Christmas.  Baby Rob is due soon.


All through the book, the children keep watch for snow.  When it finally comes, it roars in as a Christmas Eve blizzard.  Will the pageant go on?  Will Mrs. Austin make it to the hospital?


The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas was published in 1984, with illustrations by Joe De Valasco.  The pictures are very dated, but realistic.  This is the copy that we have.  In 2010, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux repackaged the book with new illustrations by Jill Weber.  The cover is lovely, but I admit, I've never opened it.  Has anyone else ever seen or read the new edition?

One last semi-related note:  I got an early Christmas present!  A couple days before Thanksgiving, Out of Print clothing posted a picture on their Facebook page of some of their new merchandise.  (Are you familiar with Out of Print?  No?  GO, right now, and check them out.  My favorite local indie bookstore carries some of their stuff, and I have a Pride and Prejudice tee that I just adore.  LOVE Out of Print.)  There were a couple of new Alice in Wonderland shirts pictured, so of course I had to click.  But as much as I love Alice, how on earth could I live my life without an A Wrinkle in Time t-shirt, now that I knew one existed???





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Mad About Matryoshkas


I love matryoshska dolls, aka Russian nesting dolls.  They make me happy.  Perhaps I am reminded of this:



The adorable bunting was made via this lovely kit by Team Kitten, available for purchase and download at Kitschy Digitals. This holiday season has been especially rich in matryoshka motifs, I have noticed.  Have you been to World Market lately?  Have you seen this cookie jar?  These measuring cups?  These gift bags?  These ornaments?  Or these?

 And now, a moment of silence for my little glass matryoshka ornament, who was killed when she fell from the height of a branch as she was being hung on the tree.  Farewell, sweet girl.  We never had a chance to know thee.


Target has also been rather matryoshka mad as of late.  One of these felted wool doll ornaments is waiting in an Advent calendar bag.  Some of these adorable Fred Flare kitchen products (the measuring cups, salt and pepper shakers, and measuring spoons) were spotted on an endcap there recently.  (I've seen them at my favorite local health store, too.)  Those Babushcups!  I need these!  And these wooden darlings came home with us:


The girls attempted to name them.  I think we have an Anya, a Katya, a Karina, and a Masha, but I could be wrong. Of course, I would love a collection of the real thing.  I would love to visit Russia someday.  I love Dostoevsky and Chekhov and ballet and onion domes and Orthodox icons...  and et cetera, et cetera. There are a few fabulous sites out there for the real thing.  For cheap, kitschy and modern, check out Matryoshka Madness.  (Many of their nesting dolls can be purchased on Amazon.)   You can also find a large assortment at the Golden Cockerel, a company based out of North Carolina and St. Petersburg, Russia.  There is also a site called Russian Crafts, based solely in St. Petersburg, that has a huge selection of matryoshka dolls, as well as a brief history.

 And last, let me share a couple of our recent library finds!



The Littlest Matryoshka by Corinne Demas Bliss, illustrated by Kathryn Brown.  Hyperion, 1999.
This is a sweet story of a set of matryoshka dolls, a set of 6, made in Russia then imported to a shop overseas.  The toy shop owner lines them up on a shelf, but the littlest is knocked off the shelf, out the door, and buried in the snow.  A little girl buys the set anyway, and the littlest doll begins a long journey, as her sisters stand watch.
Lovely illustrations!










The Magic Nesting Doll by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, illustrated by Laurel Long.  Dial  Books for Young Readers, 2000.
This book is just magical.  It  is a modern fairy tale about a girl who must make her way in the world, with only the magic nesting doll her grandmother gave to her.  The doll may only be opened three times, and only when one has the greatest need.  Katya sets out with her doll, only to find out about a sleeping prince who lies frozen like living ice.  It is a reverse Sleeping Beauty story, with the heroine rescuing the prince, and herself, by using her magic nesting doll when the need is the greatest.  
The illustrations on this one are SPECTACULAR.







                   



For lots more matryoshka goodness, including products, crafts, fabric, sweets, decor, and more, visit my Matryoska Love Pinterest board!  (Remember the "There's an app for that!" commercials?  My theme could be "I got a board for that!")



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Vinyl Christmas



I love December music.

I love Advent hymns, beautiful carols, holiday jazz standards.  I love it.  I'm picky, don't get me wrong.  But I love, love, love it.  I have enough music labeled "Holiday" in my iTunes to play for 6.1 days.  

That dusty black thing on top of the piano is our latest "retro" cd player-tuner-turntable combo.  We've been through a few of them.  Turntables are delicate contraptions, and we're no audio experts - we just want to be able to play our records.  Most of what we've owned have either been cheap new or cheap vintage.  You get what you pay for.

But as long as it does this:


I am happy.

This is the first Christmas record I ever owned.  I was two.  I'm sure many of my readers are familiar with it. You may even know the whole darn thing by heart, too.


This is what I decorated the tree to for many, many years to come.  I can still feel the scratchy brown carpet under my elbows, as I lay stretched out, reading all the details inside the jacket.


It just isn't the same on CD.  (Yes, I have it on CD, too.)

I still have all the vinyl Christmas records from childhood: some classical, Harry Simone Chorale, the first Amy Grant Christmas record (my dad's).  We've added a few to our collection:  Nat King Cole, Mahalia Jackson, Kingston Trio.  My mom convinced me to grab the Gene Autry album that contained "I Wish My Mom Would Marry Santa Claus."  (Adorable.)  Little Sis loves her "Nutcracker Suite" on vinyl.

The holiday season just isn't the same for me without John Denver, though.  Rocky Mountain Christmas is my other all-time favorite.


I made some obnoxiously huge Spotisfy Christmas playlists.  Look for the "What We're Listening To" section on the right hand column to check any of those out.  I suggest hitting "shuffle."



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