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Stories of My Childhood: Just Grandma and Me

In this series, I explore books that have had a special meaning to me as a kid. It can be any book that tells a story that isn’t a board book, counting/alphabet book, and that is one I remember well. Of course, it should ideally be good too. This month’s choice is a special pick for Grandparents’ Day.

What is the book about?

This is a simple little story about Little Critter and his grandmother. Together, they have many adventures at the beach. Narrated by Little Critter, it tells all about their day from morning until he falls asleep on the bus ride home.

How did I discover it?

It was part of Grandma’s book basket–more on that below. It was a staple whenever I came for a visit, usually on my own. It did, after all, feature a grandmother and one grandchild.

What do I like about the book?

It’s a simple story about grandparent appreciation. I don’t remember most of the things that Little Critter actually does, but there are events that you’d often see at a typical beach day…but the focus is on the grandmother. It’s a different approach to family stories. I remember there being some nice illustrations, too. One particular two-page drawing featured lots of animals and little critters having fun at the beach, and I remember being intrigued by a plane carrying a “sign” behind it that said “Work for Peace.” This may have been because I was used to seeing so many “planes with signs” at the Jersey shore as a kid.

Favorite memory involving the books

Grandma used to have a book basket–pretty much an Easter basket with books inside. Titles included things like “Peanut Butter and Jelly,” “If You Give a Pig a Pancake,” “Nina Nina Star Ballerina,” “The Berenstain Bears’ Week at Grandma’s,” and the books about the Westie terrier whose name I can’t recall. But by far the most fun to read was Just Grandma and Me. Sometimes Grandma would even read it from her perspective instead of from Little Critter’s. It was especially funny at the end, where Little Critter insisted his grandmother fell asleep on the bus ride home even though it was he who did so.

Not that I don’t give the Berenstain Bears book any credit; that too was a good grandparent book. It showed Brother and Sister Bear going to their grandparents’ home for a week while their parents took a second honeymoon. I never understood why they were disappointed about it; going to Grandma and Grandpa’s was fun! But they learned to have fun too, through baking and ship building and square dancing. That was almost my choice for this month’s Childhood Stories post. Both are great.

Digging deeper into the fandom

Little Critter had “grown up” books too. In second grade, I was delighted to discover a series for young elementary school students starring him, now called LC. He and his friends had many adventures, and while I don’t remember what they were, I do know that I loved checking them out for silent reading time. They’re very hard to find now it seems. I may have outgrown Just Grandma and Me, but it was fun to continue the series later on.

My thoughts on the book now

Just Grandma and Me probably isn’t as popular as it used to be, but it does bring back memories. I’m sad I don’t remember too much about it, but it is what it is. If I can remember the happy times it brought, it must be a good story.

Happy Grandparents’ Day to all!

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Stories of My Childhood: Chrysanthemum

Chrystanthemum cover

What is the book about?

Chrysanthemum loves her name. She loves it written on a birthday cake, on an envelope, or whispered to her at bedtime. Then she starts school and the other children begin to make fun of her name.,…and she wishes she was named anything else! She begins to wilt, like a flower. What will it take to make her bloom again?

How did I discover it?

It was in my home bookshelf for a while, but this was a first grade read aloud as well. It works very well in that respect (see below).

What do I love about the book?

Henkes’ illustrations hands down make this book. The little mice are adorable and expressive. We get glimpses of their lives into little bits of dialogue that appear in some illustrations. Sometimes there are multiple on one page, rather than a full-page drawing. The lyrical prose isn’t to be overlooked, though. The repetition of the writing will have readers also falling in love with Chrysanthemum’s name, as well as driving the point home in the end that it’s good to be unique.

The same can actually be said for the rest of Henkes’ books. I especially love Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse as well, but Chrysanthemum was my first venture into this world, so it’s my choice for this series.

Digging deeper into the fandom

I read a lot of Henkes’ other mouse books after this one. A favorite was Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, but others includes Julius, the Baby of the World; Owen; Sheila Rae the Brave; and A Weekend with Wendell. I adore how they take place in one universe and how characters overlap.

Favorite memory involving the book

Listening to my teacher read the book aloud. Chrysanthemum really does have a nice ring to it!

My thoughts on the book now

Admittedly, I do think the moral is a little sketchy looking back at it, or the lesson for bullies anyway. Basically one of Chrysanthemum’s teachers comes out announcing her own very long name. The bullies are shocked and decide that they love Chrysanthemum’s name, too. So the lesson here is to have the teacher subtly threaten the kids with the fact that she shares a characteristic with the bullied student so they won’t say mean things in her presence again? What happens when that teacher leaves to have her baby? Will the bullies get going again? Anyway, despite this, it’s still a really cute story and a great starting point for the Henkes mouse universe. It’s still a cute story, let’s be honest.

Check out more books from my childhood:

Pig William
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Go Dog Go 
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (+ series)
The Adventures of Captain Underpants (+ series)

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The Hobbes Debate: Is “Calvin and Hobbes” ‘ Stuffed Protagonist Real?

Who else here loves Calvin and Hobbes?

I do. I began the series in fourth grade. One of my earliest memories, though not the first, is reading a collection during fourth grade silent reading time. I was trying my very hardest not to burst out laughing when Calvin flooded the bathroom and had to go find buckets, attracting the attention of his parents.

Watterson had said that Calvin sees what it real to him and that everyone else saw what was real to them. So wouldn’t that mean that Hobbes is fake? After all, something can’t be real to just one person, right?

Yet, most of the strip revolves around Hobbes being a talking, thinking character. What’s really real here?

Evidence for Being Real

*There is a moment in the very beginning of the strip where Calvin goes to check his tiger trap, which he sets with a tuna fish sandwich. Hobbes then gets trapped, and that’s presumably how they meet.

*There are many instances that can’t happen without Hobbes being real.

-Calvin gets pummeled when he walks in the front door constantly. His mom acknowledges how dirty he gets, but it would be difficult to do so on his own.

-Likewise, Hobbes always hits Calvin with snowballs and we, and other characters, often see that he was hit.

-Hobbes eats a sandwich at the bus stop, and when Calvin gets on the bus, he realizes how light his lunchbox is. Could Calvin have gotten hungry and just used his imagination to show that he regretted eating lunch way too early? Perhaps, but that seems like a lot of work.

-At Susie Derkins’ birthday party, Calvin isn’t aware that someone cut Susie’s cake too early. It’s then that Hobbes informs him that the cake is chocolate.

-One of the most famous instances that vouches for Hobbes’ existence is a scene where Calvin gets tied to a chair and can’t get out. He would never have been able to tie himself up like that. It’s also highly unlikely that Calvin has a friend who conveniently disappears and likely jumps out the window whenever Calvin’s parents come to investigate what their son is up to.

-Calvin has Hobbes take a photo of him while sneezing. Judging by Calvin’s position and the fact that both his hands are in the image, he wouldn’t have been able to do it himself.

-In G.R.O.S.S. club meetings that require a password, Hobbes throws down a rope ladder for Calvin to climb. Calvin wouldn’t be able to climb up himself without the ladder being tossed down to him.

-While playing hide and seek at one point, Calvin sits and waits for a long time for Hobbes to find him. Turns out that Hobbes found an opportunity to go read Calvin’s comic books. He is in Calvin’s room when Calvin goes to find him from outside. So how did he get there? (ARGUMENT: Calvin’s mom could have taken him in, but then again, why would she have done so before Calvin was done outside?)

-Calvin puts Crisco in his hair for school picture day to give it a “fancy” style, but Mom makes him comb it out. At the bus stop, Hobbes styles it to make Calvin look like “Astro Boy.” People notice Calvin’s wacky new hairdo, especially Susie.

*Hobbes tends to be a bit more logical than Calvin. So would Calvin actually be able to think from Hobbes’ perspective sometimes? It might be difficult.

*Scenes from Calvin’s imagination would be hard to pull off. When he builds his duplicator and uses it to produce a “good” version of himself, we can see him hiding in his room and being thrilled about not going to school after the duplicate leaves the house. It’s very plausible his cardboard box technology was real, because it would be unlikely that Calvin could change his hairstyle that quickly in between scenes (the “good Calvin” had it combed. Calvin meets Susie very soon after the duplicate gave her a Valentine and he then has spiky hair.) If he can duplicate himself, why can’t he have a talking tiger buddy?

*To add to the above, we can see that Hobbes has unique thoughts even when Calvin isn’t in the picture. When Calvin goes to recite a poem about Hobbes, he then leaves the room. We can see Hobbes thinking (with Calvin gone): “This is why I try to sleep through most of the afternoon.”

*If Calvin didn’t want mustaches drawn on the superheroes in his comics, why are they there?

Evidence for Not Being Real

*The most important one is that Hobbes is stuffed whenever someone else…a parent, Susie, etc. is around. Nobody has ever seen Hobbes move or have been confused when they hear someone else in their house speak. Even in photos, Calvin’s parents see him as stuffed. Calvin knows that Hobbes is about to pounce on him walking through the front door in one strip, so Calvin whips out his camera and snaps a photo. To his dad, and the reader, Hobbes is a stuffed tiger that has been tossed in the air. But as anyone who follows a religion will tell you…just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not real.

*Would Hobbes, who often appears stuffed, really be wandering around in suburban woods when Calvin built his tiger trap?

*Although Hobbes is more logical and mature than Calvin, it’s possible that he could just be Calvin’s conscience. We know that Calvin has a good side once in a while and thinks deeply about issues, too. They share the same opinions on many big issues…except maybe what qualifies as being on Santa’s good list.

*Susie clearly isn’t aware that Hobbes is a live, talking being when she runs into them during an argument. When the two were up in the tree house having an argument, Susie asks Calvin, “Who are you talking to up there?” implying that nobody else is speaking.

*Hobbes doesn’t seem able to move around himself. When Calvin tries to run to the Yukon, he runs back home leaving Hobbes in the woods. Hobbes tells Calvin he walked back himself, but it is revealed to the reader that Dad went out and got him.

*It’s easy to believe in most cases that Hobbes is imaginary, like all our former stuffed pals. They play Monopoly and read comics together, things that a kid could easily do “with” a stuffed animal or imaginary friend.

*A final theory is that Calvin could be suffering from multiple personality disorder with Hobbes as another manifestation of himself.

Here’s my theory: Hobbes is, in fact, a real tiger. He simply reverts back to his stuffed self whenever anyone else is nearby or within earshot. Simply arguing that “most of the events are in Calvin’s imagination” makes the strip redundant, since it is, after all, a comic strip. Considering the talking cats, dogs, and inanimate objects we’ve seen in comics, it’s not hard to believe that Hobbes is real too. I personally feel that this view makes the strip so much more interesting!

In making my list, I also noticed something interesting: most of the “evidence” against Hobbes is theory-based or based on what is easiest to believe, rather than stemming from actual happenings in the strip. There is a lack of concrete evidence. Hmm…A lot of evidence also suggests that Hobbes isn’t real to anyone else, making my theory work.

Sometimes, imagination is important. And this time, I choose to believe that something implausible is real. That’s part of the magic of reading.

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Stories of My Childhood: Pig William

What is the book about?

This is a colorful, comic-style book that chronicles the adventures of a pig named William as he tries to get ready for a day at the school picnic. William is slow, takes his time in the morning, and likes to do things his own way, including making a big mess in the bathtub. These quirks drive his many housemates crazy! So when William misses the bus, it comes as no surprise to anyone. But when it starts to rain, he may just have won the day after all.

How did I discover it?

Pig William was a childhood library item that we’ve owned since the beginning of time. I’m pretty sure we read it over and over again when I was being toilet-trained, and it’s also partially how I learned to read. I loved it so much that I actually discovered a companion book, Pigs in Hiding, at the local library that quickly became a favorite library book. (Didn’t you always have those couple of books that you always had to check out time after time?)

What do I love about the book?

Quite simply, I love how colorful it is. There is lots of detail in the pages that often speak for themselves. The pigs do lots of silly things in the background, particularly William. It’s not a text-heavy book, nor is there truly narration. The book consists of comic-book style images with speech bubbles and readers watch the character interact with one another.

This is not a preachy kids’ book at all. It’s just perky and fun. Plus, cute pigs!

Digging deeper into the fandom

This author wrote my first series books. As I mentioned above, I found a book by the same author I loved just as much at the local library, Pigs in Hiding. This one had a house of pigs playing a massive game of hide and seek, and it’s only when the lead pig sets out food in the kitchen that everyone comes out and promptly loses the game. It’s my favorite scene in the book–pigs coming out EVERYWHERE, crowding the kitchen, and many saying the name of a food like “strawberries!” “donuts!” “cheese!” Etc. Like Pig William, quirky adventures line the pages. Readers also get the enjoyment of looking for hidden pigs.

Favorite memory involving the books

William recites a poem while feeding his fish, Pinky. It goes something like this:

Pinky, pinky, little and dinky, eating Big Fish Chow. Poor Pinky; too big for the sinky, must play in the bathtub now.

Mom and I composed a rhyme to this poem which I obviously can’t type out on paper. There was another weird one where we’d refer to ponytails as “Pig Williams.” As in… “hey Mom, can you give my hair a Pig William?” I have no idea where this trend came from, nor what it a ponytail and a fictional pig had in common. Yet we used that term for years.

How did the books inspire me?

I can’t say that they really inspired me any, though it might have inspired my love of escapist books.

My thoughts on the books now

Pig William is an underrated book and there are barely any copies available on Amazon. This is a shame. The series (there’s a third one about Christmas pigs I’ve never read) deserve more attention. It could even be considered a great introduction to graphic novels.

Check out other posts on books from my childhood:

Go Dog Go
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (+ series)
The Adventures of Captain Underpants (+ series)

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Stories of My Childhood: Go Dog Go

What is the book about?

Good question…what is the book about? To put it simply, it’s about colorful dogs having fun. There are tall dogs, small dogs, yellow dogs, one dog, two dogs, red dogs, blue dogs…so many dogs! They boat together, they travel together, and they even sleep together. But the following day, more adventure awaits. Where on earth are the dogs going? An entertaining side plot also shows one female dog attempting to impress a male cohort with her choice of hats, and struggling to succeed. But with a little luck, maybe she’ll find the perfect party hat.

How did I discover it?

This was one of those “I Can Read All By Myself” books with the Cat in the Hat logo near the top. I believe that many of them were mailed to our house, and that’s presumably how Go Dog Go got there as well.

What do I love about the book?

The illustrations are just as fun as the story, what little there is. But does that really matter? Not in the slightest. The colors are really saturated and well done, and the ending pages explode in color in action. It makes one want to join the cast of characters, at least, it did.

Digging deeper into the fandom

This just doesn’t have a fandom, but I did find a fascinating article a couple of years ago. In a letter to the female dog who tries on the hats, the author encourages her to be herself and not worry about what the other dogs think. This message is still true for adults today! I posted the article on Facebook a few years ago and a couple of people spread it around. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who enjoyed this book.

Favorite memory involving the books

There is an end scene where all the dogs climb a tree and have a great big party, standing on what is apparently a very sturdy layer of leaves. Colorful dogs are everywhere..napping, partying, whatever. One afternoon my mom and I sat on the living room floor and acted out the positions of the dogs. There was one dog being shot out of a cannon that was tricky to pose as, but we managed. Dogs that were lying on the ground were easier obviously, though another tricky one to imitate was a dog swinging.

How did the books inspire me?

There isn’t a lot of storyline here except to wonder where the dogs are going in the second half of the book. I guess, in a way, this book introduced me to the concept of “escapist” books, or books that simply plunge you into a world to escape to without a ton of storyline. I have tossed all my “escapist” storyline ideas for now, but I’m sure I will write one someday.

My thoughts on the books now

I think that Go Dog Go is a classic and highly recommend it to anyone with kids. It’a a colorful and fun classic for any dog lover, and it ages pretty well too.

Have you ever read Go Dog Go? What did you think?

Also be sure to check out the other books in my yearlong Childhood Stories series by clicking the tag below.

reviews

Life on the Leash: Victoria Schade

Life on the Leash: Victoria Schade

Genre: Chick Lit/Romance

Published: 2018

Pages: 343

Cora Bellamy loves dogs. She loves them so much, in fact, that she’s started her own dog training business. Based on a philosophy of love and understanding, she wants to prove the harsh well-known trainers that they’re wrong. So when she gets the opportunity to audition for a dog training TV show, she jumps at the chance.

There’s still one thing standing in the way: her latest client. He’s charming, handsome, and seems to like Cora back. The problem is that he’s taken. What’s a girl to do? Luckily she has the acquaintance of another client to help her. Eli is a great assistant, and little does Cora know that she may be attracted to him as well. 

***There may be minor spoilers.***

I often enjoy a fun, chick-lit novel. I always enjoy dogs. And I also enjoy supporting local talent. So I knew this book had to be mine!

The story focuses on the life of dog trainer Cora Bellamy. She doesn’t have a ton of problems in her life, per se, as she’s gotten over her ex-fiance and is enjoying her dog training business. But excitement is about to manifest itself in the possibility of a new dog training show.

You have several chick lit tropes here for the most part and most are well-drawn.

The clumsy protagonist who leaves her corporate job to start a quirky business: Cora. Her story was interesting and different.

Her party-loving voice of reason best friend: Maggie.

The evil ex: Aaron. He really has no purpose here, and it’s often distracting. More on that in a bit.

The evil corporate-esque giant who is a bully but somehow has a following: Donald I mean Boris Ershovich

The gay best friend who loves clothes, acts feminine and uses words like “darling”: Darnell

We interrupt this post with breaking news…

HOW TO WRITE GAY CHARACTERS

BY FICTIONISTAS UNITED

1. Follow the exact same character-creating process you use for straight people. 

2. Make them attracted to people of the same gender.

3. Um, that’s it.

It really annoys me when writers try to be “diverse” and then write characters according to their cardboard cutout stereotype. Schade obviously tries to be diverse here, maybe to a fault (do we need to know the groomer friend’s lesbian backstory?) I did actually like Darnell. I’m just sick of seeing him show up in every book I read as the gay side character.

My main issue with the novel was that it seemed to focus too much on events that weren’t important to the narrative, while it didn’t often focus enough on the things that were important. The whole balance was a little off. The first half is almost entirely about dogs and there’s not a lot of romance there. (Which was fine, save for the fact that again, there’s not a lot of love development in the second half either so maybe there should have been more of a love story there.) Characters spend so much time complaining about a certain famous dog trainer that I was like, “Enough already! We get it.” Then in the second half, nobody mentions him anymore. Hardly.

This lack of focus creates a few problems. First: I didn’t always care. I really didn’t care about seeing drawn out scenes of Aaron’s reality TV show when I could have been seeing the chemistry grow between Cora and Eli and Charlie, something we desperately needed more of. Second: there is no time for any chemistry to develop. When a fight breaks out between the two, it comes out of nowhere and is clearly just there because “it’s chick lit, and a fight always happens at this point!” It had to be rushed, because, well, there was no time for development. They’re not even in a relationship! And then it was resolved way too quickly with no effort. Actually, I almost started laughing when I read it because of how far out of left field the “argument” came from.

Third: the book skipped from problem to problem so much that it’s easy to forget details. The main characters all go to a party at some point that Cora was apparently invited to. I couldn’t ever remember that happening because it was glossed over so fast. This brings me to the fourth and biggest problem: the book can’t find an issue to focus on. Was it about the dog training show? Was it about Cora finding love? It doesn’t stay on one problem long enough to answer that. This could have been helped if the author spent less time going in-depth about Cora’s roommate’s job issues, drawn-out shopping scenes, Aaron’s TV show, and scenes of partying at clubs (le snore). There are several issues presented that could make for great drama: an evil client possibly holding stake in Cora’s life, going head-to-head with a popular brutish dog trainer (also, I found it strange that Schade implied Cora was going to take him down when they weren’t going head-to-head or even meet); and so forth.

As for the romance itself? Exploring Cora’s moral dilemma with her taken love interest was also exciting, as you don’t see that very often. I know a lot of us who are interested in love have been tempted to date someone in a relationship at some point. It’s easy to guess who she’ll choose, but I wish there was more relationship development. There wasn’t enough here to get me completely invested in these relationships. I also felt that their climax was pretty weak, even for the genre. It tried to be quirky but didn’t make a lot of sense (remember the left field fight I mentioned?) Additionally, Cora doesn’t face a whole lot of obstacles so not much is at stake and it falls flat. It might have been better to spend more of the book showing Cora hosting the show instead of having her wait on the audition results. Waiting does not good drama make. Changing the focus to the show alone could have solved many of the book’s issues.

Okay, let’s talk about the good, because this really isn’t a bad book. I did like some of the subplots, despite how they were distracting. I was especially drawn to one about a woman called Beth Ann, a troubled woman with a poodle living in a tough situation. I was rooting for her. I loved the dogs and their personalities, and there were lots of dogs to love here. Ultimately, I also liked the characters. The dialogue was real, the setting was established, and from a basic perspective it all flowed fairly well. There’s not a lot to talk about, but the story itself was entertaining. 

This was a cute, fluffy book that wasn’t perfect. I did enjoy seeing what would happen next and looked forward to picking it up again to see the characters. Because there was no clear goal in mind, and the one that existed couldn’t be solved by anything but waiting, it fell somewhat flat. Honestly, I feel like it just needed a few more rounds of edits than anything, because in addition to questionable choices, there were definitely some errors I picked up on. It’s a fun piece of chick lit. If you like dogs, you should go for it because the dog stuff definitely overshadows the romance. Still, don’t expect it to win awards any time soon.

3 stars