Saturday, April 18, 2009


Okay, I am late to link over to, so let me start there. Whole-wheat Pasta with Chickpeas and Lemon. This is one of those recipes that takes a small assortment of humble, inexpensive ingredients and turns them into something quite fantastic. Plus, butt peas. Is all I'm saying.

Also, I have a piece about, of all things, rhubarb in this month's O magazine.

Meanwhile, you guys have been very actively recommending books back and forth for Suzannah's four-year-old--thank you so much--and it's so fun to see some old familiars and some new ones. I've been thinking about this all week, and am going to make a list here. Four is young, I think; I found very few books at that age that felt right, but then again my kids could really not handle any degree of suspense until a bit later.

Happy Little Family by Rebecca Caudill. Do you know this book? It is a very gentle story about a, uh, happy little family, set in the early 1900s. The main character is Bonnie, who'd four, and the most suspenseful thing that happens is she leaves her knit cap up on the mountain by mistake, and then goes back to retrieve it. Shiver me timbers!

Abel's Island by William Steig. This is an ideal first chapter book, especially if your kids are already huge William Steig picture book fans (Amos and Boris, Gorky Rises, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. . . ) like mine were (and are). A mouse Abel is separated from his wife and stranded on a island after a storm. He has a few adventures--full of Steig's characteristic descriptive flair and existential musings--and then returns safely home. (Dominic, another Steig chapter book, is not as gentle and has robbers in it.)

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. This is the original and it is so, so good and so fun to read--all the British quaintisms tumbling around in your mouth like pebbles--that I simply cannot recommend it enough. So, so different from the Pooh-branded crap that came later--all that "Pooh and his friends found the Easter egg and laughed and laughed and hugged each other and Rabbit said, 'Easter is always more fun with friends' and everybody cried a little from happiness" that makes you want to kill yourself.

James Herriot's Treasury for Children. This is the book we gave as a birthday gift to friends when the children were small. It's a beautifully illustrated hardcover collection of an English vet's animal stories--a rescued kitten, a lost lamb--and it's not technically a chapter book, but makes a good bridge over to them. Later, when the kids are ten, eleven, twelve, you can introduce them to the James Herriot adult books (All Creatures Great and Small, etc.), which I adored, and not only because he always had his hand up the coochie of some or other laboring ewe.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. Full disclosure: I did not love, love, love reading this book for some reason--I found it strangely boring. However, the children loved hearing it, and I love the idea of it, and so I am including it here. The kids could simply not get over what a little independent badass Pippi was, and that alone was the price of admission. (Now, another lesser-known Astrid Lindgren book, The Brothers Lionheart, may be my all-time favorite kids' chapter book, but it's a book for ten-year-olds.)

Stuart Little by E.B. White. Many of you mentioned Charlotte's Web, which is a beautiful book, and the truth is that I plunged right ahead with it when Ben was little, forgetting all about how its main preoccupation is DEATH, with a capital d-e-a-t-h, and it went really badly. Stuart Little, about the tiny adventures of a mouse, was more everybody's speed until later.

For a little later--maybe five and six--I have a ton of recommendations: the Little House books (especially, as Cathy K mentioned, On the Banks of Plum Creek. Also Farmer Boy, which makes me hungry just thinking about it. A dish of baked beans with bacon melting into it. . . With some of the others, we had to do a lot of ad hoc editing, especially around the descriptions of Native Americans, which you can't discuss critically with them until they're older, I felt, and so need to be altered). The Moffats, and many other Eleanor Estes books, such as Ginger Pye and The Witch Family). All of the Roald Dahl books (BillyJoe: he was a nazi, like, literally?), but especially James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and the incomparably fantastic Danny the Champion of the World which occasioned more philosophical questions about good and bad than any other book we've read before or since. Also the All-of-a-kind Family series (until it gets too teenagery in the later books), about a family of Jewish sisters growing up in early-20th-century New York. Oh I really could go on an on. . .

But, speaking of great books: you should consider buying two books recently published by friends of mine!

Mabel One and Only
by my beloved friend Margaret Muirhead (with whom I worked in a sandwich restuarant 20 years ago in San Francisco) about a super-creative and stubborn girl (oh, maybe it's about *me*, ha ha) who gets her way in the best possible sense. It's fantastic.

And, for you baseball fans out there, The Super Sluggers: Slumpbuster

by Kevin Markey, who is fabulous in his own rights but is known around my house mostly for being the husband of my best friend from college. This is such a perfect book for sports-loving kids (I am told, not being the parent of one myself, but knowing lots and lots of them). Check it out.

And, finally, I can't help recommending this as a mother's day gift (Mom, don't look):

Because I Love Her edited by Andrea Richesin. And not just--but partly--because I have an essay in it.Link

Also, this little book always makes a great Mother's Day gift, even years and years after it was published since the author still hasn't gotten another book out there just yet:

Which is, actually, the same book as this:

So, it's kind of like two books, right?



  1. Thanks for all the great book recommendations. Four is indeed a hard age - stuck between the baby board books and wanting a little more. I will have to give a few of these a try!!!!
    I obviously would second the adult book recommendations. I JUST finished "Waiting for Birdy" the other day and nearly peed my pants laughing on too many occasions to mention. My friends and family are probably a little sick of me raving about it - so I will stop myself. Did you hint at ANOTHER book? I was thinking how great it would be if the story just kept going!!! YAY!

  2. Oh, I LOVE the all-of-a-kind family books. I was trying to describe them to someone the other day and couldn't think of what the series was called. Made me CRAZY! So thank you!
    Also, someone borrowed my copy of your book and I have yet to get it back. I may just have to ask for another copy for Mother's Day.

  3. MaryGLibrarian12:23 PM

    I LOVED the All-of-a-Kind Family books also, which I had totally forgotten about until a blogger friend of mine from law school wrote about them recently: Must give them a try with my kiddos soon.

  4. Though he fought against the actual Nazis in WWII, Dahl was anti-Semitic. To wit: "Dahl told a reporter in 1983, 'There’s a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity . . . I mean there is always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.'" (from the wikipedia page about him).

  5. What a great list! I was just thinking about the All-Of-A-Kind Family books the other day too and couldn't remember what they were called. We have been looking for more chapter books to read with our four-year-old daughter lately, so this list will definitely come in handy. You're so right about it being an in-between age.

    Also, a follow-up to Waiting For Birdy would be welcome on my bookshelf anytime!

  6. Some terrific early chapter books for beginning readers are the "Henry and Mudge" series, and the others by Cynthia Rylant as well (we really the like "Mr. Putter and Tabby" books, for me because it features old folks, which I like to think is very enriching). We also have the Dr. Doolittle series by Hugh Lofting, (very fun) and "Little House in the Big Woods" which, being the only one I personally owned, was/is my favorite.
    But my son, now 7, still loves picture books too, and I love anything that has really good artwork in it, like The "Sam" books by Amy Hest and Anita Jeram, they are so, so sweet.

  7. Astrid Lindgren also wrote a book which my kids have just LOVED - The Children of Noisy Village, which seemed sort of eventless to me and yet enthralled all three of my little dorklings.

    I am not a Roald Dahl fan. There is actual nastiness in the way he writes about children, an edge that I do not like.

  8. Thanks for the great recommendations. But I have to assume you meant "Slumpbuster," not "Slumbuster," right? :-)

  9. Hampton9:22 PM

    I am also a fan of Cheaper By the Dozen. It may have some sophisticated language but is such a fun book. I would compare it to All of a Kind Family in terms of its snapshot of a moment in time (and portrayal of a wonderful family).

  10. Tina G10:10 PM

    Thanks for these recommendations- we were actually descending into a bit of a chapter book slump around here. Must go to B&N tomorrow.
    We also loved Martin's Mice by Dick King Smith.

  11. My daughter just went through a HUGE Roal Dahl phase, and I just bought a second hand copy of an All of a Kind Family book for her because I loved them so much when I was little. Right now she is obsessed with the Warriors books, which means we have a lot of conversations about which cat is a Healer, and which clan is which. Oy.

    I love the original Winnie the Pooh stories. In which lessons are taught with gentle humor and wit. Also, the Olga da Polga books are wonderful.

    I remember the first time I was reading "Little House in the Big Woods" to my daughter and my husband overheard it. He said "So, this book is basically a list of chores?" Um... yes. But RIVETING!

  12. I tend to lean with Beck on the RD books. While my oldest was okay with James and the Giant Peach, I waited until he was 8 to even introduce it. I just get, I don't know, uneasy, sometimes with his words. But maybe that's the point.

    At four Noah loved the Beatrix Potter anthology. He was very into that world of personified animals and this was a safe and sweet way to promote that. Also, Max, who is now four, is very, very into fairytales. We have a Kingfisher anthology that is pretty good. Also, a "monitored and deleted scariness" reading of JM Barrie's original Peter Pan has been an enormous hit around here.

    I was actually browsing that very anthology you happen to be featured in just the other day. Knowing that you are indeed in there, sealed the deal for me. And also, I cried at the title, just because I actually have a daughter now. What a sap.

  13. Your list brought back so many memories from my childhood that I have to mention some of my other favorites (most of which were also my mother's childhood favorites) and all of which I hope my daughter (4) will love :)

    The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney

    The Borrowers by Mary Norton

    Encyclopedia Brown by Donald Sobel

    The Marvelous Inventions of Alvin Fernald by Clifford B. Hicks

    Catherine, your love of books makes me love you more and I didn't think that was possible :)

  14. Oh, your dear "Waiting for Birdy" will always have the most tender spot in my heart, no matter how many years later and no matter how many times I've re-read it. (Full disclosure: for awhile there, when I was postpartum with my 2nd, I couldn't read it again, because my sappy-emotional hormones were too near the surface and most every page made me cry with the truth of it all!)

    Love, love, love. And have given it to every woman/mother I know.

  15. Ah well, I confess that am kind of a big fat lurker - enjoy your work so much, but never felt a need to post a note til now. It's a bright Monday in Los Angeles and I am suddenly inspired. For the 5/6 year old, I cannot recommend the Moomintroll series more. Tove Jansson is the author. My son Finnegan, 5, is entranced by the odd magic of these stories. It's a strange Swedish book collection that is oddly and charmingly bohemian. Never scary but sometimes a bit of a cold nordic breeze in them to temper the whimsy. Not sure how else to describe it -- but go find them.

  16. Ah, a reason to post instead of lurk. Big fan of yours by the way - glad you are keeping up with the writing and publishing in these gray times.

    For the 5/6 year old there is nothing better than the bohemian magic of Tove Jansson's Moomin series. Nordic orgin, popular abroad but not here I think. In any case, my son Finnegan adores the books, as I did as a child. Totally non scary and odd and rewarding. You never see them at bookstores, but a clever lit professor friend from Duke sent us some this year and we've since tracked down more from the set. Worth every penny.

  17. Anonymous3:32 PM

    Loved this list! We started into chapter books about a year ago and are now in the middle of the 40 book Secrets of Droon series! 20 books down, 20 to go! Sigh. My daughter loves the adventure she hears each night and I love that she loves it...but I can't wait read about new characters and new adventures! Thanks for giving me some great book suggestions!

  18. Anonymous6:00 PM

    One little known A.A. Milne book that my daughter loved at 4 was The Magic Hill - the pictures are rapturous and the story so sweet. It is hard to find but so worth the search.

    Also a great read-it-yourself set of chapter books my son loves is Fox and Friends by James Marshall. They are smart and funny and my son reads them over and over again and they are set up like short stories so he never gets tired of the plot.

  19. Anonymous6:42 PM

    I'm so glad yoj mentioned Danny Champion of the World. It's my all-time favorite RD book. That and the Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and 6 More....but that's more an older person's read.

    LOVED Waiting for Birdy! I happen to be waiting for a birdy too, right now, so it's a timely re-read for me.


  20. I must put in a good word for the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. The books start when Betsy and Tacy are 5 and go all the way through until they are married. Whenever I'm feeling a little down, I just pull out a Betsy book.

    My girls also love the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series by Betty MacDonald. There's a bit of 50s sexism--such as almost every mother crying and ringing her hands about what to do with the children until the father comes up with the brilliant suggestion to call Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, but besides that, they are ever so delightful.

  21. Thanks so much to everyone for such a wonderful list of recommendations. I am already eagerly anticipating browsing through these and more at the library this weekend! I loved being reminded of old favorites, and am excited about the new titles too. Thank you especially, Catherine, for the forum, and for the thought that you put into everything: parenting, cooking, reading, and more!

  22. Anonymous9:14 PM

    I just finished Waiting For Birdy- it's no kidding, the book I've been looking for. Why people don't talk/write about mom anxiety- like real anxiety- is a shame- Thanks! I needed to hear I wasn't a nut- at least not b/c of that.

  23. If you haven't read them yet I highly recommend the Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events. They are amazing. We read them to our girls starting at the tender ages of four and six and they loved every word....but my kids like me are a little out there!

  24. Fantastic Mr. Fox was the first "real" book my daughter ever read. She was five and loved it. Her younger sister is reading it now and giggling away. It was my absolute favorite as a child along with all the Jack London books - White Fang and Call of the Wild in particular.

  25. You are just too beautiful on that new cover! Damn! I must have one o' those!xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

  26. I read this post the other day, and then went to the library as already scheduled. And there was Mabel One and Only, featured on a shelf. My 4 year-old son grabbed it and absolutely loved it. I think I have read it, oh, a gazillion times this week. It's relly a good one. I picked up Pippi Longstocking based on the discussion around here, just to see what the kids (as mentioned a 6 yr old daughter) thought of it, and it has been laugh-out-loud bedtime fun for them. They have both decided they want Pippi for a best friend. (My word verification is RONIN! I'm having visions of samurais!)

  27. Thanks for all the book recommendations, but that's not really what I need to say to you today. What I need to say is that last week my daughter, age 2 years and 4 months, had a tantrum because she could not remove her own fingers. Does this ring a bell for you? Is this toddler quest for finger removal some sort of developmental milestone? Baffling.

  28. That pasta with buttpeas and lemon just should not be as good as it is. I ate until my belly hurt. I mean, I thought it would be good, but it is way more than the sum of its parts. Thanks. (Topped it off with rhubarb bars, as if I had room to stuff more in there.)