Book Review: The Borrowers

Apparently, back in May of 2012 when this book review first ran, I was in the habit of writing much longer reviews.  Of course, my daughter wasn’t yet in the habit of reading on her own, so I didn’t have quite the same volume of books to talk about. 

The Borrowers
By Mary Norton
Illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush
Sandpiper, 2003
Age Range: 9 and up

Several months ago, my husband and I were under the impression that The Five-Year-Old would enjoy seeing movies out in the world. So we took her to see The Secret World of Arrietty, Hiromasa Yonebayashi‘s film adaptation of Mary Norton’s 1952 novel The Borrowers. The trip was not a success, and we ended up leaving halfway through.

But though the thought of Arrietty venturing out against her parents’ wishes was too stressful for The Five-Year-Old to watch on the big screen, she still pestered us with questions about the movie on the way home. “What will the Borrowers do, Mommyo? Will they find a new home?”

There was only one thing to do. “We’ll have to read the book.”

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Throwback Thursday: The Four-Year-Old writes Elvis

The Ten-Year-Old has been an Elvis fan for at least six of her ten years. There have been a few rocky points in their relationship, however. Like that time The Four-Year-Old learned that Elvis didn’t really like cats. And then there was that dark December day in 2011 when Mommyo played Elvis’s Christmas album, and The (then) Four-Year-Old abruptly discovered her idol wasn’t perfect. She recovered, though, and with her usual optimism she decided that all her idol needed to find his way again was a timely bit of good advice.

So she wrote him a letter (or more accurately had me type out this letter in Word because “Not even Elvis can read your handwriting, Mommyo”):
Dear Elvis,

Your Christmas album has too many slow songs. Slow songs aren’t as pretty as the fast ones.


The Four-Year-Old

I haven’t quite figured out how to mail it yet.

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Wordless Wednesday: How to Speak Cat


“I really think you would be better off looking at me, Cat Mom.” (Photo: Shala Howell)

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“Why did that President use a wheelchair?”

Originally posted December 13, 2011.

In talking with The Four-Year-Old about wheelchairs the other day, I happened to mention that Franklin D. Roosevelt had used a wheelchair, although he was notoriously shy about being seen in one. Although the fact of his disability was known at the time, Roosevelt believed that it was essential for his political career to be viewed by the public as getting better.

Consequently, despite being permanently paralyzed from the waist down from the time he was 39, Roosevelt trained himself to walk for short distances using iron braces on his legs and hips and a cane. He also arranged his public appearances so that he would appear to the public standing upright — supported discreetly by an aide, one of his sons, or an unusually solid lectern — while speaking. And he went to great lengths to conceal his arrival and departures, when the logistics of getting into and out of cars or up stairs made it impossible to hide his paralysis.

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Book Review: Rembrandt (Art for Children Series)

Tax season is still underway, but now my life has been complicated by the onset of Spring Break. Must be time to remind The Ten-Year-Old about this series of Art for Children, which she first read in August 2011.
Harmensz. Van Rijn Rembrandt: Art for Children
By Ernest Lloyd Raboff
Doubleday & Co, Inc., 1987
Age Range: 4-8

The Art for Children Series, now sadly out of print, includes 16 books on major artists across the spectrum, including Rembrandt, Remington, Van Gogh, da Vinci, Gauguin, Chagall, and Picasso. (Complete list here.)

What makes this series exceptional are the large, full-color reproductions of the artist’s major works, along with a simple explanation from Raboff of the way in which the artist uses color, light, and detail (or lack thereof) to draw your eye to specific elements in the painting or, in Rembrandt’s case at least, to give you insight into the sitter’s personality.

Each book begins with a very simple biography of the artist to give some context to the work, but its focus is on teaching children how to look at and, hopefully, appreciate art. In that sense, it has as much to offer parents as it does children. I don’t know about you, but once I’ve said “I like how Picasso used blue there,” I’ve pretty much exhausted my ability to comment on art. Which is why I plan to track down the rest of the books in the series.

And now it’s your turn. What are you reading this week?

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Throwback Thursday: How to make your own leprechaun money

St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow, so it seems like a good time to rerun this Classic Caterpickle from March 19, 2012. 

The Five-Year-Old’s pot of leprechaun money as of 8:23 this morning.

Those of you with more than five St. Patrick’s Day celebrations under your belt will hardly be surprised to learn that the leprechauns did not leave The Five-Year-Old a stash of gold in her leprechaun pot on St. Patrick’s Eve.

The Five-Year-Old, however, was bitterly disappointed when she found an empty pot on St. Patrick’s Day, and no amount of boiled spinach could soothe her.

But The Five-Year-Old is rarely upset for long. “We can make our own leprechaun money, Mommyo!”

So we did. I forget which of us thought up the final formula. I suspect the brilliant idea of adding glitter to homemade play-doh required both our brains. But now that we’ve had it, I’m going to share the process of making leprechaun money with you.

Step 1: Acquire gold, silver, and copper food coloring.

Golden yellow and copper colors were relatively easy to find, but our local store didn’t have silver. Rather than go on a lengthy hunt for silver food coloring on St. Patrick’s Day, I substituted black in hopes of creating a grey play-doh base for the silver coins.

Step 2: Make homemade play-doh.

The Five-Year-Old loves making play-doh. We’ve had great results with the cooked play-doh recipe from Instructables. The recipe requires only flour, water, vegetable oil, cream of tartar, food coloring, and every grain of salt in our house, and the texture of the final product is truly fabulous. Even better, the only bit The Five-Year-Old can’t do herself is the actual cooking on the stove. Fortunately, cooking the dough doesn’t take that long.

Adding the food coloring went well in 2 of 3 test cases (hint: wear disposable gloves for this bit). The gold and copper bases were adequate to the task of becoming leprechaun money, but the black food coloring turned the play-doh green. Must be that St. Patrick’s day magic.

The extremely rare and much prized shamrock coin. (Copyright 2012 The Five-Year-Old).

“Mommyo, we can use the green dough to make shamrock coins! They’re really rare!”

Step 3: Add glitter. So much glitter.

One or two tubes of it per color in our case. Knead it in after working through the food coloring, while the dough is still warm.

Step 4: Shape the dough into round coins.

Leprechaun copper.

We used a small round cookie cutter to get the perfect circle shape. The Five-Year-Old added the innovation of squishing the edges a bit to make the coins look worn by years of leprechaun trading.

Step 5: Use another tiny cookie cutter to stamp a shamrock on the top and bottom of your coin.

I didn’t have a shamrock cookie cutter on hand, so we used a tiny flower.

The Five-Year-Old’s favorite

Step 6: Leave the coins out to dry overnight.

This was the hardest part for The Five-Year-Old, who wanted to immediately store the coins in her leprechaun pot. My husband and I debated using the oven to dry them faster, but in the end I had to vote against putting glitter in the oven. There ought to be one glitter-free zone in our house, after all.

Step 7: Spend the next five days vacuuming your house.

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Some bunny’s 10!

Hint: Here she is, as a mere five-year-old, making a few preliminary sketches of Gary Koeppel’s Bunny in the Clouds during the 2012 Dedham Public Art Project. You can see the photographs The (then) Five-Year-Old took of Bunny in the Clouds on that long-ago day here.

(Photo: Shala Howell)

Happy birthday, The Ten-Year-Old!

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Tax season cometh

Hey there — it’s tax season again, so I’ll be taking a few days off from blogging to pay my dues to Uncle Sam before spring break hits next week.

I’ve set up a few short posts and some of our favorite Classic Caterpickles to keep you occupied in the meantime. New posts will resume the week of March 27th.

Happy taxing!


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What’s The Nine-Year-Old reading this week?

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

What the book’s about: The Nine-Year-Old read this book as part of her school’s Global Reading Challenge.

I think I may have mentioned this before, but in case I haven’t, for the Global Reading Challenge, the librarians at her school pick ten books that reflect a variety of American experiences. All of the fourth graders at the school divide up into teams. Each team member is assigned one or more books to become an expert on. They then read the books, take notes, and share what they’ve learned with their teammates.

At the end of the challenge, there’s a school-wide contest. The students write the questions for the contest themselves. Whichever team gets the most questions right wins. It’s kind of a big deal at her school.

The Nine-Year-Old was assigned two different books, El Deafo by Cece Bell and The Smell of Old Lady Perfume by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez, but read Brown Girl Dreaming anyway because she was intrigued by her teammate’s report on it.

Brown Girl Dreaming is a memoir written as a series of poems. In it, Jacqueline Woodson recounts what it was like to grow up as an African-American in the 1960s and 1970s in the midst of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. Woodson split her childhood between New York and South Carolina, but as her poems make clear, she never felt more than halfway at home in either place.

Why The Nine-Year-Old thinks you’ll like it: “I like that there was a lot of change, and that the story reads like it was someone’s real life.”

Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky

What the book’s about: Women in Science highlights the accomplishments of fifty remarkable women whose work in science, math, engineering, and technology changed the world. In this book you’ll find brief bios of women you’ve heard of, such as primatologist Jane Goodall, and several you haven’t, such as Katherine Johnson, the physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectory of Apollo 11’s trip to the moon in 1969.

Why The Nine-Year-Old thinks you’ll like it: “I like that it tells the true stories of women in science that might not be told otherwise. Did you know that Mamie Phipps Clark figured out that segregation damages children? She put a white doll and a black doll that were exactly alike out for kids to play with and it became clear that black children identified with the black doll. But in segregated schools, the black children thought the black doll was ugly and bad, and that they themselves were ugly and bad.”


The Nine-Year-Old talked me into holding Isis the Science Snake yesterday.

(Photo: The Nine-Year-Old Howell)

I asked her to take a picture of it so that I could prove I’d done it, and this is the result. You’ll have to take my word for it that this is really me.

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Throwback Thursday: Even I can’t believe The Five-Year-Old just said that

Rusty the Narcoleptic Dog. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Seeing The Nine-Year-Old tucking Rusty in for the night this week, reminded me of this gem from March 2012…

The Build-a-Bear Lady, preparing to sew up The Five-Year-Old’s new dachshund at the store’s stuffing station: “Do you know if your puppy is a boy or a girl yet?”

The Five-Year-Old: “No.”

The Build-a-Bear Lady: “Well, do you have a name picked out for your puppy yet?”

The Five-Year-Old: “Rusty the Narcoleptic Dog.”

Daddyo: “Rusty has narcolepsy?”

The Five-Year-Old, retrieving her dachshund from a stunned Build-a-Bear lady: “I’m not sure yet.”

Carrying him over to the bath area, The Five-Year-Old stands Rusty up for his bath. Suddenly she knocks Rusty on to his side and makes snoring sounds.

The Five-Year-Old, diagnostically: “Yep, he’s narcoleptic alright.”

Who says you can’t learn anything on YouTube?

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