Nate the Great!

Happy Halloween! I’ll be celebrating this spooky holiday with a beloved character from my childhood (Throwback Thursday!), or more specifically, my younger brother’s.

In Nate the Great and the Halloween Hunt, our sleuth returns to solve the mystery of the missing Little Hex. Join Nate and Sludge as they try to find the whereabouts of this scared little kitten.

Nate the Great Halloween

This book makes a great Halloween adventure for young readers or those learning English. Sharmat uses a lot of common words and phrases, as well as repeats a few more difficult words throughout the book for readers to practice and master.

Activities for Nate the Great and the Halloween Hunt:

– Drive around town with your child and look for haunted-looking houses, just like Nate. Ask them to describe what sort of things might be in a haunted house. Let their imagination go wild!

– For older kids, look for an actual haunted house or research the local ghost legends in your area. A lot of these haunted sites have special events around Halloween. Spooky!

– Put two items, one light and one heavy, in two different baskets. Have your child pick them up and ask them why one might be heavier than the other.

– Learn about Halloween traditions from around the world. Good ideas include Ireland (the first Halloween was celebrated there in the eighth century- the ancient festival of Samhain, which Halloween was based on, is even older!), China (Teng Chieh), and Mexico (Dia de los Muertos).

For a full history of Halloween, check out the History Channel’s website.

– Make costumes with your child from items in their (and your) wardrobe. Dress up your pet, just like Fang. Have fun trick-or-treating! (This is also a good opportunity to talk to your child about strangers and safety.)

Happy Halloween!

Begley pumpkin

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow- Washington Irving

Ichabod Crane is probably one of my favorite characters of all-time. Because he’s such a… well, he’s such a character!

His description, most fitting for someone called “Crane,” is one of the most memorable and archetypal out there. With “narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together,” it is only too easy to picture him ambling about the small village, on his way to the schoolhouse. Oh, and he’s the singing-master of Sleepy Hollow and is more than happy to take his payment in free room and board at the homes of his pupils, most often those with “pretty sisters, or good housewives for mothers, noted for the comforts of the cupboard.” Add in his enthusiasm for the gentler sex, only surpassed by his enthusiasm for a beautiful and bountiful table, and you have a just-right mix of foolishness and likability for the perfect ghost story protagonist. Think a 19th Century Scooby Doo.

Ichabod Crane in the Disney short "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad" (1949)

Ichabod Crane in the Disney short “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad” (1949)

When Irving puts this comically lanky and somewhat awkward (especially when it comes to romancing the beautiful heiress Katrina Van Tassel- poor Ichabod!) schoolteacher in the path of the Headless Horseman, peril is sure to follow.

The short story has been adapted to numerous films and TV series, most recently a modern adaptation airing on FOX. While some have taken liberties with the details of the story (including the birthdate, occupation, and marital status of Ichabod), all offer insight and a worthwhile visual representation of this haunted village.

Set from Tim Burton film adaptation, "Sleepy Hollow" starring Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane (1999)

Set from Tim Burton film adaptation, “Sleepy Hollow” starring Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane (1999)

If you’re interested in learning more about the real-life village of Sleepy Hollow, head over to or Bonus because it’s Halloween: haunted hayrides, a masquerade ball, and the terrifying Horseman’s Hollow!

Don’t forget to comment at The List, found at the top of the page, to get your favorite Halloween book featured as our next book club selection!

The Cuckoo’s Calling- Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Do you think that Lula is a believable character? How about Robin? How are they different and how are they the same?

Lula Landry is a beautiful, young, troubled model with a drug-addict boyfriend, adoring fans, and a family that just doesn’t understand her. When she falls from her balcony, wearing haute couture, of course, the reader is first told that it was suicide. Her brother refuses to believe that and asks Cormoran Strike, a private detective fallen on hard personal and professional times, to take the case. Strike, along with his assistant Robin, a resourceful and pretty temp who has always dreamed about working with a private detective, takes the case and soon learn that Lula’s suicide is anything but that.

I wanted so very much to like this book. I love J.K. Rowling (if you’ve been living under a literary rock- Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling) and Agatha Christie so thought that an Agatha Christie-esque crime novel written by J.K. Rowling would be right up my alley. The plot moved along well and the ending provided a nice twist.  I found myself looking back on details and clues, trying to figure out how I didn’t see who-did-it any earlier, just like I do when reading a Hercule Poirot novel. But I didn’t love (or in Robin’s case, even remember the name of) any of the characters.

I found Lula and Robin particularly difficult to believe. The tragically beautiful model dies young because of her fame and money? The plain-jane but pretty assistant helps solve the case by being resourceful and plucky? Yeah, sure. Sometimes stereotypical characters are needed to make up the landscape of the novel. But not as principle players. They were so typical that they were forgettable and never became real. I couldn’t imagine them actually walking down the street, sitting across from me at dinner, or doing anything other than exactly what they did in the novel. They never became anything but words on a page.

I still love J.K. Rowling and by extension Robert Galbraith. So I will keep reading anything that either of them publishes. But this just didn’t do it for me. How about you?

Did you like The Cuckoo’s Calling? Are you eagerly anticipating the next installment of Cormoran Strike’s adventures?

Book Club Questions- The Cuckoo’s Calling

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Here are some questions to get you thinking while you finish The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith.

– The story has been compared to those of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Do you think that this detective, Cormoran Strike, will be as memorable as Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes? Why or why not?

– How does this book compare to others in the mystery genre? Does it follow a clear pattern?

– Do you think that Lula is a believable character? How about Robin? How are they different and how are they the same?

– What clues does the author leave for the reader to figure out who did it? Do you think that they were adequate?

Full discussion here on Friday. Feel free to comment with additional questions for the book club to consider!

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde- Robert Louis Stevenson

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

In today’s chat about The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I’m going to focus on one discussion question. There are so many ways to tackle this story but the one that I think defines all of the others is this:

This book is the ultimate story of good vs. evil. Do you think that people can be defined in these terms? Do you think that an act can be defined as good or evil?

Reading this book in high school, I would have said yes, a person or an act can be “good” or “evil.” I thought, as many people do, that in order to be a “good person,” you have to perform good deeds. You need to “make wise choices,” as my mother always told us. I believed that your actions were measured on some sort of proverbial scale and THAT was how you determined good versus bad. I considered myself always on the side of “good,” as most of us do, and anyone that made me mad or even just annoyed me? Bad, of course. When I made a bad choice, it was a mistake; when someone else made a bad choice, it went straight to that scale.

As I transitioned into my adult life, I realized that people were not just a sum of their actions. I learned that good people can make bad choices, even a lot of them, but still have the potential to do good. I considered a person’s potential and underlying nature to be the most important aspect when weighing them on the “good” vs. “bad” scale.

Now, I find myself questioning the very definitions of “good” and “bad.” Sure, some actions can be rigidly defined as such: helping an elderly lady across a busy street vs. pushing the same elderly lady down and stealing her groceries. But rarely are actions in real life completed under such artificial constraints. Most of the time, people act with a countless number of competing demands. Maybe their situation necessitated their less-than-desirable actions. Maybe I didn’t see the entire picture of their circumstances, which might explain the actions that I thought would certainly be weighed on the “bad” side of their scale. For example, that car that cut me off the other day? Maybe they were on their way to the hospital to help an ailing relative. So when I honked at them, who was really the “bad guy” in that scenario?

Do I think that people and actions can be defined as “good” or “evil” by themselves? No, not without knowing more of their context. Even then, am I really in a position to decide? For that reason, this might be the scariest of the books that we are reading this Halloween. It has scenes of gruesome horror, sure. But the scariest part of all might be the depiction of “good” and “evil” and the fact that some people really think it’s that simple.

Dr. J and Mr. H on Thursday!

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

We’ll be discussing The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on Thursday. Here are a few questions to consider while reading:

– This book is the ultimate story of good vs. evil. Do you think that people can be defined in these terms? Do you think that an act can be defined as good or evil?

– What words does Robert Louis Stevenson use to describe his characters? Do these descriptions give some clue to their role in the story?

– Robert Louis Stevenson tells the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde through multiple narrators (Utterson, Lanyon, Jekyll). Does the perspective of the narrator influence the interpretation of the reader?

– Jekyll lives his life as one of two people even before he uncovers his “Hyde” side. He separates his “impatient gaiety of disposition” from his desire to appear “more than commonly grave” in his professional life. Does this attitude ultimately contribute to his discovery of Hyde or does it help him to deal with the reality of his discovery?

The Witches- Roald Dahl

I’m so glad that I included The Witches on the Halloween reading list. Every time I read something by Roald Dahl, I wish that I hadn’t waited so long to pick it up again. The Witches was no exception.

The Witches by Roald Dahl

The Witches by Roald Dahl

Who doesn’t love a good adventure where the hero faces impossible odds against a group of ugly, sinister villains and comes out victorious? When that hero is a quick, resourceful little boy-mouse? Even better!

If you’re reading this book for the first time, lucky you! Find a child that hasn’t really connected with reading yet, read it aloud, and watch them fall in love with the written word. You won’t be disappointed. The wonderful thing about this book (actually, all of Roald Dahl’s books) is the way that it creates a fantastical, creative, and absolutely original story that appeals to the imagination but is also so rich linguistically that it is delicious to read for the words and phrases alone. Here are The Home Book Club rules for reading The Witches:

1. Read it with someone, preferably someone young (or young-at-heart).

2. Read it out loud, if only to say the phrase “It was so crumpled and wizened, so shrunken and shriveled, it looked as though it had been pickled in vinegar.” If a better description of an evil witch’s face exists, I don’t know it.

3. Do the voices, especially The Grand High Witch!

This Halloween, skip the ghost stories and serial killer novels. Sure, we can all be spooked by things that go bump in the night. Enjoy a real novelty by reading about things that go bump in the broad daylight. Pick up The Witches and learn how to spot and defeat a real witch with a little boy-turned-mouse and his cigar-smoking Norwegian grandmother. And if you’re rooting for the other side, you can always read it to learn the recipe for Formula 86 Delayed-Action Mouse-Maker!