The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon

I can’t really call this a book review, since I’ve just dipped into Meghan Cox Gurdon’s thrilling book about reading aloud. What I love about the book’s subtitle, The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, is the phrase “miraculous power.” Being read to feels like a warm embrace. Whenever I reread parts of Madeleines L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, I hear the voice of my third grade teacher reading the novel to us at the end of each school day. Believe it or not when I read Caps for Sale to my granddaughter, Olivia, it is Captain Kangaroo’s voice scolding the monkeys on behalf of the frustrated cap peddler.

Such is the anecdotal power of reading aloud. Gurdon brings more, much more than anecdote to The Enchanted Hour. From brain development to strengthening the bonds of love to the long-term benefits of building vocabulary through reading, the author shares the latest scientific research on why reading aloud to children is a “fast-working antidote to [today’s] fractured attention spans.”

This book moved from my to-be-read shelf to being actively read. I’m even going to read parts aloud to my husband.

PS. If you’ve never checked out Gurdon’s reviews for the Wall Street Journal, read them! Olivia doesnt’ know it yet, but some of her faves have come at the suggestion of this enthusiastic writer and children’s book editor.

A Banquet of Consequences — Elizabeth George

Sometimes you just want to read something that you know will captivate you, surprise you, involve you, and end in a most satisfactory way. Elizabeth George’s crime novels never disappoint.                 A Banquet of Consequences did all of the above and more for over 700 throroughly enjoyable pages. I’m usually pretty good at figuring out at least part of the plot and the bad guy or gal. Not this time. Utter surprise. The plot twist turned out to be creepier than I would have ever imagined.

There are the series familiars: Inspector Lynley, Barbara Havers, and Winston Nkata, the three detectives challenged with finding out why              a young man committed suicide. Then you have    a deliciously twisted and interfering mother-in-law; her long-suffering, and tragically clueless second husband; a successful feminist author with her own hidden darkness; her manipultive and mommy-attached elder son and his wife who would love nothing better than to change her relationship status from separated to divorced; and assorted others who distract and delight.

The title got me thinking why we always frame consequences as something negative. Feast on George’s novel. You’ll find the consequences delicious.

 

Children’s Books — Not Just For Kids

IMHO, no personal library can be complete without at lease one shelf of children’s picture books. Children’s books, good ones anyway, are works of art for the eye and the soul.

 A children’s picture book author must distill deep human questions into the fewest words possible. The illustrator must render universal emotions and experiences into artwork that enhances the text while not overpowering it.

 For years I collected children’s picture books to read with the grandchildren I hoped I might have one day. Now that I do, it’s not only a delight to share my treasures but I discover new treasures each time I visit.  Here are my three most recent finds:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I adore Joyce Hesselberth. Her artwork is charming and in pitter pattern her illustrations were ingenious invitations to discover patterns page after page.

Anthony Browne is a new one for me. Any reader can identify with Browne’s eponymous Willy the Dreamer, who envisions himself as an actor, a painter, a scuba diver.  Browne’s artwork is a trifecta of cleverness. There bunches of hidden bananas, visual puns and
best of all for the art-wise adult, homages to Magritte, Dali and Henri Rousseau among others.

I didn’t get to spend enough time with Oliver Jeffers and the book he wrote for his newborn son. Here We Are, Notes for Living on the Planet Earth. Jeffers’ illustrations become increasingly complex as he moves from the Earth’s atompshere and the solar system and weather systems to life here on earth. These are the kinds of illustrations that take time to enjoy, the kinds that reward the reader the more carefully and deeply she explores the pages. This two-page spread of humanity entranced me as much as it did Olivia. After this most recent visit with Olivia, dedicating another shelf in my office to chidren’s picture boks just might be in order.

If a Tree Falls by Jennifer Rosner

Shortly after their daughter Sophie is born, Jennifer Rosner and her husband are stunned to learn Sophie was born deaf. Rosner’s beautiful memoir, If a Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard, recounts how she and her husband moved beyond grief and disbelief to action and advocacy for Sophie and for her sister Juliet born two years later, also deaf.  Rosner, whose mother was hard of hearing, begins researching the family tree and discovers deaf relatives branching back through the generations. Though her mother attributed her hearing loss to the after-effects of a childhood illness, Rosner now knows better. She and her husband (what were the chances?) had each passed on the recessive gene that led to their daughters’ deafness.

Rosner intersperses her family’s story with that of two great aunts, sisters whose lives were also silenced by deafness. Rosner conjures their lives in the shtetl using research and imagination to fill in the gaps. She grew up listening to her father play violin every day of her life. The author studied opera from the time she was a young child. La Traviata was her favorite to sing.  Now a mother herself, Rosner begins to re-evaluate, through the lens of her daughters’ deafness, her relationship with her mother.  She recalls the feeling of not being heard and begins to question how well and how deeply she learned to listen to others. If her daughters do not learn to speak, how will she ever listen to them?

For a family as language- and music-immersed as Rosner’s, the decision to raise their daughters in the Deaf world or move forward with cochlear implants is fraught with challenges and judgments from both communities. Ultimately Rosner and her husband do what any parents do: they decide based on what they deem best for their family and for their daughters’ futures.

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Jennifer Rosner was a philosophy professor until her daughters’ deafness set her life onto a new trajectory. If a Tree Falls was followed by The Mitten String, a charming picture book based on a family story about one of her aunts. Her just-published debut novel, The Yellow Bird Sings,  is set during World War II and is inspired by the true stories of Jewish children hidden during the war. She returns to the themes of silence, the power of mother-daughter bonds and the critical choices parents make for their children’s survival. Having now read the author’s first and second books, I look forward to settling in with her third.

Guilty Pleasure

Give me a thriller by Daniel Silva and I’m happy. Whether it’s Russian oligarchs, Islamist terrorists or in this most recent case the sudden death of the Pope and a secrety society of Catholic conspiracists, Silva has me for as long as it takes to read his latest.

This time it took six hours or so for his Israeli spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon, to root out the bad guys, save the vote for the new Pope, find the ancient book that could upend New Testament teachings, and still manage a few days of vacay in Florence with his family.

When the real world is still gripped with Covid, vaccine vacillations, political fracas and more, a novel that ties up the loose ends along with the bad guys is just the ticket.

 

I’ve just begun Mary Purnelll’s  A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II.  It’s gripping and all the more astonishing because it’s true. Ginger danced with Fred backwards in high heels. Virginia Hall was a real-life Gabriel Allon with a prosthetic leg, no less. Stay tuned.