Book Review: Women Making America by Heidi Hemming and Julie Hemming Savage

May 26, 2009


I’ve been reading a book called Women Making America by Heidi Hemming and Julie Hemming Savage and I think many of you would find it both interesting and useful. First, it’s a great resource for finding information and ideas when your daughter is assigned an essay to write about a woman she admires or about an historical figure The book is organized so well you can open to any page and find some historical tidbit that you may want to follow up on.

Second, it’s the perfect guide to have when your daughter starts to realize that not many women are featured in her school history book. This may happen early in her school years, but it will certainly happen by the time she is in middle school or high school. Even better, don’t wait until your daughter questions it on her own; buy a copy and keep it out on your family room coffee table. Pique her interest by opening to any page and reading one of the boxed facts like this one from the New Ways of Living 1865—1890 section: “Employers justified paying women less by hiring them only for unskilled positions. This was impossible in the case of cigar makers from Bohemia. Women were the experts. A war in Europe led thousands to immigrate to America in the 1870s. Arriving with their own tools, these skilled workers quickly earned enough money for their husbands and children to join them.”

Women Making America is organized by era. There are nine chapters, and each covers several decades in American history. Each chapter also highlights different topics, such as health, paid work, at home, education, beauty, amusements and the arts. Sidebars on every page offer little bits of information in pull-out boxes.

There are several historical illustrations and photos on each page, and most of them are fascinating pieces of history that make you want to find out more. Women Making America is a resource you will want to have around for years to come. I highly recommend it for homes with daughters of any age.

Book Review: Playing War by Kathy Beckwith, illustrated by Lea Lyon

January 14, 2009


When I was young, I often played war in the back yard with my cousins. We made forts out of cardboard and collected hard, pea-sized berries from the Chinaball tree in our yard. Each side pelted the other until our supply of berries ran out. Then we called a truce, collected the ammunition that had fallen between forts, and started again.

I was reminded of my old pastime when I read Playing War, written by Kathy Beckwith and illustrated by Lea Lyon. It’s summer and the children in the book are bored with playing basketball, lobbing water balloons and riding bikes. They decide to play war and divide into soldiers and enemies, then collect pinecones and sticks to use for ammunition.

But their game changes when one of the friends, Sameer, talks about the real war that kids find in his homeland, and how it affects their lives. Playing War is a picture book intended for elementary school readers. It exposes young readers to current events in an age-appropriate way, and it provides an entrée to talk about some of the issues going on in many parts of the world where children are enlisted as soldiers, or their families are affected by fighting. Playing War is a good read-aloud book appropriate for younger girls in mother-daughter book clubs.

Book Review: Piper Reed, The Great Gypsy by Kimberly Willis Holt

December 26, 2008


Every now and then I get to take a break from some of my heavier reading and get a reminder of how much fun it can be to read something geared to early readers. Piper Reed, The Great Gypsy by Kimberly Willis Holt is one of those books.

I’ve been of fan of Holt’s since reading My Louisiana Sky several years ago. Being from Louisiana originally, I was particularly taken with a book set there that didn’t involve negative clichés about the state or its people one often sees in works set in Louisiana. And I liked the story of a pre-teen girl who must choose between living a glamorous like with her sophisticated aunt or staying to live with her mentally challenged parents.

Piper Reed has appeal for younger readers in large part, because Holt has a very down-to-earth voice that imparts lessons to younger readers without being preachy. Readers get a glimpse of what life is like for the family of a military man when he is on assignment for long periods of time and they remain on the base. But they also get to know and love Piper, a middle sister who does her best to make friends wherever her family is stationed.

The book also makes use of its setting in Pensacola, Florida, to help readers learn something of the area. Piper and her family take short vacations to the beach and to New Orleans, with descriptions of each place that may help to spark interest in learning more about them. It all ties into a navy family’s exploration of a new area they move into and adapt to.

Younger readers in particular will be able to identify with Piper’s desire to win the prize at the pet show she puts on and the conflicts that arise with her sisters. Now, I’m inspired to go back and read the first book in this series, Piper Reed, Navy Brat.

Still More Snow—Update on Cupcake Recipe

December 22, 2008

I’m beginning to feel like a broken record as I tell my friends and family around the country that it’s still snowing in Portland. I’ve been saying it for the past nine days. While that may sound like nothing to people in many places, for us it’s a big deal. We can’t even leave our neighborhood, because there’s more than a foot of snow on the road. It’s a good thing we stocked up on food when we got out a few days ago. The newest weather report has the streets clearing up here after Christmas. I’m glad I got most of my shopping done before this all started.

The gingerbread cream cheese muffins I wrote about last time turned out great! My daughter Madeleine and I walked through the snow more than a mile to get the few ingredients we needed but didn’t have, and it was worth it. We’re still enjoying the muffins, even more so because there’s a chocolate ganache icing on top. We decided right away that we want to bake these again for the mother-daughter book club meeting we’re hosting at our house in January.

The recipe comes from The Mother Daughter Cookbook by Lynette Rohrer Shirk. It took a little getting used to working the recipe, because it’s not set up the way you would find it in most cookbooks. It’s divided into tasks for the mother and tasks for the daughter. For me, it was a little difficult to get a good feel for the whole process, but once I got used to the format change it was easier.

One thing to note if you have the cookbook and try this recipe: It says it makes 12 cupcakes. We don’t have cupcake tins, only muffin tins, and I believe those are smaller. We knew we wanted more than 12 cupcakes, so we decided to make 1-1/2 times the recipe. We ended up with 24 muffin-sized cupcakes on our hands, plus more to bake in a square glass pan. Not that I’m complaining. We’re still enjoying the cupcakes, and we even shared a couple with the people at the camera store when we went to pick up photos for Christmas cards. Next time we’ll be prepared.

Book Review: Masterpiece by Elise Broach

October 31, 2008

I recently read Masterpiece by Elise Broach and was totally delighted with the story and the characters. Mother-daughter book clubs with daughters aged 9 and up should enjoy reading it—there’s a sprinkling of art history scattered among the broader theme of friendship, and you can even pair it with a trip to a museum. Here’s my review:

Masterpiece by Elise Broach is a delightful story of the unlikely friendship that develops between a lonely young boy named James and a beetle named Marvin. In the tradition of E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan, Broach takes this human/insect encounter out of the wild and into New York City, where Marvin lives with his parents and other relatives behind a kitchen cupboard in James’s home.

The two characters meet when Marvin draws an ink rendition of the skyline outside James’s window as a birthday present. When everyone thinks that James is the artist, of course he can’t tell them who really drew what’s being hailed as a masterpiece. The two are drawn into a staged art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where officials hope to recover previously stolen masterpieces by a well known artist from the early Renaissance.

You’ll happily follow the adventures as James and Marvin work to unravel the complications of their deception while they learn the true value of art and friendship. The publisher, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, also features an excellent companion discussion guide on its Web site,