Virginia Johnson

Ruth Sawyer and the Way of the Storyteller

Ruth Sawyer lived an extraordinary life. Though born many years before women had the right to vote, there is no doubt that she was a thoroughly independent and extremely intelligent woman with a knack for collecting stories and retelling them.

She did more than collect interesting tales and set them in books, although that would be enough for many writers. But Ruth did more. For her, connecting children with stories was critical.  After attending the Garland Kindergarten Training School, she moved to Cuba in 1900 to teach storytelling to teachers working with children who were orphaned during the Spanish-American War.

My New Teacher and Me! by Al Yankovic

My New Teacher and Me! by Al Yankovic

Getting ready for back-to-school, but not ready to pack away the fun? Al Yankovic’s My New Teacher and Me! is as welcome for the last weeks of summer as an ice cream truck after a long, hot day at the pool.  In this rollicking story, Mr. Booth’s strict rules have met their match in Billy, a bright-eyed boy who shows up for the first day of class with a wide-open imagination. Disapproving Mr. Booth spots the dirt on Billy’s shirt immediately! Billy quickly—and politely—tells him how that came to be:

“I was digging to China out in my backyard.

And I almost was there when—I hit something hard!

Well, I dug, and I dug, and I dug a bit more

And discovered the skull of a real dinosaur!

“And I would have cleaned up, sir, but hey, I’m no fool—

I just couldn’t be late on the first day of school!”

Bow-tied and sour, Mr. Booth says his tale sounds highly unlikely, but as Billy points out, “the awesome-est things in the world often are!”

Your First Aquarium

An aquarium is a watery world in miniature. It can be as complicated as you want or just a simple and safe place to keep a beautiful and patient pet. If you're new to fish keeping, you should start with the basics, but even beginners can have a terrific aquarium. Both beta fish (also known as Siamese fighting fish or bettas) and goldfish are good for first-timers. They're attractive and not so demanding of a special environment in order to thrive.

Made by Hand: My Adventures in the World of Do-It-Yourself by Mark Frauenfelder

Cover to Made by Hand by Mark Frauenfelder

In the course of dealing with an older house and raising a family on a budget, I’ve read quite a few do-it-yourself books, but never one like Made by Hand, by Mark Frauenfelder.  For example, they’ve never started with a mad dash to a tropical island. That’s where the author, his wife, and young children headed after the dot-com crash left them looking for a simpler, presumably cheaper life. After all, they were writers and theoretically writers can telecommute from anywhere, even the second most gorgeous island in the world.

Mr. and Mrs. Dog: Our Travels, Trials, and Epiphanies by Donald McCaig

Mr. and Mrs. Dog: Our Travels, Trials, and Epiphanies by Donald McCaig

In British canine agility classes, there are often two sections: Border Collies and Anything but a Border Collie. The often black-and-white Border Collies, made famous in the movie Babe, are considered among the smartest and most agile dogs in the world and are in a class by themselves. I picked up Mr. and Mrs. Dog, by Donald McCaig, hoping for a little more understanding of our Border Collie, Tess, a pull from the local pound. Despite her hard upbringing, she is joyous and full of energy, leaping about like a lamb when it’s time for a walk. But she gets down to business, too, gently making sure that everyone is in place and taken care of. Very responsive to commands, gestures, or just a hint of what’s wanted, she wants to do what’s required of her, almost obsessively. I did wonder, is this normal?

The Wind Singer by William Nicholson

The Wind Singer by William Nicholson

In The Wind Singer, by William Nicholson, legends are sometimes true, and schools may teach lies.

Kestrel Hath did not know this when she mouthed off to her teacher and was sent to the back of the room. As soon as they could, Kestrel and her twin brother, Bowman, cut class. This was Kestrel's idea. She was the one to do things. Bowman, on the other hand, could feel things. He felt his sister's anger, and he felt others’ loneliness. So they left the Orange district and headed to the central arena, where the wind singer stood.

Fun with Bubbles!

It's time to break out the pans of soapy water for a wet and wonderful outside Bubble Party. You can buy bubble solution, but it's cheaper to make your own. Take a cup of water, 2 tablespoons of light corn syrup, 4 tablespoons of dishwashing liquid, and mix them together gently. Do not mix it so much that it foams.

Pour it into a shallow pan, or seal it tightly to use later. You can either use store-bought bubble wands, or you can twist wire or pipe cleaners into shapes to catch the film. Make sure you keep your hands nice and wet to keep the bubbles from popping, and don't let the little ones drink the bubble mix.

The King’s Equal by Katherine Paterson, illustrated by Vladimir Vagin

The King’s Equal by Katherine Paterson, illustrated by Vladimir Vagin

The old king was beloved, but he had died, leaving in his place a handsome, intelligent and rich son. That was the good part.  The bad part—in addition to those sterling qualities, Raphael was a grasping, cold-hearted, and vain young man. He was angry, too. Before his father died, he gave him a blessing that seemed more like a curse. Raphael could make all the horrible laws he wanted to, but he could not wear the crown until he found a girl to marry him who was The King’s Equal—as rich, good-looking, and intelligent as he is, and Raphael wanted that crown.

Fido’s Virginia: Virginia Is for Dog Lovers by Ginger Warder

Fido’s Virginia: Virginia Is for Dog Lovers by Ginger Warder

Fido’s Virginiaa play on the Fodor’s travel seriestackles the subject of what to do with your four-legged friend when vacationing in the Old Dominion. Rather than leave Tess or Jack in a boarding kennel at home, you can have her or him with you. You just need to do some planning and have realistic expectations. Ginger Warder’s book gives guidance on what are dog-friendly places to go and things to do in Virginia’s different regions.

The Year without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano that Darkened the World and Changed History by William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman

The Year without Summer: 1816

This volcanic explosion was worse than Vesuvius, Mount St. Helens, or Krakatoa. When Mount Tambora exploded in Indonesia in 1815, it started a chain of events that would alter the course of global history. In the Klingamans’ The Year without Summer, the authors detail how the resulting clouds of ash led to disastrous weather conditions which affected communities’ histories around the world… and led to the birth of Frankenstein.