Shelf Life Blog
Sixth-grade graduation is not just about the punch and cookies in Janet Anderson’s Going Through the Gate. In an incredibly small town with a one-room schoolhouse, only a handful of students graduate every June. They know their lives will change completely—but not for the reasons you’d think. Sure, they’ll be taking the bus to the big city middle school and join a grade with hundreds of kids in it instead of just five. There’s more to it than that though. The graduation itself can be dangerous.
Widower William Rees drove his wagon into town like a man possessed. Normally an easy-going, itinerant weaver, Rees has just discovered that his kinfolk have cheated him, and his son has run away to be with the Shaker religious community. In 18th-century, rural Maine, it is not so easy to retrieve a teenager who hates you, get your land back, or solve A Simple Murder.
Being dubbed "The Queen of Folk" is no small feat. Having Martin Luther King, Jr. give you that title is something else entirely. That is how strongly affecting the music of folk pioneer Odetta is.
The Tradition Masters is a collection of Odetta's most invigorating traditional songs. Born in Birmingham in 1930, Odetta Holmes helped to embody both the Civil Rights and the Folk Revival movements of the 1950's and 60's. One could say that she was in the right place at the right time, but that would fail to credit her heart-stopping talent as a musician and vocalist.
From where he stood on the hill above the valley, Martin Crawford saw that the leader of the war band was in serious trouble. When a hunting horn sounded from behind, the leader ordered his men to scatter before the onslaught of English soldiers. They were on him in moments, but their numbers broke as they chased the leader's scattered men. In all his sixteen years, Martin had never seen a man fight as this one did, swinging his great sword beside his companions until the last living enemy fled in fear.
In A Vision of Light, by Judith Merkle Riley, Margaret of Ashbury is a rather ordinary albeit quite pretty woman—ordinary that is, except for the Voice she sometimes hears and the visions she sometimes sees. One day, the Voice tells Margaret that she should write a book about the extraordinary things that have happened to her. She argues with the Voice… she is a woman so who would listen to her, and what is more, like nearly everybody, she does not know how to write. And further, she has not done any great deeds worth writing about.
The Voice answered:
“Put in it what you have seen. There is nothing wrong with being a woman, and doing ordinary things. Sometimes small deeds can show big ideas. As for writing, do as others do: get someone to write it for you.”
“Voice,” I said, “how do I know you are from God, and not the Devil, tempting me into something foolish?”
“Margaret,” answered the Voice, “isn’t it a good idea? God never gives bad ones.”
Many people wonder about the possible legal implications of their actions, given that legal cases can be financially and emotionally stressful. Although it’s impossible to predict the legal consequences of every single action in your life, How to Get Sued, by J. Craig Williams, provides a good summary of some of the main issues that can land people in legal trouble. With such chapters as “Go to Work” and “Get Married,” Williams provides humorous examples of how seemingly small issues can be inflamed by bizarre and contradictory state and local laws. Although written primarily as a humor book and lacking in deep legal analysis, How to Get Sued provides plenty of amusingly bizarre examples of how twisted the legal system—and human behavior—can potentially become.
Jennifer Strange is The Last Dragonslayer, but just yesterday she was your ordinary foundling girl, helping to run a magical business in which wizards specialize in plumbing, speedy organ delivery, and getting cats down from trees. As you can see, magic is no longer held in as high regard as it used to be. Oh, and they just lost the organ delivery contract.
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!”
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.
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?