Plenty of Books to Read

Plenty of books from Beth-Anne 

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

It was arguably the blockbuster novel of the summer and devoured by many hoping to satiate a whetted appetite for mystery, thanks to the smash-hit book turned Hollywood favourite Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.   In contrast, The Girl On The Train is easy, predictable reading but sometimes that’s just what a lazy day calls for. The mystery starts with Rachel, down-on-her luck and fragile as can be, with her days following a familiar pattern. Her daily ride on the commuter train takes her past the same junctions, the same scenery, the same homes and ultimately, the same people. Rachel becomes enthralled with a young couple she sees from her carriage and fantasizes about their lives. But then one day, the woman she calls Jess goes missing and an all-out manhunt is launched to find her. Rachel believes that she knows what’s happened to her, but how can the police trust this woman? As I was reading, I couldn’t help but imagine my favourite British duo cast as leads, Kate Winslet as Rachel and Jude Law as Tom. If you’ve read the book, what do you make of my casting ?

They Left Us Everything: A Memoir by Plum Johnson

Toronto-based author Plum Johnson wrote this tender memoir in the years following her mother’s death. Her parents met and fell in love during the Second World War. Her orphaned, British father was a decorated solider and her mother, a passionate Southern belle with an opinion about everything. After years of living in the far East in the late 1940s, they came to settle in a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario. There they raised their four children in a twenty-three room home, accurately name Point O’View, that for decades served as the backdrop to numerous dances and arguments, love stories and heart aches and the occasional tantrum. Plum is now tasked with sorting through the family’s antiques and tchotchkes, but each treasure reveals more than a memory; it brings closure and understanding to a mother-daughter relationship that for years was strained and fragile.

A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner

Tenements of New York City, shirtwaists, turn-of-the-century immigrants, two stories -past and present – woven together . . .this book is right up my alley and I anticipated reading it for weeks; waiting for just the right time to sink into it. But I was disappointed by the syrupy dialogue and poorly developed characters. I found myself skimming over the pages just to reach the end.

Plenty of books from Nathalie

In the Woods by Tana French

The Likeness by Tana French

Faithful Place by Tana French

Broken Harbour by Tana French

The Secret Place by Tana French


Plenty of books from Carol

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

To purchase these books please visit Indigo, by doing so we receive a small compensation (a few cents per book) to help keep Plenty on-line. Thank you for your support!

There are Plenty more books we recommend: click May 2015 and November 2014 and November 2012. 


What We’re Reading: Kids’ Edition

From Beth-Anne


Recipe for Adventure Hong Kong by Giada De Laurentiis

Continuing along with this series, my eldest chose this book for his Cereal Box Book Report. The story followed the same pattern of siblings, Alfie and Emilia, being magically transported to another country to learn about its food and culture. I am amazed by how much my son does learn about other cultures from these books, and it’s mostly from the conversations that occur after he’s closed the cover. To honour our ritual we will be dining in an authentic Chinese restaurant. After reading Naples, we indulged with pizza at Libretto, Mother’s Day was extra special by enjoying a fancy schmancy Parisian dinner here and I still owe him a New Orleans dining experience. Any Torontonians, I welcome your suggestions for both New Orleans and Chinese!


Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate Di Camillo

My middle son thoroughly enjoyed the entire Mercy Watson series and is delighted that the adventures continue with Leroy Ninker’s charming spin-off. Di Camillo is a favourite author in these parts, and judging by the snickers that I hear coming from his room and how excitedly he retells the chapters to me, she doesn’t disappoint with this book either!


Knuffle Bunny Trilogy by Mo Willems

My youngest has fallen for Knuffle Bunny just as his older brothers before him. Can I just say, I love these books? My youngest has a strong attachment to his “Georgy” and this trilogy from Mo Willems serves as the perfect books to engage his critical thinking. I like to ask him questions that encourage him to make connections to the text (the classic: relate and reflect) and to infer what’s going to happen next.   But put all of that learning aside, these books are just so much fun! The illustrations using a combination of photography and drawing could be great inspiration for a summer writing project for older kids. Now that I think of it . . .

From Nathalie

Like Beth-Anne, we love all of Mo Willems’s books in this house, especially the learn-to-read Elephant and Piggie books.


I am of the opinion that Mo Willems should rule the world, but children’s author world dominion dreams aside, I am all about imaginary wish fulfillment.


Enter The Candy Conspiracy by Carrie Snyder, who has been our guest on the blog and whose books for adults we have loved.  Carrie has invented a world made of candy, with lollipop trees and a cupcake castle.  So far, so sweet, but the Juicy Jelly Worm who resides in the castle does not like to share, and all the kids in Candyville can only stand and watch while their monarch gobbles all the goodies himself.  Candy-craving kids get clever (and alliteration gets contagious, apparently!), and candy-flavoured democracy will have its day.

For middle grade readers, Middlest and his friends are loving the Big Nate books by Lincoln Pierce.  Told in comic strip style, they feature hapless and endearing Nate, who finds himself in trouble again and again.  And the boys have read and reread these books again and again.  One added bonus of my son and his best friend reading these books is that they’ve also gone back to the classic Calvin and Hobbes, which does a mother’s heart good to see.


Finally, for young adults, I recently read Mad Miss Mimic by Sarah Henstra.


The protagonist of this novel is Leonora Summerville, a bright spark, a beauty, an heiress and a thorn in her older sister’s side because Leo may prove difficult to marry off.  A speech disorder causes her to stutter, but it also allows her to imitate other people’s voices with eerie precision, earning her the moniker Mad Miss Mimic.  Set in 19th century London, where opium fever is raging, the book is full of period detail.  Medical and political intrigue abound, as her brother-in-law’s medical use of opium and her suitor’s political ambitions come under threat from the bombing campaign of the mysterious Black Glove Gang, who oppose the government’s proposed ban on the importation of opium.  Add two handsome and charismatic young men who vie for Leo’s attention and affection, and you have the ingredients for a ripping good yarn.  I read it in a single sitting.  Sarah and I were in graduate school at the University of Toronto together, and she is now a professor of English literature at Ryerson University.  Mad Miss Mimic is her first novel, and what an outing it is!

From Carol


In The King’s Equal by Katherine Paterson, Prince Raphael will inherit the kingdom from his dying father provided he can find a woman equal to him in beauty, intelligence and wealth.  This proves rather tricky, since Raphael is an arrogant and conceited fellow.  The story of how Rosamund overcomes Raphael’s vanity and prejudices is at once magical, clever and lyrical.  Nathalie will be horrified, but I didn’t register the author of the book before reading it, although the writing soon prompted me to check.  Paterson, author of Bridge to Terabithia, had my boys were riveted. We read so many books, and I love the exposures to so many adventures, but I recognized immediately the quality of writing in this book, and my children’s response to it revealed that they did too.


Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham also made an impression on my boys. When Tashi’s mother becomes too sick to pick tea leaves in the Himalayan mountains with the other workers, Tashi tries to go in her place. Too small for the task, and frightened for her mother’s health, she finds aid from unlikely friends, who gather for her the rarest of teas in the world. The plight of the working poor, heightened by the nasty Overseer, is depicted effectively enough that it’s unsettling that only Tashi and her mother’s dependence on the work of picking tea are alleviated at the story’s end. Beautifully illustrated by Juan Wijngaard.
One of the things I deeply envy about my husband is a large cardboard box in the basement which holds the best reads from his childhood. He wanders down there when he’s looking for a new novel for the kids, and emerged one night with Witches by Roald Dahl.  Shortly after he read it to my boys, my eldest (who just turned 9) asked me to read it again.
A young boy (the nameless narrator) and his grandmother (his parents die early on) first try to avoid and then are forced into the world of “real witches”, who are cleverly disguised as ordinary women.  After personally and irreversibly experiencing what the witches are planning to unleash on children in England, the narrator must try to stop them.
It was such a fun read, with perfect illustrations by Quentin Blake, and is poignant without sentimentality. I loved the matter-of-fact mutual adoration and interdependence of the narrator and his grandmother. The adventure and fantasy are wonderful, but the understated love between this unlikely pair resonates at least as much.

If you buy any of these books from Indigo, we will get a teeny tiny percentage of the sale.  If you buy any of these or other kids and teen books in-store between June 5-7, you will get 10 times the plum points.

The Homework Window

040I’m not a big homework fan.  I’m not a big homework foe.  In my life on my own four of five weeknights with my three boys (7, 5 and 2), homework is mostly another pesky thing I haven’t been getting around to.

But it’s interesting that we’ve been talking about it on 4Mothers, because I have just recently suggested to my oldest son that he stay up just a bit later than his brothers so we can do some “homework”.  Apart from a bit of reading, he actually hasn’t been assigned any homework.  But he actually really likes practicing his writing and doing worksheets, and would probably benefit from the extra practice, and I was feeling a bit lame about not following an expressed interest.

So we’ve been implementing this new homework window.  It’s not ideal learning time, being at the end of the day, and it’s early days.  But it’s been going really well anyway.

Still, I’ll confess to a secret:  I’m not carving this time out just for the homework, maybe not even primarily for the homework.  When I noticed that my oldest didn’t seem to need quite as much sleep as his brothers (and I would prioritize sleep over homework for sure), I saw an opportunity.  A window of time, brief but available, for my son and me to have some time alone.  A period for him to have my attention, undivided, to help him read a book, practice writing, or add some numbers together.

Or to put together a little Lego.  Last night, after labouring through a book that would normally not be a challenge, my son asked if we could “just chill”.  I had used this expression earlier as a possibility along with homework for our time together – he heard it and he wanted it.  And I did too.  He requested that I sit next to him while he built a Lego plane, even though he can do it alone.  It was late and we didn’t finish it, and cooperative first child that he is, he didn’t complain.  It was really too brief a period, but at least we had it.

The more I move along in my life, the more I want the things I do to have overlapping functions and benefits.  Our new homework routine hits the mark.  It helps me support my son’s reading and skills development, but it also creates pleasant associations with formal learning, acknowledges the fact that he is older and distinct from his brothers, and opens up a little pocket of one-on-one time that both of us truly crave.  We are both eager for this time.

If it wasn’t a multi-faceted win, I’m not sure I would do it.  My kids are still quite young, and I’d rather they dream than drill.  But our little homework window is working well so far, and I’ve been thinking of ways to improve upon it.  Maybe make a little tea?  Maybe a candle at the table?  But I think my best idea is to just sit down and do my own work alongside my son.  Maybe talk a little.  I love his company, and it would be such a nice way to let the curtain down on the day’s activities.

Oh, and the homework might get done too.

Thank you, Mr. Sendak

We learned today that Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of such children’s classics as Where the Wild Things Are  passed away this morning, as a result of a stroke on Friday. He was 83.

It’s rare to find someone of my generation who did not read at least one of Sendak’s books as a child. I still have, from my childhood,  a hard-backed, well-worn copy of Else Homelund Minarik’s Little Bear. Little Bear was one of my first favourite books. I adored Sendak’s illustrations and spent hours looking at his drawings as I tried to decipher the words that accompanied them.  Sendak’s illustrations are  warm, and funny without being sentimental. There was a comfort in those drawings; a gentle reassurance that despite Little Bear’s (and our own, by extension) foibles, he would always be loved and cherished. I’m sure I couldn’t have articulated that thought, then; I just knew that something about those drawings made me happy.

Years later, I read that book to each of my boys, together pausing to giggle over the predicament of the bear who was too cold to play outside without snow pants, but who found his own pelt warmest of all; and rejoicing at the kind surprise of a birthday cake. Likewise, when the boys were small I found myself turning the tables on my own little Wild Things, threatening each that given the chance, I would eat them up, I love them so, only to have each flee to their rooms in mock horror, shouting “No!”.

It is the darker, harsher Sendak with whom most of us are more familiar: the disobedient Max and the petulant Pierre, whose only words are “I don’t care!” It is this version of which many of us are most fond. Sendak recognized that childhood is not all sunshine and happiness. It’s really a place of uncertainty. Children lack power, and they know that. Sendak’s best work illustrates what happens to a child in a fantasy world where they are in charge, safe in the knowledge that when things get out of hand, there is a safe place for them, and their food will still be hot when they return to it. Said Sendak:

“And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming wild things.”

It’s a testament to his gift that so many of us revisit his work time and time again now with our own children, encouraging them to tame their own wild things.

Wild Things Mural in the Children’s Section of the Richland County Library, Columbia, SC. Photo credit : Gerald Brazell on Flickr,  2011.

Learning to read, and other things.

Winston Churchill once said, “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”

It seems like good ol’ Winnie and my boys have something in common.

My oldest son is in his final months of kindergarten and even as I type that my eyes get a little misty.  Somehow five years have managed to blink by.

I remember the day that I found out I was pregnant with him.  I remember the day that I first felt the little flutter of life inside of me.  I remember his pink, newborn body lying on my chest for hours as he slept and I just breathed in the scent of him.

He steadfastly took to his role as “eldest” at fifteen months old and assumed an “I do it!” attitude.  His perseverance and tenacity continue to amaze me.

I have had to train myself to step back and let him make his mistakes, so that he can learn.  As my son struggles to fold over and tighten the loops of his laces, I struggle to keep my hands in my pockets and encourage him with my words.

We’re both learning.  He is learning to be independent and I am learning to let him.

With grade one on the horizon, my son’s new goal is to read a book to his kindergarten classmates on his next Special Helper Day.

To help boost his confidence and improve his ability, together we created a weekly Word Wall.

Each week we pick a different “word family” and print the words onto cue cards.  He then pins the cards to a bulletin board and we read them over a few times each day.

Over the past month I have been amazed by, not only his progress but, his diligence.

Last night, as we lay together on his bed, he read his first book to me.

He stumbled on some words but I was there to help him sound them out.  He linked the syllables together and formed words and I was there to see his toothy smile spread across his face.  When we finished the book, he looked over at me and I was there to receive his high-five.

While my son is learning to link letters and decipher words, I am learning that teaching him to read is really a metaphor for parenting.

Be there to help him when he stumbles.

Be there to help him sound it out.

Be there to support him when it’s unfamiliar.

Be his biggest cheerleader, always ready for a high-five.

Lunch Box Notes

When he was in Kindergarten, my son’s teacher suggested that we send a little note to school with his snack.  The note was intended not just to send our love, but to promote reading.  The idea was that he would be highly motivated to read because it was a note from home.  We did that on and off, and it was a hit. 

He’s now in Grade 1, and reading with much more fluency and enthusiasm, and he surprised me yesterday by asking me to start writing him notes again.  It’s a lovely little gesture that makes us both feel good, so of course I did. 

Now, I have to say that the lunch box is the nexus of an awful lot of tension  these days.  He will eat all the crackers, but none of the fruit.  And I have to call that a good day, because he will often come home having eaten exactly one nibble of bread all day.  A mouse would starve on that. 

So I was thrilled to discover these cute mini lunch note cards and stickers from Chronicle Books.  There are little stickers to put on the different containers of food.  Stickers that say things like “eat this first” and “check this out” and “your favourite.”  I love, love, love that there are stickers to do my nagging for me!  And there are little note cards to send little messages of love, not nagging.  Fingers crossed for more empty lunch containers…..

Or Maybe Buy Him a Flashlight?

Pop quiz, hotshot.

You’ve got an eight-year old son who won’t go to bed for love or money. Every night you battle with him about putting down his book (currently Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series) and getting some sleep. He wants to read until after 11. He’s getting harder and harder to wake in the morning.

What do you do?

(a) Take the lightbulb out of his reading lamp, hoping this encourages him to go to bed when he’s supposed to;

(b) Invest in a good-quality book light. If he’s not going to stop, at least make sure he’s not straining his eyes;

(c) Leave him alone. Be grateful you have a son who loves to read.

What would you do?


Accio dormus

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Image via Wikipedia

It’s after 10 pm. The boys have been in bed for a while. Every night, my husband and I take turns reading to each of them. Being two years apart, it’s been sometimes difficult to find one story that will interest both of them at the same time, so we tend to read to them separately. Right now, however, they’re fascinated by the same character:

Harry Potter.

Oh my word. Harry Potter, all day long. They throw curses at each other over the breakfast table (I’ve put my foot down: no Unforgivable Curses, please). Sebastian wants his own wand for his birthday. He spent a good chunk of yesterday pretending to smack his forehead on various hard objects, exclaiming ‘Dobby the House-Elf must punish himself!’ I’m tempted to hand him a sock if it will make him stop.

With Daniel, we’ve been reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  Because this is the darkest and most disturbing of all the books, we’ve insisted that he only read it with us, not alone.

This was a good move, apparently.

A few minutes ago, I heard Daniel call my name and tell me that he needed to talk to me. I usually try to encourage conversation before, rather than after the lights are out, but he sounded like he really, truly, needed my attention. I perched on the edge of his bed and stroked his hair.

‘Mommy, I’ve made a decision. I think I need to stop reading the Deathly Hallows until I’m older. I’m thinking about it all the time and it’s scaring me. I’m afraid it’s far too epic for right now.’

What followed was a whirl-wind, five minute conversation about imagination, about being allowed to quit something once you’ve started ( a life lesson that applies, I feel, to music lessons but not necessarily to novels) and about how to drive unpleasant thoughts out of one’s head at bedtime and how I’m pretty bad at it. It was one of those crazy parenting moments: touching, funny and, as I looked into his wide eyes, very, very real.

So, no more reading Deathly Hallows right now. No movie, either. All I ask is, until then, that you don’t tell him how it ends, okay?