The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont by Victoria Griffith

I simply love reading picture nonfiction books that are more storybookish than just-the-facts-ma’am in nature.  (I’m sure there’s a proper term for this, but I’m drawing a blank.)  The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont by Victoria Griffith is just one such book, and it absolutely excels at capturing the imaginations of its readers from the first page:

Alberto Santos-Dumont loved floating above Paris in his own personal flying machine.  It had helped make him one of the most famous men in the city, if not the world!  Everyone, he thought, should have this much fun running a simple errand!

It turns out that Alberto Santos-Dumont’s interest evolved from dirigibles to a conveyance that can travel against the wind, and so he became the first man to publicly fly a plane in 1906.  (According to the detailed Author Note to this story, the Wright brothers’ 1903 Kitty Hawk venture was not widely-known in Europe, and who did exactly what first is up for debate.)  This book chronicles both Alberto’s inspiration for improving upon his dirigible and the spirit of competition between these fathers of aviation.  Louis Cartier, the famous watchmaker, makes an appearance in this story as a friend of Alberto’s and the inventor who helped him solve the problem of a hands-free method for checking the time by inventing the wristwatch. (In fact, the Cartier Santos wristwatch is named after the flamboyant aviator.)  Louis Blériot appears as a rival inventor determined to best Alberto. Alberto, ever the gentleman and more interested in the science of his craft than the business of it, allows Blériot to take off first in the test run.  Of course, Blériot’s plane falls apart after several failed attempts at lift-off.  Alberto then makes the first flight in a plane that takes off of its own power.  This story, paired with the colorful and evocative illustrations by Eva Montanari, is suspenseful and exciting.  My girls and I really enjoyed it.  (In fact, they’re hounding me for it even as I write this review!) Highly Recommended.  (Abrams, 2011)

Naturally, after reading The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont we had to go find our copy of The Glorious Flight by the Provensens and read all about Papa Blériot’s inventions.  (This is an old favorite.)  We were especially tickled to recollect the part at the beginning of the story where Papa Blériot crashes the family car into a farm wagon because he is so distracted by a dirigible flying above the Parisian sky.  Could it have been Alberto Santos-Dumont?  Another tie-in is Balloons over Broadway by Melissa Sweet, the wonderful picture book which details Tony Sarg’s balloon-engineering that made the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade what it is today.  (I really, really love this book, so go ahead and click the link.  You won’t regret it!)  If you’re of the unit study persuasion, these books just beg to be read together.  If, like me, you just like to chase rabbit trails sometimes, I’ve done a bit of the work for you.

I just love picture books, don’t you?

Many, many thanks to the author, Victoria Griffith, for emailing me to offer this book for review.  She sent the recently-released audiobook along with the picture book, and I know they’re both going to be enjoyed around here for years to come.  Other than a copy of the book itself, I received no compensation for this honest review.

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This week’s Nonfiction Monday round-up is at Gathering Books.

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Jeeves and the Tie That Binds by P.G. Wodehouse

I hardly feel qualified to write anything about the brilliant wit of P.G. Wodehouse since I’ve only just made his acquaintance.  So far I’ve read his witty introduction to a collection of his short stories, one of his short stories, and now the novel Jeeves and the Tie That Binds.  I’m afraid that my thoughts here will be a bit more Wooster-ish than Jeeves-ish; like Bertie, I sometimes grapple for just the word I mean to use, and unlike Jeeves, I do not have perfect recall of every literary reference I hope to make.  I had something of a difficult time getting through this book, which is no fault of the book’s at all, but the fault of my own short attention span and lack of long, uninterrupted periods of time for reading.  I had a hard time keeping all the characters straight.  I think that every character in this novel appears in an earlier Jeeves and Wooster story, so obviously reading the books more-or-less in order might help with this.  (Of course, given my poor memory, it might not help me much at all.)  Too, these characters have names apparently chosen for their laugh-inducing value but because many of them are unusual and quirky, I had a hard time keeping them straight. Here’s a list of most of the characters, both major and minor:

  • Florence Craye
  • Magnolia Glendennon
  • Gussie Fink-Nottle
  • Madeline Bassett
  • Ginger Winship (a man)
  • Spode, a.k.a. Lord Sidcup
  • Bingley
  • L.P. Runkle
  • Tuppy Glossop

And some of the places in the story:

  • Totleigh Towers
  • the Junior Ganymede
  • Market Snodsbury

See what I mean?  How could one possibly write a serious story about these people and places?  Wodehouse is quite the witty word engineer.

The plot of this story revolves around Ginger Winship’s run for the House of Commons.  Ginger is one of Bertie’s old college chums, so Bertie agrees to travel to Market Snodsbury to canvass the town’s inhabitants in hopes of helping Ginger win the election.  While in Market Snodsbury, Bertie and Jeeves stay at the home of Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia, which is quite the happening place.  What ensues is a comedy of errors involving (but certainly, certainly not limited to!) a wealthy businesss man who stole a patent from one of his employees, from whom Aunt Dahlia is determined to wring some restitutionary payment since the son of the now-deceased employee happens to be the fiancée of her daughter.  (Clear as mud?)  Of course, there’s also the matter of a certain notebook, property of the Junior Ganymede, which contains all the fits and foibles of London’s elite, as observed and recorded by their butlers.  This notebook has been “pinched,” and its existence threatens to wreak havoc on Ginger’s campaign and his love-life, not to mention potentially the lives of many other a fine gentleman.  And then there’s the fact that Ginger’s fiancée (and the moving force behind his run for Parliament) is none other than Florence Craye, former intended of Bertie.  My head fairly spun with all the comings and goings of the characters and all of the switching and swapping of love interests.  It is pure, absurd fun.

A few things I noticed that are apparently quite common in Wodehouse‘s Jeeves and Wooster stories:

  • a tongue-in-cheek approach to romance and marriage, or at least romance and marriage for Bertie.  His near miss with Florence Craye is legendary, and by the end of the story yet another girl has declared her intentions toward him.  When that falls through, he says that he “would send camels bearing apes, ivory and peacocks” to the address of the person who “saved [him] from a fate worse than death,” marriage to one Madeline Bassett.
  • lots of stealing or “pinching” of items.  Much of the humor in the stories depends on something being swiped and then Bertie (and therefore, Jeeves) having to get the stolen items back into the room of its owner before its absence is noticed.
  • some physical humor.  Bertie sometimes finds himself hiding uncomfortably in the bushes to eavesdrop on a conversation, etc.
  • Just like any good Butler, Jeeves really doesn’t enter into the story very much, but he always saves the day.  I love this description of his reaction to the news of Ginger’s engagement to Florence Craye:

Well, I hadn’t expected him to roll his eyes and leap about, because he never does no matter how sensational the news item, but I could see by the way one of his eyebrows twitched and rose perhaps an eighth of an inch that I had interested him.  And there was what is called a wealth of meaning in that “Indeed, sir?”  (35)

However, the real star of the show in my opinion are the words, even more than the story itself.  This is Bertie on Florence Craye and Ginger’s engagement to her:

Looks, however, aren’t everything.  Against this pin-upness of hers you had to put the bossiness which would lead her to expect the bloke she married to behave like a Hollywood yes-man.  From childhood up she had been. . .I can’t think of the word. . .beings with an i. . . no, it’s gone. . .but I can give you the idea.  When at my private school I once won a prize for Scripture Knowledge which naturally involved a lot of researching into Holy Writ, and in the course of my researches I came upon the story of the military chap who used to say “Come” and they cometh and “Go” and they goeth.  I have always that that that was Florence in a nutshell.  She would have given short shrift, as the expression is, to anyone who had gone when she said “Come” or the other way around.  Imperious, that’s the word I was groping for.  She was as imperious as a traffic cop.  Little wonder that the heart was heavy.  I felt that Ginger, mistaking it for a peach, had plucked a lemon in the garden of love.  (32)

And some funny one-liners:

. . . against a woman with a brain like that, Ginger hadn’t the meager chance of a toupee in a high wind.  (107)


I suppose if he had been slenderer one might have described him as a figure of doom, but even though so badly in need of a reducing diet, he was near enough to being one to make my interior organs do a quick shuffle-off-to-Buffalo as if some muscular hand had stirred them up with an egg whisk.  (198)


Many years ago in our pre-parenthood days, Steady Eddie and I attended a fantastic performance of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.  That and the movie Arsenic and Old Lace are what came to mind while I was reading Jeeves and the Tie That Binds.  Although I was often a little fuzzy on who now is engaged to whom and in whose possession the pinched porringer (or the pinched notebook) currently resides, I thoroughly enjoyed this story.

I am so happy to add my review to Carrie’s list of links for April’s Reading to Know Book Club.   This is also the first book I can mark off my list for The Classics Club.
Reading to Know - Book Club

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An Ecclesiastes 3:2, 7 kind of week

To say that this has been unusual and difficult week is something of an understatement, but all things considered, we had a really good school week. Monday was a normal day, except for the fact that Louise was a little under the weather. She went to bed on Sunday night with an elevated temperature, so on Monday she took it easy most of the day. Things got interesting on Monday night when the DLM fell and fractured his tibia–the large bone in the lower leg. He was out with Steady Eddie doing a bit of shopping (their usual routine while the girls take turns having dance class) when he fell at a store and twisted his leg. We didn’t know it was fractured until the next morning when the pediatrician’s office opened back up. We spent a good part of the day on Tuesday, then, in doctor’s offices, getting x-rays and having his little leg put into a cast. Through all this, we managed to “do school” thanks to the fact that Steady Eddie had taken off work due to the DLM’s injury.

On Wednesday, Steady Eddie had already planned to go into work a bit late to help me get our day going and get through our regular lessons. This was wonderful–he worked with one girl on math while I did language, writing, reading, etc., and then we’d switch. We got through all the must-dos before lunch! This day was one of those that was a bit off-kilter, though, because we got word mid-morning that the condition of our pastor’s precious wife, who had been battling ovarian cancer for 2 1/2 years, was declining. Steady Eddie left for work, and not too long after he had been there, he called to tell me that Rebecca had passed away.

So. School. Yeah. We did it. It was good, even. But honestly? It didn’t seem all that important. Interesting, but not important. Necessary, but not important.

Here’s the shakedown, keyed to the collage above.

1, 3, 7, & 8.  Math.  Lulu’s RightStart lessons this week involved taking a few assessments (which she was super excited about–these homschooled kids and their lack of test anxiety and boredom 😉 ), working a bit more on subtraction, and then switching gears and diving head-first into multiplication.  I love the way RightStart approaches multiplication!  Lulu had to color the multiples (i.e. color all the squares with a multiple of 2 on them, etc.) on small 100s charts (one for each number), and then she and Steady Eddie held them up to the light and compared the 2s to the 4s, for example.  Neat-o!  We also spent some time on a new-to-us game, Sum Rummy.  I didn’t think it was worth the trouble at first, but then when we got to the end and Lulu had to discover how adding the sums relates to multiplication and then do it, I was sold.  🙂 One more fun thing I had Lulu do was take the centimenter cubes and line them up beside the meter stick to confirm how many centimeters are in a meter. Lulu completed lessons 99-101 in RS C this week.

Louise’s lessons this week involved writing equations using the abacus and really working on grasping the concept of tens.

Bonus this week for math:  having dad home to help.

2.  Ever seen a twenty-two month old in a cast?  It’s cute and pitiful, all at the same time.  Being more confined to one place than normal has increased the DLM’s attention-span and he has really played with this toys.

4.  History has been so interesting this week!  SotW volume 2 chapter 16 has us squarely in the Middle Ages, just after the Normal Conquest of England.  We’ve talked about Medieval culture and lifestyles.  Among other things, we did the Play-Doh activity suggested in the SotW Activity Guide to illustrate how English we speak came to be.  I could easily spend weeks on the Middle Ages, just doing fun stuff like this.  In addition to this fun activity, Lulu did a couple of written narrations and made a mini-book about how to become a knight.

5.  I’ve had extra help this week, too.  Steady Eddie had an out-of-town meeting on Thursday, so my parents took pity on me and my poor, handicapped toddler and came to help us.  🙂  My dad came by mid-morning and played with the DLM while the girls and I did lessons. Then, that afternoon, my mom came over and got the DLM down for a nap (no small feat, since sleeping in a cast is not high on his list of favorites) while the girls and I finished up lessons.  We had gotten a very late start that morning, so all this help was very welcomed.

6.  I decided to do something I’ve never done before this week–use the computer to help give me a little bit of “breathing space” to do lessons with Louise.  Well, it didn’t exactly work out this way this first time, but I hope it will in the future.  I made Lulu a spelling list in Spelling City from her AAS words, and she took a test on the computer.  Of course, this was only after we had gone through the whole step and all its instruction, and even practiced spelling the words using the tiles and on paper.  I’m a bit ambivalent about doing this because a.) I want to postpone computer-dependence for my kids as long as possible and b.) since Lulu can’t type properly yet, I don’t want to reinforce bad habits.  Thoughts on this, anyone?  Lulu completed AAS level 2 steps 11 and 12 this week.

9.  Bonus science lesson with dad:  looking at brother’s x-ray and talking about and identifying bones.

Here’s what else we accomplished:

  • We actually did our memory work two or three times this week.  Louise is also working hard on Awana verses.
  • The girls did four days’ worth of handwriting practice.
  • Lulu completed lessons 87-90, mostly reviewing the parts of speech, in FLL 2.
  •  Writing is getting more challenging; WWE 2 week 28 had Lulu dictating two sentences at a time, in addition to narrating from a lengthy passage.
  • Lulu’s assigned reading this week was All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor.  She did a book report on it (like this, only not as thorough this time).  She’s also working on reading If You Lived in the Days of the Knights, which we’ll continue next week.
  • Louise completed lessons 147-150 in OPGtTR and read several chapters from her chapter book (Shadow of the Wolf) with me.  On Thursday she sat and read three I Can Read books aloud with Mamaw.  She has turned into a reading machine.
  • Actually, we’re all pretty fond of reading.


On Thursday night the girls spent the night with Nana, who was on spring break this week.  On Friday I took the DLM to the last baby storytime at the library for this school year, and then we had lunch with Steady Eddie at my favorite “girl food” restaurant (which Steady Eddie actually likes but mainly indulges me in).  I worked a bit on schoolish stuff and printing pictures for my Project Life album, and then it was time to get ready to go to church for the funeral celebration service for Rebecca.  What a week.

Rebecca was forty-three years old, the high school sweet-heart and only love of her husband of twenty years, a mother to two girls, a pastor’s wife, a daughter, a sister, a sister-in-law, a friend, and a genuinely joyful person.  Her service last night was beautiful.  We laughed, we cried, and we worshiped Jesus.  Her husband, our pastor, spoke at the end about God’s grace and about how blessed he felt to be her husband.  He also lead the congregation (a packed house) in worship in song (he’s an accomplished musician and songwriter), and he played a song he wrote during her sickness.  Wow.  What a service, and what a reunion it will be for all of us when we get Home.

Today while I’m at work, Steady Eddie will be finishing up some schoolish stuff with the girls–science (they’re talking about shadows and being human sundials, if the sunshine cooperates), math, and a bit of history.

You know, this week has been hard (and jumbled, as this very disorganized post is evidence of), but attending that service last night in honor of Rebecca, believe it or not, ended it on a high note.  I’ve never felt God’s faithfulness more than I did last night.  To see our pastor lead us all in worship and thanksgiving to God, grieving for his wife and yet still buoyed up by the hope of heaven, was wonderful.

And so I’m ending this wrap-up with thanksgiving, too.  So many, many blessings this week:

  • That if the DLM had to break his leg, it happened this week. If it had happened last week, Steady Eddie would’ve been out of town and we wouldn’t have had as much help because Nana would’ve been working.  If it had happened much later, it would’ve been hot (and therefore more uncomfortable in the cast) and our summer plans of lots of outdoor fun would’ve been hindered.
  • That Rebecca’s life and her family have touched our life.  Her faith and trust and joy were such a testimony of God’s goodness.  Her legacy will live on.
  • That we only have three more weeks before we take our summer break from our normal school routine.  I’m ready for some down time!
  • That I only work one more weekend before being off for the summer!
  • That the DLM only has to wear his cast for 3 weeks.
  • That the DLM doesn’t seem to be in any pain.

If you’ve read this far, thank you.  I think this is the most nitty-gritty week we’ve had, and yet, it has been a good week.  We’ve learned a lot this week.

**Bonus points for anyone who can explain the reference in the title!  🙂


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A Sock Is a Pocket for Your Toes: A Pocket Book by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon

I’ve made a concerted effort to read more poetry to my children this National Poetry Month, and I’m ending the month by posting a little review of a delightful book entitled A Sock Is a Pocket for Your Toes by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon. (I just love the assonance and alliteration in the title, don’t you?)  I purchased it after reading Alice’s glowing review, and I have to say I was not disappointed.  For some reason, I was expecting it to be a collection of poems instead of one long poem, but after I got used to the idea that it is a rhyming picture book, I warmed up to it and had a fabulous time sharing it with my girls.  It is deceptively simple in that it appears to be only for little kids:  Robin Preiss Glaisser‘s illustrations are mostly of little kids and their relationships with others.  However, the concept of all the things that can be pockets is a brain tickler.  I love it!

A chimney is a pocket blowing smoke,

and a pocket for a giggle is a joke–

tee hee.

A pocket packed with giggles is a joke.

A phone is a pocket for a ring,

a bell is a pocket for a ding.

Well, you get the idea.  This verse creates a delightful rhythm that begs to be tapped or bounced to.  My girls and I had a fun time coming up with other pockets.  Yesterday was National Poem in Your Pocket Day, but I think any day is a good day to keep a poem in your pocket or read a poem about pockets.  We give this book a Highly, Highly Recommended. (HarperCollins, 2004)

Given the DLM’s affinity for pockets, I think this one will be a popular selection at the House of Hope for many years to come.

The Poetry Friday roundup this week is at The Opposite of Indifference.



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This Week in Books


Assigned reading:  All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor.  It’s on my Classics Club list for me to read, but I decided to forego the read-aloud and let Lulu read it alone first.  It was a hit. She’s still reading If You Lived in the Days of the Knights, her other assigned reading selection, and is doing some narration activities with it.

Fun reading:  I know she read more Boxcar Children books than this (of course!), but I’ve lost all track of them and that lone title up there is the only one that made it on the stack.


Assigned reading:  We’re still reading Shadow of the Wolf together after her reading lessons.  She also read several of the I Can Read books aloud to Mamaw this afternoon.

Fun reading:  Pretty much everything on the stack is Louise’s fun reading.  She loves the Minnie and Moo books in particular.

Together (read-alouds):

We started on Knight’s Tale by Edgar Eager, and it’s a smash hit.  We’re also still making our way through Little Pilgrim’s Progress, also a hit.  Another notable of the week is the picture book The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont.  Look for a review of it next week.


I plan to finish Jeeves and theTies That Bind tonight so I can share my thoughts about it tomorrow for the Reading to Know Bookclub.  I’m also still listening to Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry.  I like to listen to it while I exercise, but since my exercising is sporadic at best, so is my listening.

The girls also pulled out our huge Treasury of Picture Book Classicsand enjoyed some old favorites.  The DLM’s current favorite is an abridged (boo! hiss!) board book version of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel(If I’d known it was abridged, I surely wouldn’t have bought it!)

I’m pretty sure I’m missing a lot more from the week, but it has been a challenging week, so I’m calling this good.

Have you had a bookish week?

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