Christmas with Maggie Rose, Maine coast, mid-twentieth century

From Maggie Rose, Her Birthday Christmas by Ruth Sawyer:

The room was full of warmth, of welcome, and of the soft tinkling of bells, as feet, many feet, sounded on the road outside.  Maggie Rose thought with a quick upsurge of gladness:  This year I’m not looking from outside into other people’s houses.  This year I’m looking from the inside!  It was all too big and wonderful to put into mere words.  Instead she listened to the feet coming nearer, coming to their house, the house of “those Bunkers”! (145-6)

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Maggie Rose, Her Birthday Christmas by Ruth Sawyer

It was with a contented sigh and tear-stained cheeks that I finished our Christmas read-aloud Wednesday morning. Maggie Rose, Her Birthday Christmas by Ruth Sawyer is truly about as perfect as a story can be.  It’s a short novel, only eleven chapters.  It’s the story of Maggie Rose Bunker, one of “those Bunkers,” a large family of friendly, incorrigible riff-raff that lives on the Maine coast.  Maggie Rose is different, though–she knows her family’s not quality, like the summer people who populate the shore houses, or even like Miss Myra Moon, her teacher and confidante.  However, even though she knows her family’s different, she loves them and even both accommodates and fills in the gaps for their inadequacies.  Maggie Rose is special, just like her Christmas Eve birthday.  This year, the year of her ninth birthday, she has decided to have her own birthday celebration.  She spends all summer raising money by picking berries to sell, and she collects as many friends as she does pails of berries.  About three chapters from the end of the story the unthinkable happens, but the resolution is just as wonderful as it can be.  (This whole climax-denouement situation presented my girls and me with a powerful opportunity to discuss these literary elements in a very casual and natural way.  Score! :-) )

I couldn’t help but compare this story in my mind to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and Maggie Rose to the Herdmans.  The whole idea of classes and “those ________” (Bunkers or Herdmans) and how they are treated by their neighbors is somewhat similar, but Maggie Rose is in a class by herself.  She is both winsome and smart, and I found the story sweet and poignant but not saccharine.  Here are a few snippets that show Maggie Rose’s character:

Friday afternoons were library days and rarely did Maggie Rose miss one.  Here was time and place for discovery and satisfaction.  Every shelf held such a load of expectation and promise that at times she was well-nigh staggered by it.  She devoured books as a hungry robin gulps down angleworms.  They fed her and she came back always hungry for more.  (48)

Sunday came–the first in July.  To Maggie Rose, Sunday was a special day.  Long ago she had heard one of the Chapel preachers read:  “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work; but the seventh is the sabbath of the Lord thy God. . . And the Lord blessed the sabbath and sactified it.”  Maggie Rose stowed away so many sayings from the Holy Book; she was thrifty and thorough about it as a chipmunk stowing away the seeds of a spruce cone.  Words and sentences stayed with her–to use again, or just to make happy remembering.  (72)

The end of this short novel is beautiful.  It’s about family and community and being able to give instead of always receiving.  It represents the true meaning of Christmas as well as any story I’ve read.  I love this book and give it a Highly, Highly Recommended.  (Harper & Row, 1952)

Other Christmas chapter books we’ve read:






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Read Aloud Thursday–November 2015


Happy Thanksgiving!  :-)  We have oh, so much to be thankful for this year, on Thanksgiving and always!  At the top of my list this year is the fact that my wonderful mother, who has been a huge supporter of everything I’ve ever done or tried to do, came through surgery on Tuesday with flying colors and is recuperating in the hospital.  Most things, even reading, pale in comparison to issues of life and death, and this is one of those times for our family.  We’re thankful to God that He has given us more time to be together.

Serious issues the likes of which we’ve been facing for the past few weeks also have a way of making us appreciate the little things in life.  One of those little “big” things in the life of my family is books, and especially reading aloud.  In fact, I consider it one of our best parenting practices.  I’m thankful that we have the opportunity to build a family bond through the experience of sharing books.  The trickle down effect has been children who love books and reading and consider a trip to the library or the prospect of new books one of the chiefest of common pleasures.

FullSizeRender (5)On that note of gratitude, I have a few things to share today.  First, a Thanksgiving book that’s just too much fun to pass up!  I’m mostly sharing this one to add it to our big Thanksgiving books list; however, it’s funny enough to share even after Thanksgiving itself is over.  It’s the story of Mr. and Mrs. Moose, host and hostess of Thanksgiving dinner for their friends.  Mrs. Moose is determined this year to have a turkey this year–but not for dinner, but on the guest list.  Mr. Moose is just as determined to fulfill his wife’s wish, and the results–a long chain of verbal misunderstandings–are comical to say the least.  The DLM got a big kick out of this one!  Score one more for Eve Bunting.  :-)

I’ve shared a trio of picture books this month:

The DLM and I have finished one chapter book this month.  Escape from Baxters’ Barn by Rebecca Bond was a little more complex than I was prepared for, but we enjoyed it just the same.

My girls and I are about two-thirds of the way through our nighttime read-aloud, Little Women.  It has been pure joy for me to share this book that was so formative for me as a teen and young adult.  I chose it because we’re studying the Civil War and because it opens with one of the most famous Christmas scenes in all of literature.  Both girls had read bits and pieces of it, with Lulu perhaps even finishing it.  However, neither girl “liked” it, and I set out to remedy that.  I think I have.  :-)

Our daytime reading has been focused on the Civil War.  First I read Bull Run by Paul Fleischman, a book we mostly enjoyed but that I wouldn’t recommend as a read-aloud.  We then moved into Freedom Train by Dorothy Sterling, our current read-aloud.  We’re also moving slowly through Civil War! by James I. Robertson mostly as a read-aloud.  I hope to share more about these two books in the future.
What’s next?  Well, Christmas!  :-)  In addition to reading things we already own, we have on its way to our house what I think will be a gem, highly recommended by Heidi of Mount Hope Chronicles: Maggie Rose, Her Birthday Christmas by Ruth Sawyer.

Reading aloud has been very rich this month, and for that, among so many other things, I am very thankful.

Please, share your read-alouds in the comments!

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Escape from Baxters’ Barn by Rebecca Bond

Escape from Baxters’ Barn by Rebecca Bond is our latest read-aloud chosen expressly with the DLM in mind.  A regular reader here at Hope Is the Word recommended it, so I requested it at the library.  It took us quite a while to read it, given the brevity of most of its chapters, just because the DLM is quite the five year old boy in terms of his attention span.  However, he was almost always willing to listen, so it was a positive read-aloud experience for us.

Escape from Baxters’ Barn is the story of a barn cat, Burdock, who is a newcomer to Baxter’s barn.  The other inhabitants of the barn all have distinctive personalities and voices, and that makes it enjoyable for younger listeners:  Nanny the goat, Tick the kid goat, Fluff the sheep, Figgy the pig, Tug and Pull the draft horses, Mrs. Brown the cow, and Noctua the owl all work together to pull off a rather daring, if clumsily executed, escape.

Reminiscent of our beloved Charlotte’s Web, this story is much more emotionally complex than I was expecting.  Burdock, like Templeton, faces a dilemma:  will he help the other animals escape, or will he think only of himself?  That, along with the notion that the humans in the story were planning to burn down the barn, was a bit more than I was expecting.  Still, we persevered, and I do think the DLM enjoyed it.  I think I’d recommend it for a slightly older listener, though; it really isn’t too elementary for even a third or fourth grader.   In fact, like the plot, the writing is fairly complex:

Nanny thought the bird was startling to look at, even lying on its side as it now was.  Not exactly beautiful, but simply exquisite, like nothing Nanny had ever seen before.  The feathers all along the owl’s back, head, and wings were not actually white at all.  They were both tawny and brownish gray, and speckled throughout with white as if they had been lightly snowed upon.  But the underside of the bird was indeed white, flecked here with tiny dots of gray.  Most extraordinary of all was the face; it was truly, amazingly heart-shaped, and also white, except for a thin dark border.  Into this silky valentine of down were set two closed eyes.  Nanny had gotten a glimpse of the eyes, black and shiny like marbles, and she could tell immediately, those were intelligent eyes.  (114)

Isn’t that lovely?  I love this sentence:  “Into this silky valentine of down were set two closed eyes.”  Like so many other stories, Escape from Baxters’ Barn is deceptively simple.  Children and adults who enjoy animal stories and adventures will enjoy this one.  (Houghton Mifflin, 2015)

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Turn Homeward, Hannalee by Patricia Beatty

Turn Homeward, Hannalee by Patricia Beatty was Louise’s assigned novel for our Civil War studies.  I determined that I would actually read this one, too, so like I did with Lulu, I held Louise to a chapter or two a day so I could keep up.  This novel depicts a little known (well, at least little known to me) event during the war.  Factory workers, mostly women and children, from Confederate states were deported “up north” and turned loose so they could no longer make war materiel for the Confederacy.  This particular novel begins in Roswell, Georgia, and is the story of twelve year old Hannalee Reed and her younger brother, Jem.  Both are employed at the local textile mill, and thus both are taken north by Yankee soldiers.  (You can read about this actual event here.)   Hannalee makes a promise to her mother, a pregnant widow, that she will always “turn homeward” and come back to her family as soon as she is able.  The children are deported, along with their older brother’s girlfriend, and undergo hardship and eventually separation.  Hannalee is determined, though, to keep the promise she made her mother.

Louise and I both enjoyed this novel.  I was particularly happy to read a different viewpoint on the Civil War.  In the end, I was also reminded of just how brutal the end of the war was for the South.  I was reading Across Five Aprils at the same time that I was reading this novel, so I couldn’t help but compare the two.  The fact that I handed my elder daughter a novel about a nine year old protagonist and my younger daughter a novel about a twelve year old protagonist made me wonder if I’d mixed the two up.  However, after reading them both, I can say that of the two, this is the simpler tale.  While it’s a well-written story, it isn’t as emotionally complex as Across Five Aprils.  That isn’t, of course, to say that it’s devoid of difficulties; in fact, this novel doesn’t skirt the horrors of war at all.  It’s just not as nuanced as Across Five Aprils.  Still, I am glad we read it.  (HarperCollins, 1991)


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