Category Archives: Vintage Finds Fridays

Read Aloud Thursday–The Valentine Box by Maud Hart Lovelace


The Valentine Box by Maud Hart Lovelace Vintage Childrens Book

Kirsten reminded me in my Valentine’s Day round-up post of the existence of Maud Hart Lovelace‘s The Valentine Box, and since we’re fans of Maud Hart Lovelace, I thought it would make a nice read-aloud during a very hectic week.  I asked Steady Eddie to run by the university library where I used to work and check it out since I knew they had a copy there, and after a bit of hunting, he found it.  It turns out that I had already read it to the girls but had not blogged about it (I knew there was a real, practical reason for me to keep this blog!  ;-) ).  Still, it is a fun little story of friendship, so we weren’t disappointed.

The Valentine Box is the story of a girl named Janice who has just moved to a new neighborhood and a new school.  The story takes place on Valentine’s Day and the day of her class Valentine’s party at school.  She goes home for lunch and really isn’t looking forward to going back to school for the afternoon. She spends a lot of time thinking about her best friend back in the city and how she hasn’t found many friends in her new home.  However, the snowy weather and a rather serendipitous turn of events involving a gust of wind and some sodden Valentines help her to make not one but two new friends, and all is well in the end.

The most notable thing about this story is the fact that Janice is drawn as an African American child and all the other children are white.  This is not mentioned in the text of the story at all; rather, it is communicated through the illustrations.  If one were to read the story without seeing the pictures, it would seem like this is just a new-girl-wanting-to-fit-in sort of story.  Obviously, though, someone had other things in mind.  I actually didn’t bring this up to my children at all; I just read the story through without any commentary.  According to the bibliography at Wikipedia, The Valentine Box was Maud Hart Lovelace’s last story, published in 1966.  Of course, the time was right for such an interpretation, but I always wonder–was this the author’s real intent, or was it something the editor/publisher decided?  I’m interested in things like that.  Still, though, it’s a nice little school story, and since my girls are homeschooled, it’s no more foreign to them really that the children in this vintage story actually walk home for lunch than it is that each child in the class isn’t required to bring a Valentine for everyone.  As Maud Hart Lovelace stories go, I wouldn’t call this one a standout, but it is quaint and sweet and has a happy ending.  Thanks, Kirsten, for the reminder about this vintage find!

Other Maud Hart Lovelace books I’ve reviewed:

What are you reading together this week?  Any Valentine’s Day books in your stacks?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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A Tangled Web by L.M. Montgomery

I just closed the covers of A Tangled Web with a satisfied thump, and while I am not ready to tackle anything else by L.M. Montgomery right now, I am glad I re-read this one.  A Tangled Web capitalizes on the thing I like most about L.M. Montgomery’s style of writing–that she can create and weave together a community of people, with all their fits and foibles, all the while maintaining a cohesive storyline.  There really isn’t a main character in A Tangled Web, unless you count Aunt Becky Dark’s jug, the want of which has upended the lives of many a Dark and Penhallow.  Instead we have the stories of various members of the two clans and how their lives have played out thus far, and how the legendary jug affects them.  There are love triangles a-plenty in this story, with engagements made and broken, as well as the re-union of an estranged married couple who have lived separate and tortured lives for a decade.  There are silly men and cantankerous women, a neglected child and enough rhapsodizing about wonderful houses to make any prosaically-minded person to wonder, “What’s wrong with me that I don’t feel exactly this way about my house?  I mean, it’s nice, but sheesh!”  There are also lots and lots of four-letter words, mostly damns, to the point that it becomes a point of the book–that some of the men have to give up cursing so as to stay on the good side of the departed Aunt Becky who gave hints as to the habits of a person who would not get the jug when it is finally awarded to someone.  (I remember reading somewhere that Montgomery wrote this book for an adult audience, so maybe that explains her decision to use so many expletives.) 

 Anyway, it’s an enjoyable story.  I almost feel like this time around I’m reading the L.M. Montgomery books through a new set of more mature glasses.  Now I’m far more likely to grow weary of all the high-flown descriptions and passions described in any of her stories.  I think I can almost forgive all of that in a character like Anne, whose imagination really does get the better of her, but A Tangled Web is peopled almost entirely by adults, with the exception of the aforementioned neglected child, whose story really is almost too much, even by Montgomery‘s standards.  This is definitely the type of book that is read for entertainment and not for any particular message or meaning, unless you count the juxtaposition of the absurdity and the beauty of life as a meaning or message.  Once again, I’m reminded of Gilbert’s empassioned expression to Anne concerning the novel she was writing:  “Anne, nob’dy speaks that way!”  Ain’t it the truth.

One thing I’m picking up on more and more in the Montgomery novels I’ve re-read over the past few years is the atmosphere of darkness (sadness?  pessimism?)  that seems to pervade much of philosophical underpinnings of her works.  Maybe it’s just me, and really, it’s more of a feeling than anything, but there it is.  Carrie discusses Montgomery and theology a bit in this post, and while I’ve never entertained the delusion that any particular classic author’s works are “Christian” just because they’re moral or what-have-you, I think perhaps our differing thoughts on God might account for the uneasiness I feel at times when reading Montgomery‘s books.  (It’s not really uneasiness, but more of a, well, creepy feeling.)  I cannot believe I’m saying this about the author who used to be number one on my list of favorites! 

One more thing I wanted to note about A Tangled Web:  I usually prefer an older-looking cover for an old book; in other words, usually I’d prefer the cover linked above over the one pictured below for a book first published in 1931.  However, in the case of this book, I think the cover above makes it look to somber and serious.  The color cover below bespeaks the drama and sheer absurdity of the story better to me than the serious-appearing young lady above.  The one below also happens to be the copy I own (but have misplaced, which is sad to me because I’ve had an almost-complete Montgomery collection since I was a teen). 

 I’m really beginning to think my L.M. Montgomery Fan Club membership is going to be revoked if I don’t quit nit-picking!  ;-)   I really think I need to get back to reading the books with children as the main characters; I find much of what I’ve criticized about A Tangled Web much easier to take in a tale about people under the age of fifteen.  :-)

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge And so ends another month with the L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge.  Many thanks to Carrie for encouraging us to dust off our old copies of these beloved favorites and give them another look.  This is my fourth year to participate in the challenge, so I’m building up a nice little collection of reviews and other thoughts I’ve shared here, if anyone is interested in even more waffling on my part about L.M. Montgomery and my devotion to her ;-).  (Read the honeymoon post if you’ve any doubt as to where I really stand.)

Jane of Lantern Hill review

The Blue Castle review

Pat of Silver Bush review

Mistress Pat review

 Magic for Marigold review

Kilmeny of the Orchard review

PEI Reminscences, a post in which I share pictures and memories of mine and Steady Eddie’s honeymoon on the Island

L.M. Montgomery Meanderings, a post in which I reminisce about how I became such a fan


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Goody O’Grumpity by Carol Ryrie Brink

Yesterday afternoon just after we finished our lessons I sent the girls out to check the mail.  In they came with usual stack of catalogs and junk mail, but at the bottom of the stack was a slim package.  Oh, Goody!  The book I’ve been waiting on!  It turns out that this old poem, written by Carol Ryrie Brink (copyright 1937) and brought to life for the today’s reader by illustrator Ashley Wolff, made the perfect tea time read-aloud.  I ordered it without knowing much about it at all–just that it is a recommended Thanksgiving title at Homeschool Share and that it’s written by one of our favorite authors.   I actually didn’t even know it is a poem!  I am so glad I ordered this little picture book to share with my girls; it’s one I’m really, really happy to add to our Thanksgiving collection. 

Well, actually, it’s not just a Thanksgiving story.  It’s a little snapshot for the senses of what happens when the kindly Goody O’Grumpity bakes a cake.  Each two-age spread is illustrated in beautiful style by Ashley Wolff’s bold linoleum block prints.  Each panel is bordered by a heavy black line that draws attention to each scene, drawing out the effect of Goody O’Grumpity’s baking day on the rest of her pilgrim village.  The lovely, saturated images paired with Brink‘s evocative verse make this a not-to-be-missed reading and listening experience.  It’s a very playful rhyme, as these lines attest:

And the children flocked

by dozens and tens.

They came from the north,

the east and the south

With wishful eyes

and watering mouth,

And stood in a crowd

about Goody’s door,

Their muddy feet

on her sanded floor.

And what do you s’pose

they came to do!

Why, to lick the dish

when Goody was through!

 The aroma of Goody’s baking cake wafts through the village and even out to the river and to the Native American village nearby.  Even the animals sense the deliciousness baking in the outdoor community oven!  My girls’ immediate reaction after enjoying this book was to hop up from our tea time table and make Goody O’Grumpity’s spice cake, the recipe for which Ashley Wolff provides at the story’s end.  Since it was late in the afternoon (and we had already made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies!), we put this off for another day.  After all, it’s still a week until Thanksgiving; we still have time for our spice cake, and for several more re-readings of this wonderful sensory reading experience.  Highly Recommended!  (North-South Books, 1994)

This week’s Poetry Friday carnival is hosted by Tabatha Yeatts:  The Opposite of Indifference.  Check it out!

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Read Aloud Thursday–Valentine’s Day Edition, Take Two


You thought I forgot, didn’t you?  :-)  Actually, we have been reading Valentine’s Day books, but I just plain old ran out of time to get a post up last week.  I almost turned all our books back in, but I had a change of heart at the circulation desk and brought them all back home again, in hopes that I’d be able to write them up for Read Aloud Thursday this week.  This week it seems like I’ve met myself coming and going, I have been so busy with work, homeschooling, and church activities.  Nevertheless, here they are!  You still have a few days to enjoy some holiday picks, so let’s get started, shall we?

Saint Valentine by Robert Sabuda (yes, the Robert Sabuda whose books I’ve raved about here , here, and here!) is actually a book that I purchased at a homeschool conference last year.  I paid very little for it because it was marked as a damaged book due to some water stained pages.  I forgot that we even had it in our collection until I read Alice’s review for last week’s Read Aloud Thursday.  I dug it and read it first to myself to discern whether or not it would be appropriate for my young girls, and then we gave it a go the next day.  Since our religious heritage (evangelical Christian, and about as “low church” as you can get) doesn’t include saints in the sense of the Catholic church (or its variants), reading about saints is always as educational for me as it is for my girls.  This is a very gentle story of the man who became Saint Valentine and how he acquired this title.  I’ve learned that there are several stories associated with Saint Valentine; the one recounted in this picture book is the one in which the little girl of the jailer has her vision restored when she receives a note from “her Valentine.”  As is true of every Sabuda picture book we’ve read, the illustrations are the star attraction.  While this one isn’t a pop-up book, the illustrations are unique in that they are all mosaics.  I really like that.  This book is a great addition to a holiday booklist. 

I probably wouldn’t have picked up The Story of Valentine’s Day were it not written by Clyde Robert Bulla.  Since we read (and the girls enjoyed–me, not so much) his Squanto:  Friend of the Pilgrims, I was curious to read an informational title by him.  Honestly, I was a little turned off by the illustrations to begin with–I would be much more likely to simply pass over this book because the illustrations look a little blah to me.  It turns out that the text of the book is copyrighted 1965 and these particular illustrations (by Susan Estelle Kwas) are copyrighted 1999.  I have not searched out an older copy of the book to see if the original illlustrations are any more noteworthy.  In terms of the text, this book is a nice overview of the holiday.  It includes both the roots of Valentine’s Day from the Roman holiday Lupercalia and the Christian basis from Saint Valentine’s exploits.  What I like most about this book is that it highlights Valentine’s Day celebrations down through time and in different countries. 

Honestly, when it comes to Valentine’s Day, I’m much more interested in a fun take than a romantic one, and that is most definitely true when it comes to kids’ books.  The Best Valentine in the World by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat is a book that my girls have asked for over and over again, and it is quite funny.  It is the story of Ferdinand Fox, who begins work on his valentine for Florette Fox on November 5.  When Valentine’s Day rolls around, he is quite miffed that Florette (apparently) has a lackadaisacal attitude toward the holiday and has (apparently) forgotten all about it.  Hmmph!  Of course, this isn’t true at all, but how the little communication melt-down is resolved is giggle-inducing.  I particularly like the illustrations in this story–Lilian Obligado chose to use non-traditional colors throughout in her purple and lime green color scheme.  If my girls’ reactions are any indication, this one would be a hit among the young elementary contingent, so it gets a Highly Recommended from me.

I almost didn’t include The Valentine Partywritten and illustrated by Pamela Bianco, but I like it a lot and so did the girls.  It’s a vintage find, copyright 1954.  It’s one of those books that’s perfect for children who have no trouble sitting for a long picture book but aren’t quite ready for a chapter book; it is twenty-five or so pages, and those pages have about five color illustrations scattered throughout.  The story is one that would appeal to most small children, girls in particular.  It’s the story of a little girl named Cathy who feels left out because everyone is going to a Valentine’s party except her.  Cathy decides to take matters into her own hands and crash the party she thinks everyone else is invited to, with some unexpected results.  I like that this story contains gentle suspense and ends in delight for everyone.  The only thing I don’t like about the story are the illustrations–they are a little weird, but this might just be a case of my twenty-first century tastes finding the older artwork extremely dated.  I don’t know how many of these little books are still lurking on library shelves, but if you see this one in a used bookstore, I think it would be worth a few bucks.  (However, I don’t recommend paying $65 for it.)

I’ve saved the best for last, at least as far as my opinion is concerned.   This may be one of those kids’ books that appeals mainly to adults, but so what?  It can’t be all about them.  ;-)  Love Is. . . by Wendy Anderson Halperin is simply an adaptation of a portion of 1 Corinthian 13, accompanied by detailed illustrations.  The illustrations are in frames, and there are many to a page.  Each frame has a corresponding frame on the facing page, and the left-hand frame will show the “not love” way and the right-hand frame will show the way of love.  For example, one frame shows an adult, with arm tautly outstretched and finger pointing, ordering a gaggle of small children to go somewhere.  The corresponding frame shows the same woman happily working with the same children in the kitchen.  (Ask me why I picked this example. Could it be because I relate?)  This book offers plenty of material for dicussion and study.  I’d like to have this one, if for no other reason than my own edification.  :-)  Highly Recommended.  (I’ve written about some of Wendy Anderson Halperin’s books before–here and here.)

These aren’t all the Valentine’s books we’ve enjoyed, of course.  The girls have been toting around The Ballad of Valentine (which I reviewed here) and singing it (to the tune of “Clementine”), and Lulu has even volunteered to read it to Louise a number of times.  Here are some other books I’ve reviewed at Hope Is the Word that are appropriate for Valentine’s Day:

Read Aloud Thursday–Valentine’s Day Edition, Take One

Ruby Valentine Saves the Day

The Heart Is Like a Zoo

Other Related Links:

Sherry’s big Valentine’s Day post at Semicolon

Wendy Anderson Halperin’s website

Clyde Robert Bulla obituary

Does your family have a favorite Valentine’s Day read-aloud?  I’m all ears!  Share your recommendations, as well as any Read Aloud Thursday links,  in the comments.  Don’t forget to come back tomorrow for a Read Aloud Thursday link roundup! 

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The First Thanksgiving by Lena Barksdale

I just finished reading this little gem of a chapter book to my girls, and I wanted to hurry and get down a few thoughts about it before the busy-ness of the holiday descends upon us.  Also, maybe some of you are still looking for good Thanksgiving stories to share in your family, and even though I’ve already shared a bunch, I just can’t not mention this one.  It’s really good.

THE FIRST THANKSGIVING by Lena Barksdale is the story of a nine-year-old girl named Hannah who goes, for the first time, to visit her grandparents just before Thanksgiving.  Traveling to visit her maternal relatives in Massachusetts from her home on the frontier of Maine takes some doing, but her mother is determined that she should hear her grandparents’ Thanksgiving story from their own lips.  Hannah travels by boat and by wagon (even in the absence of real roads) until she reaches Gloucester, where she is greeted by her two girl cousins, Mercy and Content.  The next day is Thanksgiving, and Hannah and her relatives set off by horseback for the grandparents’ homeplace.  Hannah is surprised to see that not only are all her relations there, but also in attendance are many, many Indians (er, Native Americans).  You see, Grandma and Grandpa were among the first settlers at Plymouth, and so their Thanksgiving story is a recounting of what really happened.  Since that time, they have determined to invite the Natives to their celebration, just as they came to those first harvest feasts they shared together. 

I’m never quite sure what to say about Thanksgiving since it is so shrouded in political-correctness, but this story seems as close to what happened (or what I’ve read that happened, since obviously I can’t know) as anything I’ve read.  This is a charming little story, and of course, it doesn’t hurt at all that Lois Lenski illustrated it.  I purchased a used copy of this book via Amazon, but I imagine it might still lurk in the hidden corners of some library shelves.  It’s definitely worth a hunt if you’re looking for a short chapter book (only four chapters long!) that’s full of warmth and loveliness. 

From Grandma’s lips:

“So it was that by the time our first harvest was ripe and gathered into the storing sheds that we had provided, we knew beyond any doubt that we had found a good comfortable land where we were free and could live our lives without anyone meddling.  That’s the great thing, children, and don’t any of you forget it.  God has given us freedom here to think and to worship as seems right to us.  Remember to be upright in all your dealings with one another and with the Indians.  Be true to God and honest and kind to your neighbor.  That is what being free means, and if you forget it we shall suffer, and rightly so.  Your grandpa’s been true and fine all his long life, and so must you children be.”  (47)

That was good advice in 1942, when the book was written, and it’s still good advice today.

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