The One Hundredth Thing About Caroline

OneHundredthThingCarolineThe One Hundredth Thing About Caroline by Lois Lowry, 1983.

Eleven-year-old Caroline Tate knows that she wants to be a paleontologist when she grows up, but she is also fascinated with her friend Stacy’s dream of becoming a great investigative reporter. For fun, the two girls begin investigating the people who live in their respective apartment buildings.

Caroline’s investigation focuses on the mysterious Frederick Fiske, who lives on the fifth floor of her building. In a wastebasket, she finds a letter written to him by a man she’s never heard of telling him to “eliminate the kids.” Also in the wastebasket, there is an overdue notice for Fiske from the library, and the book is about poisons. From this evidence, Caroline comes to believe that the strange Mr. Fiske is planning to murder some children.

The situation becomes worse when Mr. Fiske begins dating her divorced mother, and Caroline fears that the children Mr. Fiske is planning to murder are her and her brother, J.P.. Can Caroline, J.P., and Stacy prove that Mr. Fiske is a cold-blooded murderer before his relationship with the Caroline’s mother can go any further and before he succeeds in poisoning them?

It’s a bit of a spoiler, but this is one of those stories where the mystery is largely based on a series of misunderstandings.  Mr. Fiske isn’t really a murderer, although he has done some things which make the children suspicious.  It’s a humorous story, and the kids’ antics as they try to further their investigation and collect “evidence” against Mr. Fiske are hilarious.  Along the way, the kids end up helping Mr. Fiske with a problem he’s been having, and the kids realize that they’ve made a mistake about him and his intentions.  Whether Mr. Fiske learns of their suspicions about him or not is left to the imagination, although something at the very end of the story may bring everything out into the open.

The title of the book comes from a joke between Caroline and her mother.  Caroline’s mother is always talking about the things she loves about Caroline, giving them different numbers.

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Mystery of the Silent Friends

SilentFriendsMystery of the Silent Friends by Robin Gottlieb, 1964.

Nina Martin loves her father’s antique store. Although selling antiques is how her family makes their living, there are some that Nina finds it difficult to let go of when someone wants to buy them. Nina especially doesn’t want her father to sell the two automatons that she calls Henri and Henriette. The automatons are beautiful mechanical dolls that each do something special. Nina calls the boy doll “Henri” because he writes the name “Henri Bourdon” on a piece of paper. (Her father points out that it might be the name of the maker, not the doll itself.) The girl doll, Henriette, is a little more complicated and draws a series of different pictures. Most of the pictures seem to be of a little Swiss village, although one of them is oddly of a monkey that looks like the “speak no evil” monkey in the saying “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.”

SilentFriendsAutomatonsFor a time, it seems like there’s no risk of the automatons being sold because no one seems particularly interested in buying them. Then, suddenly, two different men come to the shop and ask to buy the dolls. Weirdly, each of them tells the same story to Nina’s father: that their name is George Ballantine the Third, that their family once owned the automatons, that the dolls are actually part of a set of three, that they own the third doll (a girl doll that plays the spinet), and that they want to purchase the other two in order to reunite the set. Nina’s father is bewildered by these two men with identical stories and identical names and refuses to sell the automatons because of his daughter’s attachment to them and because he doesn’t know which of the two men to believe and doesn’t trust either of them.

Nina comes to think of the two men as “Red Ballantine” and “Brown Ballantine” because of their different hair colors. Brown Ballantine seems to be the more credible of the two. He invites Mr. Martin and Nina to his home in order to show them the third automaton and, hopefully, persuade Mr. Martin to sell him the other two. They visit Brown Ballantine’s apartment in an old brownstone, and he shows them the beautiful, spinet-playing doll as well as the rest of his collection of mechanical toys. However, Mr. Martin still refuses to make the sale.

SilentFriendsMechanicalToys

Nina tells her friend, Muffin, about the two mysterious Ballantines. The two girls are curious about which of the men is the genuine George Ballantine the Third and decide to investigate. When “Red Ballantine” comes to the shop again, trying to persuade Mr. Martin to sell the automatons, the girls ask if he would consider showing them the automaton he owns as a test. At first, the red-haired man is hesitant, but then he agrees that they can come and see his doll. Mr. Martin is embarrassed at the girls’ forwardness in asking, but he admits that he is also curious about the two Ballantines.

SilentFriendsSpyingAt first, they all expect that Red Ballantine won’t be able to show them the third doll and will give up trying to buy the other two, but to their astonishment, he takes them to the same apartment where Brown Ballantine said that he lived and shows them the exact same doll they saw before. Instead of clearing things up, the identities of the two men seem to get all the more confusing. However, Muffin notices something strange about the tune that the doll plays on the spinet that gives them a clue as to why the three dolls are so important.  Later, someone breaks into the antique store and uncovers a hidden secret about Henri as well.

Together, the three automatons are hiding a secret, and only by considering the message that each of them offers can the girls discover what it is.

Although I was pretty sure which of the two Ballantines was the genuine one, I was never completely sure until almost the end.  In a way, I was a little disappointed by the dolls’ final secret because I though it was something that was especially old, from when the dolls were first created, but the secret messages were actually a more recent addition to the dolls’ repertoire by an eccentric man with a treasure to hide and a taste for practical jokes and riddles.  Muffin is a habitual practical joker, and that partly figures into the solution of the mystery.

I thought it was kind of interesting, too, that Mr. Martin has the habit of walking around with a cigarette in his mouth that he never lights, like Inspector Kramer in the Nero Wolfe mysteries.

Who Stole Kathy Young?

KathyYoungWho Stole Kathy Young? by Margaret Goff Clark, 1980.

Kathy Young has had her share of problems.  Her mother died a year and a half ago, and now, her father has a housekeeper with a sour personality.  A couple of months after her mother’s death, Kathy was seriously ill, and her illness caused her to lose most of her hearing.  She now depends on a hearing aid and her improving lip-reading and sign language abilities.

This summer, Kathy’s best friend, Meg, is staying with her while her parents are on a trip to Switzerland.  Meg was of great help to Kathy when she was trying to adjust to her hearing loss, practicing sign language with her during her special lessons.  Kathy’s dream is to become an artist, but Meg now wants to be a teacher for the deaf, like the teacher who taught Kathy.  Kathy is still very unsure of her abilities to cope with her deafness.  She had the opportunity to attend a special art workshop over the summer but passed it up because she was worried about whether she would be able to communicate with and understand her teacher and the other students, and she knew Meg couldn’t attend to help her.

Kathy has been enjoying Meg’s summer visit, but the girls have noticed something odd.  It seems like a couple of strangers, a man and a woman, have been hanging around everywhere they go.  Meg is worried about it, but Kathy doesn’t want to worry her father.  She thinks that they’re probably tourists, like the housekeeper said.  They nickname the strangers Heron and Toad because of their appearances.

One day, Kathy is kidnapped!  Some men in a van stop to ask her directions and when she tries to explain where they have to go, they pull her inside and drug her!  Meg witnesses the kidnapping, but is standing too far away to help Kathy.

When Kathy wakes up from being drugged, she finds herself on a boat.  Her abductors have cut her hair and changed her shirt to disguise her from anyone who might spot her, and they’ve also taken her hearing aid, hoping to render her helpless and keep her from finding out their plans because she can’t hear them.  However, Kathy isn’t as helpless as they think.  She can still read lips, and she can still think.

Kathy learns to rely on herself and her own wits as she tries to gather as much information as she can about her kidnappers and to figure out how she can save herself.  Through this experience, she develops more self-confidence, realizing that she can do more and handle more than she had thought was possible.

While Kathy is struggling in captivity and her father is dealing with the police and the ransom demand, her friend Meg is trying desperately to find her.  The story alternates viewpoints between the two girls as Meg aids the investigation into Kathy’s disappearance and puts together clues that Kathy leaves for her as her abductors move her from place to place.  The mastermind behind the kidnapping plot is closer to home than they think.

The Bassumtyte Treasure

BassumtyteTreasureThe Bassumtyte Treasure by Jane Louise Curry, 1978.

When young Tommy Bassumtyte’s parents died, he went to live with his grandfather. However, his grandfather is now dead, and he is living with his 92-year-old great-aunt, who is in a wheelchair, and her 72-year-old daughter, who has recently had her driver’s license revoked due to her poor eyesight. Although the pair of them have taken good care of Tommy, neighbors have become concerned that they will not be able to do so for much longer because of their age and failing health. Rather than see Tommy sent to a foster home, they decide that he must go to the man who Tommy learns should really be his legal guardian, a distant cousin also named Thomas who lives in the family’s ancestral home, Boxleton House, in England.

The elder Thomas Bassumtyte, who should have taken Tommy when his grandfather passed away, has also since died, but his son, also named Thomas, agrees to take him. Tommy is quickly shipped off to England before there can be a custody hearing in the United States about him because the relatives fear that some official might try to prevent Tommy from being sent out of the country. Tommy is eager to go because he remembers fantastic stories that his grandfather told him about Boxleton House. The current Thomas Bassumtyte also lives there, although the place has become rather run-down, and he fears that he will not be able to keep the place much longer. Thomas was a mountain climber, but he was injured in a fall and hasn’t been able to work much since. He tells Tommy that the two of them might have to move when he is fully recovered and can do more work for the Foreign Office, but Tommy loves Boxleton House from the first moment he sees it and wants to stay.

According to the lore of Boxleton House, a distant ancestor of theirs hid a treasure there, but no one has been able to find it. If young Tommy and Thomas can find it, it would solve many of their problems, and they would be able to keep the house and restore it. All young Tommy has is the mysterious rhyme that his grandfather told him and the strange medallion that his great-grandfather brought with him when he went to the United States in the late 1800s. Thomas tells him that the treasure was supposedly hidden by a distant ancestor of theirs who was fond of riddles, called Old Thomas.

The Bassumtytes were secretly Catholic during the reign of Elizabeth I. Old Thomas was alive then and had a son called Tall Thomas. Tall Thomas traveled frequently and was mysterious about the places he went. One night, he returned to Boxleton House with a young baby, who he said was his son. He had married in secret, and his young wife had died shortly after giving birth. Tall Thomas also brought her body back to Boxleton for burial. However, that wasn’t Tall Thomas’s only secret. Although he remarried, giving his son a stepmother, and lived on for a number of years, he was eventually executed for smuggling messages for the captive Catholic queen, Mary, Queen of Scots. The family was striped of its noble title and only barely managed to hang onto their house and land. If there was a treasure hidden during this time, it was probably something that the Bassumtytes were afraid would be confiscated by the queen’s soldiers as punishment for the family’s disloyalty or something that Mary had given to Tall Thomas to hide for her.

As Thomas tells Tommy more about the house and the family’s history, he points out Tommy’s uncanny resemblance to Small Thomas, Tall Thomas’s son, as shown in an old painting. Tommy feels a strange connection to Small Thomas, and begins seeing and hearing strange things. An older woman comforts him in the middle of the night, having him recite the same rhyme that his grandfather taught him. A small painting later reveals that this woman was Small Thomas’s grandmother. She appears to Tommy other times, giving him a glimpse back in time and clues to solve the puzzles of Boxleton House.

It is only when Thomas accepts the advice of a family friend who works for a museum that they come to understand the full significance of their family’s heirlooms and the hidden treasure. The treasure may not be quite what the Bassumtytes have always believed it was, but then, the Bassumtytes themselves aren’t quite who they always thought they were, either.

The Haunting at Cliff House

HauntingCliffHouseThe Haunting at Cliff House by Karleen Bradford, 1985.

This is a relatively short chapter book, but suspenseful, thoughtful, and well-written.

When her father inherits an old house in Wales from a distant relative, Alison, a young teenager, finds out that he plans for the two of them to spend the summer there.  Alison’s father is a university professor and is writing a book, and he thinks that the house in Wales sounds like a great place for him to get some writing done while he and Alison have a look at his new inheritance.  Alison isn’t enthusiastic about the trip, but she and her father are very close, especially because she lost her mother at a very young age.  Besides, the only place she could stay in Canada would be with her grandmother, and her grandmother didn’t seem enthusiastic about having her.

From the moment they arrive at the old house, called Pen-y-Craig or Cliff House by the locals, Alison has a bad feeling about it.  It stands on a lonely cliff by a small town.  The carved dragon over the door gives her the creeps, and there is something disturbing about a particular room in the house.  Sometimes, she can almost hear a voice calling out to her, and she has visions of another girl, about her age.  At first, she tries to tell herself that it’s all her imagination, but it soon becomes obvious that it’s not.

Some of the local people know that the house has an unhappy history, and Alison eventually learns that the great-aunt that her father inherited it from even refused to live there during her last years because it disturbed her too much.  A little more examination of the room that had disturbed her helps Alison discover the reason why.  After having a vision of a young girl hiding something behind a brick in the fireplace of one of the bedrooms, Alison searches the spot and finds a diary dating from 1810, written by a girl named Bronwen, who was the same age as Alison.  Like Alison, Bronwen was brought to the house by her widowed father and was unhappy about it, but those aren’t the only parallels between Bronwen’s life and Alison’s.

Alison becomes uncomfortable with her father’s new friendship with a Welsh neighbor, Meiriona.  Alison likes Meiriona’s younger brother, Gareth, but when it looks like her father’s friendship with Meiriona is turning into romance, Alison becomes jealous and fears changes in her close relationship with her father, a situation that mirrors Bronwen’s life when her father falls in love with her governess, Catrin.  Although Meiriona tries to be nice to Alison, Alison can’t bring herself to like her, and she argues with her father about it.

The only person who seems to understand her feelings at all is Gareth, and Alison confides her worries in him, both about Meiriona and about Bronwen, whose spirit keeps calling out to Alison to help her, although Alison doesn’t know how.  She struggles to read through the diary, whose pages are not all legible anymore because they’re damaged with age, to learn what happened to Bronwen and what Bronwen wants her to do now.  Gareth tries to reassure Alison that her father’s relationship with Meiriona will not be as bad as Alison thinks.  He thinks that the relationship would be good for both Alison’s father and Meiriona because they are both lonely, and he doesn’t think that Alison should worry about losing her father because he’s not worried about losing his sister, even if she goes to Canada to study and spend more time with Alison’s father.  At first, Alison isn’t comforted by these reassurances.  However, Gareth agrees that the matter of the ghost is serious, and he can feel her presence as well. Gareth warns Alison to be cautious about the ghost but to try to help if she can and to call out to him if she’s ever in danger.  Alison would really rather just go home to Canada, run away from her father and Meiriona, and forget the whole thing about Bronwen, but history seems to be repeating itself, and Bronwen’s voice calls out to her insistently for help that only Alison can give.

It’s a bit of a spoiler, telling you this, but although Alison at first thinks that the diary ends with Bronwen killing herself in despair, thinking that her father only loved Catrin and not her and that there was nothing left for her to live for, the truth is that Bronwen’s suicide attempt didn’t succeed and that she made another mistake that she wants Alison to help her to change.  Bronwen attempted to kill herself by going to a cave by the sea during a terrible storm, planning to allow herself to drown, but when the water started rising, she became too frightened and decided to leave by a secret entrance to the cave.  Not knowing that Bronwen was safe, Catrin attempted to save her and drowned in the cave herself.  As Bronwen was climbing to safety, she heard Catrin calling for her but was too frightened of the storm and angry at Catrin to go back for her.  Although Bronwen lived on after the incident, she could never get rid of her guilt at Catrin’s death, realizing that, even in the middle of her resentment toward Catrin, Catrin loved her more than she knew, even to the point of giving up her own life while attempting to save hers.

Now, the anniversary of Catrin’s death is approaching, and so is a storm very much like the one that killed her.  At the top of the cliff by the cave, Alison finds her time merging with Bronwen’s, and she will only have one chance to help Bronwen make the right decision the second time around.  Helping Bronwen to prevent the worst mistake of her life and to make a better choice also helps Alison to reconsider her own choices and future.  Just as Bronwen misjudged Catrin, Alison may have also misjudged Meiriona. Instead of losing her father or being forced to accept a poor substitute for her mother, Alison may be gaining a kind of sister who will love her more than she realizes.

The Root Cellar

RootCellarThe Root Cellar by Janet Lunn, 1981.

Rose Larkin is an orphan, living with her grandmother, a stern businesswoman.  Her grandmother travels frequently on business, so from the time Rose came to her when she was three years old, she just took Rose with her wherever she traveled, tutoring her in school subjects in the evening after work.  Rose’s early life is largely one of travel to strange places and isolation.  When her grandmother is working, Rose is pretty much left to her own devices, often either reading alone in their hotel rooms or exploring strange cities by herself.  Not going to school, she has no friends her own age and doesn’t really know how to behave around other children or live as part of a normal family.

When her grandmother dies suddenly of a heart attack in Paris when Rose is twelve years old, her remaining relatives have to decide what to do with her.  She temporarily stays with aunts who are into fashion and high living before goes to live with another aunt and uncle and their boys on an old farm.  Aunt Nan (Rose’s father’s sister) and her husband are better suited to caring for Rose and can give her a more settled family life, but Rose’s other relatives don’t seem to think much of Aunt Nan, who is an author of children’s books.  Rose has heard that Aunt Nan has no sense and that the family has just moved to a shabby little farm house in Canada.  Rose is prepared not to be happy there, on a dumpy little farm, miles from anywhere, with a bunch of strange people.

Her new life gets off to a bad start when there is no one to meet her at the house when she arrives.  As she waits for her aunt and uncle to return, a strange old woman appears who seems to know her.  She calls herself Mrs. Morrisay and acts like she belongs to the house.  But, when Rose’s relatives arrive home, Mrs. Morrisay suddenly disappears, and none of them seem to know anything about her.  Later, Rose sees a girl making a bed upstairs, but her relatives just laugh when Rose asks them about the maid, which is who Rose thought the girl was.  There is no maid in this house, and Rose is the only girl.  To Rose’s annoyance, her relatives think she imagined the whole thing.

Actually, life in her aunt and uncle’s house in the country isn’t as bad as her other aunt has lead her to believe, but becoming part of their household isn’t easy because Rose is used to a very different kind of life.  The house is definitely old and in bad need of repair, and her relatives are noisy and disorganized, at least more so than Rose is accustomed to.  Rose isn’t used to the chaotic life of a family with a lot of children, and Aunt Nan has another on the way.  Also, tourists who are fans of Aunt Nan’s books sometimes stop by the house, and Rose doesn’t like dealing with their scrutiny and questions.  Sam, one of the older boys in the family, seems to resent Rose’s presence in the house, and Rose overhears him saying a lot of bad things about her to her aunt, calling her snobby and criticizing her appearance.  Rose takes his attitude as further evidence that she doesn’t really belong in their house and that she’ll never fit in.  If they think badly of her, why should she think any better of them?

Rose also becomes increasingly aware that there is something not quite normal about her relatives’ house, especially the old root cellar, and the people she saw on her first day in the house are part of it.  Sam thought that he might have seen a ghost in the house one day, an old woman, and Rose recognizes his description as that of the Mrs. Morrisay she saw on her first day there.  She sees Mrs. Morrisay in her bedroom later, suddenly walking through a wall.  Rose thinks Mrs. Morrisay is a ghost, but Mrs. Morrisay tells her that she’s not dead, just “shifting” through time and that she wants Rose to stay in the house and help restore it to its former glory.  Rose doesn’t know why or how she can possibly help Mrs. Morrisay.

Rose learns that her aunt’s house was once an old farm house that belonged to the Morrisay family, and there is still an old root cellar on the property, a relic from the time when people had to store certain kinds of food underground to keep them cool and prevent them from spoiling.  One day, Rose goes down into the root cellar and meets a mysterious girl dressed in old-fashioned clothes, the same girl she saw earlier, making beds.  Although Rose and the other girl don’t realize it immediately, Rose has gone back in time.  The girl was someone who lived on the farm in the past, during the 1800s.

Rose and the girl in the past, Susan Anderson, become friends, and Rose is grateful for another girl to talk to.  Susan is an orphan herself, living with the Morrisay family as a servant girl.  She and Will Morrisay, old Mrs. Morrisay’s son, are friends, and both of them are sympathetic to Rose when she tells them about her new life with her relatives and the problems she has. Rose finds herself wishing that she could stay in the past with them forever.  However, once they realize that Rose is traveling through time when she goes in the root cellar, they also discover that it isn’t reliable about exactly when Rose will reappear in the past.  Although at first there are only days between Rose’s visits from her perspective, months or years pass in her friends’ lives between her visits.  They eventually manage to solve this problem through a friendship pact where they exchange favorite objects.  It’s at a good time, too, because soon Rose’s friends need her help as much as Rose needs them.

After a terrible fight with her relatives in which her aunt slips and falls and Rose worries that her aunt and the baby might die, Rose runs away to the root cellar and goes to see her friends, discovering that in their time, Will has gone away to fight in the American Civil War alongside his favorite cousin and has not returned.  It’s been awhile since Susan has heard from him, and she fears the worst.  Rose suggests that they go to look for Will at his last known location, but it’s a difficult, perilous journey. At first, they’re not sure whether they’ll find Will alive or not.

When they finally find Will, he is a changed man from the war, and Rose and Susan have to help him to remember who he really is and where he really belongs.  In helping Will to remember where he comes from, his life before the war, and how much Susan needs him, Rose comes to realize some important things about herself and where she really belongs.

As difficult as the choice is, Rose realizes that she must return to her own time, face the consequences of her earlier actions, and do what she can to become a real member of her new family.  After she returns home and the root cellar is destroyed in a storm, it seems as though she might never see her friends from the past again, but friendship can transcend many boundaries, including time.

I didn’t realize this the first time I read the book, but it’s actually part of a loose trilogy.  I say loose because none of the main characters from each story appear in the others (except, perhaps, for one who is in both the second and third books), which also take place in different time periods.  What binds the stories together is the location where the stories take place and also some distant family relations, particularly focusing on the Anderson and Morrisay families.

It is something of a spoiler, but it seems that the time travel in this story may not be so much a matter of the house being special or magical, but because Susan is special.  It is revealed in one of the other books, Shadow in Hawthorn Bay, that her grandmother was psychic.  Will and Susan briefly refer to her grandmother and her stories about ghosts when talking to Rose.  Susan seems to have little control, especially later in life, over her ability to shift through time, but it may be her special attachment to the Morrisay house and her need for Rose’s friendship and help that makes Rose’s time travel possible.  It’s never explicitly stated that Susan inherited her abilities from her grandmother, but I think that it is implied during the course of the books.

Hester the Jester

HesterJester

Hester the Jester by Ben Shecter, 1977.

This cute picture book takes place in a Medieval kingdom.  Little Hester’s father is the court jester.  Then, Hester decides that she wants to be a jester, too.  At first, Hester’s parents tell her that she can’t because she’s a girl.  (If you’re thinking that you know where this story is headed, wait.)

One day, the king is so sad that Hester’s father can’t cheer him up, no matter what he does.  When Hester starts putting on her jester act for her father and makes him happy, he decides to go ahead and have her perform for the king.  Hester does cheer the king up, but that isn’t the end of the story.

Hester tells the king that she has discovered that she doesn’t like being a jester after all because it makes her feel too silly.  So, the king, now in a much better mood, asks her what she would like to do instead.

This starts a sequence where the king allows Hester to try out various roles and see if she likes them.  She tells him that she wants to be a knight because knights are important, but she ends up not liking that when she learns that knights have to go into battle.  Then, Hester decides that being a king is even more important, so the king decides to let her try it.  But, Hester isn’t good at giving other people wise advice, as the king does.

HesterJesterKnight

In the end, when Hester’s mother is sad and doesn’t know what to do now that her daughter has become a king, Hester decides that what she most wants to do is to go home and be her little girl again.

In a way, this book seems like two little stories in one.  First, there’s Hester proving that she can be a jester even though she’s a girl, and then, there’s Hester trying to decide what she really wants to be the most, now that the king is letting her try anything she wants.  What she decides that she wants most is to be herself and go home.

So, is this little book anti-feminist, saying that girls are better off just forgetting about the other stuff they might want and staying girls?  I don’t think so.  Basically, this is just a silly little story about a little girl, one too young to have a profession of any kind, who is allowed to see the realities behind some of the things she’s been wanting to try.  Some parts, she likes, and some she doesn’t.  But, she’s too young and inexperienced for all of them (and some, she will never want to try again because she’s learned that they’re not what she really wants after all), so she’s just going to be what she is: a little girl with plenty of time to grow up, who needs her mother and whose mother needs her.  All throughout the book, Hester speaks her mind about what she wants and is honest about the things she doesn’t like, admitting when she changes her mind.  As for what might happen when Hester grows up and finds something else she might want to do . . . who knows?  By then, she may be willing to try new things again.  But, she knows what she wants for now and has a little better idea of some things that she won’t want in the future.

Medieval Holidays and Festivals

MedievalHolidays

Medieval Holidays and Festivals: A Calendar of Celebrations by Madeleine Pelner Cosman, 1981.

This book explains the holidays that people celebrated in Medieval times and how these holidays would have been celebrated, along with some special information about Medieval feasts.  The author also explains a little about how historians uncover and interpret information about people’s lives in the past.

MedievalHolidayProcession

Many of the holidays celebrated in Medieval times tended to be either religious in nature or having to do with the changing of seasons.

The holidays included in this book are listed by month:

MedievalHolidaysHorsesJanuary — Twelfth Night — An extension of Christmas (remember the Twelve Days of Christmas song?), Twelfth Night is also known as Epiphany — the night that the Three Wise Men supposedly visited baby Jesus after his birth.

February — St. Valentine’s Day

March — Easter

April — All Fool’s Day — Not just a day for pranks, but when everything is turned upside down and backwards, and people intentionally did the opposite of whatever they usually did in many ways.  Basically, a celebration of everything silly and ridiculous.

May — Mayday — A celebration of spring.

June — Midsummer Eve — A celebration of summer.

MedievalHolidayBishopJuly — St. Swithin’s Day — St. Swithin was a bishop of Winchester who had asked to be buried without great ceremony upon his death.  However, people later decided to give him a grand tomb.  When they tried to place his body in the tomb, it started raining heavily and didn’t stop until they moved the body to a new location.  They took the rain to be an expression of St. Swithin’s displeasure at the unwanted tomb.  From then on, this time of year was used to predict rainfall for the rest of summer.

August — Lammas Day — The word Lammas meant “Loaf Mass,” which was when there would be special blessings for bread and grain and thanks given for bountiful harvests.  The holiday was marked by the baking of a variety of special breads, including those in usual shapes, flavors, and colors.  Some of them could be very elaborate.

September — Michaelmas — The holiday celebrating St. Michael is oddly associated with three things that few people would associate with each other: gloves, geese, and ginger.  The glove was the symbol of the market of craftsmen held on Michaelmas.  Geese and foods flavored with ginger were popular dishes served at Michaelmas.

October — Halloween

November — Catherning, or St. Catherine’s Day — St. Catherine of Alexandria was learned noblewoman who was killed on a wheel (it was a bizarre and disgusting form of execution).  The holiday honoring her was associated with wheels, women (especially unmarried women and women students), and the professions which were associated with her such as lawyers, carpenters, spinners, lace makers.

December — Christmas

Each section in the book describes special traditions associated with each holiday, including games that would have been played and food that would have been eaten at that time.

In the back of the book, there is a section that explain decorations used for Medieval feasts, how to hold a Medieval-themed feast in modern times, and Medieval costumes. There is also a section of Medieval recipes.

MedievalHolidaysDestinyCakes

Happy Holidays

HappyHolidays

Happy Holidays and Other Fun Days Around the Year by E. C. Reichert, illustrated by Suzanne Bruce, 1953.

This book explains a little about the origins of various holidays and how they are commonly celebrated.  It was written during the 1950s, and the illustrations clearly show it in the style of the people’s clothes.  The style of one of the illustrations is one of the charming aspects of the books.

For each holiday in the book, different children talk to their parents or friends about what different holidays mean and how they are planning to celebrate.  Many of the explanations are rather simplistic, and I’ve seen books that explain the history of holidays better, but I have some nostalgia for this book because I read it and liked it when I was a young child.

The Holidays:

New Year’s Day — January 1

Sandra talks to her parents about what they’re going to do on New Year’s Day, and her mother explains the purpose of New Year’s resolutions.

HappyHolidaysNewYear

Valentine’s Day — February 14

Sally and Billy open valentines they’ve received and talk about Saint Valentine and other Valentine’s traditions.

Washington’s Birthday — February 22

Stevie’s father tells him about George Washington and the famous cherry tree story.

St. Patrick’s Day — March 17

Rickey’s friends explain to him why they’re wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day and his mother tells him a little more about the holiday and what shamrocks are.

Easter — The first Sunday after the first full moon after March 21

Dick and Jane (not that Dick and Jane, but yes, those names) hunt for eggs on Easter.  They don’t explain the religious reasons behind the holiday, but they talk about popular Easter traditions, like colored eggs and the Easter Egg Rolling at the White House.  Congratulations to the book for explaining how to calculate the date of Easter!

HappyHolidaysEaster

April Fool’s Day — April 1

When Artie plays a practical joke on Kathy, their father explains the tradition of April Fool’s Day.  (My parents wouldn’t have let my brother give me fake candy because of the choking risk.  Just saying.)

Independence Day — July 4

Susie and Johnny go to a parade, have a picnic, and watch fireworks on the Fourth of July.  Their father explains the significance of the holiday.

HappyHolidaysIndependenceDay

Columbus Day — October 12

Miss Nelson’s class learns about Christopher Columbus.  (This holiday isn’t celebrated as much today as it was when this book was written. I have to admit, I wasn’t that enthusiastic about it as a kid, either.)

Halloween — October 31

Robin and Judy come back from trick-or-treating, and their mother explains a little about the origins of the holiday.

HappyHolidaysHalloween

Armistice Day — November 11

Terry and Jimmy watch a parade, and their father explains that November 11 was the day that World War I officially ended in 1918.

Thanksgiving Day — The fourth Thursday in November

Ann and Johnny (a different Johnny from the earlier one) have dinner with their family at their grandmother’s house.  Johnny talks a little about what he learned in school about the pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving.

Christmas — December 25

Tim and Debbie hang up their stockings, and their mother tells them that it’s Jesus’s birthday and explains the origins of some Christmas traditions.

HappyHolidaysChristmas

Josephine’s Toy Shop

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Josephine’s Toy Shop illustrated by Roger Nannini, 1991.

Josephine the Cat lives in a toy shop that bears her name.  The toy shop is full of all kinds of wonderful toys, but Josephine’s favorite toy is Toy Mouse.  There is also a real mouse in the shop, and Josephine is looking for it.

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Readers follow Josephine and Toy Mouse through the shop, spotting them and the real mouse, hiding in the busy, colorful pictures.  This is also a lift-the-flap book so kids can look behind doors and pull tabs to move objects.

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In the back of the book, there is a fold-out model of the toy shop that readers can put together with the front of the book forming the front of the shop.

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