On My Bookshelf: Rooftoppers

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This is the view from my roof. Inspired by a recent read, I pulled out the ladder and propped open the hatch. From here I can see the entire neighborhood, and if you stand in the right place, the city skyline appears like a toy model through a dip in the trees.

Rooftoppers coverI thought this might be a good place to write about Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. I was charmed by this magical middle-grade novel set primarily on the rooftops of Paris.

Sophie was found floating in a cello case on her first birthday by Charles, a rather singular and gentle academic. Twelve years later, the very Victorian Child Services decides that Charles is an unsuitable guardian for Sophie and the two take the opportunity to flee to Paris to find Sophie’s mother. Despite the fact that no female survivors were found in the shipwreck that cast Sophie into the English Channel, Sophie knows in her heart that her mother is still alive.

Using the shop label in the cello case as their first clue, Sophie and Charles search Paris, Charles on the ground and Sophie, unexpectedly, on the rooftops. With the help of Matteo, a orphan boy who lives high above street level, and his sky-dwelling friends, Sophie chases cello music across the city in search of her mother.

Rundell’s language is evocative, funny, and slightly dreamy. While she doesn’t avoid the grime of the roofs, the dangers the Rooftoppers face, or disarray of Sophie’s home, they are part and parcel of the magic of Sophie’s world. She just sees things a little differently. Dirt isn’t important; self-respect is. Housekeeping comes second to beautifully bound books. Combs are optional; tea and cookies are not. And you never ignore a possibility.

Sophie is sweet and curious and persistent. She loves trousers and playing the cello. Her hair is the “color of lightning”  and tends to go into knots, and she has no idea why anyone would care what she wears. When evaluating the color of the lining of the cello case, she decides that the color is a good omen because “It was the green that emeralds and dragons usually come in….”

Her guardian, Charles, is quietly thoughtful and thoroughly disinterested in convention for convention’s sake. He is devoted to Sophie, to the point that he sews trousers for her himself when he is unable to find them in stores. He teaches Sophie with Shakespeare, speaks French to cats, and uses toast as a bookmark. Rundell describes him, as he finds the floating baby Sophie, this way: “Think of night-time with a speaking voice. Or think how moonlight might talk, or think of ink, if ink had vocal chords.”

The ending comes suddenly but seems right for this musical book, a swelling crescendo that drops to a soft, twinkling Fine.

 

 

 

Ray of Sunshine Quilt

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Ray of Sunshinehand quilting detail 2

This quilt was a while in the making. The right yellow had to be found, and then the right pattern had to be drafted. Once pieced, it sat for several weeks while I hemmed and hawed about how to quilt it. It’s the first quilt I’ve made just for me and I’m glad I took my time with it.

 Blowing quiltsunshine quilt back

The top and back are entirely made up of linen/cotton blends: The prints are from the Sunshine Cotton Linen line by Dena Fishbein and the white is Robert Kaufman Essex Linen. I used Aurifil 50 weight to do the piecing (my first Aurifil project!) and was happy with how smoothly the piecing went.

I hand quilted this project using a double petal-shaped design of my own musing. Jan at Heath Hen provided much needed encouragement and steered me towards some excellent hand quilting needles by Roxanne. (Thanks, Jan!) I made a few discoveries along the way, too: 1) Thimbles and I don’t like each other, despite the fact that I find them so appealing to look at. I had some luck with sticky dot leather pads but ultimately the best thing for me was to just develop a callous on my finger tip. 2) Hoops are useful. I tried working with and without a hoop; I prefer the hoop. 3) Hand quilting thread pulls nicely through quilt layers but comes in a limited range of colors. The perfect pale yellow only came in embroidery thread, so that’s what I used. It still came out just fine.

hand quilting detail

The binding took exactly one episode of Endeavour to finish. I love doing bindings. It’s the home stretch, and there’s something peaceful about hand-finishing the back.

So there it is, my Ray of Sunshine quilt. It makes me smile every time I look at it.

On My Bookshelf: Modern Fairy Tales, Part 3

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And I think it possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For, in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones; and the terrible figures are not merely terrible, but sublime.

-CS Lewis

 

Back to the realm of fairy tales….I enjoyed these retellings for their clever twists on classic plots and characters.

castlethornsThe Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell

In this variation on Sleeping Beauty the princess is a corpse and the prince is a 13-year-old peasant who is unwittingly transported to ruined castle by magic. Sand does not know how or why he is there, but as he realizes that he is trapped by the vicious thorn hedge outside he begins repairing things he needs for survival. His repairs and kindness work their own magic, reviving the tween princess and answering a decades-old question: What happened to the castle?

breadcrumbsBreadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Hazel and Jack. Jack and Hazel. Best friends since age 6, it takes the magical equivalent of a poison dart to separate the two. When Jack grows distant and then disappears into the woods with a mysterious snow queen, Hazel takes it upon herself to save him, despite warnings that he might not wish to come home. Using the powerful imagination that is the bane of her fifth-grade teachers, Hazel confronts warped bits and pieces of fairy tales and children’s stories as she makes her way to her best friend. In the end, it’s Hazel’s new-found willingness to confront reality for Jack’s sake that saves them both. A haunting and at times cruelly beautiful book about growing up, loss, friendship, and change.

Porch Coffee

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A vacation snippet:

9 a.m. Porch coffee. Morning sunshine. Boats on the lagoon. Sit quietly, and the animals come visit. A small soot-gray bird with bright black eyes perches on the railing inches away, cocks its head hello. A small brown bunny at the foot of the stairs, there and gone, there and gone. A bumblebee, big as my thumb, loud as a biplane, in no hurry. The swan family, Mom, Dad, and four fuzzy cignets, waddling by on their way to breakfast with the Corn Lady up the hill. And my own small animals, in pajama bottoms and bare feet, bowls in their hands, looking for second breakfast. Sun-bleached hair, pink cheeks, eager eyes.

Dicey and a Thief

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This is what the current stack of books looks like:

June book stack

Yep, still reading.

I did break for some sewing last week, a small quilt top of sunny yellows and whites. It’s pin basted; now I just need to decide how to quilt it. I’m stumped. I’m waiting for a stroke of genius to kick in.

sunshine quilt detail

Back to that stack of books.

I’ve read more in recent weeks than I can write about in one sitting, so I’ll pick two and hope to get to the rest in due time. I’m really enjoying myself. I’ve discovered some new things, and rediscovered old ones, and am generally relishing this deep dive into fiction.

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book thiefThe Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

So. This was the book at the bottom of the first library pile that I put off reading, not sure I really wanted to go along with Zusak to WWII Germany. The first chapter of this book made me sit up and pay attention, though, pulling me right into the story whether I wanted to go there or not.

Death narrates The Book Thief, blunt and unsentimental but also weary and at times gentle. It’s Death’s voice, his unusual and sometimes lyrical descriptive choices and unflinching perspective, that gives this book such power. It’s also the book’s weakness – at times Death’s creative adjectives seem too forced and he goes on too long.

Then again, who wishes to hurry Death? I suppose he can take as much time as he likes.

Liesel arrives in Molching a shell-shocked foster child, days after the death of her brother and uncomprehending of the sacrifice her mother has just made. She’s taken in by the gentle Hans Hubermann and his foul-mouthed wife Rosa, who grow to love the skittish child and try to give her a secure home and an education even as they struggle to survive in Nazi Germany. Liesel makes a few friends and haphazardly acquires her first books, while the city around her becomes more and more torn apart by the war and her foster parents shelter a terrified Jew in their basement.

What sticks with me most, a few weeks out from reading The Book Thief, is that I forgot which side I was on as I read. Yes, this is WWII Germany and Liesel’s neighbors are members of the Nazi Party. But Death is impartial as he plucks souls from battered bodies on both sides of the front. Tragedy comes to Molching just as surely as it does to London or Paris.

The Book Thief is a snapshot of a child’s survival in a brutal war, flawed but stunning nonetheless.

 

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Dicey's SongDicey’s Song by Cynthia Voight

When I wrote earlier that I’d rediscovered some things, this is what I was talking about. Not the story itself, although it’s wonderful, but the way of it – the straight-forward and plain-spoken storytelling that illuminates without drawing attention to itself. This is my type of story.

Dicey’s Song is one of a series of books about the four Tillerman children, who have made their way from the tip of Cape Cod to the shores of Maryland after their mother abandons them and is later located in a psychiatric hospital. They’ve enrolled in school and are living with their prickly grandmother, and settling in to an actual home is harder for Dicey and her younger siblings than she imagined it could be.

Dicey is a brave child, and practical, with a strong sense of responsibility for her siblings. She recognizes bullshit and goodness in adults in equal measure. She is not welcoming – at all – but she is smart, and she cautiously lets a few people inside her defenses. She is, probably, a younger version of her grandmother. Gram, fiercely independent and eccentric, takes on four grandchildren out of the blue with her own peculiar and reluctant sort of grace, tackling everything from a cut throat playground game of marbles to the state wellfare agency as she carves out a home life for the young Tillermans.

This is hopeful book, despite the hardships Dicey and her family endure. They are poor, there are struggles at school, and there is no happy ending for Dicey’s mother. But for every blow dealt, there is the promise of support at home, a friend made, an unexpected kindness.

Voight beautifully shapes Dicey’s world on the Maryland shore and crafts distinct and engaging characters, right down to the slow but affable grocer who employs Dicey. The direct language of the book flows straight from Dicey’s practical, introspective voice and does not miss a step.

Reading…

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I spent this past weekend immersed in books and children: A boy on a scooter, still in his baseball uniform. Whispered bedtime secrets and earnest declarations. Two little girls with pockets full of tiny rainbow-colored ponies. And in between, books. 

I’ve been nose-first in a book since May 2nd, when I handed off the Kindergarten Quilt and decided to just read for a while. The library and I are reacquainted. (Hello, old friend!) I brought home two books, and then three more, and then another two….I burned through books, particularly middle-grade novels. The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing sent me back to the library for its predecessor, Three Times Lucky. (I do love a quirky pre-teen narrator.) I read E.L. Konigsburg and two mysteries and a handful of picture books. And just as I thought I was losing steam I flipped through the first few pages of The Book Thief.

I know – hasn’t everyone already read this? I am only 30 pages in. Don’t tell me what happens.

So far I am caught by the language of this book. I don’t often stop to re-read and ponder phrases, but I have here. We will see about the plot. I thought I’d had enough of Nazi atrocities for a while after reading Code Name Verity, which is why this book sat at the bottom of the pile for two weeks, but I am intrigued. So my reading spree continues, at least for a few more days.

Onward

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Last Friday the Kindergarten Quilt went off to its new home. It was a great day and I am so grateful for all the support and enthusiasm this project has received.

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That’s me in the pink sweater. (Yes, the quilt is taller than I am!) I took the quilt to the classrooms so the kids could find their squares and get a close look at how the whole thing came together. The kids were fun and funny, reaching up to touch what they saw and exclaiming over their own drawings and those of others. “Look, my penguin!” “Hey, a boat!” “I can see my friend’s name!” “Is that Elsa from Frozen??”

After the kids had a chance to visit with the quilt, we turned it over to hospital staff. Three good folks came from the maternity and newborn care unit to meet the kids and they couldn’t have been sweeter. They talked about the quilt and where it would go, and also why it would make a difference to the parents and hospital staff who would see it. And then they sang “A Ram Sam Sam” with the kids. It was totally unplanned and completely priceless.

Whew. So it’s done. I felt a little odd walking out the door without the bundle of fabric I’ve been toting around for weeks but this is good. Saturday I went to the library and picked out two new mysteries, and my only project this week is to read. No sewing. I know by week’s end I’ll be thinking about thread but for now it’s just me and a good book or three. I went for variety – has anyone read The Luminaries or Through the Evil Days or The Ghosts of Tupleo Landing?

 

The Kindergarten Quilt

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The Kindergarten Quilt

I’ve been looking forward to sharing this project for a while now! Last fall I started planning a quilt project involving The Boy’s entire kindergarten class. The plan: Have each child draw a picture of something that makes them happy on an 8″x 8″ piece of fabric, and turn those 60-plus fabric squares into a quilt to brighten a wall at the local hospital.

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By the end of February I had a big stack of wonderful, bright, sweet, and funny children’s drawings. Penguins, pets, grandparents, rainbows, flowers, smiley faces, basketballs, boats, elephants, and ice cream cones made their way onto the fabric.

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The children suggested rainbow colors for the pattern, which was easily accomplished with the big stack of fabric generously donated by the good folks at Hawthorne Threads. Donations from parents paid for the batting and backing and thread.

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The quilt is made up for 64 fabric squares joined by 1″ strips of various prints, running in rainbow order from corner to corner. It’s a big quilt, just under 6′ square! The hospital is picking it up on Friday, at which point it will live at the entrance to the special care nursery. I hope it will brighten other people’s days as much as it has brightened mine!

 

Four

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Cake 4Time flies, my friends. Turn around, and they’re four.

Miss R had a birthday, and she had a party with her preschool class and a Frozen cake and lots of balloons. I can’t believe how tall she is, and how articulate. And funny. And independent. And adorable.

This song keeps running through my head, one my father sang to me when I was little. If you’re feeling sentimental today, grab a tissue first.

Lady in Red

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Last year, I renovated our long bedroom hallway. Right in the middle of this 27-foot corridor, in a nook created by the hall taking a little jog to the left, sat a dresser. It had nice lines and was an attractive medium brown color, but once the hall walls were painted and the new lighting was up it looked like a neglected second cousin, underdressed for the party. That corner needed color, and my dresser needed a makeover. Cue the paintbrush!

Here she is today.

red dresser front

KEV_017red dresser with monkey

It’s amazing what paint and new knobs can do. (The kids thought a stuffed monkey couldn’t hurt either.) You can see what the dresser used to look like, peeking out from around a corner, in this January post.

The color is Benjamin Moore Heirloom Red in semi gloss. The high shine is from two coats of water-based poly on top of the paint. I vacillated back and forth between red and teal, both of which looked nice with the wall color, but I finally went with red because it felt right. Oddly enough, when I sanded the dresser top I found flecks of a greenish blue in the edges of the old wood filler. I guess the dresser had already tried on teal and was ready for something new! If you’re curious, I used the same process for painting this piece as I did the yellow chest in our play room. I’m pleased with how the glossy paint has brought out the turned wood detailing on the front of the dresser.

Vintage style brass flower knob

The knobs are vintage-look pieces that I found online. I was so excited when they showed up! They are nicer than I expected and have bit of weight to them despite their petite size. I like how they tie into the brass keyholes on the drawers and the six brass doorknobs along the hallway.

I had fully intended to do a picture wall above the dresser once it was back in place, four large black-framed family pictures. However, the moment Mr. K and I put the dresser down we both said “Cat poster!” My sister gave me this print many years ago and it’s moved from home to home with me. Le Chat Noir was a famous nightclub in Paris in the 1890s, and this image was their most famous advertisement. I didn’t intend to pull the red from the poster when I chose a color for the dresser, but it seems like it must have been lurking in the back of my mind.

red dresser in hall

So, there she is. What do you think?

 

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