The Big 65

I’ve made it. Yesterday was the birthday marking a milestone–reaching 65 years of age. (It was actually a double. Observant Jews observe their birthdays according to the date on the Hebrew calendar. This year, both Jewish and secular dates came out on the same day. How often does that happen?) Since I now qualify for Medicare (and have already put the plan to use) and reduced fares on New York City subways and buses, it must mean I am officially a senior citizen.

My body has been telling me for some time that I am not as young as I used to be. Whereas a few years ago, we could take long walks and navigate uneven and hilly country terrain, such activities are now challenging. Vacations are as much for relaxing at the hotel as exploring the local attractions.

Yet there are perks beyond assistance with health insurance and half-priced transit fares. We no longer feel the pressure to take part in activities that we do not feel up to. And there is a marvelous bonus: grandchildren! Nothing beats the enjoyment of cuddling an offspring’s infant, reading one story after another that a two-year-old keeps bringing, or watching a video of a not-yet-literate youngster “reading” a book from start to finish without missing a word.

You might have noticed that two of the above examples involve one of my favorite pastimes. And since reading is a pleasure that being elderly has not diminished, I naturally think of several books that touch on the grandparent-grandchild relationship.

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For starters, there is the delightful Silly Frilly Grandma Tillie by Laurie Jacobs. When their parents go out for the evening and Grandma comes to babysit, Sophie and Chloe know that the fun is about to begin. Grandma Tillie has a way of disappearing as a remarkable character shows up. For example, there’s Chef Silly Tillie and her menu of hilariously delectable treats. The fun doesn’t stop until the youngsters are asleep–dreaming, I would think, of the next time Grandma Tillie comes to babysit.

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On a more serious note, Getting to Know Ruben Plotnick by Roz Rosenbluth is an unforgettable tale of friendship, first impressions (which do not always tell the whole story), and family relationships. David has mixed feelings when exuberant Ruben Plotnick wants to come over to do homework. He’s excited that the most fun kid in the class is interested in him–and nervous about what Ruben will think of his increasingly senile grandmother. David in in for a pleasant surprise when the two meet.

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Grandpa for Sale by Dotti Enderle opens with 11-year-old Lizzie taking care of her grandfather’s antique store while he takes a nap on a sofa. When wealthy Mrs. Larchmont enters the establishment and decides there is only one thing she wants–Grandpa–and offers an exorbitant sum for him, Lizzie thinks of all the things she could do with the money. Yet would any of them be any fun without Grandpa to enjoy them with?

(I realized that all these books were published by the phenomenal Flashlight Press. I have no official relationship with the publisher!)

As the stories illustrate, grandparenthood is not something that happens as we approach the sunset years. It’s the beginning of a new, exciting chapter in our lives.

 

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It’s That Time–Again

Time has a way of moving quickly. It seems like it was just last week, or last month, or even last year. When I read the last article I posted on this blog (eleven months ago!), it felt like something newly written. And how could it snow when my summer clothes are yet residing in closet and dresser? After I dug out my boots and fleece tights, it seemed like only yesterday that I wore them.

Maybe the sensation that time is passing quickly–too quickly–is a product of age. After all, next month (thank G-d) I reach the big 65 and join the ranks of those on Medicare. (Social Security payments are already partially replacing the income lost when my job of twenty-four years was eliminated. But that’s another story.)

With time galloping like champion race horses, I have the feeling of being left in the dust at the starting gate. When the question pops into my head as to what I really accomplish, the answer all too often is “not much.”

So, when family members began looking forward to and making plans for Chanukah, I decided to ignore the feeling that we had just celebrated the festival–and tackle something that’s been on my to-do list for some time.

Some years ago, our eldest son gave us a large and lovely menorah–the candelabra used to kindle the festival lights. To our offspring’s disappointment, my husband preferred to use another one. The menorah was put aside and gradually lost its shine as tarnish took over. The situation was such that an earlier attempt at restoring its luster was unsuccessful.

This week, hours before the commencement of the holiday, I rolled up my sleeves and tackled the blackened menorah. To my delight, after a half hour of applying liberal amounts of polish and determined rubbing, the tarnish (mostly) gave way to shine. This was, I thought, a labor of love; I did not expect my husband to actually use our son’s menorah. Perhaps realizing how much work went into restoring the menorah, my better half surprised and pleased me by choosing to light it this year.

This small success got me thinking. After all, wasn’t the miracle brought about by an inspired group who believed in their cause? The philosophy-loving Greek occupiers of the Holy Land had no problem with Jewish teachings as long as the will of the Creator was not part of the equation. This situation was unacceptable to the members of the above-mentioned group. So, with a rallying cry calling to those who were for G-d, a small fighting force met and faced down the mighty Greek military machine. When the victors entered the Holy Temple,  they discovered all the oil used to light the menorah had been defiled by the pagans–except for one bottle.

The fact that one day’s supply burned for eight, which gave rise to the festival known as Chanukah (dedication), continues to inspire us today. And makes this member of our people realize that small actions–even those that do not seem significant–can have positive effects beyond anything believed possible.

 

The Lunar Chronicles: More Than Fairy Tales

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Five years ago, the first book in a promising new series appeared on the scene. As a librarian always on the lookout for eye-catching reads to share with my young patrons, I ordered the available titles. Since “reworked” fairy tales are popular with kids from beginning readers to teens, it was with anticipation that I began the first volume.

I was hooked. Even though Marissa Meyers is not the only author–or the first–to write a classic fairy tale with a twist, her series is something special. (An aside: In a post I wrote after reading the first three novels, I dubbed the series a mix between Star Wars and classic fairy tales.)

From the moment we meet Cinder (no surprise as to the identity of the original character), we know we are in for a treat. The traditional elements are there–a handsome prince, an evil stepmother, a ball–but the story takes off in a whole new direction. For Cinder is harboring a secret, and others are privy to important information of which our heroine is unaware. By the time I completed her story, I was more than ready to continue the saga.

Scarlet is a worthy successor to Cinder. We meet another fairy-tale character and follow her on a journey to rescue a beloved family member. While characters and events from the classic story are present, Scarlet and her friends (and enemies, and someone who might be both) are unique to this telling. In a stroke of literary genius, Cinder reappears, and her story intertwines with those of her new acquaintances.

And then comes Cress. The heroine, a teen who has spent her entire life in isolation while performing a service for the powers that be, finds a new purpose. When a daring rescue does not go as planned, Cress finds herself in the midst of an adventure beyond anything she could have imagined. When I reluctantly turned the last page, I knew that there would be a wait before the next installment arrived on store and library shelves–and turned my attention to other books to fill in the gaps.

This winter, after delighting in blockbusters like The Orphan Queen and its worthy sequel, I remembered Cinder and company. There were two new novels in the saga: the background story Fairest and Winter, the grand finale of the series.

Like her new friends, Winter is an easily recognized fairy-tale personality–yet there is a depth to the young woman not found in the original character. (And she makes her way in the world without the assistance of seven little men.) As the heroes and heroines endeavor to realize their goal against all odds, we thrill to their triumphs and feel their frustration when things go awry.

Marissa Meyer’s series deserves a place alongside the tales of Gail Carson Levine, Robin McKinley, and other authors who have so successfully adapted traditional fantasies. Don’t take my word for it: if you or a teen in your life have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Cinder and friends, you’re in for a treat.

 

Back to Trelian

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When we left Meglynne at the conclusion of The Dragon of Trelian, she was accepting her dual roles: as a companion to the dragon Jakl, with whom she shares a strengthening bond, and her future as the princess heir of Trelian. However, as the continuation of Meg’s story commences, the young royal is learning that the transition is not an easy one. For Meg is experiencing nightmares and sudden angry outbursts; and, since she and Jakl are connected, the dragon feels the temper flares as well. On top of her unease about these unwelcome intrusions, the princess fears (with some justification) that Trelians will not be comfortable with the “dragon princess” as their future queen. There is one person in whom she can confide her concerns, but he is not available.

Calen, the apprentice to king’s mage Serek, has reached a milestone. He and his master have traveled to the Magistratum, where the teen will receive his first true mage’s mark. Once the painful ordeal of obtaining the facial tattoo is over, Calen attends the ceremony in his honor. However, a devastating surprise attack by sinister creatures (who only Calen, with a gift unique to him, can perceive) throws the Magistratum into chaos. The suspicion the apprentice’s ability arouses–made stronger by a prophecy that he is connected to the return of a ruthless, power-hungry mage–leads to the trip becoming an ordeal rather than a celebration. Serek, with the help of his eccentric friend Anders, spirit Calen away from the intolerable situation.

Meanwhile, back at the castle, there is unwelcome news. A neighboring kingdom suspects that Jakl is behind attacks the nation is experiencing, and its monarch is threatening a military invasion. Meg knows her dragon is not involved but is unable to convince her royal parents. In an impulsive move, the princess undertakes to prove that Jakl is being unfairly blamed–and finds herself in danger. As things go from bad to worse, Calen makes a heart-wrenching decision in the hopes of not only protecting Meg and her family but ending the evil that threatens the world.

The continuation of Meg and Calen’s story does not disappoint. As both teens grow into their roles and attempt to prove themselves capable and worthy of the trust of those around them, we simultaneously cheer their efforts and groan at decisions more impulsive than wise. It remains for the concluding volume in the trilogy to hopefully bring their story to a satisfying conclusion.

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I had planned to write a comprehensive review of The Mage of Trelian, the blockbuster final volume in this series. However, any discussion of the plot would result in spoilers–not a good idea since there are readers out there who have not yet read the first two books.

There are a few things that I can say which will not give away any plot details. It is gratifying to see Meg and Calen grow into their roles as royal and mage while remaining true to themselves and those around them. Readers are given a glimpse into the hearts and minds of the people in their world. As the friends forge their own paths and face seemingly insurmountable odds, we cannot help but cheer them on. The immensely satisfying conclusion is a fitting finale to a marvelous series.

Michelle Knudsen: More Than Picture Books

When I think of author Michelle Knudsen, I associate her with the beyond phenomenal Library Lion. This picture book tells the story of a lion who visits a library and stays for story time. When the last story is read, the big cat expresses his sadness by roaring. The remorseful lion soon understands that he may stay only if he is quiet. So, with the approval of the kind-hearted librarian (and over the objections of her straight-laced assistant), the feline comes every day and makes himself useful until story time. He becomes a common sight as he dusts shelves with his tail, licks stamps, and lets children stand on his back to reach books on high shelves. The climax and conclusion of this story are heartwarming and appeal to book and library lovers of all ages.

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Now, ten years after the publication of Michelle Knudsen’s classic, I discovered this author’s talent for telling an unforgettable story to an older group of readers. The Dragon of Trelian (published in 2009, making me wonder why the novel escaped my radar until now) has all the elements that make a story great. As the tale opens, we meet Calen, an apprentice to the king’s mage. His apparently limited magical abilities mean that his master assigns him endless learning and memorizing tasks. Calen has sneaked into an unused room in the palace to watch the approach of Prince Ryant of Kragnir, the betrothed of Princess Maerlie of Trelian. The royal marriage is taking place to end a war between the two kingdoms that has lasted a hundred years.

It is here that he meets Princess Meglynne, who decides that she can share a secret with Calen. And what a secret it is: a young dragon she keeps hidden. The fourteen-year-old royal’s relationship with the creature she calls Jakl is developing into a strong bond. Calen, touched that the princess has confided in him, begins frequenting Serek’s off-limits library to learn all he can about dragons–and shares his knowledge with Meg.

However, there is trouble brewing. Calen, under Serek’s direction, conducts a ritual that portends dark days coming to Trelian. When the apprentice and his new friend stumble upon a scheme that threatens not only the life of Princess Maerlie but the future of both kingdoms, they realize it is up to them to thwart the plans of those behind the sinister plot. With more than a little help from Jakl and Calen’s blossoming magical abilities, the teens come up with a plan to put an end to the danger facing them all. The satisfying yet incomplete conclusion to the story points to a sequel. I now await the opportunity to read The Princess of Trelian and the newly-published The Mage of Trelian.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving Musings

Two days ago, on Thanksgiving afternoon, my husband decided to go through a buildup of mail and other papers. As we decided which were worth keeping and which no longer had value, several sheets came to our attention. What should they be but some notes and quotes I put together for a freelance article I was writing? The topic gave me pause: Thanksgiving and the Jewish tradition.

We are believers that nothing is by chance; this find proves it. Not only did my husband discover them on Thanksgiving, it is not usually my practice to print out an article in progress. Whatever my reason for doing so, the tidbits offer timely and timeless insights into this holiday. Here are a few choice gems.

The Creator gives us many precious gifts, among them life, health, and happiness. In return for the wonders He bestows, it is only right that we should respond with thankfulness and praise. He does not need our words of blessing; we feel the necessity of recognizing His loving and unending presence.

The early settlers had much to be thankful for: liberation from the oppression they suffered in Europe, the Creator’s involvement in every part of life (the holy and the mundane), and for displaying His love and care. These three areas hearken a much older holiday: the festival of Chanukah. G-d freed the Jews from a power more powerful than they and, once the enemy was routed, cared enough to perform another open miracle: a small vessel of undefiled oil burned in the Temple menorah eight days until more could be prepared. These thoughts are worthwhile ones now (Chanukah is right around the corner) and when we next see a public menorah.

Expressing appreciation is not something we do one day, or one week, a year. Human parents, unlike many in the animal kingdom, do not produce offspring and leave the youngsters to fend for themselves. Rather, they devote years to caring and providing for their children. Similarly, the Creator does not leave us to our own devices; He is involved in all aspects of our lives. This constant care is worthy of taking time every day to praise Him for this beautiful world and everything in it.

Observant Jews offer thanks to G-d from the moment of awakening, before beginning their daily activities, when eating and drinking, seeing and hearing impressive sights and sounds like lightning, thunder, and the ocean, and more. A few seconds or moments pausing to praise Him for His many kindnesses, large and small, can really set the tone for the day.

Happy Thanksgiving days.

Farewell to Artimé (for Now)

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As Island of Dragons, the long-awaited seventh and final novel in Lisa McMann’s masterpiece series, opens, the land of Quill is in flames. Alex, the young head mage of Artimé, begins resettling the now-homeless Quillens in his domain. It’s no easy task; many of its residents mistrust anyone or anything magical.

As Alex and his fellow Artiméans, with more than a little help from the head mage’s once evil twin Aaron, come up with solutions on the home front, danger is lurking just beyond their shores. Two enemies of the magical land, seeking revenge for past defeats, have formed an alliance with one goal in mind: destroy Artimé. With a formidable army of humans, animals, and magic at their disposal, the foes approach the island. Despite intense preparations, once the battle begins, the magical land is in great danger of falling to the invaders. Alex finds his military and leadership skills put to the test as never before–and the stakes are higher than any he has known until now.

I must stop here for fear of giving away the plot. The seven-month wait between finishing the sixth volume and the local library finally making the final book available was more than worth it. Devotees of this series will find the conclusion as marvelous and magical as the land of Artimé.

One more word: those who have a hard time bidding farewell to Alex and his compatriots will only have a little time to miss them. As balmy weather returns to the Northern Hemisphere at winter’s end, the first book in the Unwanteds Quests series will arrive in the spring.

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