Book of the Week: The Iliad for Boys and Girls

bowiliadA decade ago, while perusing our local online library catalog, I came across Alfred J. Church’s The Iliad for Boys and Girls. The premise of Church’s books is to make the tales of Homer’s Iliad available in a story format for children to enjoy. The Iliad for Boys and Girls was originally published in 1907 by  the Macmillan Company. The book consists of twenty-five illustrated chapters, beginning with “Of How the War with Troy Started” and concluding with “The Ransoming with Hector/The End of Troy.”
The Iliad for Boys and Girls is available for purchase in either paperback or e-book format through Yesterday’s Classics online store.

Kathy Alphs


Book of the Week: The Cottingley Secret: A Novel

bowhazelgaynor2Two years ago, I was introduced to author, Hazel Gaynor via a her novel, A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London’s Flower Sellers. While perusing Kindle books which had been recommended for me, I came across her latest novel, The Cottingley Secret: A Novel.

Gaynor’s latest novel is based on the Cottingley Fairies incident of 1917. The incident revolved around two cousins, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths. The girls claimed to have seen sprites in the Cottingley Beck area. From 1917 through 1921, Elsie and Frances  took a series of photographs featuring themselves alongside woodland pixies. The story captured the attention of noted author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He was reported to receive the news of the girls findings with much enthusiasim. In the end, Elsie and Frances admitted the first four photos were faked. The nymphs were  nothing more than cardboard cutouts created by the girls. However, Frances maintains the fifth and final photograph of the sprites was genuine. 

cottingley fairiesIn  her novel, The Cottingley Secret: A Novel, Hazel Gaynor tells of Elise and Frances encounters with brownies, while at the same time telling the story of Olivia Kavanaugh. It is via an old manuscript in her grandfather’s bookshop which leads Olivia on her journey to discover how the past of Elise and Frances connects with her life in the  present.

Kathy Alphs

Book of the Week: Puss In Boots


bowpussinbootsOne of my favorite Charles Perrault tales from childhood is Puss in Boots. When I saw this edition translated by Malcom Arthur with illustrations by Fred Marcellino I couldn’t resist the temptation to have a peek.

The 1991 Caldecott Honor Book breathes new life into the classic tale for a new generation. The tale is simplistic: A miller dies bequeathing his worldly possessions to this three sons: a mill, a donkey and a cat. By the luck of the draw, the youngest son receives the cat. Despondent over his inheritance, the youngest son focuses on his demise. However, Puss manages to convince his master not to worry. All he needs is a sack, and a pair of boots to ensure a happy ending for he and his master. As they set off on their adventures, it is Puss who ensures a secure future for his master as well as himself. In the end, “all’s well that ends well”, just as Puss had assured his master at the beginning of the tale.

The text is authored in an engaging format, with opulent illustrations which aide in the re-telling of this timeless tale. Puss in Boots is sure to delight children of all ages.

Kathy Alphs

Book of the Week: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

missp2On the surface, teenager Jacob Portman presents the appearance of a geek. A geek is defined as “an unfashionable or socially inept person”. (1) However, in actuality, Jacob isn’t just a geek. It turns out he is a peculiar.

The plot of the novel revolves around Jacob’s discovery that the vintage photographs and maps his grandfather, Abe used to spin tales from are in fact part of a parallel universe inhabited by peculiar children.  Peculairs are children who possess extraordinary qualities: invisibility, the ability to control air, fire, strength, vegetation and inanimate objects, the ability to foresee the future, a boy who has bees living inside him, twins who can turn people to stone if looked upon, a little girl with a mouth in the back of her head, and a boy who can see hollowgasts.
Due to prejudice, the peculiars live in a parallel universe known as a time loop in the care of Miss Peregrine, who is a Ymbryne. Ymbryne’s are responsible for the care of the peculiar children and able to control/manipulate their time loops. They can also transform from their human form into a bird at will.
Upon the death of his grandfather, Jacob sets out on his own personal  odyssey to uncover his grandfather’s past which will lead him ultimately to the discovery of his own future.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the debut young adult novel from author and photographer, Ransom Riggs. What makes this novel stand alone are the peculiar vintage photographs which tell the story alongside the accompanying the text. Through vintage photos and fantasy, Ransom Riggs has created a whole new world which is sure to satisfy fantasy fiction fans of all ages.
“I have no idea where most of my ideas come from, but Miss Peregrine has a very specific origin story. A few years ago, I started collecting vintage snapshots—the kind you can find in loose piles at most flea markets for fifty cents or a buck apiece. It was just a casual hobby, nothing serious, but I noticed that among the photos I found, the strangest and most intriguing ones were always of children. I began to wonder who some of these strange-looking children had been—what their stories were—but the photos were old and anonymous and there was no way to know. So I thought: If I can’t know their real stories, I’ll make them up.” Ramson Riggs (2)

Through vintage photos and the element of fantasy, Ransom Riggs has created a whole new world which is sure to satisfy bibliophiles of all ages.

Kathy Alphs



(2) Riggs, Ransom. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2011.

Book of the Week: The Werner Family Saga

Desmond Tutu once said, “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”


Belva Plain’s “Werner Family Saga” is about the importance of family, and how the choices we make effect those within our immediate sphere of influence. The first book in the series “Evergreen” tells the story of a young Polish Jew, names Anna who leaves the old country to pursue the dream of living in the new world: America. Through Anna’s eyes we get a first hand glimpse of what life was like for European immigrants in New York City at the turn of the century. As a stranger in a foreign land, Anna dreams of becoming a proper lady, and receiving an education. Through a twist of fate, she is allowed into the world of the wealthy Werner family, and meets her soul mate, Paul Werner. However, due to the constraints of society, Anna is forced to marry Joseph Friedman, a humble tradesman who is driven to live “the American dream.” Anna, the dutiful wife, seeks to help Joseph make his dreams reality. But in the end, the choice she makes has a ripple effect which reaches across the generations of both the Friedman and Werner families. Through the decades we see Anna rise from an illiterate immigrant to a wife. mother and pillar of her community.


In “The Golden Cup” you are introduced to a young Paul Werner, his Aunt Hattie, Uncle Daniel, Cousin Lea and extended family. The author’s intent with this novel is to give you the opportunity of hearing the story of “Evergreen” from the prospective of Paul Werner.
The subsequent novels, “Tapestry”, “Harvest”, and “Heartwood” the focus shifts to Anna and Joseph Friedman’s daughter, Iris Stern and her relationship to the Werner family.
As always, Belva Plain’s novels transport you to a place and time which is rich in history and the drama of humanity. I was introduced to Plain’s novel “Evergreen” as a high school freshman in 1979 by our librarian, Jane Lambertston. As each new installment of the series was published, I read with delight as I once again entered the world of Anna, Paul, Joseph, Maurice, Iris and Theo.


Belva Plain is a third generation Jewish-American who was reared in New York City. She graduated with a degree in history from Barnard College. She is the author of twenty three novels which are published by Random House Books.

Kathy Alphs