Advertisement. Click on the ad for more information.
Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Melanie Heuiser Hill

Enola Holmes Mysteries

by Melanie Heuiser Hill

bk_EnolaStripThe summer’s roadtrip is behind us—a wonderful vacation had by all. We were in two cars this year due to different destinations at the start, but we met up for the second half of the week.

The car my daughter and I drove was equipped with several audiobooks. The boys neglected this detail, probably because they were packing for survival in the wilderness. I have no idea what they listened to while in the car—each other, podcasts, music etc., I guess. We asked the question, but hardly listened, I’m afraid, so eager were we to fill them in on what we had listened to….

…which was a trio of glorious Enola Holmes mysteries! We’d all listened to the first, The Case of the Missing Marquess, a summer or two ago. The kids are huge Sherlock fans, and so these mysteries featuring a much younger sister of that famous detective were a no brainer for a long trip that took us into the mountains. We agreed after that first book that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s got nuthin’ on Nancy Springer. And now that some of us have listened to a couple more books of Springer’s series—well, let’s say this: Stand Down, Sherlock. Enola Can Do It All—And In a Corset!

Enola Holmes (please notice what her first name spells backwards) is but fourteen years old and living on her own, having run away from her brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, after her mother ran off on Enola’s fourteenth birthday. And she’s getting along quite well, thank you, without her brilliant (yet terribly chauvinistic/misogynistic) brothers. In each book, Enola is solving a mystery—even overlapping with Sherlock in some cases—and eluding villains, scallywags, and her brothers as the needs arise.

The historic detail is fascinating—especially the detail on the subject of corsets and other “unmentionables.” The corset becomes a symbol of all that Enola (and her mother, for that matter) rejects—namely, the myriad of confines that Victorian society placed on women. But she wears one! Not just any corset, of course. Her scrawny fourteen year old body doesn’t need the “support,” and she flat-out rejects the not-unlike-foot-binding purposes of early corset wearing (these details are harrowing). But as a vehicle—yes, you read right—for her many disguises and tools, her very individually designed corset is an important part of how she makes her way in London as a detective instead of a runaway fourteen year old girl. Enola’s corset offers physical protection and storage—in it she carries a dagger, various disguises, money, clues, bandages, food and supplies—while allowing her to change her shape as needed. Her disguises are as varied as the fascinating characters she meets.

Enola is feisty and outspoken, wicked smart and wise beyond her years. The mysteries she solves are full of intrigue, puzzles, and curious clues. And the audiobooks are performed by none other than Katherine Kellgren, one of our very favorite readers. These stories are wonderful in black and white on the page, but Kellgren brings them to life! As she does in reading the Bloody Jack series, each character receives their own voice. If you read about Kellgren’s preparation you’ll see that she works with dialect coach—I dare say that Professor Henry Higgins would be able to place each character on the very street on which they were born.

Although the mysteries do not have to be read in order, it’s good to read The Case of the Missing Marquess first because it sets up the ungirding mystery of Enola’s mother. Each mystery references previous ones and as we end come closer to the end of the series (I hope more are being written!) that seems to be important, as well.

Read them, listen to them—they’re delightful either way. These receive a hardy recommendation from our house to yours as beautifully spanning a significant sibling age-range in the car. You can’t help but fall into the story. We only made it half-way through the third mystery before we were home, but we’ll start again with our boys on our upcoming road trip. What were we thinking listening to such great books without them?



In God’s Hands

by Melanie Heuiser Hill

In God's HandsThis week, I am reading (for the umpteenth time) what I think of as The Very Most Favorite Book of the children in my church. They call it That Book About Bread. The book is In God’s Hands by Lawrence Kushner and Gary Schmidt and it resonates deeply with these kids.

I know how it will go. I’ll pull it out of my bag and a general clamor and harangue will go up.



“Me, too!”

You haven’t read that book in a long time!” (Delivered with a pouty face.)

“You should read That Book About Bread EVERY week.”

Now, this is a very well-read group of kids—they are a terrific storytime audience. But they do not say these things about every book. Some books I pull out (especially if they are books “about God”) illicit these responses:

“You already read that one.” (Pouty face.)

“Aahhh…not that one!”

“Are you just reading that one first and then a better one next?”

“Can you read That Book About Bread?”

“Yeah! Read That Book About Bread!”

In God’s Hands begins like this:

When the sun sets and stars fill the sky, the square in the little town grows quiet and still. The cool air of distant hills mingles with the sweet scent of baking bread. The moon rises and glows softly. It’s the sort of place where miracles could happen.

The children grow quiet and still as I read. You can practically see them inhale the sweet scent of baking bread. They are ready to hear (again) about the miracle that happens in this book. They love that it’s called a miracle, because what happens in this book is a quotidian mix-up–and the kids figure it out before the characters do. 

Jacob is a rich man, David is a poor man. Jacob, half asleep in synagogue service, hears God call him to bake twelve loaves of challah and set them before The Lord in two rows, six in each row. (What he actually hears is the day’s Torah reading from Leviticus.) Obediently, Jacob does this—he bakes twelve beautiful braided loaves and places them in the synagogue’s ark, where the holy Torah is kept, since that seems to be the closest place to God.

Soon after, David, the caretaker of the synagogue, comes before the ark and prays a prayer of quiet desperation. His family is hungry and they are out of food.

When I turn the page and David opens the ark to find twelve loaves of braided challah, the children all but cheer. They listen in delight as the miracle continues. Jacob, astounded that God has received his twelve loaves, continues to bake; and David, his children ever hungry, continues to receive with deep gratitude the miraculous loaves that appear in the ark. Neither man realizes what is happening—they quite appropriately call it a miracle. But the kids know what is going on, and they love it!

I love the message of this beautiful book—the wise rabbi explains that God’s miracles often work like this. “Your hands are God’s hands,” he says. And now that David and Jacob know this, they will have to keep acting as they have—doing God’s work with their hands.

“Read it again!” the kids say.

My copy is well-worn. I intend to read it until it falls apart. Then I’ll get a new one.



Library Lion

by Melanie Heuiser Hill

I recently read about a series of get-to-know-you games to play with kids. One suggested making a list of hard and fast rules that everyone could agree to—a series of sensible prohibitions, perhaps—and then taking turns thinking of the exceptions to those rules.

RULE:  No running in the hallways. EXCEPTION: Run if the building is on fire.

RULE: Only quiet voices in the library. EXCEPTION: Shout as loud as you can if there is an emergency.

Library Lion cover

by Michelle Knudsen illustrations: Kevin Hawkes Candlewick, 2006

Variations on these two rules appear in Library Lion, one of my favorite picture books ever. And I wish I’d had this book when my two rule-followers were little—it might’ve helped us play the game above.

I was quite smitten with Library Lion the first time I saw it. Something about the cover evokes a nostalgic feeling for me—the illustrations by Kevin Hawkes are done in a soft palate of acrylics and pencil. The gigantic lion calmly reading over the shoulder of a young girl looks entirely plausible.

The story, too, somehow feels plausible. You don’t question it at all when you read on page one: “One day, a lion came to the library. He walked right past the circulation desk and up into the stacks.”

I have made the mistake, while reading to a group of children, of saying, “Can you believe it? A lion in the library!” They look at me with weariness, their faces clearly saying, “Hush up, Story Lady. Just keep reading.”

Only Mr. McBee questions the propriety of the lion. Not Miss Merriweather. (Could there be more perfect names for {nostalgically stereotypical} librarians? I think not.) Miss Merriweather is as calm as Mr. McBee is nervous. “‘Is he breaking any rules?’” she asks. Mr. McBee, obviously familiar with the rules and their importance, admits that the lion has not trespassed in any way. “‘Then leave him be,’” says the unflappable Miss Merriweather.

Gorgeous spreads of the lion’s presence and assistance in the library abound. He sniffs the card catalog, rubs his head on the new book collection, and joins story hour. Nobody quite knows what to do as “there weren’t any rules about lions in the library.”

When he lets out a small but startling RAAAHHRRRR! at the end of story hour, Miss Merriweather informs him of the library rule that covers everything from too much talking to roaring. “‘If you cannot be quiet, you will have to leave,” she [says] in a stern voice. “Those are the rules!’”

Well, as we know—and as children must learn—there are times when it is entirely right to break the rules. And when that time comes in this book, the lion knows what to do. This time, his roar is much larger. I always have the kids read it with me—we raaahhrr as loud as we possibly can. As we work up to a proper volume (they always have to be encouraged), we take turns running our fingers over the illustrated letters that blow the spectacles off Mr. McBee’s face.


Library Lion illustration

(c) 2006 Kevin Hawkes

I was so smitten with Library Lion when I first discovered it that I was little nervous about reading it to a group of young children. What if they didn’t like it? What if it was too old-fashioned, implausible, too sweet? What if children today were somehow too jaded to properly appreciate this gem of a book?!

I need not have worried. This is one of those picture books that sucks kids in right away. They become one of the children in Miss Merriweather’s library on page one. When the book finishes, they look around the bookstore/library/room as if they expect to see a lion pad in.

Michele Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes are an inspired pair—this is a beautiful book and I love sharing it with kids. It’s a lovely thing to go hoarse while roaring with children.



Mother-Daughter Book Club

by Melanie Heuiser Hill

Mother-Daughter coverIn a meta-move (we’re not usually so cool), our mother-daughter book club has started the Mother-Daughter Book Club series by Heather Vogel Frederick.  We read the first book last month and the second is scheduled for our next meeting. I’m not sure we’ll be able to stop there. It was good we held them until the girls were the age of the girls in Frederick’s first books—the timing is perfect now.

The forming of the fictional mother-daughter book club was different than ours. The mothers in Frederick’s books pretty much coerced their girls into coming together in sixth grade to read Little Women. The series follows the daughters through their pre-teen and teen years as they read various literary classics together with their mothers—not always happily, but always entertainingly. 

Our mother-daughter book club started when our girls were in second grade.  We started with George Selden’s The Cricket in Times Square. I sent the original inquiry/invitation. I simply looked around my girl’s classroom and playground and sent an email to a few of the mothers I knew. Some of the girls were friends, some were not…yet. I don’t believe any were coerced into participating. If they were, at least they’ve stayed. And I’ve overheard them claim they started the book club, and we mothers were simply allowed to come along for the ride. This revisionist history is fine by me.

Cricket in Times Square coverToday, we are five mother-daughter pairs and the girls are in seventh grade. I would guess we’ve read close to fifty books together. Frederick’s mother-daughter book club focuses on one classic for months—sometimes a year. Ours reads one book every 4-6 weeks or so.  We take turns picking books, moms gently encouraging books the girls might not otherwise find and devour on their own (no Harry Potter books, Hunger Games, Divergent etc.), and girls insisting on books moms might not otherwise have given a chance. We’ve read several that were popular when the mothers were the daughters’ age, which they find interesting/hysterical. We’ve had a couple of author visits. We’ve even done some events that have nothing to do with books—we won a prize for our Brown-Paper-Packages-Tied-Up-With-String costumes at the Sound of Music Sing-a-long! 

Our daughters are friends in that sustaining sort of way that makes it through (we hope) the sometimes tumultuous middle school years; which is to say there are no cliquey BFF’s in the group, but rather known-each-other-for-quite-awhile friendships. The mothers are friends in that sustaining sort of way that comes when you raise your daughters together. We are listening ears for one another, glad celebrators, co-commiserates (clothes shopping with pre-teens—OY!), and confidants. The girls talk of continuing our book group through their high school years, and we mothers cross our fingers and say a little prayer this will be the case. It’s getting more and more difficult to schedule our meetings—busy girls, busy moms, busy families. But we work hard to make it work when we can without stressing anyone out.

In short, it has been a tremendous thing in our lives, this mother-daughter book club.  Reading about a mother-daughter book club that is so different from ours is a hoot. And in the hands of Heather Vogel Frederick, adolescence is not only well drawn, but helpfully drawn. The mothers and daughters in her series go through many of the very same things we do, for there is nothing new under the sun with regard to adolescence and the mother-daughter relationship—just variations on similar themes. It’s good to read about other lives that have touch points with yours—sparks great conversation.



The Magic Valentine's Potato

Big Bob and The Magic Valentine’s Day Potato

Several years ago, a mysterious package arrived at our house on Valentine’s Day: a plain brown box addressed to our entire family with a return address “TMVDP.” The package weighed almost nothing. It weighed almost nothing because the box contained four lunchbox serving-size bags of potato chips. Nothing else. Or at least I thought there […]

Quiltmaker's Gift

The Quest for the Perfect Thanksgiving Book

Each November I begin the search anew. I know what I’m looking for, and I really don’t think it’s too much to ask of a picture book: It must delve into the themes of generosity, abundance, gratitude. It should be beautiful. Compelling in its beauty, in fact. Ideally, I’d like it to celebrate our better […]

Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh


There are a lot of “challenges” happening in the social media sphere these days—books, ice buckets, kindness, gratitude, etc. All great things—perhaps one of the better uses for social media even, though it doesn’t quite beat out birthday greetings and first-day-of-school pictures, in my book. Last week, a good friend and fellow reader “challenged” me […]


Just Like A Baby

I’m missing a dear friend who died very suddenly this past spring. Liz was old enough to be my mother and my kids’ grandmother. She loved to give gifts and had an almost magical way of doing so. Her taste in books for kids was exquisite and she always found the most perfect, most unique […]


On Flower Girls

A year ago this weekend, I had the honor of officiating at the wedding of dear friends. They’d planned a grand celebration—organ and trumpet, dramatic readings, fantabulous attendants, family and friends, and not one but two flower girls. In my experience, flower girls and ring bearers increase the “chance element” in a wedding ceremony. I’m […]


Kuplink, Kaplank, Kuplunk!

We missed strawberry picking, and therefore jam making, this year. We were in the mountains, a dandy excuse to be sure, but now we’re in a bit of a pickle (no canning pun intended). We have a strong homemade jam habit at our house, and last year’s bounty is dwindling. We’re trying to figure out […]


We Need Longer Picture Books, Too!

I’ve just read yet another article about the new length of picture books. Some say publishers won’t even consider publishing a picture book over five hundred words anymore. Others say they should be under three hundred words. Why? Inevitably, the shorter attention spans of children are cited somewhere in the reasoning. Rubbish, I say! As […]


Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book in the Harry Potter series, came out a few months after Child #1 was born. In my sleep-deprived stupor, I didn’t notice for awhile; but it quickly became difficult to be a citizen of the world and not know about Harry Potter. Suffice to say, the […]


This Vacation’s Audiobooks

Many have asked what our family listened to on vacation this year. We have recently returned and I can now report back. We had a lot of hours in the car—Minnesota through the Black Hills and into the Tetons and up through Montana etc. And back, of course. Good to have three drivers. Good to […]


The Borrowers (audio book)

One of the first books we listened to in the car was Mary Norton’s The Borrowers. We had one child and he was very small. But he’d been well-trained on audio books. He fell asleep to The Velveteen Rabbit (Meryl Streep and George Winston) or Winnie-the-Pooh (The BBC version) every night. So we popped in […]


Pulling Radishes, Thinking About Books

In the garden this week I am pulling radishes. Weeds, too, and maybe that’s why I appreciate the small, crisp, spicy little radishes. Pulling those rosy red globes out of the black dirt makes me think of one of my favorite books from childhood: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.  I have especially vivid memories of my third grade […]


Fevered Reading

Let me be very clear. I do not ever want my kids to be sick. We’ve had run-o-the-mill childhood sickness and we’ve had serious sickness—I don’t like either kind. I would wish only good health, happiness, sunshine, and lollipops for my children and the children of the world. And we are fortunate and grateful to […]


Touching the Reading Spot

About a year ago, I found myself at weekly appointments with a speech therapist who specializes in functional breathing difficulties. I was dealing with some breathing and voice issues and my allergy and asthma doctor thought I might benefit from “relearning to breathe.” The process was fascinating—we worked on posture, word lists, tongue placement, swallowing, […]


An Ode To Beeswax

Back in the days of small children and little money, I regularly saved pennies for The Best Art Supplies that could be found. I’d read something terribly inspirational about giving your children real art supplies: gorgeous colors and textures that would help them produce fantastic works of art even if all they did was scribble, […]


The Privilege & Responsibility of Reading in Bed

The indomitable Gertrude Mueller Nelson gave our family the ritual of Birthday Privileges & Responsibilities. Each birthday our kids receive a scroll of paper festooned with ribbons. Inside, in the fanciest (and hardest to read) script our printer can manage, we have ceremonial language awarding the birthday child his/her next year’s Privilege & Responsibility. We started […]


The Miss Rumphius Challenge

Henry was a regular. He was in afternoon kindergarten and he and his nanny had the mornings free to come to the storytime I did at the indie bookstores near his home. He was older than most of the other kids—a very wise and erudite six years. His eyes were black and luminous, his curls […]


Seussical the Musical!

Darling Daughter has discovered the stage. She is in her first musical this spring and is having a ball. Ninety-four middle schoolers (with help from some wonderful teachers and staff, of course) are valiantly putting on Seussical. I say valiantly because it is a big project. It’s really a mini-opera—very few lines are not sung. […]


Of Knitting and Books and Tattoos

I met her while knitting. She worked at the children’s bookstore next to the yarn store I frequent. I was knitting with the usual group gathered around the table at the yarn store when she came in. “Cat!” my tablemates called out that day. (I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t know if she spells it […]


My Son’s First Book

Seventeen years ago today, I became a mother. My water broke in the middle of the night and I called my husband, who was working the night shift, to come and get me. It was time. I was ready. More than ready. I had a bag packed with slippers and the new bathrobe my mother […]