Review + Interview / Bella’s Recipe for Success

book-bellaBook: Bella’s Recipe for Success (2021)
Author: Ana Siqueira
Illustrator: Geraldine Rodriguez
Genre: Picture Book

Opening lines from the book …
I’m helping Abuela in the kitchen when … “I can play the piano with my eyes closed!” mi hermano brags.


A beautifully-written book about perseverance! Poor Bella just wants to be good at something.

I love the connection with the grandmother: “We can always try again.” What a wonderful reminder. And that’s what Bella keeps doing, over and over as she tries to perfect the baking of polvorones. Of course, she has many disasters (hence the cross-out in the title), but … well, I won’t quite spoil it, but again the title is a little hint.

Love the Spanish and English throughout the text. And all the animal metaphors/similes are fun. There’s a recipe at the back so you too can try baking your own polvorones. I think I just might need to get my apron out. 🙂


ana-photoFull disclosure: Author Ana Siqueira is one of my critique partners. And I am actually one of Bella’s book godmothers or aunties or something like that. Anyhow, that’s what it feels like when you get to see a book at the earliest stages (at a time before Bella was even named Bella) and to see this book in its final form. And yes, I remember all those revisions, Ana!

Here is my interview with the wonderful writer of this book

Q: Tell us a little about yourself. (How did you become a writer; where you’re from; that sort of thing.)
A: I’m from Brazil where I wrote and got two books published. One of them – A LUA NAMORADEIRA (THE FLIRTING MOON) got a prize from the Brazilian Academia de Letras. But this was a long time ago. I moved to this country in 1992 and then life happened and I stopped writing. I worked as an interpreter, a teacher, and a cafe owner. In 2018, I wrote a book for my 2nd-grade students based on the DUCK SONG video. I sold this book to TEACHER’S DISCOVERY and then, TA-DA, I got excited and decided to go back to writing. In 2019, I joined Storytellers Academy and some critique groups and I started my journey back to writing.

Q: What’s the best part about writing for children?
A: It’s so much fun writing, but it’s even more fun reading to them. It’s fun to hear them giggling or to reply to their questions. I can’t wait to get some more school visits.

Q: Where did you get the idea for this book?
A: This was inspired by my perfectionist daughter and many of my students. I also love reading and researching about #growthmindset and I think this is an important topic.

Q: What was the hardest thing about writing this book?
A: I have just restarted writing. Writing in Brazil in 1991 and writing here in 2019 are very different. I had to relearn writing picture books. I had to take many classes and do LOOOOTS of revisions. Thanks for always being willing to check one more revision. Hahaha.

Q: What’s the worst baking “disaster” you’ve had?
A: I enjoy cooking better than baking. But I just had a disaster when baking the polvorone recipe at the back of Bella’s book. Instead of vanilla, I put in anise and the cookie dough tasted horrible. My grandson and I laughed so much, it was worth it.

Q: What’s the first thing you baked as a child?
A: I remember being in a culinary class during my middle-grade years and baking some onion bread. I was a desastre there too. I cried so much slicing the onions. I dropped onions on the floor. I kept asking for more onions. But this is the only recipe I remember from this class. So making mistakes is a great way to really learn, right?

Q: Is there anything you’ve tried to make in the kitchen that still gives you trouble?
A: My husband loves a plate from Cuba called congri. It’s basically rice and beans cooked together. However, for some reason, sometimes my rice gets too sticky, sometimes it burns, sometimes it’s perfecto. I guess I have to keep on trying.

Q: This is your debut picture book. Explain what it’s like to finally hold this book in your hands?
A: It’s such a big emotion. OMG. You work so hard. And then… You can see it. You can hold it. You did it. Bella is almost like my child.

Q: Where can people find out more about you and your books?
A: Check my website –
Follow me on Twitter –

Review, Interview, Giveaway / Jurassic Rat


Book: Jurassic Rat (2019)
Author: Eleanor Ann Peterson
Illustrator: John Seckman
Genre: Picture Book, Dinosaurs, Rats

Opening lines from the book …
Long ago in dinosaur times, there lived a rat as big as a cat.


I don’t know a child who’s NOT fascinated by dinosaur times. Come to think of it, I’d say most adults are pretty fascinated too! In this story, we’re introduced to a rat dad who has a big family to feed. But when you live in the Jurassic era, well, there are lots of dangers. Did I mention … DINOSAURS?!

I found the information about rats (as big as cats!) very interesting. I’m rather glad the rats of today aren’t quite so big. And generally, I’m fine with rats as long as they stay out of the house or the garden. (Unless they’re a pet, of course. I once met a very lovely rat named Stockings who was a pet. Her owner (a young girl) was very keen to let me know how smart rats are and how they do make wonderful pets. After meeting Stockings, I’m very much in agreement.)

The illustrations by John Seckman are really quite delightful. And I love all the thumps and whumps and the ploppidy plops that accompany Rat on his mission to try to feed his family and evade some hungry predators.

Would definitely recommend it to anybody interested in dinosaur times.



Eleanor Peterson reads her book, Jurassic Rat.

I was able to interview the author, Eleanor Ann Peterson. (Spoiler! There’s a BOOK GIVEAWAY at the end of the interview.)

Q: Hi Eleanor. First off, please tell me a little about yourself.

A: I’m originally from Ottawa, Canada, but after meeting the love of my life in Three-Rivers, Quebec, we married and moved to Italy. There I worked in a family-run bakery, computer shop, and lastly, in a machining shop with my hubby and son. My eldest daughter lives in Toronto.

I enjoyed creative writing when I was in school and kept it up when I left. Writing is an outlet for me to get thoughts out and make use of them. To improve my craft, I took writing courses and attended SCBWI conferences. Besides writing, I enjoy painting, photography, playing with clay, sports, and going for long walks in the wilderness.

Q: What’s the best part about writing for children?

A: The best part about writing for children is that anything is possible. The most incredible and bizarre can happen to your characters. I like to use the “what if” question. Like, “What if cows could fly?” I like to tell stories that come from a different angle or are based on real-life experiences. Teachers always told me to write what I know, what I want, and not what’s popular.

Q: You mentioned to me a story about your first book presentation. Tell me about that.

A: Oh goodness! After the book came out, life happened, and I couldn’t market my book the way I had planned. Then things got sorted out, and I was determined to present my main character, Rat, to the world. I contacted my local library, and the librarian was enthusiastic about my book presentation. I showed her my puppet of Rat and later sent her a clip of my bilingual (English/Italian) presentation which I filmed and edited with Movavi video editor. She was thrilled to have me. The event was published in various local newspapers. I was so excited. I prepared props and activities for the occasion. It was carnival season, so I had a dinosaur suit I would wear during the presentation on February 24th, 2020. A few days before the presentation, COVID-19 broke out, and we were all on lockdown. The event was canceled ‘til further notice. *Sigh!*

Q: Where did you get the idea for this book?

A: The idea for Jurassic Rat came while I researched how to remove roof rats from my old rambling house without poisoning them. I tried to talk them into moving elsewhere, but that didn’t work. In the end, my cats convinced them.

While surfing the web, I came upon an article of a fantastic discovery in Spain and China about an unearthed rat belonging to the Jurassic Period. Bingo! I had a story. Having studied the evolution process during my university studies, I thought, why not introduce young readers to the evolution of species in a fun way. I bet you didn’t know that the rat’s ancestors roamed the Earth alongside dinosaurs.

Q: Did this book need a lot of research? If so, what kind of research did you do?

A: As in any concept book, you need to get things right. Facts count even in picture books. I researched other fossilized rats found on different continents and tried to reach out to the scientists who wrote the articles but to no avail. I sent my research links to my publisher and editor, and they checked if the information was accurate. I also had the opportunity to collaborate with the illustrator, John Seckman. He also had to research which animals and plants lived in that period. I.e. T-Rex dinos did not yet exist in the Jurassic period. There are links in the backmatter for further reference.

Q: If you could visit the Jurassic Period for one hour, what would you want to do there?

A: Ride a sauropod while searching and documenting flora and fauna unknown to man in our era. I’d probably get eaten by a dinosaur while examining an insect.

Q: This book is about a rat dad on a food mission. What’s the most dangerous/exciting “food mission” you’ve ever been on?

A: The most dangerous was when I went fishing with my nephew in Canada. We didn’t catch anything other than mosquito bites and almost tipped the boat. I prefer veggies to meat. Therefore, the most exciting mission is clutching my basket and hiking stick and taking a walk in the wilderness searching for medicinal herbs for tea and edible plants and mushrooms for my omelets.

Q: What’s your favourite dinosaur joke? (Feel free to do rat joke instead, if you like.)

A: Q. Why don’t you see dinosaurs at Easter? A. Because they are eggs-tinct.

Q. What kind of rat can tell you what 6.022 x 10^23 means? A. Mole rats.

Q: Where can people find out more about you and your books?

A: You’ll find out all about me on my website: You don’t need to subscribe or give me your email address. All you have to do is click follow, and you’ll get my latest blog posts in your inbox. (Sorry, I still haven’t figured out how to set up MailChimp newsletters yet. But it’s on my to-do list.)

Connect with Eleanor on:
Facebook author page:
Facebook personal:


*Chance to Win* a copy of the picture book: JURASSIC RAT by Eleanor Ann Peterson


Jurassic-Rat(So I know how to contact you if you WIN!)

Eleanor Ann Peterson is offering a free copy of this book for a giveaway, and YOU just might be the lucky winner. Open to entries from around the world!

You can win an additional entry by liking and commenting on this blog post!

Contest ends May 23, 2021 (9pm ET)


Re-read: The Ramona Books – Part 2

Part 2 of Ramona Week! In honour of Beverly Cleary’s 104th birthday…

(Read Part 1 here.)

Ramona and Her Mother (1979)

ramona-motherRamona’s still in second grade. She’s having trouble because everybody says that Beezus is her mother’s girl. Isn’t Ramona her mother’s girl as well? This is the book where Ramona and Howie use the bluing, where Beezus gets her forty-year-old haircut, and Ramona decides to see what it’s like to be a firefighter and wear her clothes over her pajamas!

And to top it all, there’s the big crock-pot debacle which leads Beezus and Ramona to fear that their parents might be getting… a divorce! Eventually, Ramona learns that while her family might have problems, they still love each other.

One of my Favourite Quotes from the book*…
“All her life she had wanted to squeeze the toothpaste really squeeze it, not just one little squirt…The paste coiled and swirled and mounded in the washbasin. Ramona decorated the mound with toothpaste roses as if it was a toothpaste birthday cake.”

*I don’t think I’d ever have done this, but it does sound super-fun!! (And I don’t think I ever will do it. Too much waste! But it’s fun to read about. 🙂

My Burning Question about this book…
Where is Henry Huggins?! His parents are at the brunch in the opening chapter, but this is the place wherePOOF!he disappears from Ramona’s world.

My Rating: 4 stars

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (1981)

ramona-q-age8This book holds a special place in my world. Firstly, it was my first introduction to the Ramona books. And secondly, I taught this book to my third-graders!

Not only is Ramona in third grade, but she’s now going to a new school and riding a big yellow bus. This book also introduces us to Yard Ape! But Ramona’s biggest challenge is… Willa Jean. I just love how she figures out how to use her sustained silent reading to thwart Willa Jean’s demands. (Like Ramona, I do prefer the term “sustained silent reading” to “DEAR”!)

This book really gets into Ramona’s head. She’s come a long way from being the pest from the early books. I love it how she’s growing up and we get to see that.

One of my Favourite Quotes from the book*…
“At last it was time for the egg. There were a number of ways of cracking eggs. The most popular, and the real reason for bringing an egg to school, was knocking the egg against one’s head. There were two ways of doing so, by a lot of timid little raps or by one big whack. Sara was a rapper. Ramona, like Yard Ape, was a whacker. She took a firm hold on her egg, waited until everyone at her table was watching, and ​whack​—she found herself with a handful of crumbled shell and something cool and slimy running down her face…”

*The best scene in the book! (Note: As I mentioned, I used to teach this book when I taught 3rd grade. One year, one of my students brought in hard-boiled eggs for Easter JUST SO WE COULD DO THIS! Yes, it’s fun to whack a hard-boiled egg on your forehead. There’s always that moment when you think… what if it’s really a raw egg?)

My Rating: 5 stars

Ramona Forever (1984)

ramona-foreverGuess who’s coming to visit? Howie’s Uncle Hobart! And on top of that, Ramona is sick and tired of being the one responsible for Willa Jean! This is the book where, finally, the sisters convince their parents to let them stay home alone after school. Of course, you know that’s not going to be easy.

There’s also big news with regards to their Aunt Beatrice. Yes, she’s getting married! And then, their mother announces that she’s [SPOILER!] pregnant. [End Spoiler]. A lot of changes for Ramona as she finished up the third grade.

One of my Favourite Quotes from the book*…
“’He’s Howie’s father’s little brother, only now he’s big,’ explained Ramona.

‘Why, that must be Hobart Kemp,’ said Aunt Beatrice. “He was in my class in high school.’ … ‘All the girls said he was cute…. He used to chew licorice and spit on the grass to make the principal think he was chewing tobacco like a professional baseball player…’

‘Where’s this cute licorice-chewing uncle coming from, and how did he get so rich?’
asked Ramona’s father, beginning to be interested. ‘Playing baseball?’

‘He’s coming from—’ Ramona frowned. ‘I can’t remember the name, but it sounds like
a fairy tale and has camels.’ Narnia? Never-never-land? No, those names weren’t right.

‘Saudi Arabia,’ said Beezus, who also went to the Kemps’ after school. Being in junior high school, she could take her time getting there.

‘Yes, that’s it!’ Ramona wished she had remembered first.”

*I love this dialogue exchange between the family. Including Aunt Beatrice! We don’t actually often SEE Aunt Beatrice in the books until now.

My Burning Question about this book…
Where is Yard Ape?! (Hint: Don’t worry too much, he comes back in the next book…)

My Rating: 3 stars

Ramona’s World (1999)

ramona-worldThis is the final book in the series! There’s a new girl in the fourth grade and her name is  Daisy. Soon enough, Daisy and Ramona become best friends. Ramona is starting to notice boys (ahem! Daisy’s older brother!) and she gets her first chance to babysit… well, catsit. And best of all, Yard Ape (aka Danny) is back in the story. And so is Susan of the boing-boing curls! And Ramona is happy being Baby Roberta’s big sister…

This book really is the perfect end to the series. It brings pretty much every loose end of the series together. The only missing person? Henry Huggins. Whatever happened to him? (Please Beverly Cleary, just ONE MORE book?! Fifth Grade Ramona!)

One of my Favourite Quotes from the book*…
“’Weren’t you wearing trousers?’ [asked Beezus.]

Ramona said in her most dignified way, ‘Princesses don’t wear trousers.’ She paused and added, ‘Unless they are in disguise.’

The family found this funny. Beezus recovered enough to say, “You must have looked weird, just your bare legs hanging down from the ceiling.’

And my underpants, thought Ramona in horror, not having pictured the scene from below until this moment. Did I fall far enough for them to show? What if Jeremy saw them? She could never face him again.”

*Best scene in the book is when she falls through the ceiling!

My Rating: 4.5 stars


Have you read these books? What are your thoughts? Which one(s) do you like? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Re-read: The Ramona Books – Part 1

So… Yesterday (apparently) was Beverly Cleary’s 104th birthday. And so to celebrate this truly awesome writer, I’m going to do some mini-reviews on one of her most memorable characters: Ramona Quimby!

Beezus and Ramona (1955)

beezus-ramonaWe are first introduced to little Ramona Quimby through the books about Henry Huggins. In some ways, this book almost fits in better with that series, but for some reason, it’s considered Book 1 of the Ramona books, even if it’s not from Ramona’s POV! (It focuses on the point of view of Beezus.) And like in the Henry Huggins books, Ramona is… well, she’s a pest!

Ramona ruins a library book! She locks the dog Ribsy in the bathroom! She takes a bite out of every apple in the storage. Poor Beezus. But still, it’s fun to see Beezus figure out various ways to handle that pesky Ramona.

One of my Favourite Quotes from the book*…
“’Mother, what am I going to do?’ Beezus demanded. ‘It’s checked out on my card and I’m responsible. They won’t let me take any more books out of the library, and I won’t have anything to read, and it will all be Ramona’s fault. She’s always spoiling my fun and it isn’t fair!’ Beezus didn’t know what she would do without her library card. She couldn’t get along without library books. She just couldn’t, that was all.”

*I 100% get where Beezus is coming from! The horror of having to turn in a ruined library book. :/

My Rating: 3 stars

Ramona the Pest (1968)

ramona-pestRamona Quimby is in kindergarten! This (in my opinion) is truly Ramona’s first book. We get to see the magic of her thought process… like when she sits patiently because her teacher told her to “wait for the present” (thinking she was going to get a gift of some sort on the first day of school). We also get to see Henry Huggins in action (poor Henry) as the crossing guard who has to rescue Ramona from the mud.

And finally, there are those oh-so-tempting curls belonging to Susan (i.e. Ramona’s nemesis). Those curls are Ramona’s downfall. Just one little tug… BOING! Ramona gets sent home. Oh, the devastation! Convinced her beloved teacher hates her, Ramona refuses to go back to school. Will Ramona Quimby a school drop out at age 5?!

One of my Favourite Quotes from the book*…
“Ramona could not understand why grown-ups always talked about how quickly children grew up. Ramona thought growing up was the slowest thing there was, slower even than waiting for Christmas to come. She had been waiting years just to get to kindergarten, and the last half hour was the slowest part of all.”

*I think this quote best demonstrates why Cleary’s books remain as good today as when she wrote them. She understands what it’s like to be a child!

My Rating: 3 stars

Ramona the Brave (1975)

ramona-braveRamona isn’t afraid of anything… Especially not the first grade! And what’s really exciting is that the Quimby family is building onto their house so that Ramona gets her own bedroom. But she soon finds out that maybe she isn’t quite as brave as she thought when she has to sleep in that new bedroom… alone. And then there’s the dog on the way to school…

One of my Favourite Quotes from the book*…
“Ramona stood inside her new closet, pretending she was in an elevator. She slid open the door and stepped out into her new room, which she pretended was on the tenth floor.”

*I loved doing this as a kid. We lived in various houses and not all of our houses had this style of closet door. But when my sister and I got to share a bedroom with one of these “elevator” doors, you bet we took the elevator!

My Burning Question about this book…
Mrs. Kemp (i.e. Howie’s grandmother) babysits Ramona and Beezus when Mr. and Mrs. Quimby go to Parents’ Night at school. So, WHO is babysitting Howie and Willa Jean?

My Rating: 4 stars

Ramona and Her Father (1977)


This is probably my favourite of the books!

Mr. Quimby loses his job, and Ramona (who is now in second grade) wants to help out… If only she can get a job like those “rich” kids who do commercials on television. She and Beezus also team up to try to get their dad to stop smoking.

And then there’s the church Christmas pageant! Ramona has the perfect idea to dress up as a little lamb, but her mother never gets around to making the right kind of costume. It’ll take a little encouragement for Ramona to bounce back.

One of my Favourite Scenes in the book…
Ramona wants so much to help her dad earn a million dollars like the kids do on TV. She finds burrs and decides to practice by making a crown, just like in the commercial. Of course, once the burrs hit her hair, oh boy! Now it’s up to Dad to cut it out with scissors. But Ramona is bound and determined never to let him know the TRUE reason why she put the burrs in her hair in the first place!

My Rating: 5 stars


Have you read these books? What are your thoughts? Which one(s) do you like? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

It Take Three Strikes

20171112ma_5277Years ago, when I’d crack open a book, I knew I was in it for the long haul. If I committed to reading the book, I would finish it… no matter what. Yes, no matter what.

(I’m guessing this is probably (most likely) due to school. We are assigned a book and we have to read it for class or do a report on it or whatever.)

But now things have changed.

For me, most of my reading is (supposed to be) for pleasure. So, when I crack open a book, and for whatever reason I’m not liking it, I’ve found that it’s okay to give myself the luxury of NOT FINISHING THE BOOK.

Yes, it’s okay to not finish a book.


Now, this came as a bit of a revelation to me.

By nature, I’m a rule-follower. I always felt this (perhaps unwritten) rule that once you start a book, you need to finish it. But for what purpose? What if the book is poorly written? What if I can’t stand the plot? Or the characters? What if…? What if…?

As I stated above, I’m a rule-follower. So, I created a new rule for me to follow.

What I call”My Three Strike Rule”.

This is how it works. I always start with fresh optimism that this book may become one of my favourite books. (And sometimes it does! Hooray!)

But, sometimes, the book gets strikes. Strikes can range from lousy writing to too much historical inaccuracy to too much profanity. (Aside: If every other sentence features the f-bomb, I’m probably not going to stick around.) Or sometimes I’ll just realize I’m not actually enjoying this read. For any of the above, that’s when I’ll say to myself (and yes, often I say this out loud to myself): “Strike One”.

Now, I am pretty kind when it comes to giving strikes. If it’s a minor thing, I may ignore it at first. When it starts to get on my nerves, but it’s still not THAT big of a deal, I may even give it only a half strike. My hope, always, is that the book will just get better. (And sometimes it does! Yay!)

But sadly, in my experience, once I’ve identified a strike, or even a half-strike, it usually goes downhill from there. Strike Two. Strike Three. DNF.

A few years back, this happened to me with a book that took a modern-day girl into the world of Little Women. Now, I love this kind of book. Except when it messes with the original book too much.

(Note: If you’ve never read Little Women, this next bit contains SPOILERS.)

In this case, this book messed with Amy. Now, to be perfectly honest, Amy has never been my favourite character. And as a kid, I wanted Jo to marry Laurie just as much as anybody. I ranted at Louisa May Alcott for what she did. But, I’ve also come to accept Amy and Laurie as a couple (although I do wish Alcott had left Jo single instead of marrying her off to the Professor). But even though I don’t care for the Professor as  marriage material, I know and accept that Little Women is Little Women. And just as you cannot change history, I believe you cannot change book history.

So, as I was reading this modern take on Little Women, I began to see what the author was doing. She was getting rid of the real, true Amy of the book! Louisa May Alcott’s creation. And then she was arranging for things to be different for Jo and Laurie.

Yes, here’s the point where I gave the story my first strike.

Why was that a strike for me? Because I think the author of this book missed Alcott’s point. Amy didn’t steal Laurie from Jo. Even if Amy never existed, I still think  Jo would not have married Laurie. And while I wish in my heart of hearts that Jo could love Laurie as he loved her, sometimes that just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen in real life. (Marriage didn’t happen for Alcott.) And so, it doesn’t always happen in book life.

Did this book get three strikes? Absolutely, yes, it did. Probably about half-way through. I can’t remember the exact point anymore. I do remember peeking at the end of the book to see if I was right about the author’s intent. I was. If I was a book thrower, I would have thrown that book across the room. (I’m not and I didn’t.)

So, I’m glad I did not feel obligated to finish this book in any way.

What about you? Do you have any rule for finishing or not finishing a book?

When You’ve Read the Last One


You’ve just read the last book ever written by an author.

And the author is no longer living. In other words: Dead.

What do you do?

Years ago, I remember reading about a man whose favourite author was Charles Dickens. He had read every single novel by Dickens. Except one.

This intrigued me. You see, the reason he held out on reading the final book was because he was saving it. That way he would always have one more book to look forward to.

I always wondered, Did he ever read that final book? And if so… when? On his death bed??

Fortunately, for the fan of Charles Dickens, there are a lot of books to enjoy. The same goes for Shakespeare. It’ll take you awhile to go through those.

I also remember my mom once telling me that, after reading To Kill a Mockingbird, she would always keep her eyes peeled for a “new” book by Harper Lee. Except, there was never any other book. She’d only ever published that one. (Until a couple of years ago, that is. I’ve still not read Go Set a Watchman. Basically because I’m afraid to. My big question is this: If the book wasn’t good enough to be published pre-Mockingbird, why would it be good enough to be published now?)

And then there’s Jane Austen. She only published six novels. Once you’ve read the six, that’s it! Unless you want to read her unfinished works. Which, frankly, I tend to avoid. And I don’t count the fan fiction. (I’ve tried, and in my opinion, those books don’t quite cut it.)

So, what do you do when you’ve run out of books by your favourite author?

I find there are two things that can be done.

1) Good books are worth reading a second time. And a third. And a fourth. Actually, a good book just keeps getting better.

2) It also means you get to look for new authors. Whether they are new “old” (read: dead) authors, or new “new” (read: alive) authors. It’ll be hit and miss. Probably more misses than hits. And when you find a good one, it’s like adding to your circle of friends.

Happy New Year!

How Much Tea Do You Drink?

20170527ma_1327I’m a bit of a tea fanatic. I drink tea pretty much all day long.

Pot after pot. Mug after mug. Summer or Winter.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m drawn to books that feature tea. And one of my favourite series that does this so wonderfully is Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

I love this series.

So, when I recently read a review of one of his books by somebody who hated it (they gave it one star), my reaction was: Wait! How can you hate Mma Ramotswe? Turns out this person was expecting a mystery novel. Okay, I get it now. Really, these books aren’t really about the mystery, even though Mma Ramotswe is a detective! (In fact, I find it funny that the books are sometimes marketed that way.)

No, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is really about Life. And people. The series delights in highlighting the quirks of people. Every single character has their own little special foibles, including our protagonist: Mma Ramotswe.

Like Mma Ramotswe’s obsession with tea. (In particular, redbush tea.)

“Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill. These were its assets: a tiny white van, two desks, two chairs, a telephone, and an old typewriter. Then there was a teapot, in which Mma Ramotswe – the only lady private detective in Botswana – brewed redbush tea. And three mugs – one for herself, one for her secretary, and one for the client.
~ The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

And every one of McCall Smith’s books has some sort of tea in them.

In fact, these books are chock full of tea!

In an interview, he was asked about this. Here’s his response: “Naturally, when I came to write my Botswana novels… tea played a part in the narrative… Some assume that the tea-drinking has some symbolic meaning; in fact, it is merely a novelist’s device for ensuring a break in between other scenes. I suppose, if pressed, I might come up with an explanation in terms of its calming effect; it is no doubt true that tea-drinking is a calming thing to read about, but that is not necessarily why I write about it. One can always do the right thing for the wrong reason.”

And do you know how many cups of tea Mma Ramotswe drinks in just one day?

Well, we find out in a delectable passage from a later book in the series: The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection

“We spend quite a lot on tea,” mused Mma Makutsi. “If you add it up, Mma. You have… how many cups of tea do you have, Mma Ramotswe? Ten? Twelve?”

“I haven’t counted, Mma Makutsi. And you yourself―”

Then our two favourite tea-drinkers start to make some calculations. Counting each cup from the time they wake in the morning…

She paused. “How many does that make, Mma?

“I think that makes eight,” said Mma Makutsi. “Call it ten.”

“Ten cups,” said Mma Ramotswe thoughtfully. “And we haven’t counted the evening tea. That must be added. So maybe fourteen cups of tea in all.”

In my opinion, it’s these passages about tea and such that make McCall Smith’s work so delightful to read. These tea-breaks are the times when Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi get around to philosophizing about life. As so often happens, the two women come to different points of view. (Mma Makutsi has some very strong opinions.) But Mma Ramotswe always knows how to solve these tricky situations.

“That’s not true,” said Mma Ramotswe. “But let us not argue, Mma, because I believe it’s time for tea and the more time you spend arguing, the less tea you can drink.”
~ Precious and Grace

And finally, two more of my favourite Tea Quotes from the books:

“The telling of a story, like virtually everything in this life, was always made all the easier by a cup of tea.”
The Miracle at Speedy Motors

“It was time for tea as it so often was.”
~ The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

Now I think it’s time for a cup of tea…

P.S. To answer the question in the title of this post, I think I probably drink about 7-10 mugs of tea a day. (Yes, despite the existence of my pretty teacups, I tend to drink out of mugs for everyday.) So… not quite as many as Mma Ramotswe. I don’t know if anybody drinks more tea than Mma Ramotswe.

What Shall I Call Thee?

Growing up, one of my best friends would often refer to our favourite authors by their first names. (In fact, she still does it today.) And, by extension, any book by said author. So an L.M. Montgomery book would become a “Lucy Maud” … As in “Have you read this Lucy Maud?” (Later she’d shortened it to simply “Lucy”.)

And I’ve noticed that this with other people as well, typically regarding women writers. Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder are “Louisa” and “Laura”. Jane Austen fans even have their own special designation as “Janeites”.

But why do we call authors by their first name? Is it because it makes these authors feel more like our friends? Well, that’s my guess.

But, I’m different. For me, it’s important to use the author’s name under which they published. So “Lucy Maud Montgomery” is written or spoken of as “L.M. Montgomery”. And thereafter, in the same conversation or article, just as “Montgomery”.  (Which becomes a slight problem if we’re talking about the Brontes!)

I think this may stem from this realization… Authors are people that have private lives. For example, “Lucy Maud” was never really called “Lucy” (her grandmother’s name) in her lifetime. Her family and friends called her “Maud”. And for most of her published life, she was “Mrs. Macdonald”. And yet, she published under the name “L.M. Montgomery”.

For me, that knowledge is enough. “L.M. Montgomery” she would be.

So, while C.S. Lewis was “Jack” to his friends, he was “C.S. Lewis” to me because that’s how I knew him.

And then there’s Jane Austen. I’m definitely a fan, but for some reason, I cannot (and will not) call myself a “Janeite”. I will not call her “Jane”.

I think, for me, it’s a respect thing. Respecting the work of the author. Respecting the boundaries between an author and the reader. Although, when my friend does the opposite? I find it endearing. It’s like Jane Austen really is her friend!

So, what’s that say about me? Hmm…

P.S. I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong side to this. But it interests me to find out where other people stand. What do you tend to do?

P.S. 2 – If you’re curious to know… The photo above is of a statue of “Lucy Maud” at the L.M. Montgomery Museum in Leaskdale, Ontario.

Pet Peeves / We are Not Amused

20170928ma_4871.jpgThis post is about a pet peeve of mine. It often comes up in fantasy novels or historical fiction. These are the stories where we are most likely to have a King or Queen.

So, what’s the pet peeve?

It’s when a king or queen is addressed incorrectly.

Never call a Queen “Highness” or even “Your Highness”. That’s what you call a Princess. Please don’t call her “milady” or “My Lady” (I’m pretty sure that’s only a Lady, as in the wife of a Knight).

The proper way to speak to a King (or Queen) is to say: “Your Majesty”. And “Sire” is okay. (If it’s a Queen, you may call her “Madam”, I believe.)

Don’t call a King “Your Grace” (I think that’s a duke) or “Your Excellency” (a bishop?).

I’m definitely not an expert in this, but I know enough to know this much. And it drives me crazy when some fictional kingdom breaks these rules of etiquette. Not because the author is doing in intentionally (I’d be okay with that if there was a good reason, like the ignorance of one of the characters).

No, mostly it’s because these authors just don’t know.

I can’t tell you how many times this pet peeve of mine creeps into books I read. Sometimes it’s enough to make me want to quit reading the book. (Although, if the story and characters are good enough, I’ll grit my teeth and finish it.)

Authors! All I have to say is this: If you have royalty in your story, please address them properly.

We are not amused.

P.S. The photo I’ve included was taken at the Prop Warehouse at the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. I was trying to think of a photo to go with this post and I remembered this throne. I thought, What’s more royal than a throne? And especially a throne like this one?!


The Magic of Half Magic

20171007ma_5029The magic of Edward Eager’s Half Magic isn’t always the actual magic in the book. Yes, there’s a charm that grants wishes (or, to be more accurate, half-wishes!). What’s really magical about the book, is Eager’s way of putting things. Usually, it’s some little aside. Something quick.

And then there is this delightful passage. It happens when the four children (Jane, Mark, Katherine, and Martha) first meet Mr. Smith, a new grown-up that has entered their lives…

The four children generally divided all grown ups into four classes. There were the ones like Miss Bick and Uncle Edwin and Aunt Grace and Mrs. Hudson whofrankly, and cruel as it might be to say itjust weren’t good with children at all. There was nothing to do about these, the four children felt, except be as polite as possible and hope they would go away soon.

Then there were the ones like Miss Mamie King, whowhen they were with childrenalways seemed to want to pretend they were children, too. This was no doubt kindly meant, but often ended with the four children’s feeling embarrassed for them.

Somewhat better were the opposite ones who went around treating children as though the children were as grown-up as they were themselves. This was flattering, but sometimes a strain to live up to. Many of the four children’s school teachers fell into this class.

Last and best and rarest of all were the ones who seemed to feel that children were children and grown ups were grown ups and that was that, and yet at the same time there wasn’t any reason why they couldn’t get along perfectly well and naturally together, and even occasionally communicate, without changing that fact.

Mr. Smith turned out to one of these.

Half Magic, by Edward Eager (Chapter 6)

This is why I love to read (and re-read) books by Edward Eager! It’s the magic of his words. 🙂