Tag Archives: Cynthia Rylant

Curl up and Cuddle: The Relatives Came


Sometimes life gets busy, crazy, and chaotic.  Normal people seek out friends to help them through a crisis; book people seek out old favorite books to help provide a bit of normalcy or escape.  For me, old favorites often are children’s books.  They hearken back to a time when I didn’t have teenagers that needed to be driven everywhere, when chicken nuggets were the perfect meal, and days could be spent curled up with the children reading books.  Yea, I know, I am idolizing the past, but sometimes everyone needs a bit of fantasy escape.  So, grab a pillow, a blanket,  and your favorite children book, snuggle with your children . . . or your cat . . . and curl up and cuddle.

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant
The book starts with “It was the summer of the year when the relatives came” and continues to tell the story of the relatives who drive up from Virginia, with their cooler full of crackers, bologna sandwiches, and soda pop.  As they drive through the mountains and over the dusty roads, their minds are on their grapes back home and on us, waiting for them.  When they arrive, there is hugging and kissing and visiting and crying and catching up.  The relatives stayed for weeks and weeks and helped with the garden and broken things around the house and other things that need to be done.  There is sadness when the relatives leave but even through we are missing them, there are dreams of next summer.


This book always chokes me up a bit but I have to smile.  The simple drawings and beautiful prose vividly recreate that feeling when special people return to our lives.  My favorite part is the description as to how you have to pass through at least four different hugs to get from the kitchen to the front room.  The simple story-line highlights all the wonderful and strange feelings when there are guests in the house; the sound of different snoring, the smell of larger amounts of food being served (you know that smell), the feel of the air when those dear to you are together.

I am sure everyone has a memory of a time when relatives came.  My greatest is traveling to Wisconsin when I was child to visit my cousins for Thanksgiving.  We all stayed at my aunt and uncle’s house; there were mounds of food, multi-day Monopoly Games, sleeping bags on the floor, and hours of embarrassing stories.  Although we got together but a few times a year, it always picked up with no awkwardness – even through the teenage years – as if we hadn’t been apart.  What makes this memory even more special is that it is now repeated with my children, my sister’s children, and my cousins’ children.

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, this is a great book to pick up and share with your family and friends.  A timeless classic of what makes our loved ones special, quirky, annoying, and perfect.  The Relatives are Coming again – there is more laughter, noise, and joy.


So . . . to mix things up a little, every Friday I will list of four things. Hope you enjoy and I would love to hear feedback.

The thing that I love about Facebook is being able to connect with friends and acquaintances from different points in my life.  I especially love reconnecting with former students.  A few weeks ago, a former student commented to me that she enjoyed my blog but with three small children, her reading time and focus were directed toward a different level.  Boy do I remember those days!  As her oldest is now starting first grade, she was looking for suggestions.  This is a list of four of my favorite book series for early readers; I define early readers as grades K – 3.  All of these books are great to begin reading with your child and then as their own reading abilities develop, they can continue the series independently.  These are for you, Michelle!

Jigsaw Jones by James Preller
Jigsaw Jones is in second grade and he loves to solve board puzzles.  Using the same investigating skills to fit physical puzzle pieces together, he and his friend Mila work together to help friends solve their problems and puzzles through their private eye business.  With a great cast of characters including Joey Pignattano, Bobby Solofsky, Bigs Maloney, and Wingnut O’Brien, Jigsaw navigates the complexities of second grade and has fun, creative adventures.

I love this series for a number of reasons.  Jigsaw is a very likable, yet real character.  He makes mistakes, he understands the loyalty of friends, and he thinks.  All the mysteries that he solves are realistic problems for this age group – a missing hamster, a worm thief, the source of a food fight; there are no robbers or inappropriate villains.  Jigsaw and his best friend Mila send each other secret messages in fun codes like number substitutions and mirror codes that my own children loved to recreate.  Jigsaw’s classroom teacher Ms. Gleason is also a very likable and supportive character.  With well over 25 books in the series, my children loved to follow Jigsaw’s adventures, and there is enough witty humor that adults reading along are not going to be bored.  I also loved that I was able to get my children hooked on mysteries at an early age!  The author isn’t writing any new books in the series but there are quite enough to keep your kids busy.

Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat
Nate is also a detective who solves the mysteries of his neighborhood friends.  The writing for this book series is very clever and fast-paced as the reader is taken through a logical thinking process to solve the dilemmas, including a missing recipe, a lost key, and a disappearing cat.  Fortified before any adventure with a stack of pancakes, Nate takes on a Sam Spade type persona with a lot of self-talk and wit.

This series originated in the 70’s and is truly a delight.  Nate is a very dry and likeable character.  My own children especially appreciated the simple, humorous drawings that accompany each story, and of course, Nate’s love of pancakes.  The stories are written without chapters and are told straight through.  With the text not being too long, kids can feel a sense of accomplishment of finishing a story in one sitting.  The supporting neighborhood characters including Annie and her dog Fang and Rosemond and her cats add to the humor; also, in every book, Nate writes a quirky note to his mother.  The book is written in first person, and the conversational style of Nate is a lot of fun to read aloud and lends itself to great characterization.  Both my son and daughters enjoyed the Nate the Great books, but there is another series by this author featuring Nate’s cousin, Olivia Sharp.    Not quite as strongly written as the Nate the Great books, my daughters did enjoy Olivia’s adventures.

The Cobble Street Cousins by Cynthia Rylant
Three cousins, Lily, Tess, and Rosie, share an attic bedroom at the home of their Aunt Lucy while their parents are away.  To fill some time during the summer, they start a cookie company.  As they deliver the cookies, they meet their neighbors on Cobble Street and build some wonderful friendships.

Anyone familiar with children’s books knows Cynthia Rylant, but of all the books of hers that I have read, this series is by far my favorite.  This six book series is absolutely beautiful and an ideal mother-daughter read.  Each of the cousins has a distinct personality and although my children laugh at my description, these are just “nice” books.  They are warm-hearted with lots of beauty and sweet moments.  The simple pencil drawings throughout the books just add to its charm.  There are six books:  In Aunt Lucy’s Kitchen, A Little Shopping, Special Gifts, Some Good News, Summer Party, and Wedding Flowers, and make sure that they are read in order as the story builds upon each previous book.  This is a great series to teach children the delight . . . or curse . . . of the anticipation of “what happens in the next book!”  I only say “curse” as I reflect on my family’s own Amazon bills!

The Magic Treehouse by Mary Pope Osbourne
Brother and sister Jack and Annie find a treehouse in the woods behind their house.  When they climb up the ladder, they discover that the treehouse is full of books.  In the first story as Jack looks through a book on dinosaurs, he comments that he wishes he could see a real Pteranodon.  Suddenly the treehouse is whisked away to the time of the dinosaurs!  Using the book as a reference guide, Jack and Annie must figure out a way to get back home for dinner before they become a dinosaur’s dinner!

I read this first book to my son when he was three.  Being a typical three-year-old boy, I thought that if I could get through a chapter, I would consider it an accomplishment.  We read a chapter and he asked for more; this continued and my never-stopping child listened as I read the entire book to him!  Since then, this series is a favorite and we still purchase each new book as it comes out.

There are numerous things that I like about this series.  First, all the books have ten chapters and are structured in a similar pattern.  This helps to make an easy transition from a being-read-to book to a doing-the-reading-yourself book.  As the early reader knows the formula of what to expect, he can focus on the words and story itself.  I also love the non-fiction quality of the books; although the stories are fictional, the reference text in each book provides facts about the times and places that Jack and Annie adventure to.  This is a great, non-technical way to expose children to non-fiction.  Many of the books have a non-fiction companion book about the topic that provides more detail but is still written in an easy-going manner.  Finally, I love the relationship between Jack and Annie.  They are siblings who bicker and quarrel but have the bond of friendship and shared experience.  My son and daughter are the same age difference as Jack and Annie and they would play these characters when they were younger. They would grab a book off our bookshelf, climb into their treehouse (aka the couch), and travel off on an adventure!  What an imagination!  My youngest daughter would travel along as the mouse Peanut, who you meet in later books.  An added bonus is that the series was written into a children’s musical called Magic Treehouse: The Musical.  The soundtrack was, and still is, a favorite of ours.  Although the production is done in limited areas, usually the East Coast, I know that if it ever comes closer to home, my three, regardless of their age, will insist upon seeing it.