My husband, the Eleven O’Clock Dad, is different from me in every imaginable way.  It was an opposites attract thing from day one.  Tomatoes, to-mah-toes, you know?  But at the end of the day, we recommit.  Always.

This couple, on their balcony, in the Plaza Real, each of them with a book! 

Couple in Plaza Real_5781

May this be us in our mature years, when our balcony summons. I can see it: my husband with one of his business books, and me with my Neruda poetry. And the afternoon is lovely.

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Eleven O’Clock Mom Talks About Middle Grade Novels

Princess Academy: Palace of Stone
by Shannon Hale

 Book Review of Middle Grade Novels - Princess Academy: Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale

My middle daughter, known to her mother as Zinnia Girl owing to the fact that she looks as much like a fairy in a Cecily Mary Barker illustration as any girl on the planet, absolutely adores Shannon Hale, author of several wonderful middle grade novels.  In fact, a couple of months ago, Miss Zinnia attended a special event at a bookstore in Salt Lake City, The King’s English, where Shannon Hale was signing her new book, Palace of Stone, the unexpected sequel to the Newberry Honor winning Princess Academy.  Now you have to understand:  in my daughter’s world, Shannon Hale is a rock star.  So, when the author not only signed my daughter’s copy of the book with a special dedication but also spent (not a little!) time chatting with her about her taste in books and her particular fondness for The Goose Girl (also a Hale book), my daughter was over . . . the . . . moon!  She talked about it for days.  You would have thought she had met Queen Elizabeth.  Or, better yet, Princess Kate.

When I first read Princess Academy at the insistence of my girls several years ago, I expected something merely sweet, but I was delighted to find the story fresh and compelling, the characters skillfully developed, and the writing lovely.  It was that rare combination, a book that is both quiet and tense.  Palace of Stone is similar.  Miri, the main character, has left her remote mountain home and lives in the lowlands, in the palace, where her closest friend, Britta, is preparing to marry the prince.  But an insurgency has begun, and, when Britta becomes the target of it, Miri must decide two things:  how to deflect the people’s anger, and how to convince the king and queen that they are painfully out of touch with the poor and the suffering who live just beyond the palace gates.  Unless they begin to take a different view of their subjects, they will face an insurrection and possibly the total overthrow of their kingdom.

Although Hale’s books draw from a familiar genre, Miri is no Cinderella!  It’s her resourcefulness and intelligence, not her looks, that make her persuasive.  And her strong connection to her mountain home and the magical properties of the quarry stone found only there are what give her the answers she needs in moments of both conflict and love.

As a mom of teenage girls who love to read, I always feel triumphant when we find not just a book but an author whose work both delights and resonates.  I would so much rather my teen readers identify with Miri–a Renaissance girl if there ever was one–than Disney’s Cinderella, who, as one critic put it, accepts debasement as a prelude to success in life.  So.  Moms out there.  Feel great about the Hale canon!

What are your daughters reading?  Let’s share ideas around!  And, in the meantime, thank you Shannon Hale for bringing us characters of substance and compassion.


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Most moms I know have some system for what a good friend of mine calls “self-care.” For me, this involves stealing time to read occasionally. Sometimes I’ll go months without a book, then read several in a week, the fridge emptying, the laundry piling up, until I resurface and decide to attend to the regular business of my life. But afterwards!–I’m super charged! I feel like I could surf twenty-foot waves and leap tall buildings! Really–that’s what reading does for me. Once I’m back from a book (or two), I’m really back, as in fully present and good to go.

For some moms, self-care is a straightforward pedicure. For others, it’s getting dirt under their nails as they garden! Or it’s girl time enjoyed over salmon tacos at the local Mexican restaurant. Now I’m not suggesting we all boycott the obligations we very happily signed on for, check into five-star hotels, and use up the family savings indulging our whims.  I’m just talking about a moment or two, here and there, for authentic rejuvenation. Call me an “apologist” for self-care.

For me, a close second to reading is wandering into fragrance boutiques to check out lotions and potions. Not kidding! I almost never buy them. But I just LOVE beautiful scents of all kinds.  Moreover, I walk away from these little excursions smelling divine, which can take me a long ways.  You need directions to the local Jo Malone boutique?  Or Fresh?  Give me a call.

What is your system for self-care? How does it benefit you, and what are the dividends for your family once you’re “powered up”?

(We took the above photo in a boutique in Bamberg, Germany.  The bottles hold energy essences, not perfumes, though the scents are nevertheless lovely!)

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