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Blog: Rae Looks Again

From my office window, two stories above my garden, I hear the teachers first, an alert that my favorite site is occurring yet again. “Come on, Billy,” they call. "We have to meet the others at the corner.” Or “Susan, push your feet forward. Come this way.”

All bundled up

The two and three year olds are out for a walk on a warm day. Some of the children walk purposefully. Some still finish snack time while on the move. A few arrive at the corner north of my house and impatiently wait for their buddies.

One little guy is bundled up as if winter were about to make a quick return. Or is the truth that he loves that hat and scarf?

A couple of children ride bikes without pedals, bikes short enough that they can propel them with a foot on either side.

Susan has not yet gotten the idea of pushing off with her toes. She pushes with her heels and thus goes reversing down the sidewalk. She dismounts, pushes the bike forward for a few steps, then gets back on only to lose half her forward motion. Susan will get it. I expect any day to look out and see her traveling at the speed of the rest. I love her persistence.

Looking for a pool

One of the girls strides by, sporting swim goggles. I wonder if she woke this morning hoping for a different type of excursion. I expect her folks will soon sign her up for summer swimming classes.

But Billy is the child I wait for. Billy will not be hurried. Each day, he studies what others have passed by. He collects the winged seeds of my neighbor’s maple and the spikey nuts of my Sweet Gums. He kicks the piles of leaves from the Kwanza Cherries north of my yard. He watches lost worms creep their tentative way across the sidewalk in search of home.

When the sun comes out, and Billy discovers a companion he didn’t know he had.

Walking with a new friend

By the time Billy arrives at the corner, he has been on an expedition. From my window, I think, “Come on, Billy. Keep looking. Keep seeing what the rest of us have forgotten to enjoy.”

I know that someday, Billy will go by with the speed of others. He will have learned that friends become impatient. He will have unlearned the freedom of his curiosity. When he is grown, I hope he recalls, in the back alleys of memory, his joy in exploration.

(In case you are worried, yes, I have permission to photograph the children in these pictures.)

Updated: Jun 14, 2022

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Review by Rae Richen

I have a young friend who used to have trouble reading. We meet twice a week and he works on his skills in reading. He is now in the eighth grade.

When we first met, he had the habit of skipping lines, not thinking about the meaning of the words, phrases and sentences he read. When confronted with long words, he would pick a word out of the air that might make sense.

That was some time ago.

By this year, he has leaned to use his plastic ruler to stay on the same line. We frequently have stopped reading to discuss the ideas he just read about. And he contributes greatly to that discussion, guessing what might happen next and talking about what just happened with insight.

I read every other page to him, so he sees me following along with my finger, in order to keep track of where I am. He also has seen me stop, go back and say, “Oh, I read the wrong word there. Let me read that sentence again.”

He now does those things and pays a lot more attention to meaning.

So, this year, I asked his teacher to get him a copy of Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen.

And Wow! He is anxious to read because between our meetings, he has been worried about Brian. Our thirteen-year-old character had set out with a private pilot who would have taken him to visit his father in Alaska. When things go very wrong, Brian has to land the plane in a long lake deep in Canada’s north woods.

Brian is there, alone, away from all humans and has to find a way to stay alive when there is very little hope of anyone ever knowing where he is.

My young friend cared about Brian. He wanted to read. He learned a whole lifetime’s worth of skills from Gary Paulsen’s deep story of survival and perseverance.

Read this book with your family. Read this book with your reluctant reader. Read it with friends. Read this book. And when you have finished, you will want to read Paulsen’s other Brian stories, Brian’s Winter, Brian’s Hunt, The River, and Brian’s Return. Those other Paulsen novels are among my gifts to my young friend for his summer reading.

Note: Gary Paulsen died in October of 2021. His novels will inspire young readers for many generations to come. A very good interview with Paulsen can be found at

Updated: Jun 14, 2022


by John Le Carré

Review by Rae Richen

John Le Carré’s last novel, edited by his son Nick Cornwell, is a delightful exhibition of characters and insights. Julian Lawndsley, a relative naïve in the political and spy world, narrates his encounters with a con artist, Edward and his mysterious family.

When Lawndsley leaves his city job and opens a bookstore in the beach town in East Anglia, he becomes enamored of the obvious people user and irrepressible liar, Edward Avon.

Edward, his wife, his daughter, and his hidden love in London become an adventure for Lawndsley and for us.

In alternate chapters, Le Carré introduces us to spy chief, Stewart Proctor, ostensibly of MI5, or is it MI6? or is the British spy business now dying or defunct? Is Proctor overseeing its burial?

Proctor, well-aware of the bumbling in the upper reaches of British Intelligence, sets out to discover the truth behind Edward Avon.

In one amazing chapter, Le Carré’s Proctor descends into the bowels of what once were command shelters during the Cold War and there, he carries on a conversation with his tour guide about how things work, used to work, maybe still work and why they might not work – a very revealing conversation.

Does British intelligence have a problem? A financing problem? A trust problem? A moral problem?

Every conversation in the story is replete with Le Carré double meaning, or empty spaces that can be filled with guesses as to meaning, and off-hand comments by Proctor or Edward or Julian that makes you laugh out loud.

Aside from revealing maybe more than Le Carré wanted to reveal about the state of British Intelligence (he seemed to his son to have been reluctant to publish this finished novel), this story captures the reader, hoping Julian and others really are as naïve and as innocent as they seemed. Or were they, in truth, part of the web of distrust?

Or was the author's reluctance to publish related to the character of Edward Avon and his resemblance to people that the author knew?

Well worth adding to your collection of Le Carré novels. Buy a new bookcase, if you have to.

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