bluecastle: (diary)

The Diary of Anne Frank

I don't know why I keep putting off writing about this book. Perhaps it's just that my connection to it is so painful and personal.
 
I have always been shy and awkward, and was always picked on by kids at school. Part of it was that I started school at a younger age than most of my classmates and as such was a bit socially retarded. 
 
Long story short, I just never quite fit in. Glasses. Awkward. Always got along with boys better than girls. Excelled at reading. Couldn't multiply for nothing...
 
I will never understand why people see shy and equate it to stuck-up, but that's followed me all my life.
 
Anyway... when I was ten we moved two mountains over to a new town, and suddenly I didn't know ANYBODY and being cripplingly shy didn't help. Girls hated me. Boys scorned me. Abuse happened that I can't even think about without getting all tangled up inside.
 
It was worst in middle school. By the time high school rolled around it was still bad, but I was in the band, and eventually got involved with the drama kids, and found some tolerance among the arty crowd. Plus we all grew up a bit.
 
But middle school was a bloody nightmare. It was awful and I am surprised I survived. I would come home every day and cry.
 
After the shootings in Columbine my mother asked me "you were one of those outsider kids ... how come you never went nutso?" Actually, I probably did go a little nuts (and I probably still am... unknown people and situations still freak me out). But I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that this book went a long way to preventing me from going completely batty.
 
What I saw in that book, was someone else who was oppressed on a daily basis. It gave me someone to sympathize with. I read a lot of books about girls affected by the holocaust back then. I understood what it felt like to have people hatin' on you. This book and others like it made me feel less alone. In all kinds of ways it might be the most important book of my life.
 
I'm nearly in tears here as I type this.
 
Anneliese Marie Frank, the girl, was as unlike me as it is possible to be. But in the end... we were still pretty much the same. Her strength helped me find my own. It helped me withstand some terrible things. She believed in the goodness of people, and I wanted to believe her. I still do.
 
“Will this year, 1944, bring us victory? We don't know yet. But where there's hope, there's life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again. We'll need to be brave to endure the many fears and hardships and the suffering yet to come.”
 
 

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A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal, 1830-32 by Joan W. Blos (1979)
 
While a fictional diary, this is still a very powerful look at a period in American history we don't always hear all that much about.
 
 
"Sunday, October 17, 1830
 
I, Catherine Cabot Hall, aged 13 years, 7 months, 8 days, of Meredith in the State of New Hampshire, do begin this book.
 
It was given to me yesterday, my father returning from Boston, Massachusetts, where he had gone to obtain provisions for the months ahead."  (from the first entry)
 
I'm a sucker for characters whose language is not of my time.
 
excerpts like: "Today I carried my writing book home -- Father had said he wished to see it, and Teacher Holt had granted permission exactly on that account. Now neither I nor M. can find it, looking with care throughout the house and in unlikely places." (page 17) just give me a thrill at the way language used to be used.
 
And Catherine is such a teenager, despite the time period. Worries about a new step-mother, about school, about boys, a little sister, and community gatherings. But, also given the time period there are brushes with death, and an escaped slave.
 
I always think of this as a "pioneer" book, although it's really hardscrabble New England and not the windy prairies that provide the backdrop ... and the hardships.
 
One advantage of a book in diary format is the strong voice of the narrator, and this is a wonderful example.
 
I think it's time to go on a little visit to Meredith, New Hampshire... circa 1830...
 
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Heidi by Johanna Spyri (1880)
 
"From the old and pleasantly situated village of Mayenfeld, a
footpath winds through green and shady meadows to the foot of
the mountains, which on this side look down from their stern and
lofty heights upon the valley below. The land grows gradually
wilder as the path ascends, and the climber has not gone far
before he begins to inhale the fragrance of the short grass and
sturdy mountain-plants, for the way is steep and leads directly
up to the summits above."
(Heidi, chapter 1)
 
 
Actually, it's not Heidi I want to mention but the two sequels.
 
I stumbled upon them, and don't often hear them talked about so, given the chance to talk them up, I'll get the word out where I can. 
 
The two sequels, Heidi Grows Up (1938), and Heidi's Children (1939) were written by Charles Tritten, Johanna Spyri's translator.
 
If you just can't get enough of little black-haired (yes... black curly haired little Adelheid, to judge from the illustrations) Heidi, then keep your eye out for her further adventures. In the first sequel, she is taking her good Swiss education and teaching in the village school... in the second... well... we meet Tobias (Tobi) and Marta (Martali).
 
Also fun are several other less well known books by Johanna Spyri
 
 
and my favorite, Maezli (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10142/10142-h/10142-h.htm) and it's sequel Maxa's Children
 
What's more fun that haunted castles and mysterious invalids?
 
Actually, revisiting these makes me want to re-read them all, although my copies are in various stages of crumbling-ness.
 
So if you haven't thought about Heidi for a while, stop in a visit with her and goat-Peter. And then check out some of Johanna Spyri's other works. They are just as charming.
 
P.S. -- If you need some amusement in your week, I can point the way towards this film about Heidi called Courage Mountain which features the totally improbable, and highly laughable casting of Charlie Sheen as Peter. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097115/. Siskel and Ebert both gave it a thumbs down... and Ebert says "it just goes to show that no movie with a pet goat in it is any good." On the plus side, Leslie Caron is in it as the headmistress of the school Heidi is shipped off to. If you need a good bad movie... hunt this one up!!!
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With a High Heart by Adele de Leeuw (1945)
 
"So this was where she was to spend the summer! In spite of all her resolutions, the memory of Claremont's gleaming white facde with the tall square-paned windows and bronze grilles and close-clipped firs rose before her eyes. She went up the worn stairs and across the sloping porch.
 
Inside there was a strong smell of fresh paint that made it seem hotter than ever. Beyond the narrow hall a book-lined room opened out, and she could hear voices and the sound of a typewriter stuttering erratically; but a sign at the foot of the stairs caught her eye. "Librarian's Office, Second Floor." She went up the still sticky steps and tapped on the doorjamb." (page 13)
 
Summary: A spirited career book which makes ... library work really sound fulfilling and exciting. Anne McLane, at Library School, is furious when her first assignment is a quiet country library center instead of the up-to-date impressive Claremont library. The bookmobile, the warm-hearted earnest farm community with its great need for books and enterprising people to distribute them, all soon become personal and important to Anne. She changes her focus, gains new interests and values. The human side of library service, plus the necessary heart interest add up to a good modern story. [Kirkus Reviews Copyright (c) VNU Business Media, Inc.]
 
Some days I wish for more books that 'make library work sound fulfilling and exciting.'
 
I can think of a few books where the main character is a librarian ... if I think really hard. But I can't think of another book where a bookmobile figures so prominently. And this is during the rationing that took place during WWII, so gasoline and tires were a scarce commodity!
 
But it's a lovely example of its genre, and big on the power of books to transform one's life, which I can totally get behind. With a pretty good cross-section of the kinds of issues rural library sytems deal with ... economic and educational disadvantages, blindness, illness, lonely people, sad people, hopeless people... people looking for information to make their lives better.
 
To meet my trivia quotient, I looked this up in WorldCat, and 179 libraries own a copy (and it tells me the closest one is 97 miles from my house). I like the idea of libraries holding onto books about libraries!
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The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (1942)
 
"One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from..."
 
My history with these books is the story of how much of a chicken I am. I would say was, but I don't know that I'm any braver now than I was when I was ten. Probably at least a little. When I was ten and all the other kids were reading Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys ... I was too scared by things that go bump in the night. Mysteries were, to my mind, very scary things. I remember holding The Boxcar Children in my hands in the school library and wondering if it would be scary to read. It seems ludicrous now, but I have always been timid. There was also a record of someone reading the story The Red Shoes the creeped me the fuck out. I think I still have it, but have never gotten up the nerve to listen to it over the last 30+ years. Timid is my middle name.
 
But I someone got brave enough to give The Boxcar Children a try. And Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny running away from home ... but ending up being taken in by their grandfather was a lovely fairy tale ending. Orphans always figured big in my reading choices. There's probably a psychologist somewhere who'd like to delve into that one.
 
Oddly, when I think back it's the colors I remember ... the cracked pink cup from the garbage dump, the colors of the kids rooms, the yellow house ...
 
So the next time I feel like running away from home, all I have to do is pick up this book (or one of it's MANY sequels) and have a fine adventure. Maybe I should start looking for a cracked pink cup...
 
for a list of the bazillion books in this series: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Boxcar_Children_novels
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Redwall by Brian Jacques (1986)
 
"It was the start of the Summer of the Late Rose. Mossflower country shimmered gently in a peaceful haze, bathing delicately at each dew-laden dawn, blossoming through high sunny noontides, languishing in each crimson-tinted twilight that heralded the soft darkness of June nights. ... The first mice had built the Abbey of red sandstone quarried from pits many miles away in the north-east. The Abbey building was covered across its south face by that type of ivy known as Virginia creeper. The onset of autumn would turn the leaves in to a cape of fiery hue, thus adding further glory to the name and legend of Redwall Abbey." (and so it begins...) 

Since I skipped posting yesterday, I thought I would concentrate today on the series with the most number of sequels in my collection. I have 14 of them, and there are others that I don't have. And they're not really sequels either, after the first couple ... just additional stories in the Redwall Universe.
 
Time was I had a thing for mice. Or representations thereof. The real ones run too fast and make too much mess! So when I was student teaching in my Middle School library and was put in charge of that semester's book fair, and came across a book about a world which was populated by Abbey dwelling mice... well, what's not to love?!
 
And there's more than mice at the Abbey. All kinds of creatures designated "good" in this universe live there ... moles, squirrels, hedgehogs, badgers, voles, otters, rabbits and hares, and all the mice -- fieldmice, hedgemice, dormice, and even some churchmice. ["Bad" creatures are ones like rats, stoats, weasels, frogs, and foxes.]
 
Redwall Abbey is a sanctuary for all who need help, or seek to live a life of peace and harmony. But as is the way with all good fantasy folk, when need be, it's dwellers can become great warriors dedicated to the protection of the Redwall way of life.
 
Redwall is the tale of a small mouse named Matthias, and how the legend of the great warrior mouse Martin changed his life forever. And there's an evil rat called Cluny the Scourge!! Hardy band of warriors. Epic journeys. Great battles...
 
So if you ever hear anyone giving forth with the great battlecry of Hares and Badgers ... EULALIA!!!!! grab a sword and join in the fray. Redwall always puts on a hell of a feast when victory is won!!
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Maida's Little Shop by Inez Haynes Gillmore (1909)
 

"Opposite the school was a big, wide court. Shaded with beautiful trees—maples beginning to flame, horse-chestnuts a little browned, it was lined with wooden toy houses, set back of fenced-in yards and veiled by climbing vines. Pigeons were flying about, alighting now and then to peck at the ground or to preen their green and purple necks. Boys were spinning tops. Girls were jumping rope. The dust they kicked up had a sweet, earthy smell in Maida’s nostrils. As she stared, charmed with the picture, a little girl in a scarlet cape and a scarlet hat came climbing up over one of the fences. Quick, active as a squirrel, she disappeared into the next yard.

“Primrose Court!” Dr. Pierce exclaimed. “Well, well, well!” 

“Primrose Court,” Maida repeated. “Do primroses grow there?”

 “Bless your heart, no,” Dr. Pierce laughed; “it was named after a man called Primrose who used to own a great deal of the neighborhood.”

 But Maida was scarcely listening. “Oh, what a cunning little shop!” she exclaimed. “There, opposite the court. What a perfectly darling little place!”

 “Good Lord! that’s Connors’,” Dr. Pierce explained. “Many a reckless penny I’ve squandered there, my dear. Connors was the funniest, old, bent, dried-up man. I wonder who keeps it now.”" (page 21)

 
Happy Valentine's Day!! I've been saving this series for a day of love. These books are rather like that heart shaped box of candy I've been nibbling on today. Each one different, but still in some way the same.
 
The first book introduces us to Maida, the daughter of rich businessman Jerome "Buffalo" Westabrook. Maida is getting over a long illness. She has just returned to America after being treated in Europe by a famous German physician. On the way to her father's Boston home, father and daughter are accompanied in their touring car by her family physician Doctor Pierce, and Billy Potter, a newspaperman who is a friend of her father's. They take a detour to visit the neighborhood where Doctor Pierce grew up, a small, mostly lower income suburb called Primrose Court. The corner shop catches Maida's eye and she is delighted to find they sell pickled limes.
 
While not sick any more, Maida is not fully well either, and needs something to occupy her mind as she recouperates. With a nod to hidden identities and other fairy tales, Maida's father buys that little corner shop, and installs Maida and her elderly Irish nurse Granny Flynn, to run it.
 
The shop, newly christened "Maida's Little Shop", is near a small schoolhouse, and she gets to know the children of the neighborhood. Arthur, Rosie, brother and sister Laura and Harold, and Dickie are the older children. The twins, Dorothy and Mable, brother and sister Mollie and Timmie, Betsy, and Dickie's baby sister Delia are the younger children.
 
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Slake's Limbo by Felice Holman (1974)
 
"The thing that happened, when finally it happened, was so perfectly logical that it should not really be considered surprising. Because the fact is that even earlier in life Aremis Slake had often escaped into the subway when things got rough above ground. He kept a subway token in his pocket for just that emergency, and the emergencies kept occurring due to a joining of hostile circumstances." (page 9)
 
 
Just typing that paragraph makes me really, really, really want to re-read this book. Somehow it feels like the kind of sentence that might have come out of some free writing exercise, and sparked a novel.
 
In real world land today, while in a meeting in at my POW (a library) the idea of putting books in limbo came up, mostly as a joke solution to a processing issue... but the word LIMBO, in conjuction with today being Friday the 13th made me think of this book.
 
It was one of the first books I read that introduced me to "modern" YA literature. I'm sure that back in 1992 when I picked this up at the book sale (when and why did I stop signing and dating the cover pages of my books? I need to get back to that...) that I was drawn by the words "subway" and "New York."
 
1992 would have been after my 2 1/2 year love affair with the TV show "Beauty and the Beast." So any mention of living in the tunnels of NYC would have peaked my interest. The idea that there is a whole society down there...
 
And this is so lyrically, and so beautifully written... you just ache for this kid who is so beaten-down by life that he literally goes to ground... and comes out of his experiences richer for it.
 
It's hard to classify something so bleak as wonderful, but it really really is.
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Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster (1912)
 
Blue Wednesday

"The first Wednesday in every month was a Perfectly Awful Day--a day to
be awaited with dread, endured with courage and forgotten with haste.
Every floor must be spotless, every chair dustless, and every bed
without a wrinkle.  Ninety-seven squirming little orphans must be
scrubbed and combed and buttoned into freshly starched ginghams; and
all ninety-seven reminded of their manners, and told to say, 'Yes,
sir,' 'No, sir,' whenever a Trustee spoke.

It was a distressing time; and poor Jerusha Abbott, being the oldest
orphan, had to bear the brunt of it.  But this particular first
Wednesday, like its predecessors, finally dragged itself to a close.
Jerusha escaped from the pantry where she had been making sandwiches
for the asylum's guests, and turned upstairs to accomplish her regular
work.  Her special care was room F, where eleven little tots, from four
to seven, occupied eleven little cots set in a row.  Jerusha assembled
her charges, straightened their rumpled frocks, wiped their noses, and
started them in an orderly and willing line towards the dining-room to
engage themselves for a blessed half hour with bread and milk and prune
pudding."
(and so the book begins...)
 
On this my father's 72nd birthday, here is a book with "daddy" in the title.
 
[Do not, do not, do NOT get this book confused by the movie of the same name. The movie, while being a wonderful vehicle for Fred Astaire, and contributing to my gingham festish, has almost NOTHING to do with the book.]
 
The book is about an orphan Jerusha (Judy) Abbott who is sent to college to become a writer by an anonymous benefactor, who asks  only that she writes him letters telling him about the experience. Epistolary novels are a delight for me, as is this picture of a girl's college in the nineteen-teens.
 
I like the college bits a lot, and it's fun to follow Judy's adventures as she grows, and matures, and develops a mind of her own. And of course there is a love story, which always makes me happy.

book can be found, full text at: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/157
 
There is also a sequel called "Dear Enemy" (1915) written from the POV of Judy's college classmate Sallie McBride as she struggles to run (and reform) the orphanage where Judy grew up.
 
the sequel can all be found, full text at: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/238
 
I haven't re-read the sequel in quite a while, but I have a feeling I'll be reading it again soon now that I found the full-text link.
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Rainbow Garden by Patricia M. St. John (1960)
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)
 
"It all began one cold January night, when I was kneeling in front of my mother's electric fire, drying my hair. Outside, the snow was falling over London, and the footsteps and the noise of the traffic were muffled, but inside my mother's pink bedroom, with the velvet curtains drawn close and the the shaded lamps casting down rosy light, we were very warm and snug." (Rainbow Garden, page 9)
 
"When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true, too. She had a little thin face and her little thin body, thin light hair and a sour expression." (The Secret Garden, page 1)

Elaine and Mary are two very similar little girls. They both get abandoned by their parents and sent to live at a distance from their home with strangers. They are both quite spoiled and used to having everything done for them. But in their new surroundings they both blossom under the influence of nature and an active outdoor life.
 
In Elaine's case, her widowed mother gets a secretarial job in France and sends her daughter to live in the countryside with the family of a woman she went to school with. The Owen's and their six children live in a Vicarage in a small village in North Wales. There's the usual 'spoiled girl struggles to live in a family of boisterous kids' storyline. Additionally, this is the kind of book that was written to fill up Sunday School libraries. There are deep Christian overtones, but mostly of the golden rule variety.
 
Mary Lennox is, of course, a much better known heroine, who ends up in Yorkshire after the death of her parents in India. Her new playmates aren't so rambunctious, but there is better landscaping!
 
I linked these two in the same entry because I would not have discovered one without the other. The Secret Garden was supposed to be my birthday present in 1979. My Dad was dispatched to the bookstore near where he worked to purchase it. But, he bought the wrong book. And despite the 'Jesus saves' overtones in Rainbow Garden, I've always really liked it. There's a mystery element woven into it, and a family camping trip to Mount Snowdon that goes disastrously wrong. And while I rather grew out of the religion thing, there's nothing wrong with a little encouragement to be kind to yourself and others. Plus, there's an English sheepdog named Cadwaller.
 
The Secret Garden of course always delights with its hidden treasures... and the fact that there is a black and white movie version with Dean Stockwell as Colin which predates The Wizard of Oz, but uses the same fade to color technique when Mary finds the garden. Actually, I can think of at least three film interpretations of the book, and none of them completely butcher the story. They might get a little overly creative about the dead wife's backstory... but for the most part, they work for me.  
 
It was a very spring like day here in Central Pennsylvania, and thoughts turned to these two books. Anyone want to join me in the garden?
 
 
 
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Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney (1881)

"The little old kitchen had quieted down from the bustle and confusion of mid-day; and now, with its afternoon manners on, presented a holiday aspect, that as the principal room in the brown house, it was eminently proper it should have. It was just on the edge of the twilight; and the little Peppers, all except Ben, the oldest of the flock, were enjoying a "breathing spell," as their mother called it, which meant some quiet work suitable for the hour. All the "breathing spell" they could remember however, poor things; for times were always hard with them nowadays; and since the father died, when Phronsie was a baby, Mrs. Pepper had had hard work to scrape together money enough to put bread into her children's mouths, and to pay the rent of the little brown house." (page 7)

Unlike a lot of these books I've been reminiscing about, I remember exactly where I was when I discovered it. I was upstairs playing with some boys who were the children of friends of my parents. The parents were all downstairs playing penny poker. I remember finding "Five Little Peppers..." on one of the boy's bedroom shelves, and another book obsession was born! (And I still have that book... so I guess I took to book thievery early on...)

There are actually twelve "Little Pepper" books. I've read maybe half of them. (Interlibrary loan is a wonderful thing.)

The five little Pepper children (Ben, Polly, Joel, David, and Phronsie) live in a little brown house with their widowed mother who takes in sewing to make the ends meet. Things are pretty bleak for this family, monetarily at least, but the kids are all determined to do what they can "to help Mother."

Eventually they meet a bored little rich boy by the name of Jasper, and things go the way they often do in children's books when rich old people meet charming poor kids. (Looking at the books on my shelf I seem to have a thing for books like this...) But Jasper and his crotchety Father are soon brought around to the Peppers more positive outlook on life. These are kids who can take flour and water and raisins and make the creation of cookies into an event.

Perhaps I am just a sucker for a happy ending (with a few surprise twists) but these are books I have re-re-re-re-read. Before my own house got painted grey, it was known as The Little Brown House ... and I have a somewhat unreasonable attraction to one of the most obnoxious little girls names of all time -- Sophronia. (It's Greek for 'of wise and prudent mind.' How can you not love that?)

And of course [small spoiler] by book five or so, the baddest of the boys decided to become a Minister. And then he saves some people from drowning when the ship he is on catches fire. Whee!!!

Anyway... as with all these books of that era, it gets a little preachy about being good little boys and girls... but these kids are so damn cute that I just don't care!!

Links to info and some volumes full text:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Little_Peppers

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The Open Gate -- written and illustrated by Kate Seredy (1943)

"The Prestons' streamlined, glittering sedan look and sounded more like a prairie schooner than a modern automobile as it wound its creaking way out of the city. All along the way people stopped to look; some grinned, others shook their heads disapprovingly. Father's temper was wearing a little thin by the time they reached George Washington Bridge. The guard at the toll house leaned his elbows on the car window whle Father groped for the money. "How much?" he asked the guard. The man grinned and scratched his head.

"What's the toll for covered wagons, Jack?" he called over his shoulder..."
(pages 27-28)
 
John Preston is a grey-flannel ad man in 1940s New York City... until one summer day when he loses his job to his boss's son-in-law. His children Dick and Janet convince him to take a chance on a family vacation at an all inclusive holiday camp with all the comforts of home. But on the way there, the family takes a detour down a country lane and they end up in the midst of a country auction. Through a combination of dumb luck and a certain amount of manipulation ... the Preston family ends up buying a farm in the country.
 
These city slickers, used to the push button existence of the big city, have no idea what to do with a run-down farmstead. Fortunately, John's mother is along for the trip, and she grew up on a farm. Gran takes the reigns, the kids get a dog, John's wife Molly determines she will master the workings of the kitchen range, and soon they find themselves trying to make a new life as country folk.
 
Add in the interwoven stories of the dour old couple on the next farm, raising their artistically inclined grandson Andy, all the while being haunted by the memory of his parents death, and the more humorous, but no less touching story of their immigrant Slovak neighbor Mike who sees himself as simply "me, American," and you have a book which still makes me cry with it's simple goodness.

Patriotism runs through this on several fronts ... Mike's son joins the Canadian Air Force in the early days of WWII to try and keep the enemy from the shores of his adopted country, the Preston family joins the Farm Bureau and raises crops and beef for the government, and when the attack on Pearl Harbor does come, they all band together to provide what they can for the war effort.

A great read, and actually really still quite relevant to today's issues...
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Understood Betsy -- by Dorothy Canfield (1916)

"Two women in gingham dresses and white aprons came out of the house. One was old and one might be called young, just like Aunt Harriet and Aunt Frances. But they looked very different from those aunts. The dark-haired one was very tall and strong-looking, and the white-haired one was very rosy and fat. They both looked up at the little, thin, white-faced girl on the high seat, and smiled. "Well, Father, you got her I see," said the brown-haired one. She stepped up to the wagon and held up her arms to the child. "Come on, Betsy, and get some supper," she said, as though Elizabeth Ann had lived there all her life and had just driven into town and back.

And that was the arrival of Elizabeth Ann at the Putney Farm."
(page 37)

Elizabeth Ann is a very indulged little girl living with two very uptight city Aunts. When one of the Aunts gets sick, she is sent off to live with her country relatives. Her journey from timid Elizabeth Ann to capable Betsy has always been one of my favorite stories.

She has heard nothing good about these rustic relatives from her city relations, but on her arrival she is simply wrapped into the daily life on the farm and finds, eventually, that the world isn't as scary as she was previously taught.

Coming from a lifeless city apartment, and after making a solitary train trip, Betsy finds herself in a warm farmhouse kitchen, stirring applesauce for the dinner, and being handed a kitten to cuddle.

And sign me up for any family in which dinner consists of all you can eat pancakes!!
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The Swiss Family Robinson -- Johann David Wyss (1812)

"Fritz, enterprising and adventurous, persisted in his idea of swimming to land. Ernest, my second son, aged twelve years, intelligent, but timid and indolent, was frightened at the idea of such a venture, and proposed constructing a raft. I shewed him that such a conveyance, besides the time necessary to construct it, was very difficult to guide. These two considerations made him abandon his opinion almost immediately. "Now, my children," said I, "let us explore the vessel; and while reflecting on the means of gaining the shore, let us gather together on the deck everything which may be useful to us on shore." (page 4)

So I wonder when it was I first figured out that this was a book about a family from Switzerland. Probably about the time I figured out that the copy of this book I had been reading for years was an abridged version. I do remember being really pissed off at the nerve "those people" had to cut up a story!

A family of five is shipwrecked on an island, and the ship that they are on just happens to be provisioned to start a new colony in the South Seas. They take the skills they were going to use to build that home and create a new life on this deserted island.

I was always hooked on the ability they had to re-create nearly everything they needed... and let's face it... who doesn't want the adventure of running away to a desert island once in a while. And when you can have pet ostriches to ride??? Bonus!!

The language, and the religious bent never bothered me, but it's not the most accessible book in those areas... but still a great read!!

full text linked off this page: http://books.google.com/books?id=MAcGAAAAQAAJ
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On a day when I want to smack my best friend in the head... let's do this one about a friendship between a boy and a girl that's more successful than my own just at the moment:
 
Jack and Jill by Louisa May Alcott (1880)
 
"Down they went, one after another, on the various coasts, -- solemn Frank, long Gus, gallant Ed, fly-away Molly Loo, pretty Laura and Lotty, grumpy Joe, sweet-faced Merry with Sue shrieking wildly behind her, gay Jack and gypsy Jill, always together, -- one and all bubbling over with the innocent jollity born of healthful exercise. People passing in the road below looked up and smiled involuntarily at the red-cheeked lads and lasses, filling the frosty air with peals of laughter and cries of triumph as they flew by in every conceivable attitude; for the fun was at its height now, and the oldest and gravest observers felt a glow of pleasure as they looked, remembering their own young days."
 
 
Sure, it would be easy to go on and on about how much I love "Little Women" (lousy film treatments aside), but my love for all things Alcott is much broader than that one book. My mother had this five volume set of Alcott that I grew up with ... "Little Women," "Little Men," "Rose in Bloom," "Under the Lilacs," and "Jack and Jill." Eventually I discovered LMA wrote other books, but having read these five so many times, they're the ones I keep coming back to.
 
[a small segue: I thought about writing about "Under the Lilacs" ... but I found I couldn't mix my current obsession with Torchwood with a book that features poodles so prominently...]
 
So ... Jack and Jill. The friendship of Jack Minot and little Janey Pecq takes a turn one fine snowy day when they have a sledding accident and become invalids for a time. There are lessons to be learned while they are healing, but mostly it's about the fun they and their friends have during a pivotal time in all their lives.

I always wanted a large group of friends like these who would gather together and have frolics -- whether it was Christmas festivities, a candy scrape, making May Day baskets, participating in the local agricultural fair, amateur theatrics, picking apples, or sledding together -- jolly times were had!

I could use some jolly friends today... I might just have to curl up in front of the fire and re-read this book!

bluecastle: (write)
Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (1936)

"A solitary figure escapes the huddle. She chugs over to the curb and mounts it to the sidewalk. She stands there and shows what a strange little figure she is, different from the rest. She wears a pongee pinafore, buttoned down the back and with long sleeves. She wears a navy-blue sailor hat with ribbons down the back, held under her chin with an elastic band. She wears ribbed black stockings and high black laced shoes with stubby toes, badly barked.

I know her in an instant; although I had forgotten all about her for years, had forgotten she ever existed. It gives me a shock to see her, looking so exactly like she should look, so everlastingly full of life and still on roller skates."
(from, An Introduction to Lucinda, page 4)

Set in New York City in the 1890s, this is the story of ten year old Lucinda whose parents leave her with the two Misses Peters (Miss Peters and Miss Nettie, for of course they are very proper) for a year while  they go abroad. Armed with a pair of roller skates and a knack for making friends, Lucinda has Manhattan in the palm of her hand by the time of her parent's return.

I just looked up "pongee" as I have always wondered what kind of fabric that was, and I don't think it was an accidental choice by the author.

Pongee:
                                                                     
1. silk of a slightly uneven weave made from filaments of wild silk woven in natural tan color.
2. a cotton or rayon fabric imitating it. Compare Shantung (def. 2), tussah (def. 1).

Origin:
1705–15; < Chin běnjī homewoven, lit., one's own loom

"Woven from one's own loom" is actually a pretty good metaphor for little Lucinda. Clearly she is from a family with some money. She goes to a good private girl's school, and her parents can afford that year abroad after all. But she is clearly the black sheep of the family, and her tenth year is when she learns to value her uniqueness.

She befriends Tony, the son of an Italian immigrant who sells fruit from a cart on the street. They roast potatoes in tin cans in the park, and create a puppet theater version of "The Tempest" with costumes made from old kid gloves, and cornmeal for sand.

It's an odd "children's" book. With references to Latin grammar, English Spode china, and Jay Gould, not to mention a couple doses of sorrow, sickness, and death. But I like it all the more for that. It doesn't pull any punches, and you really feel like Lucinda has seen the good and the bad in life during her year of relative freedom.

When I was ten, we moved into a big old Victorian house in a new town. I know Lucinda coped better than I did. But I was shy and she was not. But even 100 odd years later, I understood the struggles of being told you "must not" do this and that.

Long before "American Girl" was a brand name... there was Lucinda and her roller skates...and I am glad that I know her...

bluecastle: (write)
Watership Down -- Richard Adams (1972)
 
"Rabbits can count up to four. Any number above four is hrair -- "a lot" or "a thousand." Thus they say U Hrair --"The Thousand" -- to mean, collectively, all the enemies (or elil, as they call them) of rabbits -- fox, stoat, weasel, cat, owl, man, etc. There were probably more than five rabbits in the litter when Fiver was born, but his name, Hrairoo, means "Little Thousand" -- i.e. the little one of a lot, or as they say of pigs, "the runt." (footnote, bottom of page 4)
 
And here we go from ballerinas to bunnies... (but stay in England at least).
 
I have always wanted to be able to draw. I have tried over the years, but generally give up after a particularly bad attempt. I joined a Yahoo sketching group some years ago to try and give myself some encouragement. I was sketching and posting my sketches for a while... and my very best compliment came when I posted this very rudimentary bic pen and watercolor wash sketch of my cat Daniel Striped Tiger, and one of the members of the group referred to my sketch as "your very relaxed (and elegant) cat."
 
 
All of which doesn't seem to have a hell of a lot to do with Watership Down, now does it?
 
But the compliment was from a fellow who does PHENOMENAL drawings... and who worked at one time on some of the animation in the movie version of Watership Down
 
Funny the connections the internets lead to.
 
It actually took me a long time to discover this novel. I had heard other kids talking about it off and on through middle and high school, but for the longest time I somehow had it erroneously pegged as some science fiction book. And while I liked some science fiction back then it just never hit me as something I wanted to read.

I have no idea when I picked it up and discovered it was about RABBITS... but I do remember being totally hooked when I did finally get around to reading it.
 
...epic journey stories, that just happened to be happening to rabbits... rabbits with their own language, and their own mythology...

...but in the end, are really just stories about bunnies made up by a guy who was trying to keep his daughters occupied on long car (or should I say hrududu) trips.
 
Beatrix Potter meets Aeschylus. Wicked Wonderful!!

bluecastle: (write)
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (1937)

"The Fossil sisters lived in the Cromwell Road. At that end of it which is farthest away from the Brompton Road, and yet sufficiently near it so one could be taken to look at the dolls' houses in the Victoria and Albert every wet day. If the weather were not too wet, one was expected to "save the penny and walk." (page 7)

When I was seven or eight or so, my Mom signed me up for a series of ballet lessons. There was a little studio above the local movie theater. Every Wednesday night I got poured into some pink tights and shipped off to class. I don't remember much about the classes themselves. I remember we had a recital at the end of the year, and our music had something to do with weddings as I remember having lace sewed onto my leotard.

The theory was to take an awkward tomboy girl and turn her into a graceful swan. (Future tap and gymnastics lessons went along the same lines). But I didn't have it in me to practice enough to make it more than a passing fancy. Plus, those damn tights itched!

But I liked the idea of being a ballerina ... and Ballet Shoes is a book I've read over and over again.

Read more... )
bluecastle: (write)

"Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the big woods of Wisconsin, in a little grey house made of logs." (and so The Little House in the Big Woods begins)
 
There is probably no book that had more impact on me as a child than the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder... (herein is where I begin to cheat on the definition of "book" ... just join me in thinking of them as a 9 volume novel) ...and I've got the yellow dotted-swiss sunbonnet to prove it.
 
On this day when groundhogs are all the rage here in Pennsylvania, it seems appropriate to talk about stories of wide open plains where inquisitive prairie dogs poke their heads up to watch the clouds slide across to the horizon.
 
bluecastle: (write)
The Blue Castle by Lucy Maude Montgomery (1926)

"If it had not rained on a certain May morning Valancy Stirling's whole life would have been entirely different. She would have gone, with the rest of her clan, to Aunt Wellington's engagement picnic and Dr. Trent would have gone to Montreal. But it did rain and you shall hear what happened to her because of it."

find out more here... )

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